June 2011 Notebook
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Monday, May 30, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 18255 [18224] rated (+31), 853 [857] unrated (-4).

  • The Sound of Love: The Very Best of Darlene Love (1962-63 [2011], Phil Spector/Legacy): Leads off with her two great Crystals singles -- "He's a Rebel" and "He's Sure the Boy I Love" -- and tacks on two of her more retro Bob B Soxx & the Blue Jeans leads, splitting the difference on her own marquee songs like "Today I Met the Boy I'm Gonna Marry" and "A Fine, Fine Boy"; ends with a post-Philles single Spector somehow controls. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • Phil Spector's Greatest Hits (1958-67 [1977], Warner/Spector, 2LP): A-

Jazz Prospecting (JCG #27, Part 7)

Post delayed today by a power outage. We do depend on electricity these days, and everything grinds to a stop when it fails. Not what you'd call storms today, but what the government calls a Wind Advisory: steady winds from the south 35-40 mph, with gusts over 50. We expect some storms tonight when a cold front passes through and reverses the wind, but I gather it won't actually get any cooler.

So-so week: I'm surprised I didn't bag more records, and can't recall why I didn't. Was thinking a bit ahead to posting Recycled Goods and Rhapsody Streamnotes this coming week -- Downloader's Diary too, don't know yet whether it will run before or after RG. Also don't have any thoughts on Jazz CG cycle. Incoming mail has been light the last two weeks.


Avery Sharpe: Running Man (2010 [2011], JKNM): Bassist, plays electric 6-string as well as acoustic, had a long association with Yusef Lateef and McCoy Tyner, has 10 records on his own since 1988, picking up the pace around 2005. Pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs is a credible Tyner clone. Craig Handy plays a lot of soprano sax and some tenor sax, does a nice job with the former. Maya Sharpe sings a couple songs. Gumbs, Handy, and drummer Yoron Israel write one each, leaving Sharpe eight. B+(*)

Mathias Eick: Skala (2009-10 [2011], ECM): Trumpeter, also plays guitar, vibes, bass; b. 1979 in Norway; second album; about 30 side credits since 2002, including groups Jaga Jazzist (relatively good acid jazz) and Motorpsycho (some kind of metal?). This breaks through the Nordic chill which ECM more often intensifies. Trumpet is warm and bright, Andreas Ulvo's piano moving shiftly through the undergrowth. Band varies from cut to cut, often doubling up on drums (Torstein Lofthus and Gard Nilssen), with tenor sax on one cut, harp on another, here then gone. A-

Jerry Leake & Randy Roos: Cubist Live (2010 [2011], Rhombus Publishing): Leake is a percussionist, collects instruments and techniques from all around the world, records them, writes books about them, teaches them -- Indian, Persian, Latin American, all over Africa. Record company has "publishing" in the title because his books outnumber his records (currently 7 to 6). First record I heard by him, The Turning (2006), played like an encyclopedia, which I thought a neat idea at the time. But so did his last, Cubist, which I backed a bit down on, only to receive a letter from him chiding me for failing to recognize his "masterpiece." Well, this isn't a masterpiece either, but the nine long songs (total 76:41) fit and flow. Thanks to guitarist Roos -- promoted from producer last time to a byline -- he's got a band here. The flute-phobic should be warned, but actually this picks up a head of steam when the flute comes out, and gets even better when Stan Strickland reverts to sax. Better still when the extra drummers (Ben Paulding and Marty Wirt, plus Lisa Leake on percussion and Mike Doud on tabla) quicken the pace. Back cover says "file under world & rock" but the mix makes most sense as jazz. A-

Eldar Djangirov: Three Stories (2009 [2011], Masterworks Jazz): Pianist, b. 1987 in Kyrgyzstan, then still part of the Evil Empire. A proverbial child prodigy, "discovered" at age 9 playing in a festival somewhere in Siberia, moved to Kansas City (supposedly to soak up its jazz legacy, although I assure you no one will ever detect a trace of Bennie Moten or Pete Johnson here), cut his first record in his teens, going by first name only. First record using his last name, a welcome sign of maturity. Solo piano. He's never tried to shake his good classical education, featuring pieces by Bach and Scriabin alongside standards like "Darn That Dream" and "Embraceable You" and three originals -- only "In Walked Bud" and "Donna Lee" offer the slight whiff of jazz. B

Debbie Poryes/Bruce Williamson: Two & Fro (2010 [2011], OA2): Piano-sax duets. Poryes, based in San Francisco area, cut an album in 1982, only a couple since. Williamson plays alto sax, soprano sax, clarinet, bass clarinet, and flute. Also infrequently recorded, his debut in 1992, one more since, plus a couple dozen side credits. Wrote one song each, plus do seven covers, jazz (Shorter, Coltrane, Davis), standards, Beatles, closing with a long, slow "Ol' Man River" that is particularly nice. B+(*)

Scott Amendola Trio: Lift (2010, Sazi): Drummer, best known in the Nels Cline Singers; fourth album since 1999, a trio with Jeff Parker on guitar and John Shifflett on bass. Mostly hews to rock grooves, but much more to it. Especially good showcase for Parker. B+(***)

Terrence McManus/Mark Helias/Gerry Hemingway: Transcendental Numbers (2009 [2011], NoBusiness): Guitar/bass/drums trio. McManus and Hemingway have a slightly earlier duo called Below the Surface Of that I have rated a tad above this, probably because the jagged metal guitar was more striking, although I should double check because it's unlikely the bassist doesn't add something valuable. He is interesting in his own right, and the drummer is superb. [B+(***)]

Vesa-Matti Loiri: 4+20 (1971 [2011], Porter): Finnish flautist, vocalist, actor; b. 1945. AMG lists 33 records, starting in 1968, but this is the only one they've evidently heard. It's a weird one, mostly flute and percussion, a guitar, sometimes adding piccolo and/or soprano sax (no less than Eero Koivistoinen). Six songs in "Mummon Kaappikello" is a change of pace, with tenor sax and cartoonish vocals. Title cut is from Stephen Stills, not that he'd recognize it. B+(*)

Matthew Shipp: Art of the Improviser (2010 [2011], Thirsty Ear, 2CD): Pianist, one of the few I've spent enough time with to be able to follow. A decade-plus ago he was talking like he'd played everything he wanted to play and intended to stop, then he got a job with an avant-rock label and started a remarkable series of mash-ups and mergers between DJs and avant-jazzists -- his own Nu Bop and Equilibrium and Harmony and Abyss were highlights there. At his peak, Rolling Stone asked me to write up a survey of his work for their CD guide -- one of the very few jazz pianists to make a cut that excluded Ellington, Tatum, Monk, Powell, Pullen, and loads more. Even though he's hardly ever touched an electronic keyb, he started polling higher on electric than on acoustic. Since then it's as if he's backed down, seeking to regain his self-respect: he's mostly limited himself to trios and solo outings, strictly acoustic, not as avant as in his early days (although even then he was more indebted to Bud Powell than to Cecil Taylor). This time, with a title befitting Brad Mehldau, he gives you two live sets, one of each. The trio with Michael Bisio on bass and Whit Dickey on drums flows swiftly, the bass and drums heightening his own rhythmic conception, with a cover of "Take the A Train" to help secure your bearings. The solo takes more effort to chew, but plenty of food for thought there, too. B+(***)

Matthew Shipp/William Parker/Beans/Hprizm: Knives From Heaven (2011, Thirsty Ear): Basically, an Antipop Consortium joint, with Beans (Robert Stewart) rapping over High Priest (Kyle Austin, here dba Hprizm) electronics, with Shipp's piano and Parker's bass keeping it real. (Also seem to have cornered the publishing.) Would go further with better rhymes, although most of the parts without lyrics are intriguing synth fragments, the piano a plus, the bass hard to sort out. B+(*)

William Hooker: Crossing Points (1992 [2011], NoBusiness): Drummer, b. 1946, has a couple dozen albums since 1982; seems like a lot of them are ad hoc improv duos and trios, but he usually winds up with his name on top or first -- not many side credits, although AMG lists a couple with Lee Ranaldo. This is a duo with alto saxophonist Thomas Chapin -- Hooker's name is out front of the title, with "featuring Thomas Chapin" following -- cut just as Chapin was hitting his stride (cf. Insomnia) before his early death in 1998. First piece starts out tentative and ugly, but soon enough rights itself, in large part because the drummer gets out front and dares the saxophonist to keep up. B+(***)

