November 2010 Notebook


Monday, November 29, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 17413 [17385] rated (+28), 841 [823] unrated +18). A pretty incoherent week. Unrated jumped because I finally catalogued the previous week's haul. Also did a fair amount of Rhapsody, which doesn't deplete existing stores.

  • An Introduction to Elliott Smith (1994-2003 [2010], Kill Rock Stars): Singer-songwriter, developed a small cult following in the 1990s, surrendered to depression and drugs, was working on a lousy comeback album when he was stabbed in the chest, a probable suicide -- a career arc which brings up parallels with English folkie Nick Drake; this slices up seven albums, some of which seemed promising at the time, without finding a single indelible track, so maybe he is, indeed, best forgotten. B [Rhapsody]

No Jazz Prospecting

Actually, I have enough to meet my minimum standards, but that's only due to a sudden burst on Sunday. The week as a whole is best forgotten: a painful one where my only notable accomplishment was to whip up a substantial Thanksgiving repast. I made some effort to listen to the long list of rated-but-not-yet-reviewed Jazz CG hits, but moved very few of them to the reviewed side. This coming week should be the one where I finally bear down and close out the column. Also should knock out a year-end list, at least for the Voice's jazz critics poll. (Haven't heard anything from Pazz & Jop yet.) One of my more exhausting wastes of time has been the construction of my metacritic file, which is currently more systematic than it's ever been before. It currently sums up year-end list thinking as follows (with my grades tacked on for value added):

  1. Arcade Fire: The Suburbs (Merge) A-
  2. The National: High Violet (4AD) A-
  3. Beach House: Teen Dream (Sub Pop) B+(**)
  4. LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening (DFA) B+(*)
  5. Sleigh Bells: Treats (Mom + Pop) B+(***)
  6. Vampire Weekend: Contra (XL) A-
  7. Big Boi: Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (Def Jam) A-
  8. Janelle Monae: The ArchAndroid (Bad Boy) B+(**)
  9. Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest (4AD) B+(**)
  10. Caribou: Swim (Merge) B+(*)

I haven't heard the next two records on the list -- Joanna Newsom (at 3CD seems like much too much work) and Flying Lotus (not available on Rhapsody), but unlike last year (cf. Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear, Dirty Projectors, damn near everything else) there's nothing above this year that I dislike (although below top ten it does get ugly: Grinderman, Ariel Pink, Gorillaz, Yeasayer). One easy prediction is that come Pazz & Jop time Kanye West will break into the above list. It dropped late, and stands to cross over bigger than Big Boi. There are a lot of biases built into this list, and many of them carry over into P&J, but the latter is slightly more favorable to crossover rap and old farts (not much of an issue this year, but might lift Robert Plant and Neil Young out of the 60s into top 40), and no professional critic is unaware of West.

Harder to guess jazz polls from my metacritic file, but Jason Moran's Ten has to be the frontrunner, followed by Vijay Iyer's Solo, maybe Charles Lloyd's Mirror, but hard to say after that. I've mostly been looking at the JJA lists. (Mary Halvorson's Saturn Sings looks like the big one I didn't get -- gee thanks, Scott -- as well as the Mosaic boxes in the reissue category.)

Pretty confident I can finish the column this week. One thing I can do for now is go ahead and publish the unpacking, which I had neglected last week:

  • Four: On a Warm Summer's Evenin' (Jazz Hang)
  • Cheryl Bentyne: The Gershwin Songbook (ArtistShare)
  • Dan Block: Plays the Music of Duke Ellington: From His World to Mine (Miles High)
  • Rondi Charleston: Who Knows Where the Time Goes (Motema): Feb. 8
  • David Cook: Pathway (Bju'ecords): Dec. 7
  • Shauli Einav: Opus One (Plus Loin Music): Jan. 11
  • Free Fall: Gray Scale (Smalltown Superjazz)
  • Four: On a Warm Summer's Evenin' (Jazz Hang)
  • Jim Hall & Joey Baron: Conversations (ArtistShare)
  • Humanization 4tet: Electricity (Ayler)
  • Lean Left: The Ex Guitars Meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo, Volume 2 (Smalltown Superjazz)
  • Dave Liebman Group: Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman (Jazzwerkstatt)
  • Marhaug: All Music at Once (Smalltown Superjazz)
  • Bill O'Connell: Rhapsody in Blue (Challenge)
  • Matt Panayides: Tapestries of Song (Pacific Coast Jazz): Jan. 11
  • Perry Robinson Trio: From A to Z (Jazzwerkstatt)
  • Elliott Sharp: Binibon (Henceforth): Feb.
  • Marcus Shelby Orchestra: Soul of the Movement (Porto Franco)
  • Nick Stefanacci Band: 26 Years (NS)
  • Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore: Three Kinds of Happiness (Not Two)
  • The Sway Machinery: The House of Friendly Ghosts Vol. 1 (JDub): advance, Feb. 8
  • Toca Loca: Shed (Henceforth): Feb.
  • Chandler Travis: Philharmonic Blows! (Sonic Trout)
  • The Ullmann/Swell 4: News? No News! (Jazzwerkstatt)
  • Christian Weidner: The Inward Song (Pirouet)
  • Zed Trio: Lost Transitions (Ayler)

Later this week: Downloader's Diary, a smallish Recycled Goods, and a substantial Rhapsody Streamnotes.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Hack Thirty

Alex Pareene: The War Room Hack Thirty: One view of the "worst columnists and cable news commentators America has to offer." Looks to me like more print than broadcast, but I watch so little TV, read so few of their papers, and never listen to radio, so I'm not to best person to sort this out. I don't recall ever reading Richard Cohen, and several other names come up blank. On the other hand, I can think of others who escaped the list. Perhaps Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and their ilk were exempted as entertainers, or maybe their demagoguery is so blatant that they don't pretend to be anything else. This isn't really a list of right-wingers, although they figure prominently, and isn't a ranking of vile political opinions (otherwise Michael Savage and Max Boot and Mark Steyn would have ranked high). Pareene namechecks Ann Coulter, then picks the decidedly more mediocre Laura Ingraham. Self-conscious centrists figure prominently, especially ones who fell hook, line and sinker for the Bush war line (lies not least of all). But that may be less because they're centrists than because they're gullible when the propaganda winds blow strong, and that's ultimately what defines them as hacks. As for active right-wing propagandists like Jonah Goldberg, Bill Kristol, and David Brooks, they tripped themselves up so repeatedly they couldn't be ignored as mere ideologists.

This was done as 31 separate posts, so work through the Earlier Articles links or pick and choose from the index. Nearly all are worth reading. And the Thomas Friedman one has links to two Matt Taibbi reviews that nail him perfectly. [Links: The World Is Flat and Hot, Flat, and Crowded]

  1. There's no subject on which Richard Cohen is not completely inessential. The looming debt crisis? Caused by kids today and their tattoos and hippety-hop music! The financial collapse? Did you know that Richard Cohen went to high school with Ruth Madoff? 'Cause that's all he's got.
  2. Repetition of White House spin is a fairly noxious trait in a journalist, but [Mark Halperin]'s worst quality is actually that he is constantly wrong. He is a professional political analyst, yet he often seems to be completely, 100 percent wrong about even the horse-race aspects of politics that he specializes in.
  3. [Thomas Friedman]'s a silly, simple-minded man whose success leads a cynic to the conclusion that the world is run by similarly silly, simple-minded men.
  4. [David Broder] has a simplistic understanding of politics and no understanding of the electorate except as an abstract concept. His hatred of partisanship is actually a thinly veiled disdain for popular rule itself.
  5. Because [Marty Peretz] fancies himself both the nation's foremost authority on Middle Eastern affairs and a scintillating writer, he has named himself editor in chief of [New Republic], and his work goes up before a grown-up can look it over. [ . . . ] Peretz can't make it through a simple account of the concerts and dance performances he enjoyed on a recent trip to Tel Aviv without lobbing a few bombs at those judged to have treated Israel unfairly -- in this instance, Elvis Costello, the Pixies(!) and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
  6. In the growing pantheon of "Bush speechwriters hired as columnists," Marc Thiessen's moral depravity set him apart.
  7. Jonah Goldberg writes the political column equivalent of weekly fart jokes, but longs to be taken seriously as a public intellectual. [ . . . ] Goldberg favorite rhetorical move is to pretend that he's making some grand, semi-controversial point, then back off when asked to defend it. He wrote an entire book called Liberal Fascism, about how liberals are the real fascists, but constantly insists that the theme of his book was not "liberals are fascists." He wrote a column about how Julian Assange should be assassinated, but insisted that the point of his column was not to say that Julian Assange should be assassinated. Did you know that proposing that kids perform community service "is modern slavery"!? ("No, national service isn't slavery," he eventually writes, before saying, again, that it's basically the same thing.)
  8. But I don't think even Maureen Dowd is still into Maureen Dowd anymore. Dumb insults mysteriously scrubbed from a column, the "plagiarism" scandal in which Dowd revealed that she "weaves" unedited e-mails from friends into her column, the equally stupid "dateline" incident in which she had an uncredited assistant do the reporting while she filed from Jerusalem, all of these point to a hack whose heart isn't even in it anymore.
  9. And most of [Peggy Noonan's] columns follow a similar pattern: Rambling anecdote (probably involving Reagan), misty-eyed reminisce of a Catholic girlhood in a more pleasant America, paean to Grown-up Seriousness in our politicians, pro forma endorsement of some randomly selected item from the Republican Party platform. Things were better before, and that is why we need tort reform, or English as our official language, or tax cuts.
  10. Laura Ingraham is just awfulness personified. Pointless, talentless, a second-rate Ann Coulter without the wit. Her day in the sun is long gone, her novelty has evaporated, and yet still she remains. Old shameless right-wing TV stars never die. They just move into talk radio and release horrible books.
  11. George Will is a sanctimonious moralist, a pretentious hypocrite, a congenital liar and a boring pundit, to boot. [ . . . ] And his baseball writing is so bad as to defy parody.
  12. [John Fund] just picks the latest stupid Republican outrage (voter fraud! Black Panthers! ACORN!) and dutifully lies about it, using predictable talking points and the requisite Monday Meeting spin.
  13. But this list would be incomplete without a representative from Politico, the world's most cynical media outlet, and [Roger Simon] is guilty of most of its worst practices.
  14. The sad thing is, [David Ignatius]' expertise is supposedly foreign policy, which makes his respect for warmongering numbskulls like John McCain and Joe Lieberman even more inexplicable than David Broder's.
  15. [Mort Zuckerman] is a conservative Democrat, sort of. It's hard to pin him down, actually, because, as Wayne Barrett once documented, he's on both sides of every issue.
  16. But as a political commentator [Michael Barone]'s proof that encyclopedic knowledge does not lead to insight. He is, in most respects, your bog-standard right-wing pundit. Ensconced at the conservative American Enterprise Institute and penning predictable columns for the right-wing Washington Examiner, he regularly appears on Fox to say the sorts of things that analysts who regularly appear on Fox should say.
  17. While it's one thing to be consistently wrong about everything in the pages of your own magazine, it's quite another to remain a paid opinion-giver at other supposedly serious media outlets despite that impressive record. But [Bill Kristol] manages it, and the Washington Post continues to print his uninteresting lies and obviously incorrect predictions.
  18. While [Tina Brown's] comically shallow columns on actual current events resemble real editorials, they tend to lack a point, besides reassuring the reader that Tina's been keeping up with the news out of Wall Street and Washington.
  19. [Joe Klein] is a man who's internalized his own noxious bullshit. First of all, Gore received more votes than his straight-shooting opponent, which is traditionally how we measure who "won" an election. Second of all, he "lost" not because Joe Klein thought he "seemed stiff" -- though Joe Klein and his peers made sure that everyone in the nation knew how "stiff" he seemed to them -- but because a Supreme Court with a partisan Republican majority halted the Florida recount.
  20. You can always count on Howard Fineman for a clear distillation of whatever the new conventional wisdom is. Unlike those who seek to drive coverage, Fineman was always content to sway with the prevailing winds. [ . . . ] And Fineman, it should not be forgotten, was a member of that special class of pundit that trashed candidate Al Gore for complete nonsense and worshiped post-9/11 Bush as a decisive man of action. He was as psyched as anyone when George Bush led us into a pointless war.
  21. An atheist who wrote a book about the liberal media's attack on "Christian America" (they gave the Narnia movies bad reviews because they hate Jesus), S.E. Cupp is the sort of commentator who'll declare creationism legitimate solely because liberal scientists say it isn't. She's not a moron or a nut, she just declares common cause with them to get ahead in the field of punditry. [ . . . ] On cable she plays the hip, young Republican girl-about-town -- who also loves hunting! There's nothing a booker loves more than an attractive young woman with the mind of Fred Barnes.
  22. [Tucker Carlson] is a thin-skinned mess of hypocrisy. [ . . . ] After getting fired from all three 24-hour cable news channels, Tucker decided to start a website. It would be a smart website, he promised! With real journalism! [ . . . ] It has settled on being more like a low-rent Daily Beast, or HuffPo with poorer standards of reporting and slightly fewer celebrity nipple galleries.
  23. [Howard Kurtz's] Media Notes columns for the Washington Post were just lengthy recaps of what bloggers said about things and while he often enjoyed policing journalists for potential conflicts of interest, he never addressed the fact that the Post's media reporter was a paid employee of Time Warner's CNN, where he hosts a media chat show.
  24. Humor generally needs to come from some sort of point of view to have real bite, but [Dana Milbank] did not count as an "opinion columnist," so the message behind his work -- the grand, overarching theme -- was basically "isn't all of this -- the theater of legislating, the passion of activists, the entire political process -- a stupid, pointless game played by idiot clowns?"
  25. [Mickey Kaus] obscures his beliefs in 100 layers of obnoxious gnomic in-jokes, but his reflexive hatred for unions and immigrants colors nearly every post (when he's not complaining about the L.A. Times). Unions and immigrants are responsible for stagnant wages, the jobs crisis, the failure of G.M., etc., etc.
  26. There's a special circle of hell for the journalist whose mendacity or incompetence directly leads to actual war. Jeffrey Goldberg's work in the New Yorker helped get us into Iraq. He wrote false and stupid things that helped lead to the deaths of thousands, and he has never seemed even slightly sorry about that fact.
  27. Pat Caddell is the epitome of a Fox Democrat. He was a high-level party apparatchik in the distant past and can theoretically still be referred to as a Democrat, but he'll reliably repeat every idiotic right-wing talking point that comes down the pike. And he doesn't just do it on Fox. With his partner in failure, fellow former Democratic pollster Mark Schoen, he also pens a neverending series of ponderous editorials (printed, usually, in the Washington Post or the Wall Street Journal) about how the Democrats are wrong, stupid and doomed.
  28. Andrew Malcolm is a political blogger for the L.A. Times, where his job is to craft every story in such a way that maximizes its chances of getting linked to by Matt Drudge.
  29. These are all allusions to a center-right consensus that exists solely among comfortable Washingtonians (from both parties and neither party), treated as if it represents the national ideal. So [Matt Bai], charged with covering the modern progressive movement, covers it as if its naiveté about the role of government in a post-industrial economy is a given fact, rather than the opinion of the guy writing the story.
  30. But politics has very little to do with what makes [David Brooks] Brooks. He is simply the laziest smart writer on the planet. [ . . . ] The actual "reporting" that went into the book [Bobos in Paradise] -- bits in which Brooks struggles to spend more than $20 on dinner in the exurbs -- was rather definitively shown to be totally false. But the "truth" of his insights into the differences between blue America (Thai restaurants!) and red America (Applebee's!) was immaterial. Here was a highbrow Jeff Foxworthy joke, and the liberals ate it up. [ . . . ] Occasionally he writes something exceptionally stupid or suprisingly vile, but mostly he just plays his part as a PBS Newshour Conservative.

I scanned through the comments for more names. Most often nominated, by far, was Charles Krauthammer, but also: Fouad Ajami, Fred Barnes, Bob Beckel, Wolf Blitzer, Max Boot, Neil Bortz, L Brent Bozell, Andrew Breitbart, Tom Brokaw, Pat Buchanan, Alan Colmes, Joe Conason, Monica Crowley, Victor Hanson Davis, Lou Dobbs, Ross Douthat, Paul Gigot, Bernard Goldberg, David Gregory, Sean Hannity, Melissa Harris-Perry [aka Melissa Harris-Lacewell], Christopher Hitchens, David Horowitz, Arianna Huffington, Al Hunt, John Kass, Michael Kinsley, Nicholas Kristof, Matt Lauer, Michael Ledeen, Mark Levin, Mara Liasson, Rich Lowry, Gene Lyons, Michelle Malkin, Ruth Marcus Chris Matthews, Megan McArdle, Dick Morris, Keith Olbermann, Bill O'Reilly, Kathleen Parker, Daniel Pipes, Frank Rich, Cokie Roberts, Charlie Rose, Michael Savage, Laura Schlessinger, Bob Schieffer, George Stephanopoulos, Mark Steyn, John Stossel, Andrew Sullivan, Cal Thomas, Chris Wallace, Juan Williams, Bob Woodward, John Yoo. I left out the Salon writers (e.g., one commenter repeatedly taunting Joan Walsh), and I'm inclined to dismiss Sullivan and most of the liberals (Kinsley, Rich) as pure right-wing snark.

One letter writer complained about the parochial American viewpoint and suggested some more names: Nick Cohen, Mick Hume, Melanie Phillips, Brendan O'Neill, Frank Furedi, Helen Guildberg, Josie Appleton, Bernard Lewis, Barry Rubin, Sam Tannenhaus, John Podhoretz, Emanuele Ottolenghi, Giulio Meotti, Reuel Marc Gerecht.

I'm an habitual listmaker myself, so let me say something in defense of lists: the ranking may be near-arbitrary, but building lists forces one to think of aggregates rather than individuals, and as such it puts individuals into a reasonable context. Clearly, a lot of thought goes into who's in/who's out/who ranks where here, and it provides not just a useful guide to individuals but to the whole practice of the opinion wing of the mainstream media. Given its breadth, this strikes me as the most useful broad survey since Matt Taibbi took on the presidential news reporters in 2004 by refereeing Wimblehack (won by Elisabeth Bumiller, something to keep in mind any time you see her byline).

Friday, November 26, 2010

Turkey Shoot

I looked through various comments recently on Robert Christgau's lately departed (and now miraculously revived) Consumer Guide, and was surprised to see several hoping for new editions of the long-discontinued Turkey Shoot. For what it's worth, Christgau never much liked doing the November column -- less, I think, each year, not least of all because it requires listening to so much bad music, but also because he's always been so conscientious about minor grade distinctions as well as crafting his prose.

I, on the other hand, frequently invoked the following maxim in my software project work: anything not worth doing is not worth doing well. Therefore, I don't feel any guilt about offering you the following bare list of certifiable turkeys. Was aiming for 20 but only came up with 18. About half came to my attention on year-end lists, and were sampled quickly (and cheaply) on Rhapsody. And, of course, since I wasn't looking for crap, I didn't find as much as I would have had I been.

  • Against Me!: White Crosses (Sire)
  • Antony and the Johnsons: Swanlights (Secretly Canadian)
  • Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: Before Today (4AD)
  • The Besnard Lakes: The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night (Jagjaguwar)
  • Jamie Cullum: The Pursuit (Verve)
  • Mark Egan: Truth Be Told (Wavetone)
  • Alejandro Escovedo: Street Songs of Love
  • Gonjasufi: A Sufi and a Killer (Warp)
  • Grinderman: Grinderman 2 (Anti-)
  • Liars: Sisterworld (Mute)
  • Lil Wayne: Rebirth (Universal Motown/Cash Money)
  • MGMT: Congratulations (Columbia)
  • Esperanza Spalding: Chamber Music Society (Heads Up)
  • Trombone Shorty: Backatown (Verve Forecast)
  • The Walkmen: Lisbon (Fat Possum)
  • Wavves: King of the Beach
  • Brian Wilson: Reimagines Gershwin (Walt Disney)
  • Gretchen Wilson: I Got Your Country Right Here (Redneck)

Facebook Note

Fixed a lot of good food yesterday -- roast duck, east asian grilled beef/lamb/fish/shrimp (bulgogi and satays), fried rice, noodles, three veggies, two pies and a gingerbread roulade stuffed with maple-flavored whipped cream -- under difficult circumstances (sewer backup -- thanks especially to Ram for helping clean up that mess). Mostly back to normal now; back still pretty sore.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 17385 [17348] rated (+37), 823 [840] unrated (-17). Chugging along. Should move to finishing Jazz CG. Hurt back working on garage, and that's slowing me down and bumming me out. Also note that J.D. Burns died last week -- one of my cousins, a former big shot in the military-industrial complex; also Chalmers Johnson, an important critic of American imperialism.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #25, Part 9)

Hurt my back yesterday trying to build a rack for storing 4x8 sheets of plywood, panels, whatever. Had a short window of good weather, and failed to get what should have been a fairly simple job done. Now it's 30 degrees colder and I'm semi-crippled and genuinely bummed. The change in the weather also screws up my initial plans for Thanksgiving dinner -- now they're predicting 19-33° F with likely precipitation -- so I have to rejigger my plans, and worry about making my back worse. Bummer.

