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Thursday, September 30, 2010

Nation Reader's Books

Nation Reader's Summer Books: Nothing more than a laundry list of all sorts of books. Thought I'd scan through this at some point, but said point never came -- at least not until I had to shut the browser down for a trip.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Jazz Consumer Guide (24): Play Louder, and Pray for Peace

The Village Voice has published my 24th Jazz Consumer Guide column: Play Louder, and Pray for Peace. For once I finally managed to write my own title. One thing I've noticed that almost amounts for a trend is the growing number of free-ish jazz outfits that incorporate rock-ish noise levels. The best example of this is one that I reluctantly dropped from the draft as the fight for space became desperate: Epileptical West by Martin Küchen's group Angles. That leaves Fight the Big Bull and Led Bib as two instances where I used the word "loud" below, and more where I thought it.

More curiously, Prayer for Peace is the first title to have appeared twice as a pick hit, one of those coincidences that seems statistically impossible. The first time was in Jazz CG (4), when I tapped a reissue of Amalgam's 1969 album. Truth is, I'm not big on prayer, but I am on Billy Bang. I just had a lot of trouble cranking out this review, so kept playing the album over and over and fell more and more in love with it.

Previous column came out June 30, so this one is almost exactly three months later. Not sure if I'll ever manage to speed them up. I'm usually so beat at the end of one that I want to do something else for a while, then before I know it I'm playing catchup again. I have enough already written for the next column, but also close to 200 unplayed records in the queue.

Jazz Prospecting for this round covered 218 records, starting June 1 and ending August 30. I also considered 96 records carried over from previous prospecting. The collected Jazz Prospecting notes are: here.

I haven't done a final surplus cull for this round, but for whatever it's worth the current surplus file is: here. I usually post the top part of that file as a sort of consolation prize for good records I never expect to find space for, but as of this point I only have one record in it. Given what my schedule looks like for the next couple of weeks, I may call that done and plan on a more serious cleanup next time.

Still need to do some more paperwork to get everything up to date. Will add a PS when that gets done. Meanwhile, judging from my local copy, I find this looking more and more like a laundry list, with way too many HMs and too little detail on everything. Only in reference to the background does the HM list look rather select. Don't know what the answer is, but I hope this is still useful.


Publicist letter:

The Village Voice has published my 24th Jazz Consumer Guide column
this week:

link

The previous one came out June 30, so despite all my hopes to speed
things up we remain on a firm every-three-month schedule.

Index by label:

  482 Music: Rempis/Rosaly
  Abstract Logix: John McLaughlin
  Audial: Soren Moller/Dick Oatts
  BAG: Tin Hat, Ben Goldberg
  Beeswax: Will Sellenraad
  Blue Note: Jason Moran
  Clean Feed: RED Trio, Bernardo Sassetti, Kirk Knuffke, Luis Lopes,
    Fight the Big Bull
  Concord/Telarc/Heads Up: Esperanza Spalding
  Cuneiform: New York Art Quartet, Claudia Quintet, Jason Adasiewicz,
    Led Bib
  Dare2: Dave Holland
  Dolfjin: Wolter Wierbos
  ECM: Arild Andersen, Tord Gustavsen, Ralph Towner/Paolo Fresu
  Electrofone: Gabriel Johnson
  German Projekt: Andrea Fultz
  GPE: John Hollenbeck
  Greenleaf Music: Dave Douglas
  Hancock: Herbie Hancock
  High Note: John Hicks/Frank Morgan
  Inarhyme: Mark Lomax
  Innova: David Crowell
  Jazzheads: NYNDK
  KMB Jazz: Matt Lavelle
  Libra: First Meeting, Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo
  Mack Avenue: Gerald Wilson
  Motema: Babatunde Lea
  Nonesuch: Pat Metheny
  Not Two: Satoko Fujii
  Pirouet: Gary Peacock/Marc Copland
  Plunge: Gordon Grdina
  Plunk: Cynthia Sayer
  Posi-Tone: Brandon Wright
  Skirl: Ben Perowsky
  SoLyd: Jones Jones
  Strudelmedia: Edward Ratliff
  Sunnyside: Scott DuBois, Dan Tepfer/Lee Konitz
  Table Pounding: Abraham Inc.
  TUM: Billy Bang, Juhani Aaltonen
  Tzadik: Borah Bergman, Roberto Rodriguez (2), Minamo
  Verve: Nellie McKay

Jazz Prospecting for this round covered 218 new albums, with
96 older albums carried over for consideration here. The Jazz
Prospecting notes are collected here:

  link

Some more comments on my blog announcement, and every Monday as
I reduce the pile of incoming music to this more/less quarterly
survey of the very best of a lot of very good jazz.

Appreciate your support and patience as these reviews work their
way to print.


Notes for the records covered in Jazz CG (24):

  • 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-
  • Abraham Inc.: Tweet Tweet (2010, Table Pounding): Ad hoc group. Klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer has worked with hip hop sampler/vocalist Socalled before, but rather than faking the funk they've brought in lifetime funk permit holder Fred Wesley, formerly of the Horny Horns and before that the JBs (as in James Brown, need I add?). Various others pop in unannounced -- another cheapo advance with limited credits and little info, even though "Fred the Tzadik" and "Moskowitz Remix" got to mean something. The obligatory "Hava Nagila" has me confused, but mostly I don't care, especially when the trombone is pumping. May be just a novelty, but I'll take it. B+(***)
  • Jason Adasiewicz's Rolldown: Varmint (2008 [2009], Cuneiform): Vibraphonist, based in Chicago, the guy everyone else in Chicago goes to when they want a splash of vibes. Second album; the group now named after their first album. In Josh Berman (cornet) and Aram Shelton (alto sax, clarinet) he has two first-rate horn options, each contributing remarkable solos here. In Jason Roebke (bass) and Frank Rosaly (drums) he has a flexible rhythm section. All four are well known from numerous Chicago groups. Loose freebop, lots of space for the vibes to open up. B+(***)
  • Arild Andersen: Green in Blue: Early Quartets (1975-78 [2010, ECM, 3CD): Norwegian bassist, one of several now-prominent musicians spawned by George Russell and Don Cherry during their late 1960s move to Scandinavia. Has a dozen-plus albums under his own name, the first three returned to print here. These are all sax-piano-bass-drums quartets, with flush flowing rhythms that highlight the leader's bass. Pål Thowsen is on drums on all three. The debut album, Clouds in My Head, features Kurt Riisnaes on tenor sax, soprano sax, and flute, with Jon Balke on piano. Balke would have been close to 20 at the time, but he already has a tough approach, and makes a much stronger impression than Lars Jansson, who replaced him on the other two albums. Riisnaes is superb throughout, but was also replaced on the later albums, Shimri and Green Shading Into Blue, by Juhani Aaltonen, who is riveting on tenor sax but plays a lot more flute, an instrument that he gives a dry, cerebral tone -- fascinating as such things go, but it's still flute, and it shifts the records toward the airy side -- Shimri has a slight edge of joyous discovery, but the two are very closely matched. B+(***)
  • Billy Bang: Prayer for Peace (2005 [2010], TUM): No idea how this set, recorded in New York half a decade ago, came to this Finish label, but the packaging, artwork, and full biographies are all pluses. The group has an interesting balance, with pianist Andrew Bemkey and trumpeter James Zollar as prominent as the violinist -- also with Todd Nicholson on bass and Newman Taylor-Baker on drums. Starts off with a sprightly Stuff Smith piece, a mood that returns with the only other non-Bang cover, an Afro-Cuban piece from Compay Segundo. Title track seems to drag a bit, but before long its slow build turns elegiac. Not at his strongest or most consistent, but a thrill nonetheless, with Zollar more than picking up the slack. [originally: A-] A
  • Borah Bergman Trio: Luminescence (2008 [2009], Tzadik): Piano trio, with Greg Cohen on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums. Bergman was born in 1933, took a while before he started recording (1976) and didn't record regularly until the 1990s. I have one of his records from 1983, A New Frontier, on my A-list, but haven't heard much by him. Early on he evoked Cecil Taylor, but that isn't evident here. This is one of the most even-tempered piano trio albums I've heard in a long time, the rhythm hushed, the chords masterfully sequenced. John Zorn joins on alto sax on one cut, filling in background colors. A- [Rhapsody; later bought]
  • The Claudia Quintet + Gary Versace: Royal Toast (2009 [2010], Cuneiform): Last three Claudia Quintet albums rated A- in Jazz CG although they've all been sort of marginal: soft sounds (Chris Speed's clarinet, Ted Reichman's accordion, Matt Moran's vibes, Drew Gress's bass) floating on John Hollenbeck's quirky rhythms. This one is much like those, with Gary Versace's piano adding one more soft touch -- he does take one cut on accordion, but after Reichman that's anticlimactic. But it also slips a bit when soft gives way to slow, and I think that tips this just a bit under. Still a fascinating group. B+(***)
  • David Crowell Ensemble: Spectrum (2009, Innova): Alto saxophonist, based in New York, studied at Eastman with Walt Weiskopf, has spent a couple of years playing woodwinds for Philip Glass. Debut album, a quartet with guitar, electric bass, and drums, the guitar sometimes providing a synthesizer effect. One cut adds Red Wierenga on Fender Rhodes, reinforcing the effect. Several pieces build on minimalist rhythms vamps. Two pieces are group improvs. B+(***)
  • Jamie Cullum: The Pursuit (2009 [2010], Verve): Released Mar. 2. Never got a real copy, just this "watermarked" advance with my name ominously stamped onto it, and no info on credits -- big band, string orchestra, banks of backup singers, no doubt a cast of thousands. Maybe then got confused about the packaging -- AMG lists eight editions, including packages with bonus tracks, a "deluxe edition," variants with DVDs, and the "Barnes & Noble Exclusive." With so much marketing, you'd might think he was popular, but as far as I can tell he remains a Harry Connick wannabe, handicapped by writing slightly over half of his songs. On the plus side, he's managed to shed most of the tics that made Catching Tales so annoying. That leaves him with . . . uh, nothing. C
  • Dave Douglas: Spirit Moves (2008 [2009], Greenleaf Music): A brass band project, with trumpet-french horn-trombone-tuba backed by Nasheet Waits' drums. Douglas works quotes into his compositions, some old Americana, some evoking Lester Bowie -- wit and funk aren't traditional Douglas long suits. Starts strong, wanders a bit, finds itself third cut from the end when they try a cover, "Mr. Pitiful," which is anything but: Otis Redding's horn charts were pretty close to one-dimensional, but each horn adds lively detail here. Continues on a high level with Douglas' "Great Awakening," then peters out on Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." B+(***)
  • Scott DuBois: Black Hawk Dance (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Guitarist, b. 1978, fourth album since 2005, second I have heard. His 2008 album Banshees got shortchanged in Jazz CG (19) with a high HM. This is only slightly less striking, probably because he slows the pace more, and defers less to his sax/bass clarinet player, Gebhard Ullman. Quartet is filled out capably by Thomas Morgan (bass) and Kresten Osgood (drums). Ullman has never sounded more like a mainstream bopper, which actually suits him well. 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+(***)
  • First Meeting: Cut the Rope (2009 [2010], Libra): Quartet: Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, the composer and presumed leader here; Satoko Fujii on piano, Kelly Churko on guitar, and Tatsuhisa Yamamoto on drums. Liner notes explain that Tamura threw the band together when promised 15-20 students would show up -- evidently all capitalism takes in the small world of avant-jazz. Conceived as a "noise band" -- a lot of warbling, scratchy, freakout stuff from the guitar, which the others play around, through, or in spite of -- Fujii is especially sharp at that. Irresistible when they tap into a groove, amusing even when they're just scattering shit. A-
  • Satoko Fujii Ma-Do: Desert Ship (2009 [2010], Not Two): Japanese quartet, with Fujii on piano, Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass, and Akira Horikoshi on drums. Played this five times in a row and don't have a lot to say about it. Seems to work in bits without taking shape as a whole. Tamura as many strong spots, and the bass is a powerful presence. Fujii, too, when she feels like it, which isn't all that often. [originally B+(**)] B+(***)
  • Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo: Zakopane (2009 [2010], Libra): Conventionally-sized big band: 5 reeds, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones (no bass trombone), guitar, bass, drums, no piano -- Fujii composed and conducts, but does not play. B+(***)
  • Andrea Fultz: The German Projekt: German Songs From the Twenties & Thirties (2009, The German Projekt): Four songs by Friedrich Hollaender; seven by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill, one by Brecht and Hanns Eisler. Fultz was born in Munich, 1974, German mother, American father. Passed through Austria on her way to San Francisco in 2003. First album, with Bob Reich on accordion, Dina Maccabee on violin, Adam Shulman on piano, Eugene Warren on bass, and Micha Patri on percussion. Starts with the flamboyantly English-speaking "Alabama Song," which seems too simple and obvious to make the point. Beyond that it's almost all in German, a treat if you're so inclined. Brecht-Weill is a touchstone for me, a fact I may be overly compensating for, especially given how sublime the Hollaender songs come off -- "Johnny" and "Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss auf Liebe eingestellt" ring a bell even if the composer's name doesn't. The violin and accordion nail the milieu perfectly. Fultz won't make you forget Lotte Lenya, or even Marlene Dietrich. But then, who wants to? [was: B+(***)] A-
  • 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+(***)
  • The Gordon Grdina Trio: . . . If Accident Will (2007 [2009], Plunge): Canadian guitarist, also plays some oud. Trio includes bass and drums. This came out at the same time as his fancier East Van Strings album, and I lost track of it. But it is easily the best showcase for his guitar work. B+(***)
  • 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+(***)
  • Herbie Hancock: The Imagine Project (2010, Hancock): Recorded in seven countries with guests from even further across the universe, this is a colossal engagement of liberal internationalism, and a pretty good showcase for at least some of the talent. But is the choice of such obvious songs lazy thinking or a real paucity of alternatives. Lennon's "Imagine," sure, but can't you do better than Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up" for an encore? (Pink sings both, paired first with Seal then with John Legend.) Lennon-McCartney return later, showcasing quintessential good guy Dave Matthews, almost as wasted as Sam Cooke is on James Morrison. Colombia and Brazil get some respect, but Bob Marley is routed through Somalia and the Sahara to East L.A., faring better than Dylan "Times They Are a Changin'" done by the Chieftains with Toumani Diabate kora. Silly as the others seem, the latter is the album's only real gag moment. High point? The closer with Chaka Khan, Anoushka Shankar, and Wayne Shorter. Plus a pianist who always sounds impeccable no matter how little he does. Not a jazz record, but the finale could be worked that way. B [Rhapsody]
  • John Hicks & Frank Morgan: Twogether (2005-06 [2010], High Note): The sort of record that would be dismissed as lazy by living artists but turns into a poignant souvenir now that they've passed. Three piano solos -- one each on Bud Powell, Duke Pearson, and Billy Strayhorn -- plus four duos with alto saxophonist Morgan, as standard as "Round Midnight" and "Night in Tunisia." A-
  • Dave Holland Octet: Pathways (2009 [2010], Dare2): Basically Quintet plus extra horns, not as much as the big band, but plenty for all practical purposes. Recorded live at Birdland, some applause and shout outs. Intermittently terrific, especially when trombonist Robin Eubanks bowls his way to the front. B+(***)
  • Rainbow Jimmies: The Music of John Hollenbeck (2007-08 [2009], GPE): Might as well file this under Hollenbeck, even though he subcontracts several cuts to various artists. The first seven pieces are collectively titled "Gray Cottage Study": they were written for violinist Todd Reynolds, with Hollenbeck on drums and/or Matt Moran on vibes occasionally helping out. Fairly static chamber music, not a lot of beat to them, unlike the others: two Claudia Quintet cuts, a 12:51 piece by the Youngstown Percussion Collective and Saxophone Quartet ("oh yeah") and another 12:02 by Ethos Percussion Group. Hollenbeck's beatwise pieces are irresistible -- he is first and foremost a drummer -- but his impressionistic chamber music hangs in there too. What could be a scattered collection keeps catching your ear. B+(***)
  • Gabriel Johnson: Fra_ctured (2009 [2010], Electrofone): After Robert Christgau A-listed this, citing Jon Hassell and Nils Petter Molvaer (and Miles Davis) as antecedents, and Chris Monsen added it to his 2010-in-progress list I had high expectations here, but never could quite hear whatever it was that I expected -- beats, I think. Rather, what I'm hearing (after way too many plays) is soundtrack electronica, closer to Morricone than to Miles, darker but with grandiose gestures. Don't get much out of his PR bios, which are as oblique and opaque as his music. Seems to have played everything here, or at least sampled it, but the trumpet is authentic. B+(***)
  • Jones Jones: We All Feel the Same Way (2008, SoLyd): Larry Ochs (tenor and sopranino sax), Mark Dresser (bass), Vladimir Tarasov (percussion). Free improv, three cuts recorded in St. Petersburg, the other two in Amsterdam. All three have notable careers in the avant-garde, Ochs mostly lurking behind group names like Rova and this one, Tarasov best known for his work in the Ganelin Trio. And each of the three make a mark here, the only caveat being that this seems like something they could do whenever they got together. B+(**)
  • 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+(***)
  • Matt Lavelle and Morcilla: The Manifestation Drama (2008 [2009], KMB Jazz): Starts off with an ugly, arresting bass clarinet riff, followed by fractured piano and conga, with Lavelle soon switching back to trumpet (or more likely flugelhorn). It's a thrilling piece -- "God Love Sex" is the title -- but when he's done he's off to something else. Not all of the ugly turns sublime, and not all of the pieces to ugly. There's some simple bass/trumpet stuff that's haunting, and François Grillot's bass solo is a gem. Pianist Chris Forbes does a crashingly good Cecil Taylor bit, but can comp gently as well. Andre Martinez's congas give the record a tribal feel. Lavelle has been studying with Ornette Coleman, who's pushing him to find his own sound grammar. Not sure what that means. Feels like a work in progress. 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+(***)
  • Led Bib: Sensible Shoes (2008 [2009], Cuneiform): English group, led by drummer Mark Holub, with two saxophones (Pete Grogan and Chris Williams, who wrote 2 of 9 pieces), keyboards (Toby McLaren), and bass (Laran Donin). Third album since 2005, the previous ones on Slam and Babel (English avant-garde labels with virtually no US presence). It's tempting to slot this has a fusion group, mostly because they're loud, sometimes melting down into chaos, but then they'll throw you something that isn't. I've played this too many times; doubt that I'll ever put it together. B+(**)
  • The Mark Lomax Trio: The State of Black America (2007 [2010], Inarhyme): Drummer, b. 1979, from Columbus, OH; describes himself as "the Quincy Jones of his generation"; first group, 1999, was called Blacklist, their first album Blacklisted; trio has a previous gospel-themed album, Lift Every Voice!; this one has originals titled "Stuck in a Rut," "The Unknown Self," "The Power of Knowing," and "To Know God Is to Know Thy Self" (well, also "Blues for Charles"). None of that prepared me for this record, a sax trio, with unknowns Dean Hulett on bass and Edwin Bayard on tenor. First approximation on Bayard is that he sounds a lot like David S. Ware, and I mean a lot. [originally A-] A
  • Luis Lopes/Adam Lane/Igal Foni: What Is When (2007-08 [2009], Clean Feed): Guitarist, from Portugal, has a previous album called Humanization 4Tet that was a solid HM, largely on the strength of Rodrigo Amado's tenor sax. This one is just guitar, bass and drums, so he takes more of a lead here -- for good measure, he starts with a piece dedicated to Sonny Sharrock. It ends, though, with an impressive segment from Lane. [was B+(**)] B+(***)
  • Nellie McKay: Normal as Blueberry Pie: A Tribute to Doris Day (2009, Verve): Looking through my database of 16,000 records I've listened to enough to have an opinion about, I'm not entirely surprised that I've missed Doris Day completely. There was a window of non-jazz, non-rock pop music, mostly in the 1950s, that I didn't exactly miss -- I grew up hating it, a stance that softened as I've opportunistically spot-checked famous names. Not that I ever even disliked, much less hated, Day; who could? More like I always thought of her as an actress who sung some on the side, kind of like Elvis Presley was a singer who acted a little, but not worth taking seriously. Still, the 12 songs here -- not counting the one McKay wrote -- are pretty familiar, but mostly not linked to Day, at least in my mind (unlike the missing "Que Sera Sera"). In fact, aside from "Sentimental Journey," none of Day's biggest hits (judging from the list on Wikipedia), were covered here. Instead, we get a younger, hipper, jazzier Day, with "Crazy" and "Dig It" on the cutting edge, and more seasoned standards like "The Very Thought of You" and "Close Your Eyes" given snazzy new readings. Norms are always contextual, so it shouldn't be surprising that the new normal is slightly shifted from the old. A-
  • John McLaughlin and the 4th Dimension: To the One (2009 [2010], Abstract Logix): McLauglin attributes this record to two things: hearing John Coltrane's A Love Supreme, and "my own endeavors toward 'the one' throughout the past 40 years." The one thing I recognize here is the fundamental unchangeability of McLaughlin's fusion synthesis over those 40 years. A quartet with Gary Husband on keyboards and sometimes on drums, Etienne M'Bappe on electric bass, and Mark Mondesir on drums. Mostly roiling grooves with occasional incursions of mood music, neither mystical nor metallurgical, just basic Mahavishnu. B+(**)
  • Pat Metheny: Orchestrion (2010, Nonesuch): A solo album, of sorts, consisting of a huge array of mechanized instruments that can be programmed like a player piano -- the orchestrionics -- with guitar improvisation on top. The machines were custom-built: pianos, marimba, vibraphone, bells, basses, guitarbots percussion, cymbals and drums, blown bottles, "and other custom-fabricated acoustic mechanical instruments." Could have used more pictures and diagrams, although the cover hints at what's going on, not least through the absence of any humans in charge. The music itself is less eventful, an envelope of orchestration wrapped around the guitar, Metheny making his way through six long-ish, typically propulsive pieces. B+(**)
  • Minamo: Kuroi Kawa -- Black River (2008 [2009], Tzadik, 2CD): Duo: Satoko Fujii (piano, accordion) and Carla Kihlstedt (violin, trumpet violin), with some voice from both. Second album together, after Minamo on Henceforth back in 2007. First disc is studio; second live. Probably too much of a limited thing, but the intricate interplay is mesmerizing, except when Fujii crashes the boards, rare here but still a signature move. 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+(***)
  • Jason Moran: Ten (2010, Blue Note): Pianist, b. 1975, grew up in Houston, studied at Manhattan School of Music with Jaki Byard, also hooking up with Muhal Richard Abrams and Andrew Hill. Signed out of college by Blue Note, his first album appearing on a major label in 1999, making him an instant rising star. For a while it seemed like he could do nothing wrong: his first four albums made my A-list, and I can't offhand tell you if any other jazz pianist has ever done that. Fifth one was live, an understanable slip, but his next couple were merely good, and this one (which I count as his eighth) comes nearly four years after the last. Not clear where the title comes from, but it looks like a summing up: covers of Monk and Byard, Bernstein and Nancarrow, a joint credit with Hill. I've played this 6-8 times, maybe more, but haven't quite gotten into it. The last two cuts (Byard's "To Bob Vatel of Paris" and Moran's own "Old Babies") are fairly wonderful with hints of stride, and there is a lot of fancy stuff up front and thought in the middle -- impressive stuff, no doubt. Wonder why I don't like it more. B+(***)
  • New York Art Quartet: Old Stuff (1965 [2010], Cuneiform): Short-lived (1964-65) group fronted by trombonist Roswell Rudd and alto saxophonist John Tchicai, with various bassists (Don Moore, Lewis Worrell, Reggie Workman, here Finn von Eyben) and drummers (JC Moses, Milford Graves, here Louis Moholo). Cut an eponymous album on ESP-Disk which has remained more/less in print, a second album (Mohawk) on Fontana which no one seems to have heard, and a 35th Reunion on DIW with Graves and Workman (and Amiri Baraka). Consists of two radio shots from Copenhagen, one from Montmartre and the other from the radio studio, resulting in two takes of the title cut. Rudd was doing terrific work at the time, and Tchicai lets him run more than Archie Shepp did, resulting in an intricate balance of forces. ESP album is at least this good, and historically significant, but is 60% longer (70 minutes to 43), a happy find. A-
  • NYNDK: The Hunting of the Snark (2008 [2009], Jazzheads): Initials for New York, Norway, and DenmarK, represented by NY trombonist Chris Washburne, N saxophonist Ole Mathisen and bassist Per Mathisen, and DK pianist Soren Moller. Third group album, each with a "special guest" drummer, this time Tony Moreno. Starts with three Charles Ives pieces, done up as bent brass chamber jazz. Other similar classical composers poke in and out between the originals: Arne Nordheim, Edvard Grieg, George Perle, Per Nørgård, Carl Nielsen -- the latter's "Symphony No. 2 (2nd Movement" stands out. B+(***)
  • Gary Peacock/Marc Copland: Insight (2005-07 [2009], Pirouet): Bass-piano duo, the bassist getting top billing most likely because he's more famous -- Keith Jarrett has something to do with that -- but also 13-years older and has a slight edge in writing credits. Although it also strikes me that the bass is more often than not in the lead, an interesting effect. B+(***)
  • Ben Perowsky Quartet: Esopus Opus (2009, Skirl): Drummer, b. 1966, from and in New York, has a few albums and a lot of side credits since 1989, many (but far from all) in the John Zorn orbit. With Chris Speed (tenor sax), Drew Gress (bass), and Ted Reichman (accordion) -- three-fifths of Claudia Quintet. Covers include Jimi Hendrix ("Manic Depression"), two Beatles songs ("Within You Without You" and "Flying"), a couple of Brazilian tunes. The accordion blends with the sax for plush texture, cushioning even Hendrix. Anomalously, "Flying" ends in a bit of chant-along. Perowsky's originals hold up -- "Murnau on the Bayou" is a funeral blues, best thing here. A-
  • Edward Ratliff: Those Moments Before (2009, Strudelmedia): Bills himself as "composer, multi-instrumentalist" -- plays accordion, cornet, trumpet, trombone, and celeste here, the latter a rather rudimentary solo on the closer. I think of him as a soundtrack composer because his previous album, Barcelona in 48 Hours was a soundtrack, but he called the one before that Wong Fei-Hong Meets Little Strudel, and even this more generic album starts with Marelene Dietrich on the cover. He works in a pastiche of styles, the sort of thing adaptable to film. The accordion leans into European genres, while the horns complement various combinations of Michaël Attias (alto/baritone sax), Beth Schenck (soprano sax), and Doug Wieselman (clarinet). 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-
  • Rempis/Rosaly: Cyrillic (2009, 482 Music): Sax-drums duo, Chicago musicians, also play in the two-drummer Rempis Percussion Quartet. Dave Rempis is best known for his work in the Vandermark 5. He is fluid and forceful on alto, tenor, and baritone saxes, and Rosaly does a good job of playing off his energy. B+(***)
  • Roberto Rodriguez: Timba Talmud (2009, Tzadik): A/k/a Roberto Juan Rodriguez -- not sure how the name appears on the actual package. Percussionist, from Cuba, played some bar mitzvahs once he got to Miami and figured out how to put a Cuban spin on klezmer. He laid out the basic ideas in El Danzon de Moises and Baila! Gitano Baila!, and has been working angles and variations since then. This sextet plays his basic shtick, the percussion played down a bit so it doesn't interfere with the richness and suppleness of the melodies. A-
  • Roberto Rodriguez: The First Basket (2009, Tzadik): Soundtrack for a film (same name) by David Vyorst, something about the origins of the Basketball Association of America, which was founded in 1946 and merged with the National Basketball League in 1949 to form the NBA. Consists of 30 pieces, starting with a shofar solo call-to-arms, then various more/less klezmerish pieces, some less enough to be period 1930s swing. Fifteen musicians, probably split up but I have no notes. A remarkable pastiche of fragments. Technical problems kept me from following it as well as I would have liked. B+(***)
  • Bernardo Sassetti Trio: Motion (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Portuguese Pianist, b. 1970, doesn't really fit the label's avant focus but he's their hometown hero and bestseller, a remarkable player in his own right. Calm and focused, spare but ornately pretty, a combination that works out as serene. B+(***)
  • Cynthia Sayer: Attractions (2006 [2008], Plunk): Plays banjo, sings; originally from Massachusetts, now in New York. Resume spotlights 10 years with Woody Allen's New Orleans Jazz Band, and soundtrack work on Allen's The Purple Rose of Cairo and with Marvin Hamlisch on Sophie's Choice, but I'm more curious about "The New Spike Jones Show." Several albums, starting with The Jazz Banjo of Cynthia Sayer, which I don't have a date on. That one had "featuring" credits for Dick Wellstood and Milt Hinton. This one features Bucky Pizzarelli, but aside from a duet he hardly stands out beyond a superb trad-oriented band, with Scott Robinson (saxes, clarinet), Randy Sandke (trumpet), Jim Fryer (trombone), Sara Caswell (violin), Greg Cohen (bass), and Joe Ascione (percussion). Half vocals, starting with Sidney Bechet's reefer song "Viper Mad" and Hank Williams' "Half as Much," and winding on through "Romance Without Finance" and "You Are My Sunshine" and "Aba Daba Honeymoon." Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsody" is reduced to a banjo feature, which is fine with me. B+(***)
  • Will Sellenraad: Balance (2007 [2008], Beeswax): Guitarist, from New York. Third album since 2000. Haven't heard the first two, but they seem to have a soul jazz focus. This quartet is advanced bop, with drum master Victor Lewis managing the beat, bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa pushing a relentless groove, the guitarist drawing that out into long postbop lines, and alto saxophonist Abraham Burton building on all that. I've always been real impressed with Burton, and he's in his usual fine form here. B+(***)
  • Esperanza Spalding: Chamber Music Society (2009-10 [2010], Heads Up): Bassist, singer, Downbeat cover girl; b. 1984, Portland, OR; third album since 2005, singing more each time, with a lot more scat here, but also with Gretchen Parlato taking over two vocals, and Milton Nascimento chiming in on a third (a Spalding original -- Parlato takes the semi-obligatory Jobim cut). The chamber effect comes from violin-viola-cello, steadied by Leo Genovese piano, with Terri Lynne Carrington drums, and Quintino Cinalli percussion. "Wild Is the Wind" is a welcome cover, but there's not much else to latch onto. B-
  • Dan Tepfer/Lee Konitz: Duos With Lee (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): Tepfer is a pianist, b. 1982 in Paris (American parents), studied astrophysics at University of Edinburgh, then music at New England Conservatory. Moved to New York in 2005. Has a previous trio album. Konitz is 55 years his senior, an alto saxophonist, one of the all-time greats. All but two pieces are improvs; just pick a key and start from there. No drama, nothing rushed; just thoughtful, graceful interaction. 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-
  • Ralph Towner/Paolo Fresu: Chiaroscuro (2008 [2010], ECM): Another advance, final due out Mar. 16. Another intimate duo, slow, meticulous. Towner plays classical, twelve string, and baritone guitars. He's a long-term ECM fixture, going back to 1972. Fresu plays trumpet and flugelhorn, from Italy, younger (b. 1961 vs. 1940 for Towner), also has a long list of releases, although I've only managed to hear one so far. The two don't necessarily mix, but Fresu provides a clear melodic thread distinct from Towner's diddling, while Towner fascinates with the most minimal of quirks. B+(**)
  • Wolter Wierbos: 3 Trombone Solos (2005-06 [2009], Dolfjin): Each named for a city (Chicago, Portland, Amsterdam), the latter clocking in at 16:06, the others at 21:07 and 25:14. Dutch trombonist, b. 1957, has appeared on more than 100 albums, but has very few under his own name -- this is the hard way to get one. I've long been a big fan of trombone, but fact is it's an instrument with rather limited range. Wierbos gets a lot out of it. B+(***)
  • Gerald Wilson Orchestra: Detroit (2009, Mack Avenue): B. 1918 in Mississippi, which puts him past 90 for this record. Moved to Detroit, graduating from "Cass Tech" (a song-title here), then out to Los Angeles in the early 1940s. Apprenticed in Jimmie Lunceford's big band, playing trumpet and arranging. Led his own big band 1945-54, cutting records currently available only on Classics compilations. Spotty discography in the 1950s -- Duke Ellington, Buddy Collette, Red Callender, Leroy Vinnegar, June Christy, Curtis Counce -- but with big bands virtually extinct as working units, from 1961 he cut a series of albums for Pacific Jazz that brought about a new era, that of large, ad hoc studio jazz orchestras. Actually, for him it's been two eras: 1961-69 and 1992 to the present. In between he had two long breaks around a 1981-84 burst that is no longer in print. His recent records have been among his best, and this one is way up there. A six-piece suite was commissioned by the Detroit International Jazz Festival, and recorded by Wilson's LA-based working group. It hits all the right notes: sterling solos, solid section work, power, finesse, noteworthy use of violin (Yvette Devereaux) and guitar (son Anthony Wilson). The last two pieces were cut with a star-studded New York group and they are, if anything, even sharper. A-
  • Brandon Wright: Boiling Point (2009 [2010], Posi-Tone): Tenor saxophonist, from NJ, studied in Michigan and Miami, 27 (b. 1983?), based in Brooklyn, has some big band experience. First album, staffed his quintet with well-known players -- Alex Sipiagin on trumpet, David Kikoski on piano, Hans Glawischnig on bass, Matt Wilson on drums -- wrote 5 of 8 songs (covers: "Here's That Rainy Day," "Interstate Love Song," "You're My Everything"), and cranked up the heat. He's a very impressive player running in fast company. Reminds me some of the young Tommy Smith, which if he pans out could eventually make this record auspicious. B+(***)


Notes for records dismissed during the round:

