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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Pazz & Jop List: Teen Pop, Hip-Hop, and Free Jazz

Ten best albums of 2010? This is what my Pazz & Jop ballot finally looked like:

  1. Billy Bang: Prayer for Peace (TUM) 13
  2. Rudresh Mahanthappa/Steve Lehman: Dual Identity (Clean Feed) 11
  3. Robyn: Body Talk (Konichiwa/Cherrytree/Interscope) 10
  4. V.V. Brown: Travelling Like the Light (Capitol) 10
  5. Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra: Ashcan Rantings (Clean Feed, 2CD) 10
  6. Bruno Mars: Doo-Wops & Hooligans (Elektra) 10
  7. Dessa: A Badly Broken Code (Doomtree) 9
  8. William Parker: I Plan to Stay a Believer: The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield (AUM Fidelity, 2CD) 9
  9. Big Boi: Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (Def Jam) 9
  10. The Roots: How I Got Over (Def Jam) 9

I've been real stingy with full-A grades over the last few years, so I opened up a bit this year: part of the definition always has been a record that sticks with you, and I don't have much time for that on the fly. So I've been replaying a lot of things, and Wound up with 14: two more jazz records and two non-jazz:

  1. Vampire Weekend: Contra (XL)
  2. The Mark Lomax Trio: The State of Black America (Inarhyme)
  3. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella)
  4. Angles: Epileptical West: Live in Coimbra (Clean Feed)

I usually don't bother with the Singles list, but noted a few things along the way, and crammed in a couple items from friendly lists. Can't swear this is close to what I'd come up with if I gave it some serious effort, but I figured this was good enough for a ballot:

  1. Laurie Anderson: "Only an Expert" (Homeland, Nonesuch)
  2. Everyone Was in the French Resistance . . . Now!: "Creeque Allies" (Fixin' the Carts, Vol. 1, Cooking Vinyl)
  3. Taylor Swift: "Mean" (Speak Now, Big Machine)
  4. T.I.: "Big Picture" (No Mercy, Grand Hustle)
  5. M.I.A.: "Born Free" (Maya, XL/Interscope)
  6. Kanye West: "Runaway" (My Dark Twisted Fantasy, Roc-A-Fella)
  7. Liz Phair: "Bollywood" (Funstyle, Rocken Science Ventures)
  8. Belle and Sebastian: "I Didn't See It Coming" (Write About Love, Matador)
  9. Girls: "Oh So Protective One" (Broken Dreams Club, True Panther Sounds)
  10. Lyrics Born: "Kontrol Freak" (As U Were, Decon)

To squeeze those in I left out any songs from top-ten albums, which knocked out a couple apiece from Robyn and V.V. Brown, perhaps three from Bruno Mars, and who knows what from Big Boi (well, "Shutterbug" for sure) and the Roots. Maybe should have dug into Vampire Weekend for a song -- Tatum voted for "Cousins," which is pretty good but got cut, along with Christgau's recommendation of Elizabeth Cook's "El Camino" (not as powerful as "Heroin Addict Sister" but remarkable in its own right.

My 2010 file currently lists 112 A- or better new albums, which is coincidentally exactly the same as my 2009 file wound up with. I'll keep adding late discoveries up to the end of 2011, so it's likely to grow a bit. The division between jazz and non-jazz is also similar. On the other hand, I've hit a lot more non-jazz on the fly this year, and I've put a lot of effort into this year's metacritic file, I wonder how many more surprises await. Some, no doubt. But looking at the metacritic file, the big one I haven't heard is Joanna Newsom's Have One on Me, which I never figured for much of a candidate. Other things I haven't heard, descending the list: Tame Impala (Innerspeaker), Twin Shadow (Forget), Band of Horses (Infinite Arms), Wild d Nothing (Gemini), New Pornographers (Together), Menomena (Mines), Avi Buffalo (Avi Buffalo), Morning Benders (Big Echo), Glasser (Ring), Deftones (Diamond Eyes), Mount Kimbie (Crooks & Lovers), Wolf Parade (Expo 86), Midlake (The Courage of Others), Women (Public Strain), Emeralds (Does It Look Like I'm Here?), Villagers (Becoming a Jackal), Girl Talk (All Day), Bruce Springsteen (The Promise), How to Dress Well (Love Remains), Toro y Moi (Causers of This), Perfume Genius (Learning), Two Door Cinema Club (Tourist History), Dr Dog (Shame, Shame). Sooner or later I'll check some of them out, but the metacritic list actually doesn't have much predictive value as to what I like. Even excluding jazz, which doesn't poll well even though I lean that way, I'm finding 21 of my A- records down in the dregs with fewer than 10 mentions, which is about 36% of my non-jazz A-list. Raising the line to 20 mentions adds 14 more records, so now we're up to about 61% of my A-list falling outside of the 270 top-polling albums of the year.

I've already broken out the jazz subset from my year-end list here, so let's look at the non-jazz here:

  1. Robyn: Body Talk (Konichiwa/Cherrytree/Interscope)
  2. V.V. Brown: Travelling Like the Light (Capitol)
  3. Bruno Mars: Doo-Wops & Hooligans (Elektra)
  4. Dessa: A Badly Broken Code (Doomtree)
  5. Big Boi: Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty (Def Jam)
  6. The Roots: How I Got Over (Def Jam)
  7. Vampire Weekend: Contra (XL)
  8. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella)
  9. Youssou N'Dour: I Bring What I Love (Nonesuch)
  10. M.I.A.: Maya (XL/Interscope)
  11. Cornershop: Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast (Ample Play)
  12. The Whitefield Brothers: Earthology (Now-Again)
  13. Dyan Valdés/Eddie Argos: Fixin' the Charts, Vol. 1: Everybody Was in the French Resistance . . . Now! (Cooking Vinyl)
  14. Manu Chao: Radio Bemba: Baionarena Live (Nacional/Because, 2CD) **
  15. Elizabeth Cook: Welder (Thirty One Tigers) **
  16. Arcade Fire: The Suburbs (Merge)
  17. The National: High Violet (4AD)
  18. The Books: The Way Out (Temporary Residence)
  19. El Guincho: Pop Negro (Young Turks/XL)
  20. Taylor Swift: Speak Now (Big Machine)
  21. Jenny and Johnny: I'm Having Fun Now (Warner Brothers)
  22. Belle and Sebastian: Write About Love (Matador)
  23. Macy Gray: The Sellout (Concord) **
  24. The Hold Steady: Heaven Is Whenever (Vagrant)
  25. Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip: The Logic of Chance (Sunday Best) **
  26. Gogol Bordello: Trans-Continental Hustle (American)
  27. Lyrics Born: As U Were (Decon) **
  28. Tom Zé: Estudando a Bossa: Nordeste Plaza (Luaka Bop) **
  29. No Age: Everything in Between (Sub Pop) **
  30. Shad: TSOL (Decon)
  31. Reflection Eternal [Talib Kweli + Hi-Tek]: Revolutions Per Minute (Warner Brothers) **
  32. Nicki Minaj: Pink Friday (Universal Motown)
  33. Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music From South Africa (Honest Jons)
  34. Of Montreal: False Priest (Polyvinly) **
  35. Shakira: Sale el Sol (Sony Latin Music/Epic)
  36. Scissor Sisters: Night Work (Downtown) **
  37. LoneLady: Nerve Up (Warp) **
  38. T.I.: No Mercy (Grand Hustle) **
  39. Konono No. 1: Assume Crash Position (Crammed Discs) **
  40. Sierra Leone's Refugee All Stars: Rise & Shine (Cumbancha)
  41. The-Dream: Love King (Def Jam)
  42. Richard Thompson: Dream Attic (Shout! Factory) **
  43. King Sunny Ade: Bábá Mo Túndé (Indigedisc, 2CD) **
  44. Steve Reich: Double Sextet/2x5 (Nonesuch) **
  45. The Soft Pack (Kemado) **
  46. The Apples in Stereo: Travellers in Space and Time (Yep Roc) **
  47. Ghostface Killah: Apollo Kids (Def Jam) **
  48. Chromeo: Business Casual (Big Beat) **
  49. Burkina Electric: Paspanga (Cantaloupe)
  50. Kate Nash: My Best Friend Is You (Geffen) **
  51. Zs: New Slaves (The Social Registry) **
  52. Loudon Wainwright III: 10 Songs for the New Depression (Second Story Sound) **
  53. Jon Langford & Skull Orchard: Old Devils (Bloodshot) **
  54. Sage Francis: Li(f)e (Anti-) **
  55. Shelby Lynne: Tears, Lies and Alibies (Everso) **
  56. Liz Phair: Funstyle (Rocket Science Ventures)
  57. The Magnetic Fields: Realism (Nonesuch)

Of course, a bunch (25, 44%) of those records I only know through Rhapsody (they're indicated **). A couple of those may be overrated a bit (Langford? Lynne? Sage Francis?) although most of the ones I recheck hold steady or maybe inch up a bit. (LCD Soundsystem improved a notch, but is still well short of my list. Deadbeat, Eskmo, and Holy Fuck are just off the list.)

I tried breaking out a genre list but a lot of the records are near one border or another. The top three are blatant teen pop, but nothing else obviously fits that mold. I count 12 hip-hop albums, split 7-5 between majors and underground fringe (dividing line is between Talib Kweli and Lyrics Born), plus there are two r&b singers. Rock is a mess: 20 albums, some respectable alt-indie groups, most scattered all over the map. I tallied 4 electronica, but all incorporate world beats and more (MIA, Cornershop, Whitefield Brothers, El Guincho); Zs is the only pure electronics album, which I figured as noise rock. Ten world (counting Gogol Bordello but not MIA or Cornershop), six of those from Africa (more if I worked compilations in). Five country and folk (unless Jon Langford makes six), but only Taylor Swift is likely to sell out in Nashville.

The common denominator, as usual, is beats and brains. Or, as I summed up my ballot: teen pop, hip-hop, and free jazz. Works for me. One thing I will add is that the alt-indie rock critical consensus lurched back toward normal this year. You may remember that last year's polls were dominated by Phoenix/Animal Collective/Grizzly Bear/Dirty Projectors -- a melange that I found bewilderingly, unnervingly unlistenable, and worse: they felt like a generation gap suddenly opened, where I could no longer grasp what turned young rock critics on. Those groups may bounce back again, but were blessedly absent this year. (The closest on the metacritic list this year is Yeasayer at 16, or maybe -- my memory is mostly gone here -- Ariel Pink at 13.) Instead, three of the top six rock records (Arcade Fire, National, and Vampire Weekend) are quite good, and the others are far from bad (Deerhunter, LCD Soundsystem, Beach House). Even the bad records in the next couple dozen slots are bad in relatively ordinary ways. I feel like I'm back in touch.

As usual, electronica is hard to gauge this year. I don't quite buy that LCD Soundsystem or Caribou even qualify. Many of the records that specialists recommend are unavailable on Rhapsody (Mount Kimbie, Emeralds, Actress, Oneohtrix Point Never, Autechre, and Forest Swords come to mind), and even when they are I'm rarely convinced by one play. It does not appear to have been a very good year for country, either in its Nashville or Americana forms. The hip-hop list doesn't strike me as very deep but it's pretty shiny at the top, and some good records dropped so late they barely registered at all (Ghostface Killah, TI, barely on the cusp Nicki Minaj). Not much underground has surfaced yet either, although that stuff tends to have a real low profile.

The one other thing that's missing here compared to most recent years' lists is the relative absence of old farts from my heyday, like Leonard Cohen and Willie Nelson last year. (Guess you could point to repeater Loudon Wainwright III, or to Richard Thompson, maybe even Jon Langford, but they're pretty far down the list.) That's probably a blip, as I also note that old-timers did well on the world front (Tom Zé, King Sunny Ade, Youssou N'Dour), and for that matter wherever you want to file Steve Reich.

Like most years, there was much to find if you dig deep enough and follow the clues. There's no need to wind up with a perfectly ordinary record like the Black Keys' on your playlist, let alone something as deadly dull as the Walkmen put out.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Village Voice Jazz Critics Poll

The 2010 Village Voice's Jazz Critics Poll has been published. Major links:

I just published a Jazz Consumer Guide which recognized three of the top four finishers as . . . honorable mentions. Got a comment on the Voice website that chided me for underrating poll winner Jason Moran's Ten, claiming it was the best piano trio in many years. Francis Davis belatedly got into the act, writing: "It's an extremely worthy winner, and listening to it again as I write, not only do I feel guilty about its absence on my own ballot, I find myself applauding my colleagues for showing smarts I evidently lack." I played it again tonight, too, and found that I like it about as much as I thought I did -- maybe a bit less, although there's some stuff there I just don't get. One thing I have no doubt about is that Moran has fully earned his sterling reputation. His early records were astonishing, and his supporting performances always add something significant.

I've spent a fair amount of time the last couple weeks trying to track down the poll-finishers I hadn't heard -- both from the Voice poll and from other lists that I've stumbled across. I've caught up with all but two of the top fifty finishers -- (35) Ideal Bread: Transmit (Cuneiform), and (43) Lee Konitz New Quartet: Live at the Village Vanguard (Enja). Some that I only caught on Rhapsody, like Mary Halvorson (3) and Randy Weston (16) could benefit from further study, and a couple that I have heard but didn't get all that much into, like Marc Ribot (18) and Michael Formanek (27) will receive a revisit. (Also Steve Coleman, the one record in the top twenty that I didn't like at all.)

For me at least, reissues have been hard to come by, and I barely managed to scrap together three worthwhile obscurities. I got an advance of the Miles Davis Bitches Brew repackage, but not the goods, and never quite knew what to do with what I got. JazzTimes has a similar but much smaller poll coming out soon -- the critic ballots have been so you can do your own tally -- and the biggest difference is in the reissues section, where Davis trounced Voice pollwinner Henry Threadgill. That may mean that the Voice has more avant-oriented critics (although only Halvorson and Threadgill suggest that in the new albums division) or it may have to do with where the big Mosaic boxes landed. I still think the main determinant of polls is distribution -- who gets what, a decidedly unequal playing field. Not to begrudge Moran, but his album was probably the most widely distributed one on the ballot. (Curiously, it was the only Blue Note album I was serviced with this year; Blue Note is usually much more efficient than that, but their jazz offerings have shrunk percipitously this year.) Even more clearly, Pi distributes a lot more review copies than Clean Feed -- a big part of the reason (but by no means the only one) that Rudresh Mahanthappa's Bunky Green record outpolled his Steve Lehman one. And Clean Feed gets more review copies out than similar European labels, like Not Two and Leo.

All this is one reason I like to publish my whole list: at least that way you can see what I compared against and what I missed out on.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Music: Current count 17512 [17490] rated (+22), 855 [856] unrated (-1). Bah humbug season. Send in my Pazz & Jop ballot. Set up the website for the Voice Jazz Critics' Poll. Listened to some more crap on Rhapsody. Didn't review any jazz, and didn't fall further behind -- nothing came in the mall. Feeling pretty old and irrelevant.

No Jazz Prospecting

No Jazz Prospecting this week. I didn't plan on it and didn't predict it, but the wipeout was total. Spent much of the week cramming for my Pazz & Jop ballot, looking for non-jazz to mix in with (and hopefully bump off a couple of) my six full-A jazz albums. Found eight, so I finished the year with 14 full-A albums. They're hard to pick out on the fly because as soon as an album clears the A- line I file it for posterity, and a big part of what a full-A grade means is that the record holds up over time. I have a post started on the ballot -- thought I'd have it posted by now, but things haven't worked out that way -- so I won't say more until it's ready.

Will also have more to say about the Voice's Jazz Critics Poll when it comes out this week. Also thought about doing an Xmas post: feeling sad and nostalgic on my 60th, although in the end it was a good deal nicer than the one I spent alone in frigid Boston the year after my first wife died -- took the train into town foolishly thinking that at least Tower Records would be open, then stopping at a just-closed video store on the way home. Made a nice dinner for the four people left in the family here: mostly Greek dishes, shrimp with feta, three meze dips/spreads (with some naan), roast potatoes, the usual salad, a big dish of date pudding. The potatoes spent too long in the oven waiting for guests to arrive, but everything else turned out near-perfect, and we had lots left over.

Meanwhile, didn't even have a Weekend Roundup collected -- first time that's happened since I resumed the feature. Saw a movie which I haven't blogged (True Grit -- pretty good, but I do wish they'd give up on moving the Rockies 500 miles east). Will likely see a couple more before the week is out -- Laura's taking time off this week, so maybe I should too.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Metacritic File

I've spent an unreasonably huge amount of time tending to my metacritic file for 2010. Last year's file, which I shut down on Jan. 12, 2010, accumulated year-end-list results from many sources, winding up with the top vote-getters at 224-212-191 (Phoenix, Animal Collective, Grizzly Bear). This year the top vote totals are already 438-391-364 (Arcade Fire, Kanye West, National). Last year I listed 3106 records; this year I have 3450. Don't know how much longer I'll keep this up, given that I've already learned most of what I'm likely to eventually get out of the exercise. The list is generally useful for predicting the outcome of the Village Voice's Pazz & Jop Poll (ballots due Dec. 24; results out Jan. 19), although one needs to bring some extra information there. I just count list mentions all the same, so no extra weighting for high slots, but P&J uses a lot of weighting (both explicitly and by limiting ballot size to 10 records, whereas I usually count everything mentioned, sometimes 100 or more records). Last year Phoenix had more total mentions, but Animal Collective topped 15 major lists vs. 3 for Phoenix, which more than made up for a 12-count deficit (about 5%).

Arcade Fire and Kanye West are locked in a similar but less clear cut battle: West has topped 8 lists to Arcade Fire's 3. That's not as big a margin, and Arcade Fire has a larger count margin (12%). On the other hand, West's record was released very late -- about the time the first lists started appearing. As it was climbing up to about a peak 25-vote deficit it seemed like a lock. In the last week it has plateaued and even lost some ground to Arcade Fire. Still looks like the winner to me, but I've come to doubt that it will ever catch Arcade Fire here. For a while I thought LCD Soundsystem might be a serious contender, but it seems to have stabilized at #4. Over the last weeks the top seven have been remarkably stable, while the 8-9-10 slots are in a tight, shifting wad (currently Janelle Monae, Sleigh Bells, and Big Boi, reversing the order of a week ago).

You can follow the link and get the list. I was curious about momentum so I subtracted last week's (Dec. 13) list from today's. The top gains over the last eight days (the numbers in braces: previous rank, present rank, total count):

  1. Arcade Fire: The Suburbs 215 {1:1:438}
  2. Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy 199 {3:2:391}
  3. The National: High Violet 172 {2:3:364}
  4. LCD Soundsystem: This Is Happening 168 {4:4:331}
  5. Beach House: Teen Dream 146 {5:5:308}
  6. Deerhunter: Halcyon Digest 136 {6:6:277}
  7. Vampire Weekend: Contra 125 {7:7:250}
  8. Janelle Monae: The ArchAndroid 114 {10:8:228}
  9. Sleigh Bells: Treats 103 {8:9:222}
  10. Big Boi: Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty 103 {9:10:219}
  11. Sufjan Stevens: The Age of Adz 101 {12:12:199}
  12. The Black Keys: Brothers 98 {11:11:210}
  13. Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffiti: Before Today 88 {19:16:164}
  14. Best Coast: Crazy for You 84 {27:18:148}
  15. Joanna Newsom: Have One on Me 82 {16:14:167}
  16. Gorillaz: Plastic Beach 78 {13:13:176}
  17. Caribou: Swim 77 {15:15:164}
  18. Tame Impala: Innerspeaker 76 {82:33:108}
  19. Yeasayer: Odd Blood 73 {14:17:164}
  20. Robyn: Body Talk 69 {31:24:128}
  21. Titus Andronicus: The Monitor 68 {18:19:145}
  22. Spoon: Transference 65 {20:21:139}
  23. Flying Lotus: Cosmogramma 65 {22:22:136}
  24. The Walkmen: Lisbon 62 {17:20:142}
  25. The Tallest Man on Earth: The Wild Hunt 62 {30:26:124}
  26. Surfer Blood: Astro Coast 60 {26:25:125}
  27. Laura Marling: I Speak Because I Can 58 {37:30:112}
  28. Jonsi: Go 55 {21:23:128}
  29. The Roots: How I Got Over 54 {24:27:122}
  30. Grinderman: Grinderman 2 50 {23:28:120}
  31. Four Tet: There Is Love in You 49 {28:29:113}
  32. Broken Social Scene: Forgiveness Rock Record 46 {29:31:109}
  33. Broken Bells: Broken Bells 47 {34:34:102}
  34. Twin Shadow: Forget 47 {54:42:91}
  35. Cee Lo Green: The Lady Killer 45 {35:36:101}
  36. Hot Chip: One Life Stand 45 {44:39:94}
  37. Wavves: King of the Beach 44 {51:45:89}
  38. Crystal Castles: Crystal Castles [II] 43 {36:37:97}
  39. Foals: Total Life Forever 43 {25:32:108}
  40. Gil Scott-Heron: I'm New Here 43 {38:38:97}
  41. Warpaint: The Fool 43 {32:35:102}
  42. Local Natives: Gorilla Manor 42 {42:40:93}
  43. These New Puritans: Hidden 40 {41:41:91}

In most cases, new lists reiterate the spreads of the previous lists. Robyn is another late release that's been gaining ground, but is getting close to stable. LCD Soundsystem and Sufjan Stevens had marked rises earlier, but now appear stable. Tame Impala came out in May, got very little critical attention, but has become a regular fixture in the lower reaches of indie-centric lists. Best Coast's rise was more predicted, while Foals (for instance) has fallen off. For some reason a lot of the early big lists came from the UK, so we're shifting away from that now.

Some general comments on the lists:

  • The supporting data breaks into three big chunks. The first, in { }, are actual year-end lists, with abbreviations for sources where a record was top-20 or higher, and numbers where the record was top-10. The second, was collected during the year, mostly based on Metacritic (MC) values for various reviewers (generally 80+, with some exceptions). The third is a list of critics' grades, including Robert Christgau, Michael Tatum, and myself at the end. (That way I get the last word.)
  • Blue indicates a physical record I have; green is a record that I've heard from a download source (usually Rhapsody). One reason for hacking this list is to give me a sense of how much of what's of critical interest out there I've actually heard, and to point me to new things I should hear, so the color-coding is good for me.
  • As I mentioned, I only do raw, unweighted counts of mentions. The supporting data gives some indication of weight, but it's not factored into the count. Also I tend to pick up as many mentions as one bothers to list. Christgau's Dean's List typically runs 70-80 records. My own A- list usually runs a little over 100, but I listen to a lot more jazz than he does (and grade a lot of non-jazz more promiscuously).
  • I started with literally everything popular enough that it got picked up by Metacritic (up to about December 1). I collected every rating in Metacritic ≥ 80 (some lower). In many cases I went to the source pubs and scoured through them: for some (like Spin) this was easy and I did a comprehensive job; for others (like PopMatters) this was difficult and I didn't waste much time there. Most of the year-end lists were linked through Largehearted Boy and a couple of other sources. I went out of my way to get ratings for genres of personal interest, especially jazz, but also (less successfully) world, country, hip-hop, and electronica. I picked up everything that AMG recommended except classical. I'm really not interested in classical, you know. I've also pretty much ignored Christian music lists (e.g., at Amazon). I've also tended to ignore metal, although I picked up AMG's and Amazon's metal lists.
  • When processing a list, I skip all records that are clearly 2009 (or earlier) releases, based (where applicable) on US release dates (e.g., Mumford & Sons is counted this year, but some records that came out in 2009 in US and 2010 in UK aren't). I don't rigorously check dates so there is some room for slop -- what identifies a 2009 release is primarily that it polled notably in 2009. (Mumford's UK release did poll in 2009, but Americans are right to treat it as a 2010 release.)
  • In some cases, I don't count records that I haven't already listed: it's a lot less work to add a count than to add a whole record entry, and the later we go the less prospective value new records are likely to have. I'm especially likely to ignore unknown records on lists that are long, sloppy, extremely arcane and/or esoteric, and/or from foreign sites. (I'm interested in world music, but not necessarily into German music on German lists, French on French, etc.)
  • I list some EPs and some mixtapes but don't do lists specifically on them, and I'm more likely to skip them -- and real likely to skip things identified as 7-inch singles. Also not interested in bootlegs, and generally uninterested in download-only releases, although some inevitably leak through. (Indeed, some should.)
  • Some lists group similar items together, sometimes confusingly. I deal with them as best I can, sometimes combining related releases (e.g., folding Zola Jesus Stridulum into Stridulum II), sometimes not (Robyn has three separate listings for Body Talk, where "Body Talk 1-3" is counted three times, but "Body Talk" is only the full-length album). Yelawolf's Trunk Muzik has separate listings for the mixtape and official album, but Freddie Gibbs has one listing for both. (I may eventually combine Yelawolf, but it's too late to disentangle Gibbs.)
  • Reissues and reasonably aged vault music have been shunted off to a separate file. Usually all that takes is for someone to identify the record as such in a specialty list. Although the reissue file is much smaller, I'm more generous in including things, mostly because of my interest in Recycled Goods. New as well as old Various Artist compilations are included in that file -- I often can't tell the difference until later, and listers frequently have the same problem.
  • I've set up some genre-specific selection options under each of the files. I usually follow specialty lists or AMG, and some show up in more than one. This is stuff I'm interested in, stuff that gets buried under the indie rock glut most listmakers wallow in. The genre-definitions are pretty loose -- if a record shows up on a "best electronica" list it gets flagged as such, although that sweeps up a number of things I wouldn't normally put there. The ABC(F) (and I could have added G) category may seem perverse, but think about it. Latin and reggae are included in World, although Scandinavian rock/pop groups (mostly) singing in English aren't.

Continuing to add occasional lists, but don't expect things to change much.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

MSN Best Albums list, by Sam Sutherland:

  • Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Def Jam)
  • Jamey Johnson: The Guitar Song (Mercury Nashville)
  • The Black Keys: Brothers (Nonesuch)
  • Arcade Fire: The Suburbs (Merge)
  • Janelle Monae: The ArchAndroid (Atlantic)
  • Taylor Swift: Speak Now (Big Machine)
  • John Grant: Queen of Denmark (Bella Union)
  • Vampire Weekend: Contra (XL)
  • Dierks Bentley: Up on the Ridge (Capitol Nashville)
  • Beach House: Teen Dream (Sub Pop)
  • The National: High Violet (4AD)
  • Eminem: Recovery (Aftermath)
  • Robert Plant: Band of Joy (Rounder)

Jazz Consumer Guide (25): Low-End Theories

Out this week in the Village Voice: my 25th Jazz Consumer Guide, Low-End Theories. Found myself in a deep rut trying to finally pull this together, then caught a break on the publication date as they slipped it in less than two weeks after they got my draft. Result is that this one is appearing a tad less than three months after the previous one. Once again, I have about enough material left over for the next column. You'd think that would argue for it to come out in less than three months, but we seem to be locked on that schedule.

Both pick hits are 2-CD sets by bassists leading midsize bands. Both bassists have had pick hits before: Adam Lane for New Magical Kingdom (JCG 11); William Parker for Double Sunrise Over Neptune (17) and Sound Unity (5). I could have picked Angles for a pick hit slot over Parker this time, but I felt a little weird about two pick hits from one label. The label, of course, is Clean Feed, which wound up with five records this time (including a dull but not-awful dud). Clean Feed also got cheated when I held back four more of their records: Lisa Mezzacappa's What Is Known in the A section, plus three HMs: Stephen Gauci's Three, Júlio Resende's Assim Falava Jazzatustra, and the Sephan Crump/James Carney duo, Echo Run Pry. They are easily the label of the year, with three full A records this year (Angles, Adam Lane, and the previous Rudresh Mahanthappa/Steve Lehman pick hit Dual Identity), three A- records (Mezzacappa, Ivo Perelman's Soulstorm, and RED Trio), and no less than fifteen records in my B+(***) bracket. (I won't list them all here; you can dig them out of my still-volatile Music Year 2010 file.) Funny thing is, while other critics agree with me about the label, the Clean Feed records that have most commonly appeared in EOY lists thus far rate further down my own list (Chris Lightcap, Kris Davis, Tom Rainey, Joe Morris/Nat Wooley). Makes me wonder if they're getting the good shit.

I know I'm always worrying about not getting the good shit. I know, for instance, that there is a new Vandermark 5 album on Not Two where I'm belatedly reviewing last year's album. They're hard to deal with, and it usually takes special effort by the musician to pry something loose, but most of what I've heard from them is quite good. Europe is actually full of labels like that. If I got better service from European labels like Leo, RogueArt, Intakt, Emanem, Fresh Sound, ILK, Steeplechase, Enja, No Business, many others, European labels would likely dominate the column. (Of course, some delinquent American labels could tilt the balance back. I'm particularly feeling the shortfall of trad jazz.)

On the other hand, I already have more shit to listen to than I have time to listen to it, let alone understand and write up cogently. And I hate the hassle of chasing down even more. On the other hand, I only got Annular Gift (despite having written, uh, a lot about Vandermark in the past) and Sounds of Liberation after hearing them on Rhapsody and taking the time to write for them. And I only got Melford from the artist's agent after the label's publicist stiffed me. Records like that add a lot to the column (and you'll be hearing more from Porter next time). So most of the time I'm tottering on the edge of indifference. But actually the finished column looks pretty good.


PS: Forgot to mention this, but the Jazz Prospecting file that went into this column is here, and the Surplus file is here. I started the round with 113 carryovers from previous rounds, then prospected 248 new records before I finished this column. Did a lot of cutting, including culling a lot of records I would like to have listed as Honorable Mentions.


Publicist letter:

The Village Voice has published my 25th Jazz Consumer Guide column
this week:

link

The previous one came out September 29, so despite all my hopes to
speed things up we remain on a firm every-three-month schedule.

Index by label:

  ACT: Vijay Iyer*
  Anzic: Anat Cohen*
  AUM Fidelity: Wiliam Parker
  Barnyard: William Parker
  CAM Jazz: Ralph Alessi
  Clean Feed: Adam Lane, Angles, Peter Evans, Evan Parker,
    Jason Robinson/Anthony Davis
  Cryptogramophone: Nels Cline Singers
  Cuneiform: Jason Robinson
  Drip Audio: Tommy Babin
  ECM: Nik Bartsch, Paul Motian, Roscoe Mitchell, Food
  Firehouse 12: Myra Melford
  Gnote: Gia Notte
  High Note: Freddy Cole, Steve Turre
  Hot Cup: Bryan and the Haggards, Puttin' on the Ritz*
  Inarhyme: Oleg Kireyev/Keith Javors
  Initiation: Erica Lindsay/Sumi Tonooka
  In+Out: James Blood Ulmer
  IPO: James Moody
  Jazzwerkstatt: David Murray
  New World: Rova/Nels Cline Singers
  Nonesuch: Brad Mehldau
  Not Two: Vandermark 5
  Palmetto: Fred Hersch
  Panorama: Stryker/Slagle Band
  Pi: Henry Threadgill
  Porter: Sounds of Liberation
  Savoy Jazz: Bill Frisell
  Smalltown Supersound: Paal Nilssen-Love/Ken Vandermark (2), Peter Brotzmann
  SMS Jazz: Mort Weiss
  Sunnyside: David Weiss
  Tapestry: 3ology
  Thirsty Ear: Nils Petter Molvaer
  Universal (Emarcy): Metropole Orkest
  Zoho: Nilson Matta

* indicates a record reviewed in good faith on the basis of an advance copy

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

  link

Some more comments on my blog announcement. Every Monday I post
the week's Jazz Prospecting. I won't claim that these constitute
real reviews, but they provide a general indication of what I'm
listening to, some background notes explaining what it is, and
my initial take on the record. For most records that's as far as
I can go, but the best records (and a few of the worst) will get
move on to the Jazz Consumer Guide column.