Meanwhile, I should be closing out Jazz CG instead of listening to more new stuff -- especially since I keep finding things that I won't be able to squeeze in. The column should be leading my findings, but the year-end list I'm expected to file in the next two weeks will mostly be records that have yet to appear in Jazz CG. I'm way behind, and the way I feel can't imagine a way to dig myself out. Bummer.

Matt Herskowitz: Jerusalem Trilogy (2009-10 [2010], Justin Time): Pianist, AMG lists him under classical although his MySpace lists jazz and alternative first. First record was Plays Gershwin, so you can take that either way. Uses a lot of strings here -- Lara St. John's violin, Mike Block's cello, Matt Fieldes's bass (electric as well as acoustic), the horns limited to Daniel Schnyder's soprano sax and flute, and Bassam Saba's neys -- Saba also plays oud, another string instrument. Starts with a piece called "Polonaise Libanaise," then goes into the title set. Shades of klezmer, but sounds more like tango to me with its swoosh and drama. "Crossbones" starts with heavy rock chords, like Keith Emerson aping Rachmaninoff, then segues into an improv that leaves Emerson in the dust. Ends with Prokofiev. B+(***)

Marshall Allen/Matthew Shipp/Joe Morris: Night Logic (2009 [2010], RogueArt): In the label's minimalist design style, the artists are listed with first initials, but I figured I should go ahead and spell them out. Allen is well into his 80s now; b. 1924, he joined the Sun Ra Arkestra in 1956 and still directs it in its ghost band phase. He has a few albums since the late 1990s with his name on the marquee, like this one alongside other notables. He plays alto sax and flute, and is gritty enough on the sax that he draws out Shipp's David S. Ware Quartet mode, which itself is worth the price of admission. Morris is best known for his guitar, but plays bass here. B+(***)

Jan Garbarek/The Hilliard Ensemble: Officium Novum (2009 [2010], ECM New Series): The third collaboration between the mediaeval choral group and the Norwegian saxophonist, again playing more of his curved soprano than tenor. The sax is a clear contrast to the voices, and no one quite matches the clarity of tone and measured riffing that Garbarek brings to such affairs. This was especially striking in the original Officium (1993), but grew tiring in 1998's Mnemosyne. This splits the difference, which doesn't make it just right -- more like: just adequate. B+(*)

Roscoe Mitchell and the Note Factory: Far Side (2007 [2010], ECM): Venerable AACM saxophonist (b. 1940), leads a mostly Chicago/Detroit-based double quartet, recorded live in Burghausen for Bayerischer Rundfunk: two pianos (Craig Taborn, Vijay Iyer), two basses (Jaribu Shahid, Harrison Bankhead, the latter also switching to cello), two drumsets (Tani Tabbal, Vincent Davis), two horns (Corey Wilkes on trumpet/flugelhorn is the other). Four long pieces, like in the old days. Perhaps to soothe the label the first one takes a while to gear up, and there are uneventful spots here and there. But the clash of pianos is pretty amazing, and the horns can bring some noise, especially from the leader. B+(***)

Rodrigo Amado: Searching for Adam (2010, Not Two): Tenor saxophonist, also plays baritone here, b. 1964, Portugal, has put together an impressive discography since 2000, first with the Lisbon Improvisation Players. Quartet with Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet, flugelhorn), John Hébert (double bass), and Gerald Cleaver (drums). Bynum's ecstatic squeal on the opener kicks this off in high gear. Cleaver is especially formidable. A-

Norma Winstone: Stories Yet to Tell (2009 [2010], ECM): Vocalist, b. 1941 in London, came up in avant-jazz circles (married John Taylor; joined Taylor and Kenny Wheeler in Azimuth), although her voice is more the classical soprano. Her 1971 record, Edge of Time, is especially well regarded, but I've missed it and most of her discography. This draws from old folk repertoire (13th century troubadour song, 16th century Mainerio, the ever reliable "trad"), also puts lyrics to Wayne Shorter and Maria Schneider, and picks up a Dor Caymmi song. Glauco Venier plays piano, Klaus Gesing bass clarinet and soprano sax, for an intimate chamber effect. Singer is impeccable. B+(**)

I Never Meta Guitar: Guitarists for the 21st Century (2009-10 [2010], Clean Feed): Recording date info is spotty -- just 5 of 16 tracks. Not sure but don't think any of this has been previously released: several contributors have records on the label, but many do not. The main one who does is Elliott Sharp, creditd as producer here. Other better known names: Mary Halvorson, Jeff Parker, Henry Kaiser, Raoul Björkenheim, Noël Akchoté, Nels Cline, Scott Fields. (A couple of others I've heard of, like Brandon Ross and Jean François Pauvros, plus a few I haven't.) Mostly solo guitar, with some effects; one cut adds bass and drums (Michael Gregory's, which, by the way, helps), and Björkenheim is credited with electric viola da gamba. Not a survey of current guitar jazz -- nothing here from the Montgomery or McLaughlin or Pizzarelli or Sharrock schools, and some notables who would have fit in, like Fred Frith, got left out. But it is an interesting subset, and the variety helps as some of these guys can get tedious. B+(*)

Wadada Leo Smith and Ed Blackwell: The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer (1986 [2010], Kabell): Trumpet/drums duets, from the vaults. Not sure what it is about Blackwell that holds this so together. But Smith is exceptionally sharp, not that it hurts much when he wanders, as when he plays flute or mibira, or sings. A-

Ab Baars: Time to Do My Lions (2008 [2010], Wig): Dutch saxophonist, b. 1955, has a dozen or more albums since 1989. This one is solo: tenor sax, clarinet, shakuhachi. That will most likely be enough to dissuade you, but as these things go, he comes up with interesting patterns, and never gets too ugly to bear. B+(*)

Paquito D'Rivera: Tango Jazz: Live at Jazz at Lincoln Center (2010, Sunnyside): Cuban clarinet/also sax player, b. 1948, studied at Havana Conservatory of Music, co-founded Orchestra Cubana de Musica Moderna, and later Irakere, before skipping over the the US in 1980, where has since built up a substantial discography. Opens the liner notes with a rant about "Che Guevara and his henchmen" which even if it's true -- and I don't know one way or the other -- reminds me how convenient America is for right-wing Cubans and how much political damage they've done since being welcomed here so generously (unlike refugees from far more murderous right-wing regimes like El Salvador in the 1980s, or Haiti any time). Still, the gist of D'Rivera's notes is that he loves the tango music that Guevara evidently forsook, and he at least proves his enthusiasm in the grooves. The critical ingredient, not surprisingly, is the Pablo Aslan Ensemble, with Michael Zisman (and on one track Raul Jaurena) on bandoneón, Aslan on bass, and Daniel Piazzolla on drums. Aslan's own tango records have tended to be elegant updates -- Avantango kicked off the series, and Buenos Aires Tango Standards is even better -- but the band gets hot and rowdy here, especially when Gustavo Bergalli cuts loose on trumpet. A-

Paquito D'Rivera: Panamericana Suite (2010, MCG Jazz): Large group, twelve musicians and a singer but nothing near a big band -- Diego Urcola is the brass, D'Rivera the reed section, unless you want to count cellist Dana Leong's secondary trombone. Instead, you get vibes/marimba (Dave Samuels), steel pans (Andy Narell), harp (Edmar Castaneda), bandoneon (Hector del Curto), piano (Alon Yavnai), bass (Oscar Stagnero), and lots of percussion. The title cut runs 11:16, not much more than the other pieces, which include a cover of "Con Alma." The pans and vibes are often remarkable, and D'Rivera's clarinet is in peak form. Would rate higher but for the two vocals by soprano Brenda Feliciano, way too operatic for my taste. B+(*)

Dan Tepfer Trio: Five Pedals Deep (2010, Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1982, in France but parents American. Looks like fourth album since 2004 -- AMG lists three, and missed one called Twelve Free Improvisations in Twelve Keys (2009, DIZ). Only one I've heard is a duo with Lee Konitz last year, which made my HM list. Trio includes Thomas Morgan on bass and Ted Poor on drums. Couldn't follow this closely (my fault) but parts were dazzling, and the closing coda from "Body and Soul" ended things on a nice note. Will return later. [B+(***)]

Eero Koivistoinen & Co.: 3rd Version (1973 [2010], Porter): Finnish saxophonist, b. 1946, plays soprano, sopranino and tenor here, leading a band with Fender-Rhodes piano (Heikki Sarmanto), guitar (Jukka Tolonen), bass (Pekka Sarmanto), and two drummers (Craig Herndon and Reino Laine). His "selected discography" lists 35 items going back to the Hendrix-influenced Blues Section in 1967, including some UMO Jazz Orchestra records. This has a fusion angle, at least in the guitar/keyb vein, but it's much rougher and freer, even more so than the McLaughlin-influenced English avant-garde of the period. Porter has been reissuing a lot of rare gems from the early 1970s, things I hadn't heard but would have latched onto instantly at the time. Also in their catalog are three discs by the keyboard player here, Heikki Sarmanto, clearly a SFFR. A-

Prester John: Desire for a Straight Line (2010, Innova): Duo, with Shawn Persinger on acoustic guitar, David Miller on mandolin. Group name comes from the mediaeval legend, something about a Christian king who lost his nation to the muslims or the Mongols or some such. Music has a mediaevalist flair to it, dense and sometimes monotonous. Persinger has a previous record called The Art of Modern/Primitive Guitar -- title sums up what he's working for. B

Bruce Williamson Quartet: Standard Transmission (2009 [2010], Origin): Alto saxophonist (also soprano sax, flute, bass clarinet), cut an album in 1992 called Big City Magic, and his this is his second, plus a couple of side credits per year since 1989. Pianist Art Lande gets a "featuring" on the front cover and kicks off the first song; Peter Barshay (bass) and Alan Hall complete the quartet. Mainstream, a bit on the lush side. One original, a couple of mash-ups (e.g., "Misterioso" + "How High the Moon" = "Mysterious Moon"), mostly covers. Very nice "Nature Boy" with Williamson on soprano sax; flute feature ("The Touch of Your Lips") also well done. Arrangements split between Williamson and Lande. B+(**)

Matt Garrison: Familiar Places (2009 [2010], D Clef): Not Jimmy Garrison's bass playing son, who generally goes as Matthew but is listed in Wikipedia as Matt. This one plays tenor and baritone sax, was b. 1979 in Poughkeepsie, NY. First album, mostly a hard bop lineup: Bruce Harris (trumpet), Michael Dease (trombone), Zaccai Curtis (piano, Fender Rhodes), Luques Curtis (bass), Rodney Green (drums). A couple of songs add extra: subbing Claudio Roditti (covers gives him a "featuring" credit) on trumpet (2 cuts) and flugelhorn (1 more); Mark Whitfield (guitar, 2 cuts); Sharel Cassity and Don Braden (flutes, 2 cuts). Nothing wrong with any of this -- well, the second flute song, "Left Behind," is pretty awful -- but it's more like he's trying to establish his credentials than do something distinctive with them. B

Anthony Brown's Asian American Orchestra: India & Africa: A Tribute to John Coltrane (2009 [2010], Water Baby): Drummer, mother Japanese, father African-American with a bit of Choctaw, came up on the idea of organizing a big band of Asian-American musicians -- an early fruit was Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire, inspired by Japanese-American bands who played in WWII concentration camps. His records incorporate various bits of Asian music, but they're also masterful exercises in big band arranging -- as was proven, for instance, in Brown's previous Monk's Moods. This one is organized in two sets, mostly using Coltrane's compositions, in particular "India" and "Africa." The India set picks up more Indian music than Coltrane ever knew, including a duet between Steve Oda's sarod and Dana Pandey's tabla. The Africa set is less exotic, and ends with a slice of Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue" -- a piece Coltrane used to play. (Afro Blue Impressions is one of Coltrane's better live albums.) The percussion is notable, and the horn solos and section work are muscular and daring. A-

John Burnett Orchestra/Buddy DeFranco: Down for Double (2000-10 [2010], Delmark): Standard swing-era big band -- four trumpets, four trombones, five reeds, piano, bass, drums. Songs dedicated to Glenn Miller, Duke Ellington, Buddy Rich, Benny Goodman, Gene Krupa, Slide Hampton, and (4 of 12) Count Basie. Third album since 2000, when Burnett featured clarinetist Buddy DeFranco on Swingin' in the Windy City. Also headlines DeFranco here, but only on 3 cuts dating from the 2000 sessions. We also get three cuts from 2005, and six from 2010, all live. Loud and brassy. B

Ches Smith & These Arches: Finally Out of My Hands (2010, Skirl): Drummer, from San Diego, CA, has more than 30 credits since 2001, two or thre with his name up front. This is a quartet with Tony Malaby (tenor sax), Mary Halvorson (guitar), and Andrea Parkins (accordion, organ, electronics). That's a talented but combustible group, and sometimes I wonder if Smith isn't more into mischief than music here: I go up and down on the record moment to moment. B+(*)

Metropole Orkest/John Scofield/Vince Mendoza: 54 (2009 [2010], Emarcy): Mendoza conducts the bloated Orkest -- 15 violins, 5 violas, 2 flutes, oboe, French horn, harp, etc. -- and arranged 7 of 10 pieces, farming the others out to Florian Ross and Jim McNeely. Every now and then they jell into a powerhouse, but mostly they clutter things up. The guest star can still play his trademark fluid guitar, when he gets a chance and can be heard over the din. B-

The Glenious Inner Planet (2009-10 [2010], Blue Bamboo): Bassist Glen Ackerman, Houston, TX, first album, basically groove-based although I'm reluctant to file it under pop jazz. With Woddy Witt on tenor/soprano sax and clarinet, Ted Winglinski on keybs, Paul Chester on guitar -- all making notable contributions -- and different drummers for two sessions. B+(**)

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

Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Llyria (2010, ECM): Must have been a typo on the promo, since the out-of-sequence "Modul 4" that caught my ear is "Modul 47" here, still the lowest number and the hottest track in a series that threatens to go ambient. The other winner is "Modul 51" where Kaspar Rast goes for rock drama on the drums. The least satisfying of his ECM albums, except during those high points when comparisons are moot. B+(***)

Unpacking: I'm behind on this, so will postpone until next week.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Weekend Roundup

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

  • Ronald Dworkin: Americans Against Themselves: Says we should take the Tea Party backlashers seriously -- that indeed the nation's power and influence is on the wane, producing the bad vibes they feel the need to blame on someone not like them.

    The results of Tuesday's election are savagely depressing, wholly expected, yet deeply puzzling. Why do so many Americans insist on voting against their own best interests? Why do they shout hatred for a health care plan that gives them better protection against calamity than they have ever had? Or stimulus spending that has prevented a bad economic climate from being much worse for them? Or tax proposals that lower their own taxes by raising taxes on people much richer than they will ever be? Why do they vote in such numbers for the party favored by the bankers and traders who brought on the economic catastrophe?

    Eight out of ten voters told exit pollsters that they are frightened by the economy; four out of ten report that their own families are still worse off than they once were. Columnists say that this explains why they turned on President Obama and deserted the Democrats. But that is not a solution to the puzzle; it is part of it. The economy is improving; private sector jobs are increasing. True, the improvement is slow -- no doubt slower than everyone hoped and many people expected. But if someone has burned down your house you would not fire your new contractor because he has not rebuilt it overnight and then hire the arsonist to finish the job.

  • Glenn Greenwald: Eric Cantor's Pledge of Allegiance: The Republican House Whip and incoming Majority Leader met with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to assure him that any time Israel wanted to pick a fight with Obama he could count on the Republicans' support in the House. Given that Netanyahu does have conflicts with Obama -- most immediately over his continued efforts to disrupt peace talks by building illegal settlements in occupied Palestine -- Cantor's real intent is to keep Obama's high level peace mission from being successful, and to make sure that America will remain embroiled in unpopular conflicts in the Middle East at least until a future Republican president can jump in and make matters even worse. Cantor's position is one that no American politician of either party could take except in support of Israel, which routinely flaunts its power in Congress whenever presidents get out of line.

    I haven't written much about Israel lately, but nothing has changed for a remarkably long time given how shaky Netanyahu's coalition was from the beginning. Given his political stance, Netanyahu can and will never negotiate any sort of peace agreement. The only way that Obama can make any progress is to convince the Israeli people to throw out Netanyahu's government, and the only way that can happen would be for Obama to threaten to cut the aid and suspend the alliance that props up Israel's intransigent and belligerent regime. (This was, in fact, pretty much what happened in 1991-92, when Yitzhak Shamir's equally intransigent government gave way to Yitzhak Rabin, who negotiated the Oslo Accords -- which were in turn wrecked by Netanyahu following the assassination of Rabin.) In some ways this is a moot point, given that Obama hasn't shown the slightest will to stand up to Netanyahu, but if he ever did find the courage, Cantor is promising that he and his fellow Republican warmongers will support a like-minded faction on the extreme right of the Israeli political spectrum to embarrass and humiliate the president of the United States.

  • Michael Hudson/Michael Hudson: My Talk With Michael Hudson: Also Part 2 and Part 3. Interview between Michael W. Hudson, a journalist who wrote The Monster: How a Gang of Predatory Lenders and Wall Street Bankers Fleeced America -- and Spawned a Global Crisis (2010) and Merchants of Misery: How Corporate America Profits From Poverty (2002), and Michael Hudson, an economist at UMKC whose books include Super Imperialism: The Origin and Fundamentals of US World Dominance (1972; revised 2003).

    [MWH] As I reported on the mortgage market, one thing that fascinated me was how the impresarios of the housing boom used the idea of the American dream to clear the way. They talked about homeownership as if nothing else mattered. Even Ameriquest, the most notorious of the subprime sharks, called itself "Proud Sponsor of the American Dream" and described its mission as "helping people achieve their homeownership dreams and financial freedom." There was one problem: Ameriquest almost never made home purchase mortgages. It was a refi shop. In 2004, one quarter of 1 percent of its loans went for home purchases. Rather than promoting home ownership, Ameriquest's loans increased the odds that borrowers would end up in foreclosure, by ratcheting up the amount of debt they owed on their homes. [ . . . ]

    [MH] Your articles showed how the mortgage brokers and other pilot fish for Wall Street increased debt pyramiding by outright fraud. These sleight-of-hand lending practices at the local level were enabled by junk economics at the highest level. Alan Greenspan became a Bubblemeister, applauded by CNBC and the media for convincing them that prices bid up by debt leveraging was "wealth creation."

    This wealth creation really was debt creation. That's what was bidding up real estate prices -- just as was the case with leveraged buyouts bidding up stock prices during the takeover wave. And a rising proportion of this debt was "empty" debt, without any corresponding real value. Much of it simply represented hope that real estate prices would rise all the more. And much of it was based on fictitious income statements, fictitious appraisals, fictitious mortgages filled in by crooks -- thousands of people all involved in financial crime. As my UMKC colleague Bill Black has noted, not a single major player has been indicted in the recent financial scandals -- except for the one person who walked into a police station with his hands up and surrendered (Bernie Madoff). [ . . . ]

    What I learned on Wall Street wasn't anything like what I'd been taught in my graduate economics courses at New York University. My "money and banking" course had been taught by an abstract professor who taught economics as if it were science fiction about a parallel universe. He followed the usual academic tendency to teach students MV=PT, relating the money supply only to consumer prices (and wages). Nobody even today relates money and credit to asset prices. That amazes me, because it is the core of "wealth creation" Alan-Greenspan-style -- loading the economy down with debt to inflate asset prices. [ . . . ]

    It is clear that economies develop bubbles as a means of carrying their debts. Banks lend borrowers the money to pay the interest, and this increases the debts that new buyers of real estate need to take on. The process becomes economy-wide, affecting industry and agriculture, and government itself. So crises are inevitable.

    The question is, how will society resolve these crises? Who is going to lose? There are only two choices: either to bring the debt burden back within the ability to pay, by wiping out debt; or let creditors foreclose, transferring property from debtors to creditors.

    Given the rising political power of financial wealth, economies are opting for the foreclosure option. But that slows economic growth and results in shrinkage over time. [ . . . ]

    But with much of US real estate already in negative equity, banks are not going to start lending again on a large scale. The government doesn't want to confront the fact that we have entered a period of debt deflation. When debtors pay their creditors, they have less to spend on goods and services. So market demand shrinks, corporate profits fall, investment declines and unemployment rises.

    To mainstream economists, this is an anomaly. This shows the extent to which creditor-friendly views have swamped common sense in academic economics as well as in Congress. It reflects the power of financial lobbyists to persuade many policymakers to embrace illusion over reality.

