April 2011 Notebook
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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Expert Comments

Carlo Rossi asks Christgau about politics, dropping a book title:

Carlo Rossi: I'm more curious what you think of The Superclass (presumably David Rothkopf's book, subtitle: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making). I've noticed the book, but never looked at it closely.

I've been reading Thomas Geoghegan's Were You Born in the Wrong Continent? -- basically, a love letter to the German economic system (works councils, co-determination, labor unions), which makes the point that by sharing power and responsibility Germany has become what the US was 40-50 years ago: a net creditor nation with the world's largest trade surplus. Seems to me to be a system that works for virtually everyone, yet everywhere in Europe there are propagandists hectoring on how Europe is falling behind and needs to become more capital-friendly. That sounds like it could be the work of a self-appointed superclass.

Rossi wrote back as Carlos Rose:

Interesting Tom,

I think that Superclass is a very important book, and its sort of a work of gradualism. Its interesting because its not a conspiracy theory tome, its simply an exploration of a new sort of power that came to exist around the turn of the century.

Rothkopf, as an insider and someone who lives in the same world as these elites, has written a book that is careful not to step on their toes. With that being said, he is still one of the only people to talk about the Superclass openly, which makes his work valuable. And if you look carefully in the book, you can find a lot of disturbing facts.

For example, it is revealed that: if an individual or entity has access to thugs with weapons, or nuclear arms (or another source of violence) they can effectively control city councils or regional governments. This empowers terrorists and criminals by legitimizing them and giving them a seat at the table.

Rothkopf argues that the Superclass has subverted democracy around the world by giving billionaires and other influential people more power than heads of state.

That book you mentioned sounds interesting. People power is a beautiful thing, and empowering these unions and such seems like an effective check/balance. Could you provide me a link that would tell me more about the propagandists that are hectoring Europe? It sounds interesting . . .

I quoted the last part, then added:

Geohegan's Were You Born on the Wrong Continent? has numerous quotes, mostly citing Financial Times and Wall Street Journal. Also cites Larry Summers at Davos and elsewhere arguing that Germany should make fewer things and get more into services like advanced countries like the US. These things come and go in waves, but right now the big European governments (UK, France, Germany, Italy) all have right or right-center governments that are trying to be capital-friendly even if they are less committed to destroying the welfare state than the Republicans (or even the Democrats) are here. Part of why they're in power is that previous left-center governments (at least in UK and Germany) got too wrapped up in their own efforts to appease business interests, but there must be a lot of effort to make right-wing parties seem plausible, especially given how clearly the recession was tied to their programs.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Void at the End of the Tunnel

Marianne Joan Elliott-Said, better known as Poly Styrene, died yesterday, at 53, breast cancer. Coincidentally, yesterday was the US release date of her new album, Generation Indigo -- only her second, thirty years after one called Translucence in 1980, reissued on CD in 1990, long out of print, mostly forgotten. She's much better known as the lead singer of X-Ray Spex, a British punk group which cut a remarkable series of singles in 1977-78, culminating in the album Germ Free Adolescents, then broke up. I was so taken by them that I bought the singles as they came out:

  1. "Oh Bondage Up Yours!" / "I Am a Cliché"
  2. "The Day the World Turned Day-Glo!" / "I Am a Poseur"
  3. "Identity" / "Let's Submerge"
  4. "Germ Free Adolescents" / "Age"
  5. "Highly Imflammable" / "Warrior in Woolworths"

The first single was pure punk rage, the screamed vocals rammed home by Lora Logic's crude sax. But each song added new facets and refinements until the album's title song emerged as their perfect generational anthem. I never saw them. I doubt they ever played the US. The albums were import only until Sanctuary mopped up all they could find in 2002 -- the album, outtakes and demos, a trashy live tape (released separately in 1991 as Live at the Roxy) -- for the 2-CD The Anthology. I reviewed it in Recycled Goods [link]:

X-Ray Spex: The Anthology (1977-78, Sanctuary/Castle, 2 CD). Aside from the Yankees' August blowout of the Red Sox, my fondest memory of 1978 was snapping up X-Ray Spex as they unveiled themselves single-by-single: "Oh Bondage Up Yours!," "The Day the World Turned Day-Glo," "Identity," "Germ Free Adolescents." They evolved from howling punk yelp to shrink-wrapped plastic anthem, from "I'm a poseur and I don't care/I like to make people stare" to "I wanna be instamatic/I wanna be a frozen pea/I wanna be dehydrated/in a consumer society." Poly Styrene declaimed, Lora Logic wailed on sax, and the blokes banged on things. Johnny Rotten was an aesthete compared to them. This collects everything they ever did: their one studio album expanded to 16 cuts, 10 more rough mixes of the same, and the trashy sounding live tape from their second gig. Maybe you had to be there to love every moment of it, but I do. A

Turns out they found a bit more for the 2006 2-CD Let's Submerge: The Anthology (also Sanctuary/Castle). The band regrouped for a gig in 1991, then cut a second album in 1995 (Conscious Consumer) that I haven't heard. They regrouped for another gig in 2008, released as Live @ the Roadhouse London 2008 (Year Zero) -- mostly old songs ("I Can't Do Anything" and "I Live Off You" especially smashing) with four songs from the 1995 album and one ("Bloody War") I'm not aware of them doing before.

When I heard she had something new in the works I tracked down a promo video -- something I almost never bother with -- and thought it pretty good. I've noted several reviews for Generation Indigo in the British press. Looked for it on Rhapsody a couple of times, but couldn't find it (or any trace of her old album). I thought the US release was last week, but April 25 turns out to be the date. Robert Christgau rushed out an Expert Witness A- grade. Same day another Christgau piece appeared on NPR. When I read this I was confused: I had heard about her breast cancer, and for some reason thought it had already killed her. I tried researching it, and came up with conflicting evidence, including a line in her Wikipedia entry that said she had died. That line was later removed, then as more info became available the page was cleaned up. That was yesterday; today it all came clear, or at least clearer. Christgau wound up writing a third piece, a more formal obituary at NPR. The Expert Witness comment thread (click above) has some real-time confusion and commentary on all this. I had some things to say, but felt it better to do so here.


By coincidence, two other legendary women singers died the same day -- not so well known to the general public, but legends in their own niches. Phoebe Snow had a string of records 1974-78, a couple more later. She started off as a singer-songwriter, but switched to mostly covers on her third album and emerged as a fine interpretive singer -- "Teach Me Tonight" may be her finest song. But her albums were never that consistent -- her hit "Poetry Man" always seemed sappy, and her arrangements often detracted from her voice. Christgau recommends her 1982 Best Of and her 2001 Very Best Of but I don't find they help much -- 1976's It Looks Like Snow was her peak, and I'd rather have "In My Girlish Days" than half of the tracks on either best-of. She strikes me as a remarkable singer without a fully worthy album. (Although I've yet to check out her 2008 Live album.)

The other singer who died yesterday was easily the greatest of the bunch: Hazel Dickens (though bluegrass-phobe Christgau only graded one of her records). She was another coal miner's daughter, from Mercer County, West Virginia. In 1968-70 she was in the Strange Creek Singers with Mike Seeger and Alice Gerard. She kept working with Gerard on a series of confusingly titled albums -- Hazel & Alice from 1973 (Rounder) is the pick hit, but they're all remarkable. From my ratings database:

  • Hazel Dickens/Alice Gerard: Pioneering Women of Bluegrass (1965 [1996], Smithsonian/Folkways) A–
  • Strange Creek Singers: Strange Creek Singers (1968-70 [1997], Arhoolie) B+
  • Hazel Dickens/Alice Gerard: Hazel and Alice (1973, Rounder) A
  • Hazel Dickens/Alice Gerard: Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerard (1975 [1998], Rounder) B+
  • Hazel Dickens: Hard Hitting Songs for Hard Hit People (1980, Rounder) A–
  • Hazel Dickens: By the Sweat of My Brow (1983, Rounder) A–
  • Hazel Dickens: It's Hard to Tell the Singer From the Song (1987 [2000], Rounder) A–
  • Hazel Dickens/Carol Elizabeth Jones/Ginny Hawker: Heart of a Singer (1998, Rounder) A–

I don't think there's much else to choose from -- I'm missing a 1987 Rounder compilation, A Few Old Memories, which recycles some of the above -- but I'm also not seeing any of these still in print. That's a real travesty -- evidence of nothing less than the left being snuffed out in American culture. She also had a couple movie roles -- notably in John Sayles' coal miner strike movie, Matewan.

We like to think we live in a world where progress is cumulative, but one way it is not is when people die, in which case we lose both all that they managed to learn in their lives, and all they could have done with that knowledge, experience, and wisdom. So at times like this we sink into a darker world. That may be fate, but it's all the sadder when we see so many of these works are buried even before the bodies. All the more reason to look forward to hearing the new Poly Styrene album.


PS: Looks like X-Ray Spex played CBGB's in March 1978, so I got that wrong. I was in NY at the time, but missed that show.

PPS: Herb Levy wrote in to ask, "but do you really want to claim that Phoebe Snow was less well known than Poly Styrene?" No. I see the confusing line, but didn't mean it as relative to Poly Styrene; rather, that Snow and Dickens (actually like Poly Styrene) had niche, not mass, followings. Even so, in the mid/late 1970s, Snow had a pretty sizable following, but I imagine it shrunk quite a bit over the years. When I wrote this piece I wasn't aware of the story that Snow gave up her music career to care for her daughter, who was born with brain damage and died at 31 a few years ago. I've known other people who did the same -- none famous, of course -- so I'm sympathetic but not overly impressed. Actually seems like a normal thing to do.


Expert Comments

Samethingbackwards came up with a long list of Christgau duds that he still liked.

Looking at stb's list, I was surprised that the only record I have warm feelings for was Lou Reed's Berlin -- I think it was the first thing I had heard by Reed, and I fell for it real hard. I do recall several people making fun of me over that (but not Bob; he asked me to review Metal Machine Music for the Voice). Also looked at Bob's grade C list, and again only found Berlin, though I have Donna Summer's Live & More at B+ (I suspect the CD sustains the mood better than the 2LP, even if you have to listen to "MacArthur Park"), and The Troggs at B (sometimes I'm soft on dimwits). Not sure about Hot Rats -- as best I recall it's the only Zappa album I've heard and not hated, but that shouldn't count for much. Of course, a lot of albums on both lists I didn't bother with.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 18080 [18047] rated (+33), 882 [888] unrated (-6). Another dreary week.

  • The Tubby Hayes Quintet: Late Spot at Scott's (1962 [2006], Verve): Live set at Ronnie Scott's, home base for England's foremost tenor saxophonist of his brief heyday (d. 1973 at 38); an energetic hard bop quintet, with underrated Jimmy Deuchar on trumpet and better known Gordon Beck on piano, does some interesting things on the ballad "Angel Eyes" then breaks loose, especially on the burner "Yeah!" B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Jazz Prospecting (JCG #27, Part 2)

Not much to report. Haven't heard back from the new Village Voice editor on my draft column. Presumably that means no more than that she's busy -- I've grown accustomed to working in a JIT world, one that's never more than a few blips from sinking into oblivion. I've been way down too, so the state of jazz (or for that matter my career as a jazz critic) hasn't been a very high priority.


Jim Black/Trevor Dunn/Oscar Noriega/Chris Speed: Endangered Blood (2010 [2011], Skirl): Oversized packaging, roughly the size of a DVD box, which makes it inconvenient for filing. Not clear if Endangered Blood is deemed a group title, but the four artists are more usefully listed on the front cover. Drums, bass, alto sax/bass clarinet, and tenor sax respectively. One cover, Monk's "Epistrophy"; everything else is credited to Speed, so it must be alphabetical order governing the credits. The faster the rhythm propels them, the more interesting this gets -- "Tacos and Oscars" is the standout track. B+(***)

Nate Wooley Quintet: (Put Your) Hands Together (2010 [2011], Clean Feed): Trumpet player, not a lot under his own name but a couple dozen side credits since 2002. Group spread out with Josh Sinton on bass clarinet, Matt Moran on vibes, Eivind Opsvik bass, and Harris Eisenstadt drums. Not much chemistry between the horns, and the vibes seem like an afterthought. "Elsa" has an appealing Monkish jerikness to it. B

Arrive: "There Was . . ." (2008 [2011], Clean Feed): Chicago group: Aram Shelton (alto sax), Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), Jason Roebke (bass), Tim Daisy (drums). Same group under Shelton's name released Arrive in 2005 (recorded 2001, so they go back quite a ways). Good saxophonist, fast, inventive, would have been a slick bebopper in the day; adds a little more now. Vibes add a little fluff. B+(**)

Júlio Resende Trio: You Taste Like a Song (2010 [2011], Clean Feed): Portuguese pianist. Two previous albums were HMs, lifted by bravura saxophone performances. This one is just piano trio, which also does the trick. Two covers: one I don't recognize from Radiohead, one I do from Monk. B+(***)

Agogic (2010 [2011], Tables and Chairs): I filed this eponymous group album under trumpeter Cuong Vu, but on second thought Andrew D'Angelo (alto sax, bass clarinet) is, as I should have expected, the more forceful leader. Squaring off the quartet are Luke Bergman on electric bass and Evan Woodle on drums. The two-horn jousts are pretty exciting although they sometimes come unfrayed under the heat of battle. The two-horn unison dirge makes a powerful sound as well. B+(***)

Mark O'Leary/Peter Friis-Nielsen/Stefan Pasborg: Střj (2008 [2011], Ayler): Guitar-bass-drums, respectively. O'Leary is a guitarist from Ireland, has over a dozen albums since 2005 (although recording dates go back to 2000). I've heard very few of these, and don't have a good sense of what he's up to. The sound of the guitar seems unnaturally constrained, muffled even on stretches where the moves are dense and muscular; in comparison, Pasborg's drums are always sharp and clear. B+(*)

Flow Trio: Set Theory: Live at the Stone (2009 [2011], Ayler): Louie Belogenis (tenor/soprano sax), Joe Morris (bass), Charles Downs (drums). Pretty basic avant sax trio. Belogenis has appeared on a couple dozen records since 1993, mostly in groups like this one. He makes playing tenor sax a study in struggle, wrenching each note in turn from the device. Title track runs 29:31. Other two 17:23 and 6:56, the latter turning to soprano where he is pleasantly asured. B+(**)

Hubert Nuss: The Book of Colours (2008 [2010], Pirouet): Pianist, b. 1964 in Germany (Neckarsulm, near Stuttgart -- interesting to compare the bare bones English and extraordinary German Wikipedia pages on Neckarsulm). Fourth trio album since 1998, with John Goldsby (bass) and John Riley (drums). Rather quiet and contained. B+(*)

Bill O'Connell: Rhapsody in Blue (2009 [2010], Challenge): Pianist, b. 1953 in New York, got a rep for Latin jazz working for Mongo Santamaria. AMG lists 7 records since 1978. Mostly originals, the title bit from Gershwin, "Bye Bye Blackbird"; has a few Latin flourishes, especially Richie Flores percussion on two tracks, but is mostly straightforward, ebullient mainstream jazz, with Steve Slagle on alto and soprano sax. B+(*)

Laurence Cook/Eric Zinman: Double Action (2009 [2011], Ayler): Zinman is a pianist; Cook is credited with drums, percussion, and Casio wk1630. Blips and bangs, broken up and swirled around, chaos made fun. B+(**)

Bones & Tones (2009 [2011], Freedom Art): Eponymous quartet album, everyone credited with percussion as well as: vocals/kora (Abdou Mboup), vibes (Warren Smith), marimba/bells (Lloyd Haber), and bass (Jaribu Shahid). The marimba-vibes stands out in an endless African groove, not much differentiated but very listenable as is. B+(**)

Curtis Woodbury (2010, Jazz Hang): Plays violin and tenor sax, impressive on both but plays much more violin here. Eponymous debut album. Don't have any bio, but album was recorded in Utah, seems to be where he's from. Group includes another Woodbury, Brian, on trombone, plus piano, bass, and drums. Two originals, six covers -- Scott Joplin, Astor Piazzolla, Sonny Stitt, Michel Camilo, Dave Holland, "You Are My Sunshine." Nice range. 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.

Dave Douglas: United Front: Brass Ecstasy at Newport (2010 [2011], Greenleaf Music): Same four brass plus drums lineup as on Douglas's Spirit Moves (2009): trumpet (Douglas), trombone (Luis Bonilla), French horn (Vinent Chancey), tuba (Marcus Rojas), and drums (Nasheet Waits). Repeats four songs, plus "Spirit Moves" (which somehow missed the album it was title of) and "United Front" -- three Douglas tunes and Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." Redundant if you don't care, but seems like more is more to me. Too bad I got to nag them every time out. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Okkyung Lee: Noisy Love Songs (2011, Tzadik): Cellist, from Korea, moved to New York 2000; second album on Tzadik; looks like three or four others. With no lyrics one can argue whether these even are love songs. That some are noisy is beyond doubt, but not many, and not very: the cello-violin-bass can turn squelchy, but mostly plot out sweet melodies, with piano (Craig Taborn) and/or trumpet (Peter Evans) for occasional elaboration, and percussion (John Hollenbeck and Satoshi Takeishi) -- lots of tinkly tones. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Ben Allison: Action-Refraction (2011, Palmetto): Another one I expected to show up but didn't. Pretty good bassist, even better composer: last three records on Palmetto scored A- here. Only one original here. The covers start with Monk but into rock and elsewhere: PJ Harvey, Donnie Hathaway, Neal Young, Samuel Barber, Paul Williams. Guitarists Steve Cardenas and Brandon Seabrook are central, with Jason Lindner on synth as well as piano, and Michael Blake on bass clarinet and tenor sax. Sort of an instrumental prog rock feel, but tighter, more determined. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Ron Horton: It's a Gadget World . . . (2009, Abeat): This shows up under Ben Allison's name both in AMG and Rhapsody -- gave me a bit of a pause as it would have broke the string of A- records mentioned in reviewing Allison's new record. Cover lists trumpet/flugelhorn player Horton up top in caps, then "featuring Antonio Zambrini" (piano, also wrote 4 of 9 tracks plus the liner notes), then way down at the bottom Allison (bass) and Tony Moreno (drums). Brisk postbop, a couple of nice piano spots, a lot of first-rate trumpet. B+(**) [Rhapsody]


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


Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:

  • The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra: The Symphonic Celtic Album (Silva Screen)
  • Avram Fefer/Eric Revis/Chad Taylor: Eliyahu (Not Two)
  • Nilson Matta & Roni Ben-Hur: Mojave (Motéma): May 10
  • Scanner with the Post Modern Jazz Quartet: Blink of an Eye (Thirsty Ear)
  • Matthew Shipp: Art of the Improviser (Thirsty Ear, 2CD)
  • Matthew Shipp/William Parker/Beans/Hprizm: Knives From Heaven (Thirsty Ear): advance
  • Roseanna Vitro: The Music of Randy Newman (Motéma): May 17
  • Weasel Walter/Mary Halvorson/Peter Evans: Electric Fruit (Thirsty Ear)

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:


  • Paul Krugman: Patients Are Not Consumers: Small point, but worth repeating:

    I keep encountering discussions of health economics in which patients are referred to as "consumers," after which the usual mantra of freedom of choice is invoked on behalf of voucherizing Medicare, or whatever. [ . . . ]

    The idea that all this can be reduced to money -- that doctors are just people selling services to consumers of health care -- is, well, sickening. And the prevalence of this kind of language is a sign that something has gone very wrong not just with this discussion, but with our society's values.