David S. Ware/Cooper-Moore/William Parker/Muhammad Ali: Planetary Unknown (2010 [2011], AUM Fidelity): The new quartet, but it doesn't quite seem settled yet. The change at piano is intriguing, but Cooper-Moore has far less impact than Matthew Shipp did, especially in the old quartet's maturity. As for the new drummer, Rashied Ali's younger brother can hang with this crowd, but he's the senior citizen here. What's harder to gauge is Ware: his first three cuts on tenor strike me as routine (not a word that often occurs to me with Ware), the next three on soprano more intriguing, as is the finale on stritch. It's gotten to where I expect Ware to blow me away every time -- well, maybe not solo -- so I'm confused here, or maybe just slow. [B+(***)]

The Ambush Party (2008 [2011], De Platenbakkerij): Eponymous first album, group a quartet: Natalio Sued (tenor sax), Oscar Jan Hoogland (piano), Harald Austbø (cello), Marcos Baggiani (drums). Recorded in Amsterdam, no background on any of them. Free improv, what they call instant composition. Rugged not rough, with a little of that circus undertow the Dutch are so fond of. B+(**)

Lee Konitz/Brad Mehldau/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian: Live at Birdland (2009 [2011], ECM): New York Times advance, quoted in hype sheet, promises "soft anarchy, a gig without preparation or rehearsal," and that's pretty much it. Six standards, counting Miles Davis and Sonny Rollins, given 10-15 minutes each. Mehldau is the best prepared, but Konitz is the person of interest, and he's a bit out of it, though it's hard to say why, or to dismiss what he plays, when he plays. B+(**)

Walt Weiskopf Quartet: Recorded Live April 8, 2008 Koger Hall University of South Carolina (2008 [2011], Capri): Presented as a memoir of late drummer Tony Reedus, who died Nov. 16, 2008; the most upfront and personable outing I've heard by the mainstream tenor saxophonist, plus a strong assist from pianist Renee Rosnes -- haven't heard much from her since her Blue Note contract lapsed nearly a decade ago. Paul Gill plays bass. 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:

  • Amina Alaoui: Arco Iris (ECM): advance, June 28
  • Jane Bunnett & Hilario Duran: Cuban Rhapsody (ALMA)
  • Claire Daly Quintet: Mary Joyce Project: Nothing to Lose (Daly Bread)
  • Falkner Evans: The Point of the Moon (CAP)
  • Erik Friedlander: Bonebridge (Skipstone)
  • Lee Konitz/Brad Mehldau/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian: Live at Birdland (ECM)
  • Les Doigts de l'Homme: 1910 (ALMA)
  • Nanette Natal: Sweet Summer Blue (Benyo Music)
  • Roswell Rudd: The Incredible Honk (Sunnyside): June 14
  • Craig Taborn: Avenging Angel (ECM)

Purchases:

  • Lady Gaga: The Fame Monster (Streamline/Konlive, 2CD)
  • Lady Gaga: Born This Way (Streamline/Konlive)


Expert Comments

Miles Davis, Sketches of Spain:

I don't have a lot more to add beyond my Sketches of Spain review that sharpsm quoted. The Legacy Edition came out in 2009 as part of a push to spruce up three 1959 Jazz Classics on their 50th anniversary. The others were Dave Brubeck's superb Time Out, and Charles Mingus's monumental Mingus Ah Um. A better fit would have been the previous year's Kind of Blue, which got the same treatment and then some, but Sketches is a rather pretty but annoying thing. It is not much of an example of Gil Evans' arranging genius -- for that seek out Out of the Blue, where Evans uses the orchestra to do more than to flatter the star. And Davis has had plenty of better outings. But what Davis craved and Evans critics who gushed praises upon the 6-CD Davis/Evans box -- and I'll put Gary Giddins at the head of this list -- never failed to fall for a third stream gesture.

I don't wish to make too big a deal out of this. The late 1950s were still a time when people seriously asserted the superiority of high over pop culture -- a conceit that was falling when Christgau pointedly sided with the barbarians in his first book, and which had been reduced to ridicule no later than the 1980s. But back then the idea that jazz was America's Classical Music was novel propaganda aimed at respectability: Ellington writing suites, Bird with strings, MJQ in their tuxes, Brubeck playing 5/4 and 9/8, and Davis/Evans fits that mold. I don't wish to denigrate any of that -- everything I've listed deserves respect, but jazz earned more respect on its own terms, as did rock, as did lots of things, and not just because Classical Music turned out to be one of history's paper tigers.

The other thing to understand about Davis is that he's been wrapped up in a myth which makes him look ten feet tall, whereas he was really only about 7-foot-8. That he started with Parker was good luck but otherwise meaningless. That his first album was sold as The Birth of the Cool implies that he invented cool jazz, whereas he didn't; it wasn't cool jazz, and he wasn't that important -- Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, and Gil Evans were key -- nor was the album that good. His first "great quintet" was remembered as greater than it was because Coltrane got much better after he left. His intersection with Bill Evans was pure luck. The modal jazz idea owes more to George Russell. The stuff with Gil Evans you know about. There are lots of odd things about the fusion albums, and they slack off toward the end.

On the other hand, the first quintet's throwaway albums cut to break his Prestige contract are about as good as hard bop got. Kind of Blue is a self-contained masterpiece. It's hard to overpraise the 1966-69 quintet, even though everyone writing on the subject has had a crack at it -- his Plugged Nickel box will last you through many desert islands. His chops early on were nothing special, but he got a lot better over time. And he consistently overcomes the chaos of the fusion albums, holding them together unlike everyone else who tried to follow in his footsteps. And in the culture wars he wound up winning on both sides: he was acclaimed a genius and got popular too.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:


  • Peter B Bach/Robert Kocher: Why Medical School Should Be Free: I'm always struck by how limited the political imagination is when it comes to controlling health care costs: it rarely goes beyond squabbling over current payment schedules -- always irritating to providers who think they should be able to charge anything they want for anything they can think of -- with the anti-patient threat of denial of service looming in the background. Or there are risk-shifting schemes which seek to pay per patient or per illness and let the providers figure out how to manage their expenses. Both approaches seek to control costs by limiting services, which is one reason they make patients nervous. But as the steady growth of costs shows, charges suppressed in one area tend to return in another. Insurers, including the government, have managed to significantly reduce hospital stays over the last 30 years. At the same time, per-day hospital charges have exploded, so there is no net savings.

    Bach and Kocher are thinking outside of this box: they note that one of the main sources of cost growth in US health care is the prevalence of specialists over GPs. Not only do specialists make more ($325k vs. $190k are the median figures) they order more expenses. One reason doctors make so much money relative to everyone else is that their education expenses are exceptionally high. They propose free education for GPs, and charging for extra specialist training. The result would be more GPs, most likely willing and able to start working for less (simple labor economics here). I doubt that this would result in many fewer (or much cheaper) specialists given the current pay discrepancies -- a $135k/year advantage would still pay back the extra training costs pretty quickly, but with more doctors educated for free there would be more candidates competing to move into specialty slots.

    Of course, more doctors and nothing else wouldn't solve the problem, but it offers a big step forward: more doctors (at less cost per doctor) means more personal care, and very likely better care. The great fear working against health care reform is a drop in care quality, possibly even denial of service, at a time when most of us still think that there is room and need for better care. Indeed, there are lots of opportunities to contain costs through better care, and this is one.

    Probably not the big one, though. That would be to squeeze the costs of new medical technology by restricting (or eliminating) patents. This would cut down on private investment in r&d, but that could easily be made up by increasing public investment, which because it would be scaled to desired outcomes rather than future profits and because the process would be more transparent and shared internationally would be much more efficient and effective. Another big one is the profit-seeking insurance companies, which scrape off about 30% of current health care costs while providing hardly any value. And there are others, but more GPs is a good step forward.

  • David Bromwich: Obama's Middle East: Rhetoric and Reality: This seems like a reasonably accurate parsing of Obama's pronouncements:

    Yet Obama has always preferred the symbolic authority of the grand utterance to the actual authority of a directed policy -- a policy fought for in particulars, carefully sustained, and traceable to his own intentions. The command to kill or capture Osama bin Laden and the attempt to assassinate Anwar al-Awlaki in a drone strike, which closely followed the bin Laden success, are the exceptions that prove the rule: actions of a moment, decided and triggered by the president alone. His new Middle East speech, at the State Department on May 19, was in this sense a return to a favorite genre.

    Before an international audience, Obama tends to speak as if he were the United States addressing the world; and he treats the United States as the most grown-up country in the world. This posture carries a risk of parental finger-wagging, which our president -- still young as a parent and young as a leader -- doesn't sufficiently guard against. A misjudged tone was audible, for example, in his speech to the joint session of the Indian Parliament on November 8, 2010, where he boasted of his support for India's nomination to the Security Council, but warned: "Let me suggest that with increased power comes increased responsibility." So too, at the state department on Thursday, he chided Arab countries for acting immaturely and blaming the West as "the source of all ills, a half century after the end of colonialism."