  • Tony Allen: Secret Agent (2009 [2010], World Circuit/Nonesuch): Nigerian drummer, b. 1940, learned his craft listening to Art Blakey and Max Roach records, hooked up with Fela Kuti early on and put the beat in Afrobeat. Since Fela died in 1997, Allen carries the flame, laboriously making a pretty fair approximation of the sort of album Fela knocked off his cuff. A little short in vocals, sax, and political rants, all of which were the master's edge. B+(***)
  • Dave Anderson Quartet: Clarity (2009 [2010], Pony Boy): Saxophonist, lists soprano first, alto second (but shows a tenor on his website); based in Seattle; first album, a conventional quartet with piano, bass and drums, with Thomas Marriott's flugelhorn added for one cut. Nice mainstream group, nothing exceptional. B
  • Laurie Anderson: Homeland (2010, Nonesuch): A rather dreary album, at least partly by intent, which raises such big and serious questions I'm tempted to grade it up if only to get a hearing. Some songs are worth hearing more for didactic purposes than listening enjoyment -- "Another Day in America" and "Dark Time in the Revolution" are two. Only one is flat-out brilliant: "Only an Expert" is not only deep but quickens the pace to drive its points home. Others I'm likely to remain unsettled over, including four murky ones at the beginning. Ambitious, distinctive, thoughtful, clever, unique; still, I find it sitting on my year-end list right below Kesha, its polar opposite. B+(***)
  • Ab Baars/Meinrad Kneer: Windfall (2008 [2010], Evil Rabbit): Tenor sax-bass duets, although Baars occasionally lightens up with clarinet, shakuhachi, or noh-kan (a "high pitched Japanese bamboo transverse flute commonly used in traditional Imperial Noh and Kabuki theatre"). One of Baars' more appealing, more charming efforts, although the real test here is following the bass, which demands and rewards concentration. B+(**)
  • Niklas Barnö/Joel Grip/Didier Lasserre: Snus (2009 [2010], Ayler): Trumpet-bass-drums trio, respectively; Barnö and Grip from Sweden, Lasserre from France. Snus may or may not be group name; also is some kind of tobacco product in Sweden, banned in the EU. Rough free jazz -- the drummer definitely has a knack for it, the bassist harder to hear at all clearly. Barnö goes for a gutbucket sound, more like a trombone, no less dirty but higher and faster. B+(**)
  • Carlos Barretto Lokomotiv: Labirintos (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Bassist, from Portugal; website "complete biography" is nothing more than lists of people he has played with, countries he has played in, and records he has played on. Recording career starts around 1991, with a half-dozen or so albums under his name since 1997. One, cut in 2003, was called Lokomotiv, which is either the trio name or part of the title depending on how you parse it. Group includes Mario Delgado on guitar and Jose Salgueiro on drums and percussion. Takes a lot of concentration to draw much out of this. B+(*)
  • Judith Berkson: Oylam (2009 [2010], ECM): Vocalist -- "soprano" is how she puts it -- plays piano and various keybs here, accordion elsewhere; studied at New England Conservatory; based in Brooklyn; cantor at Old Westbury Hebrew Congregation Kehilat Shir Ami; also has a band named Platz Machen into Hebrew liturgy. Second album. I've heard the first, Lu-Lu, and, well, didn't like it. This was headed the same way, but little bits started to connect -- fragments of Porter and Gershwin, a slice of German (OK, very probably Yiddish), some piano. Very spare and rather arty. B+(**)
  • Ran Blake/Christine Correa: Out of the Shadows (2009 [2010], Red Piano): Internet down as I play/write this, so research is limited (and error-prone). Blake, of course, is the well known pianist, b. 1935, with at least 35 albums since 1961, including collaborations with vocalist Jeanne Lee -- Short Life of Barbara Monk is one of his (and their) best-known albums. Correa is a vocalist I've bumped into a couple of times, mostly with pianist Frank Carlberg (if memory serves, her husband). Rather difficult on both ends, with Blake's blockish piano interesting but providing little support, leaving Correa to wing it, which she does with admirable gusto. B+(*)
  • Ran Blake/Sara Serpa: Camera Obscura (2010, Inner Circle Music): Another Ran Blake piano-vocal duo. Serpa was born in Lisbon, Portugal; studied at New England Conservatory, where she ran into Blake; based in New York now. More songwise than Blake's album with Christine Correa; Serpa seems to draw out Blake's support, where Correa was more intent on challenging him. B+(**)
  • Theo Bleckmann/Fumio Yasuda: Berlin: Songs of Love and War, Peace and Exile (2007, Winter & Winter): Twenty-three songs, most Weill-Brecht or Eisler-Brecht, the few others including several I'm equally familiar with, like "Lili Marleen" and "Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss auf Liebe eingestellt." Yasuda, Bleckmann's partner in Las Vegas Rhapsody, plays piano and arranges string quartet for that Weimar feel. Bleckmann is German, gay, possesses remarkable control in the upper registers. This is, in short, his patrimony. One play can't possibly do it justice, but will have to do for now. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Theo Bleckmann: I Dwell in Possibility (2009 [2010], Winter & Winter): Vocalist, b. 1966 in Dortmund, Germany. Has a rather high voice, which he supplements with various toys to produce odd sounds. Francis Davis raved about him in a recent Village Voice column: "Beckmann is the most startlingly original male vocalist since Bobby McFerrin" -- then thinking further insisted that Bleckmann's "more rigorous intellect" will help him avoid "the same slippery slope into feckless novelty" McFerrin was prone to. This is the most hard core of Bleckmann's records, a solo effort, but not exactly acappella -- his credits read "voice, autoharp, chime balls, chimes, finger symbals, flutes, glass harp, hand-held fan, Indonesian frog buzzer, iPhone, lyre, melodica, miniature zither, nut shell shakers, rotary pan flute, shruti box, tongue drum, toy amp, toy boxes, toy megaphones, vibra tone, water bottle." The songs include James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Kurt Schwitters, Meredith Monk, "I Hear a Rhapsody" and "Comes Love," plus original music to lyrics from Emily Dickinson, Euripides, and the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Rather difficult to hear and/or to pick up on, sometimes cute, no doubt brilliant. B+(*)
  • Eric Boeren 4tet: Song for Tracy the Turtle: Live at Jazz Brugge 2004 (2004 [2010], Clean Feed): Dutch cornet player, quartet includes Michael Moore (alto sax, clarinet), Wilbert de Joode (bass), and Paul Lovens (drums). Radio shot, tape discovered (or brought to Boeren's attention) only recently. Rough to start, interesting free play, don't get much sense of Moore although he's in the thick of it. B+(*)
  • Bona: The Ten Shades of Blues (2009 [2010], Decca): No indication of first name on cover, but he's generally gone as Richard Bona. Born 1967 in Cameroon, moved to Germany, France, New York; main instrument is electric bass, although he's also credited with guitars, keyboards, drums, percussions, and samples here, and he sings on all tracks. Has eight (or more) albums since 1999. The blues concept here makes for a grand tour of world music, with various combinations of Indian, African, European, and American musicians, including bits of Bailo Baa fula flute, Niladari Kumar sitar, Jojo Kuah drums, Gregoire Maret harmonica, Jean Michel Pilc piano, Christian Howes violin, Ryan Cavanaugh banjo, and Bob Reynolds sax. Mildly spiced, gently groveful. B+(**)
  • The Britton Brothers Band: Uncertain Living (2009 [2010], Record Craft): John Britton plays trumpet; Ben Britton tenor sax. Also on hand: Jeremy Siskind on piano, Taylor Waugh on bass, Austin Walker on drums. First album. The brothers wrote three tracks each, plus one by Siskind. Name recalls the Brecker Brothers, but they are more into aggressive postbop and less into skunk funk. Chris Potter guests on two tracks, and turns it up a notch. B+(*)
  • Peter Brötzmann/Paal Nilssen-Love: Woodcuts (2008 [2010], Smalltown Superjazz): Sax-drums duo, or when Brötzmann decides to cut your ears some slack he switches to bass clarinet or Bb-clarinet (but no tarogato this time). Nilssen-Love has a bunch of these duos in his discography now, including a previous one with Brötzmann (Sweet Sweat), others with Joe McPhee, John Butcher, Håkon Kornstad, Mats Gustafsson, and especially Ken Vandermark. Seems about par for the course, noisy, exciting, wearing. B+(**)
  • Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra: Mezzanine (2010, Owl Studios): The biggest band in Indianapolis, or at least Bloomington, where this was recorded and Brent trombonist-conductor Wallarab teaches. I thought their previous album, Where or When, was a terrific territory band throwback, but they get all orchestral here, and while arranger fans will find bits to admire, this doesn't really get going until third cut from the end, where they take a break from Wallarab's book. Even then, how often are you tempted to call "Stompin' at the Savoy" and "Cherokee" dainty? B
  • Steve Cardenas: West of Middle (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Guitarist, from Kansas City, based in New York; third album since 2000; lots of side credits since 1991, notably with Ben Allison and Paul Motian. Trio here, with Allison returning the favor at bass, and Rudy Royston on drums. Nice leads, but still strikes me as a first rate sideman. B+(**)
  • Paul Carr: Straight Ahead Soul (2010, Paul Carr Jazz): Texas tenor, b. 1961, studied at Texas Southern University and Howard, based in DC. Got his blues tone but doesn't indulge in much honking, and plays a little soprano which doesn't sound Texas at all. With Bobby Broom on guitar, Allyn Johnson on piano, Michael Bowie on bass, and Lewis Nash on drums, all filling the straight ahead formula, plus a little Chelsea Green viola that goes somewhere else. Willard Jenkins wrote the notes, bringing up Arnett Cobb. For what it's worth, Cobb's Party Time has been stuck in my bedroom machine for the last month or two: a wonderful record, never fails to pick me up. B+(**)
  • Regina Carter: Reverse Thread (2010, E1 Entertainment): Violinist, got a major label break when cousin James Carter was on Atlantic, and proved popular enough to stick in the big leagues, even winning a MacArthur "genius grant." This troll through Afropop may be a genius concept but it's no genius execution. A lot of sawing on top of guitar (Adam Rogers) or kora (Yacouba Sissoko), accordion (Will Holshouser or Gary Versace), bass (Chris Lightcap or Mamadou Ba), and drums (Alvester Garnett), does develop some rhythmic roll, but seems to come from neither here nor there. Might get better with more exposure, or might seem even more misaprised. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Cedar Chest: The Cedar Walton Songbook [The Composer Collection Volume 6] (2000-08 [2010], High Note): This follows compilations based on Silver, Coltrane, Ellington, Davis, and Monk. Walton moves into a slightly younger generation -- he started recording when Coltrane checked out -- and it's gotten much rarer for jazz musicians to cover more recent composers. The label has released six albums by Walton since 2001 -- Seasoned Wood is my pick -- but they must have considered that too easy. Still, they wound up with Walton playing piano on 4 of 10 tracks, and he sets a high standard for the others. Still, the selections are spotty, with two Larry Coryell treats, two by Fathead Newman, two by Sammy Figueroa. B
  • Bill Charlap/Renee Rosnes: Double Portrait (2009 [2010], Blue Note): Two pianists; you know that. Husband and wife as of 2007; I didn't know that, and having also not known that vocalist Sandy Stewart is Charlap's mother, I'm glad not to have missed that. Rosnes is four years older, from Canada, more of a modernist and more of a composer -- albeit only one song here among a batch of eight covers -- where Charlap is more retro and more of an interpreter. I have them down for one A- each, out of six Charlap records and three by Rosnes -- both have comparable discographies, but Charlap has been more active lately. Just piano here, sounds more like solo than duets, can't tell you who does what. Attractive, of course, but nothing really enticing. B [Rhapsody]
  • Retta Christie: With David Evans & Dave Frishberg, Volume 2 (2009 [2010], Retta): Singer, b. 1959 in Astoria, OR. Second album, following Volume 1 all the way down to the cover art, given a different tint here. Standards, but not too standard: notes place most of them in the 1920s and 1930s with a Mills Brothers hit from 1944 not so far an outlier. Evans plays sax and clarinet; is a treat on both, especially the latter. Frishberg limits himself to piano -- he's a notable singer in his own right, but plays this one close to the vest. B+(**)
  • The Stanley Clarke Band (2010, Heads Up): Bass guitarist, b. 1951, came out of Chick Corea's Return to Forever and established a fusion rep in the 1970s, which I can't say I paid any attention to. This is only the second of 30+ albums under his name that I've heard. The album is a mess, with Ruslan Sirota's keybs and Charles Aluna's guitar standard pieces, along with a lot of guests -- Hiromi gets a shout out on the cover, and her piano does stand out, if garrishly. Some funk, one cut dedicated to Zawinul, one cut is called "Sonny Rollins" but gives you Bob Sheppard instead, some vocals. Hard to sort it all out; not awful, but little reason to. Nor am I sure if the "global warming" song is as dumb as it seems, but could be. B-
  • Billy Cobham/Colin Towns/HR-Bigband: Meeting of the Spirits: A Celebration of the Mahavishnu Orchestra (2006 [2010], In+Out): Songs originally from John McLaughlin, with Mahavishnu Orchestra drummer Cobham employed for quality control. Arranged for big band, directed, and mixed by Towns. HR-Bigband is one of two major outfits in Germany -- WDR Bigband Köln is the other -- that record prolifically under the names of their guest stars. Martin Scales plays guitar, but most of the lines have been shunted off to the horns. The music holds up pretty well, and the drum solos are solid. B+(**)
  • Cochemea Gastelum: The Electric Sound of Johnny Arrow (2010, Mowo!): Sax player; have him listed on alto first, but plays more tenor here, more baritone than that, more "electric sax" than anything, with flute a close second, bass clarinet, all sorts of keyboards, vibes, drums and percussion. First album, has some studio work with pop stars like Amy Winehouse (also Sharon Jones, Angelique Kidjo, New Pornographers), and funk-oriented jazzbos -- Robert Walter, Will Bernard, Melvin Sparks, Reuben Wilson (also something called Phat Jam in Milano listed under Archie Shepp). This one was co-produced by Mocean Worker, who contributed "bips & baps" as well as most of the bass. Beatwise funk, takes off when Elizabeth Pupo-Walker turns on her congas, stalls when the velocity drops too much. B+(*)
  • Avishai Cohen: Aurora (2008 [2010], Blue Note/EMI Music): Israeli bassist, b. 1970 (many sites say 1971, but Cohen's own say 1970), established his jazz career in New York but seems to be based in Israel now. Eleventh record since 1998, carries a small Blue Note label as well as EMI Music, but was recorded on France and isn't on Blue Note's US schedule -- hype sheet gives April 27 as release date. Plays electric as well as acoustic, has a piano credit and sings most of the songs, with Karen Malka joining in here and there. Band includes Shai Maestro on piano/wurlitzer, Amos Hoffman on oud, and Itamar Doari on percussion. Several songs derive from Ladino folk sources, although most are originals. Vocals are slight, amateurish; arrangements are slow, with a baroque feel -- hype sheet cites Bach counterpoint, as well as pointing out that his Ladino was sharpened playing in New York latin ensembles. B+(**)
  • Steve Coleman and Five Elements: Harvesting Semblances and Affinities (2007 [2010], Pi): Sextet, aside for a little extra percussion on one cut. Thomas Morgan and Tyshawn Sorey make a superb rhythm section. Coleman's alto sax is smothered in brass: Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet and Tim Albright on trombone. Then there is vocalist Jen Shyu, who fills the role Cassandra Wilson had in Coleman's M-Base collective and adds a little Betty Carter but with more normal vocal range. Played this three times: first time I was totally lost, and two subsequent spins brought me to the point of not caring. All the interest is in the quirks, which turn out to be fleeting and insubstantial. B
  • Chick Corea: Solo Piano: Improvisations/Children's Songs (1971-83 [2010], ECM, 3CD): Three solo piano albums find Corea in an exploratory mood. The first two came from a 1971 session, when Corea was working with Miles Davis on the one hand and Anthony Braxton on the other, before he took off on Return to Forever. Aside from pieces by Monk and Shorter on Vol. 2, everything was improvised, with the melodies on Vol. 1 especially charming. Children's Songs came twelve years later, all improvised, nothing childish about it other than that he tries working from elements. Final cut adds violin and cello, a nice little piece of chamber jazz. B+(*)
  • Rich Corpolongo Trio: Get Happy (2009 [2010], Delmark): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1941 in Chicago, parents from Italy. Third album on Delmark, the first two dating from 1996 and 1998 with Corpolongo playing alto and soprano sax but no tenor. All three have upbeat titles -- Just Found Joy and Smiles -- but his playing is serious, sober mainstream, spare and muscular with just bass (Dan Shapera) and drums (Rusty Jones), with Charlie Parker tunes fore and aft, standards in between including the title tune, "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams," and "Body and Soul." B+(**)
  • Larry Coryell: Prime Picks: The Virtuoso Guitar of Larry Coryell (1998-2003 [2010], High Note): Robert Christgau once wrote: "Larry Coryell is the greatest thing to happen to the guitar since stretched gut." But looking through his Consumer Guides, I don't see any Coryell albums that Christgau actually liked much -- unlike John McLaughlin, Sonny Sharrock, and James Ulmer -- and he seems to have given up listening shortly after 1979. This samples five 1998-2003 albums, with two solo cuts and several small groups that hop around randomly -- two with trumpet, two with vibes, four with John Hicks on piano, two "Power Trio" cuts with bass and drums. Best thing is the guitar, as silvery as Coryell's hair. B+(*)
  • Kris Davis/Ingrid Laubrock/Tyshawn Sorey: Paradoxical Frog (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Not familiar with Laubrock, although she also appears on the Tom Rainey record still awaiting my attention. Tenor saxophonist, b. 1970 in Germany, based in London and/or Brooklyn; five albums since 1997 by most counts, which file this one under Davis, a pianist from Canada who specializes in fast and furious saxophonists -- Rye Eclipse with Tony Malaby is my top recommendation. Sorey is a drummer, plays in Fieldwork and has a couple albums on his own that are more focused on his composition than his percussion. This should click in interesting ways, but Laubrock isn't that fleet and that seems to slow down the others. Also a queer stretch of silence (or very low volume) creates a false ending -- not sure what's going on there. B+(*)
  • Steve Davis: Images (2009 [2010], Posi-Tone): Trombonist, b. 1967 in Binghampton, NY, studied with Jackie McLean, who steered him to Art Blakey. Looks like he has about 18 records since 1996 (mostly for Criss Cross; his MySpace page says 13, AMG lists 17 and misses this), more than 100 side credits. This is a sextet, three horns (Josh Evans on trumpet/flugelhorn, Mike DiRubbo on alto sax) with piano, bass, and drums. Big, brash postbop outing, a lot of bounce to it. Not sure why I don't find it more appealing: too bright? not enough trombone? Don't think the problem is DiRubbo, who's choice for an album dedicated to Jackie McLean. B+(*)
  • Steve Davis Quintet: Live at Smalls (2009 [2010], Smalls Live): Similar to Davis's Images studio disc -- bright, energetic, straightforward hard bop -- but cut down a bit with just trombone and Mike DiRubbo's alto sax up front, and an upgrade on piano to Larry Willis. The live album artifacts help out, like the short playlist (four songs) padded out with more improv, or don't much hurt, like the extended bass solo and the patter. DiRubbo takes at least one song at Parker speeds -- he's always impressive -- and I like Davis's slow intro to "Day Dream." B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Hamilton de Holanda Quintet: Brasilianos 2 (2007 [2010], Adventure Music, CD+DVD): Brazilian mandolin player, b. 1976, father a choro guitarist, caught the ear of bluegrass-turned-choro mandolinist Mike Marshall, who's tapped de Holanda repeatedly for his label. Has a bit of bluegrass sting, nothing you'd call "high and lonesome," but with ten strings backed by guitar and bass has a lot of resonance. Better still is Gabriel Grossi's harmonica, which functions as a horn without being easy to peg. Haven't got to the DVD. B+(**)
  • Dither (2010, Henceforth): Interesting concept, an electric guitar quartet, similar in principle to sax quartets but with chords and electronics thickening the sound. Guitarists are Taylor Levine, David Linaburg, Joshua Lopes, and James Moore. Starts off very quiet as if they're daring you to turn it up, although they can and do get plenty loud when they want. Played it once too loud and once too soft and figured it's not worth fiddling with the tuning, at least at this point. Could develop into something, and I've heard enough that I'm hedging. Elliott Sharp wrote the liner notes. B+(*)
  • Dosh: Tommy (2008-09 [2010], Anticon): Full name: Martin Dosh, from Minneapolis. Fifth record since 2003, all on Anticon, which is generally an underground hip-hop label, very underground. This one is more post-rock ambient electronica, reminiscent of Brian Eno's Another Green World at times, but not as blessed, not just because it's a bit noisier. B+(**)
  • Dave Douglas: A Single Sky (2009, Greenleaf Music): Guest star shot, backed by Frankfurt Radio Bigband, conducted by Jim McNeely, who arranged 4 of 7 Douglas compositions -- Douglas arranged the others. The big band is just that, competent as ever, although the solos you notice are usually the star on trumpet. B+(**)
  • The Dreamers: Ipos: The Book of Angels, Vol. 14 (2009 [2010], Tzadik): John Zorn group, appeared on his albums The Dreamers and O'o, not that Zorn actually plays in it. Marc Ribot's guitar and Jamie Saft's keybs tend to lead, backed by a groove-happy rhythm section -- Trevor Dunn (bass), Kenny Wollesen (vibes), Joey Baron (drums), and Cyro Baptista (percussion). It occurs to me that Ribot is especially adept at taking up these dress-up roles, like with his Cubanos Postizos. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Véronique Dubois/François Carrier: Being With (2009 [2010], Leo): Voice/sax duets. I've always loved Carrier's sax, but he doesn't have a lot of leeway here, pinned down by a high, warbly, operatic voice that I find close to unlistenable. B-
  • Nathan Eklund Group: Coin Flip (2009 [2010], OA2): Trumpet player, b. 1978 near Seattle, based in NJ. Group is a quintet with Craig Yaremko on sax, Steve Myerson on Fender Rhodes. Postbop, the horns tied together harmonically over the soft springiness of the electric piano. I was more impressed last time, when the saxophonist was Donny McCaslin. B
  • The Element Choir: At Rosedale United (2009 [2010], Barnyard): Rosedale United is a church in Toronto. The Element Choir is a vocal group, 51 voices strong, conducted by Christine Duncan. The vocal group functions more as a crowd than as a choir. They're matched with a set of musicians who tend toward avant-ambiance: Jim Lewis (trumpet), Eric Robertson (cassavant pipe organ), Jesse Zubot (violin), and Jean Martin (drums, trumophone). The organ can get churchy, the violin elegiac, the trumpet -- well, I forget what the trumpet does, but at least it was more clear than the choir. B
  • Ergo: Multitude, Solitude (2009, Cuneiform): Brett Sroka on trombone and computer; Carl Maguire on Fender Rhodes, Prophet synthesizer, and effects; Shawn Baltazor drums. I've run into Maguire before -- a fine pianist who pushes the state of the art in postbop compositions, but he's less distinctive here. Sroka has a previous album under his own name. This is the group's second. B+(**)
  • John Escreet: Don't Fight the Inevitable (2010, Mythology): Pianist, from England, b. 1984, studied at Manhattan School of Music, based in Brooklyn; second album, like 2008's Consequences a quintet with Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet, David Binney on alto sax, Matt Brewer on bass, and Nasheet Waits on drums (replacing Tyshawn Sorey). Ambitious, aggressive stuff, especially out the chute with the horns pumping each other up. First play I found that exhilarating; second play annoying. Gets more complicated later on, for better or worse. B+(*)
  • Kali Z. Fasteau: Animal Grace (2005-07 [2010], Flying Note): Eclectic gadfly; soprano sax is probably her key instrument, but she also plays piano, violin, mizmar, nai flute, and sanza here, and uses her voice for something I wouldn't exactly call singing -- actually sounds processed. She first landed in free jazz in the mid-1970s with husband-drummer Donald Rafael Garrett -- cf. Memoirs of a Dream, two discs from 1975-77. Two sets here: 2007 "Live from Harlem" duo with South African drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo, and 2005 "Live in the Alps" with Bobby Few's piano trio. In both Kali Z. makes the rounds, so this has its ups and downs. The ups include Moholo's game drumming, Few's testy piano, and a pretty amazing stretch of soprano sax on the noisy closer. B+(*)
  • Tia Fuller: Decisive Steps (2010, Mack Avenue): Alto saxophonist, also plays some soprano, b. 1976 in Aurora, CO; third album since 2005. Toured for a while with Beyoncé, but her jazz ambitions certainly aren't pop -- she's more like a younger generation Kenny Garrett, a mainstream player who can turn up the heat and draw on deep well of Coltrane antics. Band includes her sister Shamie Royston on piano, Miriam Sullivan on bass, and Kim Thompson on drums; guests include Sean Jones on trumpet/flugelhorn, Christian McBride, and tap dancer Maruice Chestnut. B+(**)
  • Gerry Gibbs and the Electric Thrasher Orchestra: Play the Music of Miles Davis 1967-1975 (2008 [2010], Whaling City Sound, 2CD): Drummer, 44 (b. 1965 or 1966?), born in New York, grew up in Los Angeles, lives both places now; son of vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, with whom he has credits going back to 1987. Sixth album since 1995 -- a sextet album with Ravi Coltrane called The Thrasher, and Thrasher Big Band albums since 2005. The group is slimmed down a bit here as styled for electric Miles Davis: trumpet, two reeds; electric keyb, guitar and bass; Essiet Essiet on acoustic bass, and extra gongs and bells; possible electronics on the horns. Songbook goes back to quintet albums Nefertiti and In a Silent Way, but covers a lot of ground, leaning most on Bitches Brew and Live Evil. Doesn't have the spaciousness or individual virtuosity of Davis's original records, but is generally fun, emphasis on the groove. B+(**)
  • Aaron Goldberg: Home (2007 [2010], Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1974 in Boston, passed through Betty Carter's boot camp, graduated from Harvard, moved to New York; fourth album since 1999, with a lot of work on the side. Trio with Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums; augmented by tenor saxophonist Mark Turner on three cuts, getting a bit lift on the opener, "Canción por la Unidad Latinoamericana," and on "Aze's Blues" -- one of 4 (of 10) originals. Covers scattered from Mandel to Monk, Jobim to Stevie Wonder, with the title track from Omer Avital. B+(*)
  • Ben Goldberg Quartet: Baal: The Book of Angels, Vol. 15 (2009 [2010], Tzadik): First of these I've heard, variations on John Zorn's Jewish-themed Masada songbook. Goldberg's clarinet stays on top of it all, although pianist Jamie Saft gets in some long runs. With Greg Cohen on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Johnny Griffin: Live at Ronnie Scott's (2008 [2010], In+Out): Recorded May 26-27 in London, about two months before Griffin died on July 25, 2008, so perhaps the tenor sax great's last record. Sounds rather fit, although he's often overpowered by Roy Hargrove's trumpet, which in classic Griffin form provides much of the energy level. With Billy Cobham on drums, David Newton (mostly) on piano, with Paul Kuhn dropping in for "How Deep Is the Ocean" and presumably taking the uncredited vocal. B+(**)
  • Scott Hamilton Quartet Plus Two: Our Delight! (2005 [2006], Woodville): B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Scott Hamilton/Alan Barnes: Hi-Ya (2009 [2010], Woodville): I heard an interview with Benny Carter once where a caller asked "what did you learn from Johnny Hodges?" Carter's answer: "never to play any of his songs." Only two of nine songs here don't have Hodges' name on them -- some also Ellington or Strayhorn, but Hamilton gives Barnes some cover with his tenor sax, and Barnes plays baritone as well as alto. Nice, loose, plenty of swing. Still, not Hodges -- I imagine Barnes is as leary of that comparison as Carter was. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Hat: Local (2008 [2010], Hatmusic): I've been listing them under pianist Sergi Sirvent, but this one swings pretty hard to guitarist Jordi Matas, who outwrites Sirvent five to three and plays the crucial instrument here, while Sirvent plays Fender Rhodes and a little trumpet -- not what you'd call brilliant but he's still rather effective. The quartet is rounded out with Marc Cuevas on bass (acoustic and electric) and xylophone and Oscar Doménech on drums and tinaja, each writing one song. All four also enjoy voice credits, although there's not a lot -- part of the opener, and a Matas song called "Money" that may be the first such song not to ring up some cash registers. Matas plays terrific screeching guitar there -- I'd peg it as a rock song but the musicians are way too fancy and the vocals don't get any mileage out of their crudeness. Seems transitional, but no idea to what. B+(**)
  • John Hébert Trio: Spiritual Lover (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): Bassist, from Louisiana, based in Jersey City, shows up on a lot of good records, now has two under his own name. Trio includes Gerald Cleaver on drums and Benoit Delbecq on piano, clarinet, and synth -- mostly piano, but the switches muddy that somewhat. If you care to, you can focus on the bass and be rewarded for your efforts. Otherwise, Delbecq is a fine pianist -- I recommend his 2005 album, Phonetics, but you get a taste of that here. B+(**)
  • Vincent Herring & Earth Jazz: Morning Star (2010, Challenge): No recording date. Credited with "saxophone" -- both alto and soprano are pictured in booklet, and that's his basic kit. Has a steady stream of records since 1990, when he broke in and seemed likely to be a major force, but I haven't heard much since then. Group includes Anthony Wonsey on piano, Richie Goods on bass, Joris Dudli on drums, with Danny Sadownick adding percussion on 6 of 10 tracks. After initial misdirection on "Naima," this soon settles into a funk groove album, with Goods the prime mover, Wonsey playing what sounds like electric piano. Wonsey wrote three songs, Dudli two, Goods one, Herring only one -- the one he sounds most eloquent on. B+(**)
  • Lena Horne Sings: The M-G-M Singles (1946-48 [2010], Verve/Hip-O Select): The first black actress granted a Hollywood contract, she was gorgeous in ways that transcended race -- her ancestors reportedly included slaveholders like John C. Calhoun as well as slaves, with a little American Indian mixed in along the way -- and a pretty good standards singer. Her "Stormy Weather" was a hit in 1943, the title of an MGM musical, and not included here although it seems like it should fit. This picks up a bit later. The house orchestra is completely ordinary, and more than half of the songs you no doubt know from Billie Holiday and/or Ella Fitzgerald. Horne wasn't in their class, but the best songs here -- "A Foggy Day (in London Town)" and "The Lady Is a Tramp" are two -- are completely satisfying. B+(***)
  • Adrian Iaies Trio: A Child's Smile (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Pianist, from Argentina, b. 1960, nine albums since 2000; second album I've heard, Vals de la 81st & Columbus a high HM. Piano trio with Exequiel Dutil on bass, Pepi Taveira on drums. Another fine album, although after three plays I'm blocked on how to describe it -- the most memorable cuts for me are the one standard I know, "Just the Way You Are," and "Alfonsina y el Mar," the one cut with Raul Barboza's accordion added. B+(**)
  • Ideal Bread: The Ideal Bread (2008, KMB): Quartet, brainchild of baritone saxophonist Josh Stinton, only plays Steve Lacy songs. Other members: Kirk Knuffke (trumpet), Reuben Radding (bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums). This album came out a couple of years ago and showed up on some year-end ballots, especially as best debut album. I meant to chase them down at the time, but didn't; remembered them again thanks to their new album, Transmit: Vol. 2 of the Music of Steve Lacy -- also didn't get that one, and it's not on Rhapsody, but this one is. I've heard a lot by Lacy but can't pick out any of his songs, even album titles like "Trickles" and "Esteem." The shift from soprano to baritone precludes emulation, but the edge is there, the second horn adds further snap, and Radding has a lot to do. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Keefe Jackson Quartet: Seeing You See (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): Tenor saxophonist, also plays bass clarinet, from Fayetteville, Arkansas, moved to Chicago in 2001, third album since 2006. Quartet includes ex-Vandermark 5 trombonist Jeb Bishop, who also plays alongside Jackson in Lucky 7s, plus Jason Roebke on bass and Noritaka Tanaka on drums. Snakey free jazz, probably more interesting for Bishop's runs and smears, although Jackson can pull off some interesting lines. B+(**)
  • Sunny Jain: Taboo (2010, Bju'ecords): Drummer, also plays dhol, Indian-American, b. New York, parents Punjabi immigrants. Group includes Mary Cary on piano, Nir Felder on guitar, and Gary Wang on bass, with assorted vocalists on 6 of 7 songs. Compositions based on Indian ragas but don't sound all that Indian. Project "started through a desire and a sense of obligation to use my music as a platform to address social justice issues," which sounds noble and may be worth exploring but I haven't been able to latch on to much in three plays, and feel like moving on. B
  • An Excellent Adventure: The Very Best of Al Jarreau (1975-2009 [2009], Rhino): Originally slotted as a jazz singer because he scatted a little and tackled a couple of Dave Brubeck-Paul Desmond odd-time experiments, Jarreau cut a dozen 1975-94 albums for Warners, grabbing popular and critical acclaim, including Grammys in pop and R&B as well as jazz while never really fitting anywhere. I find his "Blue Rondo a la Turk" one of the more hideous pieces of vocalese ever recorded, and "Boogie Down" one of the lamer exercises in rote disco. That leaves a couple of decent R&B songs like "We're in This Love Together" in a compilation that proves Gödels Theorem: like math, he's a system that cannot both be complete and consistent. B-
  • Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden: Jasmine (2007 [2010], ECM): A night-blooming flower, perhaps unfair to try to listen to music this quiet and uncomplicated during the day when almost any distraction suffices to break the mood. Standards, love songs, a couple of old comrades getting sentimental. B+(*)
  • Beat Kaestli: Invitation (2009 [2010], Chesky): Standards singer, from Switzerland, based in New York. Fourth album since 2002. Subtitled his last one A Tribute to European Song, but this one is All American -- spine inset refers to it as "The New York Sessions" -- standards you know played by pros who keeps discreetly to the background: Kenny Rampton (trumpet), Joel Frahm (tenor sax), Paul Meyers (guitar), Jay Leonhart (bass), Billy Drummond (drums). Soft, pliable voice. Horns don't have much to do, but Meyers sets a nice tone. B+(**)
  • Eleni Karaindrou: Dust of Time (2008 [2009], ECM New Series): Pianist, specializes in composing for films, with seven albums on ECM since 1991, hard to tell how much more. This one is for a film by Theo Angelopoulos. Booklet has lots of pictures, presumably from the film. Mostly strings, some orchestral, but with a delicate touch, soft, easy flow, poignant. B+(**)
  • Manu Katché: Third Round (2009 [2010], ECM): Drummer, b. 1958 in France, roots from Côte d'Ivoire. Cut an album in 1992 when he was mostly associated with rock acts like Sting and Peter Gabriel, and now three ECM albums since 2006 -- the first, Neighbourhood, got a big boost from Jan Garbarek. The saxophonist here, also favoring soprano over tenor, is Tore Brunborg, a similar player, but can't light up a record like Garbarek. Nor does Jason Rebello add much on keyboards, but Jacob Young's guitar spots (4 cuts) are bright and lyrical. Kami Lyle sings one, in a voice that is barely there, and plays a bit of trumpet. B+(*)
  • Kneebody: You Can Have Your Moment (2009 [2010], Winter & Winter): Postbop group with a little funk undertow, probably related to their fondness for Fender Rhodes and effects. Adam Benjamin (as I said), Shane Endsley (trumpet), Kaveh Rastegar (electric bass), Ben Wendel (sax, melodica), Nate Wood (drums -- the only one not credited with effects). Cut an eponymous album for Dave Douglas's Greenleaf Music label in 2005, and got their name out front on Theo Bleckman's Twelve Songs by Charles Ives. Played this one too many times and have to move on: the horns are names I recognize but have yet to register strongly, the Rhodes is neither here nor there, and the drummer's a busy guy who has something beyond funk to add. B+(*)
  • Lee Konitz/Chris Cheek/Stephane Furic Leibovici: Jugendstil II (2005 [2010], ESP-Disk): Bassist Leibovici, who previously recorded as Stephane Furic, wrote all eight pieces, and acts as music director for the two saxophonists. He sets the ground rules, reining in the saxes as they're mostly yoked to the melody -- not much here for rugged individualists, although the music is pleasantly engaging. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Oliver Lake Organ Quartet: Plan (2009 [2010], Passin Thru): Follows an Organ Trio record, adding trumpeter Freddie Hendrix to returning Jared Gold (organ) and Jonathan Blake (drums) -- Lake, of course, plays alto sax. The second horn reminds me of the harmonics Julius Hemphill coaxed out of the World Saxophone Quartet (minus the booming tenor and baritone parts), and Gold does some very interesting things -- I've seen reviews invoke the idea of Monk on organ, but he doesn't just jump around a lot; he gets some positive spin on chaos. Main caveat is that it seems off here and there, a sign of the risks they're taking. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Domenic Landolf: New Brighton (2009 [2010], Pirouet): Swiss tenor saxophonist, b. 1969, also plays bass clarinet and quite a bit of alto flute here. Third album since 2004. Trio backed by Patrice Moret on bass and Dejan Terzic on drums, who keep it simple, straightforward, and thoughtful. Mix of Landolf, Moret, and group pieces, with a lovely cover of "My Old Flame" to close. B+(**)
  • Lawnmower: West (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): The label really seems to like group names, something I try to minimize in my filing: most seem like fronts for some principal, and even when group distribution is genuine so many group names become difficult to follow. I originally tried filing this under drummer Luther Gray: he produced and wrote the (very brief) liner notes. Don't see any song credits. Of course, the person you hear is alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, who is always out front. Quartet is filled out with two guitarists, Geoff Farina and Dan Littleton, who don't make much of a mark. Some bits of Americana worked into the mix, giving it a bit of folk-gospel roots, but recast as free jazz, of course. B+(**)
  • Orlando Le Fleming: From Brooklyn With Love (2009 [2010], 19/8): Bassist, b. 1976, Birmingham, UK; moved to New York 2003. Wikipedia has an article on a professional cricket player named Antony Orlando Frank le Fleming, born on the same day in the same town (well, pretty large city), who played 1994-96; web site bio says he played cricked "for five years in the minor counties," which I guess is consistent. First album, although he has a healthy number of side credits going back to 1999, especially with Jane Monheit. Quartet here, with Will Vinson on alto sax, Lage Lund on guitar, and Antonio Sanchez on drums. Lund has some tasty guitar leads here, and Vinson is sharp but moderate. Attractive album. Seems like I'm on a run of records that sound quite good but don't quite move me to write about them. B+(**)
  • Jim Lewis/Andrew Downing/Jean Martin: On a Short Path From Memory to Forgotten (2008 [2010], Barnyard): Trumpet, bass, drums, respectively. Canadians: Lewis teaches at University of Toronto, which Downing attended. This looks to be Lewis's first album. Scratchy free jazz, often engaging, a little short of fire power. B+(**)
  • Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Deluxe (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): I used to be able to ID these cars: cover looks like a mid-1950s Oldsmobile (1956?), the sketch inside more like a 1959 Caddy, the ne plus ultra of tailfins. Lightcap's a bassist, b. 1971, gets around, third album under his own name after two Fresh Sound New Talents. Runs a big horn line here, with tenor saxophonists Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby on all cuts, and alto saxophonist Andrew D'Angelo joining in on three of eight. Craig Taborn plays Wurlitzer, and Gerald Cleaver is the drums. Sounds like a freewheeling lineup, but they mostly hum along in sync. I used to have a monster Olds: a 1965, with a 425 cu. in. V-8, 4 bbl. carb, put out about 360 hp, ran real smooth keeping all that power bottled up under its big hood, kind of like this record. B+(*)
  • Joe Locke: For the Love of You (2009 [2010], Koch): Instrumentally a fairly snazzy quartet, with Locke's vibes rattling against Geoffrey Keezer's ivories, and George Mraz and Clarence Penn pushing the rhythm. Problem is they added a singer, Kenny Washington, like Jimmy Scott a little guy with a lot of octaves. First song is awful. Second is "Old Devil Moon" -- can't hardly ruin that. Evens out a bit after that. B- [Rhapsody]
  • Luísa Maita: Lero-Lero (2010, Cumbancha): Seductive young Brazilian singer with all the usual curves, and nothing that really sticks out to distinguish her from the pack. B+(*)
  • Jacám Manricks: Trigonometry (2009 [2010], Posi-Tone): Saxophonist, not specified but plays alto in his photos and has played soprano in the past; based in New York, teaches at Manhattan School of Music; bio doesn't provide details like when/where born, how he got to New York, etc. One previous album, last year's Labyrinth, also an impressive disc. Wrote all but a Dolphy piece. Postbop, has a loquacious tone, gets solid support from Gary Versace on piano and Obed Calvaire on drums, and occasional front line help from Scott Wendholt (trumpet) and Alan Ferber (trombone). Sorry for the grade rut, but I can't budge this up or down. [PS: Looks like he started out in Australia.] B+(**)
  • Margret: Com Voce (2010, Sunnyside): Last name Grebowicz, from Texas, probably based in New York now although hype sheet says she teaches philosophy at Goucher College in Baltimore. Website refers to band as Com Você, but hype sheet gives Margret as artist name, Com Você as album title. She/they have a 2007 album, Candeias, under Com Você. Band isn't really applicable on this album anyway: Margret sings on all tracks, but only has Ben Monder (guitar) on one track, Matvei Sigalov (guitar) on another, Monder and Scott Colley (bass) on a third; tenor saxophonist Stan Killian, who seems to be her senior collaborator, only appears on 3 of 9 tracks. Only 3 of 9 songs have Brazilian roots, but she does a fair Astrud Gilberto impression, especially on the sweetly synthetic "Call Me." B
  • Bobby McFerrin: Vocabularies (2010, Emarcy): Actually, title is consistently spelled "VOCAbuLarieS" -- a not-so-subtle way of pointing out that most of the sounds are vocal. The balance comes from producer-cowriter Roger Treece's synths and programming, Alex Acuña's percussion, and small doses of Donny McCaslin sax and Pedro Eustache woodwinds. The cover notes Treece's contribution "and over 50 amazing singers" -- not counting a crowd of 2500 in Bergen, Norway. Each song has at least 16 singers, a chorale effect that trivializes any individual -- McFerrin is always credited as "lead vocal," and Lisa Fischer often as "featured vocal," but neither make much of an impression. B
  • Mikrokolektyw: Revisit (2009 [2010], Delmark): Polish duo, Artur Majewski on trumpet, Kuba Sucher on drums, both working electronics, based in Wroclaw but with some sort of connection to Chicago -- at least to Rob Mazurek, whose Chicago Underground is a basically similar cornet-drums duo. Sounds microtonal at first, but the trumpet offers relief from any potential tedium. B+(*)
  • Joe Morris: Colorfield (2009, ESP-Disk): Guitarist, from Boston, with about 30 albums since 1990, has been on a roll lately -- I count three A-list records since 2004 under his own name, a near miss, and a few more under other names, but most of those rode in on the coattails of hard-blowing saxophonists (Ken Vandermark, Jim Hobbs). Missed this one from last year, a trio with pianist Steve Lantner and his usual drummer Luther Gray. Don't know Lantner, but he worked with Joe (and Mat) Maneri, has a half dozen albums since 1997, and provides a consistently interesting contrast to Morris's irrascible guitar. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Music of the Sphere: Thelonious Monk Songbook [The Composer Collection Volume 5] (1977-2009 [2010], High Note): Continues the label's efforts to pad their product line with samplers. You'd think that Monk's pieces (excepting "'Round About Midnight," natch) are so distinctive they'd provide a unifying theme for an inherently disunified various artist selection, but the compiler seems to have taken that as a challenge to make the selection more perverse. The Arthur Blythe/John Hicks duo is sketchy. The Joel Harrison nonet is one I'd just as soon never hear again. Larry Coryell excels, and Frank Morgan seems refreshingly normal. But I'd still rather hear the whole of the Mary Lou Williams trio I missed than a pastiche like this. B-
  • Mycale: Mycale: The Book of Angels, Volume 13 (2009 [2010], Tzadik): More of John Zorn's new-old Jewish music, this time rendered a capella by a group of four women vocalists: Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, Sofia Rei Koutsovitis, Basya Schecter, and Malika Zarra -- I've run across records under the first three names already. Lyrics picked up from various texts in Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, French, and Arabic. The music has some bounce and resonance, sort of a klezmerish barbershop quarter. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • NoMoreShapes: Creesus Crisis (2010, Drip Audio): Canadian trio, from (and/or based in) Calgary: Jay Crocker on guitar and electronics, J.C. Jones trombone, Eric Hamelin drums and percussion. One suspects rock backgrounds, but this comes off more like freebop than any kind of experimental fusion. The trombone certainly helps. B+(**)
  • Mark O'Connor: Jam Session (2000-04 [2010], OMAC): Whiz-kid bluegrass fiddler, b. 1961, won some prizes when he was young, one result being that Country Music Foundation's compilation of his 1975-84 work is called The Championship Years. Gradually gravitated toward jazz, where he seems stuck on Stephane Grappelli. These cuts actually come from four sessions, two with mandolinist Chris Thile and guitarist Bryan Sutton, one of those plus the other two with guitarist Frank Vignola, with either Jon Burr or Byron House on bass. Informal fun, but doesn't impress me much one way or the other. B
  • Open Graves [Paul Kikuchi/Jesse Olsen]: Hollow Lake (2009, Prefecture): Bay Area-based Olsen is "founder and director of Deconstruct My House, an organization dedicated to presenting and fostering experimental music in socially conscious ways"; also "half of the experimental folk duo Ramon & Jessica." Sounds like a noble calling. For Kikuchi, see above [Tide Tables]. Not sure what Olsen does -- uncredited instruments here are "guitar, voice, slit drum, trombone, bells, walkie-talkies, and Kikuchi and Keplinger instruments" -- but he manages to ground whatever percussion Kikuchi attempts. This "seeks resonant spaces and uncommon environments," which means it is ambient and droney, not uninteresting, but demands attention it doesn't entice. B
  • Aruán Ortiz Quartet: Alameda (2006 [2009], Fresh Sound New Talent): Pianist, b. 1973, from Santiago de Cuba, passed through Spain and France before moving to US in 2003, to study at Berklee and wind up in New York. Cut an album of Cuban standards in 1996, a trio in 2005, and now this augmented quartet. The extra is tenor saxophonist Antoine Roney, who joins in on three cuts and gets a "featuring" shout out on the cover. The quartet includes Eric McPherson on drums, Peter Slavov on bass, and Abraham Burton on alto sax. Roney's the better known name, and I like him well enough, but Burton carries this record, as he has regularly done throughout his career. Ortiz plays some electric. Doesn't make much of his Cuban roots, but I don't doubt he could. B+(**)
  • Evan Parker: House Full of Floors (2009, Tzadik): Mostly trio with John Russell on guitar and John Edwards on bass, Parker playing both soprano and tenor sax, scratchy and patchy on both, with most of the muscle coming out of the bass. Aleks Kolkowski joins in on three tracks, playing stroh viola, saw, and wax cylinder recorder, respectively. I take this for easy listening background music, but you probably don't. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Sarah Partridge: Perspective (2009 [2010], Peartree): Singer, based in NJ, fourth album since 1998. Did some acting 1983-93. Duet with pianist Daniel May. Two originals, the rest standards. Never breaks out of a rather bland rut. B-
  • Ivo Perelman with C.T. String Quartet: The Alexander Suite (1998, Leo): B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Ivo Perelman: Brazilian Watercolour (1998 [2000], Leo): Several Perelman albums have been reissued in Brazil on Atração Fonográphica and worked their way to Rhapsody that way -- this one under the title Aquarela do Brasil, but aside from a few title translations this matches the release on Leo. One of the few cases where Perelman plays a couple of pop tunes from his homeland, here "Desafinado" and "Samba de Verão" -- the strain and choppiness he adds makes them all the more alluring. With Matthew Shipp on piano, Rashid Ali on drums, Guilherme Franco and Cyro Baptista on percussion and wood flutes. A singular tenor saxophonist, even on a lite samba. Also has a piano credit somewhere, but it's not clear to me where Shipp gives way. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Ivo Perelman: The Ventriloquist (2001 [2002], Leo): B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Ivo Perelman & Dominic Duval: Nowhere to Hide (2009, Not Two): Tenor sax-bass duo, a subset of the trio that recorded Mind Games, which benefitted from the accents and dynamics of drummer Brian Wilson. Perelman is close in tone and temperament to the later albums -- much mellower than on the early albums -- but stretches a bit thin here, partly listener fatigue setting in approaching 76 minutes. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Gregory Porter: Water (2009 [2010], Motema): Vocalist, based in Brooklyn, first album. Wrote 6 of 11 songs; one called "1960 What?" on the Detroit riot is a choice cut, partly because he beefs up the horn section (three trumpets and trombone), partly because he doesn't try to constrain his cool. On the other hand, standards like "Skylark" and "But Beautiful" are really tightened down. B+(*)
  • Portico Quartet: Knee Deep in the North Sea (2007, Vortex): First album for British quartet, new record Isla reviewed above. This one was nominated for the rock-centric Mercury Music Prize which put it on the UK Top 200 Albums Chart, so I guess we can consider it pop jazz, although it's much more interesting than that. The hang drums at least start out with that shimmering steel drum sound. A bit less minimalist, more pop than the new one, with the sax searching out hooks; otherwise the same basic sound. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Dan Pratt Organ Quartet: Toe the Line (2008 [2010], Posi-Tone): Tenor saxophonist, from Saratoga, CA, moved to New York in 1997. Group identified as DPOQ on their previous album. Jared Gold plays organ, Mark Ferber drums, and Alan Ferber chimes in on trombone. All originals except for Ellington-Strayhorn's "Star Crossed Lovers." Sounds a lot like Eric Alexander, especially when he gets up a good head of steam. The trombone is fun as a solo contrast, but the postbop harmonies are less appealing. B+(**)
  • Tom Rainey Trio: Pool School (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Album says this was recorded "on September 4th, 2010" -- I assume that's a typo for 2009. Rainey is a drummer who's made a big impression, especially in Tim Berne's groups. Has a long credits list going back to 1987, but this is the first album under his own name. Gets all the composition credits, too. Trio includes Ingrid Laubrock on tenor and soprano sax and Mary Halvorson on guitar. Both tend to wobble here, which is sort of an art form for Halvorson, harder to speculate on with Laubrock. Free playing, takes a lot of attention, doesn't give much back, even from the drummer. B+(*)
  • Reed's Bass Drum: Which Is Which (2009 [2010], Reed's Bass Drum): Brooklyn-based sax trio, with Jonah Parzen-Johnson leading on baritone, Noah Garabedian on bass, and Aaron Ewing on drums. First album. Freebop, moderately paced, no surprise given how slow the bari takes the corners; marvelous, though, when the big horn reaches for a bottom note. B+(**)
  • Aldo Romano: Origine (2009 [2010], Dreyfus Jazz): Drummer, b. 1941 in Belluno, Italy, but moved to France in 1950s and has been long based in Paris. Has a couple dozen albums under his own name since 1977, and a lot of credits -- AMG, which misses a lot in Europe, has a long page starting with Gato Barbieri and Don Cherry in 1965, Steve Lacy in 1966, Rolf Kuhn in 1967, Joachim Kuhn and Steve Kuhn in 1969. Romano composed these pieces, probably over the course of his career, with Yves Simon adding lyrics to "Jazz Messengers" which Romano sings in a touchingly offhand way. Lionel Belmondo arranged the pieces for a large orchestra -- no strings but flutes, English and French horns, bassoon, and tuba, along with the usual reeds, limited brass, piano, bass, and drums -- which the notes fairly describe as "sumptuous." B+(**)
  • Jim Rotondi: 1000 Rainbows (2008 [2010], Posi-Tone): Trumpet player, b. 1962 in Butte, MT, attended UNT, based in New York, has more than a dozen albums since 1997, mostly on mainstream/hard bop labels Criss Cross and Sharp Nine; also more than 50 side credits since 1992. Sole horn, with Joe Locke on vibes, Danny Grissett on piano, Barak Mori on bass, and Bill Stewart on drums. Hard-edged, bright sound, another very solid record. B+(**)
  • Terje Rypdal: Crime Scene (2009 [2010], ECM): Guitarist, b. 1947, part of the George Russell generation of Norwegian jazz musicians; started in rock and gravitated in and out of fusion over the years. Shows some of that here, but the album, a concert recording at Nattjazz Festival in Bergen, veers wildly about with a range of things I can't add up much less reconcile: scattered vocal samples assembled by drummer Paolo Vinaccia; free-ranging trumpet by Palle Mikkelborg; grungy organ by Ståle Storløkken; and occasional earth rumbling from the 17-piece Bergen Big Band. Each of these things are interesting. (Surprised to find him dropped from the 9th ed. of The Penguin Guide, along with 18 records, all on ECM, very likely all still in print.) B+(**)
  • Dino Saluzzi: El Encuentro (2009 [2010], ECM): Bandoneon virtuoso, b. 1935 in Argentina, picks up from the tango tradition but usually adds a jazz dimension. Eleventh ECM album since 1982, plus a few others scattered here and there. Cut a duet album with cellist Anja Lechner in 2006, and continues that collaboration here, adding Felix Saluzzi on tenor sax and, most fatefully, the Metropole Orchestra (Jules Buckley, conductor) for a live album. Metropole is a Dutch group, limited here to strings, which pushes all of my I-hate-classical-music buttons. (Not sure how this group relates to the Metropole Orchestra founded in 1945, currently directed as a big band by Vince Mendoza.) The Saluzzis and Lechner are hard pressed to stand out against such dross. B-
  • Hiroe Sekine: A-Mé (2009 [2010], Sekai Music): Pianist, from Japan, studied at USC. First album, produced by Russell Ferrante, who plays synth on one track. Most tracks are sextet, with trumpet (John Daversa), trombone (Bob McChesney), tenor sax (Bob Sheppard, also soprano and flute), bass (Tony Dumas), and drums (Peter Erskine or Chris Wabich), generating a robust mainstream sound -- Sheppard is typically superb. Half originals, half covers -- Gigi Gryce, Frank Loesser, Jerome Kern, Isham Jones, Milton Nascimento. One solo piece, which I found quite likable. B+(*)
  • Elliott Sharp: Octal Book Two (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Guitarist, b. 1951. AMG lists him under classical (chamber music) since 1986, although his rather large discography goes back to 1977. I hadn't heard anything until he showed up playing Monk on Clean Feed, and now I'm up to four records, barely scratching the surface. Solo guitar -- having a lot of trouble with the small print here, but the credit actually looks like "Koll 8-string electroacoustic guitarbass." Interesting but marginal, turning ambient toward the end. B+(**)
  • Avery Sharpe Trio: Live (2008 [2010], JKNM): Bassist, built his career on long turns with McCoy Tyner and Yusef Lateef, each honored with a song here. Ninth album since 1988. Group is a trio with Onaje Alan Gumbs on piano and Winard Harper on drums. Three originals by Sharpe, one by Gumbs, one more cover: "My Favorite Things." B+(*)
  • Sierra Maestra: Sonando Ya (2009 [2010], World Village): Cuban institution, dates back to 1976, started out playing classic son and pretty much stuck that way, the rhythms complex, the horns simplistic, the vocals deeply sincere, the songs scarcely varied in pitch, volume, or temperament -- not that they don't put out. They always put out. B
  • Ricardo Silveira: Até Amanhã/'Til Tomorrow (2008 [2010], Adventure Music): Guitarist, from Brazil, where there are many but he consistently distinguishes himself. Not sure who plays what here -- album has a "featuring" list but no instruments and it's certainly incomplete. Actually, there seems to be a lot of murky orchestral background, not awful but not clear and not very helpful. B+(*)
  • Dr. Lonnie Smith: Spiral (2010, Palmetto): Organ player, b. 1942, has twenty-some albums since 1967 with a big gap from 1979 to 1993. Fourth album with Palmetto, a trio, with Jonathan Kreisberg, who's found a seductive niche on guitar, and Jamire Williams on drums. First cut is from another Smith, Jimmy, setting out the basic funk parameters. Gets a substantial sound when he slows it down, too. B+(**)
  • Sounds of Liberation: Sounds of Liberation (1972 [2010], Porter): Philadelphia group, very much of the black power moment when shards of avant-sax clashed with funky conga rhythms, merging into something far out but not inaccessible. Byard Lancaster is the saxophonist in a septet with guitar, bass, and four percussionists counting vibraphonist Khan Jamal, the founder and best known member of the one-album group. A- [Rhapsody]
  • Carmen Souza: Protegid (2010, Galileo Music): Cape Verdean singer, b. 1981, third album since 2006, backed by an international band with Portuguese bassist-percussionist Theo Pas'cal especially prominent, but Cuban pianist Victor Zamora reminds me of the herky-jerky rhythms unusual in post-Portuguese music (although Tom Zé is an exception -- maybe psychedelic tropicalia has something going here). Her vocals are heavily mannered, sometimes so Sprachgesang I expect to grasp some German words, but the lyrics look to be all Portuguese, with a thick booklet of trots I haven't bothered with (and in any case would find arduous to read). Played it enough to detect that there is something highly unusual going on here, but still too far out for me to get. B+(*)
  • Speak (2009 [2010], Origin): Seattle quintet, if you count trumpeter Cuong Vu who dropped in after picking up a teaching gig at the University of Washington. The others are Luke Bergman on bass, Chris Icasiano on drums, Aaron Otheim on keyboard, and Andrew Swanson on sax (probably tenor). All but Vu contribute songs -- Bergman and Otheim two. Bergman produced. Not as mainstream as I expected, although the sax-trumpet layering is postbop, while the electric keyboard is mostly tacky, at least until they mutate into some sort of horror soundtrack phase, ultimately breaking up into noise, which is possibly their metier -- at least Swanson sounds much healthier and happier squawking. B
  • John Stein/Ron Gill: Turn Up the Quiet (2009 [2010], Whaling City Sound): Stein is a guitarist, from Kansas City, MO, not sure how old but he's pretty thin on top; ninth album since 1995. Has a light, elegant style, not much evident here where he winds up playing a lot of bass. Gill is a singer, from North Carolina, based in Massachusetts, with one previous album, although like Stein I'd guess he's probably in his 50s. Billy Eckstein-type voice, but smokier. Draws songs from Victor Young, Sammy Cahn, Bart Howard, one each from Ellington and Strayhorn, two Brazilian pieces (neither Jobim), a short Stevie Wonder medley. "Detour Ahead" is especially striking. Uncredited on the front cover is pianist Gilad Barkan, who fills his unsung role admirably. B+(**)
  • Stevens, Siegel & Ferguson Trio: Six (2008 [2010], Konnex): Piano trio, with Memphis-based Michael Jefry Stevens forgoing alphabetical order for once to claim first dibs on a record. Siegel is drummer Jeff, nicknamed "Siege," which leads to all sorts of typographical errors. Ferguson, Tim, plays bass. Both contribute a pair of originals; Stevens just places one. The other five cuts are old standards ("Straight No Chaser" on the fence there), given pleasantly straightforward readings. B+(*)
  • Ike Sturm: Jazzmass (2009, Ike Sturm): Bassist, b. 1978, based in New York, holds a title as "Assistant Director of Music for the Jazz Ministry at Saint Peter's Church in Manhattan." One previous album. I've been avoiding this because, well, you see the title. No false advertising there. Misty Ann Sturm sings, best on the pure hymns, with choir and string orchestra backing, all of which I could do without. The horns are something else: Ingrid Jensen on trumpet/flugelhorn, Loren Stillman on alto sax, and Donny McCaslin on tenor. There are better places to hear them, but they're in form even here. B-
  • Steve Swell's Slammin' the Infinite: Remember Now (2005 [2006], Not Two): Something from the back catalog, by my reckoning the second of four Slammin' the Infinite recordings. No pianist yet, so this is basically two freewheeling horns -- Swell's trombone and Sabir Mateen's saxes/clarinets -- against freewheeling rhythm. Offhand, about as explosive as the new one; while the piano is a plus in the new one, it is hardly necessary. This group projects tremendous energy, makes great noise, and has a fractal intrigue especially in its churning rhythm. Never heard of bassist Matt Heyner or drummer Klaus Kugel before, but they're very solid in this group. Would like to hear more. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Gabor Szabo: Jazz Raga (1966 [2010], Light in the Attic): Guitarist, from Hungary, b. 1936, d. 1982, moved to US in 1956 before the uprising to attend Berklee, and stayed on playing in Chico Hamilton's quintet 1961-66. Starting in 1966 he cut a series of fusion albums for Impulse, drawing on gypsy rhythms for his debut (Gypsy '66) and trying to cash in on the sitar vogue on this his third album. Nothing here suggests he has a clue how to construct one of Ravi Shankar's ragas, but he likes the instrument's peculiar twang and puts it to good use, especially on covers where it adds a distinctive touch ("Caravan," "Paint It Black," and especially "Summertime"). Label kept the old artwork and didn't find any extra tracks, but added a 36-page booklet with a lot more care than Universal will ever muster. B+(**)
  • TGB: Evil Things (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Portuguese trio: Sérgio Carolino (tuba), Mário Delgado (guitar), Alexandre Frazão (drums). Delgado wrote six pieces, Frazão three; one is a group improv, and four more are from others -- only one my eyes can make out is Bill Evans. Rather scattered, as you might expect given how they juxtapose originals named for "George Harrison" and "Aleister Crowley" -- the latter may be the one that sounds like slightly bent Black Sabbath. The tango/soundtrack-ish "Close Your Eyes" is a choice cut, and the high-speed tuba bebop solo on "Tangram" is a hoot, but there's too much evil for my taste; suggest they lighten up and call their next one Mischievous Things. B+(*)
  • Steve Tibbetts: Natural Causes (2008 [2010], ECM): Guitarist, b. 1954, from Minnesota, had an eponymous album in 1976 and now has eight ECM albums from 1980, the last three following 6-, 8-, and 8-year breaks. Also credited with piano, kalimba, and bouzouki -- not sure whether they are minor here or just subtly layered, as the hype sheet suggests. Marc Anderson adds percussion, but there is little more to it: quiet, measured, slips by all to easily. B+(**)
  • Mike Treni: Turnaround (2009, Bell Production, CD+DVD): Composer-arranger, started out on trombone -- has a side credit on a 1977 Bobby Watson album -- based on New Jersey; has a previous album, Detour! (2007), and a more recent one, America: Land of Opportunity (2010). Big band with some extra percussion and occasional strings. First solo caught my ear, but that's just Jerry Bergonzi for you. Don't care much for the strings, but the brass section work is sharp. Comes with a DVD I haven't watched. Also a political screed about how socialism may be OK for classical music but doesn't work for jazz. B
  • Bo van de Graaf: Sold Out: 25 Soundtracks (2009 [2010], Icdisc): Dutch saxophonist, has contributed to the notion that the Dutch avant-garde has as much to do with comedy as with music, although the funniest things here are the titles: "Cat on a hot thin roof," "Ascenseur pour un escargot," "Et Depardieu créa la femme," "The gossip father," "Koyaanisquatsch," "For your legs only," and the 26th cut, disguised as a "bonus track" so as not to dispute the title, "Silence of the lamps (suite)." Would be more fun -- not the same thing as funnier -- if he played more sax, but only 6 of 26 cuts get that treatment. Mostly he hacks out melodies on electric keyboards with samples, and employs a few helpers for bits trumpet, harmonica, english horn, and to voice some Anna Akhmatova words. B
  • Ray Vega & Thomas Marriott: East-West Trumpet Summit (2009 [2010], Origin): Marriott's from Seattle; Vega's from the Bronx. Marriott thanks God in the notes here; Vega thanks Jesus. Presumably Vega's the hot one here -- play with Ray Barretto and Tito Puente and you learn to crank it up a couple notches. Each has a moderate pile of albums. Both can play but neither makes a very distinctive impression. Together they put together as hot a trumpet album as I've heard in a while. B+(*)
  • The Waitiki 7: New Sounds of Exotica (2009 [2010], Pass Out): Sounds like the old sounds of exotica, as far as I can bother to recall, except maybe louder. Group is led by bassist Ray Wong, with soprano sax/flutes, violin, piano, vibes/xylophone, drums, and a percussion guy who doubles on bird/animal calls. Some old Martin Denny pieces; some new ones. Packaging includes a Chee Hoo Fizz recipe which I'm not about to mix up. B
  • Nasheet Waits: Equality (2008 [2009], Fresh Sound New Talent): Cover can be parsed various ways: one implication is that Equality is meant to be the group name. Waits is a drummer, best known for driving Jason Moran's Bandwagon, a piano trio with Taurus Mateen on bass. All three are present and accounted for here, and all three contribute songs -- Mateen one, Moran and Waits two each. Moreover, Moran doesn't seem to be too unhappy to see the tables turned. He has his own record and has shown up on several more lately, but this is his most energetic performance in several years. Oh, and there's a fourth guy here: alto saxophonist Logan Richardson. He had a terrific debut album, Cerebral Flow, in 2006, and is in prime form here too. A- [Rhapsody]
  • Myron Walden: Momentum Live (2009, Demi Sound): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1972 (or 1973?), started on alto, establishing himself as one of the better mainstream boppers around before taking time off to refashion himself on tenor. Got hit with a lot of hype on him last fall, including a bunch of advances for albums that the publicist never followed up on. The first was called Momentum, and it seemed like a pretty decent hard bop outing. This is a live reworking, with Darren Barrett (trumpet) and Yasushi Nakamura (bass) carrying over from the studio album, Edin Ladin (piano) and John Davis (drums) replacing David Bryant and Kendrick Scott. Main diff this time is sonic, where they're going for (or stumbled on) the thin-skinned underwater sound of Charlie Parker boots. The plus side is an engaging looseness, especially the horns sliding to and fro. The piano solos don't do much, and the usual live ballast doesn't add anything. B+(*)
  • Myron Walden/In This World: To Feel (2009 [2010], Demi Sound): Same deal here: don't know anything more about band, recording date (presumed 2009 because I got the advance before 2010 rolled over), etc. Record is a little more energetic, and guitar (Mike Moreno?) does a nice job of framing the tenor sax. Walden is an attractive mainstream player, worth taking seriously, but he's not making any big breakthroughs. I have one more CDR in my pile, a 2-cut thing called Singles, which I assume is just a pure PR fantasy. He seems to have one more album in the pipeline, Countryfied, also on Amazon. Didn't come my way. B+(*)
  • Myron Walden/In This World: What We Share (2009 [2010], Demi Sound): Last fall's batch of CDRs included two Walden albums promised for Jan. 15 release. I did what I usually do: wait for the real copy, which in this case never came. Looks like everyone else did too. I haven't found a single review of either album, and the only place where it is Amazon, fronting for a retailed identified as Myron Walden. Not clear if "In This World" is a band name or just a logo. One page in the hype package lists the band as: Jon Cowherd (piano), Mike Moreno (guitar), Yasushi Nakamura (bass), and Obed Calvaire (drums). AMG, with no track info, confirms Cowherd-Moreno-Nakamura, but has Brian Blade and/or Kendrick Scott on drums, plus David Bryant on Fender Rhodes and Chris Thomas on acoustic bass. Band doesn't matter much here. Walden's To Feel approach is to run ballads past us, everything slow and soft. B
  • Torben Waldorff: American Rock Beauty (2009 [2010], ArtistShare): Guitarist, b. 1963 in Denmark, based in Sweden, has five or so albums since 1999, the last couple on my HM list. I can't say as I have a good feel for his guitar, mostly because he keeps using tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin, who keeps blowing everyone else away. B+(**)
  • Christian Wallumrod Ensemble: Fabula Suite Lugano (2009 [2010], ECM): Norwegian pianist, b. 1971, fifth album since 1998, all on ECM. Group is a sextet, long on strings -- Gjermund Larsen on violin/viola/hardanger fiddle, Tanja Orning on cello, Giovanna Pessi on baroque harp -- with Eivind Lenning's trumpet for a rare dash of color and Per Oddvar Johansen on percussion and glockenspiel. More baroque than anything else, with a bit of Scarlatti tucked into the originals. A lot of this is annoyingly subaudible, yet it doesn't seem like the kind of music you ought to crank up. B-
  • Pharez Whitted: Transient Journey (2009 [2010], Owl Studios): Trumpet player, from Indiana, studied at DePauw and Indiana University, two previous albums on Motown (1994 and 1996), based in Chicago now, teaches at Chicago State. Sexet with Eddie Bayard -- Edwin on Mark Lomax's more challenging record -- on tenor and soprano sax, Ron Perrillo on piano/keyboards, Bobby Broom on guitar, Dennis Carroll on bass, Greg Artry on drums, with Broom producing. Freddie Hubbard and Barack Obama inspire pieces. Solid hard bop, nothing spectacular, not much from Bayard, who made such a big impression on the Lomax album. B
  • Carrie Wicks: I'll Get Around to It (2009 [2010], OA2): Singer, based in Seattle area, first album, backed by label regulars including Hans Teuber on tenor sax and clarinet, Bill Anschell on piano, and Jeff Johnson on bass. Standards, mostly from 1940s with Elvis Costello's "Almost Blue" an outlier and a co-credited original from 2008. Samba-fied medley of "Moonlight in Vermont" and "No Moon at All" and a "Baby, Get Lost" among the highlights. B+(*)
  • Phil Wilson/Makoto Ozone: Live!! At the Berklee Performance Center (1982 [2010], Capri): Wilson, b. 1937, plays trombone; studied at New England Conservatory and the Navy School of Music; played in big bands with Herb Pomeroy, the Dorsey Brothers, Woody Herman, and Buddy Rich; taught at Berklee from 1966; has a spotty recording career which adds up to a couple dozen albums. Ozone, b. 1961 in Kobe, Japan, is a pianist, studied at Berklee, returned to Japan in 1983, where he is evidently a big deal. He also has a couple dozen albums, of which this is one of the first. I haven't heard any others, although I have an advance of a new album on Verve somewhere. Standards, ranging from "Stella by Starlight" to "Giant Steps" played with an amusing crudeness -- actually, it's just Wilson who sounds crude, a badge of merit from trombonists. B+(*)
  • Nikki Yanofsky: Nikki (2010, Decca): Standards singer, from Montreal, b. 1994, which makes her 16 or probably 15 when she recorded this, her second album following a 2008 CD/DVD combo called Ella . . . of Thee I Swing. Produced by Phil Ramone and Jesse Harris. Didn't bother digging through the fine print to see who all's playing. No doubt she can belt the songs out -- a plus on "Take the 'A' Train" and "On the Sunny Side of the Street" and "Mr. Paganini" but not so much on "Over the Rainbow." While the Ella and Billie songs don't match up, at least they swing. The less obvious pieces don't reveal much of anything, even fandom. B
  • Joel Yennior Trio: Big City Circus (2007 [2010], Brass Wheel): Trombonist, from South Orange, NJ; studied and now teaches at New England Conservatory; first album, although he has side credits since 2000 with Either/Orchestra, Gypsy Schaeffer, Alejandro Cimadoro, and Mulatu Astatke. Trio adds guitarist Eric Hofbauer (Blueprint Project) and drummer Gary Fieldman. Trombone is a little thin for the lead here, but that has its own appeal, and Hofbauer is an interesting player even in small roles. B+(**)
  • Alper Yilmaz: Over the Clouds (2009 [2010], Kayique): Electric bassist, from Turkey, studied industrial engineering, based in New York since 2000, second album since 2007. Also takes credits for sound design and loops. The bass lines are highlighted by Nir Felder's guitar, while David Binney's alto sax provides a sharp contrast. B+(**)
  • Ratko Zjaca/John Patitucci/Steve Gadd/Stanislav Mitrovic/Randy Brecker: Continental Talk (2008 [2010], In+Out): Guitarist, studied in Zagreb, based now in Rotterdam; AMG lists 3 records since 2000 (not including this one); website lists 8 but not much detail. Mitrovic, b. 1963 in Belgrade, also based in Rotterdam, plays tenor and soprano sax. The others, better known, play trumpet (Brecker), bass (Patitucci), and drums (Gadd). Mostly modern postbop, with nice sax runs and trumpet blasts, but slips into some skunk funk near the end. B
  • John Zorn: The 50th Birthday Celebration, Vol. 1: Masada String Trio (2003 [2004], Tzadik): Looked for the new Masada String Trio, Haborym (Book of Angels, Vol. 16), not available (yet), and found this one from a few years back, one of a big stack of live shots from Sept. 2003 when Tonic put on a series to honor the club's owner. Most are Zorn-less groups picking over his songbook. This trio consists of Mark Feldman on viola, Erik Friedlander on cello, and Greg Cohen on bass. The Jewish themes provide some bounce, lack of violin cuts down on the screech, and the bass adds depth. Could do without the applause. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • John Zorn: Dictée / Liber Novus (2009 [2010], Tzadik): Two pieces, close to 20 minutes each, one based on Korean-American writer/conceptual artist Theresa Hak-Kyung Cha, the other "a mythic psychodrama inspired by the legendary Red Book of Carl Jung. Keybs (Sylvie Courvoisier and Stephen Goslin on piano, John Medeski on organ), Ned Rothenberg's reeds (shakuhachi, bass flute, clarinet), percussion and sound effects, could be a soundtrack cluttered with random events, not horror but not normal either. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • John Zorn: In Search of the Miraculous (2009 [2010], Tzadik): Zorn's promised one record each month this year, which isn't a lot more prolific than his usual pace, but seems likely to involve cutting some corners. Composer-only album, built around the Rob Burger-Greg Cohen-Ben Perowsky piano trio that cut Alhambra Love Songs, with a few extras -- Shanir Blumenkranz (electric bass), Kenny Wollesen (vibes), but focuses more on the piano, adding a bit of dramatic range rather than sinking into minimalist repetition. Gains something toward the end. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • John Zorn: The Goddess: Music for the Ancient of Days (2009 [2010], Tzadik): Another Zorn-as-composer-only album, the titles casually plundered archaeology, but actually nothing ancient about it; reminds me more of cocktail jazz, exotica with the spurious weirdness supplanted by a higher-powered Riley/Reich minimalist engine. Played on piano (Rob Burger), guitar (Marc Ribot), harp (Carol Emmanuel), vibes (Kenny Wollesen), bass (Travor Dunn), and drums (Ben Perowsky). B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • John Zorn/Fred Frith: Late Works (2009 [2010], Tzadik): Alto sax/electric guitar duo, the latter's screech closely tuned to match the former. Ten pieces, most likely improv, although occasional oblique strategies lurk. Often interesting, but does wear a bit thin. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Monday, September 27, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 17165 [17137] rated (+28), 858 [851] unrated (+7). Another average week, with a little bit of all the usual things.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #25, Part 3)