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


Notes for the records covered in Jazz CG (25):

  • Ralph Alessi: Cognitive Dissonance (2004-05 [2010], CAM Jazz): Trumpet player, father also played trumpet; from San Rafael, CA, based in New York since 1991. Seventh album since 2002, plus an impressive list of side-credits going back to 1992 -- he is one of those musicians who always brightens up someone else's album. No idea why this has been sitting around five years, but its coming out now coincides with a flurry of Jason Moran credits. Moran has some sparkling moments here, along with his usual drummer, Nasheet Waits. Drew Gress, always dependable, plays bass. Alessi doesn't produce enough dissonance to grab your ear, but he's a sharp player and his leads grow on you. B+(***)
  • Angles: Epileptical West: Live in Coimbra (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Sextet, haven't tracked every member down but safe to say Scandinavian. Leader is Swedish alto saxophonist Martin Küchen, b. 1966, nothing under his own name but also works in Exploding Customer (which has scored a couple of HMs here), Trespass Trio, and Sound of Mucus. Second album for group, with Magnus Broo (trumpet), Mats Älekint (trombone), Mattias Stĺhl (vibes), Johan Berthling (bass), and Kjell Nordeson (drums). Big beat, roiling horns, scattered tinkles from the vibes, loud and propulsive. Makes me smile all over. [originally: A-] A
  • Tommy Babin's Benzene: Your Body Is Your Prison (2010, Drip Audio): Bassist, b. 1973 in Nova Scotia, now based in Vancouver. Plays both acoustic and electric; not specified here, but electric is my guess. Has a few side credits including NOW Orchestra going back to 1999, but this looks to be his first album. One title piece, runs 49:41, breaks up into nine sections -- I'm reluctant to call them movements or it a suite. Hype sheet says file under "Jazz/Improv/Space Rock." Not sure about the latter, as this is more intense than spacey, and it doesn't exactly rock even when it brings the noize. Quartet: Chad Makela (baritone sax), Chad MacQuarrie (guitar), and Skye Brooks (drums). The sort of thing that Anders Nilsson's Aorta Ensemble does -- a little less fancy on the guitar, a little more oomph from the bass and bari. A-
  • Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Llyrěa (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+(***)
  • 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+(***)
  • Bryan and the Haggards: Pretend It's the End of the World (2010, Hot Cup): Four of seven songs written by Merle Haggard, a couple more that I was surprised to find credited elsewhere. The band is a second cousin to Mostly Other People Do the Killing, with Moppa Elliott and Jon Irabagon common denominators, guitarist Jon Lundbrom useful for music that originally guitar-dominated, and Bryan Murray the nominal leader, not just because his tenor sax looms the largest. Like MOPDTK, they know their history and run it through hoops, starting with Bird and skittering through Ornette until "Trouble in Mind" bears the holy ghost of Albert Ayler, which frees drummer Danny Fischer to rip off a pretty good Rashied Ali impression. B+(***)
  • The Nels Cline Singers: Initiate (2009 [2010], Cryptogramophone, 2CD): Guitarist, b. 1956, had a solid jazz career with a couple dozen albums since 1980 before he joined rock band Wilco, leading to stuff like Rolling Stone dubbing him one of the "Top 20 New Guitar Gods." NC Singers is a long-running trio with Devin Hoff on bass (acoustic and electric) and Scott Amendola on drums. Cline gets credits for "voice, megamouth, thingamagoop," but those things elide into his guitar effects -- no one actually sings here. Two discs, the old one studio, one live deal. Live is better -- more straightforward fusion power, less layering, fewer mood grooves. Studio packages more ideas more tightly. A-
  • Nels Cline: Dirty Baby (2010, Cryptogramophone, 2CD): Big package contains two art booklets, a total of 66 images of paintings by Ed Ruscha. The two discs of music were commissioned by David Breskin for some sort of "visionary recontextualization" of the paintings -- I'm pretty unclear on just how that works. One set of paintings are abstract, remind me of semaphores or morse code; the other look like blurry photos, but I can't say I spent much time with them. First CD is the title piece, "Dirty Baby," in six parts. Nine musicians are credited, but it's mostly Cline's guitar, clear and coherent, one of the finest extended pieces I've heard him do. The other CD, "Side B," is a mess, broken into 33 short fragments, only two topping three minutes, four more breaking two. Similar mob of musicians, with only Devin Hoff and Scott Amendola joining on both discs. Soundtrack types, probably make more sense in the intended context, especially the ones that give off ominous vibes. B+(***)
  • Anat Cohen: Clarinetwork: Live at the Village Vanguard (2009 [2010], Anzic): Israeli reed player, b. 1975, played tenor sax in the IAF band, studied at Berklee, moved to New York in 1999. Fifth album, with a healthy amount of side work. Someone complained to me once about her PR budget like she was violating the Sherman Antitrust Act, but it netted her enough press attention that she started winning Downbeat polls, especially on clarinet where the competition is much thinner than on tenor sax. One indication that she blew through her budget is that after the lavish promotion of her second and third albums, I only got a CDR of her fourth -- was promised a final copy by Anzic's head but he never delivered -- and this crummy advance. Nothing crummy about the music, of course. I've always preferred her tenor sax for its soulful tone and occasional honk, but there's little to fault here. Maybe I could complain that she picks a couple songs that beg comparison to Barney Bigard, but she measures up well enough, and anyone who reminds me of Bigard is all right in my book. Giddins can add her "Body and Soul" to his all-time list, and the set bookends, "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," are all hers. Hope they send me a real copy this time. Then again the two PR-heavy albums were her weakest. This time she put her money into the band. Pianist Benny Green has rarely impressed me this much. Peter Washington and Lewis Nash always do. A-
  • Freddy Cole: Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B (2010, High Note): Nat's baby brother recalls Billy Eckstine. Makes me wonder how many people today can recall sauve Nat, much less the debonair Eckstine, let alone relate to him. He had a deep, rich baritone, an exceptional example of a style that many 1940s singers aspired to, but which seems old fashioned, stuffy even, today. Nat, on the other hand, sounds as hip today as he did before rock and roll, and Freddy had the same voice, at least until he aged enough to differentiate it. But in applying the old/new Cole treatment to Eckstine's songbook, he achieves a remarkable synthesis. Houston Person joins in on 7 of 12 songs, lifting each, not that Cole can't get by on John Di Martino's piano and Randy Napoleon's guitar. A-
  • Peter Evans Quartet: Live in Lisbon (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Trumpet player, best known for his role in Mostly Other People Do the Killing, but has two solo albums on Psi (haven't heard either) and a slightly different Quartet on Firehouse 12 -- bassist Tom Blancarte and drummer Kevin Shea return here, but the guitar is replaced here by Ricardo Gallo's piano, at once more traditional and more shocking. AMG describes Evans as influenced by Don Cherry and Lester Bowie, but I don't hear either. In chops and conception, he reminds me of early Freddie Hubbard, when he could cross from avant to hard bop without ever seeming out of place. B+(***) [advance]
  • Food [Thomas Strřnen/Iain Ballamy]: Quiet Inlet (2007-08 [2010], ECM): Group originally an album title from 1999, by a quartet: Iain Ballamy (saxophones), Arve Henriksen (trumpet), Mats Eilertsen (bass), and Thomas Strřnen (drums), with at least Strřnen contributing electronics. The quartet cut four Food albums through 2004, then slimmed down to Strřnen and Ballamy for a fifth album in 2007, Molecular Gastronomy. This is number six, taken from two live performances, one with Christian Fennesz on guitar and electronics, the other with Nils Petter Molvaer on trumpet and electronics. First cut, with Fennesz, reminds one of Molvaer's drum machine, but eventually the percussion gives way to ambience, laced with Ballamy's reeds and occasionally fortified by Molvaer's trumpet. B+(**)
  • Bill Frisell: Beautiful Dreamers (2010, Savoy Jazz): Guitarist, has cornered a slice of Americana and keeps working it, in this basic framework with Eyvind Kang on viola and Rudy Royston on drums. His originals fit in neatly enough, but the gems are the covers, including "Beautiful Dreamer," "It's Nobody's Fault but Mine" (Blind Willie Johnson), "Tea for Two," "Goin' Out of My Head," and especially "Keep on the Sunny Side." A-
  • Curtis Fuller: I Will Tell Her (2010, Capri): Trombonist, b. 1934, has thirty-some records since 1957, the majority before 1963, this only the third since 1996. Basically a mainstream hard bop player: best known early album was called Blues-ette; he came back after a decade-long hiatus in 1972 with Smokin' and Crankin'; for his 2005 outing he vowed to Keep It Simple. But this album steps up for a bit more: a sextet, dominated by tenor saxophonist Keith Oxman with Al Hood's trumpet providing the ear candy; not his best trombone, but he gets in some licks. Two discs, one studio, the other live (no dates given). The rhythm section is lively, the sets endlessly enjoyable. B+(***)
  • Fred Hersch Trio: Whirl (2010, Palmetto): Pianist, b. 1955, has more than 30 albums since 1984, seemed to be the big mainstream piano hope (Bill Evans division) in the early 1990s, when he came down with AIDS. He became if anything more prolific after that, and the sidestory gradually faded until now, as he mounts a comeback after an episode that left him in a coma for two months. You get no sense of that from the music here, which is as bright and chipper as anything he's recorded. Don't really understand how it works. Maybe something about concentrating the mind. Maybe just another instance of bassist John Hébert elevating the game. Drummer Eric McPherson does good, too. A-
  • Vijay Iyer: Solo (2010, ACT): Can the best jazz pianist of the last decade do a solo album? Sure, easy. I can see where his gracefulness can be beguiling, but want to note that that's not how he got to where he is, nor likely what he's going to be doing once he gets back to work. Meanwhile, this looks likely to come in second in this year's jazz critics polls (behind Jason Moran's Ten, which is basically the same thing with the benefit of bass and drums). Iyer's one of the few pianists who's gotten as far as he has without doing a solo album, so I see this as a career marker, one more that he's easily passed. B+(***) [advance]
  • Oleg Kireyev/Keith Javors: Rhyme & Reason (2009 [2010], Inarhyme): Kireyev is a tenor saxophonist, b. 1964, Russia, somewhere way out in the Urals; came to US in 1994, studied under Bud Shank. Website lists 10 previous albums going back to 1989, most on Russian labels (one Polish, one American). The latter was Mandala, from his Feng Shui Jazz Project, a world-fusion thang I liked a lot. This, however, is pure mainstream -- one might even say a perfectly good Bud Shank album. Javors is a pianist, b. 1971 Carbondale, IL; studied at UNT; taught various places; has several albums since 2000, and has shown up in contexts like the American Music Project. Boris Kozlov plays bass; E.J. Strickland drums. Lovely album. A-
  • Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra: Ashcan Rantings (2009 [2010], Clean Feed, 2CD): Bassist, b. 1968, has been recording since the mid-1990s. Haven't heard his early albums on Cadence/CIMP, but everything I have heard is brilliant. Most jazz musicians label themselves "composer" followed or preceded by their instrument, and Lane is no exception. I normally discount that because everyone says as much, but he continually reminds me of Mingus, both in his grasp of how to push the tradition to the brink and especially in his knack for running a band. He got a huge sound from his 7-piece Full Throttle Orchestra back on New Magical Kingdom -- a Jazz CG Pick Hit -- and this one is bigger: aside from himself, a completely new lineup, dropping the guitar and adding three more horns for a powerhouse nonet, and a double serving of new arrangements. The horn work is dazzling, especially the newfound trombones -- missing on the previous album -- and the bass pulses throughout. [was A-] A
  • Erica Lindsay/Sumi Tonooka: Initiation (2004 [2010], ARC): Quartet actually, led by two fifty-somethings who would be cult figures if only they were better known. Lindsay plays tenor sax; b. 1955, San Francisco, cut an album in 1989 that I noted in my database due to favorable notice in Penguin Guide, then nothing more until a live album in 2008. Tonooka plays piano; b. 1956, Philadelphia, cut a record in 1984, two 1990-91, one in 1999, one more in 2004 -- Long Ago Today, should have been an HM but somehow slipped by me. Both are based in New York now. They lead a quartet here, with Rufus Reid on bass and the late Bob Braye on drums. Postbop shaded somewhat toward avant-garde, more so when Lindsay plays roughly than when Tonooka is on top. Lindsay plays sparely where Tonooka comes off little short of loquacious, a contrast in styles that thrashes a bit, but at any given moment is likely to impress. B+(***)
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green: Apex (2010, Pi): Mahanthappa's second alto sax duo date this year. The first with Steve Lehman was a pick hit and is near the top of my year end list. This one points the opposite direction, going with an older partner, b. 1935 in Milwaukee, long based in Chicago, has a dozen or so albums since 1960, has taught since 1972, now in Jacksonville at the University of North Florida. Bebopper, which seems to excite pianist Jason Moran and (especially) drummer Damion Reid, and may well have Mahanthappa fantasizing of Sonny Stitt -- who played duos with Green in the mid-1960s -- or maybe even Bird. I used to view Mahanthappa as a Coltrane man, but he seems to adapt to pretty much any context without settling into a distinctive style. B+(***)
  • Nilson Matta's Brazilian Voyage: Copacabana (2008 [2010], Zoho): Bassist, from Brazil, don't know how old, but hair looks gray; moved to New York in 1985, currently based in NJ. Third album since 2000, plus quite a few side credits -- Don Pullen tapped him for his wonderful Brazilian-flavored 1992-93 albums, Kele Mou Bana and Ode to Life, as did Eliane Elias for her best-ever Sings Jobim. Cover spotlights Harry Allen (tenor sax, elegant as ever) and Anne Drummond (flute, floating on the groove). Klaus Mueller plays some flashy piano, Mauricio Zottarelli drums, and Zé Mauricio adds percussion. Some bass solos, which I consider a plus. B+(***)
  • Brad Mehldau: Highway Rider (2009 [2010], Nonesuch): Started out with piano trios, making an impressive debut and sustaining his Art of the Piano Trio series longer than anyone has a right to; dropped the obligatory solo album, but then started moving onto large canvases, more composer than improviser. This one sprawls over two discs, awash in a huge string orchestra, which alternately annoys and soothes me. Joshua Redman also graces the affair, sounding functionally comparable to Jan Garbarek if not quite so sweet or sharp. B+(**)
  • Myra Melford's Be Bread: The Whole Tree Gone (2008 [2010], Firehouse 12): Pianist, b. 1957, cut a couple of trio albums in 1990-91 that Francis Davis noticed, and gradually worked her way into the front rank of cutting edge jazz pianists. Teaches at UC Berkeley. Be Bread is her most expansive group, previously heard on the 2006 album The Image of Your Body, much advanced here: Cuong Vu (trumpet), Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Brandon Ross (guitar), Stomu Takeishi (acoustic bass guitar), and Matt Wilson (drums). A-
  • 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-
  • Allison Miller: Boom Tic Boom (2010, Foxhaven): Drummer, from DC, based in New York, second album after one in 2005, substantial list of side credits since 1999, mostly rock (exceptions include Virginia Mayhew, Marty Ehrlich, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Judy Silvano, and Todd Sickafoose). Mostly piano trio with Myra Melford leading, Sickafoose on bass, and some guest contribution from violinist Jenny Scheinman -- just one cut as far as I can tell. Four originals from Miller, two from Melford, one each from Mary Lou Williams and Hoagy Carmichael ("Rockin' Chair"). Slows down for the finale, but Melford is in very fine form -- a better showcase for her piano than her own record. A-
  • 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+(***)
  • Nils Petter Molvaer: Hamada (2009 [2010], Thirsty Ear): No dates, but came out last fall on his own Sula label, possibly picked up by Universal, a company so huge that its American and European arms don't much care what the other is doing. Chilled trumpet over Eivind Aarset's frigid guitar, Jan Bang's sampling, and/or scattered electronics. I like it more when the percussion picks up, especially when the guitar goes heavy metal on "Cruel Altitude," but the ambient surfaces aren't noodling. B+(***)
  • James Moody: 4B (2008 [2010], IPO): One of the most popular bebop saxophonists to emerge in the early 1950s, both through his long association with Dizzy Gillespie and through a few fluke hits of his own, and one of the last standing. This follows up on last year's 4A, more standards from the same sessions, the "4" referring to a quartet with Kenny Barron, Todd Coolman, and Lewis Nash. Straightforward, beautiful tone, swings through "Take the A Train," doesn't cut up the Tadd Dameron and Benny Golson pieces, backup is impeccable, and he leaves his flute in the case. One to remember him by, but it's still a bit early for that. Looks like this includes a label sampler, which with its Roland Hanna and Roger Kellaway piano and Tad Jones tribute band (One More) should make for fine dinner background. B+(***)
  • Paul Motian/Chris Potter/Jason Moran: Lost in a Dream (2009 [2010], ECM): This should have been released Mar. 9 but I never got the usual final copy, and have been thrashing around trying to find the advance as it's already been widely reviewed. With no bassist there's no chance of swinging, and with Motian drumming there isn't much of a beat. Moran is another shrinking violet, comping gently and somewhat abstractly, perhaps intent on emulating the Zen master drummer. That leaves Potter in the spotlight. While he too follows the prevailing mood, he doesn't shirk his role, which is to render these marginal melodies as gorgeously as possible, and occasionally hint that there may be more powerful forces lurking beneath the surface. 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+(***)
  • Paal Nilssen-Love/Ken Vandermark: Chicago Volume (2010, Smalltown Superjazz): A day later after Milwaukee Volume, same setup, similar results. Been playing both a lot since they arrived, but this one remains a bit less focused to me, with fewer pleasure spots. B+(***)
  • Paal Nilssen-Love/Ken Vandermark: Milwaukee Volume (2007 [2010], Smalltown Superjazz): Chicago reed player Vandermark plays tenor and baritone sax, Bb and bass clarinet; drums and percussion for Norwegian Nilssen-Love. Nilssen-Love has played in several Vandermark groups like School Days and in Territory Band. They hooked up for an improv duet in 2002 called Dual Pleasure, followed that with the 2-CD Dual Pleasure 2 in 2003, Seven in 2005, and now two new discs, the one from Milwaukee cut a day before the one from Chicago. They go round and round, same basic moves, hard to sort out any real advantages here or there, but this one, I'd say, has more pure pleasure than any since the surprise of the debut wore off. For one thing, Vandermark has developed into a monster baritone player, so the really rough stuff comes out loud and low. A-
  • Gia Notte: Shades (2009 [2010], Gnote): Standards singer, from New Jersey, based in West Orange, also known as Margie Notte, the name on her first album (Just You, Just Me, & Friends: Live at Cecil's). Nice voice, works both on ballads and on swingers, complemented by a band that features Don Braden on sax and flute. A couple of Ellingtons, excellent takes on "Love Me or Leave Me" and "Speak Low." B+(***)
  • Evan Parker/Barry Guy/Paul Lytton + Peter Evans: Scenes in the House of Music (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+(***)
  • William Parker: I Plan to Stay a Believer: The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield (2001-08 [2010], AUM Fidelity, 2CD): I've been hearing about Parker's Curtis Mayfield project for the better part of a decade now, and indeed picking through Rick Lopez's marvelous Parker sessionography I see bootlegs (label-less CDRs, anyway) from France in 2001 and Boston in 2002, a 2004 radio shot from Rome released as The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield: Live in Rome on Rai Trade in 2007, with the pace picking up in 2007, most with the same basic group: Lewis Barnes (trumpet), Darryl Foster (tenor and soprano sax), Sabir Mateen (alto and tenor sax), Dave Burrell (piano), Parker (bass), and Hamid Drake (drums), with Leena Conquest singing and Amiri Baraka poeticizing, with occasional subs along the way (Guillermo Brown for Drake, Lafayette Gilchrist for Burrell), and various ad hoc choirs to lift up the vocals. AUM Fidelity finally rounded up 11 cuts from 6 performances, two 2001-02, the other four 2007-08. Parker's attraction to Mayfield is easy enough to see: born in 1952, he would have known the Impressions when he was growing up and followed Mayfield's solo career from the moment he started to get serious. Mayfield, in turn, was the most politically conscious, in the most didactic terms, of his contemporaries, and Parker has always tended to wear his politics literally on his sleeve. His literalness tends to win out here -- he has this "inside songs" concept but he keeps the surface pretty much intact; occasionally the horns mash up, but more often he just builds on the joyous bounce of the music and the voices, and salutes the lyrics like some people salute the flag. In the hands of a less remarkable musician that may grow tiring, but here it never does. A-
  • William Parker: At Somewhere There (2008 [2010], Barnyard): Solo, mostly acoustic bass, especially on the 48:11 "Cathedral Wisdom Light," but also dousn'gouni on the 5:48 "For Don Cherry" and double flute on the 3:50 "For Ella Parker." The bass is mostly arco, so there's a lot of sawing back and forth, up and down. But this comes off a good deal more melodic than Parker's earlier solo efforts (e.g., 1998's Lifting the Sanctions), and the good-natured play flows readily into the novelty instrumentals. B+(***)
  • Puttin' On the Ritz: White Light/White Heat (2010, Hot Cup): B.J. Rubin dates his relationship to the music of the Velvet Underground to 1999, about 25 years after I fell hard for their four studio albums, so I can sort of relate but also tend to be hypercritical. He talks his way through "The Gift" and sings, if you can call it that, "White Light/White Heat," "Lady Godiva's Operation," "Here She Comes Now," "I Heard Her Call My Name," and "Sister Ray." His partner is MOPTDK drummer Kevin Shea, whose other side project is a tasteless duo with Matt Mottel -- credited here on Turkish organ -- called Talibam! MOPDTK mainstays Moppa Elliott and Jon Irabagon add some noise, as do fellow travellers Nate Wooley (trumpet) and Sam Kulik (trombone, bass trombone). The horns aren't without interest, but only on "Sister Ray" does the music salvage the vocal. [was: B-] C+ [advance]
  • Jason Robinson: The Two Faces of Janus (2009 [2010], Cuneiform): Tenor sax, soprano sax, alto flute, this time in front of a group -- Liberty Ellman splendid on guitar, Drew Gress on bass, and George Schuller on drums -- with two alto saxophone guests for intricate interplay: Rudresh Mahanthappa on 3 cuts, Marty Ehrlich on 5 including some bass clarinet. Two cuts have both. Two cuts have just Robinson and Ehrlich with the band dropping out. Results are varied, some superb, others disorienting. B+(**)
  • Jason Robinson and 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
  • Rova & Nels Cline Singers: The Celestial Septet (2008 [2010], New World): World renowned saxophone quartet plus world renowned guitar-bass-drums trio, works out to be a pretty full-featured band. The saxophonists -- Bruce Ackley, Steve Adams, Larry Ochs, and Jon Raskin -- are used to orchestrating their own harmony, but assuming the Singers will take up the slack they get to stretch out a bit here. But Nels Cline, bassist Devin Hoff, and drummer Scott Amendola don't harmonize so much as build up the ambient noise level, putting this into Electric Ascension territory, minus the annoyances of the Coltrane script. Closest they come is Ochs's 25:23 paean to Albert Ayler, "Whose to Know," where the noise climax seems well-earned. B+(***)
  • Sounds of Liberation: Sounds of Liberation (1972 [2010], Porter): Philadelphia group, very much of the black power moment when shards of avant-sax clashed with funky conga rhythms, merging into something far out but not inaccessible. Byard Lancaster is the saxophonist in a septet with guitar, bass, and four percussionists counting vibraphonist Khan Jamal, the founder and best known member of the one-album group. A-
  • The Stryker/Slagle Band: Keeper (2010, Panorama): Guitarist Dave Stryker, b. 1957 in Omaha, NE; has a couple dozen albums since 1989, mostly on Denmark's Steeplechase, a fairly mainstream label that kept Dexter Gordon's career moving during his years in exile (Duke Jordan, too, and Jackie McLean, only in virtual exile). Steve Slagle, b. 1951 in Los Angeles, has a similar career, less prolific, more of a sideman; worked with Steve Kuhn in late 1970s, Carla Bley in early 1980s, Mingus Big Band, and bumped into Stryker on the latter's first (1991) Steeplechase album, Passage, and frequently thereafter, consolidating their business in 2003, and releasing respectable product ever since. With Jay Anderson on bass and Victor Lewis on drums, high calibre journeymen. Still, through several plays it keeps growing on me, mainstream postbop burnished up with Slagle's blues tone -- even the two soprano features fit in seamlessly. A-
  • 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-
  • 3ology With Ron Miles (2008 [2010], Tapestry): Longmont, CO-based trio: Doug Carmichael on saxophones, Tim Carmichael on basses, Jon Powers on drums. Looks like they have two previous albums (or CDRs), an eponymous one in 2007 and Out of the Depths in 2008, but they had nothing to do with a 1995 Konnex album called 3-Ology (Santi Debriano, Billy Hart, Arthur Blythe). Miles plays cornet and has a substantial discography that far transcends his Colorado base. He adds an extra dimension here, but the group really hums even when he lays out. Doug Carmichael plays interesting, aggressive freebop sax, while Tim Carmichael keeps a steady rhythmic buzz going on bass. A-
  • Steve Turre: Delicious and Delightful (2010, High Note): Trombone player, from Omaha, also plays conch shells but I've never figured out how that works or what they sound like. Fifteen album since 1987, including tributes to J.J. Johnson and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. This one doesn't quite live up to its title, but it is boldly flavored, with Billy Harper on tenor sax -- his rough edges ground down by all that big band work of late, but his energy undiminished -- Larry Willis on piano, Russell Malone on guitar (just two cuts), bass, drums, and some extra bata and djembe on one cut. Harper wrote two songs, Turre the rest except for "Tenderly." Best record since the Kirk tribute, but they all seems to be coming up with the same grade. [was: B+(**)] B+(***)
  • James Blood Ulmer: In and Out (2008 [2010], In+Out): Harmolodic jazz guitarist turned bluesman, returns to the German label that released his first album back in 1977, after a series of relatively straight blues sets on Hyena. Just a trio, with Mark Peterson on bass and Aubrey Dayle on drums. Aging usually conditions blues voices and Ulmer's is no exception: at 68 he's more grizzled than ever. But there's more guitar here, long instrumental stretches that move more than groove. And while I normally loathe flute, he takes a lead there that Sonny Boy would relish. A-
  • Vandermark 5: Annular Gift (2009, Not Two): Live record, cut in Poland, like the group's mammoth (and quite marvelous) 12-CD Alchemia box. Not sure whether any of the pieces had been recorded before -- I vaguely recall seeing (or maybe starting to put together) an index of compositions, but don't recall where. In any case, they aren't dupes from recent studio albums. "Spiel" starts with a cello solo, as Fred Lonberg-Holm continues to get better integrated into the group. Vandermark forgoes the baritone sax that had been an increasing part of his V5 repertoire, so he winds up playing more tenor, and Dave Rempis more alto. The result often tends toward what we might call "freebop and roll." Great sound. Great group. A- [Rhapsody]
  • David Weiss & Point of Departure: Snuck In (2008 [2010], Sunnyside): Trumpet player, b. 1964, from New York, in New York, third album since 2001, although I also filed The Turning Gate by New Jazz Composers Octet, a recent HM, under his name. Quintet, what's becoming the standard post-[hard]-bop configuration: trumpet, sax (JD Allen on tenor), guitar (Nir Felder), batt (Matt Clohesy), drums (Jamire Williams). The back end is more freebop, the guitar navigates the open spaces, and the horns slug it out, with Allen frequently making a play to steal the album. B+(***)
  • Mort Weiss: Raising the Bar (2009 [2010], SMS Jazz): Clarinetist, started his musical career after he retired from a bread-and-butter career, and has put together a string of engaging albums ever since, with a mix of swing and bop moves. This one is solo clarinet, two originals, a bunch of well worn covers, the better known the better. Normally I would complain about the lack of balance/momentum/something that is inevitable with solo efforts, but he more than makes up for that in charm. Closes with "My Way" -- and earns it. B+(***)

Notes for records not covered (flushed) during the Jazz CG cycle:

  • 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+(**)
  • Remi Álvarez/Mark Dresser: Soul to Soul (2008 [2010], Discos Intolerancia): Saxophonist, lists soprano first but cover pic features tenor -- website also lists alto and baritone up front, perhaps alphabetically -- from Mexico City. Website shows this as fifth album since 1996, although it's only the second with his name first. Duet with the veteran bassist, very solid and relatively straightforward here, with the sax working cautiously around the edges. B+(***)
  • Amabutho: Sikelela (2010, Alma, CD+DVD): South African group, mbube vocals and relatively spare percussion, first album. Looking around, I see that the group name is the title of the first Ladysmith Black Mambazo album -- translates as warriors or regiment, so probably not that significant. The percussion is identified as marimba, the scales working for melody and the deadened sound keeping the voices out front. First disc didn't play; evidently it's a DVD. B+(**)
  • 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+(**)
  • 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+(**)
  • 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+(*)
  • Julian Argüelles Trio: Ground Rush (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1966 in England, ten albums since 1996, close to 50 side credits. Trio with Michael Formanek and Tom Rainey, same lineup as his 2006 album Partita. Very solid trio work; impossible to fault although I don't get the extra charge I expect to bring it up a level, maybe because he's so sure of himself he makes it look easier than it is. Another SFFR. B+(***)
  • Ehud Asherie: Organic (2007 [2010], Posi-Tone): Isareli pianist, b. 1979, attended New School in 1997-98, studied with Frank Hewitt, based in New York. Fourth or fifth album since 2007 -- also has a new one on Arbors, Welcome to New York, which I didn't get. I think this is the only one where he plays organ. Quartet with Peter Bernstein on guitar, Dmitry Baevsky on sax, and Phil Stewart on drums. No bass player, which has been the rule since Jimmy Smith invented the form, but Asherie doesn't seem to have given it any consideration. He plays light and fleet, which keeps him closely in tune to Bernstein. Baevsky has two mainstream records I haven't heard. Doesn't make much of an impression here. B+(**)
  • Bobby Avey: A New Face (2009 [2010], JayDell): Young pianist, no b. date given but got his BA in 2007 and moved to Brooklyn. First album under his own name, but previously appeared in a duo with Dave Liebman, Vienna Dialogues, which I didn't much care for. This is much better: half trio where he leans hard on the keys, half with Liebman guesting, also blowing hard. B+(***)
  • 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+(*)
  • 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]
  • Sheryl Bailey: A New Promise (2008 [2010], MCG Jazz): Guitarist, b. 1966, grew up in Pittsburgh, PA; based in New York; sixth album since 1993. Cites Wes Montgomery as an inspiration, and seems to fit into his family, although we can add Emily Remler to that list -- three Remler songs here, including "East to Wes." Recorded in Pittsburgh with the Three Rivers Jazz Orchestra, co-directed by Mike Tomaro and Steve Hawk. I imagine most musicians love the idea of having a full big band backing them up. Helps here, even if it seems a little extravagant. B+(**)
  • Newman Taylor Baker Singin' Drums: Drum Suite Life (2010, Innova): Drummer, b. 1943, looks like his first album although he has side credits going back to 1978, especially with Billy Harper. Solo drum project, which limits is appeal, but within those constraints it is interesting and quite listenable. I puzzled a bit over one title, "Andrew, Milford, & Rashied" -- Ali and Graves, of course, but, uh, Cyrille, of course. B+(**)
  • Lucian Ban & John Hébert: Enesco Re-Imagined (2010, Sunnyside): A tribute to composer George Enescu (or Georges Enesco in France, or George Enesco here), 1881-1955, from Romania, also notable as a violinist and pianist. Ban is a pianist, b. 1969 in Romania; moved to New York in 1999 to study at New School. Played on two Jazz Unit Sextet records 1998-99; since 2002 has a half dozen or so records, mostly with baritone saxist Alex Harding. Hébert is a bassist who invariably shows up on good records, although this is one where the classical music strings (Albrecht Maurer, Mat Maneri) try my patience, and the jazz horns (Ralph Alessi, Tony Malaby) rarely break the surface. B+(*)
  • Al Basile: Soul Blue 7 (2009, Sweetspot): Cornet player, blues singer, gave up theoretical physics for a slot in Duke Robillard's Roomful of Blues band. Robillard produces and plays guitar here, on Basile's seventh album since 2001. I count eight musicians here, with two saxes, trombone, piano or organ. Basile's a credible blues vocalist, too busy singing here to show off much of his cornet. Robillard keeps the band swinging -- he's been straddling blues and jazz effectively for a while now. Bonus includes a couple of pictures -- one in the clear case back and one in the booklet -- of someone's CD shelves: probably Basile's, since the bottom shelf of one is wall-to-wall Louis Armstrong -- even a few discs I don't have (and I have a lot). Everything else is blues, unless you want to quibble about the Fats Domino box. B+(**)
  • 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+(**)
  • Stefano Battaglia/Michele Rabbia: Pastorale (2009 [2010], ECM): Italian pianist, b. 1965, has a couple dozen albums since 1987, mostly on the Italian Splasc(H) label, which kicks out a lot of albums I never get a chance to hear. Third album on ECM. Rabbia also b. 1965, credited with percussion and electronics, has one album under his own name. Scattered effects here, most enticing when Battaglia's piano joins in the percussion, sometimes aided by preparation. On a couple of occasions reminds me of Harry Partch. B+(***)
  • 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
  • Jamie Begian Big Band: Big Fat Grin (2008 [2010], Innova): Guitarist, studied at Hartt School of Music, Manhattan School of Music; started teaching at Western Connecticut State University in 1991. Interest in big band led him to Bob Brookmeyer. Second Big Band album, the first coming out in 2003. Group is seventeen strong, conventional big band size and shape except second guitar instead of piano. Draws on New Yorkers, only a few that I recognize. Some terrific passages scattered about. 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+(*)
  • 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+(*)
  • 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-
  • 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+(**)
  • Michiel Braam's Wurli Trio: Non-Functionals! (2009, BBB): Dutch pianist, plays a Wurlitzer electric piano here along with bass and drums or some such like. Something of a more modern organ groove, or a swing around from EST -- not really fusion, but more playful than serious avant-gardists like to present themselves. 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+(*)
  • Federico Britos: Voyage (2010, Sunnyside): Violinist, originally from Uruguay, now based in Miami; AMG only lists two albums since 2002, a couple dozen credits since 1992, but he's evidently been around a lot longer -- back cover inset has rave quotes about Britos dating from 1955-60 (by Josephine Baker, Jascha Heifetz, Astor Piazzolla, Nat "King" Cole, and Vinicius de Moraes; also one from Dizzy Gillespie dated 1982). No recording dates here, but the sites and lineups jump all over, and the long list of guests include at least one dead guy (legendary Cuban bassist Israel "Cachao" Lopez, who passed in 2008). Numerous guests come and go: five pianists (best known: Kenny Barron, Michel Camilo), four guitarist (Bucky Pizzarelli, Tomatito), six bassists (Eddie Gomez, Cachao), four drummers (Ignacio Berroa, Francisco Mela), percussion; two cuts have extra strings; no horns anywhere. Some things sound like Grappelli, some are harder to place. Especially nice is "Micro Suite Cubana" with its bubbling percussion. B+(**)
  • George Brooks Summit: Spirit and Spice (2010, Earth Brother Music): Saxophonist, picture shows him playing tenor but credit is plural, and he has alto and soprano credits elsewhere (e.g., with John McLaughlin; AMG also gives him composer credits going back to Bessie Smith, but I think those can be discounted). AMG lists four albums since 1996, not counting this one. His main interest is in Indo-Jazz fusion, the basis of his 2002 album Summit -- another album title recycled into a group name -- and the new Raga Bop Trio (with drummer Steve Smith and guitarist Prasanna, with Smith listed first). This is a quartet with Fareed Haque on guitar, Kai Eckhardt on bass, and Smith on drums, supplmentet by eight mostly-Indian guests -- Zakir Hussain (tabla), Nildari Kumar (sitar), Kala Ramnath (violin), Ronu Majumdar (bansuri), Swapan Chaudhuri (tabla), Sridar Parthasarathy (mrdangam, ghatam, kanjira, vocals). Moves smoothly through the jungle, with a sweet scent I don't find especially appealing. B
  • Alex Brown: Pianist (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1987, studied at New England Conservatory, based in Boston. First album. Cover says "Paquito D'Rivera presents"; D'Rivera plays alto sax on two cuts, clarinet on one more, as the album builds on a piano trio base -- Vivek Patel plays flugelhorn on four tracks, Warren Wolf marimba on two, Pedro Martinez percussion on four and vocals on one. Patel has a few good moments, but in general the extras are not all that substantial or interesting. The trio work shows some promise, but Brown hasn't broken out of the pack yet. B
  • Greg Burk and Vicente Lebron: Unduality (2010, Accurate): Burk is a pianist, b. 1969, who has done consistently interesting work as far as I've followed it -- Many Worlds (482 Music) was a recent HM. Lebron is older, a conga player from the Dominican Republic, moved to New York in 1971 and on to Boston in 1974, where he plays with Either/Orchestra. The record here is piano-percussion duos, with 13 of 23 cuts named "Unduality" with a number and a "Bach" pun -- "Bach at You," "Bach and Forth," "Bach to the Future," "Bachlava," etc. While the percussion is nice enough, the rest of it sounds like Bach to me. Especially "Vox Bach," where they lose the instruments. B
  • 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
  • Alison Burns and Martin Taylor: 1: AM (2008 [2009], P3 Music): Burns is a singer, from Scotland, grew up in Dundee; website says she's Scottish-Canadian, but MySpace bases her in UK. Second album. Has a voice I disliked at first, but makes it work in subtle ways. Accompanied by nothing more than Taylor's guitar, which doesn't seem like a lot of support, but could hardly be more fitting. One original. Mostly standards I rarely run across. B+(***)
  • Butcher/Muller/van der Schyff: Way Out Northwest (2007 [2008], Drip Audio): Vancouver label, two local musicians, a guest saxophonist from the UK who is a big name in very small circles. First pass I was blown away by this ugly free-for-all, but in returning to it I find myself less charmed. Butcher gets a lot of unorthodox sounds out of his saxes -- tenor and soprano -- but the clicks and pops could just as well come from bass or drums. B+(**)
  • Johnny Butler: Solo (2009 [2010], Johnny Butler Jazz): Saxophonist, from Seattle, based in Brooklyn, first album. Also plays in an avant-rock/classical chamber group called Scurvy, and has some sort of connection to Tune-Yards. Album here consists of four fairly short pieces built using an Echoplex looper -- he makes a big deal in the album notes about doing this with no overdubs, but I don't really get the distinction, or what he's trying to do. Short (24:21), can be tedious but also has some interesting bits. B
  • Taylor Ho Bynum/Tomas Fujiwara: Stepwise (2010, Not Two): Cornet-drums duo. Bynum runs through thin, scratchy free jazz figures, and Fujiwara taps along, not adding a great deal. The drummer has a couple albums I haven't heard, and Bynum's label is off limits to me, which is kind of annoying, although he does show up often enough to keep me intrigued. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Frank Carlberg: Tivoli Trio (2009 [2010], Red Piano): Piano-bass-drums trio, respectively. Pianist Carlberg hails from Finland, studied at Berklee and New England Conservatory, settled down in Brooklyn. Has at least eight records since 1992. Dense, full of intrigue and pleasure. I'm tempted to give Hebert a good deal of the credit; he always seems to show up in the right places. B+(***)
  • Bill Carrothers: Joy Spring (2009 [2010], Pirouet): Good mainstream pianist, not as well known as he should be, but aside from his tricked up Shine Ball I've found him real hard to latch onto. Played this promising album two more times and it just sort of slipped by me. B+(**)
  • 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+(**)
  • Catalyst: The Complete Recordings, Vol. 1 (1972 [2010], Porter): Philadelphia group, recorded four albums for Joe Fields 1972-75, three of those on Muse and a fourth -- actually the eponymous first album -- on Cobblestone, a Buddah subsidiary Fields also ran. Joel Dorn's 32 Jazz label picked up the catalogue in 1996 and released all four albums on two CDs as The Funkiest Band You Never Heard. I'm a little unclear on details, but it looks like Porter is doing the same trick only on two separate CDs. Vol. 1 packs the two 1972 albums, Catalyst and Perception. The group's mainstays were Odean Pope (tenor sax, flute, oboe), Eddie Green (mostly electric piano), and Sherman Ferguson (drums), with Al Jackson playing bass on the first album and Tyrone Baker on the second -- maybe some extras here and there. Green's electric piano reminds me more of Jimmy Smith's organ than of the era's Hancock-Corea-Zawinul fashion, the main advance a slight uptick in funk quotient. Pope isn't quite the powerhouse he became, but you can tell he's been listening to Ayler and Coltrane without forgetting his roots in gutbucket blues. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Catalyst: The Complete Recordings, Vol. 2 (1974-75 [2010], Porter): Two more Muse albums, Unity from 1974, and A Tear and a Smile from 1975. The former is probably the funk peak, with saxophonist Odean Pope moving a bit ahead of electric pianist Eddie Green. Things fall apart on the second album: "The Demon, Pt. 1" crosses over into irritating, I think with electric guitar although I don't have the credits (Charles Ellerbe?), then after "Pt. 2" the title track goes into an atmospheric flute serenade. Then strings and vocals intrude into what until then was one of the more impressive funk-jazz quartets of the period. B [Rhapsody]
  • Charito Meets Michel Legrand: Watch What Happens (2008 [2009], CT Music): Wikipedia: "Charito was the Empress consort of Jovian, Roman Emperor." OK, let's try again. Singer. B. June 15, no year given, probably in the Philippines; MySpace bases her in New York, but her own website starts: "Distinctively a most prominent jazz vocalist in Japan with multi-awarded albums recorded and released internationally" -- website also available in Japanese. Has seven albums since 1991 (AMG) or thirteen since 1990 (own website), the latest Heal the World: Charito Sings Michael Jackson. No credits -- not a big problem with Legrand's generally anonymous orchestra, but I'd like to know who to blame for the duets (possibly Legrand). She has a nice voice, good diction, takes one song in French, the others in impeccable English. Looked pretty scruffy on her first album cover; better than ever twenty years later, so she must be doing something right. B
  • Xavier Charles/Ivar Grydeland/Christian Wallumrřd/Ingar Zach: Dans les Arbres (2008 [2010], ECM): Group name is officially Dans les Arbres, but artist names appear on cover and last names appear on spine, and all four names are attached to all eight pieces. Charles plays clarinet and harmonica; Grydeland acoustic guitar, banjo, sruti box; Wallumrřd piano; Zach percussion, bass drum. Charles is French, the others Norwegian. Hype sheet cites John Cage and Morton Feldman as influences. Banjo is prepared, and piano sounds a little surreal as well. Lots of space isolates scattered sounds, all very dark and not very clearly connected. B+(*)
  • Chicago Underground Duo: Boca Negra (2009 [2010], Thrill Jockey): Rob Mazurek (cornet, electronics) and Chad Taylor (drums, vibes, mbira, computer, electronics). They've been the core of various Chicago Underground duos, trios, and quartets going back to 1998. The duo format doesn't seem much more stable than a two-legged stool, but they don't just give and take here, although they do try a lot of different variations. "Confliction" stands out as an unusually raucous piece: heavy drumming, rapid cornet riffs, so much momentum you never sense the lack of a bassist. B+(**)
  • Corey Christiansen Quartet: Outlaw Tractor (2010, Origin): Guitarist, b. 1971, father taught guitar at Utah State for many years; moved to St. Louis where he was AR director at guitar-oriented Mel Bay for seven years, then eventually moved back to Utah, where he is Director of Curriculum for The Music School. Third album since 2004. Guitar-sax-organ-drums quartet. I run across a dozen-plus such albums every year and usually have little trouble dismissing them, but this is one of the better ones, and surprisingly it's not David Halliday's sax that stands out but Pat Bianchi's organ -- by now, surely the most clichéd of all instruments. Guitar grooves too. B+(**)
  • Evan Christopher: Remembering Song (2009 [2010], Arbors): Clarinetist, b. 1974, came up through trad jazz groups although he writes most of his own material. Covers "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans," "My Home Is in a Souther Town," and "Dear Old Southland." Uses two guitarists (Bucky Pizzarelli and James Chirillo) and bass (Greg Cohen). Often lovely, but not much excitement. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Roberto Cipelli/Paolo Fresu/Philippe Garcia/Gianmaria Testa/Attilio Zanchi: F. ŕ Léo (2007 [2010], Justin Time): Tribute to French chansonnier Léo Ferré (1916-93); not sure how to parse the title, a large abbreviated initial and a small dedication, followed even smaller by "progetto di roberto cipelli." The artists are listed alphabetically. Pianist Cipelli has a couple previous albums dating back to 1988, but most of his credits are on albums led by trumpeter Fresu. Testa sings Ferré's French texts, with Zanchi on bass and Garcia on drums; Garcia also has a couple vocal credits, and Garcia and Testa have one each on guitar (chitarra). The vocals are appropriately smoky, the trumpet poignant, and Cipelli adds connective tissue between the songs. Recording date not given, but AMG lists two previous editions, one in 2007 on Bonsaď, one in 2008 on Radiofandango -- labels I've never heard of otherwise. 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+(**)
  • 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+(**)
  • 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+(**)
  • 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+(**)
  • Ted Daniel Quintet: Tapestry (1974 [2008], Porter): Trumpet player, may actually have played more flugelhorn (as he does here), b. 1943, cut several albums in the 1970s, and shows up in credits every now and then (occasionally as Teddy Daniel or Ted Daniels) -- I was trying to figure out where I recalled the name from, most likely Billy Bang's Vietnam: The Aftermath and Vietnam: Reflections, but he's been on other albums I'm familiar with -- Sonny Sharrock, Clifford Thornton, Andrew Cyrille, Henry Threadgill, Defunkt, Wildflowers: The New York Loft Jazz Sessions. He has the only horn here, playing rough over the thick -- sometimes luxuriant, sometimes ominous -- jungle concocted by Richard Daniel's electric piano and Khan Jamal's vibes, with Tim Ingles on bass and Jerome Cooper on drums. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • 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-
  • Eli Degibri: Israeli Song (2009 [2010], Anzic): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, from Israel, studied at Berklee and New England Conservatory, based in New York City. Fifth album since 2004. Fronts a very eminent quartet: Brad Mehldau on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Al Foster on drums. Each contributes a song; other covers are "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "Bebop," with Degibri writing 6 of 11. All mainstream jazz, nothing that specifically marks this as Israeli or Middle Eastern -- just exquisite tenor sax supported by supremely confident pros. 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
  • 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+(*)
  • Jacob Duncan/John Goldsby/Jason Tiemann: The Innkeeper's Gun (2009 [2010], Bass Lion Music): Sax trio, with Duncan on alto, Goldsby double bass, Tiemann drums. Recorded in Germany (Cologne as the credits put it, or Köln as it's better known here). Duncan's MySpace page bases him in "Hills of Kentucky," but other evidence suggests Louisville, also for Tiemann. Goldsby was born in Louisville, but moved to New York in 1980 and on to Köln in 1994, where he plays in the Westdeutscher Rundfunk Big Band. He also wrote 3 of 8 songs, with Duncan adding 4; the remainder isn't a standard I recognize. Narrow postbop, the sax a little thin, but it sustains interest and closes strong with riff-based vamps like Goldsby's "Juan in the Basement." B+(**)
  • Peggy Duquesnel: Summertime Lullaby (2009 [2010], Joyspring Music): Pianist-vocalist, writes some (4 of 11 "jazz standards and love songs" here). Seventh album since 2003. Evidently based in southern California ("served as stadium keyboardist for the Anaheim Angels baseball team"). Band includes guitar, bass, and drums, but seems to vanish mid-album. Has some charm as a singer, and her instrumental (solo) takes of "Satin Doll" and "Take the 'A' Train" sparkle, but the lullaby/love song angle doesn't do much (nor does her "Mack the Knife," which doesn't exactly fit any of these concepts. B
  • Marty Ehrlich: Fables (2010, Tzadik): A collaboration with Klezmer Conservatory Band directory Hankus Netsky -- not clear whether this should be co-credited, as some sources do, but most just list Ehrlich. Also only found one source for credits: Ehrlich (clarinet, bass clarinet, flute, alto sax, soprano sax), Marcus Rojas (tuba), Jerome Harris (acoustic bass guitar), Netsky (piano, accordion). That's about what I hear, although Ehrlich plays the clarinets much more than the saxes. Mostly klezmer, no idea how vintage; starts and ends strong, the latter's tuba-accordion oom-pah a hoot. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • 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+(**)
  • Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio: Big M: A Tribute to Malchi Favors (2004 [2006], Delmark): Never got this from Delmark, which now seems like a big mistake (although I gather it was originally packaged with a DVD). The late Art Ensemble of Chicago bassist (d. 2004) was also a founding pillar of El'Zabar's Ritual Trio, capably replaced here by Yosen Ben Israel. Ari Brown is strong on tenor sax and switches to piano on a couple of cuts, surprisingly engaging. El'Zabar's percussion is savvy, and his vocal isn't dreadful. Bang doesn't blow everyone else away, but his edge adds to everything he touches. A- [Rhapsody]
  • Empty Cage Quartet: Gravity (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Jason Mears (alto sax, clarinet), Kris Tiner (trumpet), Ivan Johnson (double bass), Paul Kikuchi (drums, percussion). Group has five albums together since 2006. Tiner's title piece consists of 11 sections, split up here into five chunks, separated by another four chunks of Mears's multi-sectional "Tzolkien." This stradles the notion of free and composed in attractive ways, although I'm hard-pressed to tell which is which or why it should matter. The two horns stand tall. The rhythm does a nice job of supporting them. B+(***)
  • Empty Cage Quartet & Soletti Besnard: Take Care of Floating (2008 [2010], Rude Awakening): LA-based pianoless freebop quartet, with Kris Tiner (trumpet), Jason Mears (alto sax, clarinet), Ivan Johnson (bass), and Paul Kikuchi (drums), on their sixth album since 2006 -- expanded to a sextet this time with the addition of two French musicians: guitarist Patrice Soletti and clarinettist Aurélien Besnard, for more complex interaction, but tends to unsharpen the angles. Soletti and Besnard have several albums each, including at least one duo. I'm rather taken with Besnard's MySpace influences list: Berne, Ducret, Sclavis, Eskelin, further down adding Dolphy, Ayler, Coleman, Davis, Braxton, and Drew Gress. B+(**)
  • Mike Fahie: Anima (2010, Bju'ecords): Trombonist, b. 1976 in Ottawa, Canada; wound up in New York in 2000. First album, quintet with Bill McHenry (tenor sax), Ben Monder (guitar), Ben Street (bass), and Billy Hart (drums), produced by John McNeil. Postbop, nicely measured, with a lot of space for sax and guitar to lead, the trombone holding the record down to earth. B+(***)
  • Eric Felten: Seize the Night (2007 [2010], Melotone): Trombonist lately turned vocalist, b. 1964, cut a couple albums for Soul Note in the early 1990s, then not much until he emerged as a crooner on Eric Felten Meets the Dek-tette in 2005. Wrote six of eleven songs, none up to "Dancing in the Dark" or "Blue Skies" but they hold up well enough. Band should be superb -- Kenny Barron, Dennis Irwin, Jimmy Cobb, and Don Braden -- but neither they nor the singer break out of the straight-laced propriety characterized by, for instance, the conservative black-and-white cover art. B+(**)
  • Scott Fields Ensemble: Fugu (1995 [2010], Clean Feed): Chicago guitarist, has a couple dozen albums since 1993, of which this original 1995 recording was his second, brought back on a new label. Group wobbles between Matt Turner on cello and Robert Stright on vibes, the former slowing things down and sapping them up, the latter bristling with energy. Group also includes bass and percussion. Fields has some very nice runs, and the vibes are terrific. B+(**)
  • 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+(**)
  • Fond of Tigers: Continent & Western (2010, Drip Audio): Vancouver group, guitarist-vocalist Stephen Lyons is probably the main mover of the septet, with JP Carter (trumpet) and Jesse Zubot (violin) names I recognize from elsewhere, plus piano, bass, two drummers, a guest vocal from Sandro Perri and a guest blast of noise from Mats Gustafsson. AMG files them under rock, or avant-garde, or something experimental in between. I've played this twice and know less than I thought I knew when I started -- their previous (second) album caught my interest, but this has a strange mix of overbearing soundtrack and light pop, and while my grade is probably not where it'd be after 4-5 more plays, I don't see any reason to really figure this out. B-
  • 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+(**)
  • Ken Fowser & Behn Gillece: Little Echo (2010, Posi-Tone): Fowser plays tenor sax; b. 1982, grew up in New Jersey, attended William Paterson University; studied with Eric Alexander, Grant Stewart, and Ralph Bowen, and fits into their niche handsomely. Gillece plays vibes; also b. 1982, somewhere near Philadelphia. First record for either, quintet with Rick Germanson (piano), Ugonna Okegwo (bass), and Quincy Davis (drums). Swings hard, the vibes adding a certain frothy lightness. B+(*)
  • Rebecca Coupe Franks: Check the Box (2010, RCF):b 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+(*)
  • Gaida: Levantine Indulgence (2009 [2010], Palymra): Singer, born in Germany, raised in Damascus, also lived in Kuwait and Paris; moved to Detroit to study biology, got into music singing in Lebanese restaurants, eventually wound up in New York, where she taps into a mix of Middle Eastern and jazz musicians -- drummer Eric McPherson, bassist François Moutin, or both in the case of Iraqi trumpeter Amir ElSaffar. Mix is more Arab folk/pop than anything else, but I can't swear that's what it really is. B+(***)
  • Gamelan Madu Sari: Hive (2005-07 [2010], Songlines): Vancouver group, plays classical (or maybe not so classical) Javanese music, lots of gongs, some strings, more percussion, waves of voices. Second album. It doesn't grab me, but listening in a dark quiet room suggests there are plenty of subtle details. Has a very informative booklet, too, trots and historical details. One could learn a lot if one had better eyes than I do. B+(*)
  • 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+(*)
  • 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, but it's more like he's trying to establish his credentials than do something distinctive with them. B
  • Joe Gilman: Americanvas (2009 [2010], Capri): Pianist, b. 1962 in Sacramento, CA, studied at Indiana University, teaches at American River College back in Sacramento. Eighth album since 1991, including two "revists" to Dave Brubeck and two more to Stevie Wonder. The theme here isn't anywhere near so simple: not sure what it is, but the liner notes cite various cultural artifacts from the early 1940s to the early 1960s, and the sound itself is straight bebop. Gilman's piano is a live wire, and two saxophonists vie for attention: Ben Flocks and Chad Lefkowitz-Brown. B+(***)
  • Rosario Giuliani: Lennie's Pennies (2009 [2010], Dreyfus Jazz): Alto saxophonist, b. 1967 in Terracina, Italy. Tenth album since 1997. Mainstream piano-bass-drums quartet, with Pierre de Bethmann also playing electric piano. Bright, bouncy, beautiful tone especially on classics like "How Deep the Ocean," some fast bebop turns. 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+(**)
  • 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+(**)
  • 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+(**)
  • 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+(**)
  • Bobby Gordon: Plays Joe Marsala: Lower Register (2007, Arbors): Marsala was a clarinetist from Chicago, 1907-78, with most of his recordings on two Classics volumes from 1936-46, plus appearances with Wingo Manone, Eddie Condon, Adrian Rollini, and many other trad jazz artists -- although Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker also pop up. Marsala wrote or co-wrote all of the songs in this tribute. Gordon was born in 1941, first saw Marsala when he was 5, and wound up not only playing clarinet but taking lessons from Marsala. Gordon has a dozen or so albums starting in 1963, including a similar Pee Wee Russell tribute. This one is a delight, with a first rate band including Randy Reinhart on trumpet and James Chirillo on guitar, with pianist Keith Ingham contributing arrangements. B+(***)
  • The Lou Grassi Po Band with Marshall Allen: Live at the Knitting Factory Volume 1 (2000 [2010], Porter): One more item in the recent explosion of Marshall Allen recordings. I've toyed around with the idea of writing a more conventional column, where I could pick some interesting theme and focus on a small cluster of records related to that, and the 4-5 recent records with Sun Ra's long-reclusive Johnny Hodges would be a worthwhile subject. As it is, he's only one of four horns here, frequently at each other's throats. The others are Paul Smoker on trumpet, Steve Swell on trombone, and Perry Robinson on clarinet, while Wilber Morris plays bass. Grassi is the drummer, b. 1947, with eight previous Po Band records since 1995. How good this is depends on how much noise you can stand, since they rarely unravel into individual strains, even though we know they can do that. Maybe they just want to stoke the drummer? B+(**)
  • Frank Gratkowski/Hamid Drake (2009 [2010], Valid): Drake should be well known by now; his distinctive percussion provides an exceptionally flexible and resonant match to anyone he plays with. Gratkowski plays alto sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet. B. 1963 in Hamburg, Germany, prolific since 1991 but this is the first of his twenty-some records I've heard; plays free and hard, not as harsh as Brötzmann or Gustafsson, but not easy to distinguish from a dozen others. He's a SFFR if I ever get hold of the discs. B+(**)
  • Henry Grimes/Rashied Ali: Going to the Ritual (2008, Porter): Wrote up pretty extensive notes on this duo of 1960s avant-garde heroes for their later Spirits Aloft, which was so good I figured I had to check out their earlier album. This is more like what I was expecting, which means that Grimes plays much more bass than violin, and Ali's drums are more up front. Neither of those are problems, although it does take more listener effort to follow bass than violin. Ali died in 2009, a heart attack, but seems to have been quite active in his last years. His discography includes four 2009 albums on Blue Music Group with a very unusual mix of players. Grimes also has a double-disc solo album on ILK which offhand seems like way too much, but he's surprised me more than once. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Lars Gullin: 1953-55 Vol. 8: 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-
  • Omar Hakim/Rachel Z: The Trio of OZ (2010, Ozmosis): Probably the 'z' in title and label should be capitalized: they use all caps everywhere, and I habitually hack them into u&lc. Third member of the trio is bassist Maeve Royce. Hakim is a drummer, b. 1959, has a couple of albums and a lot of session work going back to 1978, some rock (David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Dire Straits, Mariah Carey), some jazz (Miles Davis, John Scofield, Michael Brecker), some non-jazz (Kenny G, Najee). Rachel Nicolazzo is the pianist, b. 1962, has a dozen or more albums since 1990. She would most likely have a higher reputation had she not changed her name and dabbled in a series of pop/fusion projects. Fluid pianist, moves around a lot and is always in firm control. Very solid trio work, closes with a discreet take on Sting's "King of Pain." B+(**) [advance]
  • Mary Halvorson Quintet: Saturn Sings (2010, Firehouse 12): Guitarist, studied with Anthony Braxton, has developed a style which is fiercely independent, sometimes producing impressive records, sometimes resulting in chaos. She is very much in control here. The horns -- Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on alto sax -- add warbly harmonics to her leads, and often just lay back. Ches Smith plays drums, and the ever reliable John Hébert bass. A record that I would need more time with, but unfortunately won't get. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Taylor Haskins: American Dream (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Trumpet player, b. 1971, third album since 2004, the first two on Fresh Sound New Talent. Quartet with Ben Monder (guitar), Ben Street (bass), and Jef Hirshfield (drums). Ponderous titles plumbing an American dream that comes off menacingly gloomy ("the farmer has nothing to sow/the cowboy has nowhere to roam/the heroes have no one to save/the misfits find it hard to behave/the merchants have little to sell/the establishment has secrets to tell/the people have started to yell/the dreamers are nowhere but hell"); the music even more so. B
  • Joe Hertenstein/Pascal Niggenkemper/Thomas Heberer: HNH (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): Got off on a tangent here: I had a database entry (Penguin 4-star record) for a Christoph Heberer, which is certainly wrong. There is a drummer named Christoph Haberer, and the trumpet player Thomas Heberer. Finally decided that the record in question belongs to Heberer, who was b. 1965, plays quarter-tone trumpet, has a scattered list of recordings since 1987, some trad jazz, some avant -- Alexander von Schlippenbach, Misha Mengelberg, Aki Takase. Hertenstein is a drummer, and has a slight edge in compositions over Heberer. This is his first album. Niggenkemper plays bass, has one record from 2008 on Konnex. Tight, fairly minimal free jazz. 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
  • Eric Hofbauer: American Fear! (2009 [2010], Creative Nation Music): Guitarist, b. 1974, has a couple of good records with his college chum trio, the Blueprint Project, and now four records under his own name: low-keyed solo guitar with political sentiments -- one previous one was called American Vanity. This one is very low key, picking around the edges of melodies that aren't quite there. Not uninteresting, but not a lot that draws you in. B [Rhapsody]
  • 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+(**)
  • John Lee Hooker, Jr.: Live in Istanbul Turkey (2010, Steppin' Stone): 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+(*)
  • 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
  • William Hooker Trio: Yearn for Certainty (2007 [2010], Engine): Drummer, b. 1946, has a couple dozen albums since 1982, mostly odd avant-garde juxtapositions. The trio mix here pits David Soldier (mandolin, banjo, violin) against Sabir Mateen (sax, flute, clarinet), which is good for all sorts of sparks. Hooker adds some spoken word, not exactly a highlight but fair enough within the framework. B+(**)
  • Owen Howard: Drum Lore (2009 [2010], Bju'ecords): Drummer, b. 1965 Edmonton; moved to New York around 1988; fourth record since 1993; not much of a side credit list -- none of the 11 household names he lists as "performed or recorded with" on his website show up in his AMG credits list, although Joe Lovano has something nice to say on the inside cover. One original and ten covers of songs by drummers, counting "Stompin' at the Savoy" for Chick Webb (listed ahead of Benny Goodman and Edgar Sampson); the others are worth listing: Denzil Best, Shelly Manne, Ed Blackwell, Al Foster, Billy Hart, Tony Williams, Paul Motian, Jack DeJohnette, Peter Erskine. Frank Carlberg plays piano, Johannes Weidenmueller bass, but the music is dominated by a rich range of horns: John O'Gallagher (alto), Andy Middleton (tenor, soprano), Adam Kolker (tenor, soprano, bass clarinet), and Alan Ferber (trombone on 4 cuts). B+(**)
  • Chris Icasiano/Neil Welch: Bad Luck. (2009, Belle): Icasiano is a drummer, b. 1986, from Seattle; also plays in a group called Speak, which has an album on Origin I haven't played yet -- presumably more mainstream, where this is pretty free. Welch is a Seattle saxophonist, b. 1985, plays tenor, soprano, and contrabass here with some loops and pedals. Not as much muscle as Vandermark and Nilssen-Love, the reigning champs of sax-drums duos, but what they lack is interesting in its own right. B+(***)
  • Chie Imaizumi: A Time of New Beginnings (2010, Capri): From Japan, studied at Berklee from 2001, based in Los Angeles, but recorded this in New York. Third album since 2005, composing and arranging for a large group with a John Clayton-Jeff Hamilton-Tamir Hendelman rhythm section and a lot of big name horns (Steve Wilson, Scott Robinson, Gary Smulyan, Greg Gisbert, Terrell Stafford, Steve Davis, and a guest spot for Randy Brecker). Has its ups and downs, but the ensemble work is often amazing. B+(**)
  • 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+(*)
  • 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+(**)
  • Justin Janer: Following Signs (2009 [2010], Janer Music): Alto saxophonist, 25 (b. 1985?) from Seattle, grew up in L.A., based there (although he also lists New York on MySpace). Bio talks about his Puerto Rican heritage and Latin jazz interest, but this is postbop, mostly quintet with Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet and Fabian Almazan on piano -- one track adds guitar. Catches my ear when he stretches. 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+(*)
  • Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden: Jasmine (2007 [2010], ECM): A night-blooming flower, perhaps unfair to try to listen to music this quiet and uncomplicated during the day when almost any distraction suffices to break the mood. Standards, love songs, a couple of old comrades getting sentimental. [was: B+(*)] B+(**)
  • Billy Jenkins: I Am a Man From Lewisham (2010, VOTP): British guitarist, has recorded a lot since the early 1980s but hardly anyone have heard him, or heard of him. I haven't heard much myself, especially of his early stuff; his later stuff is idiosyncratic, with True Love Collection -- a psychedelic reworking of cutesy 1960s (or early 1970s) pop songs -- a personal favorite. This one starts and ends with blues, the title song and "Throw Them Blues in the Recycling Bin," both with hoarse Jenkins vocals, but the music gets pretty slippery even there, even more so in the instrumentals in between. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Billy Jenkins: Uncommerciality: Volume One (1986, VOTP): One of those early albums, seems like it might be a comp but all six tracks date from Jan-Feb 1986, a sextet with two saxes (one switching to bass clarinet), electric bass and guitar, drums and percussion. Titles are certainly uncommercial -- "Spastics Dancing," "Sade's Lips," "Margaret's Menstural Problems" -- but the music is within grasp, the guitar mostly hot and bluesy fusion, Iain Ballamy's tenor sax on "Pharoah Sanders" a good deal more contained -- amusingly so -- than the model, although in general he's one of the more powerful saxophonists of the 1980s. Couldn't play first track, one reason for hedging. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Billy Jenkins: Uncommerciality: Volume Two (1988, VOTP): Now, this is more like uncommercial, with a circusy sound indicated by Iain Ballamy spending more time on soprano than tenor sax, and Jenkins more time hacking at the strings instead of blues or fusion riffing. "Isn't It a Great World We Live In" features the VOGC Junior League Vocal Chorus -- VOGC stands for Voice of God Collective. "Girl Getting Knocked Over" descends into nursery rhymes. "Black Magic" breaks the kiddie spell for some expansive space mystery. "Blue Broadway" is a boogie woogie, with chorus and romping street horns that sound more New York than New Orleans, not that they do that sort of thing in New York. Again, first track "temporarily unavailable," and a couple of others failed intermittently, the only thing that dimmed my smile. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Billy Jenkins: Uncommerciality: Volume Three (1991, VOTP): Not commercial either, but the populism here is so big-hearted the masses are missing out on a lot of fun. First cut opens with organ, horn section, the VOGS Male Voice Choir, and Harriet Jenkins spoken word -- why not just call it rap? Jenkins plays keyboards, violin, and electric bass as well as his usual guitar, by turns fast, heavy, psychedelic. "Dancing in Ornette Coleman's Head" is a great title. Indeed, everything here dances, although "Land of the Free" slows it down to a waltz. A- [Rhapsody]
  • Billy Jenkins with The Voice of God Collective: Sounds Like Bromley (1982, VOTP): A little unpreposessing for the Voice of God, at least until the last track when they finally do shake the earth. Three horns -- trumpet, trombone, tenor sax -- more oompah band than bebop, with an extra guitar, bass, drums and percussion, but no human voices. I keep shying away from calling what he does surreal or dada because it's too corny, and too populist, with just enough stray noise and weirdness to keep it from ever going popular. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Billy Jenkins with the Voice of God Collective: Greenwich (1985, VOTP): A big step toward the avant-garde, most likely due to the two new saxophonists replacing the trumped on Sounds Like Bromley. I have no idea who Skid Solo is -- name comes from a comic strip about a Formula 1 driver, but you can see how it might relate -- but Iain Ballamy is well known and a major pickup here. Not that the guitarist's cartoonish populism doesn't poke through here and there, nor that the slow ones can get wobbly, but this is a pretty amazing band when they're skittering about, and Ballamy adds some real stature. U [Rhapsody]
  • Capathia Jenkins/Louis Rosen: The Ache of Possibility (2009, Di-tone): Rosen plays guitar, writes the songs -- borrowing lyrics from Nikki Giovanni for four of twelve -- and is a sly singer when he gets the chance, as on "The Middle-Class (Used to Be) Blues": the sharpest political song here in an album that carries a lot of political message. Jenkins is a church-schooled soul belter -- more impressive vocally but not in Aretha Franklin's league, and less interesting as a result. No strong reason to treat this as jazz -- as the hype sheet suggests -- other than the occasional horns and congas, which don't add up to much. Two previous albums, one full of Nikki Giovanni songs, the other called South Side Stories. B+(*)
  • Marc Courtney Johnson: Dream of Sunny Days (2004-08 [2009], Dreamy Jazz): Vocalist, b. 1967, studied at Norther Illinois University and University of Chicago. Based in Chicago (MySpace page says Skokie). Second album. Wrote 6 of 13 songs, including one to celebrate Obama's election. Smooth voice, not quite slick. Don't see much credits info, but Geof Bradfield is the saxophonist, a good one. B+(**)
  • Tom Johnson: Rational Melodies (2008 [2010], New World): Minimalist composer, b. 1939, originally best known for his column on new music in the Village Voice from 1972-82. I knew him briefly and read him regularly at the Voice; I admired his writing and his vast expertise and disciplined taste. He moved to Paris in 1983 and hasn't been heard from much since then -- but every now a recording of his work pops up. An Hour for Piano (1979) was a delightful piece, while Nine Bells (1982) was pretty tiring. "Rational Melodies" was composed in 1982 and has been recorded once before, by Eberhard Blum in 1993, playing solo flute, released on Hat Art. This version is played by the enemble Dedalus -- guitar, trombone, saxophone, flute, violin, cello, bass, piano -- directed by Didier Aschour. Together, and they always play together, they sould like a particularly rich synthesizer. The rhythm is fixed, so all that varies are the melodies, and they are, well, quite rational about it, but somehow they manage to avoid the tedium they're aiming at. B+(**)
  • Darrell Katz/Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra: A Wallflower in the Amazon (2010, Accurate): Composer, based in Boston, teaches at Berklee, has eight records since 1992, the earliest as JCAO. The organization dates back to 1985, and Katz is listed as "founder/director," with many other composers passing through. Their MySpace page lists five other "resident composers," but only Katz provides songs here -- three with poems by Paula Tatarunis, and Katz-arranged covers of Ellington, Willie Dixon (one you know from Muddy Waters: "Hoochie Koochie Man"), and Big Maceo Merriweather. Most pieces have vocals, and I find Rebecca Shrimpton warbly on most of them. The exception is "Hoochie Koochie Man" where Mike Finnigan takes over. That's when I also started noticing the fine print, which is where Katz excels as an arranger. B+(*)
  • Achim Kaufmann/Robert Landferman/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+(*)
  • Kihnoua: Unauthorized Caprices (2009 [2010], Not Two): Larry Ochs group, second his his website's group list after Sax Drumming Core, but then ROVA is on the far end. Ochs plays saxophones (probably sopranino and tenor), rough and rugged as usual, but not as rough as Dohee Lee's vocals -- her attack is barely restrainted. Also on board is Scott Amendola, drums and electronics. Group name "borrowed from ancient Greek might have meant 'the difference.'" Vocals draw on Korean "p'ansori singing" and "sinawi improvisation," but could just as well be avant horn attack. Some guests: Liz Allbee (trumpet + electronics), Fred Frith (guitar), Joan Jeanrenaud (cello). B+(**)
  • Guillermo Klein: Domador de Huellas: Music of "Chuchi" Leguuizamon (2010, Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1970 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, studied at Berklee, based in New York, eighth album since 1997, most with a large band he calls Los Gauchos. This one is a tribute to Argentine songwriter Gustavo "Cuchi" Leguizamón, who wrote/co-wrote all but Klein's title track. Most songs have vocals, mostly sung by Klein who doesn't give them a very felicitous airing, although guests Liliana Herrero and Carme Canela do little better. B-
  • Randy Klein: Sunday Morning (2009 [2010], Jazzheads): Pianist, b. 1949, has ten or so records since 1986, produces records for his Jazzheads label (named after an early album), does theatre and film work -- discography includes a page as "Composer" listing Lil Kim, Memphis Bleek, Black Sheep, IRT, Sarah Dash, Millie Jackson, Candi Staton. Plays here with saxophonist Oleg Kireyev and trombonist Chris Washburne, mostly duets. Alternating the horns keeps the record out of a rut, and both make strong contributions -- I've been praising Kireyev a lot recently, but Washburne does a superb job with the more difficult instrument. 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+(**)
  • 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+(**)
  • Komeda Project: Requiem (2009, WM): Polish pianist Krzysztof Komeda (1931-69) certainly is a project. I've only sampled one of the dozen or so albums he has on obscure Polish labels -- now prohibitively expensive given exchange rate, I might add -- and it is really superb (Astigmatic). So this group -- led by expat Poles Krzysztof Medyna (tenor sax, soprano sax) and Andrzej Winnicki (piano), with expert NY help from Russ Johnson, Scott Colley, and Nasheet Waits -- is welcome, but I can't claim to have made any breakthroughs with it. B+(**)