  • Alex Pareene: House GOP Fails to Defund NPR "Nazis": I was inclined to defund NPR myself when the bathroom radio spontaneously turned itself on the other days and tuned in NPR to spout some nonsense about the insolvency of social security, but then I figured they were only repeating commonplace lies rather than manufacturing them from whole cloth. Besides, what's the alternative? Fox?

    Fox hates NPR for cultural reasons -- one strives to present an objective view of world events in as fair a style as possible, while the other one is a media experiment in infusing everything from a relentlessly mindless morning show to a psychotic Bircher's revival show with Republican propaganda (with one hour set aside for car chases and bear sightings) -- but the event that led to the pointless foofaraw was NPR's long-overdue dismissal of official Fox Liberal Juan Williams, who explained that he was scared of "Muslims" in their Muslimy clothes, and then refused to actually apologize when told that that offended his Muslim co-workers at NPR. Fox gave him $2 million to sit around being a symbol of the culture wars.

    Rupert Murdoch, Fox's owner, has waged war against public broadcasting in every nation where he has a media presence. (His father, Sir Keith Murdoch, began the campaign by complaining that Australian Broadcasting Corp. -- their BBC -- would be "improper competition" to his newspapers.) His newspapers and his son are currently battling the BBC.

    But public broadcasting tends to be popular, so whipping up popular hysteria takes some work -- especially in the U.S., where it's barely public, and it's so . . . completely harmless.

    The piece then quotes from a Roger Ailes rant calling NPR Nazis, then qualifying ("They are the left wing of Nazism"), then having to apologize (sort of) to Abe Foxman for unauthorized use of the Nazism charge.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Another pile of 40 new book notes:

Ari Berman: Herding Donkeys: The Fight to Rebuild the Democratic Party and Reshape American Politics (2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Just in time to neither influence nor analyze the current election cycle -- perhaps just a historical reminder that handing the gains of 2006-08 over from Dean to Obama managed to squander both focus and fervor, opening the door to an intransigent, unrepentant Republican effort.

Timothy P Carney: Obananomics: How Barack Obama Is Bankrupting You and Enriching His Wall Street Friends, Corporate Lobbyists, and Union Bosses (2009, Regnery): Yglesias writes: "I'm continually gobsmacked by the number of business executives in the United States who haven't read Tim Carney's book and don't realize that Obama is just a patsy for the big business agenda. Maybe the White House should buy a free copy of Obamanomics for every corporate headquarters in the country." Jonah Goldberg says, this "is conservative muckraking at its best." Foreword by Ron Paul.

Dick Cavett: Talk Show: Confrontations, Pointed Commentary, and Off-Screen Secrets (2010, Times Books): Late night talk show host. I did watch his show in the late-1960s/early-1970s, and recall fondly his intelligent engagement with his guests, and special attachment to Groucho Marx. His rise was largely based on his ability to cultivate relationships with celebrities like Marx, and he had a knack for making them look good while not making himself look foolish. Book evidently comes from an online column he writes, one of those ways people have to extend their 15 minutes of fame into a minor career.

Noam Chomsky/Ilan Pappé: Gaza in Crisis: Reflections on Israel's War Against the Palestinians (paperback, 2010, Haymarket): Draws together various pieces by the two authors since Israel's 2008 siege on Gaza -- their opening salvo in their campaign to neuter any audacious hopes Barack Obama might have had about bringing peace to the region. Pappé's The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine is the first book to consult from Israel's 1948-49 expulsions on, and Chomsky's Middle East Illusions is one of his most acute (and also best written) books.

Angelo M Codevilla: The Ruling Class: How They Corrupted America and What We Can Do About It (paperback, 2010, Beaufort): This seems to be an important conceptual leap in reassigning blame for lots of things wrong with America away from the patron saints of the far right. Still, you'd think that if the "ruling class" -- all those smug elitist liberals -- was powerful enough to have caused so much damage they'd have bothered to control the right-wing media and think tanks that are their undoing. Rush Limbaugh wrote the intro, as always chipping in to fight the power. Still, you'd think the real ruling class would be a bit chagrined to have been swept aside like this.

Heidi Cullen: The Weather of the Future: Heat Waves, Extreme Storms, and Other Scenes From a Climate-Changed Planet (2010, Harper): Front cover shows, what? A raft of skyscrapers waist deep in rising sea level. The usual catalog of future horrors. More books on the subject keep coming (just to pick titles I haven't mentioned already, and this is far from complete): Kristin Dow/Thomas E Downing: The Atlas of Climate Change: Mapping the World's Greatest Challenge (paperback, 2007, University of California Press); Gwynne Dyer: Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats (paperback, 2010, Oneworld); Clive Hamilton: Requiem for a Species: Why We Resist the Truth About Climate Change (2010, Earthscan); James Hansen: Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth About the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity (2009, Bloomsbury); Robert Henson: The Rough Guide to Climate Change: The Symptoms, the Science, the Solutions (2nd ed, paperback, 2008, Rough Guides); John Houghton: Global Warming: The Complete Briefing (4th ed, paperback, 2009, Cambridge University Press); James Lovelock: The Vanishing Face of Gaia: A Final Warning (2009; paperback, 2010, Basic Books); George Monbiot: Heat: How to Stop the Planet From Burning (2007; paperback, 2009, South End Press); Chris Mooney: Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming (2007; paperback, 2008, Mariner Books); Eric Pooley: The Climate War: True Believers, Power Brokers, and the Fight to Save the Earth (2010, Hyperion); Joseph J Romm: Straight Up: America's Fiercest Climate Blogger Takes on the Status Quo Media, Politicians, and Clean Energy Solutions (paperback, 2010, Island Press); Peter D Ward: The Flooded Earth: Our Future in a World Without Ice Caps (2010, Basic Books). I came up with a big list of anti-global warming books too: Ralph B Alexander: Global Warming False Alarm: The Bad Science Behind the United Nations' Assertion That Man-Made CO2 Causes Global Warming (paperback, 2009, Canterbury); Christopher Booker: The Real Global Warming Disaster: Is the Obsession With 'Climate Change' Turning Out to Be the Most Costly Scientific Blunder in History? (2009; paperback, 2010, Continuum); Christian Gerondeau: Climate: The Great Delusion: A Study of the Climatic, Economic and Political Unrealities (paperback, 2010, Stacey); Steve Goreham: Climatism! Science, Common Sense, and the 21st Century's Hottest Topic (2010, New Lenox Books); Doug L Hoffman/Allen Simmons: The Resilient Earth: Science, Global Warming and the Future of Humanity (paperback, 2008, Book Surge); Christopher C Horner: Red Hot Lies: How Global Warming Alarmists Use Threats, Fraud, and Deception to Keep You Misinformed (2008, Regnery); Patrick J Michaels/Robert C Balling Jr: Climate of Extremes: Global Warming Science They Don't Want You to Know (2009; paperback, 2010, Cato Institute); AW Montford: The Hockey Stick Illusion: Climategate and the Corruption of Science (paperback, 2010, Stacey); Fred Pearce: The Climate Files: The Battle for the Truth About Global Warming (paperback, 2010, Random House UK); Roger Pielke Jr: The Climate Fix: What Scientists and Politicians Won't Tell You About Global Warming (2010, Basic Books); Ian Plimer: Heaven and Earth: Global Warming, the Missing Science (paperback, 2009, Taylor Trade); Lawrence Solomon: The Deniers: The World-Renowned Scientists Who Stood Up Against Global Warming Hysteria, Political Persecution, and Fraud (2008, Richard Vigilante Books); Roy W Spencer: The Great Global Warming Blunder: How Mother Nature Fooled the World's Top Climate Scientists (2010, Encounter Books); Brian Sussman: Climategate: A Veteran Meteorologist Exposes the Global Warming Scam (2010, WND Books); Peter Taylor: Chill: A Reassessment of Global Warming Theory, Does Climate change Mean the World Is Cooling, and If So What Should We Do About It? (paperback, 2009, Clairview).

Carl Elliott: White Coat, Black Hat: Adventures on the Dark Side of Medicine (2010, Beacon Press): Asks the simple question: what happens when you mix medicine with the profit motive? One thing that happens is that you can never be sure who has who's interest at heart. One piece of this business is drugs -- Marcia Angell writes, "Elliott shows how the big drug companies have bribed and corrupted the medical establishment so that we no longer know which drugs are effective or why our doctors prescribe them." Previously wrote: Better Than Well: American Medicine Meets the American Dream (2003; paperback, 2004, WW Norton).

Mark Feldstein: Poisoning the Press: Richard Nixon, Jack Anderson, and the Rise of Washington's Scandal Culture (2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Anderson is little remembered today, but he thought of himself as a muckraking journalist and Nixon was so full of it that Anderson soon found himself perched on top of Nixon's enemies list. That's the core story here. The implications may well be more interesting. Since then every Washington scandal was dubbed -gate until they were cheapened in to cliché, but they've also managed to make up in quantity what they lacked in quality -- the press has become dirtier in more trivial ways, but also the politicians have learned to play more effective defense.

Caroline Fraser: Rewilding the World: Dispatches From the Conservation Revolution (2009, Metropolitan): Reports on several large projects aimed at restoring natural habitat, including the DMZ between the Koreas where humans are dissuaded from entering by massive mining.

Mark Frauenfelder: Made by Hand: Searching for Meaning in a Throwaway World (2010, Portfolio): Editor of Make, a quarterly DIY journal for geeks published by O'Reilly. Book tries to put such interests into the broader context of his own home life. One chapter, for instance, is about raising chickens, which among other things looks like a really good way to cut down on bugs and spiders in your yard.

Ian Frazier: Travels in Siberia (2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux): One of those travel books where you're glad someone else is doing the traveling, especially someone who can dig up the background history and turn a decent phrase. Cover notes that Frazier also wrote Great Plains and On the Rez, both of which I've read and can recommend highly.

Chas W. Freeman Jr.: America's Misadventures in the Middle East (paperback, 2010, Just World Books):Longtime US diplomat -- among his credits, he was Nixon's main interpreter for his 1972 trip to China -- was nominated by Obama for an advisory role on Middle East affairs and shot down by the Israel lobby -- wouldn't want a range of opinion on that subject anywhere near the president, now would we? One of the first releases on Helena Cobban's new venture, a spinoff from her excellent blog.

Pamela Geller/Robert Spencer: The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration's War on America (2010, Threshold Editions): The usual right-wing talking points, wrapped in fabulously great hyperbole.

Chris Harman: Zombie Capitalism: Global Crisis and the Relevance of Marx (paperback, 2010, Haymarket Books): Late editor of International Socialism (d. 2009), author of A People's History of the World: From the Stone Age to the New Millennium (paperback, 2008, Verso). After all the crowing over the collapse of communism some blowback seems to be in order.

Joshua Holland: The Fifteen Biggest Lies About the Economy: And Everything Else the Right Doesn't Want You to Know about Taxes, Jobs, and Corporate America (paperback, 2010, Wiley): Good idea for a primer, but mostly stuff I already know laid out on a broad political level. I'd be more impressed if the author could tackle some deeper problems, like John Quiggin does in Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us.

Michael W Hudson: The Monster: How a Gang of Predatory Lenders and Wall Street Bankers Fleeced America -- and Spawned a Global Crisis (2010, Times Books): A former Wall Street Journal reporter, now writes for Center for Public Integrity. Hardly the first to tackle the big story of our times, nor to focus on the subprime mortgage machine. Previously wrote Merchants of Misery: How Corporate America Profits From Poverty (1996; paperback, 2002, Common Courage Press). Not the same Michael Hudson who wrote a 2006 essay in Harper's predicting the subprime collapse ("The New Road to Serfdom: An Illustrated Guide to the Coming Real Estate Collapse"); the latter is an economist who wrote Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (1971; new edition subtitled The Origin and Fundamentals of US World Dominance, paperback, 2003, Pluto Press), and A Philosophy for a Fair Society (paperback, 1994, Shepheard-Walwyn).

Laura Ingraham: The Obama Diaries (2010, Threshold): By a leftist, this would no doube be satire? But what's the word to describe something like this from someone with no sense of humor, let alone grasp of reality? Garbage seems too kind.

Wes Jackson: Consulting the Genius of the Place: An Ecological Approach to a New Agriculture (2010, Counterpoint): Runs the Land Institute near Salina, KS, where he's been experimenting with alternative approaches to agriculture for close to 35 years. Has a couple of previous books, but this looks like the one where he pulls it all together. Wendell Berry is a big fan.

Tony Judt: The Memory Chalet (2010, Penguin): A collection of short pieces, mostly memoirs, mostly published in New York Review of Books, from the period when Judt was struggling with ALS. With his mind free within the prison of a dysfunctional body, Judt went into an extraordinarily prolific phase. Ill Fares the Land was the first book to come out of this, and Thinking the Twentieth Century is still in the pipeline.

Robert D Kaplan: Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and the Future of American Power (2010, Random House): Further travels around the periphery of the empire, no doubt splattered with more of Kaplan's shallow thinking and fanciful imperialist cheerleading.

Gilles Kepel: Beyond Terror and Martyrdom: The Future of the Middle East (2008; paperback, 2010, Harvard University Press): Having established himself as the most acute historian of political Islam back in the 1990s, Kepel's post-Jihad books keep having to chew up more events that mostly just go to show how unfortunate it was that US policy makes hadn't taken him to heart much sooner.

Josh Lerner: Boulevard of Broken Dreams: Why Public Efforts to Boost Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Have Failed -- and What to Do About It (2009, Princeton University Press): Seems to come up with a dozen or so suggestions on how to make public efforts work even though the main thrust is that they don't. Might be useful to help clear the air, although it might just reflect the confusion: government actually does a lot to promote business even though the dominant ideology denies that it can ever work, while lobbyists have their own unworkable schemes to peddle.

David Lipsky: Although of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace (paperback, 2010, Broadway Books): Transcribed tapes from interviews with the late novelist by the author, assigned by Rolling Stone to do a profile based on Wallace's book tour supporting his touted debut novel, Infinite Jest. Seems like before I would take the time to read 320 pp. of such I should crack open one of Wallace's novels, or at least an essay collection not dedicated to John McCain, but I've always been a fan of interviews. In fact, I learned an awful lot of what I know about American history from John Garraty's interviews with historians.

Jeff Madrick: The Case for Big Government (2008; paperback, 2010, Princeton University Press): Former New York Times economics columnist pushes back on the right's anti-government mantra. Previously wrote The End of Affluence: The Causes and Consequences of America's Economic Dilemma (1995, perhaps a bit prematurely); Why Economies Grow: The Forces That Shape Prosperity and How to Get Them Working Again (2002), and Taking America: How We Got From the First Hostile Takeover to Megamergers, Corporate Raiding and Scandal (2003). I'm sure he can make a case for government; less sure about the poison adjective big.

Hooman Majd: The Ayatollah's Democracy: An Iranian Challenge (2010, WW Norton): Specifically on Iran's disputed 2009 elections, which officially elected Ahmadinejan to a second term as Iran's president despite charges of fraud, widespread demonstrations, and a serious political challenge to Grand Ayatollah Khomeini's rule. The author was conspicuous on US television during the election controversy, and quite partisan. Previously wrote: The Ayatollah Begs to Differ: The Paradox of Modern Iran (2008).

Jack Matlock: Superpower Illusions: How Myths and False Ideologies Led America Astray -- and How to Return to Reality (2010, Yale University Press): US ambassador to Soviet Union 1987-91, presumably belongs to the realist camp. Seems to focus on how ideological blinders messed up the post-Soviet transition -- as Robert Gates shows, we never have managed to clear house of the clueless cold warrior crowd.

Patricia A McAnany/Norman Yoffee, eds: Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire (paperback, 2009, Cambridge University Press): A collection of papers casting aspersions on Jared Diamond's book, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed (2004) -- the sort of big theme comparative study that begs specialists to nitpick, especially once it hits the bestseller list.

Ian Mortimer: The Time Traveler's Guide to Medieval England: A Handbook for Visitors to the Fourteenth Century (2008, Bodley Head; 2009, Touchstone): A friendly synopsis of a century in a backwater corner of Europe, something we're only vaguely familiar with.

Jerry Z Muller: Capitalism and the Jews (2010, Princeton University Press): Tries hard to walk a straight and narrow path of praising Jews for their numerous contributions to capitalism without falling into the usual anti-semitic traps. Then, of course, there was Marx and his followers, and many others who added noise to the equation.

David H Newman: Hippocrates' Shadow: Secrets From the House of Medicine (2008; paperback, 2009, Scribner): A doctor, writing about the art and craft, nuts and bolts of practicing medicine. Includes a section on "pseudoaxioms" -- practices enshrined in custom that may not be effective.

Keith Olbermann: Pitchforks and Torches: The Worst of the Worst, From Beck, Bill, and Bush to Palin and Other Posturing Republicans (2010, Wiley): Recall him as a mild-mannered sports announcer, but never watch his show since he turned to politics. When he suspended his "worst person in the world" shtick recently I was reminded how much my late father-in-law liked that bit. But I'm pretty sure he didn't drop it because he ran out of candidates.

Richard Overy: The Twilight Years: The Paradox of Britain Between the Wars (2009, Viking): The post-WWI settlement was the last orgy of the imperial era, kind of like an excessively rich dessert following an evening of overeating and overdrinking, after which it became awfully difficult to keep it all down. The British Empire was never larger than then, but had ceased to be profitable or even much fun. Looks like this tends to intellectual history, most likely the least fun of all.

Cleo Paskal: Global Warring: How Environmental, Economic, and Political Crises Will Redraw the World Map (2010, Palgrave Macmillan): Actually, war has not had much impact on the global map of the last 60 years: the main changes we've seen are smaller patches breaking away from bigger ones, and most of those have happened without much violence. That the world is in for a good deal of stress, hurt even, is a given, especially given the worst of the global warming projections -- the subtext here. Too bad that one peculiar nation still thinks that war is an option.

Scott Peterson: Let the Swords Encircle Me: Iran -- A Journey Behind the Headlines (2010, Simon & Schuster): Istanbul bureau chief for Christian Science Monitor, has made more than 30 trips to Iran since 1996 ("more than any other American journalist"). Reports at depth (768 pp), giving some credence to the idea that his book is more than headline deep. Previously wrote Me Against My Brother: At War in Somalia, Sudan and Rwanda (2000).

Sally C Pipes: The Truth About Obamacare: What They Don't Want You to Know About Our New Health Care Law (paperback, 2010, Regnery Press): Predictable nonsense given who wrote and published it, but given how lame the reform was I wonder how often they'll slip up and slip in a real complaint, like the bit about how the law will leave us with 23 million uninsured in 2019.

Wendell Potter: Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR Is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans (2010, Bloomsbury): Former CIGNA PR hack, focuses on the propaganda angle but must in the process reveal much of what he was paid to cover up.

Nir Rosen: Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World (2010, Nation Books): Perhaps the only reporter to see all sides of the Iraq conflict, on the one hand embedding with US troops, on the other passing behind and through Iraqi lines. Includes reporting from Lebanon and Afghanistan, or what he calls the "Iraqization of the Middle East." The initial 2003-04 stretch of the Iraq war has been relatively well covered -- including Rosen's own In the Belly of the Green Bird: The Triumph of the Martyrs in Iraq (2006), the best book on how resistance erupted in post-Saddam Iraq -- but the later phases have been the preserve of US propaganda. I wouldn't expect that here.

Richard E Rubenstein: Reasons to Kill: Why Americans Choose War (2010, Bloomsbury Press): Why we went to war, and why we felt justified in doing so -- not sure how far back this goes but rehashing the Global War on Terror covers a lot of the bases. I'd like to see this tracked through the progression (or regression) of the wars in question.

Abdulkader H Sinno: Organizations at War: In Afghanistan and Beyond (2010, Cornell University Press): Barnett Rubin writes: "Sinno's finding should end the current search of U.S. policymakers for a 'moderate Taliban' that can be broken off from the insurgency." Otherwise I can't tell much.

Matt Taibbi: Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America (2010, Spiegel & Grau): The "vampire squid" is Goldman Sachs, the dominant member of the "grifter class" in this tale of "the stunning rise, fall, and rescue of Wall Street in the bubble-and-bailout era." I have a copy on order.