All signs look like Jazz Consumer Guide will be appearing in The Village Voice this Wednesday. Of course, I've been bumped at the last minute before, so we won't know for sure until it happens. Also a good chance that something or other will get cut when they lay it out, but as of now I haven't heard anything about that.

Meanwhile, prospecting:


Thomas Savy: French Suite (2009 [2010], Plus Loin Music): Bass clarinetist, from France, second album, a trio with Scott Colley on bass and Bill Stewart on drums. Suite runs through seven parts, followed by Ellington's "Come Sunday," an extra bit from the suite, and Coltrane's "Lonnie's Lament." Packaging is oversized. B+(**)

Puttin' On the Ritz: White Light/White Heat (2010, Hot Cup): B.J. Rubin dates his relationship to the music of the Velvet Underground to 1999, about 25 years after I fell hard for their four studio albums, so I can sort of relate but also tend to be hypercritical. He talks his way through "The Gift" and sings, if you can call it that, "White Light/White Heat," "Lady Godiva's Operation," "Here She Comes Now," "I Heard Her Call My Name," and "Sister Ray." His partner is MOPTDK drummer Kevin Shea, whose other side project is a tasteless duo with Matt Mottel -- credited here on Turkish organ -- called Talibam! MOPDTK mainstays Moppa Elliott and Jon Irabagon add some noise, as do fellow travellers Nate Wooley (trumpet) and Sam Kulik (trombone, bass trombone). The horns aren't without interest, but only on "Sister Ray" does the music salvage the vocal. B- [advance]

Anat Fort Trio: And If (2009 [2010], ECM): Pianist, b. 1970 near Tel Aviv in Israel, moved to US in early 1990s, based in New York. Third album, second on ECM. Trio with Gary Wang (bass) and Roland Schneider (drums). Quiet but remarkably assured. Opens and closes with meditative pieces dedicated to Paul Motian; one exception is "Nu" which jumps around a bit. B+(***)

Odean Pope: Odean's List (2009 [2010], In+Out): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1938 in North Carolina, twentieth album since 1980. Likes to work with extra sax players, often under the Odean Pope Saxophone Choir rubric. He's joined here with two other saxophonists (James Carter and Walter Blanding), two trumpets (David Weiss and Terrell Stafford), piano, bass and drums. Impressive in spots, especially if you like your sax rough. B+(**)

Frank Gratkowski/Hamid Drake (2009 [2010], Valid): Drake should be well known by now; his distinctive percussion provides an exceptionally flexible and resonant match to anyone he plays with. Gratkowski plays alto sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet. B. 1963 in Hamburg, Germany, prolific since 1991 but this is the first of his twenty-some records I've heard; plays free and hard, not as harsh as Brötzmann or Gustafsson, but not easy to distinguish from a dozen others. He's a SFFR if I ever get hold of the discs. B+(**)

Julian Argüelles Trio: Ground Rush (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1966 in England, ten albums since 1996, close to 50 side credits. Trio with Michael Formanek and Tom Rainey, same lineup as his 2006 album Partita. Very solid trio work; impossible to fault although I don't get the extra charge I expect to bring it up a level, maybe because he's so sure of himself he makes it look easier than it is. Another SFFR. B+(***)

Michaël Attias: Twines of Colesion (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): Alto saxophonist, b. 1968 in Haifa, Israel; family moved to Minneapolis in 1977, and he's kicked around a fair amount since then, including Paris and New York and a stretch studying at Wesleyan under Anthony Braxton. Fourth album since 1999; has a couple dozen side credits. Odd album, five musicians only loosely connected, but they keep slipping into interesting juxtapositions, so consistently one suspects some sort of plan -- although it certainly he helps that the musicians are so strong individually: Tony Malaby (tenor sax), Russ Lossing (piano), John Hébert (bass), Satoshi Takeishi (drums, percussion). B+(***)

Lisa Mezzacappa's Bait & Switch: What Is Known (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Bassist, based in San Francisco, first album, has a handful of side credits going back to 1996, no one I recognize except (barely/obviously) Pyeng Threadgill. Quartet, with Aaron Bennett (tenor sax), John Finkbeiner (guitar), and Vijay Anderson (drums). Anderson I recognize because he has a new record on Not Two I just added to my wish list. Needed to jog my memory on Bennett and Finkbeiner, but they are indispensible cogs in Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra -- which has a past pick hit and a new record I don't have yet but Stef Gijssels has raved about -- and Finkbeiner is part of Nice Guy Trio. Finkbeiner has an uncanny knack for adding harmonics to Bennett's sax, making this play more like a two-horn group than sax-guitar. The bassist composed eight of ten pieces, covering one from Air -- Pyeng's father's group, although Steve McCall is the author -- and one from Don Van Vliet called "Lick My Decals Off, Baby." She also works in a lot of bass solos/leads, fine by me. [PS: Did finally get the new Adam Lane record, and neither Bennett nor Finkbeiner are on it, so maybe not so indispensible; will see when I get to it.] A-

Louis Sclavis/Craig Taborn/Tom Rainey: Eldorado Trio (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): The eminent French clarinetist is credited here with soprano sax and bass clarinet; Taborn with piano and Fender Rhodes; Rainey with drums. Two pieces are joint improvs; the rest come from Sclavis's songbook. Feels kind of jumbled together, the sort of thing jazz musicians do on the spot, sparking strong solos and occasional mismatches. B+(**)

Daniel Levin Quartet: Bacalhau (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Cellist, with Nate Wooley (trumpet), Peter Bitenc (double bass), and Matt Moran (vibes), a combo that tends to be stratchy with blips and bits here and there. B+(*)

Stephen Gauci/Kris Davis/Michael Bisio: Three (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): Gauci is a tenor saxophonist, b. 1966, based in Brooklyn, leans avant, has been deserving of HM mentions his last two times out (Nididhyasana and Live at Glenn Miller Café) but somehow slipped through the cracks. He isn't an especially voluble player, and subtlety can be hard to credit. Davis is a pianist I like a lot. Her own group features the very voluble Tony Malaby, generally a plus but he tends to overwhelm her; she emerges here as a thoughtful counterpoint to the sax, and for that matter to bassist Bisio, who is always engaging on sets like this. B+(***)

Ben Syversen: Cracked Vessel (2010, Ben Syversen): Trumpet player, b. 1983, based in Brooklyn; first album, a trio with Xander Naylor on guitar and Jeremy Gustin on drums. Syversen cites Tim Berne, Ellery Eskelin, and Jim Black for ideas, as well as "seminal punk bands such as Black Flag, twisted takes on Americana, and sly, just beneath the surface references to Eastern European folk music." There seem to be a lot of young guys like that coming up, with the MOPDTK gang on the more scholarly end of the spectrum, with this on the more punkish end. The jumbled riddims and guitar noise are exhilarating, but even the one where they slow it down gives you pause for thought. A-

Vijay Iyer: Solo (2010, ACT): Pianist, b. 1971, a dozen or so albums since 1995, has been winning a lot of polls lately, especially with his trio album Historicity sweeping album of the year honors from Downbeat to The Village Voice. Solo piano, his first, one of those inevitable coming out exercises that practically all jazz pianists do sooner or later -- later than usual in his case, which is one reason I sat on my advance until it seemed probable no real copy would follow. Four originals, six cover, two of those from Ellington. Manages to keep a bright touch and keen interest throughout. [B+(***)] [advance]

Helen Sung: Going Express (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Pianist, from Houston, TX; based in New York. Third album, going more mainstream and becoming less interesting. Seamus Blake plays tenor and soprano sax, Lonnie Plaxico bass, Eric Harland drums, a solid group, especially on tracks with a little lift like "Love for Sale" and "In Walked Bud." B+(*)

Joe Gilman: Americanvas (2009 [2010], Capri): Pianist, b. 1962 in Sacramento, CA, studied at Indiana University, teaches at American River College back in Sacramento. Eighth album since 1991, including two "revists" to Dave Brubeck and two more to Stevie Wonder. The theme here isn't anywhere near so simple: not sure what it is, but the liner notes cite various cultural artifacts from the early 1940s to the early 1960s, and the sound itself is straight bebop. Gilman's piano is a live wire, and two saxophonists vie for attention: Ben Flocks and Chad Lefkowitz-Brown. B+(***)

Greg Burk and Vicente Lebron: Unduality (2010, Accurate): Burk is a pianist, b. 1969, who has done consistently interesting work as far as I've followed it -- Many Worlds (482 Music) was a recent HM. Lebron is older, a conga player from the Dominican Republic, moved to New York in 1971 and on to Boston in 1974, where he plays with Either/Orchestra. The record here is piano-percussion duos, with 13 of 23 cuts named "Unduality" with a number and a "Bach" pun -- "Bach at You," "Bach and Forth," "Bach to the Future," "Bachlava," etc. While the percussion is nice enough, the rest of it sounds like Bach to me. Especially "Vox Bach," where they lose the instruments. B

Darrell Katz/Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra: A Wallflower in the Amazon (2009 [2010], Accurate): Composer, based in Boston, teaches at Berklee, has eight records since 1992, the earliest as JCAO. The organization dates back to 1985, and Katz is listed as "founder/director," with many other composers passing through. Their MySpace page lists five other "resident composers," but only Katz provides songs here -- three with poems by Paula Tatarunis, and Katz-arranged covers of Ellington, Willie Dixon (one you know from Muddy Waters: "Hoochie Koochie Man"), and Big Maceo Merriweather. Most pieces have vocals, and I find Rebecca Shrimpton warbly on most of them. The exception is "Hoochie Koochie Man" where Mike Finnigan takes over. That's when I also started noticing the fine print, which is where Katz excels as an arranger. B+(*)

Aaron Shelton Quartet: These Times (2009 [2010], Singlespeed Music): Alto saxophonist, also plays clarinet, b. 1976, based in Chicago then Oakland, has two previous albums under his name since 2005, plus a pretty good one as Ton Trio. Quartet includes a second sax -- Keefe Jackson on tenor -- plus Anton Hatwich bass and Marc Riordan drums. At times, the sax sparring is worthy of Ammons and Stitt, updated with a more flexible rhythm section, though not everything is that frisky. 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.