    Krugman followed up with a column, Patients Are Not Consumers. Main thing I would add is that growth of health care spending shows that we desire better health care and are willing to spend more to get it, so cost-containment efforts are inherently suspicious. Cost-containment seems urgent now because we have a profit-seeking health care system that ensures that any money we're willing to spend will be captured by providers regardless of benefits -- and indeed a lot of money spent produces no benefits at all, plus a lot goes into excess profits. The political focus needs to be on better health care for more people. One way to accomplish that is to reduce waste, but if better results require more spending it should be clear that we can raise money for that.

  • Paul Krugman: On Pity for the Rich: As fewer people buy the line about trickle-down economics, the right more and more argues "that taxing the rich is unfair -- they made it, they should keep it."

    But my take is that what we're looking at is the closing of the conservative intellectual universe, the creation of an echo chamber in which rightists talk only to each other, and in which even the pretense of caring about ordinary people is disappearing. I mean, we've been living for some time in an environment in which the WSJ can refer, unselfconsciously, to people making too little to pay income taxes as "lucky duckies"; where Chicago professors making several hundred thousand a year whine that they can't afford any more taxes, and are surprised when that rubs some people the wrong way. Why wouldn't such people find it completely natural to think that the hurt feelings of the rich are the main consideration in economic policy?

  • Andrew Leonard: Donald Trump: The President We Deserve: Reviewing Timothy L O'Brien: TrumpNation: The Art of Being the Donald, a bit dated (2005, Warner Books) but all the better for not being cluttered with recent history:

    I thought that a review of a business career marked by, to borrow O'Brien's summation, "repeated failures, flirtations with personal bankruptcy, sequential corporate bankruptcies, [and] the squandering of billions of dollars" would provide grist for a thorough denunciation of the Donald. As the political analysts have been quick to point out, Trump's career should be a gold mine for opposition researchers -- and not just because of the multiplicity of political views he has expressed. Let's not forget that in the early 1990s, the Trump brand meant failure. He had fatally overextended himself by wasting billions of dollars of borrowed money on a spending spree that included, among other things, casinos, airlines, ridiculously overpriced hotels, and luxury yachts unloaded by bankrupt Middle Eastern arms sellers.

    He dumped his first wife for a younger trophy, and then dumped her for another trophy, shrugging off the tabloid chatter by telling a reporter "You know, it really doesn't matter what they write when you've got a young and beautiful piece of ass." He made a habit of buying property when the price was high, and then being forced to unload it at a huge loss when the real estate market crashed. He has proved comically inept as an Atlantic City casino owner -- really, it's one thing to imagine a gambling mogul in the White House, but an incompetent one? In the course of his career, he's been bailed out by his father, by his siblings, and by the banks to whom he owed hundreds of millions of dollars. By any rational standpoint, his disasters are far more spectacular than his successes. He's a reality-television star, for crying out loud! [ . . . ]

    Think about it. We are currently facing the consequences of living on borrowed money in the wake of a huge real estate meltdown. Who, I ask you, has had a more intimate acquaintance with what happens when the value of your real estate holdings collapse and your creditors come calling than Donald Trump? And yet he keeps living to see another day! Donald Trump is the living, breathing proof of John Maynard Keynes' famous maxim: "If you owe your bank manager a thousand pounds, you are at his mercy. If you owe him a million pounds, he is at your mercy." [ . . . ] It's doesn't take much reflection to realize that this is exactly the kind of life experience that suits our current predicament. Trump, as president, would realize that the extent of U.S. indebtedness to the bond market and foreign creditors is simply too great to allow for any kind of default, and he would undoubtedly find a way to weasel through. We need a president who knows how to get bailouts, not give them!

    Leonard goes on to liken Trump to Reagan:

    We need a president who just never gets down in the dumps, who always can blithely misrepresent misfortune as heaven's boon and knows how to find a silver lining in any imploding balance sheet. Timothy O'Brien's biography paints a portrait of Trump suffused in Reaganesque hues. But for Trump, every day isn't just "morning in America" -- it's morning in America on a private jet with a hot babe bringing you a mimosa while you fly to Palm Beach for the unveiling of a statue of yourself. Trump is one upbeat mofo. O'Brien writes that his family followed "the power-of-positive thinking teachings of the Reverend Norman Vincent Peale," and it shows. As president, Trump wouldn't always be bringing us down by harping on rising healthcare costs or unmanageable deficits or the failure of our schools. He'd just redefine it all as a massive party, and we'd feel much better. It worked for Reagan, and Trump is nothing if not a creation of the go-go '80s.

  • John Nichols: How Socialists Build America: Adapted from his new book, The "S" Word: A Short History of an American Tradition . . . Socialism:

    Unfortunately, Obama may be more frightened by the S-word than Palin. When a New York Times reporter asked the president in March 2009 whether his domestic policies suggested he was a socialist, a relaxed Obama replied, "The answer would be no." He said he was being criticized simply because he was "making some very tough choices" on the budget. But after he talked with his hyper-cautious counselors, he began to worry. So he called the reporter back and said, "It was hard for me to believe that you were entirely serious about that socialist question." Then, as if reading from talking points, Obama declared, "It wasn't under me that we started buying a bunch of shares of banks. And it wasn't on my watch that we passed a massive new entitlement, the prescription drug plan, without a source of funding.

    "We've actually been operating in a way that has been entirely consistent with free-market principles," said Obama, who concluded with the kicker, "Some of the same folks who are throwing the word 'socialist' around can't say the same."

    There's more than a kernel of truth to this statement. Obama really is avoiding consideration of socialist, or even mildly social democratic, responses to the problems that confront him. He took the single-payer option off the table at the start of the healthcare debate, rejecting the approach that in other countries has provided quality care to all citizens at lower cost. His supposedly "socialist" response to the collapse of the auto industry was to give tens of billions in bailout funding to GM and Chrysler, which used the money to lay off thousands of workers and then relocate several dozen plants abroad -- an approach about as far as a country can get from the social democratic model of using public investment and industrial policy to promote job creation and community renewal. And when BP's Deepwater Horizon oil well exploded, threatening the entire Gulf Coast, instead of putting the Army Corps of Engineers and other government agencies in charge of the crisis, Obama left it to the corporation that had lied about the extent of the spill, had made decisions based on its bottom line rather than environmental and human needs, and had failed at even the most basic tasks.

    So we should take the president at his word when he says he's acting on free-market principles. The problem, of course, is that Obama's rigidity in this regard is leading him to dismiss ideas that are often sounder than private-sector fixes.

    In fact, there are two histories of "socialism" in America: one by people who seek to build a robust social security network around a free enterprise system that has been tamed and santized through sensible regulation; another by hysterics who think they can kill anything they dislike by screaming "socialist" (or "Bolshevik" or "communist" or, what the hell, "fascist" -- whatever the red-button word du jour happens to be). For the record, Obama would prefer to be counted among the latter. But he keeps losing ground -- he'd rather be seen as cool than hysterical, so aside from the above rant about an "entitlement" that is actually a standard part of most private sector health insurance policies, he usually scores his anti-socialist points by promoting overexpensive and dysfunctional schemes backed by his well-heeled sponsors.

    Later on, Nichols writes: "The point here is not to defend socialism. What we should be defending is history -- American history, with its rich and vibrant hues, some of them red." Why not defend socialism? Many good ideas originated with socialists, and other "good enough" ideas came out of the establishment's attempts to fend off socialist ideas.

  • Alex Pareene: Tennessee's "don't say gay" bill advances: The details aren't much worse than dozens or hundreds of comparable atrocities all over the country, so the general intro is all the more right on:

    The numskulls and bigots elected to various state legislatures in the last election will be, like Bush and Reagan's many judges, the longest-lasting and probably most damaging consequence of the recent Republican resurgence. Because in state governments, where the national press seldom ventures, where local newspapers are operating with tiny staffs and shrinking readerships, and where local TV news is largely useless, these morons are basically able to pass any fool idea lobbyists and far-right think tanks can cook up -- and there is an entire cottage industry devoted to cooking up awful ideas for Republican state legislatures to pass. (Bills like Arizona's immigration crackdown do not spring fully formed from the minds of cretinous state senators.)

  • Matthew Yglesias: The Declining Effective Tax Rate of America's 400 Highest Earning Individuals: The chart here is pretty interesting. Not only does it show big drops that correspond to legal changes like the 2001 Bush tax cuts or Clinton's capital gains cut; it shows a gradual decline in effective tax rates even without legal changes, presumably as the rich learn to better game the system, or possibly due to lax enforcement (as certainly happened under Bush). This, of course, is only part of the reason the rich keep getting richer, and actually the less important part. The increase in incomes is even greater for lots of reasons having little to do with taxes, but one reason that does is that untaxed income compounds faster.

  • Matthew Yglesias: The Economics of Trust: Big international chart here of "percent of people expressing a high level of trust in others, 2008": US is pegged at 48.7, surrounded by a bunch of East European countries (Poland, Hungary, and Slovak Republic just below; Slovenia and Czech Republic just above); Western Europe starts with France and Ireland at 55.8; Japan and Germany at 60.7 and 61.1; UK at 68.9 and NZ at 69.1; Switzerland and Netherlands in the 70s; the Scandinavian countries ranging from 83.7 (Sweden) to 88.8 (Denmark). Only surprises to me were Korea (low at 46.2; Mexico is 26.1), Estonia (72.1, working hard on becoming Scandinavian), and Israel (71.3, probably not a random sample). In general, trust correlates well with equality, and with a strong social security net -- especially an equitable health care system (probably why the UK rates higher than France or Germany). It is pretty much impossible to overstate the importance of trust in the functioning of complex modern societies. That is the main reason political efforts to divide and conquer are so dangerous.


I was going to recommend DD Guttenplan: On the Case: On Simon Wiesenthal, a review of Tom Segev's Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legends (2010, Doubleday), but it's locked up behind some kind of paywall, inaccessible by me even though I'm a card-carrying subscriber to The Nation (well, actually it's in my wife' name). Fairly minor and relatively personal point: I read Wiesenthal's The Murderers Among Us quite early in my personal/political evolution, so it was one of my first sources for learning about the Holocaust. Much later I read most of Segev's important books on Israel, including his book on the selective use and abuse of history in The Seventh Million: Israelis and the Holocaust.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Expert Comments

On James Carter:

I've long held the theory that James Carter was first spoiled and then throttled and swallowed by the idea of having a major label contract. In the early 1990s Carter could play mainstream in Tough Young Tenors and avant in Julius Hemphill's group. With Atlantic he could do both and get distributed, but he couldn't release more than an album or two per year, even though he was generating tons of ideas and credibly playing five saxophones, so compared to comparably prodigious players like David Murray and Ken Vandermark he was poorly documented -- at the same time better known. Then he followed Yves Beauvais to Columbia and cut one album -- the worst album of his career -- and got dropped. Since then his output has been spotty, recording occasionally while waiting for another major label to give him his due -- indeed, Emarcy released Present Tense in 2008 and has another coming out this year: Caribbean Rhapsody -- looks like a real bad idea to me, a "concerto for saxophones and orchestra."

Still, he's had a better decade since 2001 than any of the other Tough Young Tenors -- even if you throw in some similar non-group players of great promise like Mark Turner. Live at Baker's Keyboard Lounge and Heaven on Earth are two good live albums. He's had a couple of HM-level albums. He's chipped in with Odean Pope and World Saxophone Quartet. And my favorites have been two albums with the Dutch group De Nazaten where he's not the critical player but lifts the group's game. I'd like to see him do more like that. Interestingly, his Detroit quartet have all had respectable careers on the avant-garde -- especially Craig Taborn, but also Jaribu Shahid and Tani Tabbal.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Books

Another batch of 40 book notes, my first such since February 12. Didn't even have that much backlog, probably because I've spent very little time in bookstores lately (aside from the Borders closeout), but I've been researching this since Tuesday and they're piling up. So maybe another next week instead of next month.


Eric Alterman: Kabuki Democracy: The System vs. Barack Obama (paperback, 2011, Nation Books): Liberal columnist, tries to present a case that Obama's post-election turn to the right is the fault of a system that is deeply and intractably conservative. That may be true, to a point, but it isn't very reassuring: seems to me like an indictment both of the system and the man unwilling to risk his political future on convincing the American people to do the right things.

Joe Bageant: Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir (paperback, 2011, Scribe): Previously wrote Deer Hunting With Jesus: Dispatches From America's Class War (2007, Crown), the cursory tales of a class-conscious redneck. Might seem presumptuous to write a memoir, but he got cancer and died already, so quit bitching.

Roseanne Barr: Roseannearchy: Dispatches From the Nut Farm (2011, Simon & Schuster): A glance at the cover suggests she's muscling into Glenn Beck territory, which might be a good idea, but the self-deprecating "nut farm" suggests she's too self-conscious for that. Probably too smart, too.

Moustafa Bayoumi, ed: Midnight on the Mavi Marmara: The Attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla and How It Changed the Course of the Israel/Palestine Conflict (paperback, 2010, Haymarket): Too soon, I'd say, to say much about deflecting the course of the conflict, but Israel's display of gratuitous violence certainly had the effect of driving their once-carefully cultivated alliance with Turkey off the deep end.

Wendell Berry: What Matters? Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth (paperback, 2010, Counterpoint): Collection of essays, mostly from old books but possibly some new stuff. Farmer, writer, community-minded, so old-fashioned he cuts through a lot of new-fangledness we readily take for granted, more often than not making profound points.

David Brooks: The Social Animal: The Hidden Sources of Love, Character, and Achievement (2011, Random House): What is it about New York Times columnists that drives them to such extreme heights of idiocy?

James Carroll: Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignites Our Modern World (2011, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): Sometime journalist, sometime historian, always Catholic, takes a dim view of war and prejudice which leads to some soul searching. Not sure what exactly this covers or why it matters, except inasmuch as the histories of western religion and war have been interweaved, and still are.

G Paul Chambers: Head Shot: The Science Behind the JFK Assassination (2010, Prometheus): Another review of the evidence, this time bolstered by the author's physics credentials. Doesn't indulge in conspiracy speculation, but does reject the official story that all shots came from a single gun.

Diane Coyle: The Economics of Enough: How to Run the Economy as if the Future Matters (2011, Princeton University Press): Challenges: Happiness, Nature, Posterity, Fairness, Trust; Obstacles: Measurement, Values, Institutions; The Manifesto of Enough. Looks like a fairly serious attempt to reframe economics within the constraints of sustainability, occasioned by the evident looming of crises ranging from resource exhaustion to climate change.

Gerard Dumenil/Dominique Levy: The Crisis of Neoliberalism (2011, Harvard University Press): The collapse as a crisis of ideology on top of deep-seated fissures. Rx includes: "limits on free trade and the free international movement of capital; policies aimed at improving education, research, and infrastructure; reindustrialization; and the taxation of higher incomes."

Howard Friel: The Lomborg Deception: Setting the Record Straight About Global Warming (2010, Yale University Press): One thing that makes me doubt Bjorn Lomberg's Skeptical Environmentalist shtick is how readily our good friends at Koch Industries reprint his arguments, especially against global warming. This may seem specialized, but Lomborg himself is a cottage industry.

David N Gibbs: First Do No Harm: Humanitarian Intervention and the Destruction of Yugoslavia (paperback, 2009, Vanderbilt University Press): Another critical book on the US intervention in Yugoslavia, and evidently one of the best. A lot of strange things about those wars, not to mention apologists and advocates like Samantha Powers.

James Gleick: The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood (2011, Pantheon): The journalist who hipped everyone to chaos theory digs up something less novel: information theory -- or maybe it's just that I've been reading about Claude Shannon, Alan Turing, Norbert Wiener, and John Von Neumann for decades now. I was much impressed with Gleick's Chaos and his Feynman biography Genius, but thought he wrote Faster a bit too fast. He should have come up with more than he did there.

Jeff Goodell: How to Cool the Planet: Geoengineering and the Audacious Quest to Fix Earth's Climate (2010, Houghton Mifflin): Journalist, wrote Big Coal: The Dirty Secret Behind America's Energy Future (2007), looks into various schemes to solve global warming by investing new ways to perturb the atmosphere even more.

Philip Hasheider: The Complete Book of Butchering, Smoking, Curing, and Sausage Making: How to Harvest Your Livestock & Wild Game (paperback, 2010, Voyageur Press): Looks essential for anyone willing to contemplate just where your meat comes from, even if you're not quite ready to take the next step and do it yourself.

Jonathan Haslam: Russia's Cold War: From the October Revolution to the Fall of the Wall (2011, Yale University Press): We could use a systematic history of the Cold War from Soviet viewpoints. Not sure if this is it. One thing that makes me uncomfortable is a previous title: The Nixon Administration and the Death of Allende's Chile: A Case of Assisted Suicide. Suicide?

Richard Heinberg/Daniel Lerch, eds: Post Carbon Reader: Managing the 21st Century's Sustainability Crises (paperback, 2010, University of California Press): A couple dozen essays on peak oil, other resource crises, climate change (Bill McKibben), population ("the multiplier"), alternative energy and sustainability schemes. No single answer; just lots of issues that require sober analysis and cooperative efforts.

Mark Hertsgaard: Hot: Living Through the Next Fifty Years on Earth (2011, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt): Global warming horror story, featuring author's daughter who can reasonably expect to live long enough to see as much as author prognosticates. James Hansen did something similar, calling his latest Storms of My Grandchildren.

Shir Hever: The Political Economy of Israel's Occupation: Repression Beyond Exploitation (paperback, 2010, Pluto Press): The subtitle is key. Most colonial establishments sought to exploit cheap native labor, and Israel has done more of that than is commonly acknowledge. But the early focus on "Hebrew Labor" aimed at displacing native Palestinians, and Israel has repeatedly worked to isolate and suppress the Palestinian economy.

Frederic Jameson: Valences of the Dialectic (2009; paperback, Verso, 2010): One of the first American critics to set himself up as an authority on critical Marxist thinkers -- his 1972 book Marxism and Form lists Adorno, Benjamin, Marcuse, Bloch, Lukacs, and Sartre on the cover -- and he's had a long run ever since. Big book (640 pp) on dialectic theories, Hegel and Sartre in particular, with an attempt to establish their continued relevance.

Diana Johnstone: Fools' Crusade: Yugoslavia, NATO, and Western Illusions (paperback, 2003, Monthly Review Press): I've never managed to get a good grip on what the US did in Bosnia and Kosovo in the 1990s, other than to notice that the cult of "Humanitarian Intervention" smelled funny. This is one book I've seen commonly referenced by critics, all the more timely as the Humanitarians are once again on the march.

Toby Craig Jones: Desert Kingdom: How Oil and Water Forged Modern Saudi Arabia (2010, Harvard University Press): It's certainly obvious that the economic parameters of Saudi Arabia are determined by oil and water: oil pays for the economy, but lack of water limits how much of that wealth can be reinvested in the country. Other books tend to focuse on religion -- something we used to call superstructure.

Stanley Kurtz: Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American Socialism (2010, Treshold Editions): The hits keep on coming, this exceptionally lame one by a National Review hack (also Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center). More imaginative is David Freddoso's latest, Gangster Government: Barack Obama and the New Washington Thugocracy (2011, Regnery); hallucinatory even is Jack Cashill's Deconstructing Obama: The Life, Loves, and Letters of America's First Postmodern President (2011, Threshold), which reveals that Obama's books were actually written by "terrorist emeritus Bill Ayers." Also out soon is Jerome R. Corsi Ph.D.: Where's the Birth Certificate: The Case That Barack Obama Is Not Eligible to Be President (2011, WND). I should set up a separate file for all this shit -- all four authors here are serial offenders.

Pauline Maier: Ratification: The People Debate the Constitution, 1787-1788 (2010, Simon & Schuster): Despite veneration of the Founding Fathers, I suspect that most Tea Partiers, had they known anything about the subject, would have sided with the anti-federalists against ratifying the U.S. Constitution. Don't know whether that had any effect on Maier -- one of the leading historians of the period -- or whether she was just interested in the selling and resistance to such a fundamental political change, as opposed to the much better known story of how the Constitution was framed.