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

George A Akerlof/Robert J Shiller: Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism (2009; paperback, 2010, Princeton University Press): Behavioral economics, the stuff that Richard Shelby hates; the original ideas picked up from Keynes and reformulated into various rules of thumb -- they strike me as realistic, verging on commonsensical. [link]

Seth G Jones: In the Graveyard of Empires: America's War in Afghanistan (2009; paperback, 2010, WW Norton): RAND Corp. analyst reviews America's fiasco in Afghanistan, suggests tweaks to make it more/less bad, but at least covers the background enough for a basic primer. Paperback reissue includes a new afterword, most likely I-told-you-so's. [link]

Jon Krakauer: Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman (2009, Doubleday; paperback, 2010, Anchor): Bestselling account of how a pro football star quit the NFL to join the army for the war in Afghanistan, only to get killed by fellow US troops. [link]

Robert Skidelsky: Keynes: The Return of the Master (2009; paperback, 2010, Public Affairs): A short primer on Keynes, from his most comprehensive biographer, for a generation that sorely needs a refresher course. [link]

Future new releases:

  • Ilan Pappe: Out of the Frame: The Struggle for Academic Freedom in Israel (paperback, 2010, Pluto Press). December 21.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Library Books

I keep meaning to post notices as I build up book pages, but seem to keep piling them up in limbo. The books split into two big classes: ones I own I mark up occasional notes with the intent of eventually transcribing them into the book pages, but have little compulsion to do so because I still have the books handy. On the other hand, I do a pretty thorough job of copying quotes and noting structure in books I get from the library, but rarely have time to develop more commentary, or write introductions.

The following are a batch of library books in such limbo. Lots of quotes; not much commentary. Doesn't expunge my pending list: I've held back several clusters, like books on Israel and books on Reagan.

Will try to do a better job of noting when these come out.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 17348 [17309] rated (+39), 840 [868] unrated (-28). Did a bit of work outside trying to paint garage, but mostly sat here and suffered through lots of B-list new jazz. Pretty high ratings count. Pretty miserable week, making only a bit of a dent, not enough to even think, well, at least that's over.

  • Coal Miner's Daughter: A Tribute to Loretta Lynn (2010, Columbia): Short (twelve-cut) various artists tribute on the 50th anniversary of Lynn's first single, with Lynn herself on the title track, which she hands off to Sheryl Crow and Miranda Lambert. Two cuts from her duets to give the guys a cut, with Alan Jackson doing a more swaggering Conway Twitty. Lucinda Williams is herself, but Reba McEntire, Lee Ann Womack, Gretchen Wilson, Allison Moorer, and Carrie Underwood aren't in the running. Indeed, the only voice here up to the song is credited as White Stripes -- is that really Meg White? B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Jazz Prospecting (CG #25, Part 8)

Should shift gears and finish off the damn column, especially since it's been more like ten weeks, not the eight suggested. Cleaned up the office space enough that I could get to the mid-priority queue, and had to open up some space there for incoming, so spent most of the week picking things, playing them, refiling them. The low-B+ records really have no chance of making the HM list -- I'm wondering if I'm ever going to find room for B+(**) records again, although a bunch of them are still on the done shelf. So I didn't waste much time trying to figure if they might inch up or slide down a notch if I gave them more chance. More tellingly, I didn't give them an extra spin to find something to say when the notes got slim. I stil have 225 records in the pending queue, so this is really just triage.

Doug Beavers 9: Two Shades of Nude (2007 [2010], Origin): Trombonist, full name Doug Beavers Rovira, favors large groups, his previous Jazz, Baby! even larger than the nonet here. Has a lot of fire power here -- Kenny Rampton and Alex Sipiagin on trumpet, Marc Momaas and Jon Irabagon on tenor sax -- which shorts the trombone without really blowing out of the postbop formulary. B

Ryan Cohan: Another Look (2010, Motéma): Pianist, b. 1971, based in Chicago, third album since 2001. Appeared recently on saxophonist Geof Bradfield's album, who returns the favor here, impressively when he is featured, but not often. Joe Locke (vibes) makes a big splash, complementing the piano and adding a lot of flashy depth. Also here: Lorin Cohen (bass), Kobie Watkins (drums), and Steve Kroon (percussion). B+(**)

Brad Goode: Tight Like This (2010, Delmark): Trumpet player, b. 1963 in Chicago, based in Boulder, CO; eighth (at least) album since Shock of the New in 1988 has him returning to Louis Armstrong for the title tune, but in a new-fashioned mode that isn't all that tight. With Adrean Farrugia (piano), Kelly Sill (bass), and Anthony Lee (drums). Starts with five covers, adds five originals, closes "Softly, as in a Morning Sunrise." Not sure that this was the intent, but pretty good quiet storm record. B+(**)

Alexander McCabe: Quiz (2009-10 [2010], CAP): Alto saxophonist, third album since 2001, website suggests he's mostly interested in doing film music. Mainstream, exceptionally fluid and inventive, recorded in two sessions with different drummers -- Greg Hutchinson on two cuts, Rudy Royston on five -- with Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Uri Caine on piano. Most albums like this trip up on the piano solos but Caine really takes off. A-

Joey DeFrancesco: Never Can Say Goodbye: The Music of Michael Jackson (2010, High Note): Fluffs up his organ trio -- Paul Bollenback on guitar, Byron Landham on drums -- to approximate studio dynamics on records that are evidently so earnestly loved he doesn't want to mess with them. Results trip over themselves. The sound effects on "Thriller" are worthless, and Joey's vocals aren't much better. B-

Mike Mainieri: Crescent (2005 [2010], NYC, 2CD): Vibraphonist, b. 1938, discography starts in 1962 but AMG only lists 17 albums over 48 years and he's never registered much on my radar -- just enough to keep him separate from the Maneri clan. Been sitting on this for a while, noticing how far behind I was when another new 2CD set came in. Can't say I was looking forward to it, but that's only because I missed the fine print. Actually, front cover says "featuring Charlie Mariano" then adds another name in smaller print, Dieter Ilg -- the bassist here. Mariano died in 2009, an alto saxophonist whose vast discography goes back to the early 1950s. Don't know him all that well either, but he's blown me away on occasion, especially on the two It's Standard Time volumes he cut with Tete Montoliu (1989, Fresh Sound). Don't have the recording date here, but liner notes refer to a 2005 session with Mariano winded from an illness and Mainieri affect by a hand injury. Title and more than half of the songs are from Coltrane -- the other half must fall in the songbook somewhere. Mariano sounds more poignant than I expected, suits a posthumous album. The vibes and bass keep a respectful distance. B+(***)

Mike Mainieri/Marnix Busstra Quartet: Trinary Motion (2008 [2010], NYC, 2CD): Vibraphonist Mainieri is the senior here, but guitarist Busstra is the driving force, writing most of the pieces and providing the thrust which the vibes accentuate. The others are Eric van der Westen on bass and Pieter Bast on drums. B+(**)

Either/Orchestra: Mood Music for Time Travellers (2007-10 [2010], Accurate): Russ Gershon's near-big band, a fixture in Boston since 1986, back for their tenth album -- only the second since 2003. They've picked up some African beats, and keep piling on the layers like a postmodern Ellington. B+(**)

Jacob Melchior: It's About Time (2010, Jacob Melchior): Drummer, b. 1970 in Copenhagen, Denmark; passed through Brazil before landing in New York in 1994. First album, a piano trio with Tadataka Unno on piano and Hassan JJ Shakur on bass with "special guest" Frank Senior singing one cut, "For All We Know." Unno was b. 1980 in Tokyo, Japan; also based in New York; has two albums. Nice mainstream work. B+(*)

Klezwoods: Oy Yeah! (2010, Accurate): Boston klezmer ensemble, nine instruments including tuba and accordion. Alec Spiegelman (clarinet) and/or Joe Kessler (violin) seem to be the movers in a group full of strikingly unjewish names -- Laughman, McLaughlin, O'Neill, Stevig. They play traditional fare including pieces from Yemen and the Balkans, plus one semi-original by Alec Spiegelman patterned on "Giant Steps" (called "Giant Jew"). Tends toward sweet and nostalgic. B+(**)

Ziggurat Quartet: Calculated Gestures (2009 [2010], Origin): Seattle group: Eric Barber (tenor & soprano sax), Bill Anschell (piano), Doug Miller (bass), Byron Vannoy (drums, percussion). First album together, although Anschell has a half dozen records under his own name, and Barber and Miller have one each. Anschell has the edge in writing, with four songs to three each for Barber and Miller. But Barber is the one you listen to, with enough energy to break out of the usual postbop straitjackets. Name suggests some Afro-Asian mystery, and there's some of that too. B+(***)

Lauren Hooker: Life of the Music (2010, Miles High): Vocalist, writes most of her material, plays some piano (although Jim Ridl probably plays more). Second album. First one, Right Where I Belong, spent a lot of time in my HM pile before I gave up on crediting it. This one drags badly from the start, with "Song to a Seagull" (her Joni Mitchell cover) especially arch. Still has a lot of nuance in her voice. Scott Robinson is invaluable among the side credits. B

Dana Lauren: It's You or No One (2010, Dana Lauren Music): Standards singer, from Boston, b. 1988, second album. Nothing here Ella Fitzgerald hasn't done better, a comparison begged by closing the album with "Mr. Paganini." Good piano support from Manuel Valera, and she's fortunate to have Joel Frahm's tenor sax around. Nonetheless, she dispenses with both for a a "Sunny Side of the Street" with nothing but one-shot guest Christian McBride's bass, and it's the best thing here. B+(*)

Hilary Kole: You Are There (2008-09 [2010], Justin Time): Another standards singer, also second album, different approach: thirteen songs done with eleven duet partners on piano, nothing more -- exception: can't keep Freddy Cole from singing, wouldn't even want to. Double helpings for Hank Jones and Dave Brubeck -- the former a delight, the latter better when he's not doing his own tricky song. Impressive, slow, austere, traits that can turn into a drag except when they're not -- "Lush Life," which has sunk many singers, is nothing less than splendid. B+(**)

Jay Clayton: In and Out of Love (2007 [2010], Sunnyside): Singer, b. 1941 in Youngstown, OH, originally Judith Colantone; started cutting records around 1980 and has, well: AMG lists 13, her website lists 19, Wikipedia says more than 40 but only lists 10. Has tended to work in avant-garde circles, with a lot of scat and sonic whatever, or at least that's my impression -- can't say as I've ever gotten a good read on her. This is fairly conventional and understated, with just guitar (Jack Wilkins) and bass (Jay Anderson), mostly working standards like "How Deep Is the Ocean" and "I Hear a Rhapsody." B+(**)

Nadav Snir-Zelniker Trio: Thinking Out Loud (2009 [2010], OA2): Drummer, b. 1974 in Israel, based in New York. First album, a piano trio with Ted Rosenthal and Todd Coolman on bass. Wrote (or co-wrote) 3 of 10 songs, two more songs most likely by Israelis, the balance ranging from "Blue Skies" to "Isfahan" to "Interplay" (Bill Evans) plus one by Rosenthal. I have no doubts about the drums, and Coolman is a dependable bassist, but the record inevitably turns on the piano, and somehow Rosenthal had escaped my attention all these years. Did recognize the name: he was one of those mainstream pianists Concord adored in the early 1990s, so his name showed up on the Maybeck Recital Hall Series list (Vol. 38). B. 1959, has more than a dozen albums since 1989, including one on The 3 B's -- Bud, Bill, someone named Beethoven. Don't know about the latter, but he has a nice mix of Bud and Bill in his playing. B+(***)

John Lee Hooker Jr.: Live in Istanbul Turkey (2010, Steppin' Stone, CD+DVD): B. 1952 in Detroit, played some as a teen but didn't assume the family trade and start cutting blues albums until 2004, a couple years after his father died. Straight second-generation bluesman, doesn't feel the pain or the worry but knows all the licks, and how to turn them into a good time. Don't have a date on the concert. Didn't watch the DVD. B+(*)

Nobu Stowe: Confusion Bleue (2007 [2010], Soul Note): Pianist, from Japan, based in Baltimore. He sent me about six albums dating back to 2006, and I've been remiss in getting to them. This is the most recent, the one I figured I should focus on, and it's been tough to get a handle on. Quartet with two looks, depending on whether Ros Bonadonna plays guitar or alto sax. The former steers this in a fusion direction, a configuration of unruly grooves, while the latter lets the piano undercut the sax pressure. With Tyler Goodwin on bass and Ray Sage on drums. Intriguing record. Should return to it when I get around to the others. B+(***)

Chris Washburne and the SYOTOS Band: Fields of Moons (2009 [2010], Jazzheads): Trombone player (also tuba), based in New York, where he's the New York end of the Norway/Denmark postbop group NYNDK. SYOTOS is nominally a Latin jazz band, an octet, with four records to date. The Latin focus isn't especially strong -- mostly the extra percussion and Leo Travera's electric bass, and sometimes the brass -- John Walsh's trumpet joins Washburne, although more prominent (and less Latin) is NYNDK saxophonist Ole Mathisen. Closes with a sweet "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans." B+(**)

Greg Lewis: Organ Monk (2010, Greg Lewis): Hammond B3 player, based in New York, first album, a trio with Ron Jackson on guitar and Cindy Blackman on drums. Thelonious Monk compositions as far as the eye can see. It's a concept; just not an especially interesting one. B

Jeff Antoniuk and the Jazz Update: Brotherhood (2010, JAJU): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, b. 1965 in Edmonton, in Canada; lived in Nigeria for a year; studied at UNT; lives in Annapolis, MD. Second album. Quartet with Wade Beach on piano, Tom Baldwin on bass, Tony Martucci on drums (including congas and batá). Nice mainstream postbop with a little extra riddim. B+(*)

David Bixler & Arturo O'Farrill: The Auction Project (2010, Zoho): Alto saxophonist, b. 1964 in Wisconsin, based in New York; fourth album since 2000; side credits include another album with O'Farrill, son of Cuban bandleader/arranger Chico O'Farrill, a competent but often overrated practitioner of the family trade. The point of the project is to do something Afro-Celtic, mostly picking up Irish (or Scottish) trad tunes and rattling them around radical Afro-Cuban time changes -- Vince Cherico (drums) and Roland Guerrero (percussion) handle those chores along with the pianist. Bixler's wife, Heather Martin Bixler, plays violin, supporting the straight Celtic parts, while Bixler plays over and above. Makes for some rather strange juxtapositions, but offers a few surprises. B+(*)

Mercury Falls: Quadrangle (2010, Porto Franco): Group; first album. Writers are Patrick Cress (alto sax, baritone sax, bass clarinet, flute) and Ryan Francesconi (guitar, electronics); others are Eric Perney (bass) and Tim Bulkley (drums). Two songs have guest voice credits. Not clear where they are based: MySpace says "United States"; Francesconi says Portland, OR; Cress has another group in Oakland, CA; Bulkley says Brooklyn, but is also in the other Cress group; guest Michelle Amador also hails from Brooklyn. Could be they think of this as experimental rock -- they list Tortoise first on their MySpace list of influences -- but it's more lukewarm, measured and tasteful. B+(*)

Denise Donatelli: When Lights Are Low (2010, Savant): Singer, from Allentown, PA; based in Los Angeles. Third album since 2005. Striking voice. No original songs, but even the Rodgers & Hart and Styne & Cahn aren't common standards, and the only one from a rock-based singer-songwriter is by Sting, who hardly counts. Geoffrey Keezer plays piano and did most of the arranging, mostly just piano-guitar-bass-drums, two cuts with some strings, a couple with a guest horn -- Ingrid Jensen's flugelhorn, Ron Blake's soprano sax, Phil O'Connor's bass clarinet, nothing dominant. Played twice while somewhat distracted, both times losing me midway. B

Tarbaby: The End of Fear (2010, Posi-Tone): Group's MySpace website explains: "We are not TAR BABY ...... JAZZ is ..... We simply want to hug him for as long as we live." Site lists (in this order) band members as: Nasheet Waits (drums), Stacey Dillard (sax), Orrin Evans (piano), Eric Revis (bass), but Dillard doesn't appear on this, the group's first record. Instead, we have "special guests" JD Allen (tenor sax), Oliver Lake (alto sax), and Nicholas Payton (trumpet). Two group songs, two from Revis, one each from Evans and Waits, one from Lake, outside pieces from Sam Rivers, Bad Brains, Fats Waller, Andrew Hill, and Paul Motian. With Dillard this would have been a tough postbop group, but with Lake and Allen it's something else, and they bring out a dimension in Evans I've never heard before. B+(***)

Jerome Sabbagh/Ben Monder/Daniel Humair: I Will Follow You (2010, Bee Jazz): Tenor/soprano sax, guitar, drums, respectively. Monder is a guitarist who shows up on a lot of records (6-10 per year since 2000, smaller number going back to 1991). Humair's credits go back to 1960 -- he was b. 1938 in Switzerland -- and fill three pages at AMG, with more than a dozen under his own name. Sabbagh is (much) younger, b. 1973 in Paris, with three previous records since 2004. Plays tenor and soprano sax, and wrote almost everything here (with some help from his bandmates). Monder strikes me as unusually aggressive here, like he has a big stake in the outcome. Sabbagh is the opposite, so thoughtful as this is it does tend to drag a bit. B+(*) [advance: Dec. 7]

Rebecca Coupe Franks: Check the Box (2010, RCF): Trumpet player, also sings -- four songs here, voice is throwaway casual and all the more charming for it. Had a couple of records in 1992, then nothing until a Joe Henderson tribute in 2004 -- this looks like her fifth. Basically a bebopper, with the Latin tinge from Luis Perdomo's piano and Richie Morales' drums keeping her jumping. Mary Ann McSweeney plays bass, gets in a nice solo. While I like her vocals well enough, the three extra vocal tracks (making 7 of 14) by Summer Corrie are too much, especially since they don't amount to much. B+(*)

Marcos Amorim Trio: Portraits (2009 [2010], Adventure Music): Brazilian guitarist, from Rio de Janeiro, has at least three previous albums since 2002. Trio with bassist Jorge Albuquerque (who writes the 3 of 10 pieces Amorim didn't) and drummer Rafael Barata. Tasteful low-keyed work, supple textures. B+(**)

Benjamin Taubkin: Adventure Music Piano Masters Series, Vol. I (2007 [2010], Adventure Music): Cover also follows Taubkin's name with the qualification "[brazil]" but we know that, right? Solo piano, something that rolls off my back without ever fully engaging me -- a big contrast I have with the auteurs of The Penguin Guide to Jazz, who invariably dote on solo piano recordings. Brazilian jazz is dominated by guitarists, but Taubkin is a well-established and worthy pianist. All originals except for "Giant Steps" and one by Pixinguinha. B+(**)

Dave Bass Quartet: Gone (2008-09 [2010], Dave Bass Music): AMG lists four guys named Dave Bass: Pop/Rock 90s, Country 90s-00s, Pop/Rock 70s-80s, Religious 90s. None of those seem right here. Pianist, b. 1950 in Cincinnati, moved to Boston and studied with George Russell and Margaret Chaloff; moved on to San Francisco; wound up in law school at UCLA, became a lawyer in 1992, advancing to California Deputy Attorney General for civil rights enforcement. This looks like his first record, reuniting with some of his San Francisco crew: drummer Babatunde Lea, bassist Gary Brown, and tenor saxophonist Ernie Watts. Also features Mary Stallings singing two songs. Nothing earthshaking, but he's pretty sharp for a debut-album pianist, and it's always a delight to hear Watts, or for that matter Stallings in front of a good band. B+(**)

Tomas Janzon: Experiences (2010, Changes Music): Guitarist, from Sweden, studied at Royal School of Music in Stockholm, moved to Los Angeles in 1991. Third album since 1999. Quartet mostly with Art Hillery on organ or piano (4 cuts to 2), Jeff Littleton on bass (9 of 11 cuts), and Albert "Tootie" Heath on drums (10 of 11) -- last cut is a brief solo. Likes Wes Montgomery, including a take on "Full House" here. B+(*)

Chris Colangelo: Elaine's Song (2010, C Note): Bassist, not much bio to go on, has a couple of previous albums and a dozen-plus side credits since 1998. Basically a piano trio with an extra horn (or two) on 7 of 9 tracks -- mostly tenor sax, with Bob Sheppard on 3 and Benn Clatworthy on 2. Sheppard also plays soprano sax on one, Clatworthy flute on one, and Zane Musa's alto sax joins Clatworthy tenor on one dedicated to Kenny Garrett. The pianist is John Beasley, playing his role admirably but the dominant tone is the sax. B+(**)

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Afrocubism (World Circuit/Nonesuch)
  • Anthony Branker & Ascent: Dance Music (Origin)
  • Dave Brubeck: Legacy of a Legend (1955-70, Columbia/Legacy, 2CD)
  • Adia Ledbetter: Take 2: Rendezvous With Yesterday (Jazzijua): Feb.
  • Gordon Lee: This Path (OA2)
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green: Apex (Pi)
  • Thomas Marriott: Constraints & Liberations (Origin)
  • Jason Robinson: Cerberus Reigning (Accretions)
  • Jason Robinson: The Two Faces of Janus (Cuneiform)
  • Curtis Woodbury (Jazz Hang)

PS: After posting this, I got an anonymous email:

competent but often overated . . .you're an ass

Quote comes from the Dave Bixler/Arturo O'Farrill review, specifically referring to O'Farrill. Email address suggests it came from O'Farrill or someone close to him -- was given on a webpage as his contact for booking information. Neither term is meant to be complimentary, but neither is damning either. Competency is commonplace enough it's the bane of reviewers but it's an underappreciated trait in the world at large. I recall a girl telling me I was the most competent person she ever met. I wound up marrying her.