  • Yusef Lateef/Adam Rudolph: Towards the Unknown (2009 [2010], Meta): The former Bill Evans broke into Dizzy Gillespie's orchestra in 1949. He began recording under the name Yusef Lateef around 1957, mostly on tenor sax, sometimes on oboe, and was one of the first saxophonists to play substantial amounts of flute. His name came out of an interest in Asian and African musics, which he did much to integrate into jazz during the early 1960s. I've only sampled him occasionally, and actually the only record of his I really recommend is a two-tenor duel from 1992 called Tenors of Yuseef Lateef and Archie Shepp, but I haven't heard several other promsing duos from the same period. The percussionist took an early interest in African music and finally hooked up with Lateef in 1991, and they've done quite a bit together since then. (Lateef was a few weeks shy of 89 when this one was recorded.) This is constructed from two extended pieces, a "Concerto for Brother Yusef" written by Rudolph, and "Percussion Concerto (for Adam Rudolph)" written by Lateef. Both are victimized by classical accompaniment: the former by the Go: Organic Strings, the latter by Orchestra of the SEM Ensemble. I do hope Lateef's lethargy is simply the fault of the arrangements. Rudolph can be fascinating when he gets some space to stretch out. B [Rhapsody]
  • 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+(*)
  • Jerry Leake: Cubist (2009 [2010], Rhombus Publishing): Percussionist employing almost every instrument from around the world, graduated from Berklee, teaches at New England Conservatory and Tufts, has published eight books, released four records. This one marks a move towards assembling a band -- nominally an octet, but only guitarist-producer Randy Roos joins Leake on a majority of cuts. Some cuts develop an impressive African vibe; others add Turkish and Indian flavors. B+(**)
  • Urs Leimgruber/Evan Parker: Twine (2007 [2010], Clean Feed): Two saxophonists, both play soprano and tenor, with soprano listed first. Parker needs no introduction, at least here. Leimgruber is Swiss, b. 1952 in Lucerne, based in France. He has twenty or so albums since 1983. I have two of them I picked up in a Hat Hut clearance sale somewhere and never got around to. He's well regarded, clearly someone I should get to know better. Three long improv pieces here, called "Twine," "Twirl," and "Twist." Scratchy at first, but the repeated circling, twisting and turning, is fascinating in the end -- if, of course, you can stand this sort of indeterminacy. B+(**)
  • Daniel Levin Quartet: Bacalhau (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Cellist, with Nate Wooley (trumpet), Peter Bitenc (double bass), and Matt Moran (vibes), a combo that tends to be stratchy with blips and bits here and there. B+(*)
  • Rozanne Levine & Chakra Tuning: Only Moment (2008 [2009], Acoustics): B. 1945, mostly plays alto clarinet, studied with Perry Robinson, married Mark Whitecage. Didn't have much of a track record until the 1990s when she started performing under William Parker's umbrella, finally teaming up with Whitecage for the duo RoMarkable. Her Chakra Tuning group includes Whitecage, Robinson, and violinist Rosi Hertlein. Album starts and ends with solos, with four group cuts and four Whitecage duos in between. With Whitecage and Robinson mostly playing clarinet (some soprano sax, something called a 1/2 clarinet, some percussion) the layering can get dense or remain airy. The group improv ("Town Meeting") is a bit wobbly. I have more reservations about the title cut, with lyrics "inspired by The Yin Yoga Kit: The Practice of Quiet Power," sung by Hertlein in a quasi-operatic soprano -- a tour de force that's not really my cup of tea. 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
  • Frank London/Lorin Sklamberg: Tsuker-Zis (2009, Tzadik): London plays trumpet, mostly in klezmer-rooted contexts, like his Hasidic New Wave band and vocalist Sklamberg's main gig, the Klezmatics. London's Carnival Conspiracy (2005, Piranha) is probably his high point, but there's a lot in his discography that I haven't explored, including a 1998 album co-credited to Sklamberg called Nigumin. Title here is Yiddish for "sugar sweet." Texts are evidently Hasidic, mostly holiday songs, many in Yiddish, at any rate nothing in English. For all I know, this may be as inocuous as the musically similar Klezmatics album of Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah, but it feels more distant, exalted maybe. Sklamberg's voice is full of wonder; you have to search a bit for London's horn, which rarely crowds the stage, but is welcome when it does. B+(***)
  • Los Angeles Jazz Collective: Sampler Vol. 1 (2006-08 [2009], Jazz Collective): Young mainstream Los Angeles-based jazz musicians, not an integral group. Website lists 13 members, each on 1-5 cuts here, and has a second list of 20 "other members," most not here. The latter list has some people I recall running across, but none on this sampler. The only one on the record that I'm sure I recognize is drummer Mark Ferber, on 4 cuts but not neither list. Less sure about saxophonists Matt Otto and Robby Marshall -- Otto, with 5 cuts and about that many records seems to be the dean here. Not much info with the package. I couldn't track down all of the referenced albums, and one cut doesn't seem to have come from anywhere, but what I could find fits the dates above. The groups range from 3 to 6 members, skewed toward fewer (median 4). Most have guitar and sax; 2 of 13 have trumpet and trombone; Joe Bagg's organ is more common than piano. Only interesting thing is that so many scattered groups sound so consistent lined up like this, but that could be taken as proof of their ordinariness. B
  • Russ Lossing: Personal Tonal (2009 [2010], Fresh Sound New Talent): Pianist, leads a sax quartet with Loren Stillman on alto, John Hebert on bass, and Eric McPherson on drums. The piano is jumpy, shifty, the lead track so radical that when it's followed by Ornette Coleman's "School Days" the latter sounds like a way of resolving the chaos into a pop hook. Stillman fits Lossing to a tee, and Hebert, as usual, can do no wrong. A- [Rhapsody]
  • 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+(**)
  • Tony Malaby's Tamarindo: Live (2010, Clean Feed): Originally a tenor sax trio with Malaby, William Parker on bass, and Nasheet Waits on drums. This time adds Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet. Sounds like a good deal, but Smith focuses on the tight riffing he specializes in, and Malaby never breaks out -- sound seems a little muffled to me. B+(*)
  • Olivier Manchon: Orchestre de Chambre Miniature, Volume 1 (2010, ObliqSound): Violinist, from France, moved to US in 1999, studying at Berklee, then on to Los Angeles and New York. Second album. Chamber group includes viola, cello, and double bass, but they add little to the striking violin. Seven of eight tracks add an extra player: Hideaki Aomori (2 tracks clarinet, 1 bass clarinet), John Ellis (3 tracks tenor sax, 1 bass clarinet), or Gregoire Maret (1 track harmonica). The Maret feature whines and drags a bit, but Ellis is terrific, just the touch to pull this out of its miniature world. B+(**)
  • Sarah Manning: Dandelion Clock (2009 [2010], Posi-Tone): Alto saxophonist, originally from Connecticut where she bumped into Jackie McLean and picked up a bit of his overbite. Passed through San Francisco on her way to New York. Third album, two covers (Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks," Michel Legrand's "The Windmills of Your Mind") and seven originals, with Art Hirahara on piano, Linda Oh on bass, and Kyle Struve on drums. Has some edge to her playing, not just the rough tone, and gets occasional buzz from the group -- hadn't heard Hirahara before but his solos stand out. B+(**)
  • 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+(*)
  • Mike Marshall/Caterina Lichtenberg: Caterina Lichtenberg and Mike Marshall (2009 [2010], Adventure Music): Mandolin duets. Marshall, like most American mandolinists, started in bluegrass, but then he took a turn into Brazilian choro and his discography and especially his label now tilt that way. Lichtenberg was born in Sofia, Bulgaria, is based in Germany; she specializes in baroque classical music, and that's where they start here: with J.S. Bach, then Jean-Marie Leclair; they mix in Jose Antonio Zambrano's "Suite Venezuelana," two pieces by Jacob do Bandolim, one from Zequendo de Abrel, a Bulgarian trad tune, a couple of Marshall's pieces -- all sounding, to me at least, pretty baroque. B+(*)
  • Masada String Trio: Haborym: The Book of Angels, Volume 16 (2010, Tzadik): Mark Feldman (violin), Erik Friedlander (cello), Greg Cohen (bass). Group was originally assembled by John Zorn for his 50th birthday celebration, and returns here to take a whack at Zorn's klezmer-flavored Book of Angels series. Most pieces have intriguing grooves, moved along smartly by the bass, which keeps the violin from getting stuck in anything chamber-ish, and some even have a bit of mischievous noise. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Eric McPherson: Continuum (2007 [2008], Smalls): Drummer. First album, but has an impressive list of credits starting around 1990. Studied with Jackie McLean, and has some sort of relationship to Max Roach (M'Boom). Other credits include: Jesse Davis, Abraham Burton, Myron Walden, Avishai Cohen, Steve Lehman, Jeremy Pelt, Luis Perdomo, Andrew Hill, Steve Davis, Jason Lindner, Charnett Moffett. Burton was the name that caught my eye. An alto saxophonist with roots in Belize, he cut two of the best albums of the 1990s (on Enja, look for 1995's The Magician) but has scarcely been heard from since. He appears here, playing tenor and soprano as well as alto, plus a bit of flute, and he's rivetting on all but the flute. Relatively short at 39:39, cut over three sessions with two bassists and occasional guests, this is a little scattered, but the pieces are interesting in their own right. Carla Cherry does a spoken word piece over drums and Trevor Todd's yirdaki (Australian instrument, may or may not be same as didgeridoo). One cut subs Shimrit Shoshan's Fender Rhodes for David Bryant's piano. But mostly, hope to hear more from Burton. 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+(*)
  • Memphis Nighthawks: Jazz Lips (1976-77 [2009], Delmark): Trad jazz band formed at University of Illinois by clarinetist Ron DeWar, with trumpet (Steve Jensen), trombone (Joel Helleny), bass sax (Dave Feinman), guitar (Mike Miller), and drums (Bob Kornacher) -- didn't recognize any names, but all but the drummer and the leader have notable credits lists. They cut this album for Delmark, another live shot, and quit. Delmark dug up five previously unreleased cuts to fill out the CD length. In some ways this is like every other trad jazz revival project, but the horn layering is subtle and powerful, and the guitar-drums rhythm cooks. B+(***)
  • Pablo Menéndez & Mezcla: I'll See You in Cuba (2009 [2010], Zoho): Guitarist, b. 1966 in Oakland, CA, moved to Cuba at age 14 and has lived there ever since -- his mother was folksinger Barbara Dane, who recorded albums like I Hate the Capitalist System. Second album with Menéndez's name up front, although his band has another half dozen going back to the 1980s. Eclectic mix of Cuban styles, a little unsettled but proficient. 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+(*)
  • Peppe Merolla: Stick With Me (2010, PJ Productions): Drummer, b. 1969 Naples, Italy, based in New York (and/or Philadelphia?), has two previous albums, sings at least on Sogno Italiano (Italian Dream), but not here. The central figure here isn't the drummer, who wrote 1 of 9 songs, but tenor saxophonist and co-producer John Farnsworth, who wrote 5. Unfortunately, he doesn't make much of an impression, the album falling into fairly ordinary postbop. Also with Steve Turre (trombone, shells), Jim Rotondi (trumpet, flugelhorn), Mike LeDonne (piano), and Lee Smith (bass). B
  • Dave Mihaly's Shimmering Leaves Ensemble: Eastern Accents in the Far West (2010, Porto Franco): Drummer, plays some piano here, also has a voice credit; based in San Francisco, after starting in NJ and NY; credits Andrew Cyrille, Barry Altschul, and Zakir Hussain as teachers, and reports that he's taught for some thirty years. First album according to AMG, although his website lists several more, including three string quartets and an expanded "Coretet" version of this group. Two-horn trio, with David Boyce on tenor sax and Ara Anderson on brass instruments (trumpet, bass trumpet, sousaphone), both occasionally spelling Mihaly on drums. I recall Anderson from Tin Hat; Boyce has a couple dozen credits, the only one I recognize a hip-hop album, Haiku D'Etat (actually, a pretty good one, with Aceyalone). The two horns twist in interesting ways, with just enough support from drums (and sometimes piano) to tie it together. 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
  • Joe Morris/Nate Wooley: Tooth and Nail (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): Guitar-trumpet duets, rather fractured, which of course is Morris's specialty. I've heard Wooley in a number of promising contexts lately, but he's rarely stood out, and seems pretty superfluous here. B
  • Wolfgang Muthspiel & Mick Goodrick: Live at the Jazz Standard (2008 [2010], Material): Guitar duo. Muthspiel is Austrian, b. 1965, has about 20 albums since 1990. He gets compared to Metheny and Scofield a lot, but I like him better, with his early Black and Blue and recent Bright Side especially recommended (the latter was a Jazz CG pick hit). Goodrick is an older American, b. 1945, broke in with Gary Burton alongside Metheny. He has a 1978 ECM album, In Pas(s)ing (recommended to John Surman fans), a few more in the 1990s, not much really. The two guitarists sort of melt together here in a polite encounter that generates little heat. Still, there is something to be said for that ice tone and the ability to spin long clean lines. B+(**)
  • Neel Nurgai: Neel Murgai Ensemble (2008 [2010], Innova): Murgai plays sitar and daf, a Persian frame drum. Based in New York (Brooklyn), not sure where he's from or when he was born, but New York is leading candidate. Studied civil engineering at Georgia Tech before getting into music. Studied sitar with Pundit Krishna Bhatt. Ensemble adds Mat Maneri on viola, Greg Heffernan on cello, and Sameer Gupta on tabla. B+(*)
  • Roberto Occhipinti: A Bend in the River (2010, Alma): Bassist, b. 1955 in Toronto; fourth album since 2006; nominally a quartet with Luis Deniz on alto sax, David Virelles on piano, and Dafnis Prieto on drums, but three of seven cuts pile on a string quartet, flute, bass clarinet, and trumpet, while three more swim in a full-fledged string orchestra. The sax paints bright colors but doesn't stand out, and while Prieto's presence promises some hot Cuban percussion none actually emerges. B-
  • Meg Okura and the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Orchestra: Naima (2009 [2010], Meg Okura): Violinist, also plays erhu, b. 1973 in Tokyo, Japan, based in New York. Has a previous album, Meg Okura's Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble (2006), as well as several in Japan that AMG doesn't have a clue about. Also shows up in side credits on a couple dozen albums, mostly John Zorn circle but also with Dianne Reeves, David Bowie, and Ziggy Marley. Group is chamber-ish, with flutes (Anne Drummond Jun Kubo), piano, cello, bass, drums, and percussion (Satoshi Takeishi), and the pieces tend to be suite-like, the last four under the group title "Lu Chai I-IV." The title track, of course, is an arrangement of Coltrane; everything else original. Striking music when it all clicks, which often it does. B+(**)
  • Mark O'Leary & Sunny Murray: Ode to Albert Ayler (2002 [2009], Ayler): O'Leary is an Irish guitarist, from Cork, b. 1969. He's been a SFFR ever since I first ran across him in Anthony Braxton's 2003 standards quartet. He has nine records on Leo since 2000 (recording date; actual release dates start in 2005), a couple more scattered hither and yon. Murray, of course, is one of the great free jazz drummers to come of age in the 1960s, probably inspiring the title with his 1964-65 stint with Albert Ayler -- a stretch of 5-6 albums including Spiritual Unity. He was 65 when this was recorded, with his fine Perles Noires albums still in the future. O'Leary gets a range of sounds from his guitar, ranging from metallic to a dull synth sound, like he's still trying to work out his preferred sound. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • 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+(**)
  • Andrew Oliver Sextet: 82% Chance of Rain (2009 [2010], OA2): Pianist, based in Portland, OR. Has a previous Sextet album from 2008; also an Andrew Oliver Kora Band from 2009. Don't recognize anyone on this album, but three members wrote six of ten songs (to Oliver's four): guitarist Dan Duvall (3), drummer Kevin Van Geem (2), tenor/soprano saxophonist Willie Matheis (1). Also playing are Mary-Sue Tobin (soprano/alto sax, clarinet) and Eric Gruber (bass). Oliver plays some electric (Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer). Intricate postbop, shows a lot of ingenuity, quite listenable over the long haul. B+(**)
  • Jamie Ousley: Back Home (2010, Tie): Worst packaging idea of the year: dark green print on black background. I can't read half the song credits, most of the musicians, or any of the lyrics. Bassist, studied at University of Miami, is based in southern Florida. Second album, after O Sorriso Dela (2008). Musicians listed on front cover are Ira Sullivan (soprano sax, alto flute), Ed Calle (soprano sax), Phillip Strange (piano), Larry Marshall (drums); some others appear here and there, including three singers I've never heard of, and a splash of strings. Trends toward lushness, which isn't a compliment. I generally like Sullivan but his alto flute lead on "My Favorite Things" is my least favorite thing here. C+
  • Makoto Ozone/No Name Horses: Jungle (2009 [2010], Verve): Pianist, b. 1961 in Kobe, Japan; studied at Berklee 1980-83 before returning to Japan, where he is something of a star. Looks like he has 25-30 albums, starting with an eponymous one in 1981 and including at least three with his big band No Name Horses. The band is efficient and effective here, with solid section work, a few standout solos, and a fair amount of space for Ozone to remind you of his affection for Oscar Peterson, although the single thing that I like best about it is the extra dose of percussion, evidently the work of the only non-Japanese name I see on the roster: Pernell Saturnino. B+(*) [advance]
  • William Parker Organ Quartet: Uncle Joe's Spirit House (2010, Centering): With Darryl Foster on tenor sax, Cooper-Moore on organ, Gerald Cleaver on drums, and Parker, of course, on bass. Not an easy record to pigeonhole. Foster is the least avant of the many players in Parker's orbit -- he fits into the Curtis Mayfield music niche nicely, but rarely appears elsewhere, and takes a while getting his footing here. Cooper-Moore on organ should be interesting, but isn't -- he neither follows Jimmy Smith or any other known player nor finds his own way, but part of that may be that with Parker on board there's no need for the organ to double up on piano and bass duties. The music is rather straightforward, built out from the bass line, a steady pulse of life. [was B+(***)] B+(**)
  • Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. V: Stuttgart May 25, 1981 (1981 [2010], Widow's Taste, 2CD): Yet another installment in Laurie Pepper's catalog of late Pepper bootlegs, eleven days after The Croydon Concert which appeared as Vol. III in 2008, eight days before Art Pepper With Duke Jordan in Copenhagen 1981 (released by Galaxy in 1996 and a favorite of mine ever since), then there is the Nov. 22, 1981 Abashiri Concert (Vol. 1 in this series). With Milcho Leviev on piano, Bob Magnuson on bass, and Carl Burnett on drums: a common tour group for Pepper, although only Burnett was a frequent player on Pepper's Galaxy albums of the period -- George Cables was his most common pianist. I'm not sure you need all of these, but after a while one starts looking for idiosyncrasies, and this one has plenty. Leviev is much rougher than Cables and tends to run on, but he is explosive here. Pepper has his ordinary moments, but "Landscape" on the first disc is magnificent; on the second he tears at "Over the Rainbow" trying to come up with something new after thirty years of playing the song, and he succeeds, then celebrates by burning through "Cherokee." A-
  • Ivo Perelman/Rosie Hertlein/Dominic Duval: Near to the Wild Heart (2009 [2010], Not Two): Tenor sax, violin, acoustic bass, respectively. Perelman has been on a run lately, with the first three of a batch of five new records rated A- hereabouts. Duval is a hard-working free jazzer who shows up a lot in the Cadence/CIMP orbit. Don't have any bio on Hertlein, but she has one album on CIMP (Two Letters I'll Keep), side credits on previous albums by Perelman, Duval, Trio X (Joe McPhee), Joe Giardullo, and Rozanne Levine; some credits include vocals, and there are some uncredited vocals here, most likely hers. Some of this music is very inventive, but the violin keeps returning to a screech that grates on my ears, the bass tends to wrap the music up like a clinging vine rather than setting it free, reducing the saxophone to coloring in. B
  • Houston Person: Moment to Moment (2010, High Note): A tenor saxophonist, Person is the proper successor if not to Ben Webster at least to Stanley Turrentine. He can bop when it wants to, can't help but swing, blows pristine ballads, and has a knack for slipping the right riff behind a singer. He's been doing this for 40-plus years now, but while he doesn't exactly fold up here, he's rarely made an album that makes so little of his talents. It doesn't help that he yields so much space to trumpeter Terrell Stafford, but it's probably more the fault of a lackadaisical rhythm section. Or maybe fault isn't the point: the record has its share of tasty moments but comes off as lazy in the end, not so much because no one tried as because nothing much happened worth remembering. B
  • "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]
  • 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]
  • Odean Pope: Odean's List (2009 [2010], In+Out): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1938 in North Carolina, twentieth album since 1980. Likes to work with extra sax players, often under the Odean Pope Saxophone Choir rubric. He's joined here with two other saxophonists (James Carter and Walter Blanding), two trumpets (David Weiss and Terrell Stafford), piano, bass and drums. Impressive in spots, especially if you like your sax rough. B+(**)
  • Odean Pope: Plant Life (2008, Porter): Luke Mosling started Porter Records hoping to reissue some favorite LPs, with Byard Lancaster a touchstone, which led him to another Philly group, Catalyst, and its saxophonist, a young Odean Pope. That in turn led to a couple of relatively recent Pope trios -- I sort of imagine that these were tapes on the shelf rather than new projects. First one out was two 1995-2000 trios, What Went Before: Volume 1, which is what I thought I was listening to -- even wrote a little review. Then I moved on to a second trio album, Plant Life, and found . . . that it had the exact same song lineup, including two written by "Murray." As it happens, the drummer here is Sunny Murray, with Lee Smith on bass. A formidable sax player, of course. But this is getting to be a sloppy music service. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Portico Quartet: Isla (2009 [2010], Real World): British group: Jack Wyllie (saxes, electronics), Milo Fitzpatrick (double bass), Duncan Bellamy (drums, piano), and Nick Mulvey (hang drums, percussion). Record also has a string quartet -- two violins, viola, cello -- arranged by Fitzpatrick, but mostly what you hear is soprano sax riffing over percussion, not much as jazz but a very listenable synthesis of postrock minimalism and world fusion. B+(**)
  • Debbie Poryes Quartet: Catch Your Breath (2009 [2010], OA2): Pianist, from Berkeley, CA, spent the 1980s in the Netherlands with one record on a Dutch label (Timeless) from 1982; has a second record in 2007, and now this one. Wrote 4 of 9 songs, covering Berlin, Rodgers/Hart, Cahn, Sonny Clark, and Lennon/McCartney (an exceptionally nice "Here, There & Everywhere"). Quartet includes Bruce Williamson on sax (alto and soprano), Bill Douglass bass, and David Rokeach drums. Very pleasant little album. B+(*)
  • 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
  • Mike Pride's From Bacteria to Boys: Betweenwhile (2010, AUM Fidelity): Drummer, from Portlane, ME; based in New York. First album with name up front; also has a duo with Jon Irabagon, some odd side credits like the record with Talibam! This is a quartet with Darius Jones on alto sax, Alexic Marcelo on piano, and Peter Bitenc on bass. Each gets feature spots but they play so differently it isn't clear what the point is. Jones is coming off a terrific debut album, and has much more to add here, when he gets the chance. B+(*)
  • Steve Raegele: Last Century (2009 [2010], Songlines): Canadian guitarist, b. 1975 in Ottawa, based in Montreal. First album, a trio with Miles Perkin on bass and Thom Gossage on drums and kalimba. Prickly, abstract, even though one song is named "Janet Jackson" ("some fairly pandiatonic stuff around D"), feels improv (although only one joint title) with no special interest in line building. Intriguing when I manage to tune in. B+(*)
  • Marc Ribot: Silent Movies (2009 [2010], Pi): Solo guitar, with Ribot switching to vibes on one track, and Keefus Ciancia credited with "soundscapes" on 5 (of 13). In the liner notes Ribot says that Blind Movies would have been a better title "but that wasn't as catchy" -- maybe someone should have added "or clichéd"? The music isn't clichéd, but it does fall into the ambient rut that swallows up so many soundtracks. B+(**)
  • Pete Robbins: Silent Z Live (2009 [2010], Hate Laugh Music): Alto saxophonist, b. 1978, grew up in Andover, MA, studied at Phillips Academy, Tufts, and New England Conservatory; moved to Brooklyn in 2002. Fourth album since 2002. Two quintet variants, half with Jesse Neuman on cornet, the other hand with Cory Smythe on piano; both with Mike Gamble on guitar, Thomas Morgan on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Gets a sweet sound out of his horn, working freebop grooves and angles, dicier with the cornet than with the piano, but engaging in all cases. B+(***)
  • Jason Robinson: Cerberus Reigning (2010, Accretions): Solo tenor sax, soprano sax, alto flute, and computer, "recorded in real time with no overdubs or edits," so the parts that threw me were probably the computer's fault, although I'd also credit the computer in varying the sound, especially given how wearing an hour of soprano sax can be. B+(*)
  • Perry Robinson Trio: From A to Z (2008 [2010], Jazzwerkstatt): Clarinettist, b. 1938, produce a remarkable quartet album in 1962, Funk Dumpling (with Kenny Barron, Henry Grimes, and Paul Motian), leans avant-garde but has also played a lot of klezmer. Has a very spotty discography, not much more than a dozen albums in early 50 years, so every new one is filled with promise. This is a trio, with Ed Schuller on bass and Ernst Bier on drums. Remarkable in spots, although occasional drops into vocalizations are less appealing and more confusing. B+(**)
  • Florian Ross: Mechanism (2009 [2010], Pirouet): Pianist, b. 1972, based in Köln, Germany; looks like he has eight albums since 1998. This one is a solo, fifteen originals out of seventeen pieces, the two covers things I've probably heard but don't readily recognize. Nice record, altough there's not much I can really relate to. B+(*)
  • Ellen Rowe Quartet: Wishing Well (2009 [2010], PKO): Pianist, b. 1958, from Connecticut, teaches at University of Michigan, third album since 2001. Runs marathons, climbs mountains: Aconcagua, Denali -- second album was called Denali Pass. Wrote 9 of 10 pieces, covering "Alone Together." Quartet includes Andrew Bishop on tenor and soprano sax, nice balance since she doesn't push her piano real hard. Higher peaks come from the guests: Andy Haefner (tenor sax) on one cut, Ingrid Jensen (flugelhorn) on two. After playing John Zorn most of yesterday, I found this sublimely relaxing. B+(***)
  • Adam Rudolph/Ralph Jones: Yčyí (2009 [2010], Meta): Rudolph is a percussionist, b. 1955, tends toward African riddims, playing djembe, frame drum, glockenspiel, melodica, thumb piano, sintir, and zabumba here. Early work included Shadowfax and Foday Musa Suso, and Yusef Lateef has been a frequent collaborator. Jones plays various flutes (bamboo, alto, ney), bass clarinet, and soprano and tenor sax. Intriguing exotica, loose and spare but holds together nicely. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Catherine Russell: Inside This Heart of Mine (2009 [2010], World Village): Singer, third album since 2006. Can't find a source listing her age, but her father was legendary band leader Luis Russell (1902-63) -- his 1929-30 Savoy Shout (JSP) is one of the essential jazz records of the era, with the 2-CD 1929-34 The Luis Russell Story (Retrieval) equally recommended, and he maintained a relationship with his star trumpeter Louis Armstrong long after he stopped recording. Hard to work out the math here. She makes an effort to search out old songs -- "All the Cats Join In," "Struttin' With Some Barbeque" -- but they don't sound especially old, even with thoughtful swing-oriented musicians like John Allred and Dan Block in the band. 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]
  • Robert Sadin: Art of Love: Music of Machaut (2009, Deutsche Grammophon): Los Angeles Philharmonic conductor, got a taste of jazz when he arranged and produced Herbie Hancock's Gershwin's World, which here he uses mostly for networking. The music is medieval, from French composer Guillaume de Machaut (c. 1300-1377), done with modern instruments and enough guests to clutter up a Herbie Hancock record, although they're not exactly clutter here. Actually, they're very circumspect, which makes this package rather static, hard to hear and hard to get into -- it really matters very little whether the singer is Milton Nascimento, Hassan Hakmoun, Madeleine Peyroux, Natalie Merchant, Jasmine Thomas, Celena Shafer, or Sadin himself. Same for a long list of instrumentalists, from the reeds (Seamus Blake, John Ellis) to the guitars (Lionel Loueke, Romero Lubambo) to the beatless percussionists (Dan Weiss, Cyro Baptista). My package is dubbed a "press kit" -- a box with a fat booklet and red wrapping paper around a thin foldout card with a button for the CD. Don't know about the actual product. B-
  • Thomas Savy: French Suite (2009 [2010], Plus Loin Music): Bass clarinetist, from France, second album, a trio with Scott Colley on bass and Bill Stewart on drums. Suite runs through seven parts, followed by Ellington's "Come Sunday," an extra bit from the suite, and Coltrane's "Lonnie's Lament." Packaging is oversized. B+(**)
  • Jacques Schwarz-Bart: Abyss (2009, ObliqSound): Tenor saxophonist (one track soprano), b. 1962 in Guadeloupe, mother black, father was French-Jewish, both novelists; grew up shuttling back and forth between Guadeloupe and Switzerland, picking up gwoka drums in one place, jazz in the other. Has a couple of previous albums. Huge sound, always makes a big impression. About half vocal tracks with several singers and a poem by Simone Schwarz-Bart: not sure they add much, but they go with the flow, making something of an organic whole. Band includes guitarist Hervé Samb of David Murray's Gwotet. Concludes with two remixes; I rather like the synthbeats. B+(**)
  • Louis Sclavis/Craig Taborn/Tom Rainey: Eldorado Trio (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): The eminent French clarinetist is credited here with soprano sax and bass clarinet; Taborn with piano and Fender Rhodes; Rainey with drums. Two pieces are joint improvs; the rest come from Sclavis's songbook. Feels kind of jumbled together, the sort of thing jazz musicians do on the spot, sparking strong solos and occasional mismatches. B+(**)
  • Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: Rhapsody in Blue: Live (2009, Spartacus): Gershwin's famous jazz-flavored composition, written originally for Paul Whiteman's famous -- in the day; nowadays rather unfairly taken as a joke -- big band. The Scotts take it seriously, giving it the full bore treatment, with the small-print names on the front cover -- tenor saxophonist Tommy Smith and pianist Brian Kellock -- making all the difference. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Benny Sharoni: Eternal Elixir (2008 [2010], Papaya): Tenor saxophonist, from Israel, parents from Yemen and Chile (which he credits for a little Latin tinge), moved to US in 1986 to study at Berklee; based in Boston. First album. a mainstream affair with trumpet, piano, guitar, bass and drums. Wrote 4 of 10 cuts -- the only cover I instantly recognize is "Sunny." Big sound, swings hard. B+(**)
  • Aram Shelton Quartet: These Times (2009 [2010], Singlespeed Music): Alto saxophonist, also plays clarinet, b. 1976, based in Chicago then Oakland, has two previous albums under his name since 2005, plus a pretty good one as Ton Trio. Quartet includes a second sax -- Keefe Jackson on tenor -- plus Anton Hatwich bass and Marc Riordan drums. At times, the sax sparring is worthy of Ammons and Stitt, updated with a more flexible rhythm section, though not everything is that frisky. B+(**)
  • Matthew Shipp: 4D (2009 [2010], Thirsty Ear): Solo piano. I've lost track of how many solo albums Shipp's done since the late 1980s -- half a dozen I'd guess. Seems like he's moved away from developing melodic lines and into rhythmic patterns built from dense chords, which sort of parallels his group context work, but is more bare and sparse here. Some covers on the home stretch, not that they help much. B+(**)
  • Gwilym Simcock: Blues Vignette (2009 [2010], Basho, 2CD): Pianist, b. 1981 in Bangor, Gwynedd (northwest Wales), UK. Second album, a big one divided into "Solo/Duo" and "Trio" discs: the duo is a 21-minute "Suite for Cello and Piano" with Cara Berridge on cello, following 48 minutes of solo; the trio adds Yuri Goloboubev (bass) and James Maddren (drums). A lot to swallow here, and I don't really feel up to it. As if often the case, the few covers are easier to figure out than the originals. In particular, the solo disc includes a very interesting deconstruction of "On Broadway" which barely hints at a melody so catchy it invariably sticks with you for hours. B+(*)
  • Edward Simon Trio: Poesia (2008 [2009], CAM Jazz): Pianist, from Venezuela, moved to New York 1989, 8th album since 1993. Piano trio with John Patitucci on bass (acoustic and electric), Brian Blade on drums. Never impressed me much before, but I like his repeating rhythmic riffing that drives most of these pieces. Seems like fans of the late EST would get off on this. B+(***)
  • John Skillman's Barb City Stompers: DeKalb Blues (2009 [2010], Delmark): Trad jazz band, based in DeKalb, IL ("the birthplace of barbed wire"), led by a clarinetist who played in the Buck Creek Jazz Band for 32 years, but also owns and runs an engineering firm in DeKalb. Featuring credit for trombonist Roy Rubinstein, a 30-year veteran of "the New Orleans style Chicago Hot Six," whose day job is Assistant Director at Fermilab in Batavia, IL. Also with Larry Rutan on guitar (a QA manager), Roger Hintzsche on bass (runs a fertilizer business), and Aaron Puckett on drums (teaches high school). First album, mostly pre-swing although it's hard to keep stuff that old pure, and also hard to resist a Fats Waller song. Starst with "Millenberg Joys"; ends with "My Old Kentucky Home"; Diana Skillman drops in to sing "Yes Sir! That's My Baby." Corny, easy to see why they stick with it even when the bread's got to come from somewhere else. 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+(*)
  • Bob Sneider & Joe Locke [Film Noir Project]: Nocturne for Ava (2007 [2009], Origin): Subtle, slippery film music, played by an even-handed, unusually circumspect eight-piece group. Paul Hoffman's piano, John Sneider's trumpet, and Grant Stewart's tenor sax each have their moments, while the leaders lurk in the shadows. Haven't tried mapping the movies, which I suspect stray from film noir (at least as far as "Last Tango in Paris" and "Theme From Blow Up"), the composers including Ellington and Hancock and Marcus Miller, and three tunes by band members, presumably on film first. B+(**)
  • Nadav Snir-Zelniker: 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+(***)
  • Moe! Staiano's Moe!kestra!: 2 Rooms of Uranium in 83 Markers: Conducted Improvisations, Vol. II (2003-04 [2007], Edgetone): Percussionist, b. 1973 in New York, based in Bay Area; works with found objects, some attached to drum kit ("prepared drums"). This is his third Moe!kestra! album, consists of two pieces of Butch Morris-style conducted improvisation using twenty-some Bay Area mostly-jazz musicians -- a few I recognize because I backed into this researching Lisa Mezzacappa's quartet. Doesn't feel like jazz instrumentation even though a fair number of horns are credited. More like industrial machinery slogging erratically toward doom -- which is sort of interesting. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Mary Stallings: Dream (2010, High Note): Singer, b. 1939, had a record with Cal Tjader in 1961 but otherwise her discography starts in 1990, with four records on Concord, one on MaxJazz, and now two on High Note. AMG describes her as "greatly influenced by Carmen McRae" -- that at least captures her tone, her precise sense of style and focus on interpretation. I first heard her on Remember Love in 2005 and was blown away, but just sort of drags its way through a list of songs that have seen better days -- not even "That Old Black Magic" has much spark. Eric Reed arranged and plays piano, with just bass and drums -- previous record has Geri Allen in that role, and she brought in Wallace Roney, Vincent Herring, and Frank Wess, and for that matter Billy Hart on drums. B
  • Grant Stewart: Around the Corner (2010, Sharp Nine): B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Helen Sung: Going Express (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Pianist, from Houston, TX; based in New York. Third album, going more mainstream and becoming less interesting. Seamus Blake plays tenor and soprano sax, Lonnie Plaxico bass, Eric Harland drums, a solid group, especially on tracks with a little lift like "Love for Sale" and "In Walked Bud." B+(*)
  • Richard Sussman Quintet: Live at Sweet Rhythm (2003 [2010], Origin): Pianist, b. 1946, cut two albums 1978-80, now this one; meanwhile has taught at Manhattan School of Music since 1986. The quintet here is also called the Free Fall Reunion Band: Free Fall was Sussman's 1978 album. This album reunites the band (minus Larry Schneider): Tom Harrell (trumpet), Jerry Bergonzi (tenor sax), Mike Richmond (bass), and Jeff Williams (drums). Fairly mainstream postbop, with sharp horn players not all that well heard. B+(*)
  • Sándor Szabó/Kevin Kastning: Returning (2008 [2010], Greydisc): Hungarian guitar duo; no bio on Kastning other than that he lives in Budapest, has a 1988 album as The Kevin Kastning Unit, several more as Kastning Siegfried, and four now with Szabó. Szabó was born in 1956, has a healthy discography starting with an album on Leo in 1986. Both play 12-string guitars: Szabó a baritone, Kastning switching between an extended baritone, an alto in G, and a 6-string bass-baritone. They work carefully, getting a subtly metallic picked note sound. Could be major subjects for further research if I was that much into guitar. B+(*)
  • 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+(**)
  • Jacky Terrasson: Push (2009 [2010], Concord): Pianist, b. 1966 in Berlin, Germany; mother American, father French; studied at Berklee, based now in New York. Twelfth album since 1994, when he debuted as one of Blue Note's big piano finds. He's one of those pianists I haven't paid much attention to, and haven't gotten much out of when I did, but he's pretty upbeat here, and the trio pieces are bright and lively. The guests are less of a blessing, not that there's anything wrong with Jacques Schwarz-Bart's tenor sax piece, or the two with Gregoire Maret's harmonica -- they sort of fall off the table as odds and ends. Terrasson sings a bit, and that's forgettable too. B+(*)
  • Ken Thomson and Slow/Fast: It Would Be Easier If (2009 [2010], Intuition): Plays bass clarinet and alto sax here, probably other clarinets and saxes elsewhere. Based in Brooklyn. First album, but was a key figure in Gutbucket with four albums 2001-09. Group: Russ Johnson (trumpet), Nir Felder (guitar), Adam Armstrong (bass), Fred Kennedy (drums, electronics). Starts slow; eventually speeds up. No surprise which is better. B+(*)
  • Petra van Nuis & Andy Brown: Far Away Places (2009 [2010], String Damper): Van Nuis sings, b. 1975, based in Chicago, is married to Brown, a guitarist. Brown has a previous album, Trio and Solo. Van Nuis has two, with pianist Bradley Williams getting top billing on Revenge of the Kissing Bug; she also has a demo with a trad jazz band, Recession Seven. This is an intimate little duo, all standards, double dipping into Cole Porter, with an obligatory Jobim among the few more recent tunes. Very minimal, just guitar and voice, threatens to get cute, but the guitar manages to keep it all stable and calm. B+(**)
  • Eric Vloeimans' Gatecrash: Heavensabove! (2008 [2010], Challenge Jazz): Dutch trumpet player, a steady producer with over a dozen albums since 1996. Postbop player, increasingly given to electronics, here in a quartet with electric keyboards (Jeroen Van Vliet) and basses (Gulli Gudmundsson) and effects everywhere except for drummer Jasper Van Hulten, who could use a boost. B
  • 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+(*)
  • Greg Ward's Fitted Shards: South Side Story (2010, 19-8): Alto saxophonist, b. 1982, based in New York -- I would have guessed Chicago, which among other things has a South Side. First album, a quartet with Rob Clearfield on keybs, Jeff Greene on bass, and Quin Kirchner on bass. Has played with Mike Reed, Charles Rumback, and in the group Blink (along with Greene and Kirchner -- their MySpace page puts them in Chicago). Terrific saxophonist when he breaks out, but this tends to get mired in a sickly postbop mode, which I blame on the keyb -- suppose it's intended as a fusion move? B
  • Tim Warfield: A Sentimental Journey (2010, Criss Cross): U [Rhapsody]
  • 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+(**)
  • 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+(***)
  • Wellstone Conspiracy: Motives (2009 [2010], Origin): Quartet, new group name but familiar components: Brent Jensen on soprano sax, Bill Anschell on piano, Jeff Johnson on bass, John Bishop on drums. Anschell and Jensen each wrote three of seven originals; Johnson wrote one, and Anschell arranged Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" for the closer. Jensen has developed into the finest mainstream soprano sax specialist around, so normal here you'd hardly guess what he's playing. The others are solid pros, a reputation the album consolidates without adding much to. 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-
  • Frank Wess Nonet: Once Is Not Enough (2008 [2009], Labeth Music): Born 1922, one of jazz's most senior citizens, still going pretty strong. He might not be as well known as he is had he not played more and better flute than any other saxophonist of his generation (which basically means James Moody), or any subsequent generation (except Yusef Lateef, maybe). The flute has made him a consistent poll winner, although I'd take his tenor sax any day -- and submit "Lush Life" here as proof. Still, his real claim to fame was as one of Count Basie's New Testament arrangers, something he reminded us of in 1989 when Concord gave him a new lease and he responded with Dear Mr. Basie -- also credited to Sweets Edison, who provided the Old Testament fire and brimstone. He's still recycling here, but the Nonet is a nice fit for a crack arranger, and being a legend he gets folks like Terrell Stafford, Steve Turre, Ted Nash, and Scott Robinson lining up to play with him. He even has to slide Peter Washington aside to give Rufus Reid a couple of cuts on bass. Plays more sax than flute this time, too. B+(**)
  • Randy Weston and His African Rhythms Sextet: The Storyteller (2009 [2010], Motema Music): Pianist, b. 1926, cut his first record in 1954 and has recorded steadily ever since, excepting a tough spot 1977-88, and a couple years before this one. Developed an interest in Africa by 1960 which has only broadened and deepened. This was cut live, with T.K. Blue (flute, sax), Benny Powell (trombone), Alex Blake (bass), Lewis Nash (drums), and Neil Clarke (percussion). Long solo piano intro on the first piece, which eventually erupts into a joyous Cuban thing. Not familiar with Blue, but he has nice turns on both instruments. Powell, who's only a couple years younger than Weston, has a poignant solo but not a lot of power. Not sure what I think of the piano interludes, but the ensemble work is delightful. U [Rhapsody]
  • Jessica Williams: Touch (2010, Origin): Another solo piano album -- I've lost count of how many she has, but a half-dozen would be a conservative guess, and ten hardly an outer bound. She comments in the liner notes that she no longer pounds "the piano like it was a set of drums"; good chance I liked those albums better than these, but that's me. Live set, half originals plus "I Loves You Porgy," "I Cover the Waterfront," "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," and one from Coltrane. B+(*)
  • 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+(**)
  • Cassandra Wilson: Silver Pony (2010, Blue Note): Billed as "a unique hybrid live/studio album" -- whatever that means. My suspicion is that it's one where they're too lazy to commit to either. Three originals, scattered covers, an anonymous-sounding band, some guests. Her quiet delivery works nicely on some tracks, but doesn't deliver the whole album. B [Rhapsody]
  • Sarah Wilson: Trapeze Project (2009 [2010], Brass Logic): Trumpet player, sings some, from California, studied anthropology at UC Berkeley, based in Bay Area. Second album, following Music for an Imaginary Play (2006). Group includes Myra Melford (piano), Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Jerome Harris (bass), and Scott Amendola (drums). Both Melford and Goldberg have some remarkable solo turns. Trumpet less distinctive, and her vocals are rather deadpan, about right for "Love Will Tear Us Apart" -- a smart choice. B+(**)
  • 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+(**)
  • Robert Wyatt/Gilad Atzmon/Ros Stephen: For the Ghosts Within (2010, Domino): I used to think I was as big a fan of Robert Wyatt as anyone, but I haven't responded well to his albums since Shleep (1997) or maybe even Dondestan (1991), while there are others -- especially toiling for the UK magazine The Wire -- who still adore everything he does. His voice has grown creakier (not to mention croakier); even at his most charming, his voice was never far from triggering an intense adverse reaction. And his arrangements have gotten ever lazier -- here they've been given over to violinist Stephen and reedist Atzmon. While Atzmon does a lovely job, the strings can rub my nerves raw. Wyatt has a hand in two credits, Atzmon two (one with a Palestinian rap), Stephen one; otherwise these are mostly slow, obvious ballads: "Laura," "Round Midnight," "In a Sentimental Mood," "Lush Life," "At Last I Am Free," "What a Wonderful World." Of those, "Lush Life" is quite remarkable, and "At Last I Am Free" is anthemic (although I could swear he's done it before). B+(*)
  • Katherine Young: Further Secret Origins (2009, Porter): Bassoonist, studied at Oberlin and Wesleyan, played in Anthony Braxton's Falling River Quartet, based in Brooklyn, credits this solo album as her debut. Seems to include some electronics, but the bassoon dominates, ugly and unwieldy, a record that first reminds one of For Alto but can't sustain the horror -- maybe doesn't even want to. Parts to start to develop a hypnotic groove, but that, too, is hard to sustain. B [Rhapsody]
  • Denny Zeitlin: Precipice (2008 [2010], Sunnyside): Solo piano, took a while to kick in this time but he's an impressive, thoughtful player, able to dig a lot out of the instrument. 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+(***)
  • Michael Zilber: The Billy Collins Project: Eleven on Turning Ten (2007 [2010], OA2): Saxophonist (soprano, tenor), web bio pretty much useless, seems to have grown up in Vancouver, moved to Boston to study at New England Conservatory and Tufts, on to New York, winding up in California -- this record was recorded in San Jose. Seventh album since 1986, counting one with Steve Smith and another with Dave Liebman listed first. Billy Collins was US Poet Laureate 2001-03; has fifteen volumes since 1977, but I can't say I've ever heard of him, much less read him. Zilber's project was to take eleven Collins poems and set them to music. As is so often the case, constructing melodies for cadences winds up feeling awkward, and Andy Kirshner's dry voice doesn't help matters. With John R. Burr on piano, John Schifflett on bass, and Jason Lewis on drums/percussion. B