Manning Marable: Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention (2011, Viking): Major new biography, reportedly ten years in the works. Marable, who died a few days before this book was released, has over a dozen books on African-American history and politics, most recently Beyond Boundaries: The Manning Marable Reader (2010; paperback, 2011, Paradigm), going back through Black Liberation in Conservative America (paperback, 1999, South End) to W.E.B. DuBois: Black Radical Democrat (paperback, 1986, Twayne).

Sari Nusseibeh: What Is a Palestinian State Worth? (2011, Harvard University Press): Eminent Palestinian, president of Al-Quds University, previously wrote his autobiography Once Upon a Country: A Palestinian Life, tries to look beyond two-state jargon to basic human rights.

Annie Proulx: Bird Cloud (2011, Simon & Schuster): Memoir by the novelist, about her adopted chunk of Wyoming. She wrote one of fewer than five works of fiction I read during the last decade -- the short story collection Close Range (the one with "Brokeback Mountain"), which I picked up because I found a section on cattle ranching as knowledgeable as the best nonfiction (and superbly written as well). Picked this up in the Borders closeout, then forgot to include it in my post.

Mazin B Qumsiyeh: Popular Resistance in Palestine: A History of Hope and Empowerment (paperback, 2011, Pluto Press): A hard-working American activist. Comes at a time when I see little in the way of empowerment or hope.

Olivier Roy: Holy Ignorance: When Religion and Culture Part Ways (2010, Columbia University Press): French expert on Islam (and Islamism) generalizes about religion in an age of holy wars.

Bernie Sanders: The Speech: A Historic Filibuster on Corporate Greed and the Decline of Our Middle Class (paperback, 2011, Nation Books): Runs 288 pages, pretty long for a speech; was given after Obama struck his deal with the devil to extend the Bush tax cuts for the ultra-rich.

Stephen Singular: The Wichita Divide: Revisiting the Murder of Dr. George Tiller (2011, St Martin's Press): Previously wrote books on the murder of radio talk jock Alan Berg, on Wichita's "BTK" serial killer, on Mormon polygamist Warren Jeffs, and on the Jon Benet Ramsey case. Looks beyond Scott Roeder to the culture warriors moving him along.

David Sirota: Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live In Now: Our Culture, Out Politics, Our Everything (2011, Ballantine): The 1980s, that means Ronald Reagan, a new morning for conservatism; still, there's something unrequited about the whole experience. By the late 1960s, even the early 1970s, liberalism seemed to have been fulfilled, with little more to do, it actually became fat and lazy. But conservatives are insatiable -- they've thrown us into wars, wrecked the economy, resurrected fear and loathing, yet they're never satisfied, so even today we have to spend all our efforts keeping them at bay. I guess that's what Sirota means, but all I see at Amazon is a list of "Five '80s Flicks That Explain How the '80s Still Define Our World": Ghostbusters (1984), Die Hard (1988), Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985), Rocky III (1982), and The Big Chill (1983). What does all that mean? (BTW, the most popular films of the 1980s were E.T. and the first two Stars Wars, with Raiders of the Lost Ark and two more Indiana Jones flicks filling up most of the top ten.)

David Swanson: War Is a Lie (paperback, 2010, David Swanson): Looks like a catalog of lies told to justify, to rationalize, to excuse war. While each war has its own historical context, the arguments used to promote and protract those ware are pretty much always the same, so it's recognize them, recognize the falsehoods they contain, and be prepared to counter them. Swanson previously wrote Daybreak: Undoing the Imperial Presidency and Forming a More Perfect Union (paperback, 2009, Seven Stories Press).

Lance Taylor: Maynard's Revenge: The Collapse of Free Market Macroeconomics (2011, Harvard University Press): For a brief moment during the great crash of 2008 it seemed likely that economists would rediscover John Maynard Keynes. Taylor wrote this book in that moment, a healthy dose of I-told-you-so. Most likely all true too, but a little late: more timely would be a book on the recovery of stupidity once the crisis started to pass.

Todd Tucker: Atomic America: How a Deadly Explosion and a Feared Admiral Changed the Course of Nuclear History (2009; Free Press; paperback, 2010, Bison Books): The explosion was in Idaho in 1961, when a small research reactor melted down, raising the question of how safe and sane nuclear power is. The admiral was Hyman Rickover, wo pushed for atomic-power aircraft carriers and submarines, in turn working to cover up the risks.

Siva Vaidhyanathan: The Googlization of Everything (And Why We Should Worry) (2011, University of California Press): Author has written a couple of good books on internet-era social impacts -- Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity and The Anarchist in the Library: How the Clash Between Freedom and Control is Hacking the Real World and Crashing the System -- so I take his worrying more seriously than the sour grapes in Ken Auletta's Googled: The End of the World as We Know It. Still, I don't yet know what he's getting at.

Bing West: The Wrong War: Grit, Strategy, and the Way Out of Afghanistan (2011, Random House): Ex-Marine, veteran of Reagan's Defense Dept., dependable supporter of America's wars as recently as his 2008 pro-surge book on Iraq (The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics, and the Endgame in Iraq), doesn't seem to like what the US is doing in Afghanistan, casting doubts on the sacred COIN theology. Hmm.

Garry Wills: Outside Looking In: Adventures of an Observer (2010, Viking): A memoir of sorts, by a journalist who started out in William Buckley's conservative orbit and gradually turned into a fierce critic of America's abuse of power, from Vietnam to Bush and not neglecting the embarrassing Bill Clinton. Also wrote much about American history, and about religion. Not sure what all we'll find here, but should be interesting.

Richard Wolffe: Revival: The Struggle for Survival Inside the Obama White House (2010, Crown): Author of Renegade: The Making of a President (2009), boasts "unrivaled access to the West Wing," timed his sequel to follow Obama's mid-term election fiasco. Not sure if the title signals anything other than author's desire to keep that "unrivaled access" going for another book.

Tim Wu: The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires (2010, Knopf): A history of telecommunications (and analogous technological businesses) from isolated innovation to monopoly to dissolution, as if that represents some sort of law of development. Describes his prime example fairly well, but hard to say how ironclad the rule is.


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

Kai Bird: Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978 (2010; paperback, 2011, Simon & Schuster): Author's father was a US diplomat in Jerusalem, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, and author studied in Lebanon. Starts as a memoir, but provides useful history especially on the 1956 and 1967 wars, plus a rather critical view of King Hussein. [link]

James Bradley: The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War (2009; paperback, 2010, Little Brown): Teddy Roosevelt's machinations to parlay America's new imperial presence in the East Pacific into influence in Asia, a first step toward America's wars in Asia. [link]

Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer -- and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (2010; paperback, 2011, Simon & Schuster): Not just the middle class, which still gets lip service because they have the most to lose. Important study of politically-induced inequality: what happened if not necessarily why.

Simon Johnson/James Kwak: 13 Bankers: The Wall Street Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown (2010, Pantheon; paperback, 2011, Vintage): One of the main books on the financial crisis, focusing on the bankers caused it and the political clout that let them off the hook. [link]

Michael Lewis: The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine (2010; paperback, 2011, WW Norton): Breezy book on the great financial meltdown, told by tracking the stories of a few traders who bet against the housing bubble and made a killing. [link]

Peter Maass: Crude World: The Violent Twilight of Oil (2009, Knopf; paperback, 2010, Vintage): Far-reaching tour of the dirty world of the oil industry. Paperback has a dirtier cover.

Bill McKibben: Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (2010; paperback, 2011, St Martin's Press): Another global warming alert, more harrowing than ever, packaged with proposals for changing the economy, living more sustainably, anything but toughing it out. [link]

Gary Wills: Bomb Power: The Modern Presidency and the National Security State (2010; paperback, 2011, Penguin Books): Give a president the power to blow up the world and he starts thinking executive power really means something; pretty much everyone starts thinking that, and soon enough you don't have much of a democracy any more. Sound familiar? [link]

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Expert Comments

Milo Miles brought up Ms. Clawdy, evidently touted by Ellen Willis in her rockcrit collection. I chipped in:

Ms. Clawdy was Ella Hirst (or vice versa, or Ellin at the time). We haven't heard from her in a long time, but she visited a couple times when we lived in Boston. I haven't heard any tapes, but she played my synth and sang a couple songs, and I thought she was terrific (still, as this was long past her active career days). Last I knew was working as a librarian in the Bay Area. Hard to keep track of people.

Was hoping Laura had more to add. Ella was Laura's friend from their early days in Boston. Laura had discovered Christgau's writings, and passed them on to Ella. Ella met Christgau somehow, and they had a brief affair, during which Ella introduced Laura to Christgau, who in turn eventually introduced me to Laura.

As I recall, when Hirst was trying to make it as a singer, Naomi Glauberman was her "manager" handling bookings and promotion. Can't imagine how they failed to make it (unless principles got in the way), as both are pretty hard to resist.

Christgau responded:

I used to know Ms. Clawdy pretty well, as Ellin Hirst, though she was using the alias then as well. Her songs were pretty great, I always thought, though I found with someone else I used to know pretty well, Fred Gardner -- who did actually put out an album -- that hearing the songs of someone you like a lot in close quarters with them smiling at you is different from hearing the songs on a record. A certain impact is lost to say the least. Seems to me I heard the songs several times, but the one I remember best was at a baby grand I think it was in the summer-vacated apartment of someone she knew on the Upper West Side. Quite something. It would be nice if some tapes surfaced. But chances are they would be more material for someone else to refurbish than anything else. Night Blindness was definitely the winner.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Expert Comments

On being cool:

Pace sharpsm, I wouldn't say I was "cool" to Abraham Inc.'s Tweet Tweet. It finished in the top ten of my B+(***) bracket, near the top of a Jazz CG HM list. I feel pretty good (warm?) about any record I rate that high. Obviously, that's not my highest recommendation, nor the highest temperature bracket, but it's rather arbitrary where you draw those lines. Could be I didn't take it as seriously as I should, either because the concept seemed so pat or because the publicist was so cheap, but I hope I pegged it accurately enough that the reader could make an informed choice. I think it's fair to say I'm cool to what I rate B+(*): records I find impressive but otherwise don't have much interest in. And in between are things that are mixed warm-and-cool (or just plain tepid). So the grade scale does map nicely to a temperature scale.

Tatum made the same "cool" comment about me and PJ Harvey, which I also have at B+(***), with the additional caveat that I only streamed it from Rhapsody. I've never been a fan: despised her first two albums, was blown away by To Bring You My Love, been up and down ever since. New one tops my metacritic file this year, but thus far the main competition is James Blake.

One record I am cool to is Tune-Yards, although I'm not done with it.

Another good Roberto Rodriguez album is Descarga Oriental, with Maurice El Medioni on Piranha. The First Basket is down in my HMs due to the usual soundtrack inconsistencies, but it has some very nice material on it.

Thought I'd tack this on above, but broke it out:

Dan Weiss wrote:

now i just have to decide if i want to delete EMA, beach fossils, cold cave, elbow*, glasvegas, jessie j*, katy b, micachu, art brut, feelies*, pains of being pure at heart*, battles, fleet foxes.

Hope we get an update. I've always been curious about what gets discarded along the way -- something that has always happened all too silently with CG, even more so now. I've only heard (*), but they seem pretty deletable to me -- although "Price Tag" (Jessie J) is a real good single.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 18047 [18000] rated (+47), 888 [881] unrated (+7). High rated count. Started week playing David Murray off Rhapsody, then Billy Bang died so I followed up on whatever I could find there. Generally favored Rhapsody over Jazz Prospecting in this first week of the new round, although I did managed to catch enough jazz to post. Allergies have been very debilitating this past week, continuing today and most likely for a few weeks more. Had dinner with Ruth Olay last week: turns out she's a good friend of Alice Powell's. Only found the one record on Rhapsody. Played parts of two better ones at dinner. I thought at first I should include some "complete disclosure" but the orchestra was so lame I decided that would be overkill. I've known very few people who ever released records, but I've been brutally honest in all such cases.

  • Billy Bang Sextet: The Fire From Within (1984 [1985], Soul Note): Rhapsody files this under trumpeter Ahmed Abdullah, who dominates the early going, but the violin-guitar-bass keep it all moving, as does Thurman Barker's marimba on top of Zen Matsuura's drums. A- [Rhapsody]
  • Marilyn Crispell: Live in Berlin (1982 [1984], Black Saint): One piece on first side, two on second, all brawling, scrapping free jazz, the pianist doing her best Cecil Taylor impression, Peter Kowald and John Betsch hitting back, the quartet filled out out with violinist Billy Bang, stuck between a horn role and the bassist, not amped loud enough to take over the album, but very much in the thick of things. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • David Murray: Live at the Lower Manhattan Ocean Club (1977 [2010], Jazzwerkstatt): In 2006 I was one of five writers asked to work up a consumer guide to the records of a jazz great. I was the only one to pick a living artist: tenor saxophonist David Murray, b. 1955 in California, raised on church, funk, and saxophonists from Paul Gonsalves to Albert Ayler. (The others opted for Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Thelonious Monk, and Sun Ra.) I managed to pick out and write short reviews of seventeen key albums, from Low Class Conspiracy in 1976 through Now Is Another Time in 2003. At the time I credited him with 90 albums as a leader and 90 more as a sideman, and figured I had heard 60 + 40 of them -- pretty good that that left some gaps, most notably in the late 1970s when he moved to New York and took the "jazz loft scene" by storm. That period is mostly documented by live albums like this one on defunct labels: this set was originally released by India Navigation on two LPs, then in 1989 was squeezed onto one CD by hacking about eight minutes off the last song. It's finally back in print, the times slightly rejiggered from the CD. It's not a long lost classic, but it has historical interest -- for one thing, Murray plans soprano sax on his trashed trad jazz "Bechet's Bounce" -- and then some. A quartet with Lester Bowie the opposite horn, Fred Hopkins on bass, and Phillip Wilson on drums. Hopkins is already a fascinating player, and Bowie's wit complements Murray's power. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • David Murray: Children (1984 [1986], Black Saint): Three Murray tunes plus "All the Things You Are" done by a quintet with James "Blood" Ulmer's guitar and Don Pullen's piano locked in a furious race; thrilling when they keep it up, loses something when the pace slackens. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • David Murray/Jack DeJohnette: In Our Style (1986, DIW): Mostly tenor sax-drums duets, the drummer marvelously supportive (as ever), the saxophonist psyched up; two cuts add Fred Hopkins on bass, never a bad idea; DeJohnette plays a bit of credible piano, and kicks off the final cut with some exotic percussion -- I thought vibes at first, but given the title is "Kalimba" it's most likely African thumb piano. A- [Rhapsody]
  • David Murray: Lovers (1988 [1989], DIW): Cut at the same January 1988 studio session that also produced Deep River, Ballads, and Spirituals, same quartet; mostly ballads, "In a Sentimental Mood" the only standard, its solo coda Murray at his most tender; on "Ming" pianist Dave Burrell rises to matche Murray's emotional bravura. A- [Rhapsody]
  • David Murray Quartet: Love and Sorrow (1993 [1996], DIW): Another ballad album, framed with "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To" and "You Don't Know What Love Is"; the sole original "Sorrow Song (for W.E.B. DuBois)" leading into "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" for what may be his most quiet storm side ever; an especially touching John Hicks on piano, Fred Hopkins on bass, Idris Muhammad on drums. A- [Rhapsody]
  • David Murray: Circles: Live in Cracow (2003, Not Two): Sax trio, featuring local bass and drums duo, telepathic twins Marcin Oles and Bartlomiej Brat Oles, although they seem to be overwhelmed by their guest; Murray holds the spotlight, showing off his extensive bag of improvisatory tricks, especially on bass clarinet. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Ruth Olay: Olay! O.K.! (1963 [2009], Essential Media Group): A jazz singer from Los Angeles, recorded a dozen albums from 1956-66, this the only one even marginally in print; nothing on the nondescript string orchestra -- maybe they're in a witness protection program? -- but the singer has remarkable poise. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • String Trio of New York: Area Code 212 (1980 [1981], Black Saint): Long before anyone spoke of "chamber jazz" a pioneering configuration, with violin (Billy Bang), guitar (James Emery), and bass (John Lindberg), all three contributing songs and balancing off their efforts; Emery has the toughest time, sometimes suggesting bits of Spanish classical, but the record picks up steam when Bang takes charge. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • String Trio of New York: Common Goal (1981 [1982], Black Saint): Emery's guitar stands apart, struck into distinct notes or chords where the violin and bass are mostly arco, but this time that often works as percussion; besides, Bang and Lindberg work up more of a lather, even when Bang interjects some flute on "San San Nana" -- their intensity sweeps all before it; and they look like such nice guys on the cover. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • String Trio of New York: Rebirth of a Feeling (1983 [1984], Black Saint): Seems like pretty close to their average album, with Lindberg's bass stout and central, Bang's violin whirling around the periphery, and Emery's guitar poking holes here and there; Emery appears on the cover with a small guitar, credit says soprano guitar. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • String Trio of New York: Natural Balance (1986, Black Saint): Bang's fifth and last album with the group -- Lindberg and Emery carried on with 13 more albums up through 2008, using in series a veritable pantheon of violinists: Charles Burnham, Regina Carter, Diane Monroe, Rob Thomas; Emery's "Texas Koto Blues" is the most striking thing here, both before and after Bang enters; first record so far where I felt Emery was key, not much else stands out. B+(*) [Rhapsody]


Jazz Prospecting (JCG #27, Part 1)

No further news on Jazz Consumer Guide (26): it's in the capable hands of new Village Voice music editor Maura Johnston, who has yet to acknowledge, schedule, edit, etc. No reason I know of why that won't happen eventually; just not yet. I figured I'd probably decompress and blow off this week, but I have enough new prospecting to post. (Just not enough real discoveries to merit chasing down a cover scan, although the Jaki Byard is the one I'd go for if I had to go for one.) Did listen to more non-jazz on Rhapsody, but I don't have anything to recommend there either.