    In many of his public comments on the Arab Spring, during February, March, and April, Obama wielded a peculiar grammar of imperative commandment whose precise authority was unclear. He worked himself into a corner -- and appeared to render inevitable a military intervention -- when he said several times that "Qaddafi must go." Of course, he had said something akin to that, more gently and vaguely, when he spoke about the "transition" Hosni Mubarak was expected to lead in Egypt, which "must be peaceful" and "must begin now." He may have believed that the simplicity of his command was a cause of Mubarak's eventual abdication.

    A similar grammatical mood was summoned in his speech of May 19, in reference to Bashar al-Assad and the imperative of beginning a transition from despotism in Syria: "President Assad now has a choice. He can lead that transition, or get out of the way." In short: either Assad must go, or his understanding of his office must go. Anyway President Assad was named with the respectful formality common in the discourse of leader to leader -- unlike the truncated "Qaddafi" and "Saddam" by which successive presidents have now indicated their contempt for former allies whom they intend to strip of dignity and power. The language Obama reserved for Ali Abdullah Saleh, the president of Yemen -- an ally in the "war on terror" -- was more accommodating, in a way. [ . . . ]

    Obama's strategy seems to have been heavily influenced by the advice of Israel-connected centrists such as Thomas Friedman. The occupation is bad, such informal advisers say, but it is a problem for Israelis and Palestinians to solve. Don't push, don't dictate, don't "impose terms." Friedman likes to add that the Israelis and Palestinians have to "want peace" more than Americans do. The apparent analogy is with two boys fighting on a playground, or two clans that must grow tired of fighting in order to make up. This analogy fails, however, where the fighters are radically unequal in size, strength, and equipment. It also loses its pertinence in a case where the umpire has already suffered serious injury from side-effects of the fight. And, according to authorities as diverse as Hillary Clinton and David Petraeus, the unresolved conflict of Israel and Palestine is the largest "root cause" of terrorism directed against the United States. [ . . . ]

    The extreme hostility of Netanyahu's reaction on a single point may have obscured how much he got substantively from Obama. For an unmistakable message was sent by omission in Obama's speech at the state department -- namely, that the administration has no present plan to broker talks between Israel and the Palestinian unity government. There was not a word about Gaza and only a spectator's advice about the West Bank. Practically speaking, therefore, one more American president has been turned away from active engagement with the challenge of the occupation. No further pressure for an independent Palestine is likely to be initiated by the US before the 2012 presidential election. From the evidence of a growing mass movement on both sides of Israel's borders, Obama, for his part, seems to have calculated that Israelis in the next few years will come to treat his words of May 19 as a kindly prophecy.

    I suppose you could inscribe these words on Obama's gravestone: "always calculating, never computing."

  • Digby: Nothing Left to Do: Interesting theory on the Republican Party today:

    I wish I knew why the GOP has suddenly gone kamikaze on this Ryan plan, but I guess I don't care. They've been so close to the edge of insanity for so long now that it's a good thing for the country if they self-immolate before they are able to somehow seize total power again.

    But it really can't be overstated just how self-destructive this attack on Medicare really is, on so many levels. It's bad on the politics and on the merits, of course. But ask yourself why a political party would spend many, many millions of dollars to spread a message that a very popular program among their most valuable constituency is in danger from their opponents as the Republicans did last November -- and then allow their opponents to piggyback on it immediately and turn it back on them? [ . . . ]

    I think we're seeing the decadence and delusion of the end stages of a successful political movement. They pretty much fulfilled the corporate wish list. The only things they haven't accomplished are the looney wingnut agenda items, which until now they've managed to keep at arms length, only giving little bits when necessary to keep the rubes on board. Maybe they just have nothing left to do.

    One could argue that the Democrats went through this before: that sometime in the 1970s the New Deal/Great Society had won all of their key battles -- glossing over health care, which was still expected to be employer-provided, the main exceptions covered by Medicare and Medicaid -- exhausting the movement, leaving corrupt officials on the one hand and fringe weirdos on the other. I don't buy this: what actually happened was that labor unions had lost strength ever since Taft-Hartley, and the civil rights and antiwar movements lost focus after major wins, same for feminists and environmentalists, without establishing adequate institutional frameworks to preserve those gains. Those political weaknesses opened the door for an abundantly financed and well organized conservative movement, which for a brief period was even able to present itself as the leading source of new ideas. Most of those ideas seem laughable now, but they did their job, providing cover for the conservative takeover.

  • Paul Krugman: The Ryan Mistake:

    First, I suspect that there's a legend in the making -- one that will come to dominate the conventional wisdom if the GOP does badly next year -- which goes like this: Republicans were too noble. They committed themselves to a serious, well-crafted policy plan, but were oblivious to the political realities.

    What I hope regular readers of this blog understand by now is that the Ryan plan is, in fact, a self-serving piece of junk. It doesn't add up -- in fact, it would probably make the deficit bigger not smaller. And far from representing some kind of sacrifice of political interests in the service of the greater good, it's a right-wing wish-list on steroids: sharp tax cuts for corporations and the rich, savage cuts in aid to the poor, and a gratuitous privatization of Medicare. And again, it's technically incompetent along the way.

    So nobility and seriousness had nothing to do with it.

    But what about that political misjudgment? How could they have thought this piece of junk would fly?

    What I think Politico misses is that while the ideas in the Ryan plan poll terribly with the general public, there was very good reason to expect them to poll well with the punditocracy. For a year before the plan was unveiled, Ryan was the absolute darling of Beltway insiders; any suggestion that he was in fact a flim-flam man was greeted with anger. And let's remember that for about two days after the plan was unveiled, it was greeted rapturously, even by some alleged liberals.

  • Paul Krugman: Where Have All the Mensches Gone?:

    I asked this question five years ago, with regard to members of the Bush administration, who seemed pathologically incapable of taking responsibility for their actions. But it's as relevant as ever. Newt Gingrich declaring that anyone who quoted him accurately was lying; and now Tim Pawlenty, who, aside from saying a whole lot of false things while declaring himself a truthteller, pulled a Gingrich when Rush Limabaugh correctly pointed out that he wasn't a true Tea Partier a few years ago.

    It's possible to believe that someone is completely wrong on policy while respecting his or her character. But policy aside, these are just contemptible people.

  • Andrew Leonard: How the GOP Is Budgeting for Disaster:

    Surveying the wreckage in Joplin, Mo., it seems flat-out nuts to think that cutting financial corners on weather satellites would be a smart move for Congress. But all year long, House Republicans have been doing precisely that, slashing away at the funding requested by the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration to replace satellites that are rapidly approaching the end of their working lifespan.

    The existing satellite program has been a huge success, providing unprecedentedly accurate warnings on severe weather events, as well as data useful for tracking climate change, which may offer us at least one clue why the program is on the GOP chopping block. But success -- or the necessity of preventing future disasters -- rarely seems to enter the GOP budget calculus.

    Further examples include proposed cuts to the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) -- "every $1 spent on WIC results in a savings of $1.77 to $3.13 in health care costs" -- and a 15% cut of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) now that they are responsible for regulating derivatives markets.

  • Andrew C Revkin: Tornado Losses in 2011 Already Match Deadliest Year: Having grown up in Wichita, KS, and moving back here a decade ago so I can say I've live here more than half of my sixty years, I have a highly conditioned understanding of tornados. The great tornado of my childhood was the one in 1955 that demolished the small town of Udall, KS, killing 87 (one out of every five people who lived there). We used to drive through Udall four or five times each year on our way to visit relatives in Oklahoma. A few years later a cousin in Oklahoma had his nice, new brick house completely demolished by a tornado while his wife and two daughters huddled in a hall, miraculously unscathed but terrified. Back then I used to look at maps of tornado frequencies and they all showed a big dark oval stretching from south of Oklahoma City to north of Wichita: we were in the middle of Tornado Alley. But the legacy of Udall was that the federal, state, and local governments got their act together and put together forecasting and warning systems that have worked very well. I've experienced many hundreds of tornado watches, probably 50-75 tornado warnings. Local TV and radio stations are amazingly tuned in to severe weather, and the technology tracking storms has become extraordinarily good -- fascinating, even. But that doesn't seem to be the case elsewhere: not that the resources and the technology isn't applied elsewhere, but people aren't so tuned in, or so knowledgeable. For a long time, Kansas and Oklahoma would still get most of the tornados, but most of the people killed by tornados would be in Mississippi: I could only imagine why, but with Mississippi it doesn't take much imagination: shabby housing, poor communications, the utter contempt that the government has for the black population.