Moe! Staiano's Moe!kestra!: 2 Rooms of Uranium in 83 Markers: Conducted Improvisations, Vol. II (2003-04 [2007], Edgetone): Percussionist, b. 1973 in New York, based in Bay Area; works with found objects, some attached to drum kit ("prepared drums"). This is his third Moe!kestra! album, consists of two pieces of Butch Morris-style conducted improvisation using twenty-some Bay Area mostly-jazz musicians -- a few I recognize because I backed into this researching Lisa Mezzacappa's quartet. Doesn't feel like jazz instrumentation even though a fair number of horns are credited. More like industrial machinery slogging erratically toward doom -- which is sort of interesting. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Marty Ehrlich: Fables (2010, Tzadik): A collaboration with Klezmer Conservatory Band directory Hankus Netsky -- not clear whether this should be co-credited, as some sources do, but most just list Ehrlich. Also only found one source for credits: Ehrlich (clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto sax, soprano sax), Marcus Rojas (tuba), Jerome Harris (acoustic bass guitar), Netsky (piano, accordion). That's about what I hear, although Ehrlich plays the clarinets much more than the saxes. Mostly klezmer, no idea how vintage; starts and ends strong, the latter's tuba-accordion oom-pah a hoot. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Masada String Trio: Haborym: The Book of Angels, Volume 16 (2010, Tzadik): Mark Feldman (violin), Erik Friedlander (cello), Greg Cohen (bass). Group was originally assembled by John Zorn for his 50th birthday celebration, and returns here to take a whack at Zorn's klezmer-flavored Book of Angels series. Most pieces have intriguing grooves, moved along smartly by the bass, which keeps the violin from getting stuck in anything chamber-ish, and some even have a bit of mischievous noise. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Mark O'Leary & Sunny Murray: Ode to Albert Ayler (2002 [2009], Ayler): O'Leary is an Irish guitarist, from Cork, b. 1969. He's been a SFFR ever since I first ran across him in Anthony Braxton's 2003 standards quartet. He has nine records on Leo since 2000 (recording date; actual release dates start in 2005), a couple more scattered hither and yon. Murray, of course, is one of the great free jazz drummers to come of age in the 1960s, probably inspiring the title with his 1964-65 stint with Albert Ayler -- a stretch of 5-6 albums including Spiritual Unity. He was 65 when this was recorded, with his fine Perles Noires albums still in the future. O'Leary gets a range of sounds from his guitar, ranging from metallic to a dull synth sound, like he's still trying to work out his preferred sound. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Catalyst: The Complete Recordings, Vol. 1 (1972 [2010], Porter): Philadelphia group, recorded four albums for Joe Fields 1972-75, three of those on Muse and a fourth -- actually the eponymous first album -- on Cobblestone, a Buddah subsidiary Fields also ran. Joel Dorn's 32 Jazz label picked up the catalogue in 1996 and released all four albums on two CDs as The Funkiest Band You Never Heard. I'm a little unclear on details, but it looks like Porter is doing the same trick only on two separate CDs. Vol. 1 packs the two 1972 albums, Catalyst and Perception. The group's mainstays were Odean Pope (tenor sax, flute, oboe), Eddie Green (mostly electric piano), and Sherman Ferguson (drums), with Al Jackson playing bass on the first album and Tyrone Baker on the second -- maybe some extras here and there. Green's electric piano reminds me more of Jimmy Smith's organ than of the era's Hancock-Corea-Zawinul fashion, the main advance a slight uptick in funk quotient. Pope isn't quite the powerhouse he became, but you can tell he's been listening to Ayler and Coltrane without forgetting his roots in gutbucket blues. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Catalyst: The Complete Recordings, Vol. 2 (1974-75 [2010], Porter): Two more Muse albums, Unity from 1974, and A Tear and a Smile from 1975. The former is probably the funk peak, with saxophonist Odean Pope moving a bit ahead of electric pianist Eddie Green. Things fall apart on the second album: "The Demon, Pt. 1" crosses over into irritating, I think with electric guitar although I don't have the credits (Charles Ellerbe?), then after "Pt. 2" the title track goes into an atmospheric flute serenade. Then strings and vocals intrude into what until then was one of the more impressive funk-jazz quartets of the period. B [Rhapsody]

Odean Pope: Plant Life (2008, Porter): Luke Mosling started Porter Records hoping to reissue some favorite LPs, with Byard Lancaster a touchstone, which led him to another Philly group, Catalyst, and its saxophonist, a young Odean Pope. That in turn led to a couple of relatively recent Pope trios -- I sort of imagine that these were tapes on the shelf rather than new projects. First one out was two 1995-2000 trios, What Went Before: Volume 1, which is what I thought I was listening to -- even wrote a little review. Then I moved on to a second trio album, Plant Life, and found . . . that it had the exact same song lineup, including two written by "Murray." As it happens, the drummer here is Sunny Murray, with Lee Smith on bass. A formidable sax player, of course. But this is getting to be a sloppy music service. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Henry Grimes/Rashied Ali: Spirits Aloft (2009 [2010], Porter): Grimes' story should be fairly well known by now. B. 1935, he was a popular bassist from 1957-67, breaking in with Gerry Mulligan but from 1964-67 mostly playing with avant-gardists, including Albert Ayler, Frank Wright, Charles Tyler, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, and Don Cherry -- for that matter, 1962-63 was transitional, credits there including Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Roy Haynes, and two exceptional avant albums: Perry Robinson's Funk Dumpling and Steve Lacy/Roswell Rudd's School Days (the name inspiration for the Ken Vandermark group). Grimes dropped out in 1967, and wasn't heard from again until 2002 when someone tracked him down, and William Parker gave him a new bass -- at the time he reportedly hadn't realized that Ayler had died. He's been a semi-celebrity since 2002, working steadily, but I generally suspected that the world was cutting him a fair amount of slack. He had, for instance, one album under his own name back in 1965; he picked up a second album in 2005, Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival, but the Henry Grimes Trio there was supported by two much more famous players: Hamid Drake and David Murray. Still, this record forces me at least to make some adjustments. This is a duo and Ali -- who didn't disappear after Coltrane died but never got much recognition either -- was clearly secondary. Mostly bass-drums duets, but Grimes plays some violin as well, not very slick but the higher pitch projects him impressively. Begins and ends with short poems, the live set full of sharp edges as Grimes works his way around his tools, with drum interludes and comments -- less commanding but no less sharp. This is actually the second duo album with Grimes and Ali, so I need to check the first out too. A- [Rhapsody]


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


Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Dan Adler/Joey DeFrancesco/Byron Landham: Back to the Bridge (Emdan Music): Nov. 1
  • Hugo Antunes: Roll Call (Clean Feed)
  • Ab Baars: Time to Do My Lions (Wig)
  • Bossa Brasil & Maurício de Souza Group: Here. There . . . (Pulsa Music)
  • Hugo Carvalhais: Nebulosa (Clean Feed)
  • Clayton Brothers: The New Song and Dance (ArtistShare)
  • Stephen Crump/James Carney: Echo Run Pry (Clean Feed)
  • Roy Gaines and His Orchestra: Tuxedo Blues (Black Gold): Nov. 1
  • I Never Meta Guitar (Clean Feed)
  • Theo Jörgensmann/Marcin Oles/Bartlomiej Brat Oles: Live in Poznan 2006 (Fenomedia)
  • Achim Kaufmann/Robert Lanferman/Christian Lillinger: Grünen (Clean Feed)
  • Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra: Ashcan Rantings (Clean Feed, 2CD)
  • Eugene Marlow's Heritage Ensemble: Celebrations (MEII Enterprises)
  • Marcin & Bartlomiej Brat Oles: Duo (Fenomedia)
  • Oles Brothers with Rob Brown: Live at SJC (Fenomedia)
  • Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton + Peter Evans: Scenes in the House of Music (Clean Feed)
  • Jason Robinson and Anthony Davis: Cerulean Landscapes (Clean Feed)
  • Jeremy Siskind: Simple Songs: For When the World Seems Strange (Bju'ecords)
  • Colin Stranahan: Life Condition (Tapestry/Capri)
  • Henry Threadgill Zooid: This Brings Us To: Volume II (Pi): Oct. 26
  • Robert Wyatt/Gilad Atzmon/Ros Stephen: For the Ghosts Within (Domino): watermarked advance, Oct. 19

Monday, September 27, 2010

Weekend Roundup

A week's worth of useful links I didn't get around to commenting on previously:


  • Brad DeLong: In Which Mr. Deling Responds to Someone Who Might Be Professor Todd Henderson: Who makes $450,000 per year and is so cash-strapped he just can't afford the burden is seeing his tax rates rise a bit. The budget details are worth some thought: much of what he spends money on aims at keeping his family apart from the masses -- private schools, the $1M house, $100K/year in 401(k) which should put him in good stead to slough off the Social Security cuts he most likely favors. The $60K in student loan payments strikes me as excessive, even if his unmentioned wife adds a second advanced degree -- he is a law professor. Up through the 1970s student loans were cheap and a relatively minor burden -- I accumulated $2,000 of them in two years at Washington University, and had I gone on to graduate school I doubt that I would have been saddled with much more. But in those days higher education was an opportunity that the public supported in the belief that the nation as a whole would be better served by educating anyone who could handle it. Now we seem to regard higher education as a preserve for the rich, and make anyone who wants to join them pay dearly for it. (Although in my day rich kids routinely took out student loans, figuring the interest rates were too low to pass up, and they could always use the money to play the stock market.)

  • Paul Krugman: The Angry Rich: Roiling rage "as decision time looms for the fate of the Bush tax cuts -- will top tax rates go back to Clinton-era levels?":

    The rage of the rich has been building ever since Mr. Obama took office. At first, however, it was largely confined to Wall Street. Thus when New York magazine published an article titled "The Wail Of the 1%," it was talking about financial wheeler-dealers whose firms had been bailed out with taxpayer funds, but were furious at suggestions that the price of these bailouts should include temporary limits on bonuses. When the billionaire Stephen Schwarzman compared an Obama proposal to the Nazi invasion of Poland, the proposal in question would have closed a tax loophole that specifically benefits fund managers like him. [ . . . ]

    These days, however, tax-cutters are hardly even trying to make the trickle-down case. Yes, Republicans are pushing the line that raising taxes at the top would hurt small businesses, but their hearts don't really seem in it. Instead, it has become common to hear vehement denials that people making $400,000 or $500,000 a year are rich. I mean, look at the expenses of people in that income class -- the property taxes they have to pay on their expensive houses, the cost of sending their kids to elite private schools, and so on. Why, they can barely make ends meet.

  • Paul Krugman: Structural Failure: On the oft-heard argument that the real reason unemployment is so high is that the labor force isn't trained for the specific skills that the market demands:

    Basic textbook macro tells you how to distinguish between slumps brought on by supply shocks and those brought on by demand shocks: look at inflation. If you have stagflation, rising unemployment combined with accelerating inflation, that's the signature of a supply shock; if you have unemployment with disinflation, that's the signature of a demand shock. And guess what we see? [ . . . ]

    I really don't think there's any way to make sense of the fuss about structural unemployment unless you posit that a lot of influential people are looking for reasons not to act. Based on everything we know, this just shouldn't be an issue. What the economy needs is more demand; provide that, and you'll be amazed at how many willing, productive workers there are, currently sitting idle.

  • Andrew Leonard: Obama: The Tea Party is blaming the wrong "culprit": Points to a "town hall meeting" where Obama finally bothers to defend his administration's policies. Leonard regards his defense as very effective:

    "I think they are misidentifying who the culprit is," said Obama. "The emergency steps we are taking now are not the problem long term. [The real problem is] two tax cuts that weren't paid for. Two wars that weren't paid for. A population getting older. We're all demanding services. But our taxes have been going down. Our tax rates are lower now than Ronald Reagan, much lower than Eisenhower."

    There is a lot to criticize Obama for, especially if you have an analysis of how we got into those wars and debilitating tax cuts, but as limited as Obama is, the bottom line is that he's sane and rational -- traits that have almost completely vanished among the right-wingers who loathe him. Given the only alternatives we were offered, every now and then we should reflect on how lucky we are that he won.

  • Maxwell Strachan: The Larry Summers hall of shame: One can quibble about the pecking order of this 10-item laundry list, but you really have to wonder why people who presumably know him keep talking about how fucking brilliant Larry Summers is:

    1. Asking Chris Dodd to remove post-recession caps on executive pay
    2. Gambling away $1 billion of Harvard's money
    3. Poshing for regime change in Indonesia
    4. Joking about dumping first-world waste in third-world countries
    5. Bailing out white-collar criminals
    6. Blaming the California energy crisis on excessive regulation
    7. Vehemently opposing regulation of the derivatives market
    8. Ragging on unemployment insurance
    9. Advising Bill Clinton against signing the Kyoto Protocol
    10. Lobbying for the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act

    The point about unemployment insurance reminds me of something. Economists always carp that unemployment insurance encourages people to stay out of the workforce, but it occurs to me that as long as the economy is shedding jobs, keeping people on unemployment longer than necessary reduces the competitive pressure that pushes wages, hence demand, even further down. In fact, this would be a good time to encourage unemployed workers to go back to school and build up skills for a future expansion. One thing I was struck by in the New Deal was that FDR didn't try to solve the unemployment problem by depressing wages further; rather, he tried to prop up prices and wages, the latter by encouraging people to join labor unions. (The New Deal approach amounts to the idea of inflating our way out of the recession, although it wasn't recognized as such, in part because the deflationary pressures it fought against were so strong.)

    I personally despair that we will ever see a strong recovery in aggregate demand without doing something to prop up wages (or, conversely, to reduce living costs by shifting private burdens like health care to the public budget). It is certainly clear that we can't make up the shortfall in wages by continuing to extend consumer credit indefinitely, as happened over the last 20-30 years. Business is so hegemonic today that no one talks about wage supports; even stimulus is controversial, because business so likes downward pressure on wages that they'd rather forgo recovery than have to share their profits with workers or the public.

    What makes Summers so smart is evidently his ability to spin rationalizations in the service of the rich regardless of how poorly they hold up in the real world.

  • Stephen Walt: Trapped: Recognizes how disappointing Obama's foreign policy has been, but offers him some sympathy, arguing: "he's trapped." Then: "Even if Obama wanted to chart a fundamentally different course (and I'm not sure at all that he does), he wouldn't be able to pull it off." That's a significant caveat, because if he doesn't want to chart a different course you can't prove that he can't because he hasn't. On the other hand, one way he has been trapped is by limiting the range of advisers he can call on: that he tried to hire Chas Freeman and got slapped down is one such case. Walt points out how narrow the range of so-called experts really is:

    For the most part, debates within mainstream foreign policy circles run the gamut from A to B, from neoconservativism at one end and hawkish liberal interventionism at the other. As I said a few years ago, if neocons are essentially liberals on steroids, then most liberal internationalists are just kinder, gentler neocons. They agree on the virtues of American primacy, the need to prevent WMD from spreading (while keeping most of our own), the desirability of spreading democracy nearly everywhere, and the value of nearly all of the United States' current alliances. The only issue where neocons and liberals part company is the role of global institutions (neocons see them as dangerous constraints on U.S. autonomy, while liberals see them as useful supplements to American power). Given this basically bipartisan consensus, it is hardly surprising that most of the senior officials in Obama's foreign policy team were open supporters of the Iraq War, as well as steadfast believers in the United States right to intervene wherever and however it sees fit.

    Ambitious foreign policy wonks understand that straying outside that comfortable consensus isn't going to advance their careers. That is why even sensible moderates have to polish their hawkish credentials if they want to be taken seriously, and even experienced pillars of the establishment are not immune from this same tendency. For example, the former president of the Council on Foreign Relations, Leslie Gelb, has admitted that he supported the Iraq War in 2003 in part to maintain his own bona fides within the establishment. In his words, "my initial support for the war [in Iraq] was symptomatic of unfortunate tendencies within the foreign policy community, namely the disposition and incentives to support wars to retain political and professional credibility" (emphasis added). And given that Gelb acted this way even though he was on the brink of retirement, you can imagine how more powerful this incentive is for someone starting out their career. [ . . . ]

    And let's not forget the true wing-nut elements in the American body politic. When both the secretary of Defense and our commanding general in Afghanistan have to waste precious time telling some obscure bigot in Florida that burning the Koran will put U.S. soldiers at greater risk, you know that the people who are allegedly running the country don't have much latitude to explore genuine alternatives.

  • Matthew Yglesias: Wall Street and Inequality: References a long and detailed paper by Steven N Kaplan and Joshua Rauh, Wall Street and Main Street: What Contributes to the Rise in the Highest Incomes? The short answer is financialization: the new way to make money is to control money and manipulate it for your own ends (not that the idea never occurred to J. Pierpont Morgan or Andrew Mellon).

  • Matthew Yglesias: Replacing the Irreplaceable: The title, to me at least, reads like a joke, but Yglesias tries to run with it. More important is this quote:

    Last, it's worth saying that in retrospect the decision to stick with Bernanke over Summers at the Fed doesn't look very good. The Bernanke Fed turned much less aggressive in fighting the recession than it should have been once he was reappointed, Bernanke's status as a conservative Republican has bought zero political cover for the administration to do anything, and one of the prominent explanations given at the time was that sticking with Bernanke "helped assuage fears in financial markets that a chairman closer to Obama might boost the economy in the short-run at the expense of high inflation" which in retrospect was totally counterproductive. A chairman tied to the administration who was seen as likely to be willing to boost the price level to soak up excess capacity is exactly that the country has needed for the past year and could use going forward.

    I'll add that Bernanke's second term never looked like a good idea, even if Summers was the best replacement Obama could find. Getting rid of Bernanke would have rid Obama of a very powerful and very independent Bush appointee, replacing him with someone who at least owed their job to Obama. I don't know that the reason Bernanke is dragging his feet is to make the Democrats look bad in November, but if he were taking marching orders from Karl Rove he wouldn't be doing anything much differently.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Big Babies

Since I started doing Weekend Roundup I've found myself with postless holes in the middle of the week. Thought I'd fill one with some topical today stuff.


Andrew Leonard: How to be a true (non-mosque fearing) American: No credit on the artwork, but if the message doesn't strike you as right, well, what kind of a lilly-livered American are you? Pace the title, I didn't think first of mosques or Muslims. I thought of what the Republicans like to call our "unelected self-appointed elites" -- the only people I'm sure that's meant to indict are those who came from the fringes of America and who busted their asses to work their way to the top of the establishment's most restrictive schools and into the corridors of power. This nation got as far as it did by accepting the contributions of everyone, and it seems damn stupid to stop now -- worse, an act of self-mutilation. The only thing I despise more than people who try to tear down their neighbors who achieve success are the ones who achieve it then try to slam the door behind them.

The only line on the image that gave me pause was "classes," but that's only because so many of the rich have been so brazen about using political power to serve their own greedy selves at the expense of everyone else. But the fact is that we treat the rich pretty well in this country, and that wouldn't change much even if you could imagine a Congress of 80-90% Democrats: at most the rich would wind up paying a bit more in taxes for the privilege of living in a country with a better safety net and more opportunity for everyone. You'd have to be a pretty greedy bastard not to see that as a decent deal. But maybe the artist was thinking of other classes -- the ones we don't treat anywhere near so well.


Today in Paul Krugman posts:

Deficits Are Evil! Let's Make Them Bigger!

What is there to say about the Republican Pledge To America (pdf)? No ideas; no respect for the public's intelligence.

Looks like a winner to me.

Waaaaah Street

A great piece about Wall Street rage by Max Abelson. Basically, they feel underappreciated. How dare Obama talk about fat cats, or suggest that runaway finance had something to do with the mess we're in?

Bankers are offended. They speak of betrayal. Feelings have been hurt.

Did our nation's elite always consist of such spoiled brats? I don't think so. We're in the new Gilded Age -- but while the old robber barons said "The public be damned," the new ones say "Ma! He's looking at me funny!"

And these are the Masters of the Universe.

Maybe it's time for Michael Kinsley to update his "Big Babies" essay.


Alex Pareene: House GOP's Pledge to America: World's saddest to do list: I reckon I should read the thing at some point, but for now this is shorter and funnier. Besides, I'm still waiting for that term limits thing from 1994's "Contract with America":

In 1994, the Republicans wrote up a "Contract with America," and they like to pretend that that document is why they won Congress that year. Unlike the Contract, this is a Pledge -- which is a promise, or a cleaning product, or someone who wants to join a fraternity. And instead of being with America, which implies that America, too, has to actually do something, this is to America, which means America gets to comfortably continue sitting there, watching "Bones." All in all, smart changes. [ . . . ]

At the end there is some nonsense about "card check" and "cap and trade" and also "We will fight efforts to use a national crisis for political gain."

This is a deeply depressing document -- I never thought I'd find the Republican party stripped of its god-and-gays element even more moronic, but here you go. None of the policy prescriptions even pretend to address the actual problems they're supposedly about, when those problems actually exist. There's not a single word about Afghanistan.


Ezra Klein: The Democrats need a plan, too: Sounds sort of superficially right, but the Democrats not only aren't good at that vision thing, they don't think with one mind and don't march in lockstep to one drummer. The only thing Republicans disagree among themselves on is immigration, where one faction wants to hunt down and exterminate every last foreigner and the other is so enamored with cheap labor they've scarcely got over the end of slavery. Democrats, on the other hand, disagree about damn near everything -- even the moral degeneracy of Republicans. Klein offers a list of pretty easy stuff here but you can still find Democrats who'll shy away from it:

Republicans also left Democrats an opportunity by committing themselves to a backward-looking agenda -- extending Bush's tax cuts and repealing Obama's policies doesn't demonstrate much in the way of bold new thinking. But Democrats, to their credit, still have big things they want to do. They've just stopped talking about them because they can't pass them. We still need a real energy bill. A payroll-tax holiday would offer a big shot of stimulus and what about Rob Shapiro's idea to permanently end the payroll tax by replacing it with a consumption or carbon tax? The public option remains popular and so, too, does major campaign-finance reform, such as the Fair Elections Now Act.

I've occasionally thought that if the Tea Party were truly independent and if the Republicans wanted both to curry favor with them and put the Democrats into an impossibly indelicate situation, they'd take charge at this moment to drive the moneychangers from the capitol by daring the Democrats to implement some serious campaign finance reform, but clearly they're no more serious about corruption in Washington than they are about balancing the budget.

On the other hand, I think the Republicans just gave the Democrats all the vision they need, by spelling out the horror of a Republican takeover of Congress. That's both a compelling message and a unifying one -- even Ben Nelson understands he better off in the majority caucus even when he disagrees with everyone else in the room.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Book Watch

Another batch of book notes. Last one was July 14, and I've accumulated quite a bit more than the forty I limit myself to for these posts, which means two things: these are somewhat select, and another similar post should be forthcoming rather soon.

I will note that I've read Andrew Bacevich's Washington Rules and Chalmers Johnson's Dismantling the Empire but haven't collected notes/quotes yet. Neither adds much to the authors' previous books -- Bacevich's is a new attempt at systematizing what he's learned, a more straightforward book than The Limits of Power, while Johnson's collects a bunch of his TomDispatch essays making it a good deal more scattered than his Blowback trilogy books. More later on both books.

I've also read Nicholas von Hoffman's book on Saul Alinsky (extensive notes linked), and have John Dower and David Harvey on my to-be-read shelf. Sooner or later I want to get to the Hacker/Pierson book. Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns looks like a major contribution to American history.


Andrew Bacevich: Washington Rules: America's Path to Permanent War (2010, Metropolitan Books): America's bestselling anti-militarism author, possibly because he set his roots down in the military, academia, and the conservative press before he turned against the perpetual war machine, but also because he's open to ideas from all over the map. Bush set such a low bar that Obama thinks he can play the same game and come out on top, a conceit that Bacevich is singularly skilled at debunking.

Alain Badiou: The Communist Hypothesis (2010, Verso): A manifesto for a new way following the self-destructions of soviet communism and neo-liberalism. Probably not the best PR strategy to package this as yet another communism, but it makes sense to me to project some sort of "third way" out of the current dead end ideologies. Badiou has a stack of books, most recently The Meaning of Sarkozy.

Mitchell Bard: The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America's Interests in the Middle East (2010, Harper): Looks like Bard counted the pages in Walt and Mearsheimer's The Israel Lobby and kept writing until he topped them. Even if you agree that the point of Arab political influence in America is "weakening our alliance with a democratic Israel" you have to conclude that it hasn't been very effective and therefore isn't very significant. Perhaps it has been more effective at keeping the US from criticizing human rights issues in places like Saudi Arabia, but then we don't seem to care much about Israeli human rights violations either.

Richard Beeman: Plain, Honest Men: The Making of the American Constitution (paperback, 2010, Random House): I never thought of them as being all that plain, but I suppose you can make that case. I still have a couple of Gordon S. Wood books to read on the subject, so they would take priority (especially The Radicalism of the American Revolution).

Ian Bremmer: The End of the Free Market: Who Wins the War Between States and Corporations? (2010, Portfolio): This turns on the rise of "state capitalist" systems, ranging from state-controlled sovereign funds to the China juggernaut. Does seem to be the case that the states are gaining ground, but not clear what the problem with that is. That states are political? If that results in states directing their economies to service their people better, why is that such a bad thing? There are problems with either extreme, which is why most countries and regions move toward mixed systems. Personally, I would worry more about the corporations.

Will Bunch: The Backlash: Right-Wing Radicals, High-Def Hucksters, and Paranoid Politics in the Age of Obama (2010, Harper): Glenn Beck, the tea baggers, the birthers, hard to keep up with all the nonsense. Bunch wrote a pretty good book on Reagan, Tear Down This Myth: How the Reagan Legacy Has Distorted Our Politics and Haunts Our Future, but his subject here may be too unconstrained to capture in a book just now -- although Beck, in particular, is provoking some backlash: Alexander Zaitchik: Common Nonsense: Glenn Beck and the Triumph of Ingorance (2010, Wiley); Dana Milbank: Tears of a Clown: Glenn Beck and the Tea Bagging of America (2010, Doubleday).

Judith Butler: Frames of War: When Is Life Grievable? (2009; paperback, 2010, Verso): Something on what we do (and do not) experience as grievous in war, specifically the US War in Iraq where we meticulously count our own dead while casually sloughing off wild-ass guesstimates of those we kill, directly or otherwise.

David Callahan: Fortunes of Change: The Rise of the Liberal Rich and the Remaking of America (2010, Wiley): Argues that new money is more liberal than old money, which even if it's true adds up to a very small point. Rather, what I see happening is that to the extent that these nouveau riches lean Democratic -- and they make sure they never lean far enough to fall over -- they flatter the Democrats into the vain hope that the path to success is to appease the rich. How much change you get out of that is hard to project, mostly because it's so intangible. The rich liberals of FDR's day worked to moderate capitalism to stave off revolution, a fear that today's rich liberals don't have -- unless you count the resurgence of fascism, and there's certainly some threat there.

Matthew J Costello: Secret Identity Crisis: Comic Books and the Unmasking of Cold War America (paperback, 2009, Continuum): Of superhero comics and cold war metaphors, not least the relationship between radioactivity and mutation, which somehow emerges as a public good. The model changed somewhat in the 1960s, but then didn't it all change?

Richard Dawkins: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution (2009; paperback, 2010, Free Press): Back to his roots, writing about something he knows about. I might wonder how cluttered with anti-creationist preaching would be now that he's gotten a taste for evangelical atheism, but the evidence is so compelling and so wondrous it should sell itself. On the other hand, many other books do the trick, like Jerry A Coyne: Why Evolution Is True (2009, Viking; paperback, 2010, Penguin), or the collected works of the late, much lamented Stephen Jay Gould.

John W Dower: Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima, 9-11, Iraq (2010, WW Norton): A specialist on Japan during and after WWII -- his two books, War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific and Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II offer extraordinary insights into the war and its aftermath -- extends his analysis past 9/11 and into Iraq. You may recall that before Bush invaded Iraq Dower wrote a prescient piece on how wrong the models of the US occupations of Germany and Japan were for the present day.

William R Freudenburg/Robert Gramling/Shirley Laska/Kai Erikson: Catastrophe in the Making: The Engineering of Katrina and the Disasters of Tomorrow (2009, Island Press): You may have noticed that the damages caused by natural disasters has risen in lock step with development in disaster-prone locales. If not, you will sooner or later, because we place few obstacles against such development.

Thomas Geoghegan: Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?: How the European Model Can Help You Get a Life (2010, New Press): Labor lawyer -- I read his memoir, Which Side Are You On? Trying to Be for Labor When It's Flat on Its Back when it came out in 1991; seemed like an accidental leftist at the time. Five books later, he's looking for a better way of living, and finding some answers in Europe, specifically in Germany.

Thomas Geoghegan: See You in Court: How the Right Made America a Lawsuit Nation (2007; paperback, 2009, New Press): Somewhat surprising given how much the right likes to rail on trial lawyers, but "tort reform" is just a mop-up action. The damage to ordinary people's right is forcing them into court, where the well heeled have all sorts of advantages. Not sure how well this holds up, but the basic idea seems well founded.

Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer -- and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (2010, Simon & Schuster): A logical follow-up to Hacker's The Great Risk Shift: The Assault on American Jobs, Families, Health Care, and Retirement and How You Can Fight Back, looking if not so much for reasons at least for the mechanics behind the chasm of ever-greater inequality. The right is dedicated not just to making the rich richer but, perhaps more importantly, increasing the perceived value of being rich by making not being rich all the more dreadful. America's brief moment of middle class identity had just the opposite effect: it allowed workers the security to feel they were part and parcel of the nation. I used to think that middle-classness was just false consciousness -- and the fact that it surrendered to readily kind of proves the point -- but now that it's over it seems like a pleasantly naïve idea. Still, whenever I hear someone defending the middle class it sounds to me like a putdown of the working poor: the only way to save the middle class is to build up the working poor so they become it. Pierson has co-authored with Hacker before, on Off Center: The Republican Revolution and the Erosion of American Democracy.

David Harvey: The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (2010, Oxford University Press): English Marxist, gives him a distinctive edge in sorting out the flows of capital at a time when the flow has been severely disrupted. Also wrote A Companion to Marx's Capital (paperback, 2010, Verso), based on forty-some years of teaching the book, its times, what it meant, what it might still mean today.

Michael Hiltzik: Colossus: Hoover Dam and the Making of the American Century (2010, Free Press): Although it's been told before, the building of Boulder Dam remains an amazing story: there's certainly no way now that anything as big can be built as fast and as cheaply as it was in the 1930s. This book explains how, and that should be interesting in its own right. How you get an American Century from that is yet something else.

Arianna Huffington: Third World America: How Our Politicians Are Abandoning the Middle Class and Betraying the American Dream (2010, Crown): I don't trust her, and I hate it when politicians like Obama whine on and on about what they're going to do for the middle class, but the basic thesis here is right. It's not so much that the present middle class is being attacked as that the basic economic relationships that made it possible working people to enjoy middle class comforts have been undermined and will keep getting torn down any chance the right gets. However, what is needed isn't aid to the present middle class but raising the floor under the working class to give them and their children and so forth new opportunities to grow.

Chalmers Johnson: Dismantling the Empire: America's Last Best Hope (2010, Metropolitan Books): Collection of essays from the past decade, mostly on the exorbitant costs of maintaining a global garrison that doesn't even work very well on its own terms. Can get redundant, especially compared to his more systematic trilogy: Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire (2000; paperback, 2004, Holt); The Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy, and the End of the Republic (2004, Metropolitan Books); and Nemesis: The Last Days of the American Republic (2007, Metropolitan Books).

Ann Jones: War Is Not Over When It's Over: Women and the Unseen Consequences of Conflict (2010, Metropolitan Books): Author has a couple of books on battered women, plus an old one recently reissued on the subset who strike back: Women Who Kill (1980; paperback, 2009, Feminist Press). Also a travel book in Africa and a memoir of NGO relief work in Afghanistan: Kabul in Winter: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan (paperback, 2007, Picador). The new book pulls all those threads together.

Laura Kalman: Right Star Rising: A New Politics, 1974-1980 (2010, WW Norton): Gerald Ford and Ronald Reagan on the cover. Seems to have a low opinion of Carter, arguing that American voters rejected him personally rather than liberalism in general. Makes me wonder if that doesn't hit close to home with Obama, who like Carter came along at the end of an eight-year nightmare with a compromised agenda and a lot of poorly understood legacy problems.

Grady Klein/Yoram Bauman: The Cartoon Introduction to Economics: Volume One: Microeconomics (paperback, 2010, Hill and Wang): Introductory, although it offers an interesting, well-rounded range of topics -- probably good as a sanity check on what you do and do not understand. Amusing too, although Bauman doesn't have a lot of competition as a "stand-up economist."

Warren Kozak: LeMay: The Life and Wars of General Curtis LeMay (2009, Regnery): A war criminal, at least in his own mind, which relished the role and repeatedly courted disaster. Given the publisher, this is presumably a flattering right-wing paean, but LeMay was so blunt I doubt that you can slant him much.