Subtle Lip Can (2010, Drip Audio): Canadian trio: Isaiah Ceccarelli (percussion, piano), Bernard Falaise (guitar), Joshua Zubot (violin, low octave violin). Falaise is the best known: b. 1965, has three records under his own name since 2000, plays in various borderline rock/jazz groups, notably Miriodor. Zubot is presumably related to violinist and label head Jesse Zubot (who is credited here with mastering the disc). He also plays in a bluegrass group called The Murder Ballads. Ceccarelli also seems like a familiar surname, but the only jazz Ceccarellis I've been able to find (two of them) are firmly rooted in Europe. First group record. Fractured, somewhat random noise, quasi-industrial with the strings and percussion. Striking at first, but doesn't grow into something you want to spend much time with. B+(*)

Diego Urcola Quartet: Appreciation (2010 [2011], CAM Jazz): Trumpet player, b. 1965 in Argentina, fourth album since 2003. Fronts a very capable group with Luis Perdomo on piano, Hans Gawischnig on bass, and Eric McPherson on drums -- those name "featuring" on the front cover, plus Yosvany Terry is credited with chekere. All originals, each dedicated to someone worthy. B+(**)

Bill Frisell: Sign of Life (2010 [2011], Savoy Jazz): Effectively a string quarter only with Frisell's guitar in place of one of the violins -- the other is Jenny Scheinman's, with Eyvind Kang on viola and Hank Roberts on cello, a group he calls his 858 Quartet. He used this lineup before on Richter 858 (2005, Songlines), which I thought took the chamber jazz concept way too far toward classical. This rarely does so, roughly splitting the difference with his Americana-ish trio. All original pieces, unlike recent albums where there's usually a couple covers to refer to. B+(**)

Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra: Hothouse Stomp: The Music of 1920s Chicago and Harlem (2009 [2011], Accurate): Trumpet player, from Florida, moved to Boston in 2000, starting a band called Beat Circus, which has three albums of "Weird American Gothic" (on Cuneiform; haven't heard them). Band here includes some well known players: Andy Laster and Matt Bauder on saxes, Curtis Hasselbring on trombone, Brandon Seabrook on guitar; also Dennis Lichtman on clarinet, violin, viola, tuba, and drums. Focuses on four bands: Charlie Johnson's Paradise Orchestra, McKinney's Cotton Pickers, Tiny Parham and His Musicians, and Fess Williams' Royal Flush Orchestra. Gets many of the pre-swing quirks right, but I'm not sure that's a plus. B+(**)

Open Graves with Stuart Dempster: Flightpatterns (2010 [2011], Prefecture): Sometimes I think it might be interesting to expand my niche a bit and try to cover anything that shows up in the post-classical contemporary composition whatever-you-call-it grabbag -- something that the Voice covered extensively for many years under Tom Johnson and Kyle Gann -- but then I remember that I don't know very much about the subject and I haven't followed it at all closely for a good twenty years. Still, I do recognize Dempster: trombonist, b. 1936, specializes in long, slow drone pieces done in huge, echo-laden chambers. Open Graves is Jesse Olsen ("multi-instrumentalist") and Paul Kikuchi (percussionist), from Seattle. This is typical of Dempster, but unless you listen to it in your own sensory-deprivation chamber you're unlikely to get much more than tinkles and faint echoes out of it. B-

GRASS on Fire: Gowanus Reggae and Ska Society Plays Catch a Fire (2010, Mighty Gowanus): "GRASS" is an acronym for Gowanus Reggae and Ska Society. Album is "produced by Sumo & Natecha," which as best I can translate are bassist J.A. Granelli and keyboardist Nate Shaw. Catch a Fire is the 1973 Wailers album, with "Kinky Reggae" and "Midnight Ravers" turned into "Kinky Midnight" and "High Tide or Low Tide" added from the bonus tracks that surfaced on several of the numerous reissues. The others I recognize are notable jazz musicians, like saxophonists Paul Carlon and Ohad Talmor -- indeed, the saxes and Mark Miller's trombone are the main things that distinguish this edition. No vocal credits, but someone can't help but sing along to "Slave Driver." B

Scanner with the Post Modern Jazz Quartet: Blink of an Eye (2010, Thirsty Ear): Scanner is Robin Rimbaud, b. 1964 in London, producer, AMG credits him with 38 albums since 1992. The PMJQ advances on the classic Modern Jazz Quartet lineup: Khan Jamal on vibes, Matthew Shipp on piano, Michael Bisio on bass, Michael Thompson on drums. It's been several years since Shipp worked with a DJ, so it's nice to get some of the mechanistic beats back in play -- best part is the tail end where that's about the only thing going. Harder to read Jamal here. He's an innovative player, even further removed from Milt Jackson than Shipp is from John Lewis, but I'm having trouble picking him out. If I get a real copy I'll give this another shot. B+(**) [advance]

Jaki Byard: A Matter of Black and White: Live at the Keystone Korner, Vol. 2 (1978-79 [2011], High Note): Pianist, 1922-99, released his first record in 1960, was an important figure in the 1960s, not avant-garde but not in any mainstream either -- Out Front! (1961) is a prime example, and I also like The Last From Lennie's (1965, came out in 2003) although I missed the two volumes that preceded it. Solo piano, well-worn standards -- "God Bless the Child," "Alexander's Ragtime Band," "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans," "I Know a Place," "'Round Midnight," "Day Dream," among others. Bright, touching. B+(***)

Etta Jones & Houston Person: The Way We Were: Live in Concert (2000 [2011], High Note): Blues-based jazz singer, aspired to Billie Holiday but reminds me more of Bessie Smith, b. 1928, cut quite a few records for Prestige 1960-65, got a second shot with Muse in 1975 and High Note in 1997, which is to say she owed her career to Joe Fields, an exec at Prestige and owner of Muse and High Note, and to Houston Person, his A&R man and her regular saxophonist. This starts with just the band for four cuts -- Stan Hope (piano), George Kaye (bass), Chip White (drums), and Person -- starting with "Do Nothin' 'Till You Hear From Me" and culminating in a gorgeous "Please Send Me Someone to Love." Jones enters with "Fine and Mellow," "Lady Be Good," but doesn't really take charge until the end, with "Ma, He's Makin' Eyes at Me" and a "I'll Be Seeing You" that can only be described as swinging. She died a year later, so some credit for the souvenir. B+(**)

Eric Alexander: Don't Follow the Crowd (2010 [2011], High Note): Prolific tenor saxophonist, big mainstream sound, capable on ballads, even better at speed. Quartet with Harold Mabern on piano, Nat Reeves on bass, Joe Farnsworth on drums. Pretty much his typical album, although Mabern is a slight shift from his usual pianists. B+(**)

Clarence "Jelly" Johnson: Low Down Papa (1920s [2011], Delmark): Enhanced piano rolls, second volume in Delmark's series after Jimmy Blythe's Messin' Around Blues. Johnson is more obscure: was in the army 1917-19, started recording piano rolls after he got out -- no specific dates but liner notes imply 1920-23; Johnson recorded for Paramount 1923-25, but I don't know how much. Liner notes say he moved to Detroit in late 1920s, and died there on August 9, but don't say which year. Sounds pretty up-to-date if these were recorded that early -- no residual traces of ragtime which still marked most 1910's pianists. Does sound a little bloodless. B+(**)

The Lee Shaw Trio: Live at Art Gallery Reutlingen (2009 [2011], ARC): Pianist, b. 1926 in Oklahoma, switched from classical to jazz after meeting Count Basie, married drummer Stan Shaw and moved to Albany, NY, a good place to remain obscure. First record was 1996 on avant-garde label CIMP; second came after Stan Shaw died in 2001, and now she has eight. Not really a trio record: first four cuts add baritone saxophonist Michael Lutzeier, three of the last four tenor saxophinist Johannes Enders, both impressively out front on covers like "Falling in Love Again," "Body and Soul," and "Stella by Starlight." B+(**)

John Medeski & Lee Shaw: Together Again: Live at the Egg (2009 [2011], ARC): Before Shaw started recording in her 70s, she taught pianos, and Medeski was one of her more famous students. With Shaw's trio, Medeski doubles up on piano or plays organ (or melodica). The piano is nice and crisp, and the organ kicks up quite a groove. B+(*)

Kermit Driscoll: Reveille (2010 [2011], Nineteen-Eight): Bassist, b. 1956 in Nebraska, plays acoustic and electric; studied with Jaco Pastorius, graduated from Berklee. First album on his own, although he has about 60 side-credits since 1987, many with Bill Frisell (who returns the favor here), some in groups like New and Used. With Kris Davis on piano (sometimes prepared) and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums. Wrote 8 of 10 songs, with Trad's "Chicken Reel" offering the best Frisell effect. (The other cover is from Joe Zawinul, also exceptional in its power riffing.) In effect, a slightly less distinctive Frisell album. B+(**)


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


Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:

  • Aaron Goldberg and Guillermo Klein: Bienestan (Sunnyside): advance, June 14
  • Tom Harrell: The Time of the Sun (High Note): May 31
  • Dave Juarez: Round Red Light (Posi-Tone)
  • Operation Id: Legs (Table & Chairs)
  • Orchestre National de Jazz: Around Robert Wyatt (Bee Jazz)
  • Orchestre National de Jazz: Shut Up and Dance (Bee Jazz)
  • Jean-Michel Pilc: Essential (Motéma): May 10
  • Mark Rapp's Melting Pot: Good Eats (Dinemec)
  • Rufus Reid & Out Front: Hues of a Different Blue (Motéma): May 10
  • Jochen Rueckert: Somewhere Meeting Nobody (Pirouet)
  • Tommy Smith: Karma (Spartacus)
  • Jim Snidero: Interface (Savant): May 31
  • Neil Welch: Boxwork (Table & Chairs)

Purchases:

  • Paul Simon: So Beautiful or So What (Hear Music/Concord)
  • TV on the Radio: Nine Types of Light (Interscope)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:


  • Steve Benen: The Candidate in Desperate Need of a Calculator and an Economics Textbook: Former MN governor Tim Pawlenty, although he's hardly the only one:

    Late last year, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty (R) gave us his first big hint that his grasp of economics is awfully weak. In December, commenting on unemployment, Pawlenty declared that the private sector is losing jobs while public-sector jobs are "booming" -- which is the exact opposite of reality. [ . . . ]

    Let's also not forget that in December 2008, at the height of a global economic crisis and the United States facing a brutal depression, Pawlenty stepped up to offer a solution: a five-year spending freeze and a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

    Now, I don't know Pawlenty well, and it's possible he's smarter than he's letting on. Maybe he's running around making blisteringly stupid claims in order to impress the right-wing GOP base. That's what Republican presidential candidates generally do.

    But if Pawlenty actually means what he's saying, his approach to economic, fiscal, and monetary policy isn't just wrong; it's dangerous. If he's selling nonsense to win a primary, Pawlenty is a cynical hack. If he's sincere, Pawlenty has absolutely no idea what he's talking about.

  • Teresa Cotsirilos: Revisiting the Murder of Dr. George Tiller: Interview with Stephen Singular, author of the new book The Wichita Divide: The Murder of Dr. George Tiller and the Battle Over Abortion (2011, St Martin's Press) (Q in bold):

    You've been reporting on right-wing extremist activity since 1987, when you looked into the 1984 murder of talk radio host Alan Berg. How has it changed in the past 25 years?

    You know, when I wrote about Alan Berg, I was writing about some very marginalized people. These were a bunch of white guys without jobs, and no money and no prospects and nothing going on; some had been to prison.

    Now, [when we talk about the persecution of George Tiller,] we're talking about the attorney general of the state of Kansas. Now we're talking about some of the most successful figures in the American media -- we're talking about multimillionaires who get paid to demonize people on national television, who get paid millions and millions of dollars to tell people [that] Tiller['s] the Baby Killer, who get paid to deny all the complexities we're talking about, it's not just. It's an entire society that's said, "Hey, we're going to reward this kind of behavior."

    And that filters down. It affects everything. It's an emotional atmosphere, and it not only affects the general culture -- think about the people who are at risk in that culture, emotionally, psychologically. [People] who are on edge, like [Dr. Tiller's murderer] Scott Roeder, [who was] diagnosed with schizophrenia as a teenager. Or the man who killed Alan Berg, Bruce Pierce, [who was] clearly mentally unstable. This stuff filters down. And then when the blood hits the wall, and the bullets fly, everyone stands back and says, "Well we never intended that. We were just talking."

  • Sheila K Johnson: The Blowback World of Chalmers Johnson: A memoir by Johnson's widow, effectively a detailed resume of his many works on China, Japan, and the American "empire of bases."

    Chal was a formidable and -- I'm tempted to say -- driven man. After his death, I received a letter from a high school friend who said much the same thing. "I always admired Chal's ability to really focus in on an interest. I hate to use the word, but it bordered on zealotry. An example was his 'passion' for collecting streetcar and bus transfer slips. As I recall, they were colorful and contained a lot of information about the routes."

    I had to laugh when I read this, and I offer it as a piece of advice to parents who may have similarly focused kids: don't worry if they're memorizing baseball statistics. It may lead to something far more important.

  • Andrew Leonard: Ikea's Third World Outsourcing Adventure -- in the US: As the Swedish home furnishings company sinks ever deeper into the low end furniture market, they have to cut costs, so now they're exporting expensive Swedish jobs to a dirt cheap anti-labor haven: Virginia. My general impression has been that European capitalists, which have been investing in US companies heavily since the 1980s, have tended to be relatively benign managers -- e.g., used to working with unions, used to government regulations protecting workers. But the US is gravitating ever more towards becoming a third world country, at least around the gated enclaves of the rich, and this is more proof.

    As for Virginia, note that a couple weeks ago a fourth grade teacher there held a mock auction of black students to teach civil war lesson. The lesson seems to be how much the white upper crust longs for the good old days of slavery -- as if wages in Virginia weren't low enough and working conditions weren't harsh enough already.

  • Andrew Leonard: Sorry, Obama, but Budget Cuts Are Not "Historic": In 2006, the Democrats won both houses of Congress in a historic rejection of Republican congressional control, but what did we the people get for our efforts? Nada, as long as Bush was president. In 2008, a Democrat -- indeed, one commonly viewed as a relatively progressive one -- replaced Bush and the Democrats extended their congressional majorities, including a "fillibuster-proof" Senate. What did that accomplish? Well, not much. Pretty much every piece of legislation that got through the House got stonewalled and/or gutted in the Senate, victims not only of intransigent Republicans but of the most corrupt middle-of-the-road Democrats. In 2010, the voters foolishly reversed course and gave the Republicans toehold control of the House, so we have to suffer two years of non-stop hostage crises as the right-wing lunatics do their all to shrink the government and the economy and any future we have for common welfare or even civilization. Supposedly Obama offers some sort of last ditch protection against the worst but all too often he seems downright eager to double-cross us. I mean, first he surrenders to Republican blackmail, then he tries to frame his cowardice as some sort of historic accomplishment. In some ways, he's even worse than his predecessor: after all, Republicans as recently as G.W. Bush insisted that the best way to pump up a sluggish economy was a big dose of deficit spending. The preceding isn't exactly what Leonard says here -- it's more my rant. What Leonard says is more like:

    We don't actually know yet exactly what's in the budget deal. But suppose just this much is true -- Democrats prevented Republicans from defunding healthcare reform and crippling the EPA's ability to crack down on greenhouse gas emissions. If you regard those things as important -- increasing healthcare coverage for Americans and combating the challenge of climate change -- then maybe it's OK to risk a short-term hit to the economy, or even the perception that you lost a game of government-shutdown chicken with the Republicans.

    But if that's true, shouldn't the President be declaring that he saved healthcare reform from the Republicans rather than trying to take credit for budget cuts that he and his economic advisers know are a bad idea? Because even if you make the case that Democrats did salvage some kind of win by preventing Republicans from getting what they really, really want -- and make no mistake, I'm pretty sure the GOP would rather repeal healthcare reform than cut $40 billion from the budget -- this whole recently concluded drama is just the first skirmish in a long battle.

    Next up is sure to be an even more bruising struggle over the debt ceiling. Two days ago, Speaker of the House John Boehner declared at a fundraiser that "I can tell you this: There will not be an increase in the debt limit without something really, really big attached to it." If the budget proposal released last week by House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan is any indication, that could mean anything from privatizing Medicare to decimating Medicaid to a (suicidal) balanced-budget constitutional amendment.

    Actually, I have to admit that while this charade was going on, I always assumed that raising the debt limit would be part of the deal -- not something to start fighting about next week. I'm not sure that many Democrats aren't enjoying this extended squabble as much as the Republicans: it does, after all, create an endless stream of campaign sound bites that Democrats can run on in 2012. And that's in marked contrast to 2010, when the Democrats actually had some accomplishments to boast about (and many more to campaign for if they could overcome Republican intransigence and the moneyed special interests) and utterly fumbled the opportunity. It seems impossible to campaign on making things better, much easier to run against making them much worse.

  • Alex Pareene: Obama's Demagogic, Stalinist, Class-Warring, No Good, Very Bad Speech: Rush Limbaugh and kin respond to Obama's budget speech, where Obama conceded more ground to the budget slashers than G.W. Bush ever did, but they just can't bring themselves to take "yes" for an answer. It's as if when Japan agreed to surrender ending WWII, Harry Truman shouted, "Hell no! We still got bombs to drop!"

    Where I saw a robust but largely uncontroversial defense of American liberalism coupled with undeniably moderate policy proposals, Reuters Breaking Views columnist James Pethokoukis saw a "class-warfare attack on Paul Ryan's 'Path to Prosperity.'" Cato Institute senior fellow Michael Tanner went further:

    President Obama's speech today was reminiscent of Stalin's Order Number 227 to the Russian generals at the Battle of Stalingrad: "Not One Step Backward."

    Oh, was it? Was it reminiscent of Stalin's Order Number 227?

    Tammy Bruce and Neil Cavuto were not impressed. Rush Limbaugh's less talented brother brought up socialism, of course.

    The Washington Examiner pointed out that Barack Obama tricked Paul Ryan into releasing his plan first, so that Obama could criticize it -- unfair! -- and, even worse, he "resorted to Huey Long tactics by making a punching bag of 'the rich,' that mythical top 2 percent of all Americans whose wealth the president famously told Joe the Plumber in 2008 that he just wanted to 'spread around.'" Did you know that rich people are a myth?

    Interesting to see Huey Long crop up here. I've been thinking about renaming my long-delayed book Share the Wealth.

    See Paul Krugman: Who's Serious Now? for a measured, sane response to Obama's speech.

    Also see: Alyssa Battistoni: Why Is It So Hard to Raise Taxes on the Rich?:

    But the politics of tax increases are particularly fraught in a country as unequal as America. As the Economist points out, in unequal societies, "social insurance is perceived as redistributing income over the population, rather than across time." In European countries, which have much lower income inequality and largely depend on broad-based tax systems, people expect to utilize the services they're funding at some point; in America, people think they're writing checks to some deadbeat. Indeed, the right loves to point out that people in the highest tax bracket pay a disproportionately high share of taxes, which to them is evidence that the left is a party of welfare queens who feel entitled to "other people's money." Likewise, the New York Times' survey of Tea Party supporters found a movement of relatively well-off people who believe the government favors the poor. And, of course, the racial undertones to discussions about welfare and entitlements in America serve to heighten tensions still further.

  • Michael Winship: America and the Great Disappointment: The Rapture, the End of Times, the GOP:

    Last week's government shutdown threat was just their latest attempt to send us spiraling further into a morass of inchoate discontent and outright hostility to the plight of those in need, not to mention endangering an economy in fragile recovery. Attaining $38 billion in budget cuts at the expense of the poor and no cost to corporate America, it is, as President Obama himself said, "The biggest annual spending cut in history."

    At the same time we were inflicted with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan's "Path to Prosperity," a long-term budget proposal that would slash $6.2 trillion over the next decade, take money away from education and alternative energy investments, privatize Medicare, cut healthcare services for seniors and the disabled, radically alter Medicaid, but keep funding a bloated defense industry, subsidies for oil companies and tax breaks for the nation's richest.

    I thought Ryan didn't say anything about defense, which of course leaves him open to the above statement. On the other hand, he wants to cut taxes on corporations and the rich even further, so he don't really ever gets any budget savings, except through what Winship calls "magical thinking at its worst, a hocus-pocus of numbers adrift from reality."

  • Paul Woodward: I Won't Give My Right Arm to Become a One-Armed Blogger: Another often-invaluable blog bites the dust:

    For the last two months the root of my own right median nerve has been held in a vice grip -- a high grade central canal stenosis, to be precise.

    With physical therapy and narcotics, I've tried to ward off the evil effects of curse-inducing pain coursing through my arm -- even though the pain kept repeating the same message. If there's one thing that with absolute consistency aggravates this condition, it's stretching my hand over a keyboard. The message is: stop typing.

    From a distance, blogs seem like mass phenomena, but behind each one is an individual, often one very stressed to contribute and vulnerable to all sorts of faults -- Maxine Udall's blog vanished recently when the author suddenly died, Billmon's when the author decided he couldn't maintain the work log. This news cuts pretty close to me because I have all sorts of strange pains in both wrists, a situation that has been worsening over the last year. Doesn't bother me as much right now as the allergies, but I can imagine not being able to do what I do not so far in the future.