    But Revkin's map doesn't look like the old tornado frequency maps. Sure, there are two spots in KS, three in OK, one in MO that could have appeared much bigger, five in AR, but most of them are well to the east. (Even in MS, the tornados are shifted east; the Delta in northwest MS is historically the prime target. Ever since I moved back to KS, I've noticed three things: the tornado belt seems to have shifted east, it's become much less distinct, and the seasonal pattern (which used to have virtually all tornados from April to August) has pretty much vanished. I haven't seen any stats to this effect, but the impression is strong. And deaths are up, probably because people who didn't grow up expecting tornados are slow to figure out what to do about them. But I also suspect we're seeing a Greater Mississippi effect, as the deaths are concentrated in a broad belt of badly governed, badly educated, low wage, anti-union states, of which Mississippi is merely exemplary. (I don't doubt that there is also a seasonal distortion here: we will certainly see tornados from Illinois to Ohio later this summer, but fewer people will die in them.)

    Keep in mind that tornados are one reason we need effective, responsive government: both to predict and warn, and to pick up the pieces afterwards. Joplin, MO is about as Republican as any town its size in the country -- the pattern goes all the way back to the Civil War -- but you're not going to hear anyone with a stake there explaining that if only we can keep the government uninvolved the free market will fix everything up.

    I haven't seen anything useful linking this shifting geographic trend to global warming -- indeed, thus far all I've seen are people on both sides reiterating what they believed beforehand -- although it does make intuitive sense to me.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Ass-Backwards in the Middle East

Ira Chernus: Ass-Backwards in the Middle East: Obama gave a speech the other day where he cautiously made mention of the fact that if there is to be peace based on two independent states in Israel and Palestine, the starting point for delimiting them is the pre-1967 borders, with any adjustments subject to mutual agreement. This is actually less strict than the UN resolutions following the 1967 and 1973 wars called for, standard US policy at least until 2000 when Clinton, actively engaged in peace talks between Barak and Arafat, introduced the exact same wiggle room Obama conceded. In between, on the infrequent occasions when Bush expressed some interest in peace, he assumed the same basis for borders. Yet the casual news observer might think that Obama had invented inconceivable policy from whole cloth, given the way Congress, Netanyahu, and AIPAC slapped him down. The reasons for such outrage were simple: to show Obama that even as president he has no leeway to formulate an Israel-Palestine policy that is not to the liking of Netanyahu -- a prime minister who was elected expressly to prevent any form of peace settlement.

Tuches aufn tish: Buttocks on the table. That's the colorful way my Yiddish-speaking ancestors said, "Let's cut the BS and talk about honest truth." It seems like a particularly apt expression after a week watching the shadow-boxing between President Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that brought no tangible progress toward an Israeli-Palestinian peace.

The truth, like the table, is usually hard and uncomfortable. President Obama's carefully hedged public call for a two-state solution along Israel's 1967 borders may indeed represent a new step. Maybe it will even prove part of some long-range game plan that will eventually pay off. But here's the problem: as of now, Obama shows no inclination to back his words with the power the U.S. government could wield. Until he does, those words won't provoke any change in Israel's domination of the Palestinians. [ .w . . ]

Tuches aufn tish. Let's be honest. The Israeli story doesn't merely distort the truth, it turns the truth ass-backwards. Eerily enough, its basic claims about the Palestinians more accurately describe the Israelis themselves.

The Israelis might as well be looking in the mirror and talking about themselves when they say things like "They are the aggressors; we're the victims just defending ourselves." That's part of an Israeli-generated myth of insecurity whose premise is that Israel bears all the risk in the conflict with the Palestinians. Obama fed into that myth in his recent "Arab Spring" speech when he called, in effect, for an even swap: the Palestinians would get a state and the Israelis would get security, as if the massively stronger Israelis are the main ones suffering from insecurity.

In the process, he repeated a familiar mantra, "Our commitment to Israel's security is unshakeable," and offered a vague warning that "technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself." Perhaps that was a coded way of hinting that someday some other Mideast nation might have a handful of nuclear weapons -- as if any of them could threaten Israel, which already has as many as 200 nukes and can surely build more. [ . . . ]

Yet the Palestinians are far more insecure than the Israelis. Like any victims of colonial military occupation, they're constantly subject to the threat of death and destruction without notice, at the whim of the Israeli military, and increasingly from Israeli settlers as well. Over the last quarter-century, the conflict has killed roughly eleven Palestinians for every Israeli who died. And yet you'll never find this line in the speech of an American politician: "Our commitment to Palestine's security is unshakeable."

Obama did declare that "every state has the right to self-defense." In the next breath, however, he demanded that a new Palestinian state must have no army. Would any sovereign nation accept such a demand, especially if its closest neighbor had dominated and pummeled its people for years and possessed by far the most powerful military in the region? Yet the idea of a "demilitarized" Palestinian state is a given in the U.S. and Israel, as if the only conceivable future threat could come from those occupied, not from the former occupier.

The staggering power imbalance between occupier and occupied points to another looking-glass-style distortion that dominates America's conversation about the issue: the absurd idea that the two parties could negotiate as equals[. . . . ]

There's one last point that Obama and American public discourse get absolutely backwards: the idea that being a friend of Israel's means endorsing its popular narrative, which offers no more truth than Alice's looking-glass. Real friends don't enable their friends to engage in self-destructive behavior. Real friends wouldn't let them get so drunk on a delusional story that they have no compunctions about driving what might otherwise be a peace process off a cliff.

The U.S. has the power to push the Israelis away from that cliff and head them in a new direction. There's real truth in the common Israeli joke that the U.S. is "the eight-ton elephant that can sit down anywhere it wishes."

Yes, Obama can put his tuches anywhere he wants. If he ever feels politically safe enough, he just might put it on the table. Then, Israel might have to leave the looking-glass world and agree to start genuine peace negotiations.

Chernus also has some useful paragraphs on why most Israelis prefer to keep the conflict unresolved -- the common enemy unites the Jewish people, and patriotic unity (militaristic and racist as it is) is the sole grounds for keeping a right-wing government in power, although the nominal left in Israel is every bit as desperate to cling to that sense of unity. What Chernus doesn't say is how much depends on the conflict and its resolution.

The core fact is that Israel is the last unresolved white settler colony. In all previous cases, white settler colonies succeeded or failed based on demographics. Basically, where the white settlers had the numbers they won (US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, many parts of Latin America from Argentina and Chile to Cuba although some parts were eased with integration, where the natives submitted to the colonizer's religion). Where they didn't, they lost (South Africa and Algeria were the closest and hardest fought). Israel is smack in the middle on that scale, a point Israel's founders were all too conscious of. From the early days of British sponsorship, they grasped that success or failure depended on how many Jews they could convince to immigrate, and how many Palestinians they could get to leave. After WWII nearly everyone came to think that seizing land by force, transplanting your settlers to secure that land, and building an occupier/occupied caste system were crimes of a bygone age, but that's what Israelis did -- most emphatically but by no means exclusively in 1947-49 -- and their entire history has been spent in securing those gains, in making them irreversible even as more and more people see them as unjust and unnecessary.

Unfortunately, the lessons we learned from WWII weren't learned as quickly or as completely as we tend to remember them. The Nazis fatally discredited racism and anti-Semitism, but the US Jim Crow system remained intact another twenty years, South African Apartheid much longer, and in 1946 there were anti-Jewish pogroms in Poland. The rules against moving settlers into occupied territory came in reaction to Germany moving its nationals into eastern Europe, but the Soviet Union both moved borders and whole peoples after the war, sliding Poland well to the west, and ejecting both the new Germans and ones that had lived in the east for many centuries. WWII fatally disrupted the colonial system, but France and Great Britain clung to parts of their prewar empires for another twenty years, fighting especially hard to support their white minorities in Algeria and Kenya. Britain callously split its India colony into two camps, instigating genocidal slaughter that killed over a million and sent many more millions fleeing across new borders -- less than a year before Britain callously abanoned Palestine to civil war. And of course the founders of Israel were shocked and reacting to the Nazi genocide of six million Jews, an event that they viewed as proof of the necessity of the Zionist project -- proof that anti-Semitism was eternal, proof that they had no home in Europe they could return to, a prism which inflated the Arab resistence they faced locally to existential peril.

So it's easy to understand how this came about, and why so many Israelis cling to deep-seated myths of diminishing utility. For sixty years they've kept up the fight, motivating themselves with lessons from their victimhood and a neverending litany of wrongs against them. The Palestinians were a bit slow on the uptake at first, although even in the 1930s many could see the same fateful struggle over demography: a fear that proved more than justified, although it came at the most unfortunate of times, just as Hitler was organizing his genocide. The Palestinians went through every stage of resistance, from thinking they could take back their land to thinking they could throw off their occupiers to negotiation to abjectly pleading to the world for the basic dignity of human and civil rights. They are, in short, a beaten people, yet even that doesn't quiet the Israelis, for by their very success they've impaled themselves on the horns of a dilemma: they still want all of the land, and they still want none of the people on that land, and nothing less will satisfy their sense of themselves as the victors, or fully justify their long and bloody struggle.