Andrew F Krepinevich: 7 Deadly Scenarios: A Military Futurist Explores War in the 21st Century (2009, Bantam): One of the geniuses who keeps plotting new ways to get us into senseless wars. Imagines global pandemics, black-market nukes, a Pakistani collapse, civil unrest in China, "the consequences of a timed withdrawal from Iraq"; not sure what else. Wonder if he's thought about the Armageddon-addled Jesus freaks in the US Air Force Academy?

David Kupelian: How Evil Works: Understanding and Overcoming the Destructive Forces That Are Transforming America (2010, Threshold Editions): Previously wrote The Marketing of Evil: How Radicals, Elitists, and Pseudo-Experts Sell Us Corruption Disguised as Freedom. I'd be more intrigued if he replaced "radicals" with "conservatives" (or if I thought that was what he meant by "elitists"). The list of "profoundly troubling questions" he takes a whack at don't strike me as all that profound, like "why are boys doing worse in school today than girls?"

Dylan Loewe: Permanently Blue: How Democrats Can End the Republian Party and Rule the Next Generation (paperback, 2010, Three Rivers Press): Not sure what he's smoking. Long-term political power depends on two things: institutional support, which the Republicans have in spades because they do the bidding of people rich and mean enough to bounce back from a setback and keep fighting even when their positions make them look stupid; and competency, a big problem for Republicans once they get into power. The Democrats don't have the former -- they don't even take their unions seriously -- and they haven't exactly mastered the latter. So how's this supposed to work?

Mark Mazower: No Enchanted Palace: The End of Empire and the Ideological Origins of the United Nations (2009, Princeton University Press): One of several new books on the founding of the UN. The idealism behind the UN is frequently touted, but one wonders about the range of thought going into it.

Markos Moulitsas: American Taliban: How War, Sex, Sin, and Power Bind Jihadists and the Radical Right (paperback, 2010, Polipoint Press): Easy to see the temptation, but strikes me that comparing the new right-wing fringe to the Taliban is going to result in some sort of cognitive mishmash that in the end won't do anyone any good.

Michael O'Brien: Rethinking Kennedy: An Interpretive Biography (2009, Ivan R Dee): Author previously wrote the 992 pp John F Kennedy: A Biography, which provides ample background for framing this rethinking. Where you wind up depends on where you start. I've long tended to view Kennedy as a Cold War monster, which may be too harsh, although he certainly had plenty on his staff.

William Pfaff: The Irony of Manifest Destiny: The Tragedy of America's Foreign Policy (2010, Walker): Foreign policy expert, works for International Herald Tribune, which tends to keep him grounded in reality. I picked up his Barbarian Sentiments: America in the New Century, written in 1989 and reissued with a new afterword in 2000, immediately after 9/11; found the afterword to be an elegant and perceptive take on America's perch in the world, but thought the old material was hopelessly dated, the work of an unvarnished cold warrior. That he views US foreign policy as tragic credits better intentions than I have noticed.

Jonathan Schneer: The Balfour Declaration: The Origins of the Arab-Israeli Conflict (2010, Random House): Picks over the letter Lord Balfour addressed to Rothschild proposing Palestine as a Jewish Homeland, one of many strange presumptions Britain made during WWI, the intrigues in London scarcely tethered to the reality they wound up confounding.

Robin Shepherd: A State Beyond the Pale: Europe's Problem With Israel (2009, Orion): Strikes me as a self-hating European, arguing that his "bed-wetting generation" has lost their way compared to the Europeans of yore precisely because they've given up on the principles that still thrive in Israel: you know, racism, militarism, colonialism, the preening celebration of democracy built on the subjugation of others. Moreover, he argues that Europe's failure to embrace Israel is its own death-wish, as Europe is progressively swallowed up by immigrant Islamist hordes. Funny thing is, when I read the title I imagined a quite different book.

Lauren Rebecca Sklaroff: Black Culture and the New Deal: The Quest for Civil Rights in the Roosevelt Era (2009, University of North Carolina Press): Roosevelt's record on civil rights should be seen as disgraceful, although his general thrust toward greater economic equality did materially bring us closer to a viable civil rights movement. Not sure how much of that this book covers, but it does focus on Federal Arts Projects at a time when blacks increasingly distinguished themselves in the arts -- Duke Ellington and Richard Wright being well known examples.

Baylis Thomas: The Dark Side of Zionism: The Quest for Security Through Dominance (2010, Lexington Books): Another concise history of the Zionist takeover of Palestine -- author previously wrote How Israel Was Won: A Concise History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict.

Nick Turse, ed: The Case for Withdrawal From Afghanistan (paperback, 2010, Verso): Essays by Andrew Bacevich, Anand Gopal, Chalmer Johnson, Ann Jones, Mike Davis, Dahr Jamal, not sure who else; basically a spinoff from TomDispatch, where Tom Engelhardt and guests have been writing about Afghanistan, Iraq, and the folly of empire ever since Bush got his gun on.

Justin Vaïsse: Neoconservatism: The Biography of a Movement (2010, Harvard University Press): I suppose there are technical differences between the Neocons as an intellectual movement and Bush's War Cabinet, but that's mostly because theories look sweeter before they are tested by reality.

Ed Viesturs/David Roberts: K2: Life and Death on the World's Most Dangerous Mountain (2009, Broadway): I've read quite a few mountaineering books, partly because Galen Rowell, who introduced me to K2 in In the Throne Room of the Mountain Gods, and Jon Krakauer have turned out to be such striking writers. (I didn't know that Rowell died in a plane crash in 2002. His photography books are extraordinary: I haven't seen A Retrospective, but can plug Mountains of the Middle Kingdom, Galen Rowell's Vision, and Mountain Light.) Viesturs is one of the big names in mountain climbing, and K2 is nearly as high as Everest and a lot harder to get to, up, and down.

Nicholas von Hoffman: Radical: A Portrait of Saul Alinsky (2010, Nation Books): Turns out the author, whose 2004 Iraq War book Hoax: Why Americans Are Suckered by White House Lies was uncommonly smart, spent a good chunk of his life working as an organizer for the community organizing guru -- he brags that he was hired on the same day as Cesar Chavez -- and remained a good friend and confidante until Alinsky's death. Part memoir, part manifesto. [link]

William Wiker: 10 Books Every Conservative Must Read (2010, Regnery): Aristotle's Politics; GK Chesterton: Orthodoxy; Eric Voegelin: The New Science of Politics; CS Lewis: The Abolution of Man; Edmund Burke: Reflections on the Revolution in France; Alexis de Tocqueville: Democracy in America; The Federalist Papers; The Anti-Federalists; Hilaire Belloc: The Servile State; FA Hayek: The Road to Serfdom. Also likes Shakespeare (The Tempest), Austen (Sense and Sensibility), Tolkien (Lord of the Rings), and The Jerusalem Bible, but not Atlas Shrugged. Author previously wrote 10 Books That Screwed Up the World: And 5 Others That Didn't Help (2008, Regnery), where he tried to distance himself from such traditional right-wing faves as Leviathan and Mein Kampf, as well as work out his heebie-jeebies over Margaret Mead and Alfred Kinsey.

Isabel Wilkerson: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration (2010, Random House): Massive (640 pp) history of the black exodus from the Jim Crow South north and/or west. Not a feel-good story on either end, but an essential chronicle of the formation of modern America.


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

Mahmoud Mamdani: Saviors and Survivors: Darfur, Politics, and the War on Terror (2009; paperback, 2010, Doubleday): A critical look at the poorly understood, frantically politicized violence in Darfur, the northwest corner of Sudan. Mamdani wrote one of the smartest books around about the war on terror: Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror, and has also written on the genocide in Rwanda. Probably the one book to read on Darfur -- the only reason I didn't jump all over it was that I had previously read Gérard Prunier: Darfur: A 21st Century Genocide which I figured covered all I really needed to know.

TR Reid: The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care (2009; paperback, 2010, Penguin Press): A quick trip around the world, finding that damn near every even moderately developed country manages to provide better healthcare cheaper than the US does -- mainland China seems to be the exception, although Taiwan's system is covered in some detail, partly because it is a relatively recent success story. Turns out that it matters little whether healthcare providers are private or public, but it makes all the difference in the world whether they are profit-seeking. [link]

Robert Scheer: The Great American Stickup: How Reagan Republicans and Clinton Democrats Enriched Wall Street While Mugging Main Street (paperback, 2010, Nation Books): I mentioned this before publication date back when I wrote up a lengthy survey of banking crisis books, but it finally came out on Sept. 7, and with a new subtitle, more specific than Greedy Bankers and the Politicians Who Loved Them. The callout on Clinton is significant: in the book he refers to the whole explosion of CDOs as the "Clinton bubble" -- an emphasis that doesn't let Obama off the hook, even though it may leave Bush feeling shorted.

Andrew Ross Sorkin: Too Big to Fail: The Inside Story of How Wall Street Fought to Save the Financial System -- and Themselves (2009, Viking; paperback, 2010, Penguin): One of the first books out the gate on the 2007-08 banking crisis, short on explanation but long on details -- a good reporter with a lot of inside contacts mostly because he buys into Wall Street's worldview. Some updates. Some other first wave books are getting second lives in paperback: William D Cohan: House of Cards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street (2009, Doubleday; paperback, 2010, Anchor); Barry Ritholtz: Bailout Nation: How Greed and Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World's Economy (2009; paperback, 2010, Wiley); Gillian Tett: Fool's Gold: How the Bold Dream of a Small Tribe at J.P. Morgan Was Corrupted by Wall Street Greed and Unleashed a Catastrophe (2009; paperback, 2010, Free Press); David Wessel: In Fed We Trust: Ben Bernanke's War on the Great Panic (2009; paperback, 2010, Crown Business). All those listed are widely regarded as fine books, so the main question is how much you can stomach. Given the quantity and quality of reporting on what kicked off this huge recession, it's a tribute to the blinders of self-interest that so many people remain so ignorant.


Notes on all the past books in this series are collected here (warning: big file).

Monday, September 20, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 17137 [17100] rated (+37), 851 [841] unrated (+10). Big chunk of Jazz Prospecting, plus a few Rhapsody records combine for the big rated bump. Two weeks' worth of mail puts me even further behind.

  • Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster (2004, Emergent): Eighteen Stephen Foster songs, including some of the most indelible remnants of 19th century American song, mostly done reverently by folk-oriented artists of minor renown. I recall this as a celebrated item when it came out but somehow missed it -- showed up in my search of Mavis Staples, whose "Hard Times Come Again No More" is a highlight. John Prine's gravelly "My Old Kentucky Home" is another, but I could have done without Roger McGuinn's Byrdsy "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair." B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Jazz Prospecting (CG #25, Part 2)

Main thing I tried to do this week was to take a bite out of the middle-priority queue: mostly artists I don't know but who look serious, or artists I do know but don't expect exceptional things from. Got a lot of promising mail the last two weeks -- Andrew Card's line about not launching new products in August seems to apply to jazz as well as imperialist wars -- so I'll start to take a closer look at them next week. No news on when Jazz CG will run, but I don't expect to hear anything until the week before, and that's at least another week away.

Grades in brackets are tentative, on records I'm holding back for further play, either because I didn't get a good enough take on them, or suspect they might have some upside potential. I mention that here because I haven't been holding much back recently, but there is one such record below. I've gotten into a habit of forcing myself to finish grades just to move things along, especially on low-B+ records that have no chance of moving up enough to count.


Owen Howard: Drum Lore (2009 [2010], Bju'ecords): Drummer, b. 1965 Edmonton; moved to New York around 1988; fourth record since 1993; not much of a side credit list -- none of the 11 household names he lists as "performed or recorded with" on his website show up in his AMG credits list, although Joe Lovano has something nice to say on the inside cover. One original and ten covers of songs by drummers, counting "Stompin' at the Savoy" for Chick Webb (listed ahead of Benny Goodman and Edgar Sampson); the others are worth listing: Denzil Best, Shelly Manne, Ed Blackwell, Al Foster, Billy Hart, Tony Williams, Paul Motian, Jack DeJohnette, Peter Erskine. Frank Carlberg plays piano, Johannes Weidenmueller bass, but the music is dominated by a rich range of horns: John O'Gallagher (alto), Andy Middleton (tenor, soprano), Adam Kolker (tenor, soprano, bass clarinet), and Alan Ferber (trombone on 4 cuts). B+(**)

Robert Sadin: Art of Love: Music of Machaut (2009, Deutsche Grammophon): Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor, got a taste of jazz when he arranged and produced Herbie Hancock's Gershwin's World, which here he uses mostly for networking. The music is medieval, from French composer Guillaume de Machaut (c. 1300-1377), done with modern instruments and enough guests to clutter up a Herbie Hancock record, although they're not exactly clutter here. Actually, they're very circumspect, which makes this package rather static, hard to hear and hard to get into -- it really matters very little whether the singer is Milton Nascimento, Hassan Hakmoun, Madeleine Peyroux, Natalie Merchant, Jasmine Thomas, Celena Shafer, or Sadin himself. Same for a long list of instrumentalists, from the reeds (Seamus Blake, John Ellis) to the guitars (Lionel Loueke, Romero Lubambo) to the beatless percussionists (Dan Weiss, Cyro Baptista). My package is dubbed a "press kit" -- a box with a fat booklet and red wrapping paper around a thin foldout card with a button for the CD. Don't know about the actual product. B- [advance]

Taylor Haskins: American Dream (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Trumpet player, b. 1971, third album since 2004, the first two on Fresh Sound New Talent. Quartet with Ben Monder (guitar), Ben Street (bass), and Jef Hirshfield (drums). Ponderous titles plumbing an American dream that comes off menacingly gloomy ("the farmer has nothing to sow/the cowboy has nowhere to roam/the heroes have no one to save/the misfits find it hard to behave/the merchants have little to sell/the establishment has secrets to tell/the people have started to yell/the dreamers are nowhere but hell"); the music even more so. B

Roberto Cipelli/Paolo Fresu/Philippe Garcia/Gianmaria Testa/Attilio Zanchi: F. à Léo (2007 [2010], Justin Time): Tribute to French chansonnier Léo Ferré (1916-93); not sure how to parse the title, a large abbreviated initial and a small dedication, followed even smaller by "progetto di roberto cipelli." The artists are listed alphabetically. Pianist Cipelli has a couple previous albums dating back to 1988, but most of his credits are on albums led by trumpeter Fresu. Testa sings Ferré's French texts, with Zanchi on bass and Garcia on drums; Garcia also has a couple vocal credits, and Garcia and Testa have one each on guitar (chitarra). The vocals are appropriately smoky, the trumpet poignant, and Cipelli adds connective tissue between the songs. Recording date not given, but AMG lists two previous editions, one in 2007 on Bonsaï, one in 2008 on Radiofandango -- labels I've never heard of otherwise. B+(**)

Jessica Williams: Touch (2010, Origin): Another solo piano album -- I've lost count of how many she has, but a half-dozen would be a conservative guess, and ten hardly an outer bound. She comments in the liner notes that she no longer pounds "the piano like it was a set of drums"; good chance I liked those albums better than these, but that's me. Live set, half originals plus "I Loves You Porgy," "I Cover the Waterfront," "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," and one from Coltrane. B+(*)

Alex Brown: Pianist (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1987, studied at New England Conservatory, based in Boston. First album. Cover says "Paquito D'Rivera presents"; D'Rivera plays alto sax on two cuts, clarinet on one more, as the album builds on a piano trio base -- Vivek Patel plays flugelhorn on four tracks, Warren Wolf marimba on two, Pedro Martinez percussion on four and vocals on one. Patel has a few good moments, but in general the extras are not all that substantial or interesting. The trio work shows some promise, but Brown hasn't broken out of the pack yet. B

Capathia Jenkins/Louis Rosen: The Ache of Possibility (2009, Di-tone): Rosen plays guitar, writes the songs -- borrowing lyrics from Nikki Giovanni for four of twelve -- and is a sly singer when he gets the chance, as on "The Middle-Class (Used to Be) Blues": the sharpest political song here in an album that carries a lot of political message. Jenkins is a church-schooled soul belter -- more impressive vocally but not in Aretha Franklin's league, and less interesting as a result. No strong reason to treat this as jazz -- as the hype sheet suggests -- other than the occasional horns and congas, which don't add up to much. Two previous albums, one full of Nikki Giovanni songs, the other called South Side Stories. B+(*)

Al Basile: Soul Blue 7 (2009, Sweetspot): Cornet player, blues singer, gave up theoretical physics for a slot in Duke Robillard's Roomful of Blues band. Robillard produces and plays guitar here, on Basile's seventh album since 2001. I count eight musicians here, with two saxes, trombone, piano or organ. Basile's a credible blues vocalist, too busy singing here to show off much of his cornet. Robillard keeps the band swinging -- he's been straddling blues and jazz effectively for a while now. Bonus includes a couple of pictures -- one in the clear case back and one in the booklet -- of someone's CD shelves: probably Basile's, since the bottom shelf of one is wall-to-wall Louis Armstrong -- even a few discs I don't have (and I have a lot). Everything else is blues, unless you want to quibble about the Fats Domino box. B+(**)

George Brooks Summit: Spirit and Spice (2010, Earth Brother Music): Saxophonist, picture shows him playing tenor but credit is plural, and he has alto and soprano credits elsewhere (e.g., with John McLaughlin; AMG also gives him composer credits going back to Bessie Smith, but I think those can be discounted). AMG lists four albums since 1996, not counting this one. His main interest is in Indo-Jazz fusion, the basis of his 2002 album Summit -- another album title recycled into a group name -- and the new Raga Bop Trio (with drummer Steve Smith and guitarist Prasanna, with Smith listed first). This is a quartet with Fareed Haque on guitar, Kai Eckhardt on bass, and Smith on drums, supplmentet by eight mostly-Indian guests -- Zakir Hussain (tabla), Nildari Kumar (sitar), Kala Ramnath (violin), Ronu Majumdar (bansuri), Swapan Chaudhuri (tabla), Sridar Parthasarathy (mrdangam, ghatam, kanjira, vocals). Moves smoothly through the jungle, with a sweet scent I don't find especially appealing. B

Jamie Ousley: Back Home (2010, Tie): Worst packaging idea of the year: dark green print on black background. I can't read half the song credits, most of the musicians, or any of the lyrics. Bassist, studied at University of Miami, is based in southern Florida. Second album, after O Sorriso Dela (2008). Musicians listed on front cover are Ira Sullivan (soprano sax, alto flute), Ed Calle (soprano sax), Phillip Strange (piano), Larry Marshall (drums); some others appear here and there, including three singers I've never heard of, and a splash of strings. Trends toward lushness, which isn't a compliment. I generally like Sullivan but his alto flute lead on "My Favorite Things" is my least favorite thing here. C+

Johnny Butler: Solo (2009 [2010], Johnny Butler Jazz): Saxophonist, from Seattle, based in Brooklyn, first album. Also plays in an avant-rock/classical chamber group called Scurvy, and has some sort of connection to Tune-Yards. Album here consists of four fairly short pieces built using an Echoplex looper -- he makes a big deal in the album notes about doing this with no overdubs, but I don't really get the distinction, or what he's trying to do. Short (24:21), can be tedious but also has some interesting bits. B

Michael Zilber: The Billy Collins Project: Eleven on Turning Ten (2007 [2010], OA2): Saxophonist (soprano, tenor), web bio pretty much useless, seems to have grown up in Vancouver, moved to Boston to study at New England Conservatory and Tufts, on to New York, winding up in California -- this record was recorded in San Jose. Seventh album since 1986, counting one with Steve Smith and another with Dave Liebman listed first. Billy Collins was US Poet Laureate 2001-03; has fifteen volumes since 1977, but I can't say I've ever heard of him, much less read him. Zilber's project was to take eleven Collins poems and set them to music. As is so often the case, constructing melodies for cadences winds up feeling awkward, and Andy Kirshner's dry voice doesn't help matters. With John R. Burr on piano, John Schifflett on bass, and Jason Lewis on drums/percussion. B

Andrew Oliver Sextet: 82% Chance of Rain (2009 [2010], OA2): Pianist, based in Portland, OR. Has a previous Sextet album from 2008; also an Andrew Oliver Kora Band from 2009. Don't recognize anyone on this album, but three members wrote six of ten songs (to Oliver's four): guitarist Dan Duvall (3), drummer Kevin Van Geem (2), tenor/soprano saxophonist Willie Matheis (1). Also playing are Mary-Sue Tobin (soprano/alto sax, clarinet) and Eric Gruber (bass). Oliver plays some electric (Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer). Intricate postbop, shows a lot of ingenuity, quite listenable over the long haul. B+(**)

Eric Felten: Seize the Night (2007 [2010], Melotone): Trombonist lately turned vocalist, b. 1964, cut a couple albums for Soul Note in the early 1990s, then not much until he emerged as a crooner on Eric Felten Meets the Dek-tette in 2005. Wrote six of eleven songs, none up to "Dancing in the Dark" or "Blue Skies" but they hold up well enough. Band should be superb -- Kenny Barron, Dennis Irwin, Jimmy Cobb, and Don Braden -- but neither they nor the singer break out of the straight-laced propriety characterized by, for instance, the conservative black-and-white cover art. B+(**)

Benny Sharoni: Eternal Elixir (2008 [2010], Papaya): Tenor saxophonist, from Israel, parents from Yemen and Chile (which he credits for a little Latin tinge), moved to US in 1986 to study at Berklee; based in Boston. First album. a mainstream affair with trumpet, piano, guitar, bass and drums. Wrote 4 of 10 cuts -- the only cover I instantly recognize is "Sunny." Big sound, swings hard. B+(**)

Sándor Szabó/Kevin Kastning: Returning (2008 [2010], Greydisc): Hungarian guitar duo; no bio on Kastning other than that he lives in Budapest, has a 1988 album as The Kevin Kastning Unit, several more as Kastning Siegfried, and four now with Szabó. Szabó was born in 1956, has a healthy discography starting with an album on Leo in 1986. Both play 12-string guitars: Szabó a baritone, Kastning switching between an extended baritone, an alto in G, and a 6-string bass-baritone. They work carefully, getting a subtly metallic picked note sound. Could be major subjects for further research if I was that much into guitar. B+(*)

Bobby Avey: A New Face (2009 [2010], JayDell): Young pianist, no b. date given but got his BA in 2007 and moved to Brooklyn. First album under his own name, but previously appeared in a duo with Dave Liebman, Vienna Dialogues, which I didn't much care for. This is much better: half trio where he leans hard on the keys, half with Liebman guesting, also blowing hard. B+(***)

Peggy Duquesnel: Summertime Lullaby (2009 [2010], Joyspring Music): Pianist-vocalist, writes some (4 of 11 "jazz standards and love songs" here). Seventh album since 2003. Evidently based in southern California ("served as stadium keyboardist for the Anaheim Angels baseball team"). Band includes guitar, bass, and drums, but seems to vanish mid-album. Has some charm as a singer, and her instrumental (solo) takes of "Satin Doll" and "Take the 'A' Train" sparkle, but the lullaby/love song angle doesn't do much (nor does her "Mack the Knife," which doesn't exactly fit any of these concepts. B

Rob Wagner/Hamid Drake/Nobu Ozaki: Trio (2005 [2007], Valid): Can't find any bio for Wagner -- empty page on his website, empty section on MySpace -- but he plays clarinet, tenor and soprano sax, is based in New Orleans, has four trio records since 2001, only this one with Drake and Ozaki. Needless to say, Drake is a huge pickup, his frame drums providing a soft rumble that blends especially well with Wagner's clarinet. The sax stretches, and the drum kit, are louder, less exceptional, but still invigorating free jazz. A-

Gaida: Levantine Indulgence (2009 [2010], Palymra): Singer, born in Germany, raised in Damascus, also lived in Kuwait and Paris; moved to Detroit to study biology, got into music singing in Lebanese restaurants, eventually wound up in New York, where she taps into a mix of Middle Eastern and jazz musicians -- drummer Eric McPherson, bassist François Moutin, or both in the case of Iraqi trumpeter Amir ElSaffar. Mix is more Arab folk/pop than anything else, but I can't swear that's what it really is. B+(***)

Chie Imaizumi: A Time of New Beginnings (2010, Capri): From Japan, studied at Berklee from 2001, based in Los Angeles, but recorded this in New York. Third album since 2005, composing and arranging for a large group with a John Clayton-Jeff Hamilton-Tamir Hendelman rhythm section and a lot of big name horns (Steve Wilson, Scott Robinson, Gary Smulyan, Greg Gisbert, Terrell Stafford, Steve Davis, and a guest spot for Randy Brecker). Has its ups and downs, but the ensemble work is often amazing. B+(**)

Jacky Terrasson: Push (2009 [2010], Concord): Pianist, b. 1966 in Berlin, Germany; mother American, father French; studied at Berklee, based now in New York. Twelfth album since 1994, when he debuted as one of Blue Note's big piano finds. He's one of those pianists I haven't paid much attention to, and haven't gotten much out of when I did, but he's pretty upbeat here, and the trio pieces are bright and lively. The guests are less of a blessing, not that there's anything wrong with Jacques Schwarz-Bart's tenor sax piece, or the two with Gregoire Maret's harmonica -- they sort of fall off the table as odds and ends. Terrasson sings a bit, and that's forgettable too. B+(*)

Guillermo Klein: Domador de Huellas: Music of "Chuchi" Leguizamon (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1970 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, studied at Berklee, based in New York, eighth album since 1997, most with a large band he calls Los Gauchos. This one is a tribute to Argentine songwriter Gustavo "Cuchi" Leguizamón, who wrote/co-wrote all but Klein's title track. Most songs have vocals, mostly sung by Klein who doesn't give them a very felicitous airing, although guests Liliana Herrero and Carme Canela do little better. B-

Hadley Caliman/Pete Christlieb: Reunion (2009 [2010], Origin): Two tenor saxophonists. Caliman, b. 1932, had a few albums in the 1970s, then vanished (at least as a leader) until Origin picked him up in 2008. He titled his comeback album Gratitude and its follow-up Straight Ahead, and that's about all you need to know about him. Christlieb is a bit younger, b. 1945, evidently played some with Caliman in the late 1960s. He has a slightly more continuous career, but only one record between 1983-98, and only one other album post-2000. He is probably best known for a pair of duo albums with Warne Marsh in 1978 -- at least that's where I know him from -- which, of course, don't quite compete with Marsh's Lee Konitz duos. Presumably Caliman's the one who wants to swing and Christlieb's the one who's into more intricate postbop. Pretty enjoyable mix either way. With label stalwarts Bill Anschell, Chuck Deardorf, and John Bishop. B+(**)

Charito Meets Michel Legrand: Watch What Happens (2008 [2009], CT Music): Wikipedia: "Charito was the Empress consort of Jovian, Roman Emperor." OK, let's try again. Singer. B. June 15, no year given, probably in the Philippines; MySpace bases her in New York, but her own website starts: "Distinctively a most prominent jazz vocalist in Japan with multi-awarded albums recorded and released internationally" -- website also available in Japanese. Has seven albums since 1991 (AMG) or thirteen since 1990 (own website), the latest Heal the World: Charito Sings Michael Jackson. No credits -- not a big problem with Legrand's generally anonymous orchestra, but I'd like to know who to blame for the duets (possibly Legrand). She has a nice voice, good diction, takes one song in French, the others in impeccable English. Looked pretty scruffy on her first album cover; better than ever twenty years later, so she must be doing something right. B

Makoto Ozone/No Name Horses: Jungle (2009 [2010], Verve): Pianist, b. 1961 in Kobe, Japan; studied at Berklee 1980-83 before returning to Japan, where he is something of a star. Looks like he has 25-30 albums, starting with an eponymous one in 1981 and including at least three with his big band No Name Horses. The band is efficient and effective here, with solid section work, a few standout solos, and a fair amount of space for Ozone to remind you of his affection for Oscar Peterson, although the single thing that I like best about it is the extra dose of percussion, evidently the work of the only non-Japanese name I see on the roster: Pernell Saturnino. B+(*) [advance]

Sheryl Bailey: A New Promise (2008 [2010], MCG Jazz): Guitarist, b. 1966, grew up in Pittsburgh, PA; based in New York; sixth album since 1993. Cites Wes Montgomery as an inspiration, and seems to fit into his family, although we can add Emily Remler to that list -- three Remler songs here, including "East to Wes." Recorded in Pittsburgh with the Three Rivers Jazz Orchestra, co-directed by Mike Tomaro and Steve Hawk. I imagine most musicians love the idea of having a full big band backing them up. Helps here, even if it seems a little extravagant. B+(**)

Mike Marshall/Caterina Lichtenberg: Caterina Lichtenberg and Mike Marshall (2009 [2010], Adventure Music): Mandolin duets. Marshall, like most American mandolinists, started in bluegrass, but then he took a turn into Brazilian choro and his discography and especially his label now tilt that way. Lichtenberg was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, is based in Germany; she specializes in baroque classical music, and that's where they start here: with J.S. Bach, then Jean-Marie Leclair; they mix in Jose Antonio Zambrano's "Suite Venezuelana," two pieces by Jacob do Bandolim, one from Zequendo de Abrel, a Bulgarian trad tune, a couple of Marshall's pieces -- all sounding, to me at least, pretty baroque. B+(*)

Nils Petter Molvaer: Hamada (2009 [2010], Thirsty Ear): No dates, but came out last fall on his own Sula label, possibly picked up by Universal, a company so huge that its American and European arms don't much care what the other is doing. Chilled trumpet over Eivind Aarset's frigid guitar, Jan Bang's sampling, and/or scattered electronics. I like it more when the percussion picks up, especially when the guitar goes heavy metal on "Cruel Altitude," but the ambient surfaces aren't noodling. B+(***)

Marc Ribot: Silent Movies (2009 [2010], Pi): Solo guitar, with Ribot switching to vibes on one track, and Keefus Ciancia credited with "soundscapes" on 5 (of 13). In the liner notes Ribot says that Blind Movies would have been a better title "but that wasn't as catchy" -- maybe someone should have added "or clichéd"? The music isn't clichéd, but it does fall into the ambient rut that swallows up so many soundtracks. B+(**) [Sept. 28]

Gwilym Simcock: Blues Vignette (2009 [2010], Basho, 2CD): Pianist, b. 1981 in Bangor, Gwynedd (northwest Wales), UK. Second album, a big one divided into "Solo/Duo" and "Trio" discs: the duo is a 21-minute "Suite for Cello and Piano" with Cara Berridge on cello, following 48 minutes of solo; the trio adds Yuri Goloboubev (bass) and James Maddren (drums). A lot to swallow here, and I don't really feel up to it. As if often the case, the few covers are easier to figure out than the originals. In particular, the solo disc includes a very interesting deconstruction of "On Broadway" which barely hints at a melody so catchy it invariably sticks with you for hours. B+(*)

John McNeil/Bill McHenry: Chill Morn He Climb Jenny (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Trumpet, tenor sax, respectively; McNeil b. 1948, a veteran of the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra with a bunch of albums on Steeplechase I haven't heard. McHenry is much younger, b. 1972, his 1998 debut on Fresh Sound New Talent. Both are mainstream players, although their pianoless quartet's effort at rediscovering lost bop gems -- three Russ Freeman pieces here, one each from Thad Jones and Wilbur Harden (and another trumpet player named Miles Davis), the other three minor standards -- has its own root-seeking radicalism. With Joe Martin on bass, Jochen Rueckert on drums. Recorded live. After three plays still has some upside potential. [B+(***)]


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


Unpacking: Found in the mail the last two weeks:

  • Jason Adasiewicz: Sun Rooms (Delmark): Sept. 28
  • Afrocubism (World Circuit/Nonesuch): advance, Oct. 19
  • E.J. Antonio: Rituals in the Marrow: Recipe for a Jam Session (Blue Zygo)
  • The Lynn Baker Quartet: Azure Intention (OA2)
  • Doug Beavers 9: Two Shades of Nude (Origin): Sept. 21
  • Geof Bradfield: African Flowers (Origin): Sept. 21
  • Xavier Charles: Dans les Arbres (ECM): advance, Nov. 9
  • Richard Cole: Inner Mission (Origin): Sept. 21
  • Scott Colley: Empire (CAM Jazz)
  • Patrick Cornelius: Fierce (Whirlwind)
  • Roger Davidson Quintet: Brazilian Love Song (Soundbrush): Nov. 9
  • Eli Degibri: Israeli Song (Anzic)
  • Chris Donnelly: Solo (ALMA)
  • Exploding Star Orchestra: Stars Have Shapes (Delmark): Sept. 28
  • Anat Fort: And If (ECM)
  • Brad Goode: Tight Like This (Delmark): Sept. 28
  • Randy Halberstadt: Flash Point (Origin)
  • Rich Halley Quartet: Live at the Penofin Jazz Festival (Pine Eagle)
  • Raúl Jaurena & His Tango Orchestra: Fuerza Milongnera (Soundbrush): Nov. 9
  • The Kora Band: Cascades (Origin): Sept. 21
  • Charles Lloyd: Mirror (ECM): advance, Sept. 14
  • Mike Mainieri/Marnix Busstra Quartet: Trinary Motion (NYC, 2CD)
  • Alexander McCabe: Quiz (CAP)
  • Stephen Micus: Bold as Light (ECM): advance, Nov. 9
  • Roscoe Mitchell and the Note Factory: Far Side (ECM): advance, Nov. 9
  • Harold O'Neal: Whirling Mantis (Smalls)
  • Markku Ounaskari: Kuára (ECM): advance, Nov. 9
  • William Parker Organ Quartet: Uncle Joe's Spirit House (Centering)
  • Houston Person: Moment to Moment (High Note)
  • Alison Ruble: Ashland (Origin)
  • Antonio Sanchez: Live in New York at Jazz Standard (CAM Jazz, 2CD)
  • Trygve Seim/Andreas Utnem: Purcor (ECM): advance, Nov. 9
  • Ches Smith & These Arches: Finally Out of My Hands (Skirl): Nov. 16
  • Mary Stallings: Dream (High Note)
  • Cecil Taylor & Tony Oxley: Ailanthus/Altissima: Bilateral Dimenions of 2 Root Songs (Triple Point, 2LP)
  • Myron Walden: Countryfied (Demi Sound)
  • Norma Winstone: Stories Yet to Tell (ECM)

Purchases:

  • Jenny and Johnny: I'm Having Fun Now (Warner Brothers)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Weekend Roundup

A week's worth of useful links I didn't get around to commenting on previously:


  • Glenn Greenwald: Obama wins the right to invoke "State Secrets" to protect Bush crimes: The striking thing here is that had Obama's DOJ not appealed the case would have been settled and Bush's CIA rendition program would finally get exposed in court. For another comment, see this piece by Jane Mayer.

  • Paul Krugman: Ex-Im Bonkers:

    Via Jon Chait, a stark demonstration of the madness that has overtaken the American right. It seems that Newt Gingrich is approvingly citing an article in Forbes by Dinesh D'Souza, alleging that Obama is a radical pursuing a "Kenyan, anti-colonial" agenda.

    His prime example is that the Export-Import Bank has made a loan to Brazil's offshore oil project, which D'Souza finds incomprehensible except as a plan to shift power away from the West.

    Except, you know, the Ex-Im bank's job is to promote US exports -- and this was a loan for the specific purpose of buying US-made oilfield equipment. And the board approving the loan was . . . a board appointed by George W. Bush.

    One more reason that things like this happen is that Brazil's real economy has been growing, unlike ours.

  • Paul Krugman: China, Japan, America: Two things Krugman regularly writes a lot about don't have any obvious political relevance, at least in usual US left-right terms: the Euro, which hampers nations that have adopted it from fighting downturns with the usual standard macroeconomic policies, and the Chinese manipulation of their currency to prop up a system of predatory exports. The latter might be a political issue if either party attempted to take charge on it, but neither does:

    The consequences of this policy are also stark and simple: in effect, China is taxing imports while subsidizing exports, feeding a huge trade surplus. You may see claims that China's trade surplus has nothing to do with its currency policy; if so, that would be a first in world economic history. An undervalued currency always promotes trade surpluses, and China is no different.

    And in a depressed world economy, any country running an artificial trade surplus is depriving other nations of much-needed sales and jobs. Again, anyone who asserts otherwise is claiming that China is somehow exempt from the economic logic that has always applied to everyone else.

  • Beccy Tanner: Dockum sit-in's leader dies at 72: That is Ron Walters, who was one of the young people -- he would have been about 20 at the time -- who staged a sit-in at the soda counter at Dockum Drugs in downtown Wichita, KS in 1958 -- more than a year before the more famous Greensboro, NC sit-in. Walters went on to earn a Ph.D. in International Studies and to teach and write, most recently at the University of Maryland.

  • Beccy Tanner: Kansas' premier historian, Craig Miner, dies: Historian at Wichita State University, parlayed his class in state history into a niche as no doubt the world's foremost historian of the state of Kansas. Never knew him, but know people who did, and always figured him to be an irreplaceable community resource.

  • Maxine Udall: The Road to Serfdom Isn't Paved: A piece on Eisenhower and the road system, one of the least controversial examples we have of public goods, at least until the right decided that no such thing can possibly exist:

    But Ike wasn't just a military leader, he was a leader of a nation; a capitalist nation built on commercial enterprise. He recognized the commercial value of a road system in transporting goods long distances. What he may not quite have anticipated was the extent to which it would foster commercial exchange at the bottom and middle of the economic pyramid. With an expanded road system, small farmers are no longer hindered by distance to market. Manufacturers in remote locations, far from rail terminals, can expand output and reach distant markets with greater ease.

    However, that's changing, as gravel roads are making a comeback in rural America, where roads are maintained at all. But roads are just an example. What we are facing is the right's conviction that government can never spend money as wisely as even the most foolish investors in the private sector. Udall's conclusion:

    I have written about this before [see below]. There are many things for which I would gladly accept indebtedness passed forward from my ancestors: better health, better education, better roads, better infrastructure, community lighting and safety, sanitation, disease control, higher productivity, better access to information and knowledge, and all the technology that makes cleaning my house easier.