Monday, December 20, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 17490 [17441] rated (+49), 856 [854] unrated (+2). Spent most of week on year-end list shit, and listened to a lot of stuff -- not all crap but plenty was -- on Rhapsody, which is the only way to hit that sort of rated count. Pazz & Jop ballot due Dec. 24. Seemed a long ways away when I got it, but it's creeping up now.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #26, Part 1)

I don't have confirmed dates from the Voice, but I figure odds are very good that Jazz Consumer Guide will run this week, and the Voice's Jazz Critics Poll next week. The former is done, unless they run into space problems when they lay it out, in which case something will get cut. Haven't edited my year-end piece yet, so it's at least a week away. I have some website work to do for the poll results and ballots. Don't know when it's due, but I have all the data now, so will start working on that.

Spent a lot of time this last week pouring over year-end lists and checking out stuff on Rhapsody. Rated count for last week was 49, which is, well, insane. Not enough time to tell whether Baths or Calle 13 or Chromeo or Crystal Castles or Deadbeat or the Radio Dept. are really up to snuff -- just picking over a few promising items that I wound up shorting -- or whether King Sunny Ade and Zs will hold up to more than one spin. But enough time to figure out what I need to know about lots of other contenders. Pazz & Jop ballot is due Friday. Looks like it will be about half jazz, and aside from that most of the serious candidates are far from obscure (Robyn, Vampire Weekend, Big Boi -- haven't spent much time with Kanye West yet).

Meanwhile, enough jazz prospecting to post. Still have a hundred or so 2010 releases unplayed. Surely I'll find some things in there I've missed, but oddly enough there's very little in the jazz poll results (or in the other year-end lists I've seen) that I have and haven't played -- the highest such finisher in the Voice jazz poll is a Joel Harrison record with an official release date in January 2011, then I don't see anything else down to 10 points/2 ballots. Of course, there are a lot of things I never got, starting with Mary Halvorson, Regina Carter, Randy Weston, Christian Scott -- sampled all of them on Rhapsody for better or worse -- and Danilo Perez (which I haven't chased down). Critics are inevitably at the mercy of publicists, and polls are inevitably framed by their favorites and prejudices, and it doesn't help being so far off the beaten path as I am. (I marvel, for instance, at what Stef Gijssels is able to find in the Brusells public library -- not that we don't have some surprises here in Wichita.)


Howard Wiley and the Angola Project: 12 Gates to the City (2008 [2010], HNIC Music): Saxophonist, tenor and soprano, born in Berkeley, CA, based in LA. Previous album was called The Angola Project, named for Louisiana's notorious prison, and he intends to keep working that theme. That means dragging in gospel singers and a rapper or two (Bicasso? Bisco?), carrying social and political messages including a lecture on the linkages between prison and slavery that, well, mostly rings true. In between we get some of Wiley's saxophone, unspectacular but gritty and soulful, and like everything else he aspires to, true. B+(***)

Bizingas (2008 [2010], NCM East): Quartet, led by Brian Drye (trombone, piano, synth). Also includes Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Jonathan Goldberger (guitar, baritone guitar), and Ches Smith (drums, glockenspiel). Drye: b. 1975 in Rhode Island, father musician, studied at University of Miami in Florida, based in Brooklyn, has a couple dozen side credits since 2001, some rock (Clem Snide), some world-ish (Slavic Soul Party; Brooklyn Qawwali Party but no record yet). Trombone/cornet harmonics yield a signature sound, the guitar carrying the group through its circus curlicues. Interesting mix. B+(***)

The Dave Liebman Group: Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman (2009 [2010], Jazzwerkstatt): Quartet, with Vic Juris on guitar, Tony Marino on bass, and Marko Marcinko on drums. Liebman's done a lot more Coltrane over the years than he's done Coleman, but does a fine job on nine covers and one original -- his soprano seems better suited than usual, and he also plays some wood flute. Juris is more key than ever. B+(**)

Aeroplane Trio: Naranja Ha (2008-09 [2010], Drip Audio, CD+DVD): Trumpet-bass-drums trio out of Vancouver: JP Carter, Russell Sholberg, and Skye Brooks respectively. Carter's the only name registered in my memory: no albums under his own name, but was in the Inhabitants and I could swear more places than the 7 credits AMG lists. He can play free, make an impression solo, or toot along when bass-drums work up a groove. Some tentative spots hold me back, plus I haven't seen the DVD yet (and in most cases never do). B+(***)

Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica: The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel (2010, Tiki): That would be Juan Garcia Esquivel (1918-2002), from Mexico, who led a big band c. 1956-62, hawking his tricked-up standards as exotica, space age pop, lounge, and latin-esque. In the intensely homogeneous 1950s it didn't take much to qualify as exotic. Mr. Ho is percussionist Brian O'Neill, and his 23-piece Orchestrotica from spare parts in greater Boston. O'Neill is also involved in the similarly inspired Waitiki. Band has some punch to it -- Russ Gershon is the most recognizable name -- and most of the songs are proven standards. Not sure what's so exotic or supersonic about them, but then I never paid much attention to Esquivel. B

Jim Hall & Joey Baron: Conversations (2010, ArtistShare): Guitar-drums duo, of course. Hall just turned 80 on Dec. 4. His discography starts in 1957 with the straightforwardly titled Jazz Guitar -- about the same time as Wes Montgomery, Tal Farlow, Mundell Lowe, Herb Ellis, Kenny Burrell, Jimmy Raney, Charlie Byrd, a bit after Barney Kessel, the generation that established postbop/pre-fusion jazz guitar. I missed most of his early work -- except, of course, the ones with Evans, Rollins, or Desmond -- but he has a distinctive style and sound. This is fairly minor, pretty much by intent, but a nice taste. Baron is a fine drummer, of course, and has the added virtue of even less hair on top than his senior partner. B+(**)

Afterfall (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): Ad hoc group names cause paperwork headaches trying to keep track of jazz releases, and this label is particularly fond of concocting such names. I filed this under guitarist Luis Lopes, figuring he was the first named and held home court recording in Lisbon. Moreover, he's on a run, his guitar the steely backbone of at least four fine records in a row, most with horns which add to but scarcely eclipse him. Jazzloft, on the other hand, filed this under soprano saxophonist Joe Giardullo, older and no doubt better known in America but not exactly a household name. Giardullo mostly plays tenor here, not all that distinctive, but the extra heft and depth sounds good, especially mixed with Sei Miguel's muted pocket trumpet. Also working here are Benjamin Duboc on bass and Harvey Sorgen on drums. A little more inside than Lopes's Humanization 4tet records, which makes this a tad less impressive, but that seems to be Lopes's knack: to make good records without showing off much flash. B+(***)

Matt Bauder: Day in Pictures (2010, Clean Feed): Plays tenor sax and clarinet. Fourth album since 2003, not counting a duo with Anthony Braxton and I'm not sure what else. Passed through Ann Arbor and Chicago; now in Brooklyn. Quintet with Nate Wooley (trumpet), Angelica Sanchez (piano), Jason Ajemian (bass), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums). Wooley and Sanchez have good spots on their own, but aren't a lot of help overall, except in some fluttery free spots where it all evens out. What's more striking is when Bauder's tenor sax goes solo or with minimal bass/drums. Turns out he could carry a mainstream sax ballad album, although he's still a little restless to settle into that. B+(**)

Ricardo Gallo's Tierra de Nadie: The Great Fine Line (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Pianist, b. 1978 in Colombia; studied in Bogota, later at UNT. Has divided time between Bogota and New York. Fifth album since 2005. Tierra de Nadie is a New York group, with Ray Anderson on trombone, Mark Helias on bass, either Satoshi Takeishi or Pheeroan Aklaff on drums, often with Dan Blake on soprano (6 cuts) or tenor (2 cuts) sax. Lucid, flowing freebop, very impressive when it all connects. B+(***)

Cynthia Felton: Come Sunday: The Music of Duke Ellington (2010, Felton Entertainment): Vocalist, based in Los Angeles, goes by the honorific Dr. on her business card as Artistic Director of The Ethnomusicology Library of American Heritage, whatever that is. First album covered Oscar Brown Jr. This aims for bigger game, although Ellington doesn't necessarily give a singer much to work with, and those who have been most memorable have broken rules that Felton wouldn't dare monkey with. B

Rebecca Martin: When I Was Long Ago (2010, Sunnyside): Singer, b. 1969, half a dozen albums since 1999. My impression (cf. People Behave Like Ballads) was that she wrote her own material and was only accidentally classified as jazz as opposed to folk or mild rock), but here she sings standards, barely accompanied by Larry Grenadier on bass, with occasional incursions (or excursions) by Bill McHenry on tenor, alto, or soprano sax. Brings out levels of nuance in her voice I've never suspected before. 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:

  • Lynne Arriale: Convergence (Motéma): Feb. 8
  • David Caceres (Sunnyside): Feb. 1
  • Kermit Driscoll: Reveille (Nineteen-Eight): Apr. 5
  • Jake Fryer/Bud Shank Quartet: In Good Company (Capri): Jan. 18
  • Ben Holmes Trio (self-released -09)
  • Steve Lugerner: These Are the Words/Narratives (self-released, 2CD): mid-March
  • Karen Marguth (Wayfae Music -09)
  • Terrence McManus: Brooklyn EP (self-released)
  • Chris Parrello + Things I Wonder (Popopomo Music): Jan. 25
  • Weasel Walter/Mary Halvorson/Peter Evans: Electric Fruit (Thirsty Ear): advance, Jan. 25


Update: Got confirmation on speculated dates above. Jazz CG runs this week. Jazz critics poll next week. My ballot stuff needs to be up sometime Tuesday, Dec. 28. My website, by the way, won't be synched up with this until later tonight (or tomorrow, or when I get it together).

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Weekend Roundup

Only one link this week, squirreled away with a short comment:


  • Moe Tkacik: Peter Orszag: Everything Wrong With This Town (Comes Back to How Much This Guy Got Laid Here): Some people noticed when Orszag bailed out of the Obama administration, because that looked dicey for Obama. Fewer people noticed when he spent most of his free time bad-mouthing Social Security, even though it should be a real embarrassment to Obama to have such a big name linked to his administration go so far out of his way to destroy the bedrock of the Democratic Party. Now, who's bothered to note how much Orszag is cashing in, because, well, they all do that, don't they?

    All of which is to say, the Orszag-Citigroup saga is a story (perhaps like that of his current engagement) of two parties that surely deserve one another, at least inasmuch as anyone "deserves" anything in Washington, where what passes for "brilliant" are men like Orszag, Rubin and Larry Summers, who have all done their part to create and preserve a system that bestows its greatest rewards on the entrenched, moneyed and persistently myocpic individuals and institutions that deserve them least.


I have a couple more things opened up I meant to write up, but I've been real slow this week. In particular, there is a very technical piece on economics by Maxine Udall that I want to spend some time on. It's been an exceptionally stupid couple of weeks for politics. Personally, of the three big bills in the Senate this week since the tax deal went down, the one I would have preferred passing wasn't the DADT repeal or the DREAM Act but the earmark-laden supplemental spending bill, which would actually have added something to the economy. The other two, while decent things in their own right were mostly on the table in an effort to make the military look smarter, saner, and more efficient. While those may seem like positive steps, I'd much rather people start to realize that the US military is stupid, wacko, and just an incredible waste of effort and support.

Besides, the lack of further links is all the more reason to ponder what Orszag's behind-the-scenes role was in the Citibank bailout, which I sort of recall came to $47 billion (or maybe that was just a resting place on the way to a more astronomical number -- in any case the nominal bailout would have been much smaller than the benefit Citibank had of unlimited borrowing at the Fed's discount window). Orszag's official job was to cook the books on the debt incurred -- i.e., to make the bailouts seem as fiscally prudent as possible -- so he was certainly in a position where he could have hampered Citibank. Figure he'll make a few million per year until he retires or gets the itch to sit on the Federal Reserve or run the World Bank or whatever his next "public service" turns out to be. Given that Citibank would have gone bust without the help of Obama, Geithner, et al., picking up the tab on Orszag is dirt cheap. Plus everyone from Michelle Malkin to Charlie Gasparino to Roger Hodge can write another book about corruption in the Obama administration.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Triple Play

Update: Added Crowson's cartoon on the Holcomb coal plant.