For anyone with a modicum of rationality, there are two easy solutions at this point: Israel can keep the land and adopt the people, giving them citizenship and diluting the Jewish majority, threatening their sense of owning a Jewish State; or Israel can divide the land, giving up control over the parts that are mostly non-Jewish so that Palestinians can enjoy citizenship and rights in a state that is not Israel. One problem with the latter is that Israel has deliberately created a gulag of settlements in the West Bank that are virtually impossible to disentangle. Another is that Israeli have overwhelmed East Jerusalem, which Palestinians insist should be the capitol of their free nation. Another is what to do about millions of Palestinian refugees, especially those born and raised in countries like Lebanon that do not recognize their citizenship. And there are lots of smaller problems, some real like the vast number of Palestinians held in Israeli jails, most rather silly (like the security concerns of Israelis who insist that a Palestinian state have no rights to its own air space or coastal waters). But all of those things could be negotiated if both sides were to show mutual respect and a desire to give up the struggle and live in each other's company.

It wasn't always like this, but more and more it's just the Israelis who are obstructing peace. The Palestinians, as I've said, have been utterly defeated, but whereas in earlier times that may have meant they would slaughtered, sold into slavery, and/or forced into exile, today they can still insist on the right to be treated like anyone else. More and more, Israel's failure to recognize this is turning them into an international pariah, much like happened to South Africa during the last days of Apartheid. But this far Israel has escaped the practical consequences of their obtuseness because they've been able to bully and cajole the US into providing them with moral cover (and billions of dollars). The US has gone along for lots of not very good reasons, from the fact that we used to be a white settler colony ourselves to the various interest groups, like the military-industrial complex, that benefit from friendship with Israel, to AIPAC, to Israel's bizarre cultivation of born again Christians (especially those pining for the apocalypse). On the other hand, that support has its downsides, not least the utter moral confusion of having to exempt Israel (and therefore the Palestinians) from everything we say about the rest of the world.

So watching Obama flounder here is doubly unfortunate. On the one hand, he is isn't saying what needs to be said: something that finally shakes Israel out of its stupor. On the other hand, what he is saying isn't taken seriously, because he doesn't have the authority and political clout to back it up. I've long understood how intransigent Israel's politicians are on this issue, in large part because I appreciate how central it is to their identity, but I've also long suspected that Israeli public opinion is more flexible. The one time an American president actually showed his displeasure with Israeli intransigence the Israelis voted Shamir out and Rabin in, leading to the Oslo Accords. So what I've been waiting for ever since Obama took office was the sort of signals that would undermine Netanyahu's extremely fragile coalition. Just as Netanyahu successfully sabotaged Oslo, there has never been any doubt that he would keep any new peace initiatives from taking effect -- as indeed he has. But his command of Israel has always been very tentative; nudge him out of office and the climate could change markedly. But as long as Netanyahu can push Obama around, this is certainly the lesson of last week, why should Israelis doubt him? They are relatively comfortable with the persistence of a conflict which costs them very little and makes them feel like God's Chosen People. And as long as the US kowtows to them, they pretty much are, despite the fact that what they are doing is offensive to everyone else -- most of all to people who realize that we'd be much better off with more mutual respect and a lot less violence.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 18224 [18197] rated (+27), 857 [867] unrated (-10). Seems like the normal flow of the week got interrupted Thursday-Friday, then wiped out Saturday-Sunday, so a strong early ratings push petered out. This week looks dicey.

Jazz Prospecting (JCG #27, Part 6)

Mid-cycle, picking things from all the queue boxes trying to cut down the overall backlog. Was fairly productive until the weekend, which got wiped out. Probably a couple more weeks like this before I switch to closing out the column/cycle. Also the month turns over so I might get distracted by Recycled Goods. I have notes on about 30 records for Rhapsody Streamnotes, so that's healthy sized.


John Vanore & Abstract Truth: Contagious Words (2010 [2011], Acoustical Concepts): Trumpet player, composer, arranger, leader of the big band he calls Abstract Truth. About the only bio I have on Vanore is that he played for Woody Herman in the 1970s, and put the first edition of his band together in 1981. Last year he reissued a 1991 album called Curiosity. This one is new, cut in June and December of 2010. Not very well defined in the early going, but sneaks up on your and closes very strong, getting a lot out the guitar and slipping a French horn into the brass. B+(*)

Eddie Mendenhall: Cosine Meets Tangent (2010 [2011], Miles High): Pianist, bio mangled, but "directs the jazz department" at Monterey Peninsula College, seems to be from those parts, studied at Berklee, spent seven years in Japan. First album. Wrote 8 of 10 pieces, with one from vibraphonist Mark Sherman, one from Rodgers and Hart. Quartet with John Schifflett on bass, Akira Tana on drums. The vibes dominate early on in one of Sherman's finest performances. By coincidence I was writing something about MJQ while listening to this. These guys are much faster, not that that was necessarily the point. B+(**)

Bill Anschell: Figments (2010 [2011], Origin): Seattle pianist, AMG counts seven albums since 1997. Solo piano this time, all covers, majority folk/rock from the 1960s (two Lennon/McCartneys, "Alice's Restaurant," "Spinning Wheel") into the early 1970s ("Big Yellow Taxi," "Desperado"). Nice as far as it goes. B

Storms/Nocturnes [Geoffrey Keezer/Joe Locke/Tim Garland]: Via (2010 [2011], Origin): Second album for the trio -- previous one recorded in 2002, released with Garland's name first and Keezer's last (UK label then, US label now). Respectively: piano, vibes, saxophones/bass clarinet. Garland, as I said, is British, b. 1966, has about ten albums, plays a lot of soprano as well as tenor, was prominent enough he got "featuring" credits while he was with Bill Bruford. Keezer, b. 1970, was Art Blakey's last pianist. Has a dozen-plus albums since 1989 including major labels Blue Note and Columbia. Locke you know. Aside from the previous group album they've played around with each other. Still, I'm surprised at how little chemistry there is. The pieces don't mesh, and Garland and Locke are pretty unassertive. B-

Noah Haidu: Slipstream (2009 [2011], Posi-Tone): Pianist, from Charlottesville, VA. First record, although he's in a group called Native Soul which has two records, one unplayed in my queue somewhere. Post-hardbop quintet, has a front line that should be able to generate some heat: Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on alto sax. They do break out on occasion, but not so often, with the piano thickly entangled. B

Native Soul: Soul Step (2008 [2011], Talking Drum): Filed this under pop jazz, a mistake I blame on the packaging -- they sure try to look like another variant of Four Play. Actually, a mainstream postbop sax-piano-bass-drums quartet; even when they try to go with electric bass and keyb they stay firmly rooted on the jazz side. All four members contribute 2-3 songs -- bassist Marcus McLaurine is the overachiever. Two covers: one from Jimi Hendrix, the other "End of a Love Affair." B+(**)

Clint Ashlock Big Band: New Jazz Order (2008 [2011], self-released): Trumpet player, from Kansas City, leading a standard big band (although so many musicians come and go I didn't check to see if all the sections always add up). Bobby Watson joins on two cuts, which scarcely matters except for the imprimatur he lends to musicians I've never heard of. The guitar keeps things going, the section work is snappy, they have a great time -- much like the territory bands of yore. B+(***)

The Rossano Sportiello Trio: Lucky to Be Me [Arbors Piano Series, Volume 22] (2010, Arbors): Pianist, b. 1974 in Vigevano, Italy. Plays old fashioned stride with a light touch. Joined Dan Barrett at a festival in Switzerland in 2002, and has increasingly worked himself into the Arbors swing network: second album on his own, two more charming duos with bassist-singer Nicki Parrott, side credits especially with Harry Allen. This is a trio with Frank Tate (bass) and Dennis Mackrel (drums), old standards which increasingly includes the 1950s (Thad Jones, J.J. Johnson, Bill Evans, Tommy Flanagan), light and mostly delightful. Closes with something by Bach, no doubt part of his education, just not something I ever learned to care for. B+(**)

Lajos Dudas: 50 Years of Jazz Clarinet: The Best of Lajos Dudas (1976-2007 [2011], Jazz Sick, 2CD): Clarinet player, also some alto sax, b. 1941 in Budapest, Hungary; not sure when he moved to Germany, evidently by 1973 when he started teaching in Neuss, North Rhine-Westphalia. Reportedly has "over 50 Singles/LPs/CDs"; liner notes cite 17 here, plus seven cuts identified as radio shots. Fifty years goes back to his first performances, back when he was studying at the Bela Bartok Conservatory and the Franz Liszt Academy of Music. His recording career is shorter, starting around 1976 with his first Reflections on Bach -- a subject he returns to several times later. Still, this is very much jazz, even though he hardly fits into the trad, bop, or avant niches. Discs aren't strictly chronolgical, but the first one leans early (1978-94) with its Bach, Liszt, and HR Big Band (also a cut with guitarist Atilla Zoller). Second leads off with a vigorous "Summertime," then more Bach before he moves into a 1995-2007 stretch and it gets more interesting. B+(**)