    Robert Shiller quotes John Maynard Keynes saying much the same thing:

    "Thus we are so sensible, have schooled ourselves to so close a semblance of prudent financiers, taking careful thought before we add to the 'financial' burdens of posterity by building them houses to live in, that we have no such easy escape from the sufferings of unemployment."

    What passes for discussion about social choice and taxation in this country has become the sound of one hand clapping. The divisions in discourse have been strategically engineered by interests whose objectives I do not understand, but that I am sure are not the commonweal. The divisions are fueled by oblique appeals to base sentiments about race, class, and sexual preference that all of us harbor to a greater or lesser extent. They drive wedges on issues on which most would otherwise agree and from which most would benefit near equally from the same solution. While sentiments are used to divide us, a nation founded on the idea of a government of, by and for the people lists dangerously toward income inequality and its bedfellow, concentrated economic and political power, while we bequeath to our grandchildren a world in which they travel a network of gravel roads with barely a high school education, they live in cities and towns with failing sewers and water systems, and risk their and our great grandchildren's lives crossing crumbling bridges and overpasses.

    But their taxes will be low. I wonder if they'll thank us?

  • Maxine Udall: Intergenerational Win-Win: Health Insurance, Education, Environment, Infrastructure: The "before" piece mentioned above:

    If my grandparents had better nutrition and health care, I would be healthier. So anything my grandparents or the US government spent on those two commodities are intergenerational win-wins. The public monies spent during the 1930s to build National and State Parks are still yielding benefits to outdoors lovers like me: another intergenerational win-win. The national highway system that Eisenhower began in the 1960s is starting to crumble, but it still represents an intergenerational win-win.

  • Maxine Udall: Pharmaceutical Lemons and Dr. Frances Kelsey and Another Pharma "Lemon": Two articles on the pharmaceutical industry and the market for drugs that kill or maim you: more recently, Vioxx; earlier thalidomide. The main thing I want to add is that a big part of the research gap can be eliminated by transparent testing with public data that can be picked over by independent researchers. Given the number of people who die due to suspicious drug interactions, a public accounting of all suspicious deaths and reactions would be a magnet for researchers -- surely giving us much quicker response to dangers than the current system, where we leave testing to parties who have strong financial interests in obscuring the truth.

  • Lawrence Wright: Intolerance: A short summary of the campaign against the Park51/Cordoba House project, with an aside on the Danish cartoon brouhaha:

    Deliberate misrepresentations of Imam Abdul Rauf as a supporter of terror further distorted the story, as it moved on to the Fox News commentariat and from there to political figures, such as Newt Gingrich, who compared Abdul Rauf and his supporters to Nazis desecrating the Holocaust Memorial Museum by their presence. These strident falsehoods have undoubtedly influenced the two-thirds of Americans who now oppose Park51. The cynicism of this rhetorical journey can be traced in the remarks of Laura Ingraham, who interviewed Daisy Khan, Abdul Rauf's wife and partner in the project, in December. "I can't find many people who really have a problem with it," Ingraham told Khan then. "I like what you're trying to do." Ingraham has since been brought into line.

  • Matt Yglesias: Extending Bush's Tax Cuts for the Rich Won't Boost Savings and Investment:

    At the end of the segment, though, Kudlow pivoted to the idea that lower income tax rates on people earning over $250,000 a year would increase savings and investment and therefore boost long-term growth. Calabria agreed it was a shame we don't talk about this more. Then the segment ended without me being able to talk about it more. Which is too bad, because frankly the counterargument against this one is extremely definitive: debt-financed tax cuts cannot increase savings and investment.

    Yglesias makes his case without even getting into the slippery wording that magically transforms "savings" into "investment": lots of forms of savings provide nothing whatsoever in terms of productive capital investment -- buying gold, to pick an obvious case, or derivatives.

  • Matt Yglesias: Class Implications of the Retirement Age: Quotes John Leland quoting Teres Ghilarducci:

    People who need to retire early -- and they need to -- are folks that start working in their late teens, whereas people who are promoting raising the retirement age are people who were in graduate school or professional school and got into jobs that would logically take them into their late 60s and 70s," she said.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Poverty and the Erosion of Trust

Front cover of Wichita Eagle today was dominated by Wednesday's storms -- nine tornados in the area, a picture of a clump of ice 7.75 inches across, possibly the largest hail recorded in Kansas. We got some 2-inch hail, a lot more in the 1-inch range, some wind and heavy rain. I haven't looked around very carefully, but don't see any obvious damage here.

But two smaller articles, both picked up from news services, in the paper caught my eye:

Tony Pugh: Poverty numbers are highest in decades: Actually, the recordkeeping only goes back 51 years to 1959. The raw number of 43.6 million Americans under the poverty line is the largest ever, and the percentage rate is the highest since 1994 -- also two years after a Democrat was elected president ending a long Republican period. Median income is also down 4.2 percent; unemployment is up. Much of this can be attributed to the worst recession we've had since the 1930s, but the long-term trend is deep and dismal. The only time America's poverty rates dropped more than can be accounted for by short-term growth was during the New Deal, especially following the passage of Social Security, and following LBJ's Great Society push in the late 1960s. In both cases, successes were subsequently eroded by business efforts to drive wages down and profits up, leading to major increases in inequality.

Inequality is a fairly abstract concept, shrouded in the fact that some inequality is inevitable -- some people are just smarter, some work harder, some save more, some are just luckier -- and to some extent that inequality can be harmless. It doesn't really harm you if your neighbor has a fancier car or eats more often in ritzy restaurants or takes extra vacations you can't afford, and it may even work to your benefit if he pays more taxes and that results in better schools for your children. But the more inequality you permit, the uglier it gets, especially when the rich band together to promote their interests at the expense of everyone else's. And that's what's happened, to an extent that we should find shocking, in America over the past 30-40 years.

You can measure this inequality lots of ways. For instance, median real wages have stagnant or worse since 1970, despite huge productivity gains which in an earlier period -- one with much stronger labor unions -- would have been shared but now accrue exclusively to capital. Another way is to watch the poverty line swallow up more and more people. That's tragic, not only for the people immediately affected but also for the general waste -- what those people and their families far on down the line could have contributed if only they had basic support and real opportunities. As the article points out, today's grim situation could have been even worse if the right had been more successful at choking off Obama's meager economic programs:

The $28 billion in extended unemployment insurance benefits paid in 2009 helped keep 3.3 million more people from falling into poverty last year, said David Johnson, the chief of the Census Bureau's division on housing and household economics.

Food stamp benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program kept 2.3 million more people out of poverty, the survey estimates.

The new law's tax cut provisions probably won't be reflected until next year's data.

Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan research center, said the stimulus' biggest contribution was the estimated 1.3 million to 2.7 million full-time jobs that were created or saved in 2009, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

Alan Fram/Jennifer Agiesta: Poll shows Americans stingy with confidence:

Glum and distrusting, a majority of Americans today are very confident in -- nobody.

Of what confidence there is in institutions, the military and small business are at the top in an Associated Press-National Constitution Center poll released Thursday. But even they get very-confident or better ratings from well under half the people. [ . . . .]

Out of 18 fixtures on the American scene, none won the strong faith of even half the country. The military did best, with 43 percent saying they are extremely or very confident in it, and small business and science were the only others to garner solid trust from at least 3 in 10 people.

Trust is the one thing that no modern society can function without. It's impossible to overstate that point, but if you have any doubts try imagining going through your day if you had to constantly guard against everyone you meet unpredictably lashing out at you and everything you encounter fraught with hidden dangers. Indeed, trust is so basic and so essential that people who lose their ability to trust are routinely diagnosed with mental illnesses, ranging from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) to schizophrenic paranoia.

Trust is something that builds gradually but can crack and crash overnight, after which it is extremely difficult to put back together again. Some societies become so untrustworthy that we can't even imagine what it would be like to live in them. Two obvious examples are war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan, where US occupation forces and Quisling regimes are unlikely to ever gain much trust among populations they intentionally divide and play off against each other, nor can locals trust insurgents who act in their name but resort to ruthlessness that matches or exceeds the occupiers.

We still live in a relatively trustworthy society, but as this poll indicates that trust is unraveling, and the more it unravels the more reasons we have to trust each other less. One problem is that while our wars leave their destruction abroad they return distrust here: most obviously in the high rates of PTSD suffered by returning soldiers, but also in the whole political struggle over the war, and in the fear that the wars will elicit further terror attacks. Still, war doesn't inevitably destroy trust: in some cases, the shared experience of war makes trust so essential that we work hard to build it up. This is easiest to do when we sense that we share the same fate -- that we are in this together, and we therefore have to depend on each other. On the other hand, the more we sense that everyone has to fend for him-or-herself, the quicker trust erodes.

That distrust is increasing in America is the result of deeply seated trends and lots of political opportunism. The trends include things that we pretty much have to live with -- capitalism is intrinsically directed by self-interest, which is something we have every reason to distrust -- and things that we could change if we had the political will to do so, like reversing a 40-year trend toward greater inequality. The political opportunism is less excusable. Congress fares especially poorly because both sides pick at the chinks and pour on the loathing, but also because the influence of money is so pervasive that it's pretty much impossible to get into Congress without being guilty of something. The military, on the other hand, rates relatively highly because neither side picks on it at all, even though objectively it is as least as corrupt and self-serving as any other organization -- maybe more given that so much of what it does is done in secret.

That both sides do it doesn't make both sides equally culpable. Conservatives, rather perversely, have set out to undermine trust in democratic institutions, especially ones like government that could be popularly used to limit the private power of corporations and the accumulation of extraordinary wealth by privileged individuals. Sometimes they do this by appealing to individualist principle, but more often they exploit fears -- everything from terrorism to tax audits -- and frequently they engage in outright falsehoods, like the nonstop slander campaigns that met the Clinton and Obama presidencies. What's perverse is that they're tearing at the very fabric of society. For some reason, the rich -- and that's who conservatives are in the employ of -- think they can save themselves from the rot around them by isolating themselves in their gated neighborhoods and private clubs and schools with their servants and lackies. They even see some virtue in their ability to thrive in a society that is tearing itself up with distrust -- figuring that if the masses don't honor them for love of God or Mammon they will at least fear the police and jail.

On the other hand, there is a lot of evidence that more equitable societies are healthier, more productive, simply more trustworthy -- e.g., see Richard Wilkinson/Kate Pickett: The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger. If we've learned anything at all over the last 250 years it is that people working together -- in an army, a church, a corporation, a labor union, a bureaucracy, even a scattered group of software developers connected only by the internet -- can do much more than any individual can. And while traditional forms of motivating such groups -- slavery, impressment, wages -- are somewhat effective, nothing works like voluntary personal commitment to shared goals. The key to getting this commitment is trust that the outcome will be fair and just. And that sort of agreement is much easier to achieve in a society that aims for equality than in one that splits into each person pursuing its own personal interest.

Obviously, there are many cases today where one is justified in not trusting those in power, but we need to be careful to qualify those cases: to insist that facts determine judgment, and to insist on systematically making facts easier to find -- for politicians we need both to make finances more transparent and to make financial transactions rare so that the exceptions will stand out.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Dinner Talk

Went to a nice dinner last night: good food, old lefties talking on and on. As usual, I don't feel I made myself adequately clear, so would like to use my soapbox to add a few words.

One topic floating about but never handled directly was the old third party impulse. All present had plenty of gripes over Obama's conservatism, and we pretty much all agreed that if Raj Goyle wins the local congressional seat he will become one of the bluest dogs in the Democratic Party, his only saving grace saving us from Koch crony Mike Pompeo. Still, I have no desire to work for a party of the left. The one thing the left can do these days is to come up with a proper critique of the state of affairs. Wrapping that up in a party inevitably compromises the message, for all sorts of reasons. One of those is that the media simply won't allow a third party to discuss any real issues. Ralph Nader's 2000 campaign is a good example: Nader had more substantial issues against Gore than Gore thought he had against Bush, yet the only thing the media focused on was Nader's role as a spoiler in the two-party contest. The soapbox that Nader should have had by force of his distinctive command of the issues was nullified by a system that can't cope with real issues.

Of course, lots of people find electoral politics seductive, and since the Republicans have gone off the deep end, there is a need to block them that hasn't been felt so urgently since the common front struggle against the fascists in the 1930s. I don't disagree with the latter point, and will dutifully cast votes against Pompeo, Jerry Moran, and Sam Brownback come November, but that's about it. I don't want to feel obligated to defend people I disagree with on many important things just because someone else would likely be worse.

[unfinished fragment]

Monday, September 13, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 17100 [17089] rated (+11), 841 [845] unrated (-4).

No Jazz Prospecting

Did a lot of driving last week, including a quick trip to Mountain Home, Arkansas. Didn't figure I'd have much time or access, so didn't even bother to schlep the computer along with me, or for that matter the boom box and my homework. (Did load up a case of country music -- Lefty Frizzell was a big hit, if you can imagine ostensible country music fans who've never heard him before, a sense of marvel that I recall passing through my own life thirty years ago.)

Back now, and starting to catch up, as I delve back into the also-rans and think about culling the surplus. Haven't catalogued the mail yet: got very little before I left, but got a huge haul today, so I'm probably falling behind again. (What was it Andrew Card said about not launching major product roll-outs in August?) No further news on Jazz CG, which will probably run last week of September or first week of October.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Weekend Roundup

A week's worth of useful links I didn't get around to commenting on previously -- actually, less, since I was traveling without my computer for most of the week:


  • CalculatedRisk: Employment-Population Ratio, Part Time Workers, Unemployed over 26 Weeks: Details, including graphs, from last week's jobs report. (How'd Andrew Leonard put it? "Not horribly awful!) Most striking is this graph comparing job losses this recession to every other recession since 1947: gives you an indication that we're actually in uncharted territory:

  • Andrew Leonard: The Burger King-eating boys from Brazil: You hear talk now and then about Japan's "lost decade" and how the US is slouching toward a similar prolonged malaise, but I think we've already lost a decade: from the tech stock bubble burst in 2000-01 and the 9/11 slump to the present moment, if you discount the illusory gains of the housing bubble you wind up pretty flat, with what little profits there were distributed exclusively to the megarich. On the other hand, one should note that China, India and Brazil have been growing like gangbusters. Moreover, their growth has been fueled by making things so their people see tangible benefits from growth, unlike what we see from financialization:

    You would be hard put to find a point in history, at least since the economic explosion of Western Europe prior to and during the Industrial Revolution, in which the global economy featured such a multi-polar set of independent economic power centers. And yet in the U.S., more than ever, we have become wholly consumed by our own internal cultural flashpoints and brain-dead political squabbles. As the rest of the world is busy growing up, we're steering ourselves straight into a backwater.

  • Alex Pareene: New York Times: Why aren't Bush and Obama best friends? The smiling picture of the two of them is bad enough:

    How to explain this non-issue? Well, George Bush broke this country in many ways, and Obama is fond of pointing out that he cannot personally be blamed for the terrible things Mr. Bush and his Republican Congress did, which is very rude of him.

    But this entire piece is actually about the insane notion, popular on cable news channels and among Republican operatives, that President Obama should've actually thanked George W. Bush in Obama's sad speech announcing the pretend end of the pointless war that Bush started under false pretenses.

    There is an obsession among these pundits and operatives with getting Obama to "admit" that he was "wrong" about "the surge." This petty grievance thrives because an entire class of people who were dreadfully wrong about everything desperately wish to be told that they were, in the end, right. About anything. It has nothing to do with any actual analysis of war strategy or evaluation of the conditions in Iraq today.

  • Nick Turse: 5 Jaw-Dropping Stories in Wikileaks' Archives Begging for National Attention: Well, maybe not jaw-dropping -- COIN manuals and strategizing, threat estimates, torture techniques, the plan to keep NATO in Afghanistan despite popular opposition, a database of Israeli settlements, what Microsoft is doing to share their retained data with the police state.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Tea and Guns

Laura Tillem has a letter in the Wichita Eagle today, titled "Tea and Guns":

Author Greg Mortenson and columnist Trudy Rubin are hypocritical in calling for the United States to keep occupying Afghanistan ("Some tea and hope," Sept. 5 Opinion). In one breath, they point out how great it would be to spend on education the $1 million we waste per year to keep just one U.S. soldier there. But in the next breath, they say, well, never mind that for now, keep on with keeping all those soldiers there until the generals tell us not to -- which means when pigs fly.

This really saddens me, because Mortenson's book is inspiring. He seems to have forgotten the difference between having tea with locals by yourself versus having tea with locals after marching into town with fully loaded troops.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Rhapsody Streamnotes: September 2010

Pick up text here.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Not-So-New Movies

Found this in the scratch file. Never did anything with it, but as a fragment it's better off here.


Movie: No Country for Old Men. Cormac McCarthy novel, adapted and directed by Ethan and Noel Coen. Features Josh Brolin as a worker/hunter who stumbles onto a satchel of money, Javier Bardem as the mob killer who hunts him down, Tommy Lee Jones as the county sheriff who waxes philosophical over the whole mess (or what will do, as he puts it, until a real mess comes along). American movies have always celebrated fortunates coming into money, even if some didn't fare well with their fortune. Stealing from drug dealers became a cliché back in the Reagan administration, which was doing something along those lines to fund its wars in Nicaragua. Set in south Texas in 1980, this fits the model, but avoids the worst of the genre: it's still bad-things-happen-to-stupid-people, but Brolin knows full well what he's doing is stupid, and that self-consciousness gives him a fatalism and an edge that still proves insufficient. (Maybe there's a Vietnam Vet angle to him, but it's not developed.) Barden ranks as one of the more extraordinary monsters ever. His grim efficiency is monotonous, ultimately snuffing the whole film. That, on top of Jones' ineffectualness, was probably an intended effect, maybe even the big artistic point. Along the way I lost interest. B+

Movie: American Gangster. Denzel Washington plays Frank Lucas, who puts his family to work pushing heroin in Harlem, rising to the top of the racket by cutting out the middlemen and protecting his brand name. True story, set in the 1970s, reminder of the drug trade in and around the Vietnam War -- some of Lucas' heroin was smuggled in the coffins of dead GIs, but it looks to me that the movie jiggered the timing for dramatic effect. Russell Crowe plays a NJ narc who brings Lucas down, a messy performance that fails to reconcile such a peculiar mix of manners and ethics. (Josh Brolin appears as a far more credible corrupt narc.) Some well-turned details, but the rise and fall arc offers little to care about. After the bust, there is some payoff, as the two leads collaborate to clean out the police corruption as well as the drug dealers. Sounds like the War on Drugs was victorious after all. Wonder why no one noticed? B

Movie: Charlie Wilson's War. A/k/a/, The Idiot's Guide to the Afghani Holy War; or It Was Fun While It Lasted. B

Movie: Juno. A-

Movie: There Will Be Blood. A-

Movie: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. A-

Movie: The Savages. B+

Movie: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. A-

Movie: Indiana Jones ... B-

Movie: Wall-E. B

Movie: Iron Man. B+

Movie: Vicky Christina Barcelona. B+

Movie: Rachel Getting Married B+

Movie: Appaloosa A-

Movie: Australia B-

Movie: Happy Go Lucky B+

Movie: Cadillac Records A-

Movie: Milk A-

Movie: The Reader A-

Movie: Slumdog Millionaire A

Movie: The Wrestler A-

Movie: State of Play B+

Movie: The Soloist A-

Movie: Up A-

Movie: Cheri A-

Tax Rant

Another old fragment. No idea when I wrote this:

It seems to me that Democrats are missing a golden opportunity to offer a tax plan that significantly rewards savings and wealth-building while reinforcing progressive tax rates that are necessary as a limit on growing inequality. The way this would work is simple. Divide income into two categories: earned (wages, small busines profits), and unearned (interest, dividends, capital gains, ifts, inheritance). Tax earned income much as we do now, year by year, with progressive tax brackets, perhaps a bit steeper than they are now. Tax unearned income separately, also progressively, but with brackets calculated according to the total unearned income (minus losses) over the taxpayer's lifetime.

Music Week

Music: Current count 17089 [17052] rated (+37), 845 [858] unrated (-13). Post-JCG bounce. Pretty light mail week.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #25, Part 1)

I figured I'd continue to do some mop up after finishing my Jazz CG column, but took the week rather easy, mostly pulling out well aged discs from my middle-priority bin, things that I had neglected in closing out. The high points below were exceptions, of course: the long lead times on the AUM Fidelity records convinced me to hold them back, although they will be out by the time the column actually appears. Still, most records wait through several cycles, so that's only fair. I finally got a copy of the Vandermark 5's Annular Gift, nearly a year old, this week, so it, too, will wait.

The Rhapsody section is just curiosity on my part. The old records I'm not seriously considering for Jazz CG, but thought they made more sense here than shuttled off to Recycled Goods. (Some of the old Billy Jenkins sets appear to be recent reissues, at least in digital download form.)


Gamelan Madu Sari: Hive (2005-07 [2010], Songlines): Vancouver group, plays classical (or maybe not so classical) Javanese music, lots of gongs, some strings, more percussion, waves of voices. Second album. It doesn't grab me, but listening in a dark quiet room suggests there are plenty of subtle details. Has a very informative booklet, too, trots and historical details. One could learn a lot if one had better eyes than I do. B+(*)

Marc Courtney Johnson: Dream of Sunny Days (2004-08 [2009], Dreamy Jazz): Vocalist, b. 1967, studied at Norther Illinois University and University of Chicago. Based in Chicago (MySpace page says Skokie). Second album. Wrote 6 of 13 songs, including one to celebrate Obama's election. Smooth voice, not quite slick. Don't see much credits info, but Geof Bradfield is the saxophonist, a good one. B+(**)

Eric Vloeimans' Gatecrash: Heavensabove! (2008 [2010], Challenge Jazz): Dutch trumpet player, a steady producer with over a dozen albums since 1996. Postbop player, increasingly given to electronics, here in a quartet with electric keyboards (Jeroen Van Vliet) and basses (Gulli Gudmundsson) and effects everywhere except for drummer Jasper Van Hulten, who could use a boost. B

Steve Raegele: Last Century (2009 [2010], Songlines): Canadian guitarist, b. 1975 in Ottawa, based in Montreal. First album, a trio with Miles Perkin on bass and Thom Gossage on drums and kalimba. Prickly, abstract, even though one song is named "Janet Jackson" ("some fairly pandiatonic stuff around D"), feels improv (although only one joint title) with no special interest in line building. Intriguing when I manage to tune in. B+(*)

Ralph Alessi: Cognitive Dissonance (2004-05 [2010], CAM Jazz): Trumpet player, father also played trumpet; from San Rafael, CA, based in New York since 1991. Seventh album since 2002, plus an impressive list of side-credits going back to 1992 -- he is one of those musicians who always brightens up someone else's album. No idea why this has been sitting around five years, but its coming out now coincides with a flurry of Jason Moran credits. Moran has some sparkling moments here, along with his usual drummer, Nasheet Waits. Drew Gress, always dependable, plays bass. Alessi doesn't produce enough dissonance to grab your ear, but he's a sharp player and his leads grow on you. B+(***)

Kenny Burrell: Be Yourself (2008 [2010], High Note): Live at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola -- looks like I'm supposed to use the fancy logo for the last two words. Born 1931, cut his first record in 1956 and has rarely missed a year since, one of the few survivors of the bumper crop of bop-oriented guitarists that emerged in the 1950s. (Jim Hall is the only other one I can think of who's still active.) Has a couple of exceptional records -- Guitar Forms (1964-65), Ellington Is Forever (1975, Vol. 1 much better than Vol. 2) -- and a lot of pretty nice ones. I flagged his 75th Birthday Bash Live! (2006) as a dud, but this one is a delight, with Tivon Pennicott blowing some warm sax, Benny Green on the ivories, the great Peter Washington humming along on bass, and Clayton Cameron on drums. In this company, Burrell doesn't have to offer much more than tasty, which is just his thing. B+(***)

Los Angeles Jazz Collective: Sampler Vol. 1 (2006-08 [2009], Jazz Collective): Young mainstream Los Angeles-based jazz musicians, not an integral group. Website lists 13 members, each on 1-5 cuts here, and has a second list of 20 "other members," most not here. The latter list has some people I recall running across, but none on this sampler. The only one on the record that I'm sure I recognize is drummer Mark Ferber, on 4 cuts but not neither list. Less sure about saxophonists Matt Otto and Robby Marshall -- Otto, with 5 cuts and about that many records seems to be the dean here. Not much info with the package. I couldn't track down all of the referenced albums, and one cut doesn't seem to have come from anywhere, but what I could find fits the dates above. The groups range from 3 to 6 members, skewed toward fewer (median 4). Most have guitar and sax; 2 of 13 have trumpet and trombone; Joe Bagg's organ is more common than piano. Only interesting thing is that so many scattered groups sound so consistent lined up like this, but that could be taken as proof of their ordinariness. B

Federico Britos: Voyage (2010, Sunnyside): Violinist, originally from Uruguay, now based in Miami; AMG only lists two albums since 2002, a couple dozen credits since 1992, but he's evidently been around a lot longer -- back cover inset has rave quotes about Britos dating from 1955-60 (by Josephine Baker, Jascha Heifetz, Astor Piazzolla, Nat "King" Cole, and Vinicius de Moraes; also one from Dizzy Gillespie dated 1982). No recording dates here, but the sites and lineups jump all over, and the long list of guests include at least one dead guy (legendary Cuban bassist Israel "Cachao" Lopez, who passed in 2008). Numerous guests come and go: five pianists (best known: Kenny Barron, Michel Camilo), four guitarist (Bucky Pizzarelli, Tomatito), six bassists (Eddie Gomez, Cachao), four drummers (Ignacio Berroa, Francisco Mela), percussion; two cuts have extra strings; no horns anywhere. Some things sound like Grappelli, some are harder to place. Especially nice is "Micro Suite Cubana" with its bubbling percussion. B+(**)

Debbie Poryes Quartet: Catch Your Breath (2009 [2010], OA2): Pianist, from Berkeley, CA, spent the 1980s in the Netherlands with one record on a Dutch label (Timeless) from 1982; has a second record in 2007, and now this one. Wrote 4 of 9 songs, covering Berlin, Rodgers/Hart, Cahn, Sonny Clark, and Lennon/McCartney (an exceptionally nice "Here, There & Everywhere"). Quartet includes Bruce Williamson on sax (alto and soprano), Bill Douglass bass, and David Rokeach drums. Very pleasant little album. B+(*)

Peppe Merolla: Stick With Me (2009 [2010], PJ Productions): Drummer, b. 1969 Naples, Italy, based in New York (and/or Philadelphia?), has two previous albums, sings at least on Sogno Italiano (Italian Dream), but not here. The central figure here isn't the drummer, who wrote 1 of 9 songs, but tenor saxophonist and co-producer John Farnsworth, who wrote 5. Unfortunately, he doesn't make much of an impression, the album falling into fairly ordinary postbop. Also with Steve Turre (trombone, shells), Jim Rotondi (trumpet, flugelhorn), Mike LeDonne (piano), and Lee Smith (bass). B

Richard Sussman Quintet: Live at Sweet Rhythm (2003 [2010], Origin): Pianist, b. 1946, cut two albums 1978-80, now this one; meanwhile has taught at Manhattan School of Music since 1986. The quintet here is also called the Free Fall Reunion Band: Free Fall was Sussman's 1978 album. This album reunites the band (minus Larry Schneider): Tom Harrell (trumpet), Jerry Bergonzi (tenor sax), Mike Richmond (bass), and Jeff Williams (drums). Fairly mainstream postbop, with sharp horn players not all that well heard. B+(*)

Jacob Duncan/John Goldsby/Jason Tiemann: The Innkeeper's Gun (2009 [2010], Bass Lion Music): Sax trio, with Duncan on alto, Goldsby double bass, Tiemann drums. Recorded in Germany (Cologne as the credits put it, or Köln as it's better known here). Duncan's MySpace page bases him in "Hills of Kentucky," but other evidence suggests Louisville, also for Tiemann. Goldsby was born in Louisville, but moved to New York in 1980 and on to Köln in 1994, where he plays in the Westdeutscher Rundfunk Big Band. He also wrote 3 of 8 songs, with Duncan adding 4; the remainder isn't a standard I recognize. Narrow postbop, the sax a little thin, but it sustains interest and closes strong with riff-based vamps like Goldsby's "Juan in the Basement." B+(**)

Hilario Duran Trio: Motion (2010, Alma): Cuban pianist, b. 1953 in Havana, moved to Toronto in 1995. Cut three records for Justin Time in late 1990s, four now for Alma. Haven't heard any before this one, but Killer Tumbao is quite a title. Piano trio, with Roberto Occhipinti on bass and Mark Kelso on drums. Jumps right at you, and the percussion is pretty Cuban for my ears. B+(***)

Roberto Occhipinti: A Bend in the River (2010, Alma): Bassist, b. 1955 in Toronto; fourth album since 2006; nominally a quartet with Luis Deniz on alto sax, David Virelles on piano, and Dafnis Prieto on drums, but three of seven cuts pile on a string quartet, flute, bass clarinet, and trumpet, while three more swim in a full-fledged string orchestra. The sax paints bright colors but doesn't stand out, and while Prieto's presence promises some hot Cuban percussion none actually emerges. B-

William Parker: I Plan to Stay a Believer: The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield (2001-08 [2010], AUM Fidelity, 2CD): I've been hearing about Parker's Curtis Mayfield project for the better part of a decade now, and indeed picking through Rick Lopez's marvelous Parker sessionography I see bootlegs (label-less CDRs, anyway) from France in 2001 and Boston in 2002, a 2004 radio shot from Rome released as The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield: Live in Rome on Rai Trade in 2007, with the pace picking up in 2007, most with the same basic group: Lewis Barnes (trumpet), Darryl Foster (tenor and soprano sax), Sabir Mateen (alto and tenor sax), Dave Burrell (piano), Parker (bass), and Hamid Drake (drums), with Leena Conquest singing and Amiri Baraka poeticizing, with occasional subs along the way (Guillermo Brown for Drake, Lafayette Gilchrist for Burrell), and various ad hoc choirs to lift up the vocals. AUM Fidelity finally rounded up 11 cuts from 6 performances, two 2001-02, the other four 2007-08. Parker's attraction to Mayfield is easy enough to see: born in 1952, he would have known the Impressions when he was growing up and followed Mayfield's solo career from the moment he started to get serious. Mayfield, in turn, was the most politically conscious, in the most didactic terms, of his contemporaries, and Parker has always tended to wear his politics literally on his sleeve. His literalness tends to win out here -- he has this "inside songs" concept but he keeps the surface pretty much intact; occasionally the horns mash up, but more often he just builds on the joyous bounce of the music and the voices, and salutes the lyrics like some people salute the flag. In the hands of a less remarkable musician that may grow tiring, but here it never does. A- [Sept. 14]

David S. Ware: Onecept (2009 [2010], AUM Fidelity): Given a new lease on life thanks to a kidney transplant, Ware's comeback was a solo concert album cut in October 2009. A couple of months later he got back to the studio, with the stritch and saxello he added to his tenor sax arsenal. The addition of bass (William Parker) and drums (Warren Smith) fleshes out a sound that was pretty impressive solo. At this stage he's pretty close to automatic. I recall a while back praising Edwin Bayard as sounding like a young David S. Ware. This record makes that comparison seem silly, and makes me nervous having put Bayard's record near the top of my year-in-progress list. Only one play, so consider this grade the floor. A- [Sept. 14]

Amabutho: Sikelela (2010, Alma): South African group, mbube vocals and relatively spare percussion, first album. Looking around, I see that the group name is the title of the first Ladysmith Black Mambazo album -- translates as warriors or regiment, so probably not that significant. The percussion is identified as marimba, the scales working for melody and the deadened sound keeping the voices out front. First disc didn't play; evidently it's a DVD. B+(**)

Adam Schroeder: A Handful of Stars (2010, Capri): Baritone saxophonist, b. 1978 in Sioux City, IA; based in LA. I'm pretty sure he's not the Hollywood producer/exec producer of the same name, although AMG credits him with producing some of the producer's soundtracks. Credits with Clark Terry, Benny Wallace, Anthony Wilson, and the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra are more credible, especially the latter since John Clayton (bass) and Jeff Hamilton (drums) anchor the quartet here. First album, two originals to nine covers, impeccable standards with Quincy Jones the newest composer. Quartet is rounded out with guitarist Graham Dechter, whose sweet tone contrasts nicely to the big horn, and who slides right into the dominant swing idiom. Nice and simple album, the bari a little awkward but perfect when the notes match. So down my alley I may not be grading it below my true feelings. 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.

Billy Jenkins: I Am a Man From Lewisham (2010, VOTP): British guitarist, has recorded a lot since the early 1980s but hardly anyone have heard him, or heard of him. I haven't heard much myself, especially of his early stuff; his later stuff is idiosyncratic, with True Love Collection -- a psychedelic reworking of cutesy 1960s (or early 1970s) pop songs -- a personal favorite. This one starts and ends with blues, the title song and "Throw Them Blues in the Recycling Bin," both with hoarse Jenkins vocals, but the music gets pretty slippery even there, even more so in the instrumentals in between. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Billy Jenkins: Uncommerciality: Volume One (1986, VOTP): One of those early albums, seems like it might be a comp but all six tracks date from Jan-Feb 1986, a sextet with two saxes (one switching to bass clarinet), electric bass and guitar, drums and percussion. Titles are certainly uncommercial -- "Spastics Dancing," "Sade's Lips," "Margaret's Menstural Problems" -- but the music is within grasp, the guitar mostly hot and bluesy fusion, Iain Ballamy's tenor sax on "Pharoah Sanders" a good deal more contained -- amusingly so -- than the model, although in general he's one of the more powerful saxophonists of the 1980s. Couldn't play first track, one reason for hedging. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Billy Jenkins: Uncommerciality: Volume Two (1988, VOTP): Now, this is more like uncommercial, with a circusy sound indicated by Iain Ballamy spending more time on soprano than tenor sax, and Jenkins more time hacking at the strings instead of blues or fusion riffing. "Isn't It a Great World We Live In" features the VOGC Junior League Vocal Chorus -- VOGC stands for Voice of God Collective. "Girl Getting Knocked Over" descends into nursery rhymes. "Black Magic" breaks the kiddie spell for some expansive space mystery. "Blue Broadway" is a boogie woogie, with chorus and romping street horns that sound more New York than New Orleans, not that they do that sort of thing in New York. Again, first track "temporarily unavailable," and a couple of others failed intermittently, the only thing that dimmed my smile. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Billy Jenkins: Uncommerciality: Volume Three (1991, VOTP): Not commercial either, but the populism here is so big-hearted the masses are missing out on a lot of fun. First cut opens with organ, horn section, the VOGS Male Voice Choir, and Harriet Jenkins spoken word -- why not just call it rap? Jenkins plays keyboards, violin, and electric bass as well as his usual guitar, by turns fast, heavy, psychedelic. "Dancing in Ornette Coleman's Head" is a great title. Indeed, everything here dances, although "Land of the Free" slows it down to a waltz. A- [Rhapsody]

Billy Jenkins with the Voice of God Collective: Sounds Like Bromley (1982, VOTP): A little unpreposessing for the Voice of God, at least until the last track when they finally do shake the earth. Three horns -- trumpet, trombone, tenor sax -- more oompah band than bebop, with an extra guitar, bass, drums and percussion, but no human voices. I keep shying away from calling what he does surreal or dada because it's too corny, and too populist, with just enough stray noise and weirdness to keep it from ever going popular. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Billy Jenkins with the Voice of God Collective: Greenwich (1985, VOTP): A big step toward the avant-garde, most likely due to the two new saxophonists replacing the trumped on Sounds Like Bromley. I have no idea who Skid Solo is -- name comes from a comic strip about a Formula 1 driver, but you can see how it might relate -- but Iain Ballamy is well known and a major pickup here. Not that the guitarist's cartoonish populism doesn't poke through here and there, nor that the slow ones can get wobbly, but this is a pretty amazing band when they're skittering about, and Ballamy adds some real stature. A- [Rhapsody]

Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio Featuring Billy Bang: Big M: A Tribute to Malachi Favors (2004 [2006], Delmark): Never got this from Delmark, which now seems like a big mistake (although I gather it was originally packaged with a DVD). The late Art Ensemble of Chicago bassist (d. 2004) was also a founding pillar of El'Zabar's Ritual Trio, capably replaced here by Yosen Ben Israel. Ari Brown is strong on tenor sax and switches to piano on a couple of cuts, surprisingly engaging. El'Zabar's percussion is savvy, and his vocal isn't dreadful. Bang doesn't blow everyone else away, but his edge adds to everything he touches. A- [Rhapsody]


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

Bill Carrothers: Joy Spring (2009 [2010], Pirouet): Good mainstream pianist, not as well known as he should be, but aside from his tricked up Shine Ball I've found him real hard to latch onto. Played this promising album two more times and it just sort of slipped by me. B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Roger Cairns and Gary Fukushima: The Dream of Olwen (AHP)
  • The Glenious Inner Planet (Blue Bamboo)
  • Omar Hakim/Rachel Z: The Trio of Z (Ozmosis): advance, Sept. 8
  • Joan Jeanrenaud/PC Muñoz: Pop-Pop (Deconet)
  • Annie Kozuch: Here With You (Annie Kozuch)
  • Mason Brothers: Two Sides One Story (Archival)
  • Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro: ¡Sin Rumba No Hay Son! (World Village): Sept. 14
  • Vandermark 5: Annular Gift (Not Two)

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Weekend Roundup

A week's worth of useful links I didn't get around to commenting on previously:


  • Andrew Bacevich: Obama Wants Us to Forget the Lessons of Iraq:

    As U.S. forces have withdrawn, they have done so in an orderly fashion. In their own eyes, they remain unbeaten and unbeatable. As the troops pull out, the American people are already moving on: Even now, Afghans have displaced Iraqis as the beneficiaries of Washington's care and ministrations. Oddly, even disturbingly, most of us -- our memories short, our innocence intact -- seem content with the outcome. The United States leaves Iraq having learned nothing.