Three articles on Wichita Eagle front page Friday, which when I saw their jumps together on A3 added up to a depressing conjuncture:

The Holcomb coal-fired power plant has been a hot political issue in Kansas for many years now. Building on an existing plant, Sunflower Electric Power Corp. hoped to skirt environmental regulations, converting a lot of Wyoming coal into electricity for Colorado while dumping the waste here and using up more of the rapidly depleting Ogalalla Aquifer. Republicans saluted the proposal, as expected (or arranged), but it was blocked by the Kansas Dept. of Health and Environment, and legislative attempts to ram the thing through were vetoed by Kathleen Sebelius back when she was governor. When Obama snatched her as his second choice for Secretary of Health Education and Welfare (and to make sure a vacant 2010 Senate seat from Kansas would go Republican), former (and-future?) Republican Mark Parkinson became governor and cut an Obama-esque compromise deal for a smaller coal-fired power plant. As his term was running out -- he had declined to run for a full term, making it much easier for Republican Sam Brownback to succeed him as governor -- he fired the head of the Dept. of Health and Environment to push the permit process ahead. Since then we've been reading reports about how everyone at the Dept. has been working overtime to get the permit done before the end of the year -- after which point any permit would have to include millions of dollars of pollution controls which if they're needed then are just as needed now. And not that anyone has ever shown that there's any need for this plant. We've been adding a lot of wind-powered generation over the last decade, and Kansas -- especially western Kansas -- isn't what you'd call a big growth center.

So that's it. Fait accompli. You fight something monumentally stupid for a decade and all your efforts are undone by a handful of backroom deals and weak-kneed, lame-brained compromises by people who were once thought to be on your side. Which, come to think of it, is a pretty good description of the Bush tax cut extension deal and of the Af-Pak War, both of which began in 2001 and were set to expire in 2010 but have been rescued less by the intransigence of the Republicans than by Obama's lack of principle or backbone or political savvy. Moreover, all three of these political tragedies have been taken by the elites of both parties despite the desires of at least half of the people.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 17441 [17420] rated (+21), 854 [855] unrated (-1). Horrible week working on Jazz CG. Thank God that's over. Wasted a lot of time on metafile. Now I can waste even more.


Jazz Prospecting (CG #25, Part 10)

OK. Jazz Consumer Guide is finished. Handed it in on Thursday. Did what may be the final edit today, which means it could very well be published later this week. (My editor there seems to be a big believer in JIT, but sometimes other things get in the way. Also had to write a short piece to go with the Voice's year-end jazz poll, and got that in late today, deadline day. Didn't enjoy that much, but it too is now done. Tried to listen to as much possibly year-end-list-worthy jazz as I could find, although that still leaves me with 230 unrateds in the queue (20 or so officially 2011 releases and a few pre-2009s I never got to or got late). Offhand, that list doesn't look to offer many surprises, but there's bound to be something in it.

Tried to write up as much as I could, and did a fair job. Wound up with 1560 words left over, which is almost exactly what I'll need for the next column. Some of those I'm going to wind up killing off just because I'm so far behind and have so much more rated that I need to get the word out on. As it is, I eviscerated my potential-HM file, wiping out every unwritten B+(**) record and a bunch of higher-rateds, especially if they've been stuck in the file a while. In the future, the standard for Honorable Mentions will be B+(***), and some of those may not make it (just as some A- records wind up as HMs). I'm listing this week's victims below. These are all records that when I played them last I thought were good enough to seriously consider adding to the HM list: good records all, just victims of my space crunch.

  • Remi Álvarez/Mark Dresser: Soul to Soul (2008 [2010], Discos Intolerancia) B+(***)
  • The Ray Anderson-Marty Ehrlich Quartet: Hear You Say: Live in Willisau (2009 [2010], Intuition) B+(**)
  • Julian Argüelles Trio: Ground Rush (2009 [2010], Clean Feed) B+(***)
  • Bobby Avey: A New Face (2009 [2010], JayDell) B+(***)
  • Dave Bass Quartet: Gone (2008-09 [2010], Dave Bass Music) B+(**)
  • Stefano Battaglia/Michele Rabbia: Pastorale (2009 [2010], ECM) B+(***)
  • Jamie Begian Big Band: Big Fat Grin (2008 [2010], Innova) B+(**)
  • The Blasting Concept (2001-07 [2009], Smalltown Superjazz) A-
  • Michiel Braam's Wurli Trio: Non-Functionals! (2009, BBB) B+(**)
  • Alison Burns and Martin Taylor: 1: AM (2008 [2009], P3 Music) B+(***)
  • Butcher/Muller/van der Schyff: Way Out Northwest (2007 [2008], Drip Audio) B+(**)
  • Frank Carlberg: Tivoli Trio (2009 [2010], Red Piano) B+(***)
  • Chicago Underground Duo: Boca Negra (2009 [2010], Thrill Jockey) B+(**)
  • Corey Christiansen Quartet: Outlaw Tractor (2010, Origin) B+(**)
  • Jacob Duncan/John Goldsby/Jason Tiemann: The Innkeeper's Gun (2009 [2010], Bass Lion Music) B+(**)
  • Empty Cage Quartet: Gravity (2008 [2009], Clean Feed) B+(***)
  • Empty Cage Quartet & Soletti Besnard: Take Care of Floating (2008 [2010], Rude Awakening) B+(**)
  • Mike Fahie: Anima (2010, Bju'ecords) B+(***)
  • Scott Fields Ensemble: Fugu (1995 [2010], Clean Feed) B+(**)
  • Michael Formanek: The Rub and Spare Change (2009 [2010], ECM) B+(**)
  • Joe Gilman: Americanvas (2009 [2010], Capri) B+(***)
  • Rosario Giuliani: Lennie's Pennies (2009 [2010], Dreyfus Jazz) B+(**)
  • Bobby Gordon: Plays Joe Marsala: Lower Register (2007, Arbors) B+(***)
  • Frank Gratkowski/Hamid Drake (2009 [2010], Valid) B+(**)
  • William Hooker Trio: Yearn for Certainty (2007 [2010], Engine) B+(**)
  • Kihnoua: Unauthorized Caprices (2009 [2010], Not Two) B+(**)
  • Randy Klein: Sunday Morning (2009 [2010], Jazzheads) B+(**)
  • Komeda Project: Requiem (2009, WM) B+(**)
  • Jerry Leake: Cubist (2009 [2010], Rhombus Publishing) B+(**)
  • Rozanne Levine & Chakra Tuning: Only Moment (2008 [2009], Acoustics) B+(**)
  • Olivier Manchon: Orchestre de Chambre Miniature, Volume 1 (2010, ObliqSound) B+(**)
  • Sarah Manning: Dandelion Clock (2009 [2010], Posi-Tone) B+(**)
  • Eric McPherson: Continuum (2007 [2008], Smalls) B+(***)
  • Memphis Nighthawks: Jazz Lips (1976-77 [2009], Delmark) B+(***)
  • Dave Mihaly's Shimmering Leaves Ensemble: Eastern Accents in the Far West (2010, Porto Franco) B+(**)
  • Wolfgang Muthspiel & Mick Goodrick: Live at the Jazz Standard (2008 [2010], Material) B+(**)
  • Meg Okura and the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Orchestra: Naima (2009 [2010], Meg Okura) B+(**)
  • Oles Brothers with Rob Brown: Live at SJC (2008 [2009], Fenomedia) B+(**)
  • William Parker Organ Quartet: Uncle Joe's Spirit House (2010, Centering) B+(**)
  • Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. V: Stuttgart May 25, 1981 (1981 [2010], Widow's Taste, 2CD) A-
  • Portico Quartet: Isla (2009 [2010], Real World) B+(**)
  • Pete Robbins: Silent Z Live (2009 [2010], Hate Laugh Music) B+(***)
  • Ellen Rowe Quartet: Wishing Well (2009 [2010], PKO) B+(***)
  • Jacques Schwarz-Bart: Abyss (2009, ObliqSound) B+(**)
  • Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: Rhapsody in Blue: Live (2009, Spartacus) B+(**)
  • Aram Shelton Quartet: These Times (2009 [2010], Singlespeed Music) B+(**)
  • Matthew Shipp: 4D (2009 [2010], Thirsty Ear) B+(**)
  • Edward Simon Trio: Poesia (2008 [2009], CAM Jazz) B+(***)
  • John Skillman's Barb City Stompers: DeKalb Blues (2009 [2010], Delmark) B+(***)
  • Bob Sneider & Joe Locke [Film Noir Project]: Nocturne for Ava (2007 [2009], Origin) B+(**)
  • Nadav Snir-Zelniker: Thinking Out Loud (2009 [2010], OA2) B+(***)
  • Petra van Nuis & Andy Brown: Far Away Places (2009 [2010], String Damper) B+(**)
  • Wellstone Conspiracy: Motives (2009 [2010], Origin) B+(**)
  • Frank Wess Nonet: Once Is Not Enough (2008 [2009], Labeth Music) B+(**)
  • Ziggurat Quartet: Calculated Gestures (2009 [2010], Origin) B+(***)

Meanwhile, what follows is three weeks of Jazz Prospecting, everything since November 22. This completes Round 25. Next time Jazz Prospecting appears we will be starting Round 26.


The Microscopic Septet: Friday the Thirteenth: The Micros Play Monk (2010, Cuneiform): Sax quartet (Phillip Johnston on soprano, Don Davis on alto, Mike Hashim on tenor, Dave Sewelson on baritone) plus piano-bass-drums (Joel Forrester, David Hofstra, Richard Dworkin). Been around since the early 1980s, skipping a couple decades between 1988 and 2008. Monk mostly wrote for a sax-piano quartet, so the extra horns scale up cleanly. That the group's leader, Johnston, plays soprano sax makes it likely that he's refracting Monk through Steve Lacy. Also helps that the tenor guy (Hashim) is one of the most irrepressible swingers in the business. In any case, it all works like a charm. A-

Eli Degibri: Israeli Song (2009 [2010], Anzic): Tenor/soprano saxophonist, from Israel, studied at Berklee and New England Conservatory, based in New York City. Fifth album since 2004. Fronts a very eminent quartet: Brad Mehldau on piano, Ron Carter on bass, and Al Foster on drums. Each contributes a song; other covers are "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "Bebop," with Degibri writing 6 of 11. All mainstream jazz, nothing that specifically marks this as Israeli or Middle Eastern -- just exquisite tenor sax supported by supremely confident pros. B+(**)

The Lou Grassi Po Band with Marshall Allen: Live at the Knitting Factory Volume 1 (2000 [2010], Porter): One more item in the recent explosion of Marshall Allen recordings. I've toyed around with the idea of writing a more conventional column, where I could pick some interesting theme and focus on a small cluster of records related to that, and the 4-5 recent records with Sun Ra's long-reclusive Johnny Hodges would be a worthwhile subject. As it is, he's only one of four horns here, frequently at each other's throats. The others are Paul Smoker on trumpet, Steve Swell on trombone, and Perry Robinson on clarinet, while Wilber Morris plays bass. Grassi is the drummer, b. 1947, with eight previous Po Band records since 1995. How good this is depends on how much noise you can stand, since they rarely unravel into individual strains, even though we know they can do that. Maybe they just want to stoke the drummer? B+(**)

Jason Robinson: Cerberus Reigning (2010, Accretions): Solo tenor sax, soprano sax, alto flute, and computer, "recorded in real time with no overdubs or edits," so the parts that threw me were probably the computer's fault, although I'd also credit the computer in varying the sound, especially given how wearing an hour of soprano sax can be. B+(*)

Jason Robinson: The Two Faces of Janus (2009 [2010], Cuneiform): Tenor sax, soprano sax, alto flute, this time in front of a group -- Liberty Ellman splendid on guitar, Drew Gress on bass, and George Schuller on drums -- with two alto saxophone guests for intricate interplay: Rudresh Mahanthappa on 3 cuts, Marty Ehrlich on 5 including some bass clarinet. Two cuts have both. Two cuts have just Robinson and Ehrlich with the band dropping out. Results are varied, some superb, others disorienting. B+(**)

Robert Wyatt/Gilad Atzmon/Ros Stephen: For the Ghosts Within (2010, Domino): I used to think I was as big a fan of Robert Wyatt as anyone, but I haven't responded well to his albums since Shleep (1997) or maybe even Dondestan (1991), while there are others -- especially toiling for the UK magazine The Wire -- who still adore everything he does. His voice has grown creakier (not to mention croakier); even at his most charming, his voice was never far from triggering an intense adverse reaction. And his arrangements have gotten ever lazier -- here they've been given over to violinist Stephen and reedist Atzmon. While Atzmon does a lovely job, the strings can rub my nerves raw. Wyatt has a hand in two credits, Atzmon two (one with a Palestinian rap), Stephen one; otherwise these are mostly slow, obvious ballads: "Laura," "Round Midnight," "In a Sentimental Mood," "Lush Life," "At Last I Am Free," "What a Wonderful World." Of those, "Lush Life" is quite remarkable, and "At Last I Am Free" is anthemic (although I could swear he's done it before). B+(*)

Trygve Seim/Andreas Utnem: Purcor (2008 [2010], ECM): Norwegian saxophonist (tenor, soprano), has been on ECM since the late 1990s. Utnem plays piano, and these are straightforward duets, some improvised, some based on Norwegian folk songs. They grab you right away, but the record does run a little long. B+(***)

Rakalam Bob Moses/Greg Burk: Ecstatic Weanderings (2002 [2010], Jazzwerkstatt): Moses is a drummer/percussionist, b. 1948, played quite young with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, moved on to Larry Coryell and Gary Burton, cut some well-regarded albums for Gramavision in the 1980s but has only sporadically appeared as a leader before or since. Not sure when he picked up the Rakalam -- actually haven't paid much attention to him, although I do have an unplayed copy of When Elephants Dream of Music around here somewhere. Burk is a pianist, 21 years younger, from Michigan, based in Rome with stops in Boston and Bratislava. Always struck me as an interesting freebopper, but this is something else: a piano-drums duo (reversing roles for 1 of 8 cuts, the most chaotic), avant improv with African allusions -- on the percussion-led "Primativo" anyhow, though other pieces push the piano out front more conventionally. B+(***)

Newman Taylor Baker Singin' Drums: Drum Suite Life (2010, Innova): Drummer, b. 1943, looks like his first album although he has side credits going back to 1978, especially with Billy Harper. Solo drum project, which limits is appeal, but within those constraints it is interesting and quite listenable. I puzzled a bit over one title, "Andrew, Milford, & Rashied" -- Ali and Graves, of course, but, uh, Cyrille, of course. B+(**)

Perry Robinson Trio: From A to Z (2008 [2010], Jazzwerkstatt): Clarinettist, b. 1938, produce a remarkable quartet album in 1962, Funk Dumpling (with Kenny Barron, Henry Grimes, and Paul Motian), leans avant-garde but has also played a lot of klezmer. Has a very spotty discography, not much more than a dozen albums in early 50 years, so every new one is filled with promise. This is a trio, with Ed Schuller on bass and Ernst Bier on drums. Remarkable in spots, although occasional drops into vocalizations are less appealing and more confusing. B+(**)

Tom Johnson: Rational Melodies (2008 [2010], New World): Minimalist composer, b. 1939, originally best known for his column on new music in the Village Voice from 1972-82. I knew him briefly and read him regularly at the Voice; I admired his writing and his vast expertise and disciplined taste. He moved to Paris in 1983 and hasn't been heard from much since then -- but every now a recording of his work pops up. An Hour for Piano (1979) was a delightful piece, while Nine Bells (1982) was pretty tiring. "Rational Melodies" was composed in 1982 and has been recorded once before, by Eberhard Blum in 1993, playing solo flute, released on Hat Art. This version is played by the enemble Dedalus -- guitar, trombone, saxophone, flute, violin, cello, bass, piano -- directed by Didier Aschour. Together, and they always play together, they sould like a particularly rich synthesizer. The rhythm is fixed, so all that varies are the melodies, and they are, well, quite rational about it, but somehow they manage to avoid the tedium they're aiming at. B+(**)

Rudresh Mahanthappa & Bunky Green: Apex (2010, Pi): Mahanthappa's second alto sax duo date this year. The first with Steve Lehman was a pick hit and is near the top of my year end list. This one points the opposite direction, going with an older partner, b. 1935 in Milwaukee, long based in Chicago, has a dozen or so albums since 1960, has taught since 1972, now in Jacksonville at the University of North Florida. Bebopper, which seems to excite pianist Jason Moran and (especially) drummer Damion Reid, and may well have Mahanthappa fantasizing of Sonny Stitt -- who played duos with Green in the mid-1960s -- or maybe even Bird. I used to view Mahanthappa as a Coltrane man, but he seems to adapt to pretty much any context without settling into a distinctive style. B+(***)

Xavier Charles/Ivar Grydeland/Christian Wallumrřd/Ingar Zach: Dans les Arbres (2008 [2010], ECM): Group name is officially Dans les Arbres, but artist names appear on cover and last names appear on spine, and all four names are attached to all eight pieces. Charles plays clarinet and harmonica; Grydeland acoustic guitar, banjo, sruti box; Wallumrřd piano; Zach percussion, bass drum. Charles is French, the others Norwegian. Hype sheet cites John Cage and Morton Feldman as influences. Banjo is prepared, and piano sounds a little surreal as well. Lots of space isolates scattered sounds, all very dark and not very clearly connected. B+(*)

Lean Left: The Ex Guitars Meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo, Volume 2 (2008 [2010], Smalltown Superjazz): A second set at the Bimhuis, not as loud as the first, and not just because Vandermark lays out on the 12:26 opening "Knuckle Cracking Party": an exercise where Andy Moor and Terrie Ex tease abstractions out of their guitars. The main act is the 30:16 "Chunk of Lung," so named because Vandermark thought he lost one somewhere. Same piece appeared on Volume 1, not that you can tell. This is less loud, has some breaks, lets the guitars articulate more. Probably a development, but gives up a bit of Volume 1's rush. B+(***)

Rafi Malkiel: Water (2009 [2010], Tzadik): Trombonist, b. 1972 in Israel, based in New York, second album, following the delightful My Island in 2007. Also plays euphonium, which he has tricked up to make something he calls aguaphonium here. Styles himself as a Latin jazz specialist, surrounding himself with various Latino percussionists as well as fellow travelers like Anat and Avishai Cohen. Jumps to a fast start, wavers a bit when they slip and slow down. Depends more on the horn layers than on the rhythm, but needs both to work: "Eden Rain" is a good mix, "River Blue" another. B+(***)

Ehud Asherie: Organic (2007 [2010], Posi-Tone): Isareli pianist, b. 1979, attended New School in 1997-98, studied with Frank Hewitt, based in New York. Fourth or fifth album since 2007 -- also has a new one on Arbors, Welcome to New York, which I didn't get. I think this is the only one where he plays organ. Quartet with Peter Bernstein on guitar, Dmitry Baevsky on sax, and Phil Stewart on drums. No bass player, which has been the rule since Jimmy Smith invented the form, but Asherie doesn't seem to have given it any consideration. He plays light and fleet, which keeps him closely in tune to Bernstein. Baevsky has two mainstream records I haven't heard. Doesn't make much of an impression here. B+(**)

Chris Dahlgren & Lexicon: Mystic Maze (2008 [2010], Jazzwerkstatt): Bassist, b. 1961 in New York, studied under La Monte Young. Half-dozen records as a leader, plus a couple dozen side credits including Anthony Braxton and Gebhard Ullmann. With Antonis Anissegos (keyboards), Ullman (tenor & soprano sax, bass clarinet), Christian Weidner (alto sax), and Eric Schaefer (drums). Music is very slippery, sliding from spot to spot, never getting in the way of the narration, which includes stories about Béla Bartok and painless dentistry. B+(***)

Humanization 4tet: Electricity (2009 [2010], Ayler): Portuguese guitarist Luis Lopes has his name above the group name. Below the group name: Rodrigo Amado (tenor sax), Aaron González (bass), and Stefan González (drums) -- both sons of Dennis. Same group had an album called Humanization 4tet in 2008, which struck me as a solid HM. This one has even more juice. Lopes doesn't do a lot of soloing, but he provides a firm metallic undercarriage for Amado to blast away from. Lots of short repetitive figures, very solid. A-

Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore: Three Kinds of Happiness (2009 [2010], Not Two): Bass clarinetist, one of the few specialists around, b. 1976, based in Chicago, first showed up in Ken Vandermark's Bridge 61 group where he was utterly demolished, but keeps plugging away at it, and is getting better. Trio with Jason Roebke on bass and Mike Pride on drums, a good group that keeps him up front and makes him work. Horn doesn't have the sharp edge of a sax, but there's nothing dull about his thinking. B+(***)

Tony Malaby's Tamarindo: Live (2010, Clean Feed): Originally a tenor sax trio with Malaby, William Parker on bass, and Nasheet Waits on drums. This time adds Wadada Leo Smith on trumpet. Sounds like a good deal, but Smith focuses on the tight riffing he specializes in, and Malaby never breaks out -- sound seems a little muffled to me. B+(*)

Omar Hakim/Rachel Z: The Trio of Oz (2010, Ozmosis): Probably the 'z' in title and label should be capitalized: they use all caps everywhere, and I habitually hack them into u&lc. Third member of the trio is bassist Maeve Royce. Hakim is a drummer, b. 1959, has a couple of albums and a lot of session work going back to 1978, some rock (David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, Dire Straits, Mariah Carey), some jazz (Miles Davis, John Scofield, Michael Brecker), some non-jazz (Kenny G, Najee). Rachel Nicolazzo is the pianist, b. 1962, has a dozen or more albums since 1990. She would most likely have a higher reputation had she not changed her name and dabbled in a series of pop/fusion projects. Fluid pianist, moves around a lot and is always in firm control. Very solid trio work, closes with a discreet take on Sting's "King of Pain." B+(**) [advance]

Ken Thomson and Slow/Fast: It Would Be Easier If (2009 [2010], Intuition): Plays bass clarinet and alto sax here, probably other clarinets and saxes elsewhere. Based in Brooklyn. First album, but was a key figure in Gutbucket with four albums 2001-09. Group: Russ Johnson (trumpet), Nir Felder (guitar), Adam Armstrong (bass), Fred Kennedy (drums, electronics). Starts slow; eventually speeds up. No surprise which is better. B+(*)

Ellery Eskelin/Gerry Hemingway: Inbetween Spaces (2008 [2010], Auricle): One of three new albums featuring drummer Gerry Hemingway in duets -- the obvious one to play first, especially when you're approaching year-end-list deadlines. The tenor sax seems a little subdued at first (and I've had to crank this up some to draw him out), but this is typical of Eskelin's patient, edgy focus. What's distinctive here is the percussion, how tuned in it is but also cleverly Hemingway expands the circle. A-

Terrence McManus/Gerry Hemingway: Below the Surface Of (2008 [2010], Auricle): Guitar-drums duo; guitarist is from Brooklyn, seems to have 4-6 records since 2006 -- website doesn't have dates on anything; AMG lists one record not on website -- some solo, some in small groups he may or may not lead. Builds his own guitars, including the "nylon string stereo guitar" second-credited here. Has a distinctive ring to his electric, and holds your interest all by himself. Hemingway works around him, much as he did with Eskelin. A-

Jin Hi Kim/Gerry Hemingway: Pulses (2009 [2010], Auricle): Kim -- I'm assuming that that's the surname and that the Korean name has been reversed for western tastes (Wikipedia lists her as Kim Jin-Hi) -- plays komungo (Korean fourth century fretted board zither), and "co-designed the world's only electric komungo." Born in Seoul in 1957, moved to US in 1980. Appears to be a significant figure in Korean traditional music although her discography includes a number of duos/small groups with jazz musicians: Elliott Sharp, Henry Kaiser, Derek Bailey, Eugene Chadbourne, Evan Parker, Sainkho Namchylak, Fredy Studer, Peter Kowald, Thomas Buckner, Robert Dick, and a previous album with Hemingway called Komungo Ecstasy. The komungo strikes me as like a bass with guitar harmonics. It fills the grooves with sound and carries a strong rhythm. Hemingway has much less to do here than on the other two records, or at least does much less. Makes it a bit less interesting as a duo but fascinating in its own right. B+(***)

Ken Filiano & Quantum Entanglements: Dreams From a Clown Car (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): Bassist, a guy who has an uncanny knack of showing up on good records (John Hébert is another one), finally turns in one of his own. Two sax quartet, with Michaël Attias on baritone and alto, Tony Malaby on tenor and soprano, with Michael T.A. Thompson on drums. The two horns work in tight patterns -- not a lot of freewheeling here, but the loopy melodies and vibrant textures are engaging. B+(***)

Joe Hertenstein/Pascal Niggenkemper/Thomas Heberer: HNH (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): Got off on a tangent here: I had a database entry (Penguin 4-star record) for a Christoph Heberer, which is certainly wrong. There is a drummer named Christoph Haberer, and the trumpet player Thomas Heberer. Finally decided that the record in question belongs to Heberer, who was b. 1965, plays quarter-tone trumpet, has a scattered list of recordings since 1987, some trad jazz, some avant -- Alexander von Schlippenbach, Misha Mengelberg, Aki Takase. Hertenstein is a drummer, and has a slight edge in compositions over Heberer. This is his first album. Niggenkemper plays bass, has one record from 2008 on Konnex. Tight, fairly minimal free jazz. 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.

Cassandra Wilson: Silver Pony (2010, Blue Note): Billed as "a unique hybrid live/studio album" -- whatever that means. My suspicion is that it's one where they're too lazy to commit to either. Three originals, scattered covers, an anonymous-sounding band, some guests. Her quiet delivery works nicely on some tracks, but doesn't deliver the whole album. B [Rhapsody]

Mary Halvorson Quintet: Saturn Sings (2010, Firehouse 12): Guitarist, studied with Anthony Braxton, has developed a style which is fiercely independent, sometimes producing impressive records, sometimes resulting in chaos. She is very much in control here. The horns -- Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on alto sax -- add warbly harmonics to her leads, and often just lay back. Ches Smith plays drums, and the ever reliable John Hébert bass. A record that I would need more time with, but unfortunately won't get. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Eric Hofbauer: American Fear! (2009 [2010], Creative Nation Music): Guitarist, b. 1974, has a couple of good records with his college chum trio, the Blueprint Project, and now four records under his own name: low-keyed solo guitar with political sentiments -- one previous one was called American Vanity. This one is very low key, picking around the edges of melodies that aren't quite there. Not uninteresting, but not a lot that draws you in. B [Rhapsody]

Tim Warfield: A Sentimental Journey (2010, Criss Cross): One of the "tough young tenors" to emerge in the 1990s, I thought his first few records were terrific, but then he came up empty between 2002 and his 2007 Shirley Scott tribute, which he basically rehashes here, on his sixth album since 1995. Terrell Stafford gives him a competitive trumpet, Pat Bianchi cranks up the organ, and Byron Landham is the drummer. The intro to the first/title song starts in a weird sonic ditch, which is not the last time Warfield has trouble making himself heard. Only Stafford seems to be able to break out of the malaise. B [Rhapsody]

Adam Rudolph/Ralph Jones: Yčyí (2009 [2010], Meta): Rudolph is a percussionist, b. 1955, tends toward African riddims, playing djembe, frame drum, glockenspiel, melodica, thumb piano, sintir, and zabumba here. Early work included Shadowfax and Foday Musa Suso, and Yusef Lateef has been a frequent collaborator. Jones plays various flutes (bamboo, alto, ney), bass clarinet, and soprano and tenor sax. Intriguing exotica, loose and spare but holds together nicely. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Yusef Lateef/Adam Rudolph: Towards the Unknown (2009 [2010], Meta): The former Bill Evans broke into Dizzy Gillespie's orchestra in 1949. He began recording under the name Yusef Lateef around 1957, mostly on tenor sax, sometimes on oboe, and was one of the first saxophonists to play substantial amounts of flute. His name came out of an interest in Asian and African musics, which he did much to integrate into jazz during the early 1960s. I've only sampled him occasionally, and actually the only record of his I really recommend is a two-tenor duel from 1992 called Tenors of Yuseef Lateef and Archie Shepp, but I haven't heard several other promsing duos from the same period. The percussionist took an early interest in African music and finally hooked up with Lateef in 1991, and they've done quite a bit together since then. (Lateef was a few weeks shy of 89 when this one was recorded.) This is constructed from two extended pieces, a "Concerto for Brother Yusef" written by Rudolph, and "Percussion Concerto (for Adam Rudolph)" written by Lateef. Both are victimized by classical accompaniment: the former by the Go: Organic Strings, the latter by Orchestra of the SEM Ensemble. I do hope Lateef's lethargy is simply the fault of the arrangements. Rudolph can be fascinating when he gets some space to stretch out. B [Rhapsody]

Catherine Russell: Inside This Heart of Mine (2009 [2010], World Village): Singer, third album since 2006. Can't find a source listing her age, but her father was legendary band leader Luis Russell (1902-63) -- his 1929-30 Savoy Shout (JSP) is one of the essential jazz records of the era, with the 2-CD 1929-34 The Luis Russell Story (Retrieval) equally recommended, and he maintained a relationship with his star trumpeter Louis Armstrong long after he stopped recording. Hard to work out the math here. She makes an effort to search out old songs -- "All the Cats Join In," "Struttin' With Some Barbeque" -- but they don't sound especially old, even with thoughtful swing-oriented musicians like John Allred and Dan Block in the band. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Evan Christopher: The Remembering Song (2009 [2010], Arbors): Clarinetist, b. 1974, came up through trad jazz groups although he writes most of his own material. Covers "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans," "My Home Is in a Souther Town," and "Dear Old Southland." Uses two guitarists (Bucky Pizzarelli and James Chirillo) and bass (Greg Cohen). Often lovely, but not much excitement. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Taylor Ho Bynum/Tomas Fujiwara: Stepwise (2010, Not Two): Cornet-drums duo. Bynum runs through thin, scratchy free jazz figures, and Fujiwara taps along, not adding a great deal. The drummer has a couple albums I haven't heard, and Bynum's label is off limits to me, which is kind of annoying, although he does show up often enough to keep me intrigued. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Randy Weston and His African Rhythms Sextet: The Storyteller (2009 [2010], Motéma Music): Pianist, b. 1926, cut his first record in 1954 and has recorded steadily ever since, excepting a tough spot 1977-88, and a couple years before this one. Developed an interest in Africa by 1960 which has only broadened and deepened. This was cut live, with T.K. Blue (flute, sax), Benny Powell (trombone), Alex Blake (bass), Lewis Nash (drums), and Neil Clarke (percussion). Long solo piano intro on the first piece, which eventually erupts into a joyous Cuban thing. Not familiar with Blue, but he has nice turns on both instruments. Powell, who's only a couple years younger than Weston, has a poignant solo but not a lot of power. Not sure what I think of the piano interludes, but the ensemble work is delightful. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Russ Lossing: Personal Tonal (2009 [2010], Fresh Sound New Talent): Pianist, leads a sax quartet with Loren Stillman on alto, John Hebert on bass, and Eric McPherson on drums. The piano is jumpy, shifty, the lead track so radical that when it's followed by Ornette Coleman's "School Days" the latter sounds like a way of resolving the chaos into a pop hook. Stillman fits Lossing to a tee, and Hebert, as usual, can do no wrong. A- [Rhapsody]

Looked for but couldn't find (or play) on Rhapsody:

  • Jeb Bishop Trio: 2009 (Better Animal)
  • The Cookers: Warriors (Jazz Legacy Productions)
  • Tomas Fujiwara: Actionspeak (482 Music)
  • Ideal Bread: Transmit: Vol. 2 of the Music of Steve Lacy (Cuneiform)
  • The Jazz Passengers: Reunited (Justin Time)
  • Lee Konitz New Quartet: Live at the Village Vanguard (Enja)
  • Azar Lawrence: Mystic Journey (Furthermore)
  • Joe McPhee/Ingebrigt Hĺker-Flaten: Blue Chicago Blues (Not Two)
  • Michael Musillami Trio: Old Tea (Playscape)
  • Mario Pavone: Arc Suite T/Pi T/Po (Playscape)
  • Warren Vaché/John Allred Quintet: Top Shelf (Arbors)
  • The Vandermark 5: The Horse Jumps/The Ship Is Gone (Not Two)


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

Vijay Iyer: Solo (2010, ACT): Can the best jazz pianist of the last decade do a solo album? Sure, easy. I can see where his gracefulness can be beguiling, but want to note that that's not how he got to where he is, nor likely what he's going to be doing once he gets back to work. Meanwhile, this looks likely to come in second in this year's jazz critics polls (behind Jason Moran's Ten, which is basically the same thing with the benefit of bass and drums). Iyer's one of the few pianists who's gotten as far as he has without doing a solo album, so I see this as a career marker, one more that he's easily passed. B+(***) [advance]

Marilyn Crispell/David Rothenberg: One Night I Left My Silent House (2008 [2010], ECM): I got confused early on here, first confusing David Rothenberg with Ned Rothenberg and possibly others my brain has incoherently muddled together, but also thinking that Crispell should be the main focus. She plays piano on about half of the cuts, soundboard and percussion on the rest -- for all intents and purposes, her piano is one of many percussion options, all revolving around Rothenberg's bass clarinet and clarinet. Rothenberg has ten albums since 1992, something to research further some time. He describes himself as a "philosopher-naturalist" and writes about Why Birds Sing. This is spare but deep, mostly slow and careful but never mushy. Crispell, as I said, takes on the percussionist role, which is not to denigrate her near-perfect piano. A-

John McNeil/Bill McHenry: Chill Morn He Climb Jenny (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Trumpeter McNeil is a generation older and probably a good deal more idiosyncratic than the others, which means not only he revives lost bop gems he embues them with their own idiosyncratic spin, including some of that Latin tinge. I'm rather surprised not to see this pop up on any year-end lists so far. Not exactly my thing, but I could imagine more bop-oriented fans falling hard for it -- unless they can't loosen up. B+(***)

Denny Zeitlin: Precipice (2008 [2010], Sunnyside): Solo piano, took a while to kick in this time but he's an impressive, thoughtful player, able to dig a lot out of the instrument. B+(**)


Some re-grades as I've gone through trying to sort out the surplus:

Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden: Jasmine (2007 [2010], ECM): Thought I should bring this back for another spin, and it gained some traction, but is still just very nice -- likely to be comparable to a number of other records, but if you have a soft spot for either you could be quite happy with it. [was: B+(*)] B+(**)

William Parker Organ Quartet: Uncle Joe's Spirit House 2010, Centering: [was: B+(***)] B+(**)

Puttin' on the Ritz: White Light/White Heat (2010, Hot Cup): [was: B-] C+

Steve Turre: Delicious and Delightful (2010, High Note): Finally heard the conch shell, not to mention a whole lot of Billy Harper. [was: B+(**)] B+(***)


For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes to date, look here. The final figures are 248 new records prospected, 113 carried over from previous rounds. This is up from 218 in the previous round.


Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last two weeks:

  • Afterfall (Clean Feed)
  • Ernestine Anderson: Nightlife (High Note): Jan. 22
  • Matt Bauder: Day in Pictures (Clean Feed)
  • Matt Blostein/Vinnie Sperrazza: Paraphrase (Yeah-Yeah): Feb. 15
  • Todd Clouser: A Love Electric (self-released): Feb. 1
  • Blue Cranes: Observatories (Blue Cranes)
  • Jacques Coursil: Trails of Tears (Sunnyside): Jan. 25
  • The Dymaxion Quartet: Sympathetic Vibrations (Dymaxion Quartet): advance, download only
  • Ellery Eskelin/Gerry Hemingway: Inbetween Spaces (Auricle)
  • Kellylee Evans: Nina (Plus Loin Music)
  • Ken Filiano & Quantum Entanglements: Dreams From a Clown Car (Clean Feed)
  • Billy Fox's Blackbirds & Bullets: Dulces (Clean Feed)
  • Ricardo Gallo's Tierra de Nadie: The Great Fine Line (Clean Feed)
  • Eddie Gomez/Cesarius Alvim: Forever (Plus Loin Music)
  • Joel Harrison: String Choir: The Music of Paul Motian (Sunnyside): Jan. 18
  • Joe Hertenstein/Pascal Niggenkemper/Thomas Heberer: HNH (Clean Feed)
  • Ideal Bread: The Ideal Bread (KMB)
  • Jaruzelski's Dream: Jazz Gawronski (Clean Feed)
  • Jin Hi Kim/Gerry Hemingway: Pulses (Auricle)
  • The David Liebman Trio: Lieb Plays the Blues ŕ la Trane (Challenge)
  • Tony Malaby's Tamarindo: Live (Clean Feed)
  • Rafi Malkiel: Water (2009 [2010], Tzadik)
  • Terrence McManus/Gerry Hemingway: Below the Surface Of (Auricle)
  • John Medeski & Lee Shaw: Together Again: Live at the Egg (ARC): Jan. 18
  • Moon Hotel Lounge Project: Into the Ojalá (Frosty Cordial): advance, Jan. 11
  • Jeremy Pelt: The Talented Mr. Pelt (High Note): Jan. 22
  • Noah Preminger: Before the Rain (Palmetto): Jan. 18
  • The Lee Shaw Trio: Live at Art Gallery Reutlingen (ARC): Jan. 18
  • Todd Snider: Live: The Storyteller (Aimless, 2CD): advance, Feb. 1
  • Sonic Liberation Front: Meets Sunny Murray (High Two): Mar. 8
  • Toots Thielemans: European Quartet Live (Challenge)
  • Steve Tibbetts: Compilation: Acoustibbetts/Elektrobitts/Exotibbetts (Steve Tibbets, 3CD)
  • Sidi Touré & Friends: Sahel Folk (Thrill Jockey): Jan.
  • Diego Urcola Quartet: Appreciation (CAM Jazz): Feb. 8

Purchases:

  • D.O. Misiani and Shirati Jazz: The King of History (Sterns)
  • Robyn: Body Talk (Konichiwa/Cherrytree/Interscope)
  • Shangaan Electro: New Wave Dance Music From South Africa (Honest Jons)
  • Kanye West: My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy (Roc-A-Fella)

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:


  • Peter Daou: The New Obama Fault Line on the Left: 'He's a closet Republican' vs. 'He's an inept Dem': A couple of examples, but they themselves are unimportant. I admit that I've had both thoughts cross my mind. For now, my best theory is that he's someone to takes to heart something Harry Truman once said (and Bill Clinton relished quoting): "If you want to live like a Republican, you have to vote Democratic." With a couple of exceptions, Obama's spent all of his life looking up to the rich and powerful. He was a really talented outsider who worked real hard to fit in and get along, and what let him fit in was his willingness to totally subjugate his outsider background and embrace all of our myths of success, what we call "the American dream": striving to join rather than challenge the established order. And he did all that so earnestly the order was just plain flattered enough to let him in: the Harvard Law Review, the US Senate, the presidency. Go back to his election in 2008 and read his press and it's mostly about what a wonderful country we are to have opened up and recognize this man, because in the end his and our aspirations are the same. Along the way Obama sopped up a lot of deeply conservative ideas and attitudes, and there's no reason to doubt that he holds them sincerely. (Unless you buy the Chauncey Gardiner theory, which has also occurred to me. Chance was a blank slate onto whom all sorts of people could project their own ideas, then conclude he was a fount of deep wisdom.) Whether that makes him a closet Republican depends more on whether you can conceive of Republicans as mere conservatives or see them mostly as raving lunatics. He isn't the latter, but his habitual supplication to power leads him to show respect to Republicans who are; on the other hand, he has no qualms about dressing down other Democrats, especially ones who inconvenience him by pointing out how far he has compromised principles he once claimed to embrace. The charge of incompetence flows not from his compromises but from how few tangible accomplishments he got for them. Endless negotiations with Republicans watered down his stimulus bill without gaining any useful measure of bipartisan support: he wound up with an inadequate measure and full blame for its failure. Same thing with health care and financial reform -- two major legislative accomplishments which remain inadequate and are no less divisive for all the compromises. He doesn't stand up to his enemies, and he doesn't stand up for his friends, not least the people who elected him and invested so much hope in him. So, yeah, he's inept. And to the extent that his ineptness doesn't bother him it's natural to suspect that he's a closet Republican, because they sure seem to be kicking his ass. In fairness, he's never had the powers treat him the way the Republicans do. He's never had to fight to get ahead or even to defend himself -- until now he's always gotten by with hard work and good manners, so he's never grown a thick skin of resentment (which is another thing that differentiates him from most Democrats).

  • Andy Kroll: How the Oligarchs Took America: Cites Jacob Hacker/Paul Pierson: Winner-Take-All Politics:

    Most accounts of American income inequality begin in the 1980s with the reign of President Ronald Reagan, the anti-government icon whose "Reaganomics" are commonly fingered as the catalyst for today's problems. Wrong, say Hacker and Pierson. The origins of oligarchy lay in the late 1970s and in the unlikely figure of Jimmy Carter, a Democratic president presiding over a Congress controlled by Democrats. It was Carter's successes and failures, they argue, that kicked off what economist Paul Krugman has labeled "the Great Divergence."

    In 1978, the Carter administration and Congress took a red pen to the tax code, slashing the top rate of the capital gains tax from 48% to 28% -- an enormous boon for wealthy Americans. At the same time, the most ambitious effort in decades to reform American labor law in order to make it easer to unionize died in the Senate, despite a 61-vote Democratic supermajority. Likewise, a proposed Office of Consumer Representation, a $15 million advocacy agency that was to work on behalf of average Americans, was defeated by an increasingly powerful business lobby.

    Ronald Reagan, you could say, simply took the baton passed to him by Carter. His 1981 Economic Recovery and Tax Act (ERTA) bundled a medley of goodies any oligarch would love, including tax cuts for corporations, ample reductions in the capital gains and estate taxes, and a 10% income tax exclusion for married couples in two-earner families. "ERTA was Ronald Reagan's greatest legislative triumph, a fundamental rewriting of the nation's tax laws in favor of winner-take-all outcomes," Hacker and Pierson conclude. [ . . . ]

    As a result, the central story of the 2010 midterm elections isn't Republican victory or Democratic defeat or Tea Party anger; it's this blitzkrieg of outside spending, most of which came from right-leaning groups like Rove's American Crossroads and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. It's a grim illustration of what happens when so much money ends up in the hands of so few. And with campaign finance reforms soundly defeated for years to come, the spending wars will only get worse.

    Indeed, pundits predict that spending in the 2012 elections will smash all records. Think of it this way: in 2008, total election spending reached $5.3 billion, while the $1.8 billion spent on the presidential race alone more than doubled 2004's total. How high could we go in 2012? $7 billion? $10 billion? It looks like the sky's the limit.

    We don't need to wait for 2012 to arrive, however, to know that the sheer amount of money being pumped into American politics makes a mockery out of our democracy (or what's left of it). Worse yet, few solutions exist to staunch the cash flow: the DISCLOSE Act, intended to counter the effects of Citizens United, twice failed in the Senate this year; and the best option, public financing of elections, can't even get a hearing in Washington.

  • Andrew Leonard: Bernie Sanders' Epic Tax Cut Filibuster Rant: At last someone stands up and talks straight (and wow, does he have a lot to talk about):

    His epic rant -- perhaps one of the most extraordinary critiques of how the American economy has been managed over the last several decades delivered in living memory -- is an endless sequence of connecting the dots from one outrage to another. Even as I wrote this paragraph, he segued effortlessly from trade policy to Wall Street.

    "But it is not just a disastrous trade policy that has brought us where we are today. The immediate cause of this crisis, and it gets me just sick talking about it . . . is what the crooks on Wall Street have done to the American people."

    Sanders then delivers a capsule history of deregulation, blasts Alan Greenspan, notes that in the late '90s he had predicted everything that ultimately happened, but failed to rally legislative support to stop the runaway train -- "and the rest is, unfortunately, history."

    From there, a class warfare sideswipe: "Understand, that in this country when you are a CEO on Wall Street -- you can do pretty much anything you want and get away it."

    "And what they did to the American people is so horrible."

    On to the bailout! His scorn is so caustic it could disintegrate an aircraft carrier: "We bailed these guys out because they were too big to fail, and now three of the four largest banks are now even larger."

    As Sanders' great oration enters its seventh hour, it is, by its very nature, impossible to summarize. It is a ramble, a rant, a critique, a cry of rage, a wail of despair, and a call to action. And it is amazing. I've heard stories of filibusters in which senators read phone books. And I've watched with disgust as for years Republicans have merely threatened to filibuster, without ever actually being forced to exercise their vocal cords. But here is Bernie Sanders, seven hours in, calling for the biggest banks to be broken up, voice still hale and hearty, and looking like he could easily go another seven hours.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Jazz Ballot (2010)

Francis Davis is running his annual jazz critics poll at the Village Voice this year. I've been invited to vote, and to write up a sidebar article explaining or expanding on my ballot, and to do some website work. The bold stuff that follows is quoted from the ballot request, followed by my submissions, followed by some extraneous comments I didn't submit.

Your choices for 2010's ten best new releases (albums released between Thanksgiving 2009 and Thanksgiving 2010, give or take), listed in descending order one-through-ten.

  1. Billy Bang: Prayer for Peace (TUM)
  2. Rudresh Mahanthappa & Steve Lehman: Dual Identity (Clean Feed)
  3. Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra: Ashcan Rantings (Clean Feed, 2CD)
  4. William Parker: I Plan to Stay a Believer: The Inside Songs of Curtis Mayfield (AUM Fidelity, 2CD)
  5. The Mark Lomax Trio: The State of Black America (Inarhyme)
  6. Angles: Epileptical West: Live in Coimbra (Clean Feed)
  7. Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Forty Fort (Hot Cup)
  8. First Meeting: Cut the Rope (Libra)
  9. Wadada Leo Smith and Ed Blackwell: The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer (1986, Kabell)
  10. Anthony Brown's Asian American Orchestra: India & Africa: A Tribute to John Coltrane (Water Baby)

Six of those were Jazz CG Pick Hits, including the pending column. Two missed out on the new column, so they are prospective Pick Hits until something better comes along. Six (down through Angles) are full A rateds; the others very high A-, leading a long list that follows. The mix of black and white is typical of my lists, but an lot of Asian blood has seeped in, some born here (Brown), some there (Satoko Fujii and Natsuki Tamura), some just hard to explain (Mahanthappa, born in Italy although his Indian parents had previously emigrated to the US). Not that any of that makes much difference, but there is a lot of boundary crossing in the list. Only one European group, but four of the records are on European labels -- three on Clean Feed, which is clearly the label of the year. Most would be classified as avant or free, but the Parker album, to take one example, is full of popular songs with vocals. Several artists show rock roots, but none of the records could be called fusion.

The rest of the jazz subset of my 2010 A-list, as it currently stands:

  1. The Nels Cline Singers: Initiate (Cryptogramophone, 2CD)
  2. Lisa Mezzacappa's Bait & Switch: What Is Known (Clean Feed)
  3. Lean Left: The Ex Guitars Meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo, Volume 1 (Smalltown Superjazz)
  4. David S. Ware: Onecept (AUM Fidelity)
  5. Henry Threadgill Zooid: This Brings Us To: Volume II (Pi)
  6. Myra Melford's Be Bread: The Whole Tree Gone (Firehouse 12)
  7. Tin Hat: Foreign Legion (BAG)
  8. The Microscopic Septet: Friday the Thirteenth: The Micros Play Monk (Cuneiform)
  9. Fred Hersch Trio: Whirl (Palmetto)
  10. Steve Swell's Slammin' the Infinite: 5000 Poems (Not Two)
  11. Bill Frisell: Beautiful Dreamers (Savoy Jazz)
  12. Stephan Crump with Rosetta Trio: Reclamation (Sunnyside)
  13. New York Art Quartet: Old Stuff (1965, Cuneiform)
  14. Allison Miller: Boom Tic Boom (Foxhaven)
  15. Tommy Babin's Benzene: Your Body Is Your Prison (Drip Audio)
  16. Tomasz Stanko Quintet: Dark Eyes (ECM)
  17. Jon Irabagon: Foxy (Hot Cup)
  18. Ben Syversen: Cracked Vessel (Ben Syversen)
  19. Oleg Kireyev/Keith Javors: Rhyme & Reason (Inarhyme)
  20. Ivo Perelman/Gerry Hemingway: The Apple in the Dark (Leo)
  21. Freddy Cole: Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B (High Note)
  22. Nasheet Waits: Equality: Live at MPI (Fresh Sound New Talent -09)
  23. Marilyn Crispell/David Rothenberg: One Night I Left My Silent House (ECM)
  24. Henry Grimes/Rashied Ali: Spirits Aloft (Porter)
  25. Humanization 4tet: Electricity (Ayler)
  26. Anat Cohen: Clarinetwork: Live at the Village Vanguard (Anzic)
  27. 3ology: With Ron Miles (Tapestry)
  28. John Hicks & Frank Morgan: Twogether (High Note)
  29. Rodrigo Amado: Searching for Adam (Not Two)
  30. Alexander McCabe: Quiz (CAP)
  31. Ismael Dueńas Trio: Jazz Ateu (Quadrant)
  32. James Blood Ulmer: In and Out (In+Out)
  33. Anthony Braxton: 19 Standards (Quartet) 2003 (2003, Leo, 4CD)
  34. Paal Nilssen-Love/Ken Vandermark: Milwaukee Volume (Smalltown Superjazz)
  35. Ivo Perelman/Daniel Levin/Torbjörn Zetterberg: Soulstorm (Clean Feed, 2CD)
  36. Marcin & Bartlomiej Brat Oles: Duo (Fenomedia -08)
  37. The Stryker/Slagle Band: Keeper (Panorama)
  38. Ivo Perelman/Dominic Duval/Brian Willson: Mind Games (Leo -09)
  39. Paquito D'Rivera: Tango Jazz: Live at Jazz at Lincoln Center (Sunnyside)
  40. Conference Call: What About . . . . ? (Not Two, 2CD)
  41. Ellery Eskelin/Gerry Hemingway: Inbetween Spaces (Auricle)
  42. RED Trio (Clean Feed)
  43. Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. V: Stuttgart May 25, 1981 (Widow's Taste)
  44. Juhani Aaltonen Quartet: Conclusions (Tum)

Your top-three reissues, again listed in descending order:

  1. Commitment: The Complete Recordings 1981/1983 (1980-83, No Business, 2CD)
  2. Sounds of Liberation (1972, Porter)
  3. Eero Koivistoinen & Co.: 3rd Version (1973, Porter)

All three of these are remarkable but extremely obscure reissues, but they completely exhaust my stash. I did get some promo material on the Miles Davis Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition, but never figured out what to do with it. There are lots of reissues I could imagine adding to this list: Mosaic's big boxes of Duke Ellington and Henry Threadgill; Hip-O's boxes of Nat King Cole and Dinah Washington; Sunnyside's 4-CD expansion of Stan Getz's swansong, People Time. Steeplechase has a 5-CD box of Pierre Dřrge's New Jungle Orchestra. Storyville has an 8-CD Teddy Wilson box, and 2-CD centennary editions of Lester Young and Stuff Smith. (Also a 4-CD box of Papa Bue's Viking Jazz Band, which I've never heard but long wanted to.) European labels, thanks to their 50-year copyright limit, are having a field day with reissuing 1950s jazz. And I'm sure there's a lot more, but I haven't gotten close to it. The records on the ballot, however, are pretty amazing.

Your choice for the year's best vocal album:

  1. Freddy Cole: Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B (High Note)

William Parker's I Plan to Stay a Believer has so many vocals the rules suggest I should pick it instead. Cole's record is the best headlined by a vocalist. The only other one on my A-list is James Blood Ulmer's In and Out, which is more up for its guitar. I don't even see many jazz vocals in my HM list: Gia Notte's Shades (Gnote), Barb Jungr's The Men I Love (Naim), Billy Jenkins' blues records I Am a Man From Lewisham and Born Again (VOTP), that's about it. Seems like an especially poor year for jazz vocals, but since I separated vocal CDs into a separate inbox queue I've been avoiding them, so may have missed something. Still, whatever it is isn't clear from the early end-of-year lists I've seen.

Your choice for the year's best debut CD:

  1. Lisa Mezzacappa's Bait & Switch: What Is Known (Clean Feed)

Beyond that, only Ben Syversen and RED Trio appear to be eligible. It's so easy to self-release something these days that it's very rare for artists to wait until they come up with something really solid.

Your choice for the year's best Latin jazz CD:

  1. Paquito D'Rivera: Tango Jazz: Live at Jazz at Lincoln Center (Sunnyside)

Again, that's the only one on my A-list, except for Spanish and Portuguese artists who play mainstream or avant jazz -- Ismael Dueńas, Rodrigo Amado, Luis Lopes, any of which would have edged D'Rivera. On the HM list: Hilario Duran's Motion (Alma), Nilson Matta's Copacabana (Zoho), Rafi Malkiel's Water (Tzadik), and Pablo Aslan's Tango Grill (Zoho) -- Aslan, by the way, is the critical ingredient in D'Rivera's album above.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Human Rights

Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Peter Daou posted this on Human Rights Day, and he's right that it's worth reading in full. Curious that while in fact progress has been made on some fronts, our highest aspirations for a world where everyone enjoys all that we regard as human rights seems to have taken a dreadful hit. When this document was written and overwhelmingly agreed to, the world was just emerging from a horrific war, from vast destruction and hitherto unimaginable atrocities. We seem to have become inured to all that now, and oblivious to other threats that may someday force us to once again depend on the mutual respect and generosity of our fellow humans -- the key to which, once again, is universal acknowledgment of just this same bill of human rights.


Copyright Police

Got the following "Notice of Copyright Infringement" from Andrea T. Sheridan at Random House complaining about my book page on Robert G. Kaiser's So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government (2009, Knopf):

BY E-MAIL
tomhull.com
Re: Notice of Copyright Infringement

I, the undersigned, certify under penalty of perjury, that I am an agent authorized to act on behalf of Random House, Inc., ("Random House"), the owner of certain intellectual property rights to the literary works referenced in the addendum attached hereto ("the Works"), which are reproduced on and/or distributed from your website ("the Website") at the URLs referenced in the attached addendum. I have a good faith belief that the infringing material identified on the attached addendum is not authorized by Random House, the authors of the Works, their respective agents or any provision of law, and therefore such material infringes Random House's rights according to state, federal or United States law. Please act expeditiously to remove or disable access to the material claimed to be infringing. This letter constitutes notice of infringement pursuant to Section 512(c)(3) of the U.S. Copyright Act, to the extent such notice is required.

I may be contacted at:
Anke E. Steinecke
Random House, Inc.
1745 Broadway, 18-2
New York, NY 10019
Tel. 212-782-9861 or 917-841-0502 (c)
Fax 212-782-8879
asteinecke@randomhouse.com

Addendum to Notice of Infringement:
Allegedly Infringing Material

Name of Intellectual Property Owner: Random House, Inc.

Work: excerpts from So Damn Much Money by Robert G Kaiser

Website: tomhull.com

Infringing material:
http://www.tomhull.com/ocston/books/kaiser-damn.php?PHPSESSID=d42df2eafeee7e8647df1482fd5b67a5

I responded:

I've removed the file for now, until we resolve this dispute or I produce a suitable replacement. It may not be sufficiently clear from the context, but last time I checked under US copyright laws I have a legal "fair use" right to quote copyrighted material in the context of a review, which is the purpose of the book pages. I don't make any money off my website. I figure that it harms no one and may be useful to some few people if I make my research and work publicly available. Even this particular book page, which is more quote-heavy than most, contains a tiny fraction of the book. I can't imagine its presence causing Random House any material damage. If anything, it contributes publicity for the book, although I can't say as my traffic makes much of a case for that either.

Kaiser's book is an important investigation into how corporate and (in many of his examples) institutional money corrupts the political process -- all the more so with Obama in power since many of his examples show that the lobbyists have as much influence with Democrats as with Republicans. It would be a shame (and unseemly) to suppress these insights because a megacorporation gets overly aggressive on copyright enforcement, while I am relatively powerless to defend my (and the public's) rights.

The most painless solution for all concerned might be for you to write up a bit of legalese that I could attach to the bottom of the page asserting your book copyright and noting that the quotes are used by your permission. You might also add a note disclaiming any interest or responsibility for the words of the reviewer.

Will see what comes of this.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Wikileaks

I haven't been following the Wikileaks revelations and controversy at all closely, but the following links help explain why the leaks should eventually make government more transparent and accountable and, well, more decent. That's all in the longer term, of course. In the short term, they're making this government more repressive and much more dangerous. The few precedents for this, such as Nixon's plumbers unit and the 1950s McCarthy hysteria, are things that until recently we regarded as national embarrassments. The most comparable efforts to suppress the Internet today are from China, efforts that have been uniformly condemned by Americans of all political stripes, not least by Secretary of State Clinton. It may be that any US president would react to embarrassment and powerlessness of the loss of control of so many secret cables the way Obama has, but once again Obama has a lot more campaign promises than most to eat: having made many speeches about the need for more transparency in government, he now finds himself the plumber-in-chief.

By the way, the illustration to the right is something I found on Facebook, in the sketchbook of Ram Lama Hull. Hope he doesn't mind me using it.


3 Quarks Daily: What Is Julian Assange Up To? This seems like a pretty good explanation of WikiLeaks and the thinking behind it:

Assange's strategy starts from the premise that authoritarian governments -- among which he includes the U.S. and other major and semimajor world powers -- are, at root, conspiracies. Diagnosing authoritarian governments as conspiracies allows Assange, ever the hacker, to put secrecy at the heart of his political philosophy. He sees the secret (or "conspiratorial interaction") not only as the sine qua non of the conspiracy but as the actual source of the conspiracy's power:

Where details are known as to the inner workings of authoritarian regimes, we see conspiratorial interactions among the political elite not merely for preferment or favor within the regime but as the primary planning methodology behind maintaining or strengthening authoritarian power.

From here it is not hard to see how the leak -- the anti-secret -- fits in. Bady's summary is better than the texts they paraphrase:

[Assange] decides . . . that the most effective way to attack this kind of organization would be to make "leaks" a fundamental part of the conspiracy's information environment. . . . The idea is that increasing the porousness of the conspiracy's information system will impede its functioning, that the conspiracy will turn against itself in self-defense, clamping down on its own information flows in ways that will then impede its own cognitive function. You destroy the conspiracy, in other words, by making it so paranoid of itself that it can no longer conspire.

For Assange in 2006, then, the public benefit of leaked information is not the first-order good of the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world (free information is its own reward), nor is it the second-order good of the muckrakers (free information will lead the people to demand change). What Assange asks of leaked information is that it supply a third-order public good: he wants it to demonstrate that secrets cannot be securely held, and he wants it to do this so that the currency of all secrets will be debased. He wants governments-cum-conspiracies to be rendered paranoid by the leaks and therefore be left with little energy to pursue its externally focused aims. In his words, "We can marginalise a conspiracy's ability to act by decreasing total conspiratorial power until it is no longer able to understand, and hence respond effectively to, its environment."

I'm not particularly inclined to view the internal workings of government, corporations, and such as conspiratorial, but they do largely operate behind closed doors, and secrecy renders their motives and strategies opaque, giving us all the more reason to distrust them. A culture that ensures that anything significant that happens behind closed doors will become public goes a long ways toward revealing those motives and strategies, and ultimately helps build trust in those institutions. That won't happen right away. The initial reaction of those exposed is embarrassment and fury, and we're seeing plenty of that right now -- as I am writing this Assange has been arrested, WikiLeaks' finances are being systematically shut down, WikiLeaks' web access is being denied both by corporate pressure and by cyberwarfare. (There can be little doubt that there is indeed a conspiracy to get Assange and to terrorize anyone who might be tempted to aid him and to contribute to future leaks. One urgently awaits the leaking of the details of this conspiracy.) In the long run though what is most likely to happen is that successful "public servants" will learn to behave in private as if they were in public. The major scandal about the State Department cables is how undiplomatic these so-called diplomats are when they thought they were safe from public scrutiny. The fact is that they would be much better diplomats if they learned to practice in private what they preach in public.

One thing I'm reminded of here is Condoleezza Rice's refusal to testify before Congress and the 9/11 Commission about her advice given to Bush when she was his National Security Adviser. She argued that knowing that her advice would become public would have deprived Bush of her complete candor. You have to wonder how valuable candor really is under those circumstances. For one thing, we now know that in effect virtually all of her candid advice turned out to have been wrong, so it seems at least plausible that had she been less candid -- had she given more thought to her reputation once her advice became public -- she might have done a better job. Still, there is little reason to get optimistic over these leaks. We tend to assume that had Rice been less candid she would have been more circumspect, but that assumes what the choice of the word "candid" denies: that she actually knew better. The main thing that secrecy did in Rice's case was to obscure her incompetence. Leaks can potentially improve the workings of government less in the short term by encouraging people to think through their advice and arguments than in the long term by convincing liars and crooks to stay away from forums where they will inevitably be exposed.

Still, it's possible that this will all come to naught, and not even with the authorities successfully clamping down on leaks. The post ends:

In a recent interview at the Guardian, Assange seems aware of this problem, all but admitting that his earlier emphasis on secrecy doesn't fit the reigning power structures of the West:

The west has fiscalised its basic power relationships through a web of contracts, loans, shareholdings, bank holdings and so on. In such an environment it is easy for speech to be 'free' because a change in political will rarely leads to any change in these basic instruments. Western speech, as something that rarely has any effect on power, is, like badgers and birds, free.

This diagnosis strikes me as much closer to the mark than Assange's earlier identification of government as fundamentally conspiratorial. But his earlier account at least had the virtue of justifying the leak of 250,000 secret diplomatic cables. Now the release seems freshly unexplained. After all, how, exactly, are publicized diplomatic cables supposed to affect the "web of contracts, loans, shareholdings, bank holdings and so on"? I don't know, and I'm beginning to wonder if Julian Assange does either.

So that pretty much explains what Assange is up to. Now what are Obama's minions up to?

David Samuels: The Shameful Attacks on Julian Assange: This is a few days old, so the note that Assange, relative to Pfc Bradley Manning, "enjoys a higher degree of freedom living as a hunted man in England under the close surveillance of domestic and foreign intelligence agencies" is no longer true.

Not since President Richard Nixon directed his minions to go after Pentagon Papers leaker Daniel Ellsberg and New York Times reporter Neil Sheehan -- "a vicious antiwar type," an enraged Nixon called him on the Watergate tapes -- has a working journalist and his source been subjected to the kind of official intimidation and threats that have been directed at Assange and Manning by high-ranking members of the Obama Administration. [ . . . ]

But the truly scandalous and shocking response to the Wikileaks documents has been that of other journalists, who make the Obama Administration sound like the ACLU. In a recent article in The New Yorker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Steve Coll sniffed that "the archives that WikiLeaks has published are much less significant than the Pentagon Papers were in their day" while depicting Assange as a "self-aggrandizing control-freak" whose website "lacks an ethical culture that is consonant with the ideals of free media." Channeling Richard Nixon, Coll labeled Wikileaks' activities -- formerly known as journalism -- by his newly preferred terms of "vandalism" and "First Amendment-inspired subversion." [ . . . ]

For his part, Assange has not been shy about expressing his contempt for the failure of traditional reporting to inform the public, and his belief in the utility of his own methods. "How is it that a team of five people has managed to release to the public more suppressed information, at that level, than the rest of the world press combined?" he told The Sydney Morning Herald. "It's disgraceful." [ . . . ]

Wikileaks is a powerful new way for reporters and human rights advocates to leverage global information technology systems to break the heavy veil of government and corporate secrecy that is slowly suffocating the American press.