Facebook Comments

For Diane Wahto, in reference to a post on Ayn Rand:

Paul Krugman has a quote on Ayn Rand's influence: "There are two novels that can change a bookish fourteen-year old's life: The Lord of the Rings and Atlas Shrugged. One is a childish fantasy that often engenders a lifelong obsession with its unbelievable heroes, leading to an emotionally stunted, socially crippled adulthood, unable to deal with the real world. The other, of course, involves orcs."

The anti-Ayn Rand piece is on a blog called Filthy Liberal Scum, which leads off with a memorable quote from Justin Rosario:

Take any conservative position on a social or economic issue and boil away all the rhetoric and what you are left with is 'I got mine, screw you.'

Unfortunately, the website doesn't do anything except redirect you to this quote. The articles published under it must be searched out more ingeniously.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Closeout Shopping

I had a friend once who claimed to have actually read every book on his shelves. Actually, that was a slight exaggeration: he lamented that he had fallen behind recently. His boast/lament reflected a trope that I had seen in movies or TV (don't recall which or where): a workingman enters a house, sees a wall-sized bookshelf, and says something like, "wow, you've read all those books?" It's a giveaway that the workingman had no intellectual airs, because anyone intellectual enough to collect all those books would have long since disavowed even plans to read them all. (A false lead, as I recall.) Anyhow, my friend had dropped out of college to organize the masses, so it mattered to him that he not have any more books than he had read (or would soon).

Even then, I had vast numbers of books that I would undoubtedly never read. Some I picked at on occasion. Many just wound up on the shelves, unclear even what idea had inspired their purchase. When I went to college in St. Louis, at least a thousand books stayed in the attic back in Wichita. When I moved to New York, more had to be left behind. In the last ten years I've been reading more, and I've finally gotten to where I buy fewer books that I'm unlikely to ever get to. On the other hand, I very likely had a minor lapse last week, as the local Borders closeout dropped prices to the point where microeconomics got the better of judgment.

In other words, I bought things that I wouldn't have paid more for, on the theory that what I bought has some marginal likelihood of being useful -- consulted if not fully read, read eventually if not very soon. I thought it might make an interesting post to unpack and parade those purchase past you. Gives me a chance to articulate what (if anything) I was thinking. Here goes:

Diane Ackerman: A Natural History of the Senses (1990; paperback, 1995, Vintage Books): A natural science book with cultural overtones, organized around the five senses. I've picked this up and thumbed through it for ages now. It's the sort of book I used to read a lot before 2001 kicked me into a more political orbit.

J.D. Biersdorfer/David Pogue: iPod: The Missing Manual (9th edition, paperback, 2011, O'Reilly): OK, this is probably stupid, but I have pretty much decided I should get an MP3 player, everyone I know recommends Apple (a company I've long despised -- I was, before all, an Apple II owner, and I've had a long run of avoiding ever making that mistake again), and I'm really confused about different models, features, how they work, what they're good for, etc. List price this would be a ridiculous purchase, but it wound up costing far less than the sales tax on the machine.

Bryan Burrough: The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes (2009; paperback, 2010, Penguin Books): The Big Four: Roy Cullen, H.L. Hunt, Clint Murchison, Sid Richardson. Made their money through politics more than geology, and never forgot that. Worst influence America ever had was oil money in politics.

Ha-Joon Chang: 23 Things They Don't Tell You About Capitalism (2011, Bloomsbury Press): Development economist, student of Joseph Stiglitz, doesn't buy the neoliberal prescription -- wrote two books about that, Kicking Away the Ladder: Development Strategy in Historical Perspective and Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism. I've read the latter. Not a Marxist anti-capitalist; just one who's grown tired of seeing his and similar nations kicked around.

Morris Dickstein: Dancing in the Dark: A Cultural History of the Great Depression (2009; paperback, 2010, Norton): Don't know how low-brow it goes, but even if this covers the elite arts and a bit more this well-regarded history could be useful -- the culture in question is the one before the one I grew up in, the one my parents grew up in (even if they were intentionally indifferent to it). I've been increasingly interested in the 1930s, mostly politics and the economy, but this fits in too.

Will Friedwald: A Biographical Guide to the Great Jazz and Pop Singers (2010, Pantheon): Big reference book, 811 pages, double columns, looks like a couple pages or more on hundreds of singers (e.g., six on Carmen McRae). Friedwald has been carving out this turf as his own for quite a while now. I don't much care for his taste or his writing, but for a reference book this is probably as expert as Scott Yanow on trumpet players or swing.

Daniel Walker Howe: What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815-1848 (2007; paperback, 2009, Oxford University Press): Part of the multi-volume Oxford History of America series. I recently picked up David M. Kennedy's Freedom From Fear: The American People in Depression and War, 1929-1945 thinking that era is pivotal for understanding postwar America (not that we've ever actually managed to get over the thrill of WWII), but it occurs to me that every book in the series is likely to be valuable, and the 1815-1848 period is one that I know relatively little about.

Cicily Janus: The New Face of Jazz: An Intimate Look at Today's Living Legends and the Artists of Tomorrow (paperback, 2010, Billboard Books): About 200 short biographies, some of folks I've never heard of, most I know a little bit; missing are some big names (the only Marsalis is Delfeayo, which gives you an idea of how narrowly tuned the selection is), practically everyone in free jazz and/or Europe. I think this will prove more frustrating than not, but I do have reasons for piling up reference books like this.

Judith Jones: The Tenth Muse: My Life in Food (2007; paperback, 2008, Anchor): Also a publishing memoir, from the editor best known for Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking, although that merely started off a long list of superb cookbooks -- Irene Kuo's The Key to Chinese Cooking is the most intensely used in my kitchen, with Marcella Hazan's Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking in the running. (I belatedly purchased the first Child volume, but have yet to make anything out of it. I own several Claudia Rodens, but have only used The Book of Jewish Food much.) Another meta book, plus it has recipes.

Robin D.G. Kelley: Thelonious Monk: The Life and Times of an American Original (2009; paperback, 2010, Free Press): More about Monk than I want to know, but he is a pivotal character in the history of modern jazz, and I should know more than I do.

Sandra Newman/Howard Mittlemark: Read This Next: 500 of the Best Books You'll Ever Read (paperback, 2010, Harper): Much of what I learned, especially early on, came from reading critics and reviewers, even anthologizers -- there is no more cost-effective way to pick up the semblance of an education. I have a few other books like this (and, of course, dozens and dozens of music guides), so it seemed very likely that this would be worth the pittance it cost. (Looking at it again, I'm not so sure.)

David Remnick: The Bridge: The Life and Times of Barack Obama (2010; paperback, 2011, Vintage): Seems inevitable that sooner or later I'll have to wade through an Obama biography. This seems like the leading candidate, although I'm already skeptical about Remnick's notion that Obama is picking up where the civil rights movement left off.

Nir Rosen: Aftermath: Following the Bloodshed of America's Wars in the Muslim World (2010, Nation Books): Whereas the first round of Iraq War books were very critical of the US in Iraq, access to information was increasingly constrained from 2004 on, so when books finally came out on the Surge they were invariably the work of favored hawks. Rosen is the exception, the only journalist able to look at the war from multiple angles, and as Afghanistan loomed ever larger he moved around there too.

Alex Ross: Listen to This (2010, Farrar Straus and Giroux): This was a stretch. Classical music critic at The New Yorker -- long-time subscriber, but I can't say as I recall him much there, probably my lifelong aversion to classical music. Would have preferred a paperback of his previous The Rest Is Noise, but there were none, and as I started poking around here, I was impressed by the writing and not turned off by the argument. Some point I may get around to redressing my hatred of classical music (a term he hates, by the way); in any case it's less painful to read about than to listen to, and there's some other music tucked into the cracks here. A long shot.

Tony Russell: Country Music Originals: The Legends and the Lost (2007; paperback, 2010, Oxford University Press): Big format, two columns, some pictures, short bios of country stars from Eck Robertson to Rose Maddox, some unknown to me, most little known to anyone. Russell wrote Country Music Records: A Discography, 1921-1942, which I've had on my Amazon wish list for ages -- the problem being that it costs $120; also co-wrote The Penguin Guide to Blues Recordings, which I have but have yet to do much with.


Bought a couple CDs and three DVD packages, but they're hardly worth mentioning here.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Expert Comments

On Rainbow Arabia/Britney Spears:

Several things:

  • I don't make any decisions about grades on the website. If/when Christgau wants a grade change, he needs to tell me. A side comment or even a ranking on a Dean's List doesn't get me to do anything. There are many cases where I added an album entry/review without a grade. Should be some way to list them -- uh, looks like /get_gl.php?g= does the trick. Probably some things there he could easily grade if he wanted to, like Youssou N'Dour: Egypt.
  • I did make a change to the Britney Spears title: Femme Fatale (Deluxe Edition). This follows what we did with M.I.A.: Maya, exactly the same pricing scam. I prefer brackets but went with the precedent.
  • I didn't even bother playing the extra cuts, since buying them would have cost me $5 more than the $8 I paid for the core album. Had I got a promo I might have thought differently. I couldn't keep the business and art separate in my review -- something about the artist makes me think money matters. I was really on the cusp about the album. Interesting that Christgau decided Blackout the better album. I only heard it on Rhapsody, gave it a high B+, and figured this one -- which I played a lot more -- must be better, so that helped nudge the grade up. Didn't occur to me to go back and recheck.
  • My 2011 metafile is already up to 805 albums, but Radio Arabia hadn't made the list, despite a 2-28 release date. Seems like I've seen a review or two, but nothing registered. The new album isn't on Rhapsody now, but I'm enjoying an older EP. Makes me question the whole metafile utility, since I'm not all that interested in what other people think. Fwiw, the top rated albums now are: PJ Harvey, James Blake, Destroyer, Yuck, Iron and Wine; TV on the Radio is #7 and moving up; Radiohead is tied for #9 with Elbow, Lykke Li, and Mogwai (which somehow seems almost poetic).

The bullet list widget on the editor box wouldn't work with cut and paste, so I wound up dropping the bullets and doing each item as a paragraph. Then Microsoft's spam filter rejected the message. I chopped it up into pieces. It all went through except for the last line, which passed once I had changed Lykke Li to "L----- L-" and Mogwai to "M-----"; I tried the offending names in a separate post and they went through OK. Seriously sick piece of software they're using.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Rhapsody Streamnotes (April 2011)

Pick up text here.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Billy Bang (1947-2011)

William Vincent Walker, better known as jazz violinist Billy Bang, died yesterday. Lung cancer. I read that he had it last summer -- the thought weighed on me as I listened to Bang's Prayer for Peace, ultimately my favorite record of 2010. In the end, the record felt like the summation of Bang's remarkable career. Before him, violin had a scattered exposure in jazz -- Stephane Grappelli and Joe Venuti were sidekicks of famous guitarists (Django Reinhardt and Eddie Lang), Ray Nance was a trumpeter who played it like a parlor trick, Stuff Smith was an r&b guy who fiddled on the side, Leroy Jenkins took an abstract avant-garde turn; we might as well throw in John Cale's viola, which showed what electricity could do. Bang brought all of that together. He was never a mainstream, let alone popular, figure -- Regina Carter has easily topped him in Downbeat's polls -- but among those who heard him he was as synonymous and domineering with his instrument as Steve Lacy was with soprano sax.

I don't have time to do a full appreciation, but I've written a fair amount about him in the past, and I'm not alone. Some links:

What I can do is to pull out my 2005-vintage Mini-CG, and paste on some extra entries from later Jazz Consumer Guides. Good at least for a taste of this remarkable musicians, who remains for me a subject for future research:

A Billy Bang Mini-CG

Here's a quick rundown of the Billy Bang albums I'm familiar with. This covers about half of what I would cover if I had everything to choose from, with most of the spottiness in the early years. Among the missing are four of five String Trio of New York albums, two albums on Soul Note, several self-released items on Amina, his early Dennis Charles duo Bangception, more work with Kahil El'Zabar, a CIMP Spirits Gathering, bass duos with John Lindberg and William Hooker, his Forbidden Planet project, more sidework (Frank Lowe, Marilyn Crispell, Sun Ra, Ronald Shannon Jackson, others), a recent David Taylor-Steve Swell project where he's one of three strings behind the trombones, and so forth.

String Trio of New York: First String (1979, Black Saint): This has come to be viewed as bassist John Lindberg's group, although guitarist James Emery has also remained a constant. But over 26 years the violinists have shuffled in and out: Billy Bang, Charles Burnham, Regina Carter, Diane Monroe, Rob Thomas. Here on their first album, each member wrote one piece, with Lindberg's sweeping "East Side Suite" filling up one LP side, while Bang and Emery split the other side. Bang's piece makes me wonder how much he had listened to East Asian violin, as it already evinces the distinctive sonority of the East. B+

John Lindberg Quintet: Dimension 5 (1981 [1982], Black Saint): The String Trio of New York bassist expands his pallette, working with Hugh Ragin on trumpet and Marty Ehrlich on alto sax and flute. The pieces are complex and abstract -- take some attention to follow, and don't always cohere. Bang is impressive on his solos, helpful otherwise. B+

Billy Bang Quintet: Rainbow Gladiator (1981, Soul Note): Not his debut, but in many ways his coming out party. Charles Tyler and Michelle Rosewoman compete for front-line space, and the interplay is exhilarating more often than not. A-

Billy Bang: Sweet Space/Untitled Gift (1979-82 [2005], 8th Harmonic Breakdown, 2CD): Two early albums reflecting the New York loft scene. The first is a septet with three horns up front, parrying off simple vamps with featured Frank Lowe the main threat. Bang takes a couple of turns with the horns, but mostly fills in. The second album is a quartet with Don Cherry on pocket trumpet. The smaller group leaves Bang much more space, and his tone and attack have become much more distinctive. Both records are exhilarating. A-

Billy Bang Quartet: Valve No. 10 (1988 [1991], Soul Note): "September 23rd" is one of Bang's most striking forays into spoken word, with its fractured jazz background at one point breaking into a chant of "a love supreme." Sirone sounds big on bass. Frank Lowe sounds restrained, like he's working inside the tradition rather than trying to knock it down -- one of his tastiest performances. Dennis Charles is as steady as ever. "Bien-Hoa Blues" has a bit of Vietnam in it. A-

Billy Bang With Sun Ra, John Ore, Andrew Cyrille: A Tribute to Stuff Smith (1992 [1993], Soul Note): A rare piece of repertory in Bang's discography. It's interesting to think of Smith as the mainstream counterpart to Leroy Jenkins in Bang's background, but he came to Smith later, possibly through the pianist here. Not breathtaking, but certainly a delight. A-

Billy Bang: Commandment (For the Sculpture of Alain Kirili) (1997, No More): A solo showcase for a gallery opening. The cover photos show him standing in the midst of Kirili's abstract thigh-high sculptures, like he's serenading midgets. Lack of a drummer leaves him ambling a bit, but his radical deconstruction of "Swing Low Sweet Chariot" is memorable, and his introductions are disarming. B

Billy Bang: Bang On! (1997, Justin Time): Some standards ("Sweet Georgia Brown," "Yesterdays," "Willow Weep for Me") to go with Sun Ra and a batch of originals, all played with formidable intensity. No horns, nothing to detract from the violin except D.D. Jackson's rough-hewn piano. A-

Rader Schwarz Group: The Spirit Inside Us (1998, Timbre): Abbey Rader is a drummer who developed in the SoHo lofts before heading to Europe, where he hitched a ride in Gunter Hampel's big band. Gunter Schwarz is a tenor saxophonist with no other credits that I'm aware of, but he matches up well with Rader. Zam Johnson contributes some electronic squelch to go with Ed Schuller's bass and Bang's violin. It all makes for a nicely balanced, somewhat understated set of free jazz. B+

Kahil El'Zabar/Billy Bang: Spirits Entering (1998 [2001], Delmark): A duo with the Chicago omnipercussionist, whose everyday-from-everywhere beats form a fascinating backdrop. Bang has played with El'Zabar frequently since 1994's Big Cliff, but has rarely enjoyed so much space, and responds with touching eloquence. A-

Billy Bang: Big Bang Theory (1999 [2000], Justin Time): This may be the least avant group Bang has worked with -- Curtis Lundy and Cody Moffett are pros who mostly lean toward hard bop, while unknown pianist Alexis Hope sounds forthright without betraying any particular predelictions. The song selection tries out various directions without settling on any one. Short takes of "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot" and "One for Jazz" -- Bang's poem for his longtime drummer Dennis Charles -- are more lushly orchestrated than they are elsewhere in Bang's oeuvre. But the one that comes together strongest is "Little Sunflower," the closer penned by Freddie Hubbard. So hard bop wins out in the end. B+

Abbey Rader/Billy Bang: Echoes (1999, Abray): Rader gets top billing because this came out on his label. Bang wrote all but one of the songs, and leads throughout -- even recites his poem for Dennis Charles. Still, the drums help to pace and steady the violinist, and they add the echoes of the title. B+

Frank Lowe/Billy Bang Quartet: One for Jazz (2001, No More): A quarter century past their initial collaborations, two years before Lowe's death, this is a group at home with itself, playing music that only outsiders might view as on the edge. So much of their personalities come through in the music that it's a rare pleasure just to kick back and listen. A-

Billy Bang: Vietnam: The Aftermath (2001, Justin Time): Bang writes, "This project has been in my mind for at least thirty years. . . . At night, I would experience severe nightmares of death and destruction, and during the day, I lived a kind of undefined ambiguous daydream." Bang did a year stretch in Vietnam, in infantry, out in the boondocks, a black man killing yellow men for the delusions of some white men in Washington. Given all this background, I suppose the Far East vamp of "Yo! Ho Chi Minh Is in the House" can be pretty spooky. Certainly, it doesn't take much imagination to be creeped out by "TET Offensive." Bang's violin has always been haunted by an oriental tone, but here it comes into its own, and he works it hard. Aside from Bang, the key person here is conductor Butch Morris, who holds a large group together in tight formation. The record of a lifetime. A

William Parker Violin Trio: Scrapbook (2002 [2003], Thirsty Ear): The program here is a new set of Parker pieces based on reminiscences -- dressing for church, watching children in colorful clothes. There's remarkable music throughout, interesting rhythms, striking phasing between bass and violin. Parker's intro to "Holiday for Flowers" is a good example of his virtuosity, but Bang's violin stars throughout. This may be the single best example of his sound and dynamics. A

F.A.B. (Fonda-Altschul-Bang): Transforming the Space (2003, CIMP): His fans have been known to tout this trio record as the real, unadulterated Billy Bang, and they have a point, up to a point: this trio is a typical jazz showcase for Bang's work, especially as an improviser. This is also a strong outing for Barry Altschul and Joe Fonda, although CIMP's finicky audiophile mix can make it tricky to get the volume right to bring out the details in Fonda's bass. A-

Billy Bang: Vietnam: Reflections (2004 [2005], Justin Time): Second installment to what's now been reconceived as a trilogy. The music is more open, relaxed, generous than on its precedessor -- the contrast opens up a broader vista of Vietnam than the necessarily limited view seen by US soldiers. Several pieces are reworked Vietnamese traditionals, and two musicians are Vietnamese-Americans: Co Boi Nguyen sings on three pieces, and Nhan Thanh Ngo plays dan tranh (related to the dulcimer). A-

Ahmed Abdullah's Ebonic Tones: Tara's Song (2004 [2005], TUM): Four of five musicians here are Sun Ra alumni, including Bang, who shines on his solos and fills in otherwise. The odd man out is Alex Harding on baritone sax. Abdullah plays robust trumpet and sings two Sun Ra lyrics, plus a note perfect "Iko Iko" that appears out of nowhere to close. A-