  • Taylor Branch: Dr. King's Newest Marcher: A more sympathetic treatment of Glenn Beck than I can muster; even if I could see King in Beck, I'd be more tempted to invoke the tragedy/farce rule:

    FEAR is a hazard of great endeavors to bridge political differences. In 1963, racial apprehension before Dr. King's rally drove the federal government to furlough its workers for the day. The Pentagon deployed 20,000 paratroopers. Hospitals stockpiled plasma. Washington banned sales of alcohol, and Major League Baseball canceled not one but two days of Senators baseball, just to be safe. When the march of benign inspiration embarrassed these measures, opponents still insisted that the civil rights bill would enslave white people.

  • Justin Elliott: Obama's Iraq speech: What you need to know: Written before the speech was given; includes much Obama doesn't know (or at least didn't bother to mention):

    There are still 50,000 U.S. troops, 11,000 armed security contractors, and lots of other DOD contract employees in Iraq. Those remaining troops will, incidentally, continue to receive combat pay. The State Department, whose employees are not included in troop counts, is taking the unprecedented step of fielding a small army in Iraq, complete with helicopters, armored vehicles, and other military gear. As for whether the United States will ever leave Iraq completely, prepare for the term "Enduring Presence Posts" to enter the lexicon. (Yes, they are a real thing.)

  • Lee Fang: Tim Phillips, the man behind the 'Americans for Prosperity' corporate front group factory: Koch-backed, of course:

    Phillips managed to escape most of the controversy that eventually embroiled his partners Reed and Abramoff. Working under the slush fund provided by oil baron David Koch -- with a salary approaching $300,000 a year and at least a $7 million annual budget -- Phillips continues to lead AFP in building front group after front group to advance his radical right wing agenda.

  • Glenn Greenwald: The "nobody-could-have-known" excuse and Iraq: Might have worked this into my Obama war speech post, but lots of people know lots of people knew better than to go to war with Iraq (even if they don't know about the Dick Cheney video linked here); instead, I I took on the same assertion about Afghanistan. Includes long quotes from Jim Webb and Howard Dean, adding:

    I could literally spend the rest of the day quoting those who were issuing similar or even more strident warnings. Anyone who claims they didn't realize that an attack on Iraq could spawn mammoth civilian casualties, pervasive displacement, endless occupation and intense anti-American hatred is indicting themselves more powerfully than it's possible for anyone else to do.

  • Paul Krugman: Now That's Rich: On the political push for extending the Bush tax cuts for the megarich:

    For months that has been the word from Republicans and conservative Democrats, who have rejected every suggestion that we do more to avoid deep cuts in public services and help the ailing economy. But these same politicians are eager to cut checks averaging $3 million each to the richest 120,000 people in the country. [ . . . ]

    And there's a real chance that Republicans will get what they want. That's a demonstration, if anyone needed one, that our political culture has become not just dysfunctional but deeply corrupt."

  • Paul Krugman: It's Witch-Hunt Season: Funded by billionaire heirs, the same vicious paranoia used to slander the Clintons in the 1990s, all the more dangerous in a context of desperate economic pain:

    The last time a Democrat sat in the White House, he faced a nonstop witch hunt by his political opponents. Prominent figures on the right accused Bill and Hillary Clinton of everything from drug smuggling to murder. And once Republicans took control of Congress, they subjected the Clinton administration to unrelenting harassment -- at one point taking 140 hours of sworn testimony over accusations that the White House had misused its Christmas card list.

    Now it's happening again -- except that this time it's even worse. Let's turn the floor over to Rush Limbaugh: "Imam Hussein Obama," he recently declared, is "probably the best anti-American president we've ever had." To get a sense of how much it matters when people like Mr. Limbaugh talk like this, bear in mind that he's an utterly mainstream figure within the Republican Party; bear in mind, too, that unless something changes the political dynamics, Republicans will soon control at least one house of Congress. This is going to be very, very ugly.

  • Andrew Leonard: Wall Street's ridiculous Obama problem: Carping about being treated as villains, even while most of us think Obama's treasury team, if not necessarily Obama himself, are in Wall Street's pocket:

    Just two weeks ago, one of Wall Street's richest private equity moguls, Steven Schwarzman, compared a plan to raise taxes on the wealthiest Americans to Hitler's invasion of Poland.

    And now, today, the New York Times is prominently featuring a piece by Wall Street's most avid stenographer, Andrew Ross Sorkin, that purports to explain "Why Wall St. Is Deserting Obama." Once again, the problem is that Obama is trying to "regulate and redistribute our way back to prosperity" and this clearly, in the view of Wall Street's elite, is pure evil.

    Wall Street, writes Sorkin, "did not realize was that they were going to be painted as villains."

    Paul Krugman's title based on the same Andrew Ross Sorkin column is The Unbearable Pettiness of Being Rich:

    I talked to some financial-industry backers of Obama back during primary season; they really didn't know or care much about policy issues, but were in love with Obama over his style -- and also over the prospect of being in his inner circle, something they knew wouldn't happen with Hillary. Now they're mad because they don't feel that they're getting enough stroking.

    And you have to bear in mind that this comes after Obama has made immense efforts to placate the financial industry. There were no bank nationalizations; there were hardly any strings attached to bailouts; the financial reform bill was by no means draconian given the scale of the disaster. But Wall Street is furious that Obama might even hint that they caused the crisis -- which he does, now and then, because, well, they did.

  • Andrew Leonard: The right-wing cure for human misery: More pain:

    But if Barro had his way, Obama's economic advisors would have been Chicago schoolers who responded to the worst economic crisis in 80 years by doing nothing. (Except, possibly, lowering taxes even further.) He seems to think that this would have improved Obama's political standing with the electorate.

    How Barro can possibly imagine this to be true gives us a pretty good glimpse at the utter disconnect between conservative economists and the real world. The consensus of private forecasters is that the Obama stimulus raised GDP significantly and kept unemployment from rising as high as it might otherwise have. No stimulus, plus no extensions of unemployment benefits, would have equaled a deeper recession, with more people out of work, even more homes going into foreclosure, and a general increase in human misery all around.

  • Frank Rich: Freedom's Just Another Word: On Obama's Iraq milestone:

    Americans are less forgiving. In recent polls, 60 percent of those surveyed thought the war in Iraq was a mistake, 70 percent thought it wasn't worth American lives, and only a quarter believed it made us safer from terrorism. This sour judgment is entirely reality-based. The war failed in all its stated missions except the toppling of Saddam Hussein.

  • Maxine Udall: Some Thoughts on Pharmaceutical Prices: Lots of econ jargon, which knocks lots of other econ jargon for a loop. Two charts, one on the consistency of high industry profits, which shows a high degree of monopoly pricing power, the other on product development, which shows there isn't much. Udall throws up her hands at the end, probably because if she denied the incentive of patents she'd have to turn her econ Ph.D. in, but there are few issues in politics that I'm more certain of: getting rid of the drug patent system would be a huge improvement both in cost of existing drug treatments and in developing useful future treatments.

    Manufacturers' profits have been in the double digits for over 10 years with little sign of the volatility that would explain the need for persistently higher margins. In the US, they spend more on marketing than they do on R&D and the US pays more for prescription drugs than any other developed country. Instead of innovation and increased output of new molecular entities, the profit motive has tended to produce "copycat" blockbuster drugs, many of which represent very small or no improvement over already existing drugs. The profit motive also has tended to produce new drugs that fill remaining smaller voids at very high prices. Some of these buy only a few extra months of life for desperate and dying individuals. It is difficult for patients to assess the value of new treatments and they often don't face the full price of those treatments. [ . . . ] But I will argue that inentives matter and, in the case of pharmaceuticals, the US would benefit from pricing that is similar to that in other developed countries and from less "patient-centered" demand for still-under-patent, marginally beneficial, copycat drug. Unfortunately, the incentives in the current system work against this and price does not properly function as a signal of resource costs or value.

    I don't have a solution, but I would feel better if we were all on the same page about this. Drug prices are high for reasons that have little to do with value even when they cure cancer.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Movies

Movie: Winter's Bone: A-

Movie: Get Low: A-

Friday, September 03, 2010

Recycled Goods (77): August 2010

Insert text from here.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

9/11 Books

Josh Marshall: More on 9/11 Books: I got a little carried away here, because 9/11 is a linch pin for a couple of main themes I want someday to write up in book form. Marshall polled his readers (who unlike mine evidently do write back) for recommendations on books about 9/11, but he didn't get much feedback (maybe response is just proportional to readership size): mostly Lawrence Wright's neatly focused The Looming Tower and The 9/11 Commission Report, with Terry McDermott's Perfect Soldiers, on the hijackers, and William Langeswiesche's American Ground, on the rubble, getting occasional mention. Marshall writes:

Beyond all this, though, it does strike me that there's something of a lacunae here that maybe requires some explanation. 9/11, for better or worse, is the overwhelming, dominating fact of the early 21st century in the United States. It's just totally suffused our politics and our culture and it's been the proximate cause of the other main contenders for importance, like the Iraq War. And while whole book publishing houses have been kept afloat by books about torture, the Iraq War, scary Arabs and Muslims, threats to civil liberties, terrorism and counter-terrorism, at least in relative terms there seems to be a certain eye at the center of the storm as it were. I stress 'relative', but there seems to be a relative paucity of books about the key event itself and what led to it, even as there are vast rivers of writing on various topics related to it and spawned by it.

This set me off on my own search, and the first thing I noticed is that searching for 9/11 doesn't get you much that really matters. I found some picture books, some on the scene memoirs, and a lot of rants pushing their own theories of what it all meant or even what actually happened and who actually did it. You have to broaden your search to start to pick up the main threads that were woven into 9/11: Al-Qaeda and its background -- the anti-imperialist backlash in the Middle East and the turn to fundamentalism; the US global security system, how it impacted the Middle East, and how it works within the contexts of conservative and neoliberal politics in the US; the cultural shock of being attacked, and the political opportunities that opened up. Without those threads converging, 9/11 wouldn't have been such a big deal -- even if it had happened as a freak event, which most certainly it wouldn't have.

There are many more books on each of these threads, but 9/11 is often little more than a blip in each, unless it serves some particular political purpose to highlight it. It is commonly believed that Bush went to war because of 9/11, but there is much evidence and logic that even before he craved a shot at Iraq, and that his administration was moving toward supporting the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan, and his attitude toward Sharon's counter-intifada in Palestine amounted to nothing short of cheerleading. With Donald Rumsfeld, he had already started the "transformation" to the lightweight preemptive attack units he would need for those wars. 9/11 may have driven some people crazy, but it fell right into the ready lap of Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, et al.

So I've added some books to the list below that work these threads forward and back. I've avoided specialist books on Iraq, Afghanistan, and Bush, although there are some here and there. The one thing I think is missing is a detailed account of how the media trumped up the case for war and beat down any chance of responding any differently.


The primary books (many have links to my book pages, where I have comments and, usually, lots of representative quotes):

The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States: Authorized Edition (2004, WW Norton): The consensus view, seems to be fairly well regarded, at least for the narrow range of topics. There's also a new 2010 paperback published by CreateSpace, much more expensive, no inkling why.

Tariq Ali: The Clash of Fundamentalisms: Crusades, Jihads and Modernity (2002; paperback, 2003, Verso): With its cover photo of Bush morphed into Bin Laden, the first response to 9/11 to see both sides as fully -- equally is hardly an issue -- deranged in their fundamentalism. Starts by recounting his atheist childhood in Pakistan before moving to England and editing New Left Review -- a background which has given him a uniquely clear and fearless view of the madness. [link]

Larry Beinhart: Fog Facts: Searching for Truth in the Land of Spin (2005; paperback, 2006, Nation Books): One of the better short books around on the media and manipulation of consensus thinking that made it so easy for Bush to parlay 9/11 into war against Iraq. [link]

Peter L Bergen: Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama Bin Laden (paperback, 2002, Free Press): First book out to provide much background on Bin Laden, whom Bergen interviewed in 1997. Bergen also wrote The Osama bin Laden I Know (paperback, 2006, Free Press).

Kristina Borjesson, ed: Feet to the Fire: The Media After 9/11: The Journalists Speak Out (2005, Prometheus): Interviews with 21 journalists on the pressures to support the Bush terror wars. Includes some war critics like Juan Cole and Chris Hedges, bigwigs like Ted Koppel, and others I'm not so sure of.

Steve Coll: Ghost Wars: The Secret History of the CIA, Afghanistan, and Bin Laden, From the Soviet Invasion to September 10, 2001 (2004; paperback, 2004, Penguin): The standard history of the Soviet- and post-Soviet-era Afghan civil war, with the CIA feeding guns and money to jihadists to slaughter foreign occupiers, then watching thoughtlessly as the war lords turned on each other, opening up an asylum for al-Qaeda, and setting the stage for yet another decade-plus of internecine fighting against yet another foreign occupier. [link]

Joan Didion: Fixed Ideas: America Since 9.11 (paperback, 2003, New York Review Books): Just a pamphlet (56 pp.), but one of the few books to dig into the effect 9/11 has had on our thinking and discourse, especially how "fixed ideas, or national pieties" were marshalled "to stake new ground in old domestic wars."

Tom Engelhardt: The American Way of War: How the Empire Brought Itself to Ruin (paperback, 2010, Haymarket): Mostly later, but the first chapter, "Shock and Awe: How We Got Hit" looks back at the immediate impact of 9/11 is useful ways.

Susan Faludi: The Terror Dream: Fear and Fantasy in Post-9/11 America (2007, Metropolitan Books): Brings 9/11 back home to America, in the context of American mythology going back to Indian abductions of white women. [link]

John Farmer: The Ground Truth: The Untold Story of America Under Attack on 9/11 (2009, Penguin): Pretty detailed chronology of the attack itself, by one of the guys who worked on The 9/11 Commission Report. Also includes a similar treatment of Katrina that is less interesting and less relevant. [link]

Kenneth R Feinberg: What Is Life Worth? The Unprecedented Effort to Compensate the Victims of 9/11 (2005; paperback, 2006, Public Affairs): Attorney and mediator involved in the fund payouts. The compensation fund was one of the oddest things to come out of the 9/11 attacks -- I'm tempted to call it hush money to deflect any suggestion that the US was to blame for the terror attacks (even though the effect is just the opposite), but also blood money as it cleared a foundation for the wars to come. I doubt that Feinberg gets into any of this.

Paul Goldberger: Up From Zero: Politics, Architecture, and the Rebuilding of New York (2004; paperback, 2005, Random House): A book on the machinations to rebuild something where the World Trade Center used to stand. This might provide some insight into the cultural and psychic impact of 9/11, or maybe just into internecine New York city/state politics and the ego of architects. Don't know. But it is curious that they don't seem to have built much.

Seymour Hersh: Chain of Command: The Road From 9/11 to Abu Ghraib (2004, Harper Collins): More on the latter, which was a breaking story for Hersh, but the road started back on 9/11.

Fred Kaplan: Daydream Believers: How a Few Grand Ideas Wrecked American Power (paperback, 2008, Wiley): More on Rumsfeld's "transformation" fetish, the notion that the US could fight fast, light wars of shock and awe -- the enabling concept behind the chosen path. [link]

Gilles Kepel: Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam (2002; paperback, 2003, Harvard University Press): By far the broadest book written on Islamism up to 9/11 -- the book came out in France before 9/11 and actually saw Islamism in decline, with 9/11 as much as anything else a desperate bid to provoke. Kepel later wrote The War for Muslim Minds: Islam and the West (2004; paperback, 2006, Harvard University Press). [link]

William Langewiesche: American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center (2002; paperback, 2003, North Point Press): Detailed account on the physical destruction at the World Trade Center, from how the buildings collapsed to the process of sorting out and trucking off the rubble.

James Mann: Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet (2004; paperback, 2004, Penguin): The key people who turned 9/11 into a Global War on Terror, where they came from, how they got into positions of power.

Terry McDermott: Perfect Soldiers: The 9/11 Hijackers: Who They Were, Why They Did It (2005; paperback, 2006, Harper): Background check on the hijackers, a rare attempt to put personal stories behind the attacks.

John Powers: Sore Winners: American Idols, Patriotic Shoppers, and Other Strange Species in George Bush's America (2004; paperback, 2005, Anchor Books): A cultural history, hence way too much on American Idol and O.J. Simpson, but 9/11 lies at the ugly heart of it. [link]

Frank Rich: The Greatest Story Ever Sold: The Decline and Fall of Truth From 9/11 to Katrina (2006, Penguin Press): Follows the political machinations, mostly the selling of the Iraq War, but it all starts back on 9/11. [link]

Ron Suskind: The One Percent Doctrine: Deep Inside America's Pursuit of Its Enemies Since 9/11 (2006, Simon & Schuster): Draws heavily on George Tenet is laying out the progress of the war on terror, with especially unsettling glances at Dick Cheney, deep in his bunker, beset by all kinds of fantasies. [link]

Bob Woodward: Bush at War (2002; paperback, 2003, Simon & Schuster): The first -- and most adulatory, at least as long as it seemed to be working -- of Woodward's insider guides to Bush's war plotting.

Lawrence Wright: The Looming Tower: Al-Qaeda and the Road to 9/11 (2006; paperback, 2007, Vintage): Well-written general history; background bios of Sayyid Qutb, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Osama bin Laden; Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan; the al-Qaeda attacks in Nairobi, Dar Es Salaam, Aden, and, of course, New York. [link]

Much more in the extended text . . .


Digging around I found many more books, ranging from quick memorials, especially picture books, and memoirs to all sorts of tangents, most of which I cut off before they extended too far. A few books here I've read, some I even have book pages on, but they've slipped below the fold either because they're tangential or not that good. I've collected some of the "9/11 truther" material below, by no means all, but enough to give you a taste. One thread which curiously didn't show up at all was the 2001 anthrax attacks, which were huge in heating up the fever for war.

I could have kept picking at this even longer, and dug up even more stuff, but ultimately quit due to exhaustion.


Geneive Abdo: Mecca and Main Street: Muslim Life in America After 9/11 (2006; paperback, 2007, Oxford University Press): General survey of Muslims in America -- some six million, tend to be professionals, have a slightly higher than average median income, suddenly find themselves surrounded by jittery bigots.

Gilbert Achcar: The Clash of Barbarisms: The Making of the New World Disorder (paperback, 2006, Paradigm): Echoes Tariq Ali's Clash of Fundamentalisms, both turning on Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations.

Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed: The War on Freedom: How and Why America Was Attacked on September 11, 2001 (paperback, 2002, Progressive Press): London-based analyst, leans toward conspiracy theories. Also wrote Behind the War on Terror: Western Secret Strategy and the Struggle for Iraq (paperback, 2003, Clairview); The War on Truth: 9/11, Disinformation and the Anatomy of Terrorism (paperback, 2005, Olive Branch Press); The London Bombings: An Independent Inquiry (paperback, 2006, Overlook TP).

David L Altheide: Terror Post-9/11 and the Media (paperback, 2009, Peter Lang)

Anthea Appel: The First Responders: The Untold Story of the New York City Police Department & September 11th, 2001 (paperback, 2009, Inner Circle): Hard to imagine what's been left untold eight years after the fact, least of all by the NYPD.

Asad AbuKhalil: Bin Laden, Islam & America's New "War on Terrorism" (paperback, 2002, Open Media)

Reza Aslan: How to Win a Cosmic War: God, Globalization, and the End of the War on Terror (2009, Random House); reprinted as: Beyond Fundamentalism: Confronting Religious Extremism in the Age of Globalism (paperback, 2010, Random House): Author previously wrote No God but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam (2005, Random House), a pretty good Islam for Dummies book. Aslan views Al-Qaeda's war as cosmic, which is to say not something that can or will be resolved in this world. The Americans turn out to be a little loony too. [link]

Stephen E Atkins: The 9/11 Encyclopedia (2008, Greenwood): Hefty (648 pp), expensive ($199.95). "Look Inside" suggests it's actually pretty good in that dry, authoritative way encyclopedias aim for. The annotated bibliography helped a bit here.

Abdel Bari Atwan: The Secret History of al Qaeda (2006; paperback, 2008, University of California Press): Editor of London's al-Quds al-Arabi, spent time with Bin Laden in 1996 providing the basis for this "insider" account.

David W Ausmus: In the Midst of Chaos: My 30 Days at Ground Zero (2004, Trafford): A construction safety official called to work on the debris pile.

Stefan Aust/et al: Inside 9-11: What Really Happened (paperback, 2002, St Martin's): From the German magazine Der Spiegel. Rave quote from John Le Carré on the front cover.

Mohammed Ayoob: The Many Faces of Political Islam: Religion and Politics in the Muslim World (paperback, 2007, University of Michigan Press): A broad comparative study of Islamist political movements, going beyond the terror-friendly strains in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to include dreaded Iran and relatively benign movements in Turkey and Indonesia.

Ulrich Baer, ed: 110 Stories: New York Writes After September 11 (paperback, 2004, NYU Press): Short story collection.

James Bamford: A Pretext for War: 9/11, Iraq, and the Abuse of America's Intelligence Agencies (paperback, 2005, Knopf): Written post-Iraq, once you could see where it was all going. Author later wrote: The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America (paperback, 2008, Knopf).

Tom Barbash: On Top of the World: Cantor Fitzgerald, Howard Lutnick & 9/11: A Story of Loss & Renewal (paperback, 2003, Harper): Business study of Cantor Fitzgerald, the brokeage firm that lost 658 of 1000 employees.

Wayne Barrett/Dan Collins: Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11 (2006; paperback, 2007, Harper): A less flattering look at the mayor. Barrett previously wrote, with Adam Fifield: Rudy! An Investigative Biography of Rudolph Giuliani (2000, Basic Books).

Nona Kilgore Bauer: Dog Heroes of September 11th: A Tribute to America's Search and Rescue Dogs (reprint, 2006, Kennel Club Books): Not many juicy quotes, but color photos on every page.

J Bowyer Bell: Murders on the Nile: The World Trade Center and Global Terror (2003, Encounter): Focuses on Egypt as a source for jihadism (Sayyid Qutb, Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman, Ayman al-Zawahiri).

Daniel Benjamin/Steven Simon: The Age of Sacred Terror: Radical Islam's War Against America (2002; paperback, 2003, Random House): Anti-terrorism officials under Clinton in the 1990s, ready to emerge as experts when demand picked up. Followed this book up with The Next Attack: The Failure of the War on Terror and a Strategy for Getting It Right (2005; paperback, 2006, Holt).

Phyllis Bennis: Before & After: US Foreign Policy and the September 11th Crisis (paperback, 2002, Olive Branch Press): Critical historical background, most likely a sharp analysis of Bush's warpath as well.

Paul Berman: Terror and Liberalism (2003; paperback, 2004, WW Norton): A self-identified leftist works up a sweat over Islamofascism and goes over the neocon side, making him a catalyst for liberal hawks -- George Packer lionized Berman in his The Assassins Gate: America in Iraq (2005, Farrar Straus Giroux).

Richard Bernstein: Out of the Blue: A Narrative of September 11, 2001 (2002, Times Books): New York Times reporter assembles a quickie book on what he saw and heard.

Brian Birdwell/Mel Birdwell: Refined by Fire: A Family's Triumph of Love and Faith: A Soldier's Story of 9-11 (paperback, 2004, Tyndale House): Brian Birdwell was severely burned in the Pentagon, requiring 30-plus operations on his way to recovery. Lot of prayer, too.

Jeff Birkenstein/Karen Randell/Anna Froula: Reframing 9/11: Film, Popular Culture and the War on Terror (paperback, 2010, Continuum)

David N Bossie: Intelligence Failure: How Clinton's National Security Policy Sat the Stage for 9/11 (2004, Thomas Nelson): Of course, one could make a case that Clinton failed to clean up the mess Bush left him in Iraq -- and for that matter Afghanistan, plus the poison pill war in Somalia Bush stuck him with -- and that his fumbling of the Oslo Accords and his Camp David fiasco had more than a little to do with 9/11, but that's probably not Bossie's point.

John Botte: Aftermath: Unseen 9/11 Photos by a New York City Cop (2006, Collins Design): If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

Kristen Breitweiser: Wake-Up Call: The Political Education of a 9/11 Widow (2006, Grand Central Publishing): Memoir, one of the widows who agitated to establish the 9/11 Commission that Bush didn't see any need for.

Chris Bull/Sam Erman, eds: At Ground Zero: 25 Stories from Young Reporters Who Were There (2002, Thunder's Mouth Press): Another oral history.

Gregory A Butler: Lost Towers: Inside the World Trade Center Cleanup (2006, iUniverse)

Peter Caran: The 1993 World Trade Center Bombing: Foresight and Warning (2001, Janus): One of the investigators of the 1993 WTC bombing.

Rodney P Carlisle: One Day in History: September 11, 2001 (2007, Harper): Part of a date-specific series, by design narrowly focused, although author has also written on Iraq war.

Craig Calhoun/Paul Price/Ashley Timmer, eds: Understanding September 11 (paperback, 2002, New Press): 24 wide ranging essays.

Caleb Carr: The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare Against Civilians: Why It Has Always Failed and Why It Will Fail Again (2002; paperback, 2003, Random House): Historical novelist, reacts to 9/11 by reflecting on the futile history of war against civilians going back to Rome.

James Carroll: Crusade: Chronicles of an Unjust War (2004, Metropolitan; paperback, 2005, Holt): A collection of columns, which makes it a little jumpy, but it takes off from Bush's "crusade" announcement and explores the ramifications of that worldview. [link]

Derek Chollet/James Goldgeier: America Between the Wars: From 11/9 to 9/11: The Misunderstood Years Between the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the Start of the War on Terror (2008; paperback, 2009, Public Affairs): The post-Cold War posturing that kept America's military-industrial complex intact while searching for new opponents, even trying humanitarian arguments on for size.

Noam Chomsky: 9-11 (paperback, 2003, Open Media): A short summary reaction, which kicked off a decade as one of the most trenchant and persistent critics of American abuse of power. Further books: Power and Terror: Post-9/11 Talks and Interviews (paperback, 2003, Seven Stories Press); Hegemony or Survival: America's Quest for Global Dominance (2003; paperback, 2004, Holt); Imperial Ambitions: Conversations on the Post-9/11 World (paperback, 2005, Metropolitan); Perlious Power: The Middle East and US Foreign Policy (with Gilbert Achcar; 2006; paperback, 2008, Paradigm); Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (2006; paperback, 2007, Holt); What We Say Goes: Conversations on U.S. Power in a Changing World (paperback, 2007, Metropolitan); Hopes and Prospects (paperback, 2010, Haymarket); as well as numerous reprints and revisions. I've found him increasingly difficult to read -- cf. his Middle East Illusions (paperback, 2004, Rowman & Littlefield), revised in 2003 but mostly dating from 1979 -- but way more often than not right.

Richard A Clarke: Against All Enemies: Inside America's War on Terror (2004; paperback, 2004, Free Press): Bush's beleaguered Counterterrorism Czar's got a lot of notoriety at the time for its naked revelations of Bush's indifference to al-Qaeda before 9/11 and obsession with Saddam Hussein afterwards.

David Cole/James X Dempsey: Terrorism and the Constitution: Sacrificing Civil Liberties in the Name of National Security (2002; revised, paperback, 2006, New Press): One of the first books on this theme; too many to try to list, but Cole himself went on to write or co-write: Enemy Aliens: Double Standards and Constitutional Freedoms in the War on Terrorism (2003; paperback, 2005, New Press); Justice at War: The Men and Ideas That Shaped America's War on Terror (paperback, 2008, New York Review of Books); w/Jules Lobel: Less Safe, Less Free: Why America Is Losing the War on Terror (2007; paperback, 2009, New Press); ed: The Torture Memos: Rationalizing the Unthinkable (paperback, 2009, New Press).

Steve Coll: The Bin Ladens: An Arabian Family in the American Century (2008; paperback, 2009, Penguin): The family portrait.

Lamont Colucci: Crusading Realism: The Bush Doctrine and American Core Values After 9/11 (paperback, 2008, University Press of America): Title seems like a conceptual mish-mash, but maybe that's what it takes to come up with an approving review of Bush's doctrine(s).

John Cooley: Unholy Wars: Afghanistan, America and International Terrorism (paperback, 2002, Pluto Press): Looks at how the jihad the US bankrolled in Afghanistan spread throughout the Middle East in the 1990s leading up to 9/11, garrishly depicted on the cover.

Jane Corbin: Al-Qaeda: The Terror Network That Threatens the World (2002, Thunder's Mouth Press): BBC reporter, had previously interviewed Osama bin Laden.

Hugh Cort III: Saddam's Attacks on America: 1993; September 11, 2001; and the Anthrax Attacks (paperback, 2004, iUniverse): Short (68 pp), easy to do when untroubled by facts, published a little late for Colin Powell at the UN.

Patrick Creed/Rick Newman: Firefight: Inside the Batle to Save the Pentagon on 9/11 (2008, Presidio Press): The poor cousin of the WTC attack; still, when you read the details about the impact, explosion and ensuing fires it turns into an impressive ordeal in its own right.

Yael Danieli/Robert L Dingman, eds: On the Ground After September 11: Mental Health Responses and Practical Knowledge Gained (2005, Haworth Maltreatment and Trauma Press)

Robert J Darling: 24 Hours Inside the President's Bunker: 9-11-01: The White House (paperback, 2010, iUniverse)

Mike Davis: Buda's Wagon: A Brief History of the Car Bomb (2007, Verso): The full history, including the 1993 WTC truck bomb, but probably not the 9/11 airplanes.

Walter A Davis: Death's Dream Kingdom: The American Psyche Since 9-11 (paperback, 2006, Pluto Press): Psychological and philosophical profile of the country, focusing on three key concents: terror, evil, fundamentalism.

Jim Defede: The Day the World Came to Town: 9/11 in Gander, Newfoundland (2002; paperback, 2003, Harper): A lot of transatlantic flight traffic dumped in Newfoundland that day (6,500 air travellers in a town of 10,000).

Anthony DePalma: City of Dust: Illness, Arogance, and 9/11 (2010, FT Press): On the environmental effects of the attack on the World Trade Center, and the legal tussle that followed as rescue workers increasingly took sick.

Damon DiMarco: Tower Stories: An Oral History of 9/11 (2007, Santa Monica Press): Forty-six interviews, inside the towers, outside, cleaning up the mess, a few subsequent viewpoints (Fawaz Gerges is the only name I recognize there).

Wheeler Winston Dixon, ed: Film and Television After 9/11 (paperback, 2004, Southern Illinois University Press): Scattered views; seems premature.

John W Dower: Cultures of War: Pearl Harbor/Hiroshima/9-11/Iraq (2010, WW Norton): Historian of Japan, which gave him unique insights into the fashionable Iraq War talk about how smoothly post-WWII occupations went -- he argued not only that Iraq is nothing like Japan, but also the US under Bush had damn little in common with the US under Roosevelt and Truman. His 9-11/Pearl Harbor analysis is likely to be equally discerning.

Tyler Drumheller/Elaine Monaghan: On the Brink: An Insider's Account of How the White House Compromised American Intelligence (2006, Carroll and Graf): CIA officer for 25 years up to retiring in 2005.

Dinesh D'Souza: The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 (2007; paperback, 2008, Broadway): Here's one I bet you didn't realize: "The cultural Left in the U.S., by pressing for sexual freedom for women and gays through birth control, no-fault divorce, and support for gay marriage, has not only undermined American culture but also provoked the ire of religious conservatives in other nations, most prominently Islamic fundamentalists." In other words, the real reason Al-Qaeda attacked America was to show American conservatives how real men handle their women (and sissies). Guess they really do hate our freedoms.

Mary L Dudziak, ed: September 11 in History: A Watershed Moment (2003, Duke University Press)

David Dunbar/Brad Reagan [The Editors of Popular Mechanics]: Debunking 9/11 Myths: Why Conspiracy Theories Can't Stand Up to the Facts (paperback, 2006, Hearst): Engineering analysis on building collapse vs. competing theories. David Ray Griffin responded with Debunking 9/11 Debunking: An Answer to Popular Mechanics and Other Defenders of the Official Conspiracy Theory, at twice the length (392 pp. vs. 192).

Jim Dwyer/Kevin Flynn: 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive inside the Twin Towers (2004; paperback, 2006, Times Books): New York Times writers piece together a minute-by-minute chronology. Dwyer, by the way, was previously the lead author (with David Kocieniewski, Deidre Murphy, and Peg Tyre) of a book on the 1993 WTC bombing, Two Seconds Under the World: Terror Comes to America -- The Conspiracy Behind the World Trade Center Bombing (1994, Crown).

Will Eisner, ed: 9-11: Emergency Relief (paperback, 2002, Alternative Comics): 208-page comic book, out fast to honor the heroism of the moment -- firefighters and cops on the cover -- with pieces by Eisner, Harvey Pekar, Ted Rall, Jessica Abel, and others. Seems like there was a huge bubble of hero-worship at the time, but there's little evidence of that now.

Steve Emerson: American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us (2002; paperback, 2003, Free Press): Scaremongering, detailing things like Hamas's "extensive network in the United States." Followed up with Jihad Incorporated: A Guide to Militant Islam in the US (2006, Prometheus).

John L Esposito: Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam (2002; paperback, 2003, Oxford University Press): Short primer on Islam by Georgetown University director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding; tends to relegate holy war terror to the Wahhabi sect, which may still be too broad. Esposito later co-wrote, with Dalia Mogahed: Who Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think (2008, Gallup Press).

Mick Faren: CIA: Secrets of "The Company" (2004, Barnes and Noble): Critical history of CIA leading up to 9/11.

John Feffer, ed: Power Trip: US Unilateralism and Global Stragegy After September 11 (paperback, 2003, Seven Stories Press)

Mitchell Fink/Lois Mathias: Never Forget: An Oral History of September 11 (2002, William Morrow; paperback, 2003, Harper): More first-person accounts, collected by a former New York Daily News gossip columnist and his wife.

Nancy Foner, ed: Wounded City: The Social Impact of 9/11 (paperback, 2005, Russell Sage Foundation)

Marian Fontana: A Widow's Walk: A Memoir of 9/11 (2005; paperback, 2006, Simon & Schuster): Wife of a firefighter who died in WTC.

Yosri Fouda/Nick Fielding: Masterminds of Terror: The Truth Behind the Most Devastating Terrorist Attack the World Has Ever Seen (2003, Arcade): Fouda is an al-Jazeera journalist who interviewed Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and Ramzi Bin al-Shibh in 2002, admitting to their roles in the 9/11 attacks.

Max Frankel, ed: September 11, 2001: A Colection of Newspaper Front Pages Selected by the Poynter Institute (paperback, 2001, Andrews McMeel Publishing): 160 pages, rushed out on Nov. 15, the headlines as horrifying as the events.

Louis J Freeh/Howard Means: My FBI: Bringing Down the Mafia, Investigating Bill Clinton, and Fighting the War on Terror (2005, St Martin's Press): FBI chief, blames others for 9/11.

David Friend: Watching the World Change: The Stories Behind the Images of 9/11 (2006; paperbck, 2007, Picador): Directory of documentary 9/11 analyzes iconic images of the attack. How these images were used to push us to war is a matter of considerable interest.

Jim Geraghty: Voting to Kill: How 9/11 Launched the Era of Republican Leadership (paperback, 2006, Touchstone): Something the National Review blogger approves of, by the way.

Emilio Gentile: God's Democracy: American Religion After September 11 (2008, Greenwood): How Bush invoked God (or what it how God annointed Bush?) not just to sell his war agenda but to polarize the partisan split, denying the Democrats any chance of joining the heavenly kingdom.

Fawaz Gerges: The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global (2005; 2nd ed, paperback, 2009, Cambridge University Press): Explores Bin Laden's logic in attacking the US homeland.

Bill Gertz: Breakdown: The Failure of American Intelligence to Defeat Global Terror (revised, 2003, Plume)

Allison Gilbert/Phil Hirshkorn/Melinda Murphy/Robyn Walensky/Mitchell Stephens, eds: Covering Catastrophe: Broadcast Journalists Report September 11 (2002, Bonus Books): A collection of quotes from the day, interesting as a superficial reaction, and of course for what that portended.

Rudolph W. Giuliani: Leadership (2002; paperback, 2005, Miramax): New York's soon-to-be-ex-mayer at the time. About his 2008 presidential campaign, some wag pointed out that you can diagram all of Giuliani's sentences as noun-verb-9/11. Actually, watching him on TV those first days after 9/11 was refreshing: he was at the time the only politician in America who actually had something meaningful to do, and that kept him focused, modest, informative, even gave you the sense that he cared. A bit later he started reading his polling data and became insufferable, as I'm sure you've noted from the title here.

James Glanz/Eric Lipton: City in the Sky: The Rise and Fall of the World Trade Center (2003, Times Books): Written after the fall, but gives the building its history, and retraces old arguments about fire and airplane collisions that would prove fateful.

Alfred Goldberg/et al: Pentagon 9/11 (2007, Office of the Secretary of Defense): The official inside review, based on some 1300 interviews.

John Gray: Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern (2003; paperback, 2005, New Press): Short philosophical essay on the intrusion of Al Qaeda into the modern world. Later wrote: Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (2007; paperback, 2008, Farrar Straus and Giroux).

Judith Greenberg, ed: Trauma at Home: After 9/11 (paperback, 2003, Bison Books): Raw reactions.