Glenn Greenwald: Joe Lieberman Emulates Chinese Dictators: Greenwald has been on this story practially full time, especially once the focus shifted from revelations about the US State Department to the harrassment and suppression of Wikileaks and the arrest and punishment of Julian Assange. Comparisons of the Obama administration to the Chinese dictatorship is to be expected given that until now the Chinese were the ones most notorious for trying to censor and choke the Internet. The (presumably) independent role of Sen. Joe Lieberman is unprecedented, except perhaps for wild goose chases Sen. Joseph McCarthy led in the 1950s. One reason to check out this particular post is the 9-point list of major revelations that have come from Wikileaks.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Tax Deal Update

I started this as an update to yesterday's post (below) after Bill Phillips sent me a bunch of links of the sort I hadn't bothered to look up yesterday. I've added a few more, some quotes, and comments.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders: Tax Deal a "Moral Outrage": "I will do everything in my power to stand up for the American middle class and defeat this agreement." Uh, what middle class is that?
  • Richard Trumka Statement on Tax Cut Deal: From AFL-CIO president: "The tax cut deal rewards Republican obstructionism by giving the wealthy the tax breaks they demanded. It throws away precious resources needed for investments in jobs and our economy on upper income tax cuts that will do very little to propel economic growth -- setting up excuses for the deficit hypocrites to argue for even more cuts to programs serving working families. It lards the tax cuts for the top 2 percent with an indefensible cut in the estate tax -- giving yet another bonus to the super-rich. Taken together, this package locks in the growing income inequality that has plagued our country for at least another two years -- and quite possibly much longer." Pleased to read this last line, but growing inequality won't be turned around by restoring Clinton's surtax (see the 1990s for proof). It will take decades to turn this mess around, and changing the top rax rates right now is more symbolic than anything. But it is a start.
  • Brian Beutler: Menendez on GOP Tax Cut Posture: "At a press conference this afternoon with several Senators calling out Republicans for blocking middle-class tax cuts, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) escalated the Dem rhetoric by comparing the GOP's my-way-or-the-highway posture to the demands of terrorists."
  • Angry Progressives Shut Down WH Phone Lines With Calls Protesting Tax Cut Cave
  • Zach Carter: A Tax Deal Fit for the Gilded Age: Among other things, blames asset bubbles on the Bush tax cuts. I think that overrates the cuts, but they do contribute, as do several other things.
  • Robert Reich: On Taxes, Obama's Last Stand Is No Stand at All: "It's politically nuts. Polls show most Americans are against extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy. . . . It makes him look weak -- Republicans got everything they wanted. And when a President looks weak, he is weak."
  • Andrew Leonard: The Tax Debate That Never Happened: "There's no way to dress that up, but what's unfathomable at this point is how we got here in the first place. As a percentage of GDP, Americans are shouldering their lowest tax burden in 60 years. And yet Republicans are still able to make even the remotest prospect of tax hikes -- even when limited to the wealthiest Americans and even when government finances have been stretched absurdly beyond the breaking point -- a no-go zone in American politics."
  • David Dayen: Tax Cut Deal Includes Monstrous Estate Tax, Dividend Concession: Actually, not as bad as I feared, but pretty bad anyway. Estate taxes are the main way to keep the rich from turning into a hereditary aristocracy. One can argue that many rich people earned their wealth, but not their heirs; moreover, inheritance breaks whatever association there may have been between wealth and achievement. Capital gains and dividends, like inheritance, are unearned. Why we as a society should privilege unearned income over earned is unfathomable, in some ways monstrous -- specifically in that it denegrates the value of labor. All of the wealth that we enjoy starts out as labor. We should respect and reward that -- not its plain usurpation and expoitation.
  • Peter Daou: The GOP's Super-Duper-Spectacular-Magical-Mysterious Bargaining Power: "Riddle me this: how do you win a political showdown when your sole objective is to give money to the mega-rich? . . . All that matters from a political perspective is that he and his once-vaunted team have misread the public mood for two demoralizing years and hobbled the progressive cause in the process. They are clearly misreading it again. I've said it before and I'll repeat it: If you stand up for your principles, you may lose an election but keep your principles; if you ditch your principles, you'll lose both."
  • Matthew Yglesias: The Next Hostage Fight: "Which is a roundabout way of saying that I found the logic the President espoused to defend the deal was more troubling than the deal itself. . . . I mean, what happens if this deal goes through and now the time comes when congress needs to raise the debt ceiling and Speaker Boehner decides he wants to hold some hostages. Sure he'll deliver the votes, but only if Obama delivers draconian spending cuts. I'm not sure what'll happen. It'll be a standoff. Someone will get criticized in the press. Someone will get nervous. Someone will need to back down. Does this deal make it more likely, per se, that it's Obama who'll back down? Not really, no. But the thought process he outlined at the press conference suggests that he will. That in response liberals will complain, and in response to that Obama will deliver the impassioned dressing-down that he doesn't deliver to the right-wing hostage takers."
  • Paul Krugman: The Sorrow and the Self-Pity: "Let me add that Obama has never, as far as I can recall, pointed out that these horrible tax increases on the rich the GOP warns about would bring rates back to what they were under Bill Clinton -- a time of enormous prosperity. But then, Obama has always had a weirdly hard time making the case that the Clinton economy refuted Reaganism." Also: "What's particularly striking is that Obama seems passionate about denouncing his progressive critics, even as he has nice words for the people who have spent two years trying to destroy him." I've already written more about this in something I've held back for a Weekend Roundup, but the gist is that Obama has always been able to climb up the power ladder in America by making nice to those in power, and thereby flattering them into accepting a benign outsider. But he never has had to make nice to the left, except maybe for spouting some platitudes during the 2008 primaries. I hate to say this, but he reminds me of something John Bolton was charged with: being a "kiss up/kick down" political climber.

Probably a lot more out there, and I'll pick up some of them later. One thing I haven't seen much on is how the one-year FICA cut will affect the neverending campaign to destroy Social Security. One thing for sure is that anyone who already thinks Social Security must be cut because it is facing long-term solvency issues will find their favorite numbers tilted their way. Admittedly, the struggle doesn't actually turn on those numbers: they're just flak that won't make any impression on anyone who regards Social Security as a moral commitment we have made and should continue to make to the welfare of people who spent their working lives building this country. But the cut will add noise to the flak, and that's something to expect and deal with.

There are also rumblings from the far right about how the deal sells out conservative principles. Entertaining as they are, they can readily be dismissed: one thing about the Republican masters is that they've never let principles get in the way of doing business.


Bill Phillips pointed me at a piece on the FICA tax cut:

  • Ryan Grim: Tax Cut Deal a Hidden Threat to Social Security: That, of course, is why the Republicans agreed to it. On the other hand, Kent Conrad is right (for once) in praising its stimulus effect: it quietly adds 2% to every worker's take-home pay. The other thing to note is that it's likely to add 2% to corporate bottom-lines (assuming the employer matching tax is cut as well). The political problem for Obama is that he won't get credit for the cut but he'll get blamed for its expiration, when workers find they're bringing home less money next year. (One reason we can be certain of this is that last year Obama enacted a too-subtle d tax cut and this year the polls erroneously blamed him for raising taxes.)

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Obama Trips and Drowns in His Rubicon

I haven't found any links on the web that adequately expresses my disgust for Obama's tax cut deal with the Republicans, and don't right now have time to scrounge around -- surely there is something? The piece in the Wichita Eagle this morning sketched out the big picture, but somewhere in the 2-year continuation of the Bush taxcuts was the real but unnamed stink bomb: no estate taxes. Paul Krugman focuses on the mild stimulus effect from the one-year cut in payroll taxes and the short-term extension in unemployment benefits -- both of which will run out and fail before the 2012 elections when the Republicans expect to be able to extend what they want indefinitely. Krugman doesn't see this as a good deal, and Yglesias is a bit more critical:

I wish critics did a better job of recognizing that the real sellout happened over two years ago when Obama surrendered to the conservative framing that taxes are evil and public services are never worth paying for.

Looking forward, the pledge to never raise a single dime of tax revenue from anyone earning less than $250,000 a year is a way of crippling policymaking. It's not just that it makes it hard to raise adequate revenue, it actually serves to obscure real questions about the distribution of the tax burden in favor of fake questions about who is and isn't "really" rich. There are many measures, like phasing out the home mortgage interest tax deduction or the employer provided health insurance deduction, that would be economically efficient and progressive in their distributive impact but that would also, yes, entail some increase in the tax burden paid by some non-rich people. Conversely many "middle class tax cuts" in fact do more to cut rich people's taxes than poor or middle class people's taxes.

Krugman also points out the obvious:

It's a point barely worth making, but the tax cut deal demonstrates, for the umpteenth time, that self-proclaimed deficit hawks are frauds. We can't afford unemployment benefits or public investment, the fake hawks say -- but when it come to cutting taxes on the rich, money is literally no object.

Still, I wish commentators would focus more on two things. One, which I expect won't take long to surface, is the political effect. Obama is gambling that a little short-term stimulus now will solve his economic problems two years from now, but the Republicans will have those two years to strangle government spending, taking back even more stimulus than they conceded while pointing to the huge deficits that their tax cuts only add to. The Republicans, in turn, get to make the 2012 elections a referendum on taxes, and that's a fight that Obama surrendered in 2008 when he tried to position himself as the middle-class tax cutter supreme. There are plenty of valid arguments one can make against the Republicans and their tax cut fetishes, but they aren't arguments Obama will make -- indeed, they are arguments one can and should make against Obama. Until today, I've never doubted that Obama will be reelected in 2012. Now I really don't care.

The second, and more important, thing, is that tax policy is a reflection of one's commitment to economic freedom and justice, including the crucial matter of equal opportunity, and Obama has no such commitment. Even though you're not going to read much about it in this context, this is not an esoteric issue. There are whole shelves of recent books on the ever-growing chasm of inequality in America and the world today, and on what this means and how it harms us. Moreover, it's not a new-fangled idea or one that's never held sway in America before: Franklin Roosevelt promoted the basic idea as "the second bill of rights" and while his proposals were never quite realized, he was able to raise marginal tax rates to more than 90%, and the effect for 25 years after his death was a more equitable society with more opportunity and much more growth than we've seen since the onset of conservatism in the 1980s.

I could go on and on but can't just now. Either you get this point or you don't. One would have expected Obama to at least have a clue. After all, one of his famous advisers is Cass R. Sunstein, who wrote The Second Bill of Rights: FDR's Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need It More Than Ever (2004; paperback, 2006, Basic Books). But even if he does understand the facts, he doesn't care about the principle. He's too wrapped up in day-to-day dickering to see how much ground he has lost. I think he's finished as a political force worth caring about.

Monday, December 06, 2010

Facebook

I finally put a picture up on Facebook. It actually shows me as a baby, held by Uncle Allen. Jan Barnes commented, "One of the sweetest pictures in the world. I absolutely love it and I love you." Also:

HEY YOU LITTLE SWEETHEART!! just looked at your facebook picture and had a good cry, how darling it is my dear dear daddy and my favoriate cousin, I remember you so much when you were that age, I couldn't hold you enough, I love you

Further chat:

Well never forget about the way I feel about you and always have, you have always held a special place in my heart and I've got WONDERFUL memories of you. Better get off this and check in with the girls, wont be long until we will be off to bed, Tookie is working 12 hours a day at the plant for 2 weeks. Have a good night and glad your back is better, sure do love ya!!

Music Week

Music: Current count 17420 [17413] rated (+7), 855 [841] unrated (+14). Still working on Jazz CG, which is now officially due this Friday (Dec. 10). Also have a year-end piece due for the Voice next Monday (Dec. 13), so those things will dominate the coming week. Playing a lot of old stuff trying to wrap things up, so ratings are in the tank.


No Jazz Prospecting

Not quite done with Jazz Consumer Guide, so we'll skip one more week here, then wrap it up right next week. Mostly in the cutting stages. I peaked out at about 2500 words, then started cutting and moving records into next cycle's file, all the while trying to fill in some records I hadn't written up but regard as high priorities. Currently down to 2000 words: 17 main section reviews, 38 HMs, 2 duds. Need to wind up at 1600 words. I've been letting the HMs get out of hand. Back around JCG(18), to pick an arbitrary example, I had 12 A-list and 16 HMs. That may have been atypically short, so take JCG(17): 11 A-list and 24 HMs. Anyhow, that got blown way out of proportion last time, when I had 12 A-list and 42 HM. As of a week ago, I had something like 55 HM written up in the file, and they were not only turning the whole column into a laundry list, they were crowding out the A-list records. And it's not like I'm short of A-list records to write about: even with the HM cutbacks some won't find space until the column after next. So I'm having to radically cut back on the HMs. For starters, I've arbitrarily killed off all the B+(**) records I hadn't actually written up. I had been including them if I had something special to say and if they seemed especially worth noting -- John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, and Ralph Towner were examples from last column. Going forward HMs will be B+(***) and a few A- I want to be especially brief about. (Thus far, a couple of 2-stars I've written up have been grandfathered in -- Food and Brad Mehldau are examples -- but I still have more cuts to make.) And this time at least I may slash some 3-stars, to try to dig my way out of this hole. These are all very good records, just victims of a cruel numbers game, but if you're really interested in searching down the list, that's what Jazz Prospecting is for.

Again, this will all be sorted out by next week. I'm also due to send in my Village Voice jazz poll ballot by Thursday, and to write up a little sidebar piece for the poll results by Monday. Looks to me like a rough week, but the deadlines at least promise some resolution. Should be smooth sailing after that.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:


  • John Cassidy: What Good Is Wall Street? Good general survey of the banking system, especially on the question of why bankers make so much money doing stuff that pretty much any banker can do. Banks perform essential functions in all economies, but over the last 10-20-30 years those essential functions aren't how the banks make most of their money. They don't just handle the economy's money, which is one of those essential functions, but they've learned how to tap into those money flows and siphon off an exorbitant share. When their bets go bad, as they did when when they took the housing bubble and laundered some amazingly bad debts into bonds that were made to seem riskfree, they put the entire economy at risk, as we have seen.

    Since 1980, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of people employed in finance, broadly defined, has shot up from roughly five million to more than seven and a half million. During the same eriod, the profitability of the financial sector has increased greatly relative to other industries. Think of all the profits produced by businesses operating in the U.S. as a cake. Twenty-five years ago, the slice taken by financial firms was about a seventh of the whole. Last year, it was more than a quarter. (In 2006, at the peak of the boom, it was about a third.) In other words, during a period in which American companies have created iPhones, Home Depot, and Lipitor, the best place to work has been in an industry that doesn't design, build, or sell a single tangible thing.

    From the end of the Second World War until 1980 or thereabouts, people working in finance earned about the same, on average and taking account of their qualifications, as people in other industries. By 2006, wages in the financial sector were about sixty per cent higher than wages elsewhere. And in the richest segment of the financial industry -- on Wall Street, that is -- compensation has gone up even more dramatically. Last year, while many people were facing pay freezes or worse, the average pay of employees at Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and JPMorgan Chase's investment bank jumped twenty-seven per cent, to more than three hundred and forty thousand dollars. This figure includes modestly paid workers at reception desks and in mail rooms, and it thus understates what senior bankers earn. At Goldman, it has been reported, nearly a thousand employees received bonuses of at least a million dollars in 2009.

    Not surprisingly, Wall Street has become the preferred destination for the bright young people who used to want to start up their own companies, work for NASA, or join the Peace Corps. At Harvard this spring, about a third of the seniors with secure jobs were heading to work in finance. Ben Friedman, a professor of economics at Harvard, recently wrote an article lamenting "the direction of such a large fraction of our most-skilled, best-educated, and most highly motivated young citizens to the financial sector."

    Most people on Wall Street, not surprisingly, believe that they earn their keep, but at least one influential financier vehemently disagrees: Paul Woolley, a seventy-one-year-old Englishman who has set up an institute at the London School of Economics called the Woolley Centre for the Study of Capital Market Dysfunctionality. "Why on earth should finance be the biggest and most highly paid industry when it's just a utility, like sewage or gas?" Woolley said to me when I met with him in London. "It is like a cancer that is growing to infinite size, until it takes over the entire body."

    Woolley discovered this while running an investment firm that skitted around the high-tech bubble:

    Financial markets, far from being efficient, as most economists and policymakers at the time believed, were grossly inefficient. "And once you recognize that markets are inefficient a lot of things change."

    One is the role of financial intermediaries, such as banks. Rather than seeking the most productive outlet for the money that depositors and investors entrust to them, they may follow trends and surf bubbles. These activities shift capital into projects that have little or no long-term value, such as speculative real-estate developments in the swamps of Florida. Rather than acting in their customers' best interests, financial institutions may peddle opaque investment products, like collateralized debt obligations. Privy to superior information, banks can charge hefty fees and drive up their own profits at the expense of clients who are induced to take on risks they don't fully understand -- a form of rent seeking. "Mispricing gives incorrect signals for resource allocation, and, at worst, causes stock market booms and busts," Woolley wrote in a recent paper. "Rent capture causes the misallocation of labor and capital, transfers substantial wealth to bankers and financiers, and, at worst, induces systemic failure. Both impose social costs on their own, but in combination they create a perfect storm of wealth destruction." [ . . . ]

    The Epicurean Dealmaker is right: Wall Street bankers create some economic value. But do they create enough of it to justify the rewards they reap? In the first nine months of 2010, the big six banks cleared more than thirty-five billion dollars in profits. "The cataclysmic events took place in the fall of 2008 and the early months of 2009," Roger Altman, the chairman of Evercore, said to me. "In this industry, that's a long time ago."

    Despite all the criticism that President Obama has received lately from Wall Street, the Administration has largely left the great money-making machine intact. A couple of years ago, firms such as Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, and Goldman Sachs faced the danger that the government would break them up, drive them out of some of their most lucrative business lines -- such as dealing in derivatives -- or force them to maintain so much capital that their profits would be greatly diminished. "None of these things materialized," Altman noted. "Reforms and changes came in, but they did not have a transformative effect."

    In 1940, a former Wall Street trader named Fred Schwed, Jr., wrote a charming little book titled Where Are the Customers' Yachts?, in which he noted that many members of the public believed that Wall Street was inhabited primarily by "crooks and scoundrels, and very clever ones at that; that they sell for millions what they know is worthless; in short, that they are villains." It was an extreme view, but public antagonism toward bankers and other financiers kept them in check for forty years. Economic historians refer to a period of "financial repression," during which regulators and policymakers, reflecting public suspicion of Wall Street, restrained the growth of the banking sector. They placed limits on interest rates, prohibited deposit-taking institutions from issuing securities, and, by preventing financial institutions from merging with one another, kept most of them relatively small. During this period, major financial crises were conspicuously absent, while capital investment, productivity, and wages grew at rates that lifted tens of millions of working Americans into the middle class.

    Since the early nineteen-eighties, by contrast, financial blowups have proliferated and living standards have stagnated. Is this coincidence? For a long time, economists and policymakers have accepted the financial industry's appraisal of its own worth, ignoring the market failures and other pathologies that plague it.

    Cassidy also has a New York Review of Books piece, which is actually the one I was looking for when I found the above: The Economy: Why They Failed:

    From an economic viewpoint, the most serious problem with the rescue programs was not that they further enriched the loathed bankers but that they exacerbated some serious incentive problems at the heart of the financial system. By extending trillions of dollars in loans, capital injections, and debt guarantees to troubled firms, the US government and its counterparts overseas had greatly extended the public safety net for banks and other financial entities. Left unchecked, this expansion will surely lead to more blowups, followed by even bigger bailouts. [ . . . ]

    Here in the United States, after all the mergers that the government had orchestrated during the crisis, six huge firms -- Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Wells Fargo -- now dominate the financial industry, wielding enormous market power and political influence. Together, their assets come to about 63 percent of GDP, some $9.2 trillion. The ratings agencies remain unreformed, and so do some of the myopic compensation packages for Wall Street traders and CEOs that helped bring on the crisis. The one really innovative idea that the administration had was to impose a hefty "pollution tax" on the risk-taking of financial institutions, which would have increased in proportion with their balance sheets. But it didn't feature in the Dodd-Frank reform bill and has faded from view. [ . . . ]

    Utopian economics is on the defensive, just like it was in the 1930s, but it is too early to hail the triumph of reality-based economics. For one thing, the political environment is very different from the one that Roosevelt and Keynes operated in. During the Great Depression, many of the unemployed went hungry, and there was real desperation: it was widely accepted that free-market dogma had failed and that the authorities should step in to put things right. Despite its global scope, the Great Recession doesn't really compare with the Great Depression, and many ordinary people remain suspicious of government interventions to correct market failures.

    Indeed, the summer of 2010 saw a powerful reaction against Keynesian deficit spending. On both sides of the Atlantic, there were calls for an end to stimulus programs; in Germany and Britain, the center-right coalition governments of Angela Merkel and the newly elected David Cameron moved to cut public spending and raise taxes. Partly a reaction to the Greek debt crisis, this policy turnaround also resurrected the "Treasury view" of the late 1920s and early 1930s, which saw the main threat to economic recovery not as a shortage of overall demand but as a dearth of confidence in the public finances on the part of businessmen and investors. With the triumph of Keynes's General Theory, this argument had seemingly been consigned to history, but here it was again, modified hardly at all, on the lips of conservatively minded economists, commentators, and policymakers. "Germany has never agreed to an austerity package to this extent, but these cuts have to be made in order for the country to establish a stable economic future," Chancellor Merkel said in announcing the German budget cuts.

    This latter point has me thinking that yes, indeed, we have entered into a new Dark Ages, where much of what we plainly know about how the world works is continuously put out of sight and out of mind because it is inconvenient to established political forces.

  • Justin Elliott: A lot of quotes here on how everything's getting better in Afghanistan, all from government officials who won't use their real names, mostly about events that aren't specific enough to be investigated:

    The latest example is a briefing by a "senior defense official" that is described today by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the AP. That unnamed official insisted that, despite the grim Pentagon report to Congress, "much has already changed since the report's Sept. 30 end date," according to the AP's account. And the New York Times adds that the anonymous official lashed out at doubters as "irresponsible."

  • Justin Elliott: Israel on Iran: So Wrong for So Long: Here's a useful chronology of Israel's public predictions of when Iran would have that much feared atomic bomb. In 1992 the projection was 1999. In 1995 Iran was still more or less on schedule -- projections were 3-5 years, i.e., 1998-2000 -- but by 1996 they had slipped to 8 years, more like 2004. By 2001 Israel was still sure Iran would have the bomb by 2005, and they stuck with that estimate as late as 2003. Even now Iran is believed to be only 1-3 years away, which would be 2011-2013, a mere 20 years after Israel started crying wolf.

  • Paul Krugman: Freezing Out Hope: Would Obama stand up to the Republicans for values he presumably believes in?

    On Monday, we got the answer: he announced a pay freeze for federal workers. This was an announcement that had it all. It was transparently cynical; it was trivial in scale, but misguided in direction; and by making the announcement, Mr. Obama effectively conceded the policy argument to the very people who are seeking -- successfully, it seems -- to destroy him. [ . . . ]

    The truth is that America's long-run deficit problem has nothing at all to do with overpaid federal workers. For one thing, those workers aren't overpaid. Federal salaries are, on average, somewhat less than those of private-sector workers with equivalent qualifications. And, anyway, employee pay is only a small fraction of federal expenses; even cutting the payroll in half would reduce total spending less than 3 percent.

    So freezing federal pay is cynical deficit-reduction theater. It's a (literally) cheap trick that only sounds impressive to people who don't know anything about budget realities. The actual savings, about $5 billion over two years, are chump change given the scale of the deficit. [ . . . ]

    Meanwhile, there's a real deficit issue on the table: whether tax cuts for the wealthy will, as Republicans demand, be extended. Just as a reminder, over the next 75 years the cost of making those tax cuts permanent would be roughly equal to the entire expected financial shortfall of Social Security. Mr. Obama's pay ploy might, just might, have been justified if he had used the announcement of a freeze as an occasion to take a strong stand against Republican demands -- to declare that at a time when deficits are an important issue, tax breaks for the wealthiest aren't acceptable.

    But he didn't. Instead, he apparently intended the pay freeze announcement as a peace gesture to Republicans the day before a bipartisan summit. At that meeting, Mr. Obama, who has faced two years of complete scorched-earth opposition, declared that he had failed to reach out sufficiently to his implacable enemies. He did not, as far as anyone knows, wear a sign on his back saying "Kick me," although he might as well have.

    A couple of days later Obama popped over to Afghanistan to give the US troops at the only base he could get to safely a pep talk, reiterating what a fine job they're doing and how certain he that they will fulfill their mission successfully. Meanwhile, he couldn't take the time, or trust security, to meet with the president of Afghanistan, someone he might actually have some reason other than a photo-op to negotiate with. Obama does a lot of things that annoy me, but it's usually possible to comfort oneself with the thought that he's not as bad as Bush. But when he's out mugging for the troops is not one of those times.

    Frank Rich: All the President's Captors also starts out with Obama's pay freeze, and makes exactly the same point:

    Those desperate to decipher the baffling Obama presidency could do worse than consult an article titled "Understanding Stockholm Syndrome" in the online archive of The F.B.I. Law Enforcement Bulletin. It explains that hostage takers are most successful at winning a victim's loyalty if they temper their brutality with a bogus show of kindness. Soon enough, the hostage will start concentrating on his captors' "good side" and develop psychological characteristics to please them -- "dependency; lack of initiative; and an inability to act, decide or think."

    This dynamic was acted out -- yet again -- in President Obama's latest and perhaps most humiliating attempt to placate his Republican captors in Washington. No sooner did he invite the G.O.P.'s Congressional leaders to a post-election White House summit meeting than they countered his hospitality with a slap -- postponing the date for two weeks because of "scheduling conflicts." But they were kind enough to reschedule, and that was enough to get Obama to concentrate once more on his captors' "good side."

    And so, as the big bipartisan event finally arrived last week, he handed them an unexpected gift, a freeze on federal salaries. Then he made a hostage video hailing the White House meeting as "a sincere effort on the part of everybody involved to actually commit to work together." Hardly had this staged effusion of happy talk been disseminated than we learned of Mitch McConnell's letter vowing to hold not just the president but the entire government hostage by blocking all legislation until the Bush-era tax cuts were extended for the top 2 percent of American households.

    The captors will win this battle, if they haven't already by the time you read this, because Obama has seemingly surrendered his once-considerable abilities to act, decide or think. That pay freeze made as little sense intellectually as it did politically. It will save the government a scant $5 billion over two years and will actually cost the recovery at least as much, since much of that $5 billion would have been spent on goods and services by federal workers with an average yearly income of $75,000. By contrast, the extension of the Bush tax cuts to the $250,000-plus income bracket will add $80 billion to the deficit in two years, much of which will just be banked by the wealthier beneficiaries.

  • George Packer: Dead Certain: A review of Bush's memoirs, colored somewhat by Packer's own enthusiasm for the invasion of Iraq.

    Why did George W. Bush write Decision Points (Crown; $35)? He tells us on the first page. He wanted to make a contribution to the study of American history, but he also wanted to join the section of advice books featuring leadership tips from successful executives: "I write to give readers a perspective on decision making in a complex environment. Many of the decisions that reach the president's desk are tough calls, with strong arguments on both sides. Throughout the book, I describe the options I weighed and the principles I followed. I hope this will give you a better sense of why I made the decisions I did. Perhaps it will even prove useful as you make choices in your own life."

    Bush will make a lot of money going around and telling stores about his life as the Decider, so pitching the book that way is proactive, downright forward looking, just like they taught him in MBA school. Still, consider his analytical skills (not to mention moral integrity) in the following anecdote:

    At the dramatic height of the book, on the morning of September 11th, "I called Condi from the secure phone in the limo. She told me there had been a third plane crash, this one into the Pentagon. I sat back in my seat and absorbed her words. My thoughts clarified: The first plane could have been an accident. The second was definitely an attack. The third was a declaration of war. My blood was boiling. We were going to find out who did this, and kick their ass."

    Uh, that's a thought process?

    Here is a prediction: Decision Points will not endure. Its prose aims for tough-minded simplicity but keeps landing on simpleminded sententiousness. Though Bush credits no collaborator, his memoirs read as if they were written by an admiring sidekick who is familiar with every story Bush ever told but never got to know the President well enough to convey his inner life. Very few of its four hundred and ninety-three pages are not self-serving. [ . . . ] The rare moments of candor come at other people's expense. [ . . . ] During the worst period of violence in Iraq, the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky, implores the President to withdraw some troops in order to give the Republicans a boost before the 2006 midterms. "I made it clear I would set troop levels to achieve victory in Iraq, not victory at the polls," Bush writes. That's the characteristic anecdote of Decision Points: the President always gets the last, serenely self-assured word, leaving others quietly impressed or looking like fools. Scenes end with him saying, "Get to work," "Let's go," or "We're going to stay confident and patient, cool and steady." [ . . . ]

    The steady drip of these elisions and falsifications suggests a deeper necessity than the ordinary touch-ups of personal history. Bush has no tolerance for ambiguity; he can't revere his father and, on occasion, want to defy him, or lose charge of his White House for a minute, or allow himself to wonder if Iraq might ultimately fail. The structure of Decision Points, with each chapter centered on a key issue -- stem-cell research, interrogation and wiretapping, the invasion of Iraq, the fight against AIDS in Africa, the surge, the "freedom agenda," the financial crisis -- reveals the essential qualities of the Decider. There are hardly any decision points at all. The path to each decision is so short and irresistible, more like an electric pulse than like a weighing of options, that the reader is hard-pressed to explain what happened. Suddenly, it's over, and there's no looking back.

    Packer spent most of the review rehearsing the Iraq war. Quoting him at length provides a neat summary of the war from the Decider's unique point of view:

    "I had tried to address the threat from Saddam Hussein without war," Bush writes. The accounts of numerous Administration officials and journalists say otherwise: by the summer of 2002, war in Iraq was inevitable. The timing and the manner of this non-decision decision make for the cloudiest story in the book. It describes no sequence of National Security Council meetings to discuss the options and coördinate the views of different agencies. Instead, Bush comes up with an approach called "coercive diplomacy": develop a military plan while trying to disarm the Iraqi dictator through international pressure. "Ultimately, it would be Saddam Hussein's decision to make." So Bush's decision became Saddam's. In "coercive diplomacy," Bush explains, the diplomatic track would run parallel to the military track. Somehow, shortly before the invasion, the parallel tracks would converge and become one track. Then, it seemed, the decision became the train's to make: things were moving too fast to be stopped. During this period, Bush relates, "I sought opinions on Iraq from a variety of sources." By coincidence, every one of them urged him to do it. Vice-President Dick Cheney, at one of their weekly lunches, asked, "Are you going to take care of this guy, or not?" Cheney knew his man.

    One of the voices in the President's ear was Elie Wiesel's, speaking of "a moral obligation to act against evil." The words were bound to move a man like Bush. "Many of those who demonstrated against military action in Iraq were devoted advocates of human rights," he says. "I understood why people might disagree on the threat Saddam Hussein posed to the United States. But I didn't see how anyone could deny that liberating Iraq advanced the cause of human rights." Some of Bush's critics found this argument specious and hypocritical; they failed to grasp the President's profound need to be on the side of the redeeming angels. [ . . . ]

    The war came -- and then looting, chaos, state collapse, insurgency, sectarian war, and no weapons of mass destruction. This last development left Bush "shocked" and "angry," a recurring state of mind in Decision Points: the objections of Justice Department officials to warrantless wiretapping also "stunned" him, Abu Ghraib "blindsided" him, and the looting of Baghdad prompted him to demand, "What the hell is happening?" But Bush was undaunted. He writes, at one point, "In later years, some critics would charge that we failed to prepare for the postwar period. That sure isn't how I remember it"; and, at another, "The absence of WMD stockpiles did not change the fact that Saddam was a threat." All these years and lives later, the blitheness of such statements is breathtaking. It would be impossible for Bush still to claim, as he did at a press conference in 2004, that he couldn't think of any mistakes regarding Iraq. Among the ones he lists are two P.R. disasters (the "Mission Accomplished" banner, and his challenge to insurgents to "bring 'em on"), and two substantive failures: the lack of sufficient troops to impose security at the start, and the "intelligence failure on Iraq's WMD." The first he ascribes to a desire not to look like occupiers, the second to the C.I.A.

    What he cannot explain is why he allowed Iraq to descend into a nightmare of violence, year after year, until, by 2006, millions of Iraqis were fleeing the country. Perhaps he didn't know what was going on, having been shielded by sycophantic advisers and yes-sir generals. Yet Decision Points -- indeed, the whole trajectory of Bush's Presidency -- suggests that he had the information but not the character to face it. "I waited over three years for a successful strategy," he says in a chapter called "Surge." But what sort of wartime leader -- a term he likes to use -- would "wait" for three years, rather than demand a better strategy and the heads of his failed advisers? "Only after the sectarian violence erupted in 2006 did it become clear that more security was needed before political progress could continue," he writes. It's a statement to make anyone who spent time in Iraq from 2003 onward laugh or cry. During the war years, Bush fell in love with his own resolve, his refusal to waver, and this flaw cost Iraqis and Americans dearly. For him, the war remains "eternally right," a success with unfortunate footnotes. His decisions, he still believes, made America safer, gave Iraqis hope, and changed the future of the Middle East for the better. Of these three claims, only one is true -- the second -- and it's a truth steeped in tragedy.

  • Frank Rich: Still the Best Congress Money Can Buy: Some things elections change, but many things remain the same. I think after the 2010 election it was Mondoweiss who ran a piece on how "Israel retains control of Congress." The new Republican House majority may be even more favorable to the NRA, big business PACs, and especially Wall Street, but they weren't exactly unrepresented by the old Democratic majority. As Molly Ivins used to point out, you got to dance with them what brung you.

    Such is the ethos in his own party that Senator Jim Webb, Democrat of Virginia, complained this month that he "couldn't even get a vote" for his proposal for a one-time windfall profits tax on Wall Street bonuses. Republicans "obviously weren't going to vote for it," he told Real Clear Politics, but Democrats also demurred, "saying that any vote like that was going to screw up fund-raising." [ . . . ] America needs a rally -- or, better still, a leader or two or three -- to restore not just honor or sanity to its citizens but governance that's not auctioned off to the highest bidder. When it was reported just days before our election that Iran was protecting its political interests in Afghanistan's presidential palace by giving bags of money to Hamid Karzai's closest aide, Americans could hardly bring themselves to be outraged. At least with Karzai's government, unlike our own, we could know for certain whose cash was in the bag.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Rhapsody Streamnotes: December 2010

Pick up text here.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Recycled Goods (80): December 2010

Pick up text here.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

A Downloader's Diary (5): December 2010

This is getting to where it needs no introduction. The archive and indexes are here.


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Nov 2010 Jan 2011