Sirone Bang Ensemble: Configuration (2004 [2005], Silkheart): A live recording from CBGB's in New York, the sound a bit thin and hollow, the applause real but hardly rapturous -- not a real jazz venue, I guess. But the pairing of the Revolutionary Ensemble bassist with violinist Bang was meant to generate lots of friction, and for good measure they brought along Charles Gayle, who for once blows within the limits of his name, as opposed to his usual hurricane force. Perhaps in honor of the venue, there's a certain rockishness to their approach. In particular, "Freedom Flexibility" works a call-and-response motif where straight lines are answered freely. Don't know where they found drummer Tyshawn Sorey, but he has a blast. A-

Kahil El'Zabar's Ritual Trio: Live at the River East Art Center (2004 [2005], Delmark): Bang guests with the trio in this remembrance of late-member Malachi Favors (Yosef Ben Israel fills the empty slot), and adds cutting counterpoint to Ari Brown's tenor sax. As usual, I could do without El'Zabar's singing (let alone his preaching). B+

Billy Bang Quintet Featuring Frank Lowe: Above & Beyond (2003 [2007], Justin Time): The fire-breathing tenor saxophonist was down to one lung here, so out of breath by the end of the gig the promoter wanted to call an ambulance. Lowe died a few months later, leaving this as his last testament. All upbeat, with hard piano and swinging fiddle. Lowe makes up in clarity what he lacks in volume, his pleasure staving off the pain. A-

The Roy Campbell Ensemble: Akhenaten Suite (2007 [2008], AUM Fidelity) The two multi-part suites are hard to gauge as Egyptology, but their depth of feeling are palpable. Billy Bang's violin carries most of the load, the backdrop for Bryan Carrott's eccentric vibes and Campbell's avant-twisted trumpet -- shades of Gillespie moving ever deeper into African myth. The closing "Sunset on the Nile" is lighter and gentler, the river of life. A-

Billy Bang: Prayer for Peace (2005 [2010], TUM): Back from his second tour of Vietnam, wherein he found peace in transcendent musical fusion, the violinist reflects on the dawn of apocalypse, Hiroshima 1945. Even there, the chill gradually gives way to the fire of one of his trademark riffs, then segues into another from Compay Segundo. Joy all around, from Stuff Smith well beyond Sun Ra, with James Zollar's tart trumpet challenging Bang's razor-sharp violin. A

Billy Bang/Bill Cole (2009 [2011], Shadrack): Cole plays exotic instruments -- digeridoo, nagaswarm, sona, flute, shenai -- ranging from deep-throated background to even squeaker than Bang's violin. Takes off slow, wanders a lot, has moments of interest. Bang pays close attention but never really takes charge. B+


Discarded fragment:

I got a phone call from a publicist a couple years ago and somewhere along the line he made an observation that my taste in jazz was really rooted in the black avant-garde of the late 1970s, especially David Murray and Billy Bang. Not his words -- I can't reconstruct those, but it was a thought I had never considered (and was in sharp contrast to flack I had been receiving about all the white musicians I'd been writing about). It certainly is true that I've singled Murray and Bang out: that I've not only praised them frequently but I've written extensive career reviews on both: for Bang, see my 2005 Village Voice piece, Billy Bang Is in the House (link is to my archive copy, which has a longer version of the piece plus notes, discography, and a "Mini-CG"); for Murray, I did a Voice Jazz Supplement piece in 2006, David Murray: A Consumer guide. (While I'm thinking of it, I might as well throw out a link to my William Parker/Matthew Shipp Consumer Guide, published at Static in 2003 where I could be a good deal more verbose and expansive; Shipp is younger, but Parker is a contemporary to Murray and Bang, actually a good deal closer to Bang.)


Expert Comments

On Billy Bang:

Usually when a jazz musician dies my mailbox is full of it, but Billy Bang never had that kind of publicity -- so I found out about Bang's death here, thanks to Christopher Monsen. I thought I should write a few words, then thought I don't have time, then found an unpublished "Mini-CG" (actually, not even so mini) and tacked on some other bits I had written, some links, a brief intro. Even had an album cover scan. Up on my blog now.

Btw, a couple days ago I found some of David Murray's DIWs that I had missed up on Rhapsody, so I've been catching up. Didn't find anything new that cracks my top ten although Lovers is nearly as good as everything else recorded in Jan. 1988, and Death of a Sideman and Love and Sorrow and In Our Style are awfully good. Searching for missing Bang's now. Turns out The Fire From Within is misfiled under Ahmed Abdullah.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 18000 [18000] rated (+41), 888 [879] unrated (+9).

  • Peter Brötzmann/Fred Van Hove/Han Bennink/Plus Albert Mangelsdorff: Live in Berlin '71 (1971, FMP, 2CD): The tenor sax and trombone blister and bluster but at least back off part on occasion to let something develop; Bennink is credited with a long list of percussion including the catchall "home-made junk"; he dazzles on his own, as does pianist Van Hove when the thunder breaks; even the noise can be wondrous for a while, but it does go on too long. B+(**) [destination-out.com]
  • Peter Brötzmann/Misha Mengelberg/Han Bennink: 3 Points and a Mountain . . . Plus (1979 [1999], FMP, 2CD): Carefully balanced, with each player writing three songs, much space for the piano without Brötzmann blowing it out of the water, and as wide a range of sax and clarinet as you're likely to find -- although note that at least some of the tenor sax and clarinet is Bennink; a lot of fascinating bits, but a long haul to put them all together. B+(***) [destination-out.com]
  • Rüdiger Carl: Zwei Quintette (1987 [1988], FMP): Below the title line: "Two Compositions by Rüdiger Carl"; the two pieces run 40:41 and 36:28, originally on two LPs, not sure that there's even been a CD reissue; Carl plays tenor sax and clarinet, along with Philip Wachsmann (violin, electronics), Stephan Wittwer (guitar, more electronics), Irčne Schweizer (piano), and bass; the first (40:41) piece keeps a repeated riff in play with minor variations, never less than enchanting; the second (36:28) starts stuck in ambient mud, takes a while before more strenuous sax manages to dislodge it. B+(**) [destination-out.com]
  • Globe Unity Special '75: Rumbling (1975 [1991], FMP): Alexander von Schlippenbach's avant-orchestra, formed back around 1967, cut down to an octet here (plus a dog, unnamed in the credits) -- Steve Lacy, Evan Parker, and Gerd Dudek on reeds; Kenny Wheeler and Albert Mangelsdorff on brass; Peter Kowald and Paul Lovens rounding out the rhythm section; starts with a Misha Mengelberg march, portending mischief, and ends with Lacy on Monk; in between abstract sounds improbably colliding for something more than noise. B+(***) [destination-out.com]
  • Steve Lacy & Even Parker: Chirps (1985 [1991], FMP): The two giants of modern soprano sax in a duo; I would have expected more stylistic clash, but they're very attentive to each other, up and down and in and out, more like birds dancing than chirping; of course, the sonics are limited to the instrument, which is difficult to play and difficult to listen to over the long haul. B+(**) [destination-out]
  • Noah Howard Group: Berlin Concert (1975 [1977], FMP): Group includes a pianist I've never heard of (Takashi Kako), bass, drums, and percussion; don't have the song credits, but "Olé" would be Coltrane's, and the alto saxophonist shows more inclination to take the Trane than anything else; toward the end he dominates the album and it just lifts up and sails away. B+(***) [destination-out]
  • The Noah Howard Quartet: Schizophrenic Blues (1977 [1978], FMP): Alto saxophonist from New Orleans, may be why he never lost his party sense even while testing the limits of ESP-Disk's "only the artist decides" rule; rools the upper registers with Itaru Oki's trumpet never far behind, and sounds like he's been listening to then-recent Ornette Coleman. A- [destination-out]
  • Noah Howard Quartet (1966 [1993], ESP-Disk): Short (29:35) debut album for the New Orleans-bred alto saxophonist, with Ric Colbeck on trumpet and bass-drums players I've never run into again; Colbeck, who had one album and two more side-credits by 1970, jousts gamely with Howard; note that Rhapsody has this album listed under its last song title, "And About Love." B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • David Murray: NYC 1986 (1986 [1995], DIW): Another snapshot from a memorable year -- started with I Want to Talk About You and ended with The Hill; a quartet, of course, but with guitarist James Blood Ulmer on guitar instead of the usual piano, Fred Hopkins on bass and Sunny Murray on drums; sound is a little muffled, but the tenor sax has no problem breaking through. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • David Murray Quintet: Remembrances (1990 [1991], DIW): Cover suggests this is child's play, and indeed this is exceptionally light and lively, with Hugh Ragin's trumpet dicing with Murray's tenor sax, and pianist Dave Burrell mixing some boogie into the rhythm section; less explicit about its place in the tradition than Tenors or Sax Men, except on "Dexter's Dues." B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • David Murray: Death of a Sideman (1991 [2000], DIW): Featuring Bobby Bradford, who preceded Don Cherry in Ornette Coleman's quartet, had a long collaboration with John Carter up to his death in 1991, wrote all the songs here, plays trumpet; with Coleman alum Ed Blackwell on drums, Murray regulars Dave Burrell and Fred Hopkins on piano and bass; poignant, profound. A- [Rhapsody]
  • David Murray Octet: Picasso (1992 [1995], DIW): The title comes from a Coleman Hawkins piece, but where Hawk recorded the first landmark tenor sax solo, Murray wraps a seven-slice suite around the idea and fleshes it out with five horns and some dazzling Dave Burrell piano; not as jarring or protean as earlier octets like Ming, the sense of motion and flow is flush throughout. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Sam Rivers: Portrait (1995 [1997], FMP): A solo showcase: first surprise is that he starts off on piano and makes a credible showing; moves on to tenor sax (mostly), soprano sax, flute, and finally back to piano; it's tough to make solo anything work, much less tenor sax, but he's steady and ingenious throughout. B+(*) [destination-out]
  • Alexander von Schlippenbach: The Living Music (1969 [2002], Atavistic): A septet, more a stripped down version of Globe Unity Orchestra than anything else, with two brass (Manfred Schoof on cornet, Paul Rutherford on trombone), two reeds (Peter Brötzmann on tenor sax, Michel Pilz on bass clarinet, both on bari sax), enough horn power to raise the roof, with the piano-bass-drums tending to slash and bang, quite dramatic but surprisingly coherent, breaking new ground. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Schlippenbach Quartet: Hunting the Snake (1975 [2000], Atavistic): Really unheard music, broadcast on Radio Bremen then shelved for a quarter century; with Peter Kowald on bass on top of the pianist's regular trio -- saxophonist Evan Parker and percussionist Paul Lovens -- for four 20-minute (two more, two less) pieces; somewhat unfocused as a whole, but each player does remarkable things throughout. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Schlippenbach Trio: Elf Bagatellen (1990, FMP): That would be pianist Alexander von Schlippenbach, working with Evan Parker (soprano and tenor sax) and Paul Lovens (drums); Parker's sax runs scratch at the surface, tearing it down rather than trying to build something on top -- an effect both self-limiting and bravely tenacious. B+(**) [destination-out.com]
  • Keith Tippett: Mujician I & II (1981-86 [1988], FMP): Solo piano, cut in two widely separated sessions but pretty much seamless, mostly fast rhythmic fluttering although some of it sounds rather fishy, like the piano has been tampered with -- low parts with a lot of stringy reverb or just lots of rumble, high crystal clear. B+(*) [destination-out.com]

Jazz Prospecting (CG #26, Part 12)

Thus ends the winter of our discontent. No idea where that comes from, but it popped into my mind in wrapping up Jazz Consumer Guide round number 26. The draft is done, wrapped up, mailed off to the new Village Voice editor. No idea when it will finally run, but so far indications are that it will be favorably received. Last one ran on December 22, so I'm already more than a month late with this one, and it usually takes at least a month for the Voice to digest it. Hopefully I can impress the need to make up ground and run the next one relatively soon. This one has 14 graded albums plus 29 HMs (5 cut from my A- list) for 1629 words. Most likely some of that will get cut by the time we're done. Saved for nextime: 12 graded albums, 46 HMs, 1680 words -- another column's worth, although I'm thinking now that I should take at least 10 of those HMs and give up on them. I've fallen behind on processing new stuff, but at least have made a major dent in the "done" file (graded but unreviewed -- currently down to 22 records).

The final Jazz Prospecting for this round follows. For the round, I wrote new notes on 227 records and carried 96 others over from previous rounds. The final Jazz Prospecting file is here. A new round starts today. I have 290 albums in the queue, so a lot to do. Sometime in the next week or so I'll post the surplus file from this round. It includes a lot of HM-worthy records that I just couldn't figure out any way to get space for.

Should have a Rhapsody Streamnotes post up tomorrow. While falling behind on new jazz I've been kicking the rated count up dramatically, feeding on online sources -- mostly Rhapsody, but also the FMP discs found at Destination Out. Last night I noticed that Rhapsody now has most of David Murray's DIW records, including a bunch I had missed, so I've been picking them off. Upshot is that the ratings count surged this past week, finally hitting 18,000. I guess that's a milestone, but I'm not sure for what. Big number, for sure.


Honey Ear Trio: Steampunk Serenade (2010 [2011], Foxhaven): Erik Lawrence (tenor, baritone, alto, and soprano sax), Rene Hart (bass, electronics), Allison Miller (drums, percussion). Miller had a very good record with a completely different trio last year. Lawrence has been around since at least 1991 without making any notable impact -- AMG lists a couple dozen side credits, none I've heard (although I have the latest New York Electric Piano in the queue). Evidently a lot of Lawrence's bread-and-butter work comes from touring with Levon Helm. About all I know about Hart is that he's married to Lawrence's sister, and was involved with him, Miller, and Steven Bernstein in an "acid jazz" group called Hipmotism (note to self: check that out). Originals by all three, including one by Lawrence on Eyjafjallajokull -- last year's top natural disaster, already so dated. Rigorous sax trio, rough and tough, except for a touchingly tender "Over the Rainbow." A-

Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quartet: To Hear From There (2010 [2011], Patois): Trombonist, from San Francisco, b. 1952, has eight albums since 2000; side credits go back to the 1970s: r&b, Latin jazz, Anthony Brown's Asian American Orchestra. Trombone with piano-bass-drums-percussion; a couple guest vocalists. Originals for the most part, neatly labelled as jazz-timba or jazz-bolero or Cuban son-jazz or cha-cha-cha or whatever, with four covers ranging from Tito Puente to Juan Tizol's "Perdido." B+(*)

Lynne Arriale: Convergence (2010 [2011], Motéma): Pianist, b. 1957 in Milwaukee, more than a dozen albums since 1993, teaches in Jacksonville, FL. Trio, with Omer Avital on bass and Anthony Pinciotti, expanded on most cuts with tenor saxophonist Bill McHenry. Half originals, half covers, drawn from the rock era -- Beatles and Stones to Trent Reznor. She cracks "Here Comes and Sun" and "Paint It Black" down to melodic fragments which pop up here and there offering the barest whiff of the songs -- very effective, nice work by Avital with the sax laying out. McHenry returns on "Call Me" (Blondie); he mostly gets the upbeat pieces, and is superb, as usual. B+(***)

Robert Hurst: Bob Ya Head (2010 [2011], Bebob): Bassist, b. 1964, side credits kick off around 1986 with Woody Shaw, Wynton Marsalis, Branford Marsalis, Donald Brown, and Vincent Herring; released two records on DIW 1992-93, one on his Bebob label in 2002, two more this year. A lot of scattered ideas here, mostly tied to upbeat grooves, the flaring horns of "Alice and John" most impressive; a couple of cuts feature girlie choruses, not far removed from disco, but different, of course; "Unintellectual Property" features sound bites from noted standup comic G.W. Bush; ends with a bass solo. B+(**)

Robert Hurst: Unrehurst Volume 2 (2007 [2011], Bebob): Bassist-led piano trio, with Robert Glasper on piano and Chris Dave on drums. The previous Unrehurst Volume 1 was recorded way back in 2000 and released in 2002, also with Glasper -- must have been quite young then but I can't find any reference that gives a firm birthdate (one source says "1979?"). Two Hurst tunes, one by Glasper, one Monk, one Cole Porter. Skillful but fairly ordinary neobop, nice to mix the bass up a bit. B

Soren Moller: Christian X Variations (2009 [2011], Audial): Christian X was king of Denmark from 1912-47. He was credited with resisting the Nazis and protecting Danish Jews ("The king declared that all Danes would wear the Star of David in the event that the Nazis forced Denmark's Jewish population to do so.") Moller plays piano in a quartet with Dick Oatts on sax, Josh Ginsburg on bass, and Henry Cole on drums. The "variations" are organized for quartet or nonet -- the latter is accomplished by adding the Kirin Winds, a group of classical wind instrumentalists (flute, oboe, clarinet, horn, bassoon) which adds some fancy overtones. B+(**)

Samir Zarif: Starting Point (2010 [2011], Mythology): Saxophonist (tenor on 6 cuts, soprano on 3), b. 1980 in Houston, first album under his own name -- was in a group called The Paislies which released an album in 2007 (not a very good one). His saxophone work is consistently impressive here. He also dables in electronics (2 tracks) and vocals (4 tracks, twice joined by Maria Neckam). The vocals add a spacey otherness to the record, something I'm rather ambivalent about. B+(**)

Vlada: All About You (2003-08 [2010], Glad Vlad): Singer, family Serbian, given name Vladimir Tajsic, raised in Switzerland, majored in English and economics at University of Zurich, wound up in Nashville. First album, assembled from band sessions in Switzerland in 2003, 2006-07 sessions in Nashville, and some final touches back in Switzerland. Tajsic wrote all the tracks, with some lyrical input from Sonya Hollan. Don't recall why I had filed this under gospel, but there is a lot of that. Band includes some pop-jazz notables, like Paul Jackson Jr. and, featured on three cuts, Kirk Whalum. Singer has his idiomatic English down smooth: my first reaction was that he's listened to a lot of Smokey Robinson. Backing vocals from part or all of Take 6. B+(**)

Sean Smith Quartet: Trust (2010 [2011], Smithereen): Bassist; bio says he "has been an integral part of the international jazz scene for more than 20 years" but what if anything does that mean? AMG lists about 15 Sean Smiths; turns out he's the one listed under Folk, where he's described as "one of the busiest young players on the international jazz scene." Looks like he has a handful of previous records going back to 1999, a good deal of side credits -- website claims over 100 but lists under 20. Wrote all the pieces here. Quartet includes John Ellis (tenor and soprano sax), John Hart (guitar), and Russell Meissner (drums). Light and elegant postbop, tasty even. B+(***)

Elliott Sharp: Binibon (2010 [2011], Henceforth): B. 1951, plays guitar, synths, a little clarinet and sax; has seventy or so records since 1977, mostly outside the jazz, rock, or classical categories. Composed and plays everything here, which is pleasing but relatively inconsequential. The main point is the spoken word libretto written by Jack Womack and performed by five characters. Has something to do with an artsy "cafe and 24-hour hangout at 2nd Avenue and 5th Street in the East Village . . . during 1979-81" -- too specific not to be real, too mythic to be remembered precisely. Might like it more if I followed it better, or might follow it better if I liked it more. 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.