Jacqui Sutton: Dolly & Billie (2010, Toy Blue Typewriter): Singer, from Orlando, FL; fifty-something, first album. The Dolly Parton-Billie Holiday concept is only explicit on the first ("God Bless the Child") and last ("Endless Stream of Tears") songs. In between there's a piece from Porgy and Bess, two from BeTwixt, BeTween, & BeTwain, some more show tunes I don't quite get. Band is called the Frontier Jazz Orchestra, led by pianist-trombonist Henry Darragh, with Paul Chester on bango, Max Dyer on cello, Aralee Dorough on flute, Alan Hoff on accordion, some others. It's meant to be a little corny, and Sutton's voice careens recklessly through the maze, scattering hay bales hither and yon. C+

Jochen Rueckert: Somewhere Meeting Somebody (2010 [2011], Pirouet): Drummer, b. 1975 near Köln, Germany; moved to New York in 1995. Second album, the first dating from 1998; AMG lists 30 side credits. Wrote 9 of 11 pieces here, adding one each from Herbie Hancock and Martin Gore (Depeche Mode). Group looks superb on paper -- Mark Turner (tenor sax), Brad Shepik (guitar), Matt Penman (bass) -- but the guitar doesn't pop out, and the sax just glides along, making few waves. B+(*)

Alex Pinto Quartet: Inner State (2010 [2011], self-released): Guitarist, b. 1985 in Silver Spring, MD (near DC); father from Mangalore, Karnataka, India, worked for World Bank which moved the family around, including a stint in Russia; mother from Wisconsin. Studied at McGill (in Montreal), wound up in San Francisco. First album. Quartet includes Jon Armstrong (tenor sax), Dave Tranchina (bass), Jaz Sawyer (drums). Pinto wrote all the pieces, working in some Indian tunings and breaking out on his solos, although Armstrong comes off even more muscular. B+(**)

Gordon Lee: This Path (2010, OA2): Pianist, b. 1953 in New York City; studied at Syracuse and Indiana; moved to Portland, OR in 1977, worked 1980-85 in New York, then returned to Portland. Seventh album since 1982. Works with two trios here, plus a couple of solo cuts, one with Miguel Bernal on cajon. B+(**)

T.K. Blue: Latin Bird (2010 [2011], Motéma): Also known as Talib Kibwe; plays alto sax and flute; b. in New York, mother from Trinidad, father from Jamaica; studied at NYU and Columbia; joined Abdullah Ibrahim 1977-80, moved to Paris for early 1980s, hooked up with Randy Weston for a long stretch. Released three albums as Talib Kibwe 1986-96; five now as T.K. Blue, starting in 1999. This one is simple enough: Charlie Parker songs with Latin percussion -- Roland Guerrero on congas, Willie Martinez on traps -- with Theo Hill on piano and Essiet Okon Essiet on bass, plus a couple guests: Lewis Nash takes over the drums on two cuts, and Steve Turre plays shells and 'bone on three. Not the overpowering player Bird was, but that's fine by me. The two originals are OK, but the one non-Parker cover is a dead spot: "Round Midnight," which subtracts rather than adds to the theme. B+(**)

Fred Hersch: Alone at the Vanguard (2010 [2011], Palmetto): Pianist, of course, has close to 30 album since 1984, cultivated his Bill Evans comparisons with 1990's Evanessence. I thought last year's Whirl was a triumph -- best thing he's ever done, although I'm not much of an expert. Guess that's all it took to get him to do another solo album -- don't know how many he has, but must be a handful (still way short of Jarrett). You know better than I whether you're up for this. Personally, I don't buy all of Art Tatum's solo piano albums, and he's a helluva lot sexier than this. But there's nothing lame or disingenous here, and I'm as happy as anyone that's he's still kicking. B+(*)

Liam Sillery: Priorité (2009 [2011], OA2): Trumpet player, from New Jersey, studied at Manhattan School of Music. Fifth album since 2004, mostly quintets with sax-piano-bass-drums (one with organ-guitar instead of piano-bass). With Matt Blostein (alto sax) and Vinnie Sperrazza (drums), who have their own band, plus Jesse Stacken (piano) and Thomas Morgan (bass). Postbop sophistication, everyone fitting in nicely, doing the things well schooled groups do these days. B+(*)

Julia Hülsmann Trio: Imprint (2010 [2011], ECM): Pianist, b. 1968 in Bonn, Germany; sixth album since 2003, three on ACT, two on ECM. AMG reports that she also sings, but not here. Piano trio, very typical of Manfred Eicher's productions: clean, poised, articulate, not too fast or too free but not predictable either. B+(**)

Miles Davis: Bitches Brew Live (1969-70 [2011], Columbia/Legacy): Something of a misnomer, combining three previously unreleased cuts from a pre-Bitches Brew July 1969 performance at Newport with six from an Isle of Wight set the following August. Neither group matches the album band -- Wayne Shorter, John McLaughlin, and Joe Zawinul are among the missing -- nor do the songs line up. The former group was stripped down with Chick Corea, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette; the latter was buffed up, adding Gary Bartz, Keith Jarrett (on organ), and Airto Moreira. So this is basically yet another live set from the period when Davis made his transition from hard bop to fusion, and from dingy jazz clubs to stadia. Pretty hot one, too; all the more confusing since I mostly recall Bitches Brew as our favorite chill-out album of the early 1970s. B+(***)

Colin Vallon Trio: Rruga (2010 [2011], ECM): Pianist, b. 1980 in Lausanne, Switzerland; based and teaches in Bern; third album since 2004. Piano trio with Patrice Moret on bass and Samuel Rohrer on drums, both contributing songs. Played it three times. Not much snap, mostly quiet majesty. B+(**)

Ellery Eskelin Trio: New York (2011, Prime Source): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1959 in Wichita, KS; grew up in Baltimore; mother played organ, and this record, an organ trio, is dedicated to her; moved to New York in 1983 and has twenty-some albums since 1988, mostly on the Swiss Hat label(s). With Gary Versace on organ, Gerald Cleaver on drums. Five songs, played loose -- only one I initially IDed was "How Deep Is the Ocean." No grease to the organ: Versace patiently fills in rather than reiterate the usual grind, leaving Eskelin free to plot out his own path. A-


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:

  • Bill Carrothers Trio: A Night at the Village Vanguard (Pirouet, 2CD)
  • Claire Dickson: Scattin' Doll (NDR)
  • Aaron Goldberg and Guillermo Klein: Bienestan (Sunnyside): June 14
  • Larry Goldings: In My Room (BFM Jazz)
  • Maïkotron Unit: Ex-Voto (Jazz From Rant)
  • Red Hot + Rio 2 (Entertainment One, 2CD): advance, June 28
  • Wadada Leo Smith's Organic: Heart's Reflections (Cuneiform, 2CD)
  • David Weiss & Point of Departure: Snuck Out (Sunnyside): June 28
  • Denny Zeitlin: Labyrinth (Sunnyside): June 28

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:


  • Simon Johnson: A Limit to Their Insanity: Subtitle, "Why Republicans will eventually vote to raise the debt ceiling":

    If Republican threats were credible, any news that increased the likelihood of a problem with the debt ceiling would send Treasury bond prices down and yields up. This is not happening, because bond traders cannot imagine that the Republicans would be able -- or even willing -- to follow through.

    After all, the consequences of failing to increase the debt ceiling would be catastrophic. The entire credit system in the United States -- and in much of the rest of the world -- is based on the notion that there is such a thing as a "risk-free asset," and that these assets are U.S. government securities. There is no provision in the Constitution to guarantee that the United States will always pay its debts, but the American Republic has proved itself for 200-plus years to be about as good a credit risk as has ever existed. [ . . . ]

    Countries never default because they can't pay their debts; there are always ways to decrease expenditures or raise taxes. Countries default because their political systems bring them to the point where the people in power decide, for whatever reason, not to pay the government's debts. It is not difficult to identify who would bear what costs if the United States did not pay -- or if it disrupted markets by not increasing its debt ceiling. Everyone who borrows or interacts with the credit system in any way would suffer a shock that would make the crisis of 2008 look small.

    Among others, the U.S. corporate sector -- big and small business -- would be livid. [ . . . ] Simply put, America will not score what is known in soccer as an "own goal" over the debt ceiling -- and Boehner must know it. Symbolic gestures are to be expected, as with the threatened government shutdown earlier this year, which merely created fodder for political advertising by both parties. But any manufactured debt crisis now would deeply antagonize the corporate sector -- and most of the electorate. In the wake of economic disaster, the party held responsible could be exiled from power for a generation.