David Ray Griffin: The New Pearl Harbor: Disturbing Questions About the Bush Administration and 9/11 (paperback, 2004, Interlink): A theologian by trade, aided by a Richard Falk foreword, uncorks the first of a slew of 9/11 conspiracy books: The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions (paperback, 2004, Olive Branch Press); Christian Faith and the Truth Behind 9/11: A Call to Reflection and Action (paperback, 2006, Westminster John Knox Press); Debunking 9/11 Debunking: An Answer to Popular Mechanics and Other Defenders of the Official Conspiracy Theory (revised, paperback, 2007, Olive Branch Press); 9/11 Contradictions: An Open Letter to Congress and the Press (paperback, 2008, Interlink); The New Pearl Harbor Revisited: 9/11, the Cover-Up, and the Exposé (paperback, 2008, Olive Branch Press); Osama Bin Laden: Dead or Alive? (paperback, 2009, Olive Branch Press); The Mysterious Collapse of World Trade Center 7: Why the Final Official Report about 9/11 Is Unscientific and False (paperback, 2009, Olive Branch Press); Cognitive Infiltration: An Obama Appointee's Plan to Undermine the 9/11 Conspiracy Theory (paperback, 2010, Olive Branch Press); also: Griffin/Peter Dale Scott, eds.: 9/11 and American Empire: Intellectuals Speak Out, Vol. 1 (paperback, 2006, Olive Branch Press); and: Griffin/John B Cobb Jr/Richard A Falk/Catherine Keller: The American Empire and the Commonwealth of God: A Political, Economic, Religious Statement (paperback, 2006, Westminster John Knox Press). He wrote the foreword to Mark H Gaffney: The 9/11 Mystery Plane and the Vanishing of America (paperback, 2008, Trine Day), and he's featured on the DVD: 9/11: The Myth and the Reality, directed by Ken Jenkins.

Roy Gutman: How We Missed the Story: Osama bin Laden, the Taliban, and the Hijacking of Afghanistan (2007, Potomac Books): Press mea culpa, although it's by no means clear that he cops to failure enough.

Victor Davis Hanson: An Autumn of War: What America Learned From September 11 and the War on Terrorism (paperback, 2002, Anchor): Historian of ancient Greek wars, idiot about the modern world ("Liberals beware: Hanson has no patience for those who believe the condition of the world can be ameliorated"), all around warmonger. He followed this up with the equally inane Between War and Peace: Lessons from Afghanistan to Iraq (paperback, 2004, Random House).

Stephen F Hayes: The Connection: How al Qaeda's Collobration with Saddam Hussein Has Endangered America (2004, Harper Collins): Weekly Standard writer does his bit shilling for the Iraq War.

Dana Heller, ed: The Selling of 9/11: How a National Tragedy Became a Commodity (2005, Palgrave Macmillan): Well, start with all those flags.

Harry Helms: 40 Lingering Questions About the 9/11 Attacks (paperback, 2008, Create Space): Evidently not a "truther" book, but author does have some more questions. Previously wrote Top Secret Tourism: Your Travel Guide to Germ Warfare Laboratories, Clandestine Aircraft Bases and Other Places in the United States (paperback, 2007, Feral House).

T Walter Herbert: Faith-Based War: From 9/11 to Catastrophic Success in Iraq (paperback, 2009, Equinox)

Eric Hershberg/Kevin W Moore: Critical Views of September 11: Analyses from Around the World (paperback, 2002, New Press): Thirteen essays, not sure who or about what.

Sander Hicks, ed: The Big Wedding: 9/11, the Whistle Blowers, and the Cover-Up (paperback, 2005, Vox Pop): More conspiracies.

Robert Higgs: Resurgence of the Warfare State: The Crisis Since 9/11 (paperback, 2005, Independent Institute): Essays on the industry that really profitted from 9/11.

James R Holbein, ed: The 9/11 Commission: Proceedings and Analysis (2005, Oxford University Press): Four volumes, 4079 pages, $600.

David Holloway: Cultures of the War on Terror: Empire, Ideology, and the Remaking of 9/11 (2008, McGill-Queens University Press): Hollywood film, novels, mass media, visual art, photography, political discourse, the growing cultural sense of empire and crisis.

Stephen Holmes: The Matador's Cape: America's Reckless Response to Terror (2007, Cambridge University Press): Constructed as a series of book reviews, picking on major neocon works by Robert Kagan, Samuel Huntington, and Francis Fukuyama; Paul Berman's liberal hawk manifesto; historical works on the rise of the neocons and genocide as an excuse for intervention, Michael Mann's critique Incoherent Empire, Geoffrey Stone's Perilous Times, works by a couple of Bush officials -- John Eikenberry and John Yoo.

Daniel Hopsicker: Welcome to Terrorland: Mohammed Atta & the 9-11 Cover-Up in Florida (2004; paperback, 2005, Trine Day): So, was the most famous of the hijackers a CIA double agent?

Raymond Ibrahim, ed: The Al Qaeda Reader (paperback, 2007, Broadway Books): The public documents, most likely the same ones as in Gilles Kepel/Jean-Piere Milelli: Al Qaeda in Its Own Words (2008; paperback, 2010, Harvard University Press), and the much shorter Bruce Lawrence, ed: Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden (paperback, 2005, Verso).

iUniverse, Inc: 27 Days: The President Responds to September 11, 2001 (paperback, 2002, iUniverse): Collects Bush's public statements over the first month after 9/11 (less a few days). As I recall, Bush's public statements were a good deal less rabid than his private ones, and his relative calm was one factor in building up his huge approval rating.

Sid Jacobson/Ernie Colon: The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation (paperback, 2006, Hill & Wang): Excerpts from the official report done up in comic book form. Authors followed up with a sequel: After 9/11: America's War on Terror (2001- ) (paperback, 2008, Hill & Wang). The books seem to be pitched to educators and young people, with a disciplined non-political tone, which means they are likely to reveal more than most Americans want to hear or can deal with.

Amaney Jamal/Nadine Naber, eds: Race and Arab Americans Before and After 9/11: From Invisible Citizens to Visible Subjects (paperback, 2007, Syracuse University Press): One of a bunch of studies of the effects of 9/11 politicization on Arab and/or Muslim Americans. Others include: Wayne Baker, et al: Citizenship and Critis: Arab Detroit After 9/11 (2009, Russell Sage Foundation); Louise A Cainkar: Homeland Insecurity: The Arab American and Muslim American Experience After 9/11 (2009, Russell Sage Foundation); Steven Salaita: Anti-Arab Racism in the USA (paperback, 2006, Pluto Press); Anny Bakalian/Medhi Bozorgmehr: Backlash 9/11: Middle Eastern and Muslim Americans Respond (paperback, 2009, University of California Press); Moustafa Bayoumi: How Does It Feel to Be a Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America (2008; paperback, 2009, Penguin); Geneive Abdo, op cit.

Lisa Jefferson/Felicia Middlebrooks: Called: Hello, My Name Is Mrs Jefferson. I Understand Your Plane Is Being Hijacked. 9:45 AM, Flight 93, September 11, 2001 (2006, Northfield): The 9-1-1 operator who took a call from Todd Beamer on Flight 93, reporting the hijacking. Other Flight 93 stories include: Lisa Beamer: Let's Roll!: Ordinary People, Extraordinary Courage (2002; paperback, 2006, Tyndale House); Jon Barrett: Mark Bingham: Hero of Flight 93 (2002, Advocate Books); Deena Burnett/Anthony Giombetti: Fighting Back: Living Life Beyond Ourselves (2006, Advantage Books); Jere Longman: Among the Heroes: United Flight 93 and the Passengers and Crew Who Fought Back (2010, Harper Collins).

Sut Jhally/Jeremy Earp: Hijacking Catastrophe: 9/11, Fear, and the Selling of American Empire (paperback, 2004, Interlink): Twenty-five interviews for a documentary, mostly left-leaning (Tariq Ali, Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Norman Mailer, but also Scott Ritter).

Dennis Loy Johnson, ed: Poetry After 9-11: An Anthology of New York Poets (paperback, 2002, Melville House)

Robert D Kaplan: The Coming Anarchy: Shattering the Dreams of the Post Cold War (2000; paperback, 2001, Vintage): Scatteed pieces about the collapse of civilization in odd corners of the world, one of which was the Afghan-Pakistan border lands. This was the first book I read after 9/11 that started to put it all into some semblance of shape. Unfortunately, Kaplan's response was to go over the deep end into militarism, first with his essay collection Warrior Politics: Why Leadership Requirse a Pagan Ethos (paperback, 2003, Vintage), then with two books sucking up to the US military: Imperial Grunts: On the Ground with the American Military, from Mongolia to the Philippines to Iraq (2005; paperback, 2006, Vintage), and Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts: The American Military in the Air, at Sea, and on the Ground (2007; paperback, 2008, Vintage).

Thomas H Kean/Lee H Hamilton: Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission (2006; paperback, 2007, Vintage): The two co-chairs. Don't know what the title refers to -- there have been plenty of commissions before, so maybe they're the first chairs to have written a defensive.

William Keegan Jr/Bart Davis: Closure: The Untold Story of the Ground Zero Recovery Mission (2006; paperback, 2007, Touchstone): By a police lieutenant involved in searching through the rubble for bits of bodies that could be DNA tested to identify the victims.

Colleen Elizabeth Kelley: Post-9/11 American Presidential Rhetoric: A Study of Protofascist Discourse (2007; paperback, 2008, Lexington): That is to say, mostly a study of George W Bush rhetoric.

Ann Keniston/Jeanne Follansbee Quinn, eds: Literature After 9/11 (2008; paperback, 2010, Routledge): Draws on "trauma theory, genre theory, political theory, and theories of postmodernity, space, and temporarily."

Ronald Kessler: The CIA at War: Inside the Secret Campaign Against Terror (2003, St Martin's Griffin)

Peter Lance: 1000 Years for Revenge: International Terrorism and the FBI: The Untold Story (2003; paperback, 2004, Harper): Highlights numerous FBI failures going back to the 1993 WTC attack and beyond to 1989.

Michael A Ledeen: The War Against the Terror Masters: Why It Happened, Where We Are Now, How We'll Win (2002, Truman Talley Books): Blames Clinton; vows to kick his ass. Ledeen, you may recall, was one of those "real men" eager to march on to Tehran.

Nancy Lee/Lonnie Schlein/Mitchel Levitas, eds: A Nation Challenged: A Visual History of 9/11 and Its Aftermath (2002, New York Times/Callaway): With 250 color photographs, introduced by Howell Raines.

Life Magazine: One Nation: America Remembers September 11, 2001 (2001, Little Brown): The canonical scrapbook, with an introduction by Mayor Giuliani.

Joseph Lovett: Bill Clinton Is Responsible for 9/11 (paperback, 2008, Rose Dog Books): Electrician. Figured it all out himself. Also has another book: The Good News: The World's One True Religion (paperback, 2007, Rose Dog Books). Was raised by missionary Baptists, but finally realized that Christianity is a pagan religion, so reverted to Judaism (as best I can figure it).

Roy Lunn: The World Crisis: It All Started With 9/11 (paperback, 2009, Peppertree Press): Actually goes back to Iran in 1979, but finds the roots of the 2007 recession in 9/11, and tracks the price of oil on the front cover.

Magnum Photographers: New York September 11 (2001, Power House Books): Quickie 144-page picture book, released Nov. 1, 2001.

Mahmoud Mamdani: Good Muslim, Bad Muslim: America, the Cold War, and the Roots of Terror (2004, Pantheon; paperback, 2005, Three Rivers): Traces those roots back home, to America's cynical attempts to manipulate muslims to do our cold war bidding. [link]

Jim Marrs: The Terror Conspiracy: Deception, 9/11 and the Loss of Liberty (paperback, 2006, The Disinformation Company): Conspiracy rehash. I won't bother with the author's many other titles, which range from JFK to extraterrestrials to The Rise of the Fourth Reich.

Philip Marshall: False Flag 911: How Bush, Cheney and the Saudis Created the Post-911 World (paperback, 2008, BookSurge): A pilot doesn't see how al-Qaeda could have done it.

Jane Mayer: The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals (2008; paperback, 2009, Anchor): Important book revealing the systematic desires of Bush, Cheney, et al. to discard American traditions to forcibly create their security state. [link]

Andrew C McCarthy: Willful Blindness: A Memoir of the Jihad (2008, Encounter): Prosecutor of Sheikh Rahman for the 1993 WTC bombing, something which he tries to generalize into an indictment against all of Islam.

Bonnie McEneaney: Messages: Signs, Visits, and Premonitions from Loved Ones Lost on 9/11 (2010, Harper): Widow, takes comfort in communications from her husband's spirit, finds similar stories.

Jeffrey Melnick: 9/11 Culture (paperback, 2009, Wiley/Blackwell): Catalogs artefacts, no idea what he makes of them.

Christopher Meyer: DC Confidential: The Controversial Memoirs of Britain's Ambassador to the US at the Time of 9/11 and the Run-up to the Iraq War (paperback, 2006, Phoenix): Britain's role in providing international cover for Bush's war machinations is surely significant. Not clear that Meyer actually reveals anything.

Joel Meyerowitz: Aftermath: World Trade Center Archive (2006, Phaidon): Photography book, working the rubble pile at WTC.

John Miller/Michael Stone/Chris Mitchell: The Cell: Inside the 9/11 Plot, and Why the FBI and CIA Failed to Stop It (2002; paperback, 2003, Hyperion): Tries to sort out the prehistory of 9/11 by rumaging through various terror plots ranging from Lockerbie to Aden, all the while noting missteps and blunders by the FBI and CIA.

Greg Mitchell: So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits and the President Failed in Iraq (paperback, 2008, Union Square Press): Wish there was a comparable prequel to this on how the same cast made the same mistakes in leading the charge to war after 9/11.

Brian A Monahan: The Shock of the News: Media Coverage and the Making of 9/11 (paperback, 2010, New York University Press): Tightly focused on the 9/11 events, but far enough removed that the long terms effects of the sensational news coverage can be calibrated.

Matthew J Morgan, ed: The Impact of 9/11 on Politics and War: The Day That Changed Everything? (2009, Palgrave Macmillan): First of six similar volumes, followed by: The Impact of 9/11 on Psychology and Education; The Impact of 9/11 on the Media, Arts, and Entertainment; The Impact of 9/11 and the New Legal Landscape; The Impact of 9/11 on Business and Economics: The Business of Terror; The Impact of 9/11 on Religion and Philosophy; all subtitled The Day That Changed Everything?, all (2009, Palgrave Macmillan)

Rowland Morgan/Lou Henshall: 9/11 Revealed: The Unanswered Questions (paperback, 2005, DaCapo): Another "truth" book. Morgan also wrote Flight 93 Revealed: What Really Happened on the 9/11 "Let's Roll" Flight? (paperback, 2006, Carroll & Graf).

Abd Samad Moussaoui/Florence Bouquillat: Zacarias, My Brother: The Making of a Terrorist (2003, Seven Stories Press): On Zacarias Moussaoui.

Andrew R Murphy: Prodigal Nation: Moral Decline and Divine Punishment From New England to 9/11 (2008, Oxford University Press): One thing you can be sure of is that when something bad and unexpected happens in America some old testament fetishist is going to see the event as God punishing us for our sins. That fetishist was Pat Robertson after 9/11, who promptly got slapped down because, well, how could God possibly be mad at the US after He (admittedly through the hands of his agent Antonin Scalia) had just annointed George W Bush as our president. Hard to take this kind of mythology seriously, but this could be one of those deep thread books in US history, like Anti-Intellectualism in American Life.

Dean E Murphy: September 11: An Oral History (2002, Doubleday): Another New York Times reporter, jotting down stories left and right.

Tom Murphy: Reclaiming the Sky: 9/11 and the Untold Story of the Men and Women Who Kept America Flying (2006, AMACOM): Details on the shutdown, airports, resumption of normal flights, aftermath for the airline industry.

Timothy Naftali: Blind Spot: The Secret History of American Counterterrorism (2005, Basic Books): Goes back to 1945.

Benjamin Netanyahu: Fighting Terrorism: How Democracies Can Defeat Domestic and International Terrorists (paperback, 2001, Farrar Straus and Giroux): One of the most indelible memories I have watching television in the day or two after 9/11 was watching Netanyahu gloat about how good the attack was for Israel -- how this will finally make America feel like Israel feels, and turn to Israel (the world's experts in fighting terrorism) for help.

The New York City Police Department: Above Hallowed Ground: A Photographic Record of September 11, 2001 (2002, Studio)

Michael Parenti: The Terrorism Trap: September 11 and Beyond (paperback, 2002, City Lights): Short (64 pp.) essay, seems to have been one of the first to see that the 9/11 attacks were setting a trap to drag the US into a debilitating ground war in Afghanistan.

Lori Peek: Behind the Backlash: Muslim Americans After 9/11 (paperback, 2010, Temple University Press): I wouldn't say the backlash against Muslims was unprecedented -- there was a huge backlash against Japanese in WWII, less so against Germans who got theirs in the previous world war, and don't get us started on Indians. Still, the Justice Dept. did institute massive sweeps, there has been some vigilantism, and since Obama took office this has gotten much worse.

Charles Pellegrino: Ghosts of Vesuvius: A New Look at the Last Days of Pompeii, How Towers Fall, and Other Strange Connections (2004; paperback, 2006, Harper): Comparisons of ancient Rome and modern America, with a substantial section on the WTC destruction. I thought this looked interesting enough to buy a copy, but never got to it. Could also be nuts.

Norman Podhoretz: World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism (2007; paperback, 2008, Vintage): Perhaps the ultimate example of neocon war lust.

Portraits: 9/11/01: The Collected "Portraits of Grief" From the New York Times (paperback, 2002, Times Books): Short obits, more like lightly written vignettes, which nonetheless add up to 576 pages, surprising mostly in the variety and arbitrariness of the victims. Seemed like the thing to do, but also wholly inadequate.

Gerald Posner: Why America Slept: The Failure to Prevent 9/11 (2003; paperback, 2004, Ballantine): The usual FBI-CIA bumbling, of course.

Thomas Pyszczynski/Sheldon Solomon/Jeff Greenberg: In the Wake of 9/11: The Psychology of Terror (2002, American Psychological Association)

Justin Raimondo: The Terror Enigma: 9/11 and the Israeli Connection (paperback, 2003, iUniverse): Very short book (93 pp.), argues that Israel must have known about the 9/11 plot before it happened. Author is a credible antiwar libertarian, but that doesn't mean he has much evidence.

Marc Redfield: The Rhetoric of Terror: Reflections on 9/11 and the War on Terror (paperback, 2009, Fordham University Press): Applies Derrida.

Simon Reeve: The New Jackals: Ramzi Yousef, Osama bin Laden, and the Future of Terrorism (1999; paperback, 2002, Northeastern): Early on the case -- so early that Bin Laden was only a secondary subject of interest.

Janette Reynolds: Where Were You on 9-11? (paperback, 2002, Umbrella Publishing): Twenty interviews. Introduction "with Donald J Trump."

James Ridgeway: The 5 Unanswered Questions About 9/11: What the 9/11 Commission Report Failed to Tell Us (paperback, 2005, Seven Stories Press): Reasonable questions, but not sure how much to make of them. This reminds me that similar questions could have been raised about Pearl Harbor, but Roosevelt thought war was inevitable and was almost goading Japan into attacking, so his seeming indifference to the details was a willful blindness. At this point I think it's clear that Bush wanted a path to war with Iraq. I don't think that he knew that ignoring Al-Qaeda would get him there, but it did work out that way.

Shiya Ribowsky/Tom Schachtman: Dead Center: Behind the Scenes at the World's Largest Medical Examiner's Office (2006, William Morrow; paperback, 2007, Harper): The grim view of 9/11 from the New York City Medical Examiner's office.

James Risen: State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration (paperback, 2006, Free Press): This raised some eyebrows, particularly about Bush's surveillance programs.

Jonathan Ritter/J Martin Daughtry, eds: Music in the Post-9/11 World (paperback, 2007, Routledge)

Barry Rubin/Judith Colp Rubin, eds: Anti-American Terrorism and the Middle East: A Documentary Reader (2002, Oxford University Press)

Malise Ruthven: A Fury for God: The Islamist Attack on America (2002; revised, paperback, 2004, Granta Books): BBC journalist, author of several books on Islam, probes "the aesthetics of martyrdom." Also wrote Fundamentalism: The Search for Meaning (2004; paperback, 2005, Oxford University Press), which spreads the concept around many religions.

Marc Sageman: Understanding Terror Networks (2004, University of Pennsylvania Press): Forensic psychiatrist, delves into how various Al-Qaeda cells were interconnected. Later wrote Leaderless Jihad: Terror Networks in the Twenty-First Century (2008, University of Pennsylvania Press) as Al-Qaeda fragmented and franchised.

Salon.com, eds.: Afterwords: Stories and Reports From 9/11 and Beyond (paperback, 2002, Washington Square Press): Scattered notes from the moment.

Robert Scheer: The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America (2008, Twelve): The title allusions are pretty awful, but the basis thesis is sound. Not much on 9/11 except as a pretext for the hawks to do what they do. [link]

Michael Scheuer: Imperial Hubris: Why the West Is Losing the War on Terror (2004; paperback, 2007, Potomac Books): Originally attributed to Anonymous back when Scheuer worked for the CIA -- as was his earlier book, Through Our Enemies Eyes: Osama bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America (2002; revised, paperback, 2007, Potomac Books).

William Schulz: Tainted Legacy: 9/11 and the Ruin of Human Rights (paperback, 2003, Nation Books): Executive director of Amnesty International USA.

Peter Dale Scott: The Road to 9/11: Wealth, Empire and the Future of America (2007; paperback, 2008, University of California Press): Longtime US foreign policy critic of a conspiratorial bent -- wrote The War Conspiracy in 1972 and recently revised it with the subtitle JFK, 9/11, and the Deep Politics of War (paperback, 2008, The Mary Ferrell Foundation), and has chased the CIA through books like Drugs, Oil, and War: The United States in Afghanistan, Colombia, and Indochina (paperback, 2003, Rowman & Littlefield) and (with Jonathan Marshall) Cocaine Politics: Drugs, Armies and the CIA in Central America (updated, paperback, 1998, University of California Press).

Karen M Seeley: Therapy After Terror: 9/11, Psychotherapists, and Mental Health (2008, Cambridge University Press): A social worker and psychotherapist in New York.

Robert C Shaler: Who They Were: Inside the World Trade Center DNA Story: The Unprecedented Effort to Identify the Missing (2005; paperback, 2006, Free Press): DNA analysis and identification is often talked about like it's routine, but sifting through the WTC rubble for identifiable bits must have been a tough job. Says here that when the effort was suspended in April 2005 only 1,592 out of 2,749 probable deaths had been confirmed by DNA. I understand that they did find enough of my niece to identify her, which I guess is fortunate.

Philip Shenon: The Commission: What We Didn't Know About 9/11 (2008; paperback, 2009, Twelve): Seems to look more into the inside politics of the Commission, like the Bush administration's attempt to recruit the Commission into its Iraq war plans, rather than the broader range of conspiracist debunkery.

Daniel J Sherman/Terry Nardin, eds: Terror, Culture, Politics: Rethinking 9/11 (paperback, 2005, University of Indiana Press)

Sandra Silberstein: War of Words: Language, Politics and 9/11 (paperback, 2004, Routledge): Examines the language used in political speeches, by pundits, in eyewitness accounts, etc. Should be plenty to chew on there, especially given the Republicans' Luntz-tested lexicon.

David Simpson: 9/11: The Culture of Commemoration (paperback, 2006, University of Chicago Press): Short book on the public memory, specifically commemoration, of the events.

Dennis Smith: Report From Ground Zero (paperback, 2003, Plume): New York fireman, on the scene; had written previous books about firefighters.

JW Smith: Why?: The Deper History Behind the September 11th Terrorist Attack on America (3rd ed, 2005, Institute for Economic Democracy)

Philip Smucker: Al Qaeda's Great Escape: The Military and the Media on Terror's Trail (paperback, 2005, Potomac Books): Looking for easy game in Afghanistan, not bothering much over Bin Laden.

Steve Spak: Forgotten 9-11: Images of the Destruction of the World Trade Center (paperback, 2009, Create Space): Another short (148 pp.) photo book.

Lynn Spencer: Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama That Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11 (2008, Free Press): Author is commercial airline pilot, taking a close look at how civilian and military air controllers responded that day.

Art Spiegelman: In the Shadow of No Towers (board book, 2004, Pantheon): Short (42 pp.), heavy, from the author of Maus, a peculiar meditation on the Holocaust.

Steven Strasser, ed: The 9/11 Investigations: Staff Reports of the 9/11 Commission (paperback, 2004, Public Affairs): Testimony transcripts from Richard Clarke, George Tenet, Condoleezza Rice, other stuff which if it really mattered would have shown up in the final report, right?

Glenn Stout/Charles Vitchers/Robert Gray: Nine Months at Ground Zero (2006, Scribner): The story of the crew who were hired to clean up the mess -- Vitchers and Gray among them.

Marita Sturken: Tourists of History: Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism From Oklahoma City to Ground Zero (paperback, 2007, Duke University Press): The comparisons should be interesting, the common denominator in kitsch unsurprising.

Judith Sylvester/Suzanne Huffman: Women Journalists at Ground Zero: Covering Crisis (2002, Rowman and Littlefield): Interviews with two dozen women journalists.

Matt Taibbi: The Great Derangement: A Terrifying True Story of War, Politics, and Religion at the Twilight of the American Empire (2008; paperback, 2009, Spiegel & Grau): Mostly about the religious and/or militarist right, but for balance he takes on the "9/11 truthers" as an example that the left can be nutty too.

Webster Griffin Tarpley: 9/11 Synthetic Terror: Made in USA (2005; 4th ed, paperback, 2007, Progressive Press): Another leading light of the 9/11 "truth" seekers. Has since gone on to take pot shots at Obama, writing Barack H. Obama: The Unauthorized Biography (paperback, 2008, Progressive Press), and Obama: The Postmodern Coup (paperback, 2008, Progressive Press).

George Tenet/Bill Harlow: At the Center of the Storm: My Years at the CIA (2007, Harper Collins): CIA head before and after 9/11.

Paul Thompson: The Terror Timeline: Year by Year, Day by Day, Minute by Minute: A Comprehensive Chronicle of the Road to 9/11 and America's Response (paperback, 2004, Harper): Painstakingly detailed chronology, before and after. A major source for Ray Nowosiekski's DVD, 9/11: Press for Truth.

Katrina Vanden Heuvel, ed: A Just Response: The Nation on Terrorism, Democracy, and September 11, 2001 (paperback, 2002, Nation Books): Articles from The Nation, thrown together in a quick fit and not as coherent and savvy as one would wish -- the title comes from a Richard Falk labor which tries to find one but fails.

Kristiaan Versluys: Out of the Blue: September 11 and the Novel (paperback, 2009, Columbia University Press)

Gore Vidal: Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace: How We Got to Be So Hated (paperback, 2002, Nation Books): First of several essays Vidal wrote as the country plunged into senseless war; more pointed is the quick follow-up: Dreaming War: Blood for Oil and the Cheney-Bush Junta (paperback, 2002, Nation Books).

Michael Walzer: Arguing About War (2004; paperback, 2006, Yale University Press): Considered some kind of oracle because he once wrote a book called Just and Unjust Wars: A Moral Argument with Historical Illustrations (1978; fourth edition, paperback, 2006, Basic Books), this includes his essay "After 9/11: Five Questions About Terrorism," and others where he weighs in on the morality of the Gulf War, Kosovo, four Israel/Palestine wars, and Iraq ("Just and Unjust Occupations"). Not every war satisfies him, but way too many do.

Murray Weiss: The Man Who Warned America: The Life and Death of John O'Neill, the FBI's Embattled Counterterror Warrior (2003; paperback, 2004, Harper): FBI agent, killed on 9/11 just as his life's work was coming to fruition.

Susan Willis: Portents of the Real: A Primer for Post 9/11 America (2005, Verso): Culture critique, quoting European Marxists -- not that you really have to go to Jean Baudrillard to get "what goes around comes around."

Paul Zarembka, ed: The Hidden History of 9-11 (paperback, 2008, Seven Stories Press): Scattered conspiracy theories attacking the 9/11 Commission.


I made no effort to collect DVD titles, but noted one anyway:

History Channel: 9/11 Commemorative Set 2008 (2008, The History Channel): Eight discs, 770 minutes. A whole show on the importance of tugboats.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Troops

Ron Sylvester: Iraq vet: Wounds outlast combat: The Wichita Peace Center sponsored a video/talk at the library last night, where a local Iraq War vet, Ethan McCord, talked about the WikiLeaks "Collateral Murder" video. It basically shows a US helicopter mowing down a group of Iraqis on a street in Baghdad, one of whom was carrying a video camera (mistakenly identified as some sort of weapon). A van then pulls up, the driver trying to load up the wounded to take them to get help. The helicopter then destroys the van. McCord was one of the first soldiers on the ground in the video. He pulled two badly wounded children out of the van, and carried them to an Army vehicle nearby to be taken for treatment. (Not clear if that even happened, since at one point we hear orders countermanding use of the vehicle to help the civilians, let alone whether they survived.) McCord left Iraq disabled with wounds from an IED, and is currently working with Iraq Veterans Against the War. Another Iraq vet, Will Stewart-Starks, also appeared.

For me the most striking thing about the talk was the detail in how US soldiers are desensitized and brutalized to fulfill their combat roles, and how this is constantly reinforced through the ranks. When asked about fragging, which happened often enough in Vietnam to sour the officer core on the draft, McCord pointed out that today's soldiers are more likely to kill themselves. He then cited yet another case just a day or two ago.

There was much play on the "support the troops" meme, but what I took away is something different. The real atrocity isn't what happens when you put troops into action, regardless of the reasons for doing so; rather, it starts in basic training, when you start to turn normal people into soldiers. Once they are soldiers, their skillset and survival instincts are bound to produce atrocities, as we've seen continuously in Afghanistan and Iraq. Those atrocities raise serious questions as to whether there is any practical political use for the US military in foreign nations where the US wants to consolidate any sort of friendly popular alliance -- i.e., where the collateral damage intrinsic to the way US troops are trained and deployed makes it impossible to sway enough "hearts and minds" -- and that should be enough to convince us to shy away from those wars.

But the human cost of supporting this kind of military goes back further, all the way to basic training. If we really cared for the people who fall under the "support the troops" slogan we wouldn't turn them into soldiers in the first place. We'd work to give them education, jobs, a chance to build families and grow old without the scars of war.


One person at the meeting made the point that he voted for Obama in 2008 specifically to stop the war, then was shocked when Obama turned around and escalated the war in Afghanistan. He didn't seem to take this personally -- e.g., as an example of the perfidy we expect from politicians. Rather, he wondered what there is in the power structure in Washington that bends people who should know better to their will. Another person pointed out that as we were meeting Obama was speaking about the semi-withdrawal of US forces and semi-closure of the US war in Iraq. Reading about Obama's speech in the paper this morning was far more disappointing than imagining it last night. There was no need for Obama to hie off to an army base to frame the speech, or to make a big show of going around shaking hands with soldiers. And there was no excuse for saying this:

As we do, I am mindful that the Iraq War has been a contentious issue at home. Here, too, it is time to turn the page. This afternoon, I spoke to former President George W. Bush. It's well known that he and I disagreed about the war from its outset. Yet no one could doubt President Bush's support for our troops, or his love of country and commitment to our security. As I have said, there were patriots who supported this war, and patriots who opposed it. And all of us are united in appreciation for our servicemen and women, and our hope for Iraq's future.

It's bad enough to continue some Bush policies because you can't move the federal bureaucracy around fast enough to realign it on a new set of principles. But it's something else completely to go out of your way to whitewash George W. Bush, a president who ended eight years of one miserable, cynical failure after another with public support polling around 22% -- Obama, despite being the victim of a well-financed, professionally-managed smear campaign, as well as the drag of two wars and a huge recession he didn't start, still polls better than 45%. If Obama was elected for any reason at all, it was to bury Bush. What he said isn't just false -- if Bush was truly committed to our security, he wouldn't have started wars to engender future attacks on us; if he loved our country, he wouldn't have bankrupted the government and filled it up with corporate cronies to pick over the remains; if he cared about our young people he wouldn't have turned so many of them into soldiers to be cracked in hopeless, pointless foreign wars. And it's not time to turn the page: there are still 50,000 troops in Iraq, more than double that in Afghanistan, plus unlimited air power and imperial embassies relentlessly poking and prodding their way in what should be the internal affairs of other countries; there are still strong efforts to resist our presence and dominance, and they will keep fighting as long as we are there; there are still millions of displaced people, with little hope of returning to any sort of normal life until we leave; and we are still burning up hundreds of billions of dollars every year we stay, while our own country rots and collapses. Just because Obama has surrendered to the pro-war forces in this country doesn't mean we should; all it really means is that Obama has become as much a part of the problem as the hawks he once ran against.

Then Obama goes on to say:

Americans across the political spectrum supported the use of force against those who attacked us on 9/11. Now, as we approach our 10th year of combat in Afghanistan, there are those who are understandably asking tough questions about our mission there.

Uh, hullo! Some of us were dead set against "the use of force against those who attacked us on 9/11" as of that very day. Obama may be asserting that we're not in the political spectrum, not even at the far fringes of it, which would be a pretty insulting position to take for someone so eager to forgive and cozy up to war criminals like Bush. But more importantly, it's a downright stupid position to take. One big reason so many people went along with the "use of force" idea after 9/11 is that they didn't have the faintest notion of what they were getting into. Had it been well understood that nine years later "use of force" would wind up meaning that 4,400 US soldiers would die, another 32,000 would be wounded (many gravely), that 20-25% of US soldiers would suffer from PTSD (leading to a rash of suicides), that we would have burned through $750 billion in direct expenses while incurring long-term debts and liabilities of several trillion dollars, that we would have vastly destabilized Iraq and Afghanistan (and less directly Pakistan and Yemen and Somalia and Lebanon, while pushing Iran much closer to developing nuclear weapons), that even after drawing down troops in Iraq we would still have more than 160,000 troops stationed in Asia, that we still wouldn't be able to lay our hands on the two supreme leaders of Al-Qaeda, would we still be talking about near-unanimous "use of force" support?

Some of the people who opposed that "use of force" did so for basic principles, but some were just a hell of a lot smarter than the conventional wisdom. But then conventional wisdom was pretty dumb to think that you could round up a small cell of religious fanatics on the far side of the world with a huge army and air force and navy that were built to reduce whole nations to stone age rubble. In fact, the only people, like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who were in any way responsible for 9/11 who were captured were picked up by old-fashioned police work, by Pakistan -- we'll see about bringing them to justice when/if they ever get a trial, but we've so debased the concept of justice along the way it may not matter.

As if that wasn't enough, let's wind up with one more Obama quote:

Every American who serves joins an unbroken line of heroes that stretches from Lexington to Gettysburg; from Iwo Jima to Inchon; from Khe Sanh to Kandahar -- Americans who have fought to see that the lives of our children are better than our own. Our troops are the steel in our ship of state. And though our nation may be travelling through rough waters, they give us confidence that our course is true, and that beyond the pre-dawn darkness, better days lie ahead.

First, the wars that Obama lines up here aren't equivalent, and to the extent that they form a trend line we should be disturbed. The American Revolution was a war to throw off an abusive foreign power, fought against their troops on our soil. The Civil War was a struggle between competing notions (ideals and interests) of what our nation should be, with one side defending their custom of holding most of their workforce in perpetual slavery. WWII was a war that we reluctantly entered after an aggressively imperial Japan attacked us, or more specifically our relatively benign imperial interests in the Pacific. Korea can still be painted as a defensive war, but only if you assume that our occupation of Korea is legitimate and a Korean invasion of our occupied zone isn't. Although Vietnam was superficially divided like Korea, it was us who invaded there, with over 500,000 troops to prop up a puppet government that even we had to overthrow several times before we got a stable combination. And Afghanistan didn't even offer us the fig leaf of a favorable invitation: from 1979 on we deliberately and perversly wrecked a country that meant nothing to us, promoting a religious fanaticism that ultimately turned back on us, leading us to further escalate the destruction.

There are three vectors to these wars: one is that each one is further removed from home; the second is that the ideals we use to justify these wars have become ever more debased; the third is that the soldiers have become more mercenary -- even before the draft was eliminated the balance of effective force shifted toward the professional air force and navy, but today's warrior caste is an unprecedented extreme.

The second big problem with this quote is the assertion that fighting these wars has made "the lives of our children better than our own." Independence removed an imperial burden, the Civil War cleared the stage for a vast industrial expansion, but those blessings were accomplished post-war. WWII is a bit anomalous in that it did significantly boost the domestic economy by proving the value of massive Keynesian spending and regulation, traits that we kept for the most universally prosperous decades of our history. On the other hand, all subsequent wars have drained our economy and sapped our resources for virtually no benefit. We haven't been threatened by a foreign power in over 200 years. Virtually everything that has made our lives better results from science and industry and trade, and those are blessings of peace.

As for "troops are the steel in our ship of state," it's hard to imagine a more brazenly imperialist line of crap. If Obama keeps spewing lines like that it's going to be awful hard to argue back when Glenn Beck accuses him of being a fascist.

Of course, what Obama's doing here is probably just pandering. Practically everybody panders to the troops -- probably more than half of the crowd in last night's antiwar meeting are guilty in some sense, even if what they really mean by "support" is that they want to salvage the human beings they presume the troops were before they were shipped off to war. But pandering to the troops isn't about salvaging people: it's about keeping the war machine grinding along. At least when Bush rambled on about "support the troops" you knew he didn't care how many were broken; all he really meant was "support my wars." Maybe what Obama really means by "support the troops" is "don't blame me for my wars." Fair enough, but what I don't see is how he gets to peace without cutting way back on the machinery of war, and the troops are a big part of that -- both because they serve and because they gravitate into cheerleading groups like VFW, which politicians like Obama wind up thinking they have to placate.


PS: Link for Obama speech here.

A Downloader's Diary (2): September 2010

This is the second installment of Michael Tatum's post-Christgau consumer guide. The debut came out a month ago, and I expect this to remain a monthly feature as long as he can stand the workload. I've built a nice little archive area for these columns -- first one is here and you can work out the rest from links there.


Pick up text from here.


Aug 2010 Oct 2010