Erik Lawrence & Hipmotism (2007, CDBaby): CDBaby describes this as acid jazz, but while most of the songs offer (or can be adapted to) funk grooves, and the bassist (Rene Hart) and drummer (Allison Miller) try to go that way for the first half-plus of the album. The horns have more leeway: the notes cite Lawrence on baritone sax and Steven Bernstein on slide trumpet; can't swear they stick to them. The two Lawrence originals break out into relatively free jazz, and their take on Fats Domino's "Going to the River" is as stretched out as their Pink Floyd ("Shine On You Crazy Diamond") is compressed. Toward the end you can feel the future Honey Ear Trio trying to break out. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Misha Mengelberg Quartet: Four in One (2000 [2001], Songlines): Homework, as I try to get some deeper sense of the Dutch pianist and ICP Orchestra leader. Not much of his several dozen albums available through Rhapsody, but this item popped up: a quartet with Dave Douglas on trumpet, Brad Jones on bass, and Han Bennink hitting things (credit says: percussion). Three Monk pieces in the middle of a lot of originals, many recycled (Monk-like) from earlier efforts. The trumpet seems a little thin, but the piano is cagey, darting in and out unexpectedly. A- [Rhapsody]

Misha Mengelberg: Senne Sing Song (2005, Tzadik): Piano trio, produced by John Zorn with Zorn's house rhythm section, Greg Cohen on bass and Ben Perowsky on drums. Without the strings and horns of ICP Orchestra to compound his mischief, the pianist has to step up and carry the tunes, which he does. I don't often find a review worth quoting, but Dan Warburton at AMG has this one figured out: "Mengelberg's music remains a quintessential example of how recognizable idioms -- from Baroque counterpoint to the Duke-ish left-hand thunks and Monk-ish whole-tone runs -- can be extended (and subverted) into something both musically profound and profoundly musical." A- [Rhapsody]

Han Bennink Trio: Parken (2009, ILK): With Simon Toldman on piano and Joachim Badenhorst on clarinet/bass clarinet: their names and instruments are on the cover, following Bennink's, but most sources attribute as above. The New Dutch Swing idea is reinforced with three Ellington pieces, passages running wistfully sweet as well as cacophonous, and some fancy unorthodox drumming. Ends with the title song with a vocal by Qarin Wikström -- has a bit of Robert Wyatt flare to it. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Don Pullen: Plays Monk (1984 [2010], Why Not?): The last pianist to work for Charles Mingus is an odd choice to play Monk, and I suspect he gave little thought to the project; he keeps wanting to work in his trademark flourishes, dazzling of course, but excess baggage especially when playing songs that hide their odd note choices in a cloak of primitivism. B [Rhapsody]

Willie Nelson/Wynton Marsalis: Here We Go Again: Celebrating the Music of Ray Charles (2009 [2011], Blue Note): Pretty simple, the Marsalis quintet (Walter Blanding on tenor sax, Dan Nimmer on piano) play twelve obvious songs from the Charles songbook for a live audience with Nelson and Norah Jones trading vocals -- sometimes Jones has a bit of trouble getting on track, but Nelson is always right in the groove. Nothing wrong with the horns, either. Still, a pretty unnecessary album. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Patricia Barber: Monday Night: Live at the Green Mill Vol. 2 (2010 [2011], Fast Atmosphere): Appears to be download-only, same for the first volume which dates back several years. Barber sings and plays piano, with guitar-bass-drums. Seems under the weather at first, hard to sort out, but fares better with songs I recognize, closing with her own "Post Modern Blues" followed by "Smile," "The Beat Goes On," and "Summertime." B [Rhapsody]


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

Dan Tepfer Trio: Five Pedals Deep (2010, Sunnyside): Piano trio, with Thomas Morgan on bass and Ted Poor on drums. I have nothing but admiration for the carefully crafted record -- especially the solo "Body and Soul" at the end -- but also nothing much to say. Seems unfair, but after 5-6 plays I don't know what else to do. B+(**)

Exploding Star Orchestra: Stars Have Shapes (2010, Delmark): Rob Mazurek group, fourteen players but they play relatively minor roles filling out details in Mazurek's electronic plateaux -- long on atmospherics, reminds me of '70s prog-jazz only chilled out, reconceived after trip-hop. Mazurek's cornet occasionally shoots across the horizon, while Jeb Bishop's trombone lurks ominously. B+(**)

Todd DelGiudice: Pencil Sketches (2010 [2011], OA2): Highly improbable sax hero -- put more time into his classical study than into jazz, hopped around various symphonies, wound up teaching on the scablands of eastern Washington -- nothing sketchy to his originals, but the bright lustre to his tone and rich ambience really come out on the sole cover, "All the Things You Are." B+(***)


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

Benjamin Herman: Hypochestmastreefuzz [Special Edition] (2008-09 [2010], Dox, 2CD): Playing this a lot, both discs interchangeable, the only flaws being the Dutch speech at the end of each, although the Mengelberg interview sounds amusingly loopy, and the live intros shout out. Found a quote I used in the review, Herman's self-description: "surf-guitar based, Dutch-impro, cocktail-jazz sort of thing"; Goudsmit also talks about Dick Dale. Other trivia: on Dutch Wikipedia page, the list of musicians Herman has played with starts with Candy Dulfer, not a real avant-garde icon. [was: A-] A

Tarbaby: The End of Fear (2010, Posi-Tone): Philadelphia group, mostly. Four cuts are piano trio: Orrin Evans, Eric Revis, Nasheet Waits); eight add guest horns: Nicholas Payton (trumpet, 5 cuts), J.D. Allen (tenor sax, 2 cuts), Oliver Lake (alto sax, 5 cuts, one of the above with all three). I always assumed this to be Evans' group but I've seen it billed as Nasheet Waits' Tarbaby; all three write. Previous album had Allen; touring group includes Stacy Dillard, so I figure this is transitional, trying to juggle as the group evolves, but the one thing that underscores is that the concept seems to be sax-piano-bass-drums quartet rather than trio+horns, and among the former you get the feeling this one is aiming at the Coltrane Quartet, albeit through the back door. I never sorted this fully out, but Lake is especially terrific, giving them an edge they wouldn't have otherwise found, but having found it they really run with it. [was: B+(***)] A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:

  • JD Allen Trio: Victory! (Sunnyside): May 17
  • Bill Anschell: Figments (Origin)
  • Bebop Trio (Creative Nation Music): May 17
  • The Louie Belogenis Trio: Tiresias (Porter): May 17
  • Ketil Bjřrnstad/Svante Henryson: Night Song (ECM)
  • François Carrier/Alexey Lapin/Michel Lambert: Inner Spire (Leo)
  • Chris Dingman: Waking Dreams (Between Worlds Music): advance, June 21
  • Eldar Djangirov: Three Stories (Masterworks Jazz)
  • Mathias Eick: Skala (ECM)
  • Farmers by Nature [Gerald Cleaver, William Parker, Craig Taborn]: Out of This World's Distortions (AUM Fidelity): June 14
  • Iro Haarla Quintet: Vespers (ECM)
  • Julia Hülsmann Trio: Imprint (ECM)
  • Adam Kolker: Reflections (Sunnyside): May 17
  • Femi Kuti: Africa for Africa (Knitting Factory)
  • Mark Moultrup: Relaxin' . . . On the Edge (Mark Moultrip Music)
  • Deborah Pearl: Souvenir of You: New Lyrics to Benny Carter Classics (Evening Star)
  • Debbie Poryes/Bruce Williamson: Two & Fro (OA2)
  • Liam Sillery: Priorité (OA2)
  • Warren Smith: Dragon Dave Meets Prince Black Knight From the Darkside of the Moon (1988, Porter)
  • Storms/Nocturnes [Geoffrey Keezer/Joe Locke/Tim Garland]: Via (Origin)
  • Craig Taborn: Avenging Angel (ECM): advance, June 7
  • The United States Air Force Band: The Jazz Heritage Series 2011 Radio Broadcasts (United States Air Force Band, 3CD)
  • André Vasconcelos: 2 (Adventure Music)
  • David S. Ware/Cooper-Moore/William Parker/Muhammad Ali: Planetary Unknown (AUM Fidelity)
  • Marcin Wasilewski Trio: Faithful (ECM)
  • Bastian Weinhold: River Styx (self-released): Apr. 26
  • Walt Weiskopf Quartet: Recorded Live April 8, 2008 Koger Hall University of South Carolina (Capri)

Purchases:

  • Mary Gauthier: The Foundling (Razor & Tie)
  • Reflection Eternal [Talib Kweli + Hi-Tek]: Revolutions Per Minute (Warner Brothers)

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week. The big story all week was the impending government shutdown, which John Boehner ducked at the last minute after making everyone look as bad as possible:


  • Mark Almond: 100 Years of Bombing Libya: Here's a charming factoid for your for your party banter: the first time anyone thought to drop a bomb from an airplane was a pilot flying over Libya, almost exactly 100 years ago. The pilot flew for future NATO power Italy, only unified into a nation state a few decades prior and feverishly trying to make up for being late to the European imperialist party by grabbing hold of the last few unclaimed patches of Africa. Also note the subtitle: "The Forgotten Fascist Roots of Humanitarian Interventionism." Actually, humanitarian rationales for interventionism predated fascism: King Leopold, in particular, claimed he intervened in the Congo to end slavery. In fact, he treated the entire colony as his personal possession, and innovated new ways of exploiting native labor -- in particular, his henchmen kidnapped women and children, then traded them for rubber harvested from the jungle.

  • Mark Boal: The Kill Team: Your tax dollars at work in Afghanistan. For more info, see Peter Daou: US "kill team" allegedly murdered Afghan civilians for sport and collected body parts as souvenirs.

  • Andrew Leonard: Paul Ryan's Plan to Erase the Great Society: Subhed: "Dismantling it has been the right's goal for nearly five decades, and now they have a blueprint to achieve it." As good a place as any to start on Republican Paul Ryan's much ballyhooed plan to end Medicare as we know it.

    The U.S. is not a heavily taxed country, either by comparison to its rich country peers, or in its own historical post-World War II context. In fact, our current federal tax burden as measured as a percentage of total GDP is at a 60-year-low.

    But we do have a pretty expensive social welfare safety net -- one that's getting pricier all the time, as medical costs rise and the population ages. That math just doesn't work. You can't keep cutting taxes and provide decent government healthcare. That's just not sustainable. Republicans know this -- and are delighted by it. We're witnessing the final apotheosis of Grover Norquist's starve-the-beast theory of government. Since the election of George W. Bush Republicans have been remarkably successful at choking off the flow of government revenue. When you combine the purposeful reduction of revenue with the costs of the economic disaster, it's easy to see how Obama ended up in a bad strategic position.

    The vision thing.

    But perhaps the most inexplicable aspect of the entire budget debacle has been President Obama's abject failure to vigorously define, and defend, his own vision for the future. It's not just that he's been virtually invisible through the entire course of current-year budget negotiations. He's also failed to give us any real sense of where he thinks we should be headed in the future. He has allowed Republicans to define the debate between the absurd polarities of extreme cuts and slightly-less-extreme cuts. Revenue increases? Since the tax-cut deal last winter, he's barely made a peep. When a Republican politician declares that he wants to change Medicare to a voucher program, a Democratic president should respond immediately: Not on my watch!

    Many more posts on this, like this series from Paul Krugman: Ryan the Ridiculous; Paul Ryan's Multiple Unicorns; And a Housing Unicorn, Too; Where the Spending Cuts Go; Memory Hole Alert; $3 Trillion Here, $3 Trillion There; "Serious"; and A Word From Those Who. I expect a column by Friday [Ludicrous and Cruel], but the gist is here:

    People like me don't say that the Ryan plan is too radical; we say that it's a fraud. The spending cuts are largely fake, either because they're just magic asterisks or because they wouldn't survive politically; the revenue estimates are fake, because they combine huge tax cuts with vague assurances that extra revenue will be found by closing loopholes. There's no there there -- except for big tax cuts for the rich and pain for the poor.

    Matthew Yglesias (Here We Go Again) sees this, like the 2005 fight against privatizing Social Security, as a big opportunity for the "progressive blogosphere":

    This is just to say that as a progressive blogosphere I think the Social Security fight was Our Finest Hour, and I'm proud to have been a part of it, and eager on a personal level to wade back into the fields of battle.

    It's certainly a fight that is winnable and possibly teachable, unless de facto Democratic leader Barrack Obama panics and throws in the towel, but I still hate having to spend so much time fending off something awful, time that under more pleasant circumstances could have been spent advocating something good. Save Medicare, save Obamacare, and you're still stuck with a system that's insane and dysfunctional.

  • Richard Rapaport: The Fight That Just Won't Die: Historical, on Herbert Hoover and Franklin Roosevelt. Hoover has a well-funded right-wing think tank carrying on his ideals (or more likely their own, using him as a front).

  • Joseph E Stiglitz: Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%: First paragraph is all numbers, which I won't bother repeating because we've all become inured to them. Second paragraph is all about "marginal-productivity theory" ("a theory that has always been cherished by the rich"). Nothing else really hits home either, even though it is all indubitably true. We need to figure out some way to articulate how and why inequality is bad for you and me. I suspect that the answer there has less to do with the top 1%, who are out of sight and out of mind mostly because they don't want anything to do with the likes of us, than with the bottom few percent. Poverty not only does bad things to them; it also eats the floor out from under those with a little and even those with a lot. Stiglitz comes closest here -- again, not the best examples imaginable, but all true:

    America's inequality distorts our society in every conceivable way. There is, for one thing, a well-documented lifestyle effect-people outside the top 1 percent increasingly live beyond their means. Trickle-down economics may be a chimera, but trickle-down behaviorism is very real. Inequality massively distorts our foreign policy. The top 1 percent rarely serve in the military -- the reality is that the "all-volunteer" army does not pay enough to attract their sons and daughters, and patriotism goes only so far. Plus, the wealthiest class feels no pinch from higher taxes when the nation goes to war: borrowed money will pay for all that. Foreign policy, by definition, is about the balancing of national interests and national resources. With the top 1 percent in charge, and paying no price, the notion of balance and restraint goes out the window. There is no limit to the adventures we can undertake; corporations and contractors stand only to gain. The rules of economic globalization are likewise designed to benefit the rich: they encourage competition among countries for business, which drives down taxes on corporations, weakens health and environmental protections, and undermines what used to be viewed as the "core" labor rights, which include the right to collective bargaining. Imagine what the world might look like if the rules were designed instead to encourage competition among countries for workers. Governments would compete in providing economic security, low taxes on ordinary wage earners, good education, and a clean environment -- things workers care about. But the top 1 percent don't need to care.


Didn't jot down the links, but last week saw a couple of "friendly fire" fuck-ups in Libya. There is essentially no way the US can enter a conflict without killing people on every side -- something to think about before you send invitations out.

Expert Comments

From Alex Wilson (Japadsfdf):

Tom Hull -- very interesting -- when was the site made? How do you update it? I am fluent in XHTML, CSS, Perl, Javascript, PHP and XML (not showing off -- it's dorky). You can always swing me more technical questions, if you like?

Reply:

Belated reply to Alex (Japad): The Christgau website was built in September 2001. I had a prototype I built in Wichita, then drove to New York. Planned on meeting up with Christgau on the 11th, but events out of our control pushed that back about a week. We worked out the basic design, set up the site, and pushed some initial files up. I took a copy of everything Christgau had on computer back with me, converted it, and started fleshing out the website. Then went on to type up old clippings I had saved. Joe Yanosik contributed a useful bibliography. Various people responded to the site by sending in missing pieces and by catching errors -- the "ack" file has most of those names.

The website is implemented using homebrew PHP with a MySQL database and the htdig search engine. The graphic design is unchanged from my original hack prototype. Every so often I get complaints, like comparing it to DOS, or most recently that it isn't "hot." I keep a master copy on one of my machines, then update the public site every 2-3 months with the file changes and the database dump. There are 2475 files now; database dump is about 10MB (21 tables). Both my machine and the public webserver are Linux; most of it would work on WampServer except for some make and shell scripts (no CGI but run from PHP). I've made some efforts to adapt to HTML and PHP changes, but there's quite a bit of cruft by now. I use CSS but not XHTML and virtually no Javascript. As someone who learned all this stuff 10-20 years ago my choice of tools tends to be archaic, but my main problem isn't figuring out how to do something; it's figuring out what to do.

When I started this I had a rough idea for a Version 2 which would be more generally usable, but that never happened. But I do think it would be a good idea to do some sort of "10th anniversary facelift" -- new skin, maybe some new navigation, not sure whether more interaction would be a plus or a minus. Would appreciate any suggestions along those lines. Any more questions on how it all works or what you can do, probably best to address those to me directly.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Recycled Goods

Pick up text here.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Downbeat Critics Poll Ballot

From 2003-09 I took as an annual exercise to look at and critique Downbeat's annual critics poll results. Originally I did this because I was new to the game and wanted to see what the critics knew that I didn't -- for instance, the first time I noticed Scott Colley or Jeremy Pelt or Gregoire Maret was in the poll results. Later on I did it more because I knew better and enjoyed second-guessing guys who no doubt made a good deal more money at this than I do. One case was Jackie McLean: for several years I couldn't fathom why he wasn't in, or getting serious votes to get in, or even on the eligible ballot for Downbeat's Hall of Fame. Then he died and someone over at Downbeat must have wondered the same thing, since they put him on the ballot and he came from nowhere to win. I'd like to take credit for that, but I'm sure someone else thinks it was their idea.

Eventually I moved all those notes into a directory here. But in 2010 I slipped up and didn't get any second-guess notes together. I don't know whether they noticed, but in February this year I got an email from Downbeat's editors asking me to vote in their critics poll. So, what the hell, I did. Took notes as I was going through the paces. Turned out to be a huge amount of work, and of a particularly unpleasant sort. Some of the categories were real clear cut: you say violin, I say Billy Bang; you say bass, I say William Parker. But some of the categories are so rich I had a tough time narrowing the field. For instance, some of the alto saxophonists I didn't vote for: Ornette Coleman, Henry Threadgill, John Zorn, Oliver Lake, Bobby Watson, Michael Moore, Marty Ehrlich, Phil Woods, Sonny Simmons, Steve Wilson, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Steve Lehman, Ted Nash, Miguel Zenon, Steve Coleman. Trumpet, tenor sax, bass (after Parker), and drums are all like that, piano even more so.

Then there are categories I don't have anyone for -- flute, organ, electric bass, electric keyboards -- and categories I don't especially relate to -- composer, arranger, group. There's also the interest in blues albums, which I like but don't follow (mostly because there's not much to follow), and their ridiculous "beyond" category. Also bugs me that they can't evaluate records on a calendar year basis: voting in March, we're expected to go April 2010 to March 2011 (although I think the only 2011 record that got nominated was Joe Lovano's Bird Songs, from January) -- wiped out my second place album from 2010, but mostly just made me do a lot of extra checking.

I cast this a couple weeks ago. Thought I'd go back through the file and clean it up, add an introduction, maybe some final thoughts, maybe drop some more names in I hadn't thought of at the time. Should explain a few minor points: for each category, we're asked to vote for three names, giving the top dog 5 points, second 3, and third 2. The ballot offers a list of names, so those people you can just pick; otherwise, there's a slot where you can write names in, noting how many points for each write-in. In some categories, I felt like I should stick with the ballot; in others I didn't, and I probably wound up doing write-ins for 20-30% of my votes. Most categories you had to vote twice, once for the absolute best, a second time for a "rising star" -- the definition of the latter was vague at best. In my notes I spend a lot of time fussing over distinctions like that, and my strategy evolves a bit along the way. (I couldn't go back and redo any earlier votes -- or at least I didn't know how to.)

The other big point is to caution you not to take this too seriously. I'm pretty comfortable grading records -- which are purchasing decisions, which is to say economic matters -- much less so people, who are people. When I say X, I really mean the recorded output of X, usually limited to the last few years roughly speaking. Even so in many cases there is no basis for making effective comparisons. Much of the time I just felt like arbitrarily going one way or another. Also, the ballot definitely had an effect in steering me, in ways that will be hard to reconstruct from the notes.


For the notes, go here.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Expert Comments

On Misha Mengelberg, et al.:

I've spent a quite some time over the last 2-3 weeks trying to make up for my woeful ignorance of Misha Mengelberg. The main thing that spurred this interest was Benjamin Herman's Hypochristmastreefuzz: More Mengelberg, which I loved instantly and is a pick hit in the Jazz CG I'm thrashing on finishing. Also have ICP Orchestra's 049 -- I understand there's an even newer 050 out, but don't have it. A few things are available on Rhapsody, and a few more can be streamed in their entirety from Destination Out -- I'm in the middle of a 1979 Brotzmann-Mengelberg-Bennink trio right now, 3 Points and a Mountain.