    Also see: Andrew Leonard: Why the Debt Ceiling Absolutely, Positively, Will Be Raised: video with Douglas Holtz-Eakin, a conservative economist who otherwise I have little respect for, but even he gets it.

    Also: Andrew Leonard: Debt Ceiling Panic Attack: Think of this as John Boehner reprising Richard Nixon's madman stratagem:

    Let's think through this for a second. Who benefits from a rising sense of debt ceiling panic? Republicans. Extortion only works if you really think that the blackmailer will go through his threats -- a dynamic that we saw played out to perfection in the struggle over the continuing resolution to fund the U.S. government. Every spike upward on the fear-and-trembling-meter gives John Boehner more leverage, empowering him to go right up to the brink of disaster and extract the biggest possible concession from Democrats. So it serves the GOP just fine that the punditocracy regards it as irresponsible.

    I won't deny that there's a possiblity that all hell could break loose, but I'm standing by my original position. I don't think there is any chance that the debt ceiling won't be raised, not least because I'm pretty sure President Obama will decide that maintaining the good credit of the United States is of paramount importance. He will cut a deal, if forced to, because he takes the good of the nation seriously. But the spectacle of everyone freaking out at the possibility of default actually weakens his hand, and raises the likelihood that the terms of that eventual deal will impose unnecessary and economically damaging short-term spending cuts or overly harsh entitlement reductions.

    So let's not be scared, let's just be clear: risking the good credit of the United States is a profoundly stupid thing to do. If Republicans provoke a bond market revolt that seriously raises the cost of government borrowing, they'll do severe longterm damage to the U.S. economy. It's hard to see how the GOP would be rewarded for such behavior in 2012.

  • Ezra Klein: Osama bin Laden Didn't Win, but He Was 'Enormously Successful':

    Bin Laden, according to [Daveed] Gartenstein-Ross, had a strategy that we never bothered to understand, and thus that we never bothered to defend against. What he really wanted to do -- and, more to the point, what he thought he could do -- was bankrupt the United States of America. After all, he'd done the bankrupt-a-superpower thing before. And though it didn't quite work out this time, it worked a lot better than most of us, in this exultant moment, are willing to admit. [ . . . ]

    "He has compared the United States to the Soviet Union on numerous occasions -- and these comparisons have been explicitly economic," Gartenstein-Ross argued in a Foreign Policy article. "For example, in October 2004 bin Laden said that just as the Arab fighters and Afghan mujaheddin had destroyed Russia economically, al Qaeda was now doing the same to the United States, 'continuing this policy in bleeding America to the point of bankruptcy.'"

    For bin Laden, in other words, success was not to be measured in body counts. It was to be measured in deficits, in borrowing costs, in investments we weren't able to make in our country's continued economic strength. And by those measures, bin Laden landed a lot of blows.

    Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz estimates that the price tag on the Iraq War alone will surpass $3 trillion. Afghanistan likely amounts to another trillion or two. Add in the build-up in homeland security spending since 9/11 and you're looking at another trillion. And don't forget the indirect costs of all this turmoil: The Federal Reserve, worried about a fear-induced recession, slashed interest rates after the attack on the World Trade Center, and then kept them low to combat skyrocketing oil prices, a byproduct of the war in Iraq. That decade of loose monetary policy may well have contributed to the credit bubble that crashed the economy in 2007 and 2008.

    Then there's the post-9/11 slowdown in the economy, the time wasted in airports, the foregone returns on investments we didn't make, the rise in oil prices as a result of the Iraq War, the cost of rebuilding Ground Zero, health care for the first responders and much, much more.

    Moreover, those trillions aren't over. Almost everything on that list remains as a continuing expenditure, something we'll spend again and again until we figure out a better way. But the more important thing to realize is that bin Laden didn't force us to spend all that treasure -- all he can be directly charged with was the dead on 9/11, caring for the wounded, and repairing a few buildings. All the rest resulted from a war we chose to fight: a war we let ourselves be suckered into. That was above all else a political decision, one made by one person, president G.W. Bush, no matter how easy it was given how many people around him, and all across the nation, felt the itch for war. I could imagine a very different president avoiding bin Laden's trap, and prevailing in the court of public opinion. It would have taken foresight and courage, the ability to see complex issues from many sides, to think ahead, and to appeal to our better natures. Such people were, and are, scarce in our government and in the political class: something that bin Laden recognized, and took tragic advantage of.

  • Jane Mayer: The Secret Sharer: Is Thomas Drake an enemy of the state? Drake is a former NSA employee who leaked documents to a Baltimore Sun reporter exposing "financial waste, bureaucratic dysfunction, and dubious practices in NSA counterterrorism programs." He is charged with violating the 1917 Espionage Act, subject to a prison term of 35 years.

    Top officials at the Justice Department describe such leak prosecutions as almost obligatory. Lanny Breuer, the Assistant Attorney General who supervises the department's criminal division, told me, "You don't get to break the law and disclose classified information just because you want to." He added, "Politics should play no role in it whatsoever."

    When President Barack Obama took office, in 2009, he championed the cause of government transparency, and spoke admiringly of whistle-blowers, whom he described as "often the best source of information about waste, fraud, and abuse in government." But the Obama Administration has pursued leak prosecutions with a surprising relentlessness. Including the Drake case, it has been using the Espionage Act to press criminal charges in five alleged instances of national-security leaks -- more such prosecutions than have occurred in all previous Administrations combined. The Drake case is one of two that Obama's Justice Department has carried over from the Bush years.

    Gabriel Schoenfeld, a conservative political scientist at the Hudson Institute, who, in his book Necessary Secrets (2010), argues for more stringent protection of classified information, says, "Ironically, Obama has presided over the most draconian crackdown on leaks in our history -- even more so than Nixon."

    Much more about the case, and the NSA's illegal surveillance programs. Ends with a discussion of similar cases, starting with the failed prosecution of Daniel Ellsberg. Ends with this:

    Mark Klein, the former A.T. & T. employee who exposed the telecom-company wiretaps, is also dismayed by the Drake case. "I think it's outrageous," he says. "The Bush people have been let off. The telecom companies got immunity. The only people Obama has prosecuted are the whistle-blowers."

  • Alex Pareene: North Carolina Anti-Municipal Broadband Bill May Become Law Today:

    The Republicans who control state legislatures across the nation aren't just sending immigrants to private prisons and forbidding children from learning of the existence of gay people -- they are also working closely with major telecommunications lobbyists to hobble municipal broadband services. North Carolina Governor Bev Perdue is now deciding whether to sign or veto a bill severely restricting local communities from creating broadband networks. [ . . . ]

    The basic argument for the bill -- made most convincingly by North Carolina telecom lobby counsel Marcus Trathen here -- is that it's "unfair competition" for local governments to offer better service at lower prices than the private sector, which is also a compelling argument for banning governments from setting up "public" schools that educate children for "free."

    These people would've also opposed rural electrification. We must preserve the private sector's right to overcharge citizens for subpar service!

  • David Weigel: Air Rage: It used to be said that railroads stagnated because they didn't have enough imagination to realize that their real business was transportation, not just railroads. This is laughable, because every railroad from the 1850s on realized exactly what business they were in: they auctioned their routes for government-paid bribes, mostly in the form of free land, which they spent more time managing than they did their routes. Some people still think that Boeing is in the aircraft business, but for a long time now Boeing's prime focus has been in sucking favors from governments. For instance, when Boeing announces a new airplane, their first concern isn't how to design and build it. No, their first concern is to count up how many jobs they might create, then they go around the world seeing who will bid the most for which jobs. Back when they initially announced the 787, they were disappointed in that no state or country bid enough so they were stuck having to use a plant in Washington they had already built, and worse they'd have to use the unionized workers on their payroll in that plant. However, in divvying up all that work, it turned out that Boeing couldn't get to the point of assembling those airplanes. That gave them more time, and finally South Carolina came up with $900 million and the promise to get rid of that pesky union. Only problem was that Boeing bragged so much about how the move would screw the union that the NLRB found the anti-union move to be illegal. Needless to say, Boeing's execs, lobbyists, and political cronies are apoplectic. I mean, Boeing is used to their executives getting slammed in jail for illegal bribes, but for union busting? What kind of country is this?

    Here's the legal argument made by the union and the NLRB. The Wagner Act prohibits companies from moving operations to avoid unions. On Feb. 28, the Seattle Times published an interview with Boeing's CEO, Jim Albaugh, in which he seemed to say, yes, Boeing was basically doing that. "The overriding factor was not the business climate," explained Albaugh, "and it was not the wages we are paying today. It was that we can't afford to have a work stoppage every three years. And we can't afford to continue the rate of escalation of wages."

    That, say the unions, is all the proof you need. But Gould and other critics say that while the board may look kindly upon the complaint, its position won't stand up in the courts.

    The NLRB, for its part, denies that it's a political fight at all (although it launched Fact Check page on its website, which -- possibly a first for the Obama administration -- rebuts a claim made on RedState.com). "It wouldn't have mattered if the complaint was about moving from a union state to another union state," said the NLRB's public affairs director Nancy Cleeland, a former labor reporter for the Los Angeles Times. "It has nothing to do with right-to-work states. These are the issues we deal with every day."

    For Republicans, that's the main issue: the very existence of the NLRB. The board has a Democratic majority only because President Obama recess-appointed Craig Becker, a former AFL-CIO and SEIU counsel. In February, 176 House Republicans voted for an amendment to the budget bill that would have completely defunded the board.

    Pretty surprising to see Boeing caught up like this, but I bet Al Capone was pretty surprised when that tax thing came down. It should always be remembered that Boeing moved their corporate headquarters from Seattle to Chicago so their execs would be less likely to run into the people they laid off.

  • Philip Weiss: Report: Mitchell Resigned Because Dennis Ross Was Biased and Working Against US Interests: Uh, Ross isn't biased. He's a foreign agent, even when his salary is picked up by US taxpayers.

    Abu Shareef said senior American officials informed him that Mitchell viewed the appointment of Ross a step to obstruct the peace process. He added that Mitchell believed Ross was working against US interests.

    Sure worked, didn't it? To be sure, the US has a weak and fuzzy sense of its own interest in the Middle East, even when it is fanatical about asserting them. But generally speaking, a peaceful resolution of the Israel/Palestine conflict would greatly improve US standing in the region. It is certainly easy to see Ross as someone working against US interests. The old-fashioned word for such a person is "traitor."

Friday, May 20, 2011

Krugman Comments

Henry Farrell: Count Me In With the Unsophisticated Six Year Olds: Starts by quoting a Kindred Winecoff attack on Krugman, arguing that things like the Bush tax cuts, the Medicare D program, and the housing bubble were actually cases of popular will at work in a democracy, not (as Krugman argues) the results of intense lobbying by self-interested elites. Farrell writes:

However, actual work on how policy gets made suggests that this doesn't work. On many important policy issues, the public has no preferences whatsoever. On others, it has preferences that largely maps onto partisan identifications rather than actual interests, and that reflect claims made by political elites (e.g. global warming). On others yet, the public has a set of contradictory preferences that politicians can pick and choose from. In some broad sense, public opinion does provide a brake on elite policy making -- but the boundaries are both relatively loose and weakly defined. Policy elites can get away with a hell of a lot if they want to.

The Medicare D example is worth exploring a bit.[1] Adding some sort of drug perscription coverage to Medicare was a very popular proposition. Most health insurance plans provide some sort of coverage. Originally it was a relatively cheap benefit, but under its cover pharmaceutical companies were able to push prices way up, which made the omission all the more glaring in Medicare. It was one issue that Democrats seemed to have some traction with, which is basically why Karl Rove felt the need to sweep the issue away. Once Rove and the Republicans decided to do something, the actual legislation was pure giveaway to the industry. So popular demand wanted the benefit, but not the law as written. In particular, the prohibition against the government negotiating drug prices had no popular benefit -- it greatly increased costs, some of which were passed to seniors in forms like the "donut hole" and the rest fobbed onto taxpayers. The law was clearly an inside deal, but it is true that if the benefit hadn't had such broad popular support it wouldn't have been pushed or passed. So in that sense Medicare D wasn't purely the work of ensconsed elites. On the other hand, the Iraq War was.

No one denies that popular opinion limits what elites can do, nor that it can provide a wedge for one set of elites to campaign against another. However, the latter happens very infrequently, in large part because there are rarely serious splits between elite opinion. One finds, for instance, that both parties hire Treasury officials from the same sets of Citibank and Goldman-Sachs executives. The defense and foreign policy establishments are nearly as integrated. For some 30 years now the US relationship with Israel has been hamstrung by the Dennis Ross-Elliot Abrams tag team, who are nothing more than foreign agents, yet they've managed to pin down what we like to think of as a popular democracy.

When popular opinion demands health care reform, Obama consults with the usual industry lobbyists and comes up with a right-wing think tank plan. The Democrats response to global warming, which quite a few people are seriously worried about, is yet another right-wing think tank scheme. The right then abandons both plans to move the debate even further right, even further away from the issues people actually care about. Working through these charades you wind up with a disaffected populace that doesn't even bother to vote -- it's not like there are any candidates anyway.

[1]: Later on I see Henry quoting Krugman on this:

In fact, the only budget-busting measure undertaken in recent memory that was driven by popular demand as opposed to the agenda of a small number of powerful people was Medicare Part D. And even there, the plan was needlessly expensive, not because that's the way the public wanted it -- it could easily have been simply an addition to traditional Medicare -- but to please the drug lobby and the anti-government ideologues.

Emphasis added. The other budget-busters were sold to the public, and you can cite some polls showing that the selling was successful, but not ones that show that the people who were sold to understood what they were buying.

Winecoff later argues that most Americans don't want a healthcare system run by the government, then tries to broaden "anti-government ideologues" to include those masses. In fact, very few Americans have any major problems with the healthcare systems that are actually run by the US government -- Medicare, Medicaid, the Veterans Adminstration. It's only imaginary ones they object to, which makes you wonder if they really know what they are opining about.


This, in turn, is followed by 262 comments. Some are worth quoting.

Bloix [1]:

Is this an example of "an extremely weak understanding" or is it an example of lying? I cannot imagine how honest person could say that the tax cuts and the Iraq war took place because they were "supported by majorities." The Bush administration was the passive conduit for the will of the people, is that the idea? [ . . . ]

Sometimes people say things that reveal that they are genuinely not worth debating. They are simply lying sacks of shit and they need to be opposed, not reasoned with.

Straightwood [6]:

An examination of the character of Karl Rove is all that is required to support Krugman's thesis of irresponsible and incompetent elites. This "Mayberry Machiavelli" could in no way be described as a public servant. He was a cynical manipulator of public opinion relentlessly pursuing the the political agendas of his patron(s). To suppose that a creature like Rove was simply responding to the wishes of the public is lunacy.

politicalfootball [7]:

"If there is a housing bubble, maybe it's because public policy was skewed in ways that home ownership attractive, because that's what people want." [Kindred Winecoff]

It's amazing to me that alleged scholars will say unbelievably stupid shit like this. You can knock Krugman for being rude if you like, but what are you supposed to say about this? I promise you that very few people actually supported -- or even understood -- the predatory lending, unregulated derivatives, etc. that caused the housing bubble.

MPAVictoria [9]:

"There is not even any doubt that neither the tax cuts, nor the Iraq war, would have happened if they weren't pushed by political, business, and media elites." [christian_h]

Exactly right. All of these policies were pushed relentlessly by the media at every opportunity. It also should be noted that both the tax cuts and the Iraq war were pushed with lies. The Bush administration repeatedly claimed that the majority of the tax cuts were aimed at the middle class and the poor, which we all know was false, and they also claimed that Iraq had WMDs, which we now also know was false.

Kindred Winecoff [13]:

Hitting too hard, Henry. I was protesting Krugman's moralism, and suggesting that even the most simplistic view of politics suggests an interest-based explanation works better. I disagree with little that you wrote (I'd go further on some points), but I have no idea why you're sticking up for Krugman here.

I pretty much gave up on Winecoff's frequent comments after here. At one point he argues that elite opinion is divided then gives Krugman as an example of an elite who disagrees with various Bush policies. In fact, I wound up stopping near the point where Winecoff wrote, "The consensus here seems to be that I should shut up."

Sebastian [15]:

Oh no Kindred, that won't fly. You persistently read Krugman in the most uncharitable way possible and now ask for a charitable reading of your own posts?

Let me summarize:

  • Brooks: It's the stupid electorate that's gotten us into this mess, we really need smart elites to get us out.
  • Krugman: Are you kidding me? Those policies were elite driven and not due to some stupid electorate.
  • Winecoff: But public opinion favored those policies! It was the public after all!
  • Farrell: Dude, that's not how policy is made.
  • Winecoff: Yeah, I agree, but that doesn't matter and I hate Krugman.
  • Readers: ????

Straightwood [19]:

The rich got their tax cuts in America because they paid for them with political donations and retainers to lying thugs like Karl Rove. There are "malefactors of great wealth" and Krugman is right to denounce their cynical political flunkies on moral grounds.

christian_h [22]:

Kindred makes three fundamental theoretical mistakes: One, he mistakes the result of an opinion poll for the complex reality that is the opinion of the masses; two, he mistakes correlation for causality; and three, he ignores completely the way ruling class ideology as transmitted by media