Overrated, of course, is relative. It basically means that other people -- especially ones in positions of authority and influence -- rate the person more highly than I do. Charlie Parker is my standard example of an overrated jazz musician. I actually think he was pretty sensational, but virtually every other critic and musician regards him as God. Clearly, by their lights, I'm the one who is underrating Bird, and in doing so all I'm doing is betraying my ignorance. O'Farrill isn't as overrated as Bird, but he gets uniformly adoring press, and he got the nod to head up Lincoln Center's Latin Jazz division -- one of their records was a slam dunk dud in an early Jazz CG. I hear him play tricky Afro-Cuban time changes, which are no mean feat but they are the norm for his idiom. I'm not unimpressed -- I've generally graded him low-B+, with a mid-B+ for Song for Chico -- but there are lots of guys who do his thing and make better records out of it. So I stand my ground.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Weekend Roundup

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

  • Peter Daou: On 60 Minutes, President Obama Apologizes to America for Being a Democrat: Most of this is taken up by a long quote from Obama, illustrating the title. Daou writes: "The title of this post is intentionally hyperbolic and provocative -- I couldn't think of any other way to express my shock at the things President Obama said to Steve Kroft." Actually, Jon Walker came up with a title even more withering: Obama Again Admits His Health Care Law Is Republian, Not Progressive. Still, the thing I was most struck by in reading the quote was less its timid and apologetic tone than Obama's utter lack of any understanding that he was elected to represent the interests of the people who voted for him. He seems to think that all he has to do to be successful is to sit in the middle of the field and compromise, and when the Republicans refuse to play that game, he just compromises more and more. In doing this he has both betrayed his base and he has failed to come up with solutions that satisfy anyone -- partly because they're too ambiguous to be embraced, and partly because they simply don't work.

  • Nancy Franklin: Jersey Boys: After two episodes of HBO's sleazy, chintzy Boardwalk Empire I decided I'd had enough. Franklin has some clues, but still seems awed by the pedigree -- I can't say that The Sopranos was all that great either. Hideous characters, plastic history, an endless obsession with money even if just to see how quickly one can blow it out. Salon has been suckered into doing weekly recaps, which read as incoherently as they view. Big deal if this is the story of America -- most relevantly the story of how prohibition built empires of crime in the 1920s just as it does now. The Clash got this right 30 years ago, noting how "killers in America work seven days a week," concluding "I'm So Bored with the USA."

  • James K Galbraith: Obama's Problem Simply Defined: It Was the Banks: Opening point, in italics: "Obama must break his devil's pact with the banks in order to succeed."

    The original sin of Obama's presidency was to assign economic policy to a closed circle of bank-friendly economists and Bush carryovers. Larry Summers. Timothy Geithner. Ben Bernanke. These men had no personal commitment to the goal of an early recovery, no stake in the Democratic Party, no interest in the larger success of Barack Obama. Their primary goal, instead, was and remains to protect their own past decisions and their own professional futures.

    Up to a point, one can defend the decisions taken in September-October 2008 under the stress of a rapidly collapsing financial system. The Bush administration was, by that time, nearly defunct. Panic was in the air, as was political blackmail -- with the threat that the October through January months might be irreparably brutal. Stopgaps were needed, they were concocted, and they held the line.

    But one cannot defend the actions of Team Obama on taking office. Law, policy and politics all pointed in one direction: turn the systemically dangerous banks over to Sheila Bair and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. Insure the depositors, replace the management, fire the lobbyists, audit the books, prosecute the frauds, and restructure and downsize the institutions. The financial system would have been cleaned up. And the big bankers would have been beaten as a political force.

    Team Obama did none of these things. Instead they announced "stress tests," plainly designed so as to obscure the banks' true condition. They pressured the Federal Accounting Standards Board to permit the banks to ignore the market value of their toxic assets. Management stayed in place. They prosecuted no one. The Fed cut the cost of funds to zero. The President justified all this by repeating, many times, that the goal of policy was "to get credit flowing again."

    It should be emphasized that none of these things actually stood a chance of getting "credit flowing again": the banks were so far under that they needed to absorb the free money just to regain their solvency and with that their political independence; moreover, demand for credit tanked when trillions of dollars of wealth vanished practically overnight. There wasn't much anyone could do about the latter: the pre-crash economy was built mostly on subprime credit and resurrecting that was out of the question. So there was going to be a hit anyway. The big questions were: whether the brunt of the pain would be absorbed by the banks that caused the problem in the first place, and whether the banking system would be allowed to continue as it had or be reduced and reformed. Obama decided to continue the system as it was, with the same companies, with their same management, with their same lack of ethics, with an even sharper sense of moral hazzard -- the understanding that their bad bets would be made whole so they had nothing to lose by risk. And that's what he got: a renewed, profitable, greedy as ever banking sector, disconnected from a profoundly wrecked real economy.

    To counter calls for more action, Team Obama produced sunny forecasts. Their program was right-sized, because anyway unemployment would peak at 8 percent in 2009. So Larry Summers said. In making that forecast, the Obama White House took responsibility for the entire excess of joblessness above eight percent. They made it impossible to blame the ongoing disaster on George W. Bush. If this wasn't rank incompetence, it was sabotage.

    This is why, in a crisis, you need new people. You must be able to attack past administrations, and override old decisions, without directly crossing those who made them.

    By the way, now that the Simpson-Bowles commission report is out, time to reread Galbraith's testimony to the commission, Why the Fiscal Commission Does Not Serve the American People.

  • Hendrik Hertzberg: Electoral Dissonance: This is the Occam's Razor explanation of the 2010 elections, the one simple fact that explains virtually everything:

    In 2008, a little more than fifty-three per cent of the electorate opted for Democratic candidates for the House; in 2010, a little less than fifty-three per cent opted for Republicans. But, if the mirror-image division was essentially equivalent, the electorates were not. The one that dealt Democrats the blow this year was dramatically smaller than the one that put them in office. In 2008, when a hundred and thirty million people cast votes in the Presidential election, a hundred and twenty million took the trouble to vote for a representative in Congress. In 2010, seventy-five million did so -- forty-five million fewer, a huge drop-off. The members of this year's truncated electorate were also whiter, markedly older, and more habitually Republican: if the franchise had been limited to them two years ago, last week's exit polls suggest, John McCain would be President today.

    For the Democrats to recover in 2012, the one thing they have to do is to get out the vote. This is also why the Republicans are so obsessed with suppressing the vote. It actually looks like individual voters are very unlikely to shift one way or the other, so objective conditions, like the state of the economy, might not matter much. But getting out the vote does matter. With Obama at the top of the ticket, Democrats will be half way there, but it won't be as easy in 2012 as it was in 2008 (even assuming the same effort is there). For one thing, all that hope stuff is balderdash now. That leaves fear. One might doubt that Obama is up to that challenge, as it runs so against his nature.

  • Michael Kinsley: US is Not Greatest Country Ever: If there's one thing Americans won't tolerate, it's the slightest lapse in the gushing stream of self-flattery they expect from politicians and the media:

    The theory that Americans are better than everybody else is endorsed by an overwhelming majority of U.S. voters and approximately 100 percent of all U.S. politicians, although there is less and less evidence to support it. A recent Yahoo poll (and I resist the obvious joke here) found that 75 percent of Americans believe that the United States is "the greatest country in the world." Does any other electorate demand such constant reassurance about how wonderful it is -- and how wise? [ . . . ]

    Some people are voting Tuesday for calorie-free chocolate cake, and some are voting for fat-free ice cream. Neither option is actually available. Neither party's candidates seriously addressed the national debt, except with proposals to make it even worse. Scarborough might have added that neither party's candidates had much to say about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (except that they "support our troops," a flabby formulation that leaves Americans killing and dying in faraway wars that politicians won't defend explicitly). Politicians are silent on both these issues for the same reason: There is no solution that American voters will tolerate. Why can't we have calorie-free chocolate cake? We're Americans! [ . . . ]

    This conceit that we're the greatest country ever may be self-immolating. If people believe it's true, they won't do what's necessary to make it true.

    Most of Kinsley's examples are pretty crappy, like his whole rap on debt denial, and his props to the Brits for accepting "cuts in government spending that no American politician -- even a tea bagger -- would dream of proposing." But the basic slant is true and damn near impossible to escape. A rare exception is one of my all-time favorite lyrics, a line from Camper van Beethoven (from memory, which is no doubt slightly in error): "And if we weren't living here in America, we'd probably be living somewhere else."

  • Paul Krugman: The Soft Bigotry of Low Deficit Commission Expectations: He says brainstorming is easy, then adds:

    What the commission was supposed to do was something much harder: it was supposed to produce a package that Congress would give an up and down vote. To do this, it would have to produce something much better than a package with some good stuff buried in among the bad stuff; it would have to produce a package good enough to accept as is.

    And it didn't do that. Instead, it produced a package that may have had some good things in it, but also, remarkably, introduced a whole slew of new bad ideas that weren't even in the debate before. A 21 percent of GDP limit on revenues? Cutting the top marginal rate to 23 percent? Sharp reductions in the government work force without, as far as anyone can tell, a commensurate reduction in the work to be done? Instead of cutting through the fog, the commission brought out an extra smoke machine.

    Or put it another way: what on earth are people who say things like, "This proposal can be a starting point for discussion" thinking? We've been discussing and discussing, ad nauseam; the commission was supposed to provide a finishing point for discussion. Instead, it produced a PowerPoint that is one part stuff that has long been on the table, one part conservative wish-list, and one part just weirdly ill-considered.

    The kindest thing we can do now is pretend the whole thing never happened.

    Krugman also wrote a column on the subject: The Hijacked Commission:

    So how, exactly, did a deficit-cutting commission become a commission whose first priority is cutting tax rates, with deficit reduction literally at the bottom of the list?

    Actually, though, what the co-chairmen are proposing is a mixture of tax cuts and tax increases -- tax cuts for the wealthy, tax increases for the middle class. They suggest eliminating tax breaks that, whatever you think of them, matter a lot to middle-class Americans -- the deductibility of health benefits and mortgage interest -- and using much of the revenue gained thereby, not to reduce the deficit, but to allow sharp reductions in both the top marginal tax rate and in the corporate tax rate.

    It will take time to crunch the numbers here, but this proposal clearly represents a major transfer of income upward, from the middle class to a small minority of wealthy Americans. And what does any of this have to do with deficit reduction?

    Let's turn next to Social Security. There were rumors beforehand that the commission would recommend a rise in the retirement age, and sure enough, that's what Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson do. They want the age at which Social Security becomes available to rise along with average life expectancy. Is that reasonable?

    The answer is no, for a number of reasons -- including the point that working until you're 69, which may sound doable for people with desk jobs, is a lot harder for the many Americans who still do physical labor.

    But beyond that, the proposal seemingly ignores a crucial point: while average life expectancy is indeed rising, it's doing so mainly for high earners, precisely the people who need Social Security least. Life expectancy in the bottom half of the income distribution has barely inched up over the past three decades. So the Bowles-Simpson proposal is basically saying that janitors should be forced to work longer because these days corporate lawyers live to a ripe old age. [ . . . ]

    It's no mystery what has happened on the deficit commission: as so often happens in modern Washington, a process meant to deal with real problems has been hijacked on behalf of an ideological agenda. Under the guise of facing our fiscal problems, Mr. Bowles and Mr. Simpson are trying to smuggle in the same old, same old -- tax cuts for the rich and erosion of the social safety net.

  • Andrew Leonard: The Fed's Magic Money Machine Annoys the World: One way to look at the past 30 (or for that matter 60) years is that US foreign/economic policy has more often than not been willing to sacrifice American jobs and income to help lift the world economy. Of course, it hasn't been all that selfless for all Americans -- especially ones invested in multinational corporations -- but we've let a succession of east Asian countries pursue export-led growth at our expense, and we've let our own manufacturing base hollow out to build up an excess of capacity overseas. (Admittedly, we've done some damage with our agriculture subsidies, and we get real nasty over those pirated DVDs.) But now that we're desperate to stimulate a broken economy, and are politically lobotomized to the extent that we can't do it the sane way, through deficit spending, we're getting all kinds of flack from other nations -- specifically, nations that expect to lead their own recoveries by selling surplus to us.

  • Michael Lind: Can Liberalism Save Capitalism From Conservatism? One of those perennial questions -- all the more annoying since the only time left parties get a shot at running things seems to be when the right has screwed business so bad the only grown-ups around to patch things up are on the left, and all they can do is patch. This is basically because working people value stability; capitalists, on the other hand, see profits on upswings and opportunities on the slides, including a weaker position for labor. Likewise, the left cares about aggregates, where the right only sees individuals out for their own gain, and they've come up with an effective system of beliefs that blames losers for the system's failures.

    The crackpot ideology of the economic right is libertarianism. Libertarianism and communism are equally crazy in opposite ways. Libertarians believe that it is possible to privatize everything without anarchy, while communists believe that it is possible to socialize everything without tyranny.

    Neither Jeffersonian populists nor libertarian ideologues have the slightest clue about how to run a complex technological society in the 21st century. Why should they? Jeffersonianism is a program for a primitive society of small farmers of a kind that no longer exists anywhere. At least, once upon a time, there were genuine Jeffersonian agrarian societies in the real world. There has never been a libertarian country and there never will be, because the maximum of government authority allowed by libertarian theory is well below the minimum required by a functioning community.

    The true friends of business in America and the world have long been liberals, not conservatives. The propaganda of the right to the contrary, liberal thinkers like John Maynard Keynes and liberal politicians like Franklin Delano Roosevelt have never been socialists or collectivists. With the kindred classical liberals of the 19th century they have shared a commitment to individual rights, private property and limited government. [ . . . ]

    Unlike many radicals and populists on the left, liberals in the New Deal tradition do not believe that business elites are wicked or stupid as individuals. The problem is at the level of collective action. Even if all business owners and executives were completely virtuous and rational, in certain circumstances the pursuit by businesses of their legitimate short-term interests could produce disaster for the market economy as a whole.

    Lind gets a little screwy after that, with his vision of the spectre of Huey Long haunting American capitalism. He fails to note that the main thing that drove classical liberals through the progressive movement to the New Deal was the understanding that private power was a corrupt and abusive threat to freedom that only public power could regulate. FDR created a bunch of new bureaucracies not because he lost faith in limited government but because he recognized the need for countervailing powers.

  • Frank Rich: Who Will Stand Up to the Superrich? Starts with the usual stats about how the top 1 percent took in 23.5 percent of "the nation's pretax income in 2007 -- up from less than 9 percent in 1976" -- something you've heard many times before but like most maths escapes our grasp.

    On last Sunday's 60 Minutes, Obama was already wobbling toward another "compromise" in which he does most of the compromising. It's a measure of how far he's off his game now that a leader who once had the audacity to speak at length on the red-hot subject of race doesn't even make the most forceful case for his own long-held position on an issue where most Americans still agree with him. (Only 40 percent of those in the Nov. 2 exit poll approved of an extension of all Bush tax cuts.) The president's argument against extending the cuts for the wealthiest has now been reduced to the dry accounting of what the cost would add to the federal deficit. As he put it to CBS's Steve Kroft, "the question is -- can we afford to borrow $700 billion?"

    That's a good question, all right, but it's not the question. The bigger issue is whether the country can afford the systemic damage being done by the ever-growing income inequality between the wealthiest Americans and everyone else, whether poor, middle class or even rich. That burden is inflicted not just on the debt but on the very idea of America -- our Horatio Alger faith in social mobility over plutocracy, our belief that our brand of can-do capitalism brings about innovation and growth, and our fundamental sense of fairness.

    Rich goes on to cite the new Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson book, Winner-Take-All Politics (which I need to read before long, but for now I can recommend their earlier Off Center: The Republican Revolution & the Erosion of American Democracy and, even more, Hacker's The Great Risk Shift: The New Economic Insecurity and the Decline of the American Dream) and Robert Frank's Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich (which I have read, but haven't collected my notes on).

    Nor are the superrich helping to further the traditional American business culture that inspires and encourages those with big ideas and drive to believe they can climb to the top. Robert Frank, the writer who chronicled the superrich in the book Richistan, recently analyzed the new Forbes list of the 400 richest Americans for The Wall Street Journal and found a "hardening of the plutocracy" and scant mobility. Only 16 of the 400 were newcomers -- as opposed to an average of 40 to 50 in recent years -- and they tended to be in industries like coal, natural gas, chemicals and casinos rather than forward-looking businesses involving the Green Economy, tech or biotechnology. This is "not exactly the formula for America's vaunted entrepreneurial wealth machine," Frank wrote.

  • Mark Thoma: Why No Financial Transactions Tax? One small point on the deficit commission:

    Why wasn't a financial transaction tax part of the Bowles-Simpson deficit reduction proposal?

    It would raise substantial revenue and has desirable properties in terms of cooling speculative money flows.

    I guess the problem is that the tax falls largely on the wrong people -- those who can afford to pay it.

    A lot of things like this should be obvious but are so far off the table no one thinks of them, while other proposals that are completely daffy, like privatizing social security, never seem to go away even when they've been thoroughly repudiated.

Two things I could have done more on are the Fed's QE2 program and the Simpson-Bowles deficit report. The latter, as you can gather above, is a crock of shit, and a self-inflicted Obama wound. QE2 is more complicated, and ultimately depends on two unknowns: how much and how long it is maintained, especially after it starts generating inflation. It's the one way the government can stimulate the economy without having to go through Congress. That's basically because the Fed is largely free of public control -- it really belongs to the banking industry, the one industry in America privileged to get to decide how much money it wants to play with -- and because whatever extra money it decides to create goes first to the banking system and trickles out from there.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Belated Movie Notes

Movie: The Hurt Locker: Finally watched the 2010 Academy Award Best Film on TV tonight. Politically, the film doesn't offer much, but least of all for liberals who think we might at least be trying to do something noble in Iraq. Conservatives won't be much bothered, because the terrorists come off as evil and ubiquitous and utterly without scruple, and the bystanders are suspicious and if they're technically innocent now, just give them time. The film is supposed to follow a support-your-troops line, but they all look like damaged goods, and even if they were damaged before they got to Iraq, I don't see why we should go around invading other countries just to satisfy their primal urges. The film is constructed around four or five bombs and an ambush, and they all provide the expected tension plus bits of technical sophistication. B+

Haven't been posting on movies lately. Haven't seen many, and haven't had much to say about those I've seen. I think the last movies I posted anything on, back in July, were Cyrus and The Secret in Their Eyes (both A-). Very briefly:

Movie: The Town: Nice aerial shots of Charlestown, MA, although I haven't been back since they built the new bridge, so the views strike me as a bit off. One bank robbery, one armored car, one more complicated caper at Fenway, plus some ancillary violence. Lead actor from The Hurt Locker returns as pretty much the same psychopath. Probably more gunplay this time, but that may just be that they prefer AK-47s and they run louder. I didn't buy the Rebecca Hall romance angle at all, but the FBI is as nefarious as ever. B+

Movie: The Social Network: The founding of Facebook and the squabbling over the spoils without anyone ever explaining why it's worth all the money it's supposedly worth. Works with sharp dialogue -- not least of which is that the technical jargon is fundamentally sound -- and lots of details that ring true even when they're ridiculous. A-

Movie: Never Let Me Go: Kazuo Ishiguro novel. Laura read it; found it "incredibly sad," which isn't really a good formula to transplant to the screen, not just because Carey Mulligan's tear (but not her mope) looked manufactured. More likely the novel has suspense and inner depth that couldn't be maintained or expanded. B

Movie: The Girl Who Played With Fire: Second in the trilogy that I haven't read but everyone else has. Good thing to have seen the first first. A-

Movie: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo: In Swedish, finally granted a one-week showing as a warmup for the new second film. Swedish title: Män som hatar kvinnor. Over the top, what with the Nazi shit, but pretty extraordinary. A

Movie: Get Low: Robert Duvall plays a geezer, set in Tennessee in the late 1930s. He has something bad on his conscience, and decides to purge it by giving himself a funeral/party, offering his land as bait to draw a crowd. With Bill Murray and Sissy Spacek. A-

Movie: Winter's Bone: Set in Ozarks among meth heads, with a 17-year-old girl raising two younger siblings with dad gone -- dead, actually -- and mom lost to the world. Plot line doesn't remind me of my Ozark relatives, but cooking and cleaning do. A-

Bad timing and/or minor squabbles kept us from seeing: The Kids Are All Right; Inception; Jack Goes Boating; Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps; It's Kind of a Funny Story; You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger; not sure what else. Lots of things don't get here fast and don't last long when they do. Only saw Up in the Air on TV a couple months ago -- much better than The Hurt Locker.

By the way, a few days after seeing The Social Network I finally set up my own Facebook account. Been thinking about it, and fretting about it, for a while, mostly because it provides a communications channel with my nieces/nephews who otherwise aren't very good at keeping in touch. One reason for not doing it is fear of getting swamped by the music industry, who already hit me with way too much spam, and had already lined up with a long list of pending friend requests. My rule for now is to ignore everything that comes in from musicians and publicists (so if you're one of them, that's why). May change that later, depending on how it works out. Since starting up, almost all of my posts have been short notices of blog posts. Thus far I don't like anything, don't have any meaningful info public, don't have a picture, don't have any pictures, have written only a couple of very brief comments on other people's posts. Don't know what the limits or parameters are -- I'm tending to think of it like what I imagine Twitter to be, although I have no interest in going near Twitter to make sure.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mark Thoma: "White House Gives In On Bush Tax Cuts": Title comes from a Huffington Post piece, where David Axelrod laments, "We have to deal with the world as we find it." That's evidently a world where a mere president is unable to dig in his heels on an issue which consistently polls better than 60%: ending the Bush tax cuts on incomes over $250,000, which would negatively impact some 2% of the public. It would be a different story if Obama was dependent on the Republican House to end the cuts, but they are already expiring at the end of the calendar year. All Obama has to do to put an end to those cuts is to veto any bill that attempts to extend them, then find enough Democrats willing to sustain his veto. How hard is that?

Andrew Leonard: Obama's Tax Cut Surrender: Is based on the same source and later Axelrod comments, including: "Our two strong principles are that we need to extend the tax cuts for the middle class, but we can't afford a permanent extension of the tax cuts for the wealthy." The lower bracket cuts were a sop added to the Bush bill to make them more sellable, but they are relatively trivial in terms of revenue and relatively unimportant to the people who got them: sure, everybody prefers to pay less tax, but not necessarily at the cost of crippling government services. Obama's desire to extend those cuts always had an air of pandering to it, and that he didn't make a serious push to extend them when the Democrats had big majorities suggested that he might not be all that serious about them. Now, however, Axelrod is insisting that they're so important that Obama is willing to give in on the superrich tax cuts. (Which, by the way, right now include a complete wipeout of the estate tax. Any deal on extending it would be far worse than extending the top tier income rate cuts.)

Admittedly, tax sheltering the superrich is the Republican Party's number one priority -- way above starting senseless wars or beefing up the police state or making sure every nutcase in America has an assault weapon or making sure pregnant girls serve their full nine months before handing over their offspring to Right to Life (TM) adoption mills -- so they might be willing to deal something Obama really wants to make sure the rich keep getting ridiculously richer. But it's hard to imagine what that would be, and it's harder to imagine Obama demanding it. Trivial tax cuts for the middle class at the long-term expense of government solvency and viability isn't a sane, let alone a gutsy, bargain. How about repealing Taft-Hartley? That at least might be a game-changer.

On the other hand, the tax rates at issue here are just one small part of a much bigger problem, which is how to reverse the trend toward ever greater inequality. Progressive taxation won't solve the problem, but it is the most straightforwardly simple way to start. Surrender that issue and less direct methods, like ratcheting up labor rights and expanding educational opportunities are going to be harder to do and less effective. Over the last thirty/forty years, we've let our democracy erode into oligarchy, and we're pretty far gone now. It's easy enough to see why the Republicans have led the struggle to beat down every potential challenge to the rich. The question is why don't the Democrats even try to put up an effective defense of, well, democracy. You'd think that if nothing else some instinct for self-preservation would eventually kick in? If Obama can't stiffen up on such a clearcut issue, I don't see any hope for him. (Although with McCain's latest trip to Afghanistan, still agitating for his hundred years war, I'm still thankful he lost.)

One more thing: we all got a good laugh over Ron Suskind's report about how we're the "reality-based community," but I just reread that line in John Dower's Cultures of War and I'm starting to find it less amusing, especially when you pile on Axelrod's "We have to deal with the world as we find it." One thing Bush's people did, and as the quote shows weren't bashful about, was to deliberately move the world as far to the right as they could. They did this in lots of ways, ranging from making the rich richer to making the poor madder and meaner, and they were often audacious both in their tactics and ambitions. That they were often unhinged, sometimes completely raving nuts, may have given us too much faith in the rebounding power of reality. There is a pretty straight line from the 2001 Bush tax cuts to the 2007-08 financial crisis, but how many people realize this? (For that matter, does Obama realize this?) There's an even straighter line from PNAC's tinhorn militarism to the quagmires in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, but who in the Obama administration is making that point? Bush and Cheney were, as Nick Lowe put it in song, "Nutted by Reality," but Obama seems to be merely perplexed by it.

It would be in the interests of Obama, his party, and his base to move the world to the left: to cut through belligerent conflicts, to build up countervailing power in the lower and working classes, to promote the notion of a public interest and put real prices on the many ways that private interests work against public trust. Obama wants to present himself as a mediator, but the Republicans simply won't take him seriously unless they perceive some scary threat on the other side -- indeed, FDR did his best work saving capitalism when he was being attacked from the left. But he can only maintain his credibility by giving tangible credit to the left -- as, for instance, Roosevelt did with John L. Lewis, who kept the labor movement from going over the deep end by keeping Roosevelt honest.

Facebook Notice

Another post asks why the reality-based community is so timid about kicking reality in the ass:

Tom Hull: Nutted by Reality

Facebook Comment: Lily Allen

Being old-fashioned, I've only heard the whole album -- both of them, actually, the first real good and the second so great I rated it incisive, thoughtful -- you might compare the one speculating about God, or the one where she's satisfied watching telly and eating Chinese.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 17309 [17274] rated (+35), 868 [870] unrated (-2). Substantial rating count. Not a lot of Jazz Prospecting, so must have been a lot of Rhapsody. Posted Streamnotes and Recycled Goods, plus Tatum's column, so lots of fresh recommendations there.

  • African Pearls: Sénégal: Echo Musical (1970s [2010], Syllart, 2CD): A second set following 2009's Musical Effervescence, this one meant to focus more on the Cuban crossings, although it's mostly more, scratching the desert and exploding here and there with percussion and voice -- the best turns out to be Youssou N'Dour, of course. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Jazz Prospecting (CG #25, Part 7)

Not much to show for this week, at least here. Rated count was relatively high (35), mostly using Rhapsody to liine up stuff for next month's Recycled Goods. Should be shifting focus to close out this column cycle. Certainly have enough stuff rated, and for that matter have nearly enough written up, but having a strange time focusing on all that. Weather is still pretty nice here -- today in particular -- and I've been trying to get a few outside projects done, as well as some general house cleanup and junk removal. I make some progress most days and still feel ever further behind.

Michael Formanek: The Rub and Spare Change (2009 [2010], ECM): Bassist, b. 1958 in San Francisco; AMG lists eight albums; his own website lists 5 "as a leader," 6 "as a co-leader," but doesn't include this one (or anything else since 2006; AMG's most recent listing is from 1997, although AMG has 9 more recent side credits). Quartet with Tim Berne (alto sax), Craig Taborn (piaino, not electric), and Gerald Cleaver (drums). Formanek has played with Berne before, e.g. in the latter's Bloodcount group. Starts out on best behavior with light piano comping along with the bass, but through six pieces opens up into the sort of free ruckus you'd expect if Berne were leading. B+(**)

The Blasting Concept (2001-07 [2009], Smalltown Superjazz): A sampler from a small Norwegian label, one of the few that does what label samplers should do: open your ears to one unexpected pleasure after another, never dwelling too long in one spot, moving through a range of pieces that somehow add up in the end. All the more remarkable given that the subtitle, A Compilation of Avant-Garde, Free Jazz, Noise and Psychedelia is accurate. The free jazz is mostly anchored by drummer Paal Nilssen-Love with one or more hard-blowing saxophonists -- Mats Gustafsson, Peter Brötzmann, Ken Vandermark, and/or Joe McPhee. The saxes make plenty of noise, but nothing like Lasse Marhaug's electronics -- his "Alarmed and Distressed Duckling" would wear you down if it went on much longer but is amazing in a small dose -- and Sonic Youth guitarists Thurston Moore and Jim O'Rourke add their own feedback. Vandermark's clarinet-piano-bass trio, Free Fall, offers a soft but far from simple respite. Psychedelia is in the ear of the behearer, but Massimo Pupillo's bass line drives the Original Silence into ecstasy. I've heard most of these albums, including the Thing's box set, but they all run on. And to think, I've been using this as a paperweight for over a year now, simply because it's heavy, and because label samplers suck. A-

Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton + Peter Evans: Scenes in the House of Music (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Pretty self-explanatory just given the lineup; recorded live at Casa da Música -- presumably the concert hall in Porto, Portugal. Cover lists artists as "Parker/Guy/Lytton + Peter Evans" but I thought I should spell that out even though it seemed obvious. Not sure how far the trio goes back -- latest Penguin Guide starts with a 1993 trio, but also lists a Parker-Lytton duo from 1972, and Parker played on Guy's London Jazz Composers Orchestra in 1972. Too much applause on the record, not unwarranted. Parker mostly plays tenor here, but gives the soprano some credit, and works in a little circular breathing. Evans' trumpet is secondary but added splash. He seems to be the serious one in Mostly Other People Do the Killing, with his solo albums and courting of giants of the European avant-garde. B+(***)

Jason Adasiewicz: Sun Rooms (2009 [2010], Delmark): Vibraphonist, the guy everyone in Chicago goes to when they want one. Third album since 2008; pushing three dozen side credits. This one's a trio with Nate McBride on bass and Mike Reed on drums. McBride is Ken Vandermark's Boston bassist, and it's especially good to see him getting around -- terrific player, really lifts this up, just the setup the leader needs. B+(***)

Marcin & Bartlomiej Brat Oles: Duo (2008, Fenomedia): Twin brothers, b. 1973 in Sosnowiec, Poland. Marcin plays bass; Bartlomiej drums. They've recorded quite a bit since a 1999 group called Custom Trio, sometimes as Oles Brothers, often named separately with Marcin listed first. Some are the result of international jazz stars tramping through Poland -- David Murray and Ken Vandermark appear to have been the first, and there's a more recent record with Herb Robertson. Some are fronted by Polish saxophonists -- Adam Pieronczyk is one I like, Andrzej Przybielski is one I haven't run across yet. Aside from a drum solo album, they almost always play as a team, so you'd expect tight communication and balance, but it's still surprising how well this duo works out. The bass provides all the melodic structure and harmony you need -- this never feels empty, unlike 80% of the duo records I've heard. (Not sure how many bass-drums duos there have even been -- Parker-Drake, of course, some good records there.) Helps that this mostly keeps a regular groove. A-

Oles Brothers with Rob Brown: Live at SJC (2008 [2009], Fenomedia): Put a saxophonist in front of the Polish bass and drums duo (Marcin Oles and Bartlomiej Brat Oles) and you mostly hear the saxophone -- in this case altoist Rob Brown, who caught out attention originally in William Parker's Quartet. The brothers tend to be supportive in this role (as opposed to the avant norm of combative), which makes this a good showcase for Brown, an impressive player who gets stretched a bit thin. B+(**)

Theo Jörgensmann/Marcin Oles/Bartlomiej Brat Oles: Live in Poznan 2006 (2006 [2007], Fenomedia): Could have parsed the titles differently here, as all the front cover and spine have is Fenomedia Live Series, the back cover adding Volume 1 (or Volume 2 for the Oles Brothers/Rob Brown Live at SJC set). Both have thin kraft brown wallets, some info in one slot, the CD in the other. I went with the top two lines of the back cover, which are formatted similarly. Jörgensmann seems to be the Oles brothers' preferred (or default) trio partner. He is older, b. 1948 in Bottrop, Germany, plays clarinet (here "bassett clarinet" -- more commonly spelled "basset"; a bit longer with more low notes than a standard clarinet), evidently has a couple dozen records since the early 1970s. He's often terrific here, fast, something the bass-and-drum style facilitates. First time I've heard him; someone I'd like to hear more from. B+(***)

Myron Walden: Countryfied (2010, Demi Sound): Mainstream tenor saxophonist, dips back into his blues bag, with guitarist Oz Noy doing most of the heavy lifting. B+(*)

Geof Bradfield: African Flowers (2009 [2010], Origin): Saxophonist (tenor, soprano, bass clarinet, and flute here), born in Houston, studied at DePaul in Chicago, moved to Brooklyn 1994-97, back to Chicago, taught at Washington State three years; in Chicago since 2003. First noticed him playing in Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls. Third album, with Victor Garcia (trumpet), Jeff Parker (guitar), Ryan Cohan (piano), Clark Sommers (bass), George Fludas drums). Postbop, strong flow, a little fancy and cluttered. B+(*)

Joan Jeanrenaud/PC Muńoz: Pop-Pop (2010, Deconet): Cellist, b. 1956 in Tennessee, studied at Indiana and in Geneva, Switzerland, winding up in San Francisco with Kronos Quartet. Third album under her own name, the others look to be classical (or what's been called "new music"). Muńoz is a SF-based percussionist; has a previous record called PC Muńoz's Grab Bag: Otherworldly Sonic Adventures!. Doesn't have the rhythmic feel of jazz, but does keep a regular propulsive vibe going, and makes for an intriguing piece of instrumental music. B+(***)

Jean-Marc Foltz/Matt Turner/Bill Carrothers: To the Moon (2008 [2010], Ayler): Foltz's name above title, the others (better known) below, all three on spine. French clarinetist, had a duo album on Clean Feed with Bruno Chevillon back in 2005; not much more to go on. Turner plays cello; has at least nine albums since 1992, more than two dozen side credits, although I hadn't noticed him before he sent this in. Carrothers is a well known, highly regarded pianist. The instrumental mix suggests this is chamber jazz, and it is very pretty with an intriguing mix of details as the individuals make their marks. B+(**)

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Aeroplane Trio: Naranja Ha (Drip Audio, 2CD)
  • Xavier Charles: Dans les Arbres (ECM)
  • Jenny Davis: Inside You (Jenny Davis)
  • Joey DeFrancesco/Robi Botos/Vito Rezza/Phil Dwyer: One Take: Volume Four (Alma)
  • Gord Grdina Trio with Mats Gustafsson: Barrel Fire (Drip Audio)
  • John L. Holmes y Los Amigos: The Holmes Stretch (John L Holmes)
  • Stephen Micus: Bold as Light (ECM)
  • Roscoe Mitchell and the Note Factory: Far Side (ECM)
  • Margaret Noble: Frakture (Amnesty International)
  • Lutalo "Sweet Lu" Olutosin: Tribute to Greatness (Sweet Lu Music)
  • Markku Ounaskari/Samuli Mikkonen: Kuára (ECM)
  • The Pickpocket Ensemble: Memory (Pickpocket Ensemble)
  • Mario Romano Quartet: Valentina (Alma)
  • Trygve Seim/Andreas Utnem: Purcor (ECM)
  • Subtle Lip Can (Drip Audio)
  • Jacqui Sutton: Dolly & Billie (Toy Blue Typewriter)
  • Vlada: All About You (Glad Vlad)

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This week's Jazz Prospecting up now. Big find comes from a Polish bassist who noticed his record on my wish list. The other one I figured for a doorstop, but it samples a bunch of noisy B+ records into a useful configuration, something you can play for thrills and not be stuck on too long.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Weekend Roundup

A week's worth of useful links I didn't get around to commenting on previously (less than usual because I tried to get the election crap out of the way early, not that I got it all):

  • MC Paul Barman: The Financial Crisis Song: Wise guy rapper, I packed his first EP for my recent vacation trip, and, let's face it, he knows more about stimulus than I can imagine [cryptic reference: title is It's Very Stimulating]. Looks like he's been hitting the economics books (still needs for Prince Paul to sharpen up the beats):

    Your boy Alan Greenspan does the best that he can to walk away from this mess with clean hands/
    He cut interest rates to the floor and shit/
    supporting the lending of sub-prime mortgages/
    to people far too poor to afford the shit/
    yeah, on the surface sure it seems great/
    giving poor folks a road into real estate/
    but don't get comfortable, wait/
    the payments start to rise its adjustable rate/
    lenders flip em like they're hustlin weight/
    and sell the debt from your apartment on foreign markets, the predatory mortgage started without the hint of a down payment/
    flippin it sounds dangerous/
    greedy investors flippin promissory notes on the hopes of future interest when the borrower is broke/
    this was the housing bubble now/
    hundreds of thousands struggle to fight foreclosure/
    and moreover the big banks take a spanking they came from caked up to bankrupt tanking/
    institutions the world's banks depend on gone like the companies Worldcomm and Enron/
    Now here comes the crazy part/
    the Fed starts to bail em out days apart/
    instead of scolding em and folding em the US government bank takes control of em/
    the same folks that insisted the keep the rates low on the interest and told the banks to rape folks and pillage and make those millions/
    knowin it would fail/
    now they slide in low to control em with bail out/
    they should go under the jailhouse/
    for economic devastatin'/
    calculatin' Lehman, Stearnes, and Merrill's failing/
    but they're out para-sailing with Sarah Palin . . 

  • Paul Krugman: Blame the Whiny Center: Should have caught this for the post-election post, but bears repeating:

    So, we're already getting the expected punditry: Obama needs to end his leftist policies, which consist of . . . well, there weren't any, but he should stop them anyway.

    What actually happened, of course, was that Obama failed to do enough to boost the economy, plus totally failing to tap into populist outrage at Wall Street. And now we're in the trap I worried about from the beginning: by failing to do enough when he had political capital, he lost that capital, and now we're stuck.

    But he did have help in getting it wrong: at every stage there was a faction of Democrats standing in the way of strong action, demanding that Obama do less, avoid spending money, and so on. In so doing, they shot themselves in the face: half of the Blue Dogs lost their seats.

  • Andrew Leonard: The Government Shutdown Deathwatch Begins:

    The current "continuing resolution" that funds all government agencies operating under annual appropriations will expire in December. So even before the new Congress begins, Republicans have an opportunity to put some beef behind their campaign promises to cut government spending by filibustering any attempt to extend the resolution. [ . . . ]

    The more provocative question is in what universe does it make sense to shut down the government when the economy is barely alive and unemployment is pushing 10 percent? My Salon colleague Steve Kornacki did a great job in September of explaining how the budget showdown between Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton turned into a political disaster for Republicans. It's hard to see how we're not due for a rerun.

  • Alex Pareene: This Week in Crazy: George W. Bush: The book promo blitz begins. From the transcript of an interview with Matt Lauer, Bush describes the "worst moment" of his presidency as when, in the wake of Hurricane Katrina's devastation of New Orleans, Kanye West blurted out, "George Bush doesn't care about black people":

    MATT LAUER: This from the book. "Five years later I can barely write those words without feeling disgust." You go on. "I faced a lot of criticism as President. I didn't like hearing people claim that I lied about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction or cut taxes to benefit the rich. But the suggestion that I was racist because of the response to Katrina represented an all time low."

    PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah. I still feel that way as you read those words. I felt 'em when I heard 'em, felt 'em when I wrote 'em and I felt 'em when I'm listening to 'em.

    MATT LAUER: You say you told Laura at the time it was the worst moment of your Presidency?

    PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: Yes. My record was strong I felt when it came to race relations and giving people a chance. And -- it was a disgusting moment.

    I've said a lot of nasty things about Bush, but one thing I wouldn't say is that he was a racist. I actually think he was a pretty decent role model on race issues, especially in contrast to the company he kept and the base he cultivated. He even actually did something about it -- once, anyway -- when he sacked Trent Lott from the Senate GOP leadership. However, what Kanye West charged has a lot of truth. And it's really a nitpicking defense to point out that Bush doesn't care about anyone -- not just black people.

    Pareene adds:

    Former President Bush did not call it the worst part of that month. Or that year. Bush says Kanye's remarks were the worst moment of a presidency that included 9/11. It was more upsetting to hear that a rapper thought he didn't care about black people than it was to hear any number of more serious critics say that thousands of Americans died in order for his rich friends to make a profit.

  • Maxine Udall: Freedom Is Not Just Another Word for Nothing Left to Lose: Written pre-election [sorry I didn't get to it in time]:

    I'm afraid I'm in agreement with Paul Krugman that if Republicans gain control of the House we should be "very afraid." I'm sorry to say this, but unless you expect to inherit immense wealth or you are already in the top 1-2% of the income distribution I think you would be nuts to vote Republican. I base my opinion on the stark economic results of their nearly invariant beliefs and their performance over the last 30 years.

    Watching Tea Partiers, elderly Medicare beneficiaries, disabled Social Security beneficiaries, those who labor (sometimes 2-3 jobs) to put food on the table, and so-called libertarians vociferously oppose the current administration's amazingly conservative efforts to haul us out of the economic crater that the dominant Republican economic philosophy (aided and abetted by at least a few Democrats) has put us in causes me great alarm. It's like watching serfs, entirely dependent on the (hoped for) beneficence of their feudal lord, stripped of every excess over subsistence of the product of their labor, clamoring that more be taken from them and given to that lord. Presumably because someday they might get lucky and miraculously end up to the manor born (or married).

    "But, wait," you say, "this can't be right. The Republicans stand for freedom, liberty, and the American way." To which I say, "Well, you've got a funny idea of freedom." You see, the last time I checked, the US Constitution protects me from the US government. As far as I can tell, there is nothing that protects me from large corporations, except the US government and the court system. And these days, the US government and the courts, largely thanks the dominant Republican economic philosophy, aided and abetted by the bipartisan repeal of Glass-Stegall in 1999, aren't doing such a great job of this. [ . . . ]

    So when you vote on Tuesday, and you must, remember the goal here should be to elect lawmakers who will stand up to concentrated wealth and power by strengthening government and the laws that protect us, not by dismantling it. Remember that freedom is much more than "nothing left to lose." "Nothing left to lose" is what most of us are likely to achieve if the current Republican party's political philosophy regains power.

  • Maxine Udall: The Death of Capitalism:

    What makes this worse IMHO is that the current mortgage morass appears to be the result of capital's failure to observe and adhere to the rudiments of property rights: the proper and legal transfer and holding of a title and a promissory note; the proper and legal processing of said documents to initiate foreclosure; and a level of outright cruel and confiscatory behavior that until lately I had only associated with totalitarian governments.

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Less than the usual Weekend Roundup, but like the weekend comes around ready or not. Links from Krugman, Leonard, Pareene, Udall -- all usual suspects -- and Paul Berman, mentioned here previously.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Rhapsody Streamnotes: November 2010

Pick up text here.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Recycled Goods (79): November 2010

Pick up text here.

One Party Rule

Dion Lefler/Jeannine Koranda: GOP's Big Victory Comes with Big Responsibilities: While most of the country is looking forward to political gridlock, Kansas has completely exposed itself to one-party dictatorship, without even the old comfort of knowing that some sane Republicans were in the mix:

For the first time in 45 years, one party will hold all statewide offices. And Republicans will outnumber Democrats 92-33 in the House, their biggest majority since 1954.

There's a long list of dirty work the House Republicans have been frustrated on during the last eight years with Democratic governors (not that I'm all that sure about Mark Parkinson). The article has some, and a second article focused on a coal-fired power plant near Holcolmb in far west Kansas that has been held up. And they'll gin up some more. (Kris Kobach, our new secretary of state -- i.e., the guy in charge of keeping Democrats away from the polls -- likes to brag about his role in writing Arizona's unconstitutional profiling law.)

Alex Pareene: The Sad Tale of the Democrats Who Hated the Unemployed: This is the link to an article I mentioned in passing in yesterday's post.

These brave politicians bucked their free-spending, ultra-liberal party, and cast votes in favor of fiscal responsibility. And for their willingness to oppose Barack Obama's liberal agenda, nearly all of them were rewarded with early (and ironic) retirement from public service.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Peter Su Letter

Some fragments I wrote in response to a letter from Peter Su which started:

I always value your insights, but the argument that "the left has lost Obama because they haven't done the hard work of continuing to organize to press their case" may not even be superficially true and fair. I don't mean to nitpick, > because the difference may reflect a fundamental error in how Democrats handle "fringe" elements and, by extension, how they mobilize voters.

I wrote in response:

First thing I'm struck by is that I wrote almost the exact opposite in my "Pre-Mortem" post yesterday. What I meant is that the left has to organize in order to pull Obama to the left (or even, more disappointing, to keep him from slipping to the right, since the lobbies are already permanently organized to nudge him ever rightward).

On the other hand, if you try to look at it from Obama's viewpoint, there are reasons for him to resist the rightward pull even if he doesn't have to placate the left. One is that not doing so demoralizes and demobilizes people he depends on for votes; another is that sometimes the left has the most viable solution to an issue, and in the long run he benefits from being right. I think a third is that if he doesn't move the discussion to the left he undercuts his ability to frame a message that people can care about. The consequences of not doing this show up all over the 2010 election returns: he lost (less to opposition than to apathy) much of his base; he got little to show for his compromises; and he let the right frame all of the issues.

The fringe stuff is true, of course. The Democrats want to be respectable, which means sucking up to money and being willing to screw the poor and labor. The Republicans don't worry about being respectable, because they have money and screw the poor and labor. [ . . . ]

One important difference is that the Republican fringes never define themselves against oligarchy; therefore they're never threats to Republican power. The GOP powers can tolerate a lot of idiosyncrasy as long as it never threatens their core interests. Not so for the Democrats, where many constituencies (not just fringe groups) are uneasy with or opposed to oligarchy. That's especially a threat to the professional political class, which is all about raising money. They are constantly at war with the left base because any hint of leftism is likely to offend their donors. [ . . . ]

I'd caution you that all these things are changeable. Republicans and Democrats both want power, and will adjust their strategies accordingly. Both parties seek to be the agents of capital, and each promises to collect and bind (and sell out) a mass of people to achieve that -- basically because they perceive that capital is all-powerful these days. The Republicans have the advantage of no ties to labor so they can be slavish in their ideology. That seemed to work until it didn't work, at which point the Democrats got a break in that they could better approximate competency -- until that didn't work either. Neither party quite understands that capital has some intrinsic problems that will sink them both. (The Democrats may have been the party of reality when Bush was in power, but you can't quite say that about Obama's Afghanistan strategy, or his Israel strategy, or his health care and global warming agendas, or his macroeconomics, or, well, the list goes on and on.)

Poor Nation

Yesterday the American people -- or actually about 50% of adults eligible to vote, at least if Kansas figures are representative of the whole nation -- voted to give themselves a pay cut. The result is that the nation as a whole, and almost every individual in it, will be poorer two years from now, and most likely four, six, and ten years from now, than they would be had they voted differently. Many will be poorer than they are now. A lot of other things could happen, but this is the most straightforward bet. The Republicans in Congress may or may not be as obstructionist as they've been the last two years when they figured they had nothing to lose: given the big "fillibuster-proof" Democratic majorities, they figured why not make them reach? But it is certain that House Republicans will be able to obstruct anything they really dislike, and high on that list are efforts to stimulate the economy and ease the pain of the many people who lost out in the depressed economy. In the long run they argue that business will rebound on its own, and in the short run they won't mind if Obama gets blamed for the lag time. In the same vein, they'll scuttle and defang any attempts to regulate or reform business. They won't be able to pass big giveaways like the bankruptcy and tort reform laws that passed under Bush, but that doesn't mean the private sector will be stalemated like the federal government. Companies will still be able to smash unions or bully then into givebacks, and will slough off more benefits and force workers to assume more risks. And they don't really care much about unemployment: the more people are unemployed, the less pressure there is for wages to encroach on profits. As for taxes, the Bush cuts will soon expire, and Obama can veto any effort (which with the new Congress would probably pass) to extend the cuts for the rich, and the Republicans can hold the rest of the cuts hostage. Without the cuts nearly everyone will feel a pinch; with the cuts for the rich, deficits will continue to rise and take their toll in inflation and poorer government services. Either way nearly everyone loses. Moreover, Republican gains at the state level mean more regressive taxes and less services across the board.

Of course, few people recognize this. Saying so isn't in the Republicans' interest, but it also doesn't seem to be within the mental grasp of the Democrats. They've tried to create more jobs and provide more safety net benefits, but they've only seen that as patchwork. They don't seem to even have the conception that a more equitable economy would be a good thing, let alone a grasp of practical ways to advance such a goal: more progressive taxes, more livable wages, a genuine right to organize unions, major investments in education and infrastructure, a trade policy that promotes jobs here instead of driving them away, making an effort to restore equal opportunity as a national ideal. If the Democrats could only commit to such a program they'd have something valuable to offer to the American people. As it is, all they can say is that they won't hurt you as bad as the Republicans will, and as often as not they don't even bother to say that.

I don't have much more to add. It is sad and pathetic that the Republicans have been able to regain some measure of legitimacy in two years, especially given the way they did it. The Tea Party has been a feast for the media -- lots of emotion, laughable but scant analysis -- but ultimately it polled poorly. But by focusing on the Tea Party, the media ignored how far gone many mainstream Republicans have become. But most Democrats are as confused and inarticulate -- actually more so, because they have to solicit both conservative money and liberal votes at the same time. One thing that is interesting is that almost all of the vote shift from 2008 can be explained by voting levels: low income and/or young voter turnout was way down. That was much discussed as the "enthusiasm gap" but "alienation gap" was more like it.

A few weeks back I thought about writing a post about "a tale of two cousins": I went with a cousin from Idaho to visit another cousin in Arkansas, two women with pretty much the same education, status, work history, income, family background, both living in deep red redoubts. Except that one is hard core Tea Party, the other suspicious of all politicians but lukewarm on Obama and unlikely to ever forget or forgive Bush. The former, needless to say, gets all her news from Fox; the latter supplements a local station with the BBC. But I woke up this morning thinking of something the former said, just an exclamation over something that I didn't even follow, when she said "poor nation" like you'd say "poor cat" when you recognize the road kill. This is a poor nation, indeed.

No need to dwell on this, but a couple links to get them out of the way:

Steve Benen: With Great Power . . .:

I'm frustrated about some exceptional lawmakers losing their jobs for no good reason. I'm frustrated about the role of secret money in the elections. I'm frustrated that there's so much idiocy in the discourse -- people think Obama raised taxes, bailed out Wall Street, and socialized health care, all of which is completely at odds with reality -- and that too many people believe it. I'm frustrated about voters saying they want all kinds of things -- less gridlock, fewer candidates beholden to special interests -- and then deliberately choosing the opposite.

I'm frustrated that, after two years of digging out of a ditch Republicans put us in, the country is ready to take the next productive step forward, and now that's impossible. I'm frustrated that the economy desperately needs additional investments to create jobs, but that's impossible, too. I'm frustrated that Republican leaders seem to be making no real effort to hide the fact that they prioritize destroying the president over literally everything else.

But most of all, I'm frustrated that there are no meaningful consequences for successes and failures. Republicans began last year as an embarrassed and discredited minority, and proceeded to play as destructive a role as humanly possible as Democrats tried to clean up their mess. GOP officials refused to take policymaking seriously; they refused to work in good faith; they refused to offer coherent solutions; they even refused to accept responsibility for their own catastrophic mistakes.

They've proven themselves wholly unprepared to govern, but have been rewarded with power anyway.

Peter Daou: Democrats Stood for Nothing and Fell for Anything:

Over the course of two years, President Obama and the Democratic Party achieved a remarkable feat: they passed significant, in some cases historic, legislation, yet managed not to tell the America public what they stood for and why they stood for it.

What's worse, elected to be the anti-Bush, Barack Obama took page after page from the Bush playbook, on war, civil liberties, gay rights, executive power and women's reproductive rights, among several other things.

A perfect example is the shameful spiking of the BP spill, a craven political ploy that backfired terribly: as Democrats were getting trounced at the polls, BP was reporting a return to profitability.

No one can deny that the Obama White House and Democratic leadership racked up important accomplishments during the past two years, but voters don't care what you do if they think you don't stand for anything.

Glenn Greenwald: Pundit Sloth: Blaming the Left:

Half of the Blue Dog incumbents were defeated, and by themselves accounted for close to half of the Democratic losses. Some of us have been arguing for quite some time that the Rahm-engineered dependence on Blue Dog power is one of the many factors that has made the Democratic Party so weak, blurry, indistinguishable from the GOP, and therefore so politically inept, and would thus be stronger and better without them.

Don't have the link handy, but someone else noted the very large losing percentage of the House Democrats who voted against extending unemployment benefits.

Since I've mentioned Kansas several times in recent election posts, I'll note that it was a bloodbath here, completely wiping out the Democrats' considerable progress over the last two (or four) elections. The Republicans won all state offices, beating two Democratic incumbents, the Senate seat (Jerry Moran with 70% of the vote to 26% for Lisa Johnston), and all four House seats (three open seats, with one gain). In the 4th District, Mike Pompeo defeated Republican-wannabe Raj Goyle 59% to 36% -- a much bigger margin than anyone had expected. (Don't have the money figures handy; Pompeo outspent Goyle, but Goyle must have wound up spending more per vote. In the senate race Moran spent at least $9/vote, whereas Johnston got 43 votes for every $1 spent -- about 2 cents per vote).

Tuesday, November 02, 2010


Voted this afternoon. The room wasn't empty but I had no wait for a machine -- not unusual in a non-presidential election year, but much sparser than 2004 or 2008. Kansas actually has several races where the Democrats didn't totally cave in: the incumbent attorney general has a good shot, and the Republicans nominated for secretary of state and state treasurer are completely nuts. The vacant congressional seat race has been competitive, with pseudo-Democrat Raj Goyle raising almost as much money as party shill Mike Pompeo, but the only votes that seem to count for the vacant senate seat were cast when Jerry Moran raised $5 million and his opponent, Lisa Johnston, only had $5 thousand to spend. The governor's race was Sam Brownback's to lose; while nobody much likes or trusts him his money and well oiled machine didn't blow up. With big Republican majorities in the state houses and Brownback as governor Kansas should surpass South Dakota as the most extreme anti-abortion state in the union, and may rival Arizona for general inanity. That all represents a big reversal from 2006-08 when the Democrats made significant gains across the state, threatening to turn us into something more like Iowa -- a fair-minded farm state with some of the larger clusters of manufacturing left in America. The Republicans can thank Obama for their recovery: first for getting rid of Howard Dean and the 50-state grassroots organizing strategy, and second for shunting Kansas's star Democrat, Kathleen Sebelius, off to a thankless and pointless job in Washington.

Aside from voting, what got me writing about this is this morning's Paul Krugman post, the source of my title. Krugman starts by blaming the Democrats' losses on Obama's failure to secure a stimulus package large enough to turn the economy around. No surprise there, since he's long been a broken record on that very point. Then he adds:

Obama could have tried to warn Americans of a long hard road ahead, and placed blame on Republicans; instead, the WH kept pretending that things were going swimmingly, never once acknowledging that the original plan wasn't sufficient (they still haven't). Remember the Summer of Recovery?

Worse, since the fall of 2009 the White House has systematically adopted Republican positioning on the budget; remember how the State of the Union included a freeze in domestic spending?

Policy on other fronts seemed almost designed to cede populist sentiments to the right: not even a hint of tough positioning against Wall Street, totally limp policy toward China, and more.

On the organizational side, it's still mind-boggling how the White House deliberately shut down the whole network of grass-roots organizing that helped put Obama there in the first place. All that idealism, all that energy -- and they were told to go away and let Rahm Emanuel do his deals in peace.

That first point can be summed up as belief in the Confidence Fairy -- the idea that if the president thought and acted like the economy was rebounding it would rebound. (Or more cynically, the charge that if he didn't, the economy stagnating would be his fault.) That not only wasn't realistic. Given that most of the people who voted for him have been stuck in a stagnant (or worse) economy for thirty years, Obama could have projected confidence and still insisted that we needed to do more. Instead, he yoked himself to all that debt nonsense, and he signed off on the stupid notion that tax cuts were an effective stimulus. In doing so, he crippled his own stimulus package. Worse, he failed to kill off the Bush tax cuts early when he had the chance. And by committing himself to deficit-neutral reforms and longterm deficit reduction without significant tax increases, he shot himself in both legs, crippling any chance either to jump start the economy or to rebalance it to be more equable in the future.

For a guy who's supposed to be smart and savvy, he did some amazingly dumb things. He kept talking endlessly with Republicans, who killed the clock and delivered nothing -- first on stimulus, then on health care, cap-and-trade, his whole agenda. He went out of his way to push programs that had originated in conservative think tanks -- cap-and-trade is a total sop to the wisdom of the markets, approximately what caused the problem in the first place -- and he went out of his way to line up industry allies who gutted his proposals, then put their profits to work to beat down what little he hadn't given away in the first place. The one deal that makes me maddest of all is the one with PHARMA, which insured that health care reform wouldn't touch the industry's profits. I mean, how hard would it have been for Obama to excoriate the drug industry? There's enough excess profit there alone to fund the entire universal expansion of insurance coverage. And even if he had failed, he would at least have defined for the public who the enemy was. Same thing happened in banking, in energy, all over the map. Obama managed to turn the banking industry against him while most of America thinks he's in their pockets.

Back in 2008 the first and foremost reason for voting for Obama was that he represented an alternative to Clinton. As it turns out, the only Clinton people who didn't get jobs under Obama are Mark Penn, Dick Morris, and Bill -- and they, like Richard Rubin, most likely couldn't abide the pay cuts. The second reason was to roll back the Bush legacy, and that too has been a vast disappointment -- not so much because it hasn't happened as because Obama forgot why it needed to happen. The whole point of a political campaign is to put effective arguments into play. If one side doesn't campaign -- which is Lisa Johnston's problem in the KS senate race -- the other side wins: most people just don't know (or care) enough to figure this stuff out on their own; they look for signals, and they tend to follow the side that signals the most confidence and conviction. That's the core story of this election. All that remains is to assess the damage, and see if we can learn anything from it.

Expect to hear various nits explain that the reasons the Democrats lost so much is because they tried to do too much. You should know to dismiss those voices instantly because the Democrats did no such thing. Or more precisely, Obama did no such thing: he repeatedly cut the legs out from under Democrats who tried to do the right thing, and he was conspicuously remiss in defending the party's platform against Republican obstructionism. He did one piss poor job of fighting for his party the last two years. Maybe he'll try harder in the next two years with his own job on the line.

A Downloader's Diary (4): November 2010

This is growing more solid as a regular feature. Did a little work to tidy up the archive area, where there are indexes by date and artist name. The blog also has a category link which will get you Downloader's Diary posts going back to the beginning, without having to slog through my own crap. Michael Tatum has also set up a facebook page which has some discussion and feedback, all the more useful since I've never figured out how to manage comments sanely on this here blog.

I should have a [short] Recycled Goods and a [long] Rhapsody Streamnotes ready to post sometime later this week, plus we had a health-sized Jazz Prospecting yesterday. So it should be a good music week, even if the elections suck. Go vote against insanity today. Then play some good music.

Insert text from here.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 17274 [17248] rated (+26), 870 [867] unrated (+3). Feeling totally fucking swamped.

  • Come and Get It: The Best of Apple Records (1968-73 [2010], Capitol): If the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, it only stood to reason that they could have their way with EMI. So they launched their own label, Apple Records, in 1968, and for a while dabbled in promoting other acts beyond their flagship product. This avoids the collective and former Beatles (not to mention Yoko Ono), although they do slip in covers and soundalikes -- three cuts by their most successful client group, Badfinger (originally the Iveys). Otherwise, a couple of notable singles, a bunch of indifferent crap, and a suppressed novelty, "King of Fuh" by Brute Force (typical lyric, oft repeated: "all hail the Fuh king"). B- [Rhapsody]

Jazz Prospecting (CG #25, Part 6)

Two weeks worth of jazz prospecting and unpacking here. One reason there's a surfeit of A-records this time is that I broke down and bought a few -- I didn't want to miss the Braxton set, Lars Gullin has been a long-term mystery, and David Murray and William Parker are old standbys. If I had the budget, I would do this more often, but given that I never have time to play old music that I love, it seems foolish (for me at least) to spend the little income I have on more stuff I don't have space for. I don't list purchases in the unpacking, which I see as saving me email acknowledging receipt, but I do track them in my notebook. This week has an unusual splurge of new non-jazz as I've picked up a few Rhapsody (and/or Tatum) discoveries as cheap as I can find them. Tatum's November Downloader's Diary will most likely be up tomorrow and he's finding lots of good stuff.

Another reason there's more good records than usual is that I'm in the middle of trying to reorganize my work area, and I've managed to stack trays of unsorted records on top of my B and C input queue trays, so I've been pulling everything out of the the A box, plus occasionally looking something up on Rhapsody. Not sure when I'll move to close out this round -- should happen in the next 2-3 weeks in order to get it out by end of the year, which would be three months since Sept. 28. Have plenty of records prospected, although there's lots more to do. Actually have enough material written up, although it's not exactly what I want.

Hugo Carvalhais: Nebulosa (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Portuguese bassist, leads a trio with Gabriel Pinto on piano/synth and Mario Costa on drums. First album as far as I can tell. Hard to say what they're really up to, since the four cuts where they play alone offer several different looks -- rumbling piano, cheezy synth, deference to the bassist. But the main reason you can't sort them out is that Tim Berne drops in on six pieces -- the five parts of the title track plus "Intro" -- and you notice him a lot. B+(**)

Jason Robinson/Anthony Davis: Cerulean Landscapes (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): Saxophone-piano duo. Robinson plays soprano, alto, and tenor sax, and alto flute. Web bio identifies him as American, but that's about it. [Let's see: San Diego, UCSD.] Has half a dozen albums since 1998, two new ones (not in my cache) out since this one dropped in September -- The Two Faces of Janus (Cuneiform), and Cerberus Reigning (Accretions). I've also run across him in the group Cosmologic. Davis goes back further; b. 1951 Patterson NJ, recorded for India Navigation and Gramavision 1978-90, shows up on a couple albums I've heard by David Murray and String Trio of New York -- a serious pianist I never much got into. AMG lists nothing by him since 1993. Teaches at UCSD, where Robinson was a student. Both players specialize in fancy abstractions, which given the limited pallette and rhythm makes for rough going. B

Scott Colley: Empire (2009 [2010], CAM Jazz): Bassist, b. 1963, eight albums since 1998, three pages of credits at AMG -- throwing out the redundancies, various artist comps, composer-only credits, etc., comes to about 150 records since 1986, virtually all mainstream, lot of good saxophonists -- Potter, McCaslin, Margitza, Binney. Quintet here, prominent names: Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Brian Blade (drums), Bill Frisell (guitar), Craig Taborn (piano). Feels like one of Frisell's Americana albums, only a little lead-footed -- empires do get to be cumbersome. Alessi is especially good throughout, but by now you expect as much. B+(**)

Stephan Crump/James Carney: Echo Run Pry (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): A while back I got a package of 6-7 Clean Feed releases from Portugal; opened them up and when I noticed this one, I stopped, thought about what a remarkable job Pedro Costa does with his label. In particular, I recalled Costa's comment back when I wrote that mega-article on jazz labels: that he doesn't have any special tastes, but just releases whatever strikes his fancy. That's mostly included various circles of well-connected avant-gardists, plus a wider range of Portuguese artists. I've never really thought of Crump (bass) or Carney (piano) as avant-garde, although they've been doing interesting and rather daring postbop, scoring HMs or better, so I was surprised to see them pop up together, and here. The record has the same basic flaw of all duos: limited pallette with no one extra to smooth the flow. But Carney holds back enough to work with the bass instead of runnign roughshod over it, and Crump's leads are always interesting. B+(***)

Richie Beirach/Dave Liebman: Quest for Freedom (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Pianist Beirach and saxophonist Liebman (strictly soprano and alto flute this time) have been playing together as far back as Drum Ode in 1974, and called their early 1980s configuration Quest, a name that also pops up on some of their recent work -- haven't heard them, but two more 2010 Quest releases are Re-Dial: Live in Hamburg (Outnote) and Searching for the New Sound of Be-Bop (Storyville). This one is amped up by Frankfurt Radio Bigband, with Jim McNeely doing the arrangements. I found this rough and brash and rather annoying at first, then had to admit that there is some sharp playing here, with the pianist getting a good airing. B+(*)

Conrad Herwig: The Latin Side of Herbie Hancock (2008 [2010], Half Note): Trombonist, Latin jazz specialist, has previously explored the Latin sides of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Wayne Shorter, so this progression has taken on an air of inevitability. Eddie Palmieri and Randy Brecker are special the guests du jour; old hands are Mike Rodriguez (trumpet), Craig Handy (saxes, flute, bass clarinet), Bill O'Connell (piano), Ruben Rodriguez (bass), Robby Ameen (drums), and Pedro Martinez (percussion). I'm reminded of a correspondent who pointed out that anyone can throw in some clave but that the music needs something more. This has something more here and there, and I'd never accuse Palmieri of faking it, but this seems more like an exercise. Ends with "Watermelon Man," which has been done better. B

Lars Gullin: Vol. 8 1953-55: Danny's Dream (1953-55 [2005], Dragon): One of the more obscure records ever granted a crown recommendation by Richard Cook and Brian Morton's Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings was The Great Lars Gullin Vol. 5, an LP that vanished from print shortly after it was cited in the first edition. Since then, Sweden's baritone sax great's recordings have been reshuffled into a new series, which has been coming out about one per year and has not reached Vol. 11. The sessions from the old Vol. 5 finally resurfaced in the new Vol. 8, along with a few extras that add a second sax (tenor) to a surprisingly light and tasty quartet -- Rolf Berg's guitar is often the secret, but Gullin himself is key. A-

The Ray Anderson-Marty Ehrlich Quartet: Hear You Say: Live in Willisau (2009 [2010], Intuition): With Brad Jones on bass and Matt Wilson on drums. Anderson's trombone is always a delight, as is Ehrlich's clarinet (and for that matter alto and soprano sax), even when the two don't mix especially well. Breaks down into a nasty bit of noise at one point, which may be a turn off -- I'm uncertain on that myself. Otherwise, these are two musicians I'm always happy to hear, doing about what I expect of them. B+(**)

Goldbug: The Seven Dreams (2009 [2010], 1k): Tim Moltzer, a guitarist from Philadelphia, seems to be the main mover in this group, which includes Barry Meehan (bass, piano), Eric Slick (drums, percussion), and Theo Travis (tenor sax, flute). (Moltzer also credited with keys/piano/laptop, Meehan and Slick with voice, although their is little evidence of that). Groove tableaux, mobile, can be compelling at times but also has a tendency to slip away. B+(**)

Tim Moltzer + Markus Reuter: Descending (2010, 1k): Goldbug guitarist, also credited with electronics, still not sure whether he gravitates toward jazz or experimental rock or what. Reuter, b. 1972, from Germany, plays "touch guitar" and electronics; has eight or so albums, more or less ambient electronica. Several others are credited here, including Theo Travis on alto flute and BJ Cole on 12-string pedal steel, but the record is mostly swallowed up in slow, simmmering sheets of silvery sound -- descending, indeed. B

Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet: Natural Selection (2010, Sunnyside): Largest print on the cover is the acronym RAAQ. Pakistani-American guitarist, moved to US at age 4, grew up in southern California, based in New York. Group includes Bill Ware (vibes), Stephan Crump (bass), and Eric McPherson (drums). Good showcase for Ware, especially at the start on a piece by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. B+(**)

Kenny Werner: No Beginning No End (2009 [2010], Half Note): Initially a commission for a composition to celebrate Bradford Endicott's 80th birthday, took a sudden turn when Werner's daughter was killed in a car accident. Front cover credit continues: "featuring Joe Lovano and Judi Silvano with Woodwinds, Voices & Strings." The latter come from the MIT Wind Ensemble, conducted by Fred Harris Jr., their credits comprising about four booklet pages. The booklet includes a number of family photos tracing daughter Katheryn from baby to young woman, lyrics, notes, credits. I don't doubt that this is all profoundly moving once you get into it, but I find the maudlin music unlistenable when sung and uninteresting otherwise -- although there is a poignant stretch at the end when Werner's piano is isolated against faint waves of harp. B-

David Murray Black Saint Quartet: Live in Berlin (2007 [2008], Jazzwerkstatt): With Lafayette Gilchrist (piano), Jaribu Shahid (bass), and Hamid Drake (drums), working under the same group moniker as Murray used for Sacred Ground, but with different bassist-drummer. Murray's bass clarinet gets first credit here, but he plays a lot of really monster tenor sax here in a typical tour de force. The weak link is Gilchrist, who gets two long solos that mostly find me missing John Hicks. Shahid does better with his spot. B+(***)

Bobby Jackson: The Café Extra-Ordinaire Story (1970 [2010], Jazzman): Bassist, born in Birmingham, AL (no date given), grew up in Milwaukee, in 1966 opened a club called Café Extra-Ordinaire in Minneapolis, leading what seems to have been the house band while the booklet her wanders off into other acts that appeared at the club -- Freddie Hubbard, Elvin Jones, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk get sections, irrelevant to the music at hand. Jackson's group cut an album mid-1970 which didn't come out until 1978 and is reissued here as the seventh release in Jazzman's "Holy Grail" series. Probably the same Bobby Jackson released Quest in 2006 and Tails Out in 2010 -- both described as smooth jazz albums, the latter including Tony Moreno (drums) from this album and Bobby Hughes (sax) who shows up in booklet pictures but not on the album credits. Enjoyable record, a little scattered with only one musician contributing more than one song (electric pianist Hubert Eaves), whatever funk intent they had complicated by a propensity to swing hard. B+(**)

Henry Threadgill Zooid: This Brings Us To: Volume II (2008 [2010], Pi): Same setup, probably same session, as Volume I, which came out a year ago and swept most critics although the flute and some dull spots left it down on my HM list. Threadgill is again credited with flute over alto sax, although it nags me less here. The group has an interesting balance: Liberty Ellman (guitar), Jose Davila (trombone and tuba), Stomu Takeishi (bass guitar), and Elliot Humberto Kavee (drums). Mostly works off the tension between Ellman and Takeishi, with Davila cavorting around the margins. Threadgill's flute adds slightly to the mischief; his alto sax blows it to another level altogether. A-

Anthony Braxton: 19 Standards (Quartet) 2003 (2003 [2010], Leo, 4CD): This is actually the third 4-CD box from Braxton's 2003 standards tour, so it should be surplus, but like its predecessors it's just marvelous. Braxton haters won't have a clue in a blindfold test, and fans may have some trouble too -- aside from one improv where he's on home ground, he reminds me of Sonny Stitt more than anyone else, with more range and even faster, or Bird without the dank sound, or McLean without the weird bite, but where all those guys had to sweat to put out, Braxton has never seemed more relaxed or laid back. (And no one else would pick up a sopranino sax and kick out an utterly distinctive "The Girl From Ipanema.") With guitarist Kevin O'Neil getting a lot of room to stretch, and Andy Eulau on bass and Kevin Norton on percussion. Main thing that holds me back from grading it higher is that I haven't spent as much time with it as A records usually take. But you can dive in anywhere and find something wonderful. A-

William Parker & the Little Huey Creative Music Orchestra: For Percy Heath (2005 [2006], Victo): A record on my wish list for quite a while now; finally broke down and bought a copy. Parker's liner notes recall two times he ran into the late MJQ bassist Percy Heath: the first Heath greated him as "Mr. Iron Fingers"; the second Parker asked if he could do anything for Heath, who replied, "No, just keep playing your music." One long piece here, in four parts. Parker's big band can get pretty unruly, but a lot of focus on the bass helps rein in the excesses. And when, as for much of "Part One" they do break out they're ordered enough to be awesome. A-

Doug Webb: Midnight (2009 [2010], Posi-Tone): Saxophonist, album only specifies "saxophones" and he's got a picture on his bio page of dozens of them but I figure him for a tenor man. Born in Chicago, studied at Berklee, lives in Los Angeles; no dates on any of this but photo suggests a little gray around the roots, and he claims to have "been featured on over 150 jazz recordings" -- undoubtedly the most famous was dubbing Lisa Simpson's saxophone. First record under his own name, but he also has four credited to the Mat Marucci/Doug Web Trio on Cadence/CIMP, so presumably has an avant streak not present here. This is a mainstream standards quartet, with Larry Goldings neat and prim on piano, Stanley Clarke dutiful on bass, and Gerry Gibbs on drums. "Try a Little Tenderness," "I'll Be Around," "Fly Me to the Moon," "You Go to My Head"; others more obscure, no big name songwriters other than Charlie Parker ("Quasimodo"). Lovely stuff, the sort of thing I'm a sucker for and may wind up underrating because it seems so normal. B+(***)

Jared Gold: Out of Line (2009 [2010], Posi-Tone): Organ player, third album since 2008, but impressed me more for his work in the Oliver Lake Organ Trio. Chris Cheek doesn't push him as hard as Lake, but plays strong tenor sax, and Dave Stryker gives him a guitarist who can also take charge. Drummer is Mark Ferber. B+(**)

Luis Bonilla: Twilight (2010, Planet Arts/Now Jazz Consortium): Trombone player, b. 1965 in Los Angeles, of Costa Rican descent. Fifth album since 1991; has a lot of side credits, mostly in Latin bands starting with Larry Harlow, but also with Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, Gerald Wilson, Dave Douglas. Group includes Ivan Renta on tenor sax, Bruce Barth on piano and organ, Andy McKee on bass, and John Riley on drums and percussion, with a guest French horn on one track. Most of the horn leads are trombone, which give this a rough surface on top of fairly powerful grooves. B+(**)

Dave Holland/Pepe Habichuela: Hands (2009 [2010], Dare2): Habichuela is a stage name for José Antonio Carmona, b. 1944, guitarist, head of a family of flamenco musicians which include two more Carmona here on guitar, another (plus one Israel Porrina) on cajón and percussion. The guitar work is intricate, tends to pull its punches back into a neat little ball. The bass adds something, but doesn't stand out on its own. B+(**)

Achim Kaufmann/Robert Landfermann/Christian Lillinger: Grünen (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Piano trio. Kaufmann is the pianist, b. 1962 in Aachen, Germany, based in Amsterdam; has eight or so records since 1998, some with Frank Gratkowski, some with Michael Moore, has a connection to Dylan van der Schyff, has a solo album. Landfermann plays bass; Lillinger drums. Group improvs, free form, some noise effects that remind me of prepared piano although they could come from the others. B+(*)

Exploding Star Orchestra: Stars Have Shapes (2010, Delmark): Rob Mazurek big group, not really a big band given no sense of sections: one cornet (Mazurek), one trombone (Jeb Bishop), three reeds (Matt Bauder on clarinet and tenor sax, Jason Stein on bass clarinet, Greg Ward on alto sax) plus flute (Nicole Mitchell), double up on bass (Matthew Lux and Josh Abrams) and drums (John Herndon and Mike Reed, plus Carrie Biolo percussion); also piano (Jeff Kowalkowski), vibes (Jason Adasiewicz), "word rocker" (Damon Locks), and various "electro-acoustic constructions" (Mazurek's main interest -- "rain from the Brazilian Amazon, insects at the turn of an eclipse, the hammering overdrive of bicycles in Copenhagen, stacked muted cornets run through various filters drones built from electric eels and piano feedback, hi-frequency sinuous lines from tone generators, pitched bass guitars, and other prepared instruments"). Dedicated "in memory of Bill Dixon and Fred Anderson," who've livened up previous group albums, something missing here. Played it three times and am still not sure what I think. [B+(**)]

Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet + 1: 3 Nights in Oslo (2009 [2010], Smalltown Superjazz, 5CD): Only two discs feature the whole loud and boisterous group. I've gotten to where I enjoy the jolt of energy they provide, but anyone with reservations about free jazz noise will want to stay clear. The front line is the reed section: Brötzmann (tarogato, clarinet, tenor and alto sax), Ken Vandermark (clarinet, tenor sax), Mats Gustafsson (alto flutophone, baritone sax), and Joe McPhee (tenor sax, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn). The brass is pure brawn, with two trombones (Jeb Bishop and Johannes Bauer) and Per Ĺke Holmlander on tuba and cimbasso. Fred Lonberg-Holm's cello and electronics spruce up Kent Kessler's bull fiddle. And the two drummers, Michael Zerang and Paal Nilssen-Love, play with the band. The middle three discs are slightly less intense as they spotlight subsets of the group: Gustafsson/Brötzmann/Vandermark (aka Sonore), Zerang/Nilssen-Love, Bauer/Holmlander, McPhee/Vandermark, Bishop/Paal-Nilssen, McPhee/Londberg-Holm/Zerang (Survival Unit III), McPhee/Holmlander/Bauer/Bishop (Trombone Choir). B+(***)

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

The Wynton Marsalis Quintet & Richard Galliano: From Billie Holiday to Edith Piaf: Live in Marciac (2008 [2010], Rampart Street Music): Live in France, kicked out on a vanity label -- don't know whether that means that Marsalis is through with Blue Note or this is just too low concept to bother them with. Accordionist Galliano arranged the pieces. A binational singers tribute sounds like the sort of idea Marsalis would have come up with, but neither party brought a singer -- just as well, I'm sure -- so what we get is a standards roast. "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" is done so boisterously it trips over the top, but most of the material holds together better, especially the closing "La Vie en Rose." B+(*) [Rhapsody]

The Bad Plus: Never Stop (2010, E1 Entertainment): Piano trio, debuted in 2000 as a semi-supergroup after bassist Reid Anderson and pianist Ethan Iverson had knocked off several super albums for Spain's Fresh Sound New Talent label. Third member is drummer Dave King, whose Happy Apple albums started in 1997 and have continued at least through 2007. First two Columbia albums at least had the posture of a breakthrough arena act as opposed to the chambers and clubs and cocktail bars most piano trios aim for, and drove the point home with innovative covers of classic rock. Since then, they've wavered and wandered (including a dud last one, wonder if that has anything to do with why I'm not on the mailing list?). In some ways this feels like a return to form, but all originals -- if you're scoring at home: Anderson 5, King 3, Iverson 2 -- some muscling up and modulating the volume, some rollicking out, some just schmoozy. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Grant Stewart: Around the Corner (2010, Sharp Nine): Retro tenors saxophonist, b. 1971, close to a dozen albums since 1992, has developed a very clean sound, easy swinging, especially with Peter Washington on bass, Phil Stewart on drums, and Peter Bernstein on guitar. He's never swept me away like Scott Hamilton or Harry Allen, but this is a very steady, quite likable album -- good showcase for Bernstein too. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

The Pizzarelli Boys: Desert Island Dreamers (2009 [2010], Arbors): Guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli and family, sons John (guitar, vocals), and Martin (bass), with Larry Fuller (piano), Aaron Weinstein (violin), and Tony Tedesco (drums), plus a Jessica Molaskey vocal at the end ("Danny Boy"). Second album under this moniker, sandwiched around their PIZZArelli Party with lots of Arbors All-Stars, although Bucky and John have a bunch of duets, Martin has been sitting in with either or both, and Weinstein's practically adopted. Gentle swing, mostly coddling standards that aren't up for anything harder -- "Over the Rainbow" is a nice one; "Stairway to Heaven" barely kicks into second gear, and "Danny Boy" is even slower. B [Rhapsody]

"Buck" Pizzarelli and the West Texas Tumbleweeds: Diggin' Up Bones (2009, Arbors): Bucky, of course, the most straightforward of the nicknames the band adopted -- his sons "Rusty Pickins" and "Marty Moose," along with fellow travelers like Hoss [Aaron] Weinstein and Dusty Spurs [Tommy] White. Leans toward western swing, starting up with "Right or Wrong" and returning now and then, but also picking up "Your Cheating Heart" and "Ghost Riders in the Sky" and "Act Naturally" and "Promised Land." Three Pizzarelli originals -- probably John's, who sings the witty "Ain't Oklahoma Pretty." Rebecca Kilgore leads with six vocals, Andy Levas five, and Joe West two, and Jessica Molaskey fills in some background. Lots of fiddle and pedal steel in this Jersey hoedown. Group has an encore not up yet, called -- what else? -- Back in the Saddle Again. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Unpacking: Found in the mail the last two weeks:

  • Vijay Anderson: Hardboiled Wonder Land (Not Two)
  • Ehud Asherie: Organic (Posi-Tone)
  • The Books: The Way Out (Temporary Residence): advance
  • Amy Briggs: Tangos for Piano (Ravello)
  • Henry Brun and the Latin Playerz: 20th Anniversary (Rockport): Nov. 30
  • John Burnett Orchestra/Buddy De Franco: Down for Double (Delmark)
  • Chaise Lounge: Symphony Lounge (Big Round)
  • Chris Dahlgren: Mystic Maze & Lexicon (Jazzwerkstatt)
  • Paquito D'Rivera: Panamericana Suite (MCG Jazz)
  • Brian Drye: Bizingas (NCM East): Dec. 7
  • The Lou Grassi Po Band with Marshall Allen: Live at the Knitting Factory Volume 1 (Porter)
  • Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica: Presents . . . The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel (Tiki)
  • Eero Koisistoinen & Co.: 3rd Version (Porter)
  • Boris Kozlov: Double Standard (Borisbass)
  • The Microscopic Septet: Friday the Thirteenth: The Micros Play Monk (Cuneiform)
  • Mikrokolektyw: Dew Point (Delmark, DVD)
  • Leslie Pintchik: We're Here to Listen (Pintch Hard)
  • Leslie Pintchik Quartet: Live in Concert (Pintch Hard, DVD+CD)
  • Ana Popovic Band: Live From the Heart of Italy (Artistexclusive, DVD)
  • Jason Robinson: The Two Faces of Janus (Cuneiform)
  • John Scofield: New Morning: The Paris Concert (Inakustik, DVD)
  • Wadada Leo Smith and Ed Blackwell: The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer (1986, Kabell)
  • Robert Wyatt/Gilad Atzmon/Ros Stephen: For the Ghosts Within (Domino): Nov. 9


  • Belle and Sebastian: Write About Love (Matador)
  • Bob Dylan: The Witmark Demos: 1962-1964 [The Bootleg Series, Vol. 9] (Columbia/Legacy, 2CD)
  • Bruno Mars: Doo-Wops & Hooligans (Elektra)
  • Old 97's: The Grand Theatre: Volume One (New West)
  • Liz Phair: Funstyle (Rocket Science Ventures)
  • Shakira: Sale el Sol (Sony Latin Music/Epic)
  • Taylor Swift: Speak Now (Big Machine)

Oct 2010 Dec 2010