One item I've been sitting on for years is a DVD called Afijn, a documentary tracing Mengelberg back to his initial interest in Monk -- includes several clips of Monk playing -- with a half-dozen "extras" of in-concert footage (some including carpentry). This reminded me that one Mengelberg disc I do have is a wonderful 1982 set with Roswell Rudd and Steve Lacy, called Regeneration -- split between songs by Monk and Herbie Nichols, it kicked off a minor revival of Nichols' music. It was then followed by Change of Season, an all-Nichols program with Mengelberg, Lacy, and George Lewis.

Francis Davis recommended a Mengelberg set called Four in One with Dave Douglas -- he remember it as all-Monk, but there are only three Monk pieces, a stretch in the middle surrounded by Mengelberg originals. He also praised Who's Bridge, a trio I've heard of but haven't found. Rhapsody does have a more recent piano trio, Senne Sing Song, which provides a good taste of his piano work.

I'll be posting more on all of this in the next couple weeks as I get Jazz CG worked out and Recycled Goods up. A lot of interesting music here -- including quite a bit of related Brotzmann, which I'm sure will warm old Joe McCarthy's cold cold heart.

Monday, April 04, 2011

Music: Current count 17959 [17941] rated (+18), 879 [863] unrated (+16). More weirdness around the neverending closing of this era's Jazz Consumer Guide column. I've been desperate for distractions, which notably include the following notes -- picked them up from Destination Out, which lets one stream whole albums of some important FMP obscurities.

  • Willem Breuker Kollektief: Live in Berlin (1975, FMP): Close to the beginning of what came to be called New Dutch Swing, Breuker played various saxes and clarinets, his Kollektief an 11-piece band that played classical, swing, and avant-garde with uncommon whimsy and an emphasis on the surreal; just how much whimsy isn't totally clear until they knock off a pop song ("Our Day Will Come"), but even the mock-classical "La Plagiata" is strung with laughs. A- [destination-out.com]
  • Peter Brötzmann: 14 Love Poems (Plus 10 More) (1984 [2004], FMP): Solo exercises on a range of saxophones and clarinets including a taste of tarogato, all improv except for a bit of "Lonely Woman," mostly modest in tone and dynamics although not without the occasional jarring squelch; anyone serious about Brötzmann might find this a useful lens, as most of his kit is here, in manageable portions. B+(*) [destination-out.com]
  • Andrew Cyrille/Peter Brötzmann: Andrew Cyrille Meets Brötzmann in Berlin (1982 [1983], FMP): Duo, with Cyrille on drums and Brötzmann rotating between tenor sax, baritone sax, tarogato, and E-flat clarinet. Not sure which of the latter is responsible for an extended high-pitch barrage, but it's a bit much to handle. Brötzmann is no less combative on any other horn, but the others make more sense, and draw Cyrille out more. Won't make him any new friends, but very impressive as these things go. B+(***) [destination-out.com]
  • The Feel Trio [Cecil Taylor/William Parker/Tony Oxley]: Celebrated Blazons (1990 [1993], FMP): I count 18 records for Taylor on FMP from 1988-91, an intense outpouring that dominates the later half of is career; several were Feel Trios, with longtime bassist Parker shoring up spectacular fireworks from the others -- a rare record where the drummer gets in even better licks than Taylor. A- [destination-out.com]
  • ICP-Tentet: In Berlin (1977 [1979], FMP): Stands for Instant Composers Pool, the Tentet later renamed Orchestra, still extant thirty-some years later, still led by pianist Misha Mengelberg and drummer Han Benink with cellist Tristan Honsinger the only other name still in the group; the horns are delirious in unison, rooted in old European pop, but they can also clash violently -- this was, after all, the group's enfant terrible phase. B+(**) [destination-out.com]
  • Peter Kowald/Wadada Leo Smith/Günter Sommer: Touch the Earth -- Break the Shells (1979-81 [1997], FMP): Bass-trumpet-drums trio, the bassist literally fleshes such out an amazing range of sound he threatens to reduce the others to accents, but neither reduce easily; Smith's spare eloquence is typical of him in this period; Sommer has a rapid roll to his drums, more rolling thunder than random lightning, but that all leads back to the remarkable bass work. A- [destination-out.com]
  • Misha Mengelberg/Han Bennink: Eine Partie Tischtennis (1974, FMP): Dutch piano-percussion duo, hooked up in the mid-1960s and have been inseparable ever since; the pianist flirts with boogie but prefers a sharp attack, especially on the high keys; the drummer will attack anything, with logs and woodblocks among his more common victims; too sharp, shrill, and loud to really enjoy, but it does rivet your attention. B+(*) [destination-out.com]
  • Misha Mengelberg/Steve Lacy/George Lewis/Harjen Gorter/Han Bennink: Change of Season (Music of Herbie Nichols) (1984 [1986], Soul Note): Nichols cut three CDs worth of material for Blue Note in 1955-56, a bit more or Bethlehem in 1957, then fell out of sight and died young in 1963. Trombonist Roswell Rudd studied under Nichols and made a number of efforts at reviving his music, including Regeneration, an exceptional 1982 album with Steve Lacy, Misha Mengelberg, Kent Carer, and Han Bennink, which was split with one side of Nichols' compositions, the other of Thelonious Monk tunes. This follows up with an all-Nichols program, with Lacy, Mengelberg, and Bennink returning, George Lewis replacing Rudd at trombone, and Harjen Gorter instead of Carter at bass. The soprano sax and trombone contrast strongly while tracing out the contours of the music, while the Dutch avant-swing section picks the rhythm apart. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Misha Mengelberg/Steve Lacy/George Lewis/Ernst Re˙seger/Han Bennink: Dutch Masters (1987 [1994], Soul Note): Two Lacy pieces, two by Mengelberg, two by Thelonious Monk who remains a mainstay of both leaders; don't understand the spelling of ICP's longtime cellist's name -- it's Reijseger everywhere else; while the Dutch provide the oddball swing here, the prime sound masters are the Americans. B+(***) [Rhapsody]


Jazz Prospecting (JCG #26)?

I should have finished my Jazz Consumer Guide column this past week, but, uh, didn't. I may be done late today, or tomorrow; at any rate, sometime real soon now. At this point, it's mostly a matter of sorting. And duds: don't have any duds written up. Shouldn't be too difficult to scan back through the Jazz Prospecting and recall a couple. (Maybe Arturo O'Farrill, since he took the time to write in and call me an "ass"?). With a new editor coming in, I'm tempted to just leave them out. I don't personally feel the need to establish my street cred by kicking cripples. Running duds may be entertaining -- back when I wrote longer dud reviews I got more feedback on them than on anything else -- but it chews up space for honorable mentions, which given the long-term space crunch are creeping up higher and higher on my rank list: in the current draft I have ten A- records in the HMs, and no B+(**), and still have so many HMs the surplus file post is going to be full of them. If the editors want more words on inferior albums (or for that matter longer reviews of good albums), get me more space, more often.

With a couple of minor distractions, I spent the entire week going back over rated records and turning them into JCG reviews -- or when that didn't prove inspiring some became surplus notes. As such, I did virtually no new jazz prospecting this week. So I have damn little I could show you at this point: one new record I want to spin again, one old record, some Rhapsody stuff that I mostly listened to for background, a couple of regrade notes. Could see what else I manage by the end of the day, but it's just as well I punt and come back next week with something more substantial. I can at least run the unpacking, and get that out of the way. Will post Recycled Goods later this week, when I get Jazz CG wrapped up, and Streamnotes after that -- neither as close to the front of the month as usual, but it's like that. Also still have that Downbeat poll ballot.


For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes to date, look here.


Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:

  • Diego Barber: The Choice (Sunnyside): May 19
  • Buzz Bros Band: Ppff Unk (Buzz)
  • Pedro Giraudo Jazz Orchestra: Córdoba (Zoho): June 14
  • Iniziac: Iniziac (High Two)
  • Kambar Kalendarov & Kutman Sultanbekov: Jaw (Cantaloupe Music): Apr. 26
  • Stan Killian: Unified (Sunnyside): May 5
  • Curtis Macdonald: Community Immunity (Greenleaf Music): Apr. 5
  • Terrence McManus: Transcendental Numbers (NoBusiness)
  • New Tricks: Alternate Side (New Tricks): Apr. 5
  • Nadav Remez: So Far (Bju'ecords): Apr. 26
  • John Samorian: Out on a Limb (self-released)
  • Jonathan Scales: Character Farm & Other Short Stories (Le Rue)
  • Lalo Schifrin: Invocations: Jazz Meets the Symphony #7 (Aleph): Apr. 12
  • Avery Sharpe: Running Man (JKNM)
  • Audrey Silver: Dream Awhile (Messy House)
  • Cinzia Spata: Into the Moment (Koine): May 3
  • Terell Stafford: This Side of Strayhorn (MaxJazz): Apr. 5
  • Cuong Vu: Agogic (Tables and Chairs)
  • Jessica Williams Trio: Freedom Trane (Origin)

Purchases:

  • James McMurtry: Just Us Kids (Lightning Rod)
  • Roxy Music: Stranded (Virgin)

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:


  • Paul Krugman: The Mellon Doctrine:

    Now, liquidationism isn't the only argument the G.O.P. report advances to support the claim that reducing employment actually creates jobs. It also invokes the confidence fairy; that is, it suggests that cuts in public spending will stimulate private spending by raising consumer and business confidence, leading to economic expansion.

    Or maybe "suggests" isn't the right word; "insinuates" may be closer to the mark. For a funny thing has happened lately to the doctrine of "expansionary austerity," the notion that cutting government spending, even in a slump, leads to faster economic growth. [ . . . ]

    Did I mention that in Britain, where the government that took power last May bought completely into the doctrine of expansionary austerity, the economy has stalled and business confidence has fallen to a two-year low? And even the government's new, more pessimistic projections are based on the assumption that highly indebted British households will take on even more debt in the years ahead.

    But never mind the lessons of history, or events unfolding across the Atlantic: Republicans are now fully committed to the doctrine that we must destroy employment in order to save it.

    And Democrats are offering little pushback. The White House, in particular, has effectively surrendered in the war of ideas; it no longer even tries to make the case against sharp spending cuts in the face of high unemployment.

    So that's the state of policy debate in the world's greatest nation: one party has embraced 80-year-old economic fallacies, while the other has lost the will to fight. And American families will pay the price.

    Speaking of losing the "war of ideas," the Democrats have completely surrendered to the argument that tax increases would be anti-expansionary, despite: (a) that the Republicans' argument here is hypocritical, in that it concedes that government deficit spending does expand the economy; (b) whatever anti-expansionary drag higher taxes does have can easily be remedied with more short-term government spending; (c) the taxes would mostly come from the rich, who are neither spending nor investing now, so that money would be put to better use, now; and (d) higher tax rates would balance long-term budgets once the economy recovered, with all the confidence-building virtues that implies (assuming you believe in such things). It would also help break the hang-dog psychology of thinking that we can't afford all sorts of things that this formerly "can do" country has been able to afford for generations, like education.

  • Michael Lind: The Failure of Shareholder Capitalism: Lind claims the "Thatcher-Reagan-Blair-Clinton model of capitalism is a failure." It's not clear where he gets that. The model has been remarkably successful at transfering wealth to the already rich, and there is little reason to think that they won't be able to find more spoils, even if the easy pickings are over. Still, it's good to note that there is another model of capitalism which has most of the benefits of capitalism without being so rapacious.

    Shareholder capitalism is the doctrine that companies exist solely to make money for their shareholders. It is frequently contrasted with stakeholder capitalism, which holds that companies exist for the benefit of their customers, workers and communities, not just for ever-fluctuating number of mostly remote and unengaged passive investors who just happen to own stock in them, often without even being aware that they do.

    This is actually a huge subject, which Lind only barely touches on. One example Lind comes up with:

    America's most dysfunctional industries have the best-paid CEOs. The U.S. spends twice as much on healthcare as other developed nations, with no better results, and the runaway cost of medicine in the U.S. is the biggest threat to the economy in the long run. And yet a Wall Street Journal CEO compensation study in 2010 found that healthcare CEOs did much better than their equivalents in more productive industries like energy, telecom and consumer goods.

    The disproportion between the compensation of American financiers and their foreign equivalents is even more grotesque. In 2008 Jamie Dimon, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase, the world's fourth largest bank, was paid $19.6 million. Jiang Jianqin, the head of the world's largest bank, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, earned $234,000 -- 2 percent of Jamie Dimon's compensation.

    You might think that exorbitant CEO pay would eventually be seen as a cost to shareholders, but the prevailing theory seems to be to cut the CEO in on the shareholders' looting of companies, since they couldn't really do it without management support. On the other hand, there's nothing in economics that justifies the shareholder focus. There might be if, say, capital was so hard to come by that companies had to pay dear for it. But the fact seems to be that there is so much capital chasing business opportunities that most of it winds up in speculation. Government could route money to productive concerns much more efficiently than out banking system -- indeed, that seems to be pretty much what the Chinese banks do, which explains why their CEOs are paid like functionaries instead of as pirates. Capital's exorbitant returns are solely the result of political influence, and the shareholder ideology is just a way of rationalizing the political dominance of the ultrarich.

  • Amanda Marcotte: What's Really Driving the GOP's Abortion War: Kansas Republicans have already passed two such bills, and are working on a third.

    It's hard to overstate how much Republican energy is invested in bringing the uteruses of America under right-wing control. The House went into an anti-choice frenzy upon being sworn in in January, passing two bills that would eliminate private insurance funding for abortion, one that would dramatically cut funding for international family planning, and the Pence Amendment, which would ban Planned Parenthood from receiving any federal funding. And in case the Pence Amendment doesn't work, the House also zeroed out all funding for Title X, which subsidizes reproductive healthcare for low-income patients, in the continuing resolution that funds the federal budget.

    For the right, rolling back reproductive rights is considered a worthy goal in its own right, but since the issue could also provoke a budget showdown that could result in a government shutdown, it's also a useful tool in their effort to force Democrats to blink. As with their push to bust unions at the state level, Republicans stand to gain electorally by wreaking havoc on the pro-choice movement and undermining its ability to get out the vote for Democrats.

    On the state level, an unprecedented number of anti-choice bills are being introduced in response to the perceived anti-choice bent of the Supreme Court. Florida alone has introduced 18 separate anti-choice bills. Gov. Rick Perry of Texas has declared mandatory ultrasounds for abortion patients an emergency priority, and fast-tracked it through the Legislature. Three separate states have introduced bills that could legalize domestic terrorism against abortion providers, though a bill in South Dakota was withdrawn under pressure. Instead, that state's Legislature moved on to pass the most draconian abortion law in the country, one that would require a woman to wait 72 hours for an abortion and listen to a lecture from an anti-choice activist before having an abortion. These examples represent just a tiny fraction of the anti-choice bills percolating through state legislatures.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Expert Comments

On rumors of a new Downloader's Diary:

I do virtually all of my work in my website area, so there's always stuff in flux somewhere. I generally sync up my private and public websites once a week, sometimes more often if I have a cluster of things needed to support a blog post -- as happens when I do a Recycled Goods or Downloader's Diary post (as happened last night). I don't generally mind that this exposes unfinished stuff, but you should beware that it's still in a working draft stage. It's pretty easy right now to find an April 2011 Recycled Goods draft, but I can assure you that when I do post it it will be significantly different. It's also possible to find what I have queued up for Rhapsody Streamnotes, but that's a lot more obscure. Downloader's Diary is different in that I'm working with another writer who needs to see what I do to his stuff before it is released. The easiest way to do that has been to poke the updated file to where it will wind up. I'm less bothered that stanpnepa found and looked at the file -- actually we're all flattered that anyone would go to that trouble -- than that he announced that it was "up," implying that it was on the blog, that all the archival links and artwork were in place, and all that. Problem there is that it led to confusion, since it wasn't really up. Not sure what the answer is, but I figure some understanding won't hurt.

Friday, April 01, 2011

A Downloader's Diary (9): April 2011

Insert text from here.


This is the ninth installment, monthly since August 2010, totalling 231 albums. All columns are indexed and archived here. You can follow A Downloader's Diary on Facebook.

Expert Comments

On the reviewed records:

Sonny Rollins is notorious for refusing to listen to his own tapes, which is why very little of his vast trove of live tapes is likely to appear before he dies. I feel some of that pain and confusion in Road Shows Vol. 1, although I seem to be the only one. The record swept the Voice's Jazz Critics Poll by a huge margin. Francis Davis accounted for those who didn't vote for it as most likely feeling that Rollins was unfair competition. Downbeat and Jazz Times pushed it into a "historical" category where it also won handily. I wrote a short Jazz CG review of it, giving it a friendly A-, which I guess makes me one of the album's few consensus-breaking detractors. Just played it again, and I still don't see how any album with a Clifton Anderson solo can be an A+. Rollins, of course, is great, except by his own standards, which I think peaked with Plays G-Man (another live album, from 1986).

I should replay the Vanguard set when I get out from under this Jazz CG. The first Rollins I ever owned was the 2-LP More From the Village Vanguard, which I scarcely recall. Then in 1987 it was (mostly) all dumped onto CD as two separate volumes, which I dutifully bought, and hated -- a lot of bebop rubbed me the wrong way, and this was raw and extreme (no piano, no trumpet, basically no harmony). Still, I gave it another chance when the RVG 2-CD edition came out in 1999, and felt better about it. Good chance if I played it again now I'd like it more, but no guarantee. It does have a huge reputation, including a Penguin Crown (as does Saxophone Colossus), and such reputations are usually based on something solid. I just don't know what it is in this case. I will say that however radical Rollins is here, he was still working inside bebop with little or no regard to the emerging avant-garde. In the 1960s Rollins did dabble in avant-garde ideas -- cf. East Broadway Rundown from 1966, another record I don't particularly like but may be worth another shot -- but he abandoned them rather quickly. (The second Vandermark 5 Free Jazz Classics tries to make a case for Rollins and Kirk as free jazzmen; not entirely convincing, but a very enjoyable set.)

And again:

Thrashing a bit here: in the time it takes to write even a short note the world can change under your feet. It didn't take many plays for me to Jazz CG Road Shows, because it all seemed pretty obvious from the start. So it's possible that had I given it more time in more contexts I might have psyched myself into liking it better, but that's true of lots of records, and you have to pick and choose where you want to put the time. By the time I finally wrote my capsule on Billy Bang's Prayer for Peace last year I had played it more than 20 times and it wound up my record of the year. Had I written sooner it certainly wouldn't have: at first I thought it was a good but very typical Bang record, and there are lots of those. Then something happened and it grew on me.

I'm not knocking these picks; just trying to add a little different perspective, since I'm sort of the odd man out here.

On Ken Burns: Rollins got one mention in the whole series, a little two-minute spotlight in the last episode as they were mopping up the set. One of the most glaring shortfalls in a series that was full of them. I wonder if they would have even included that much but for the record company tie-in.

On Clifton Anderson: He's Rollins' nephew, and he's no doubt a handy guy for Rollins to have around. The last decade has managed to drive my opinion on nepotism to new lows, but that's rather minor here. His own records are blah -- at least the few I've heard. And trombone is one of my favorite instruments, something I've followed pretty closely from Kid Ory and Miff Mole to the present day. I tuned right in to Anderson's solo, wondering what's this doing here.

By the way, if you want to hear Rollins with a real trombonist, dig up the early J.J. Johnson Blue Notes (The Eminent J.J. Johnson, especially Vol. 1). Very early, still in his teens, already amazing.


Mar 2011 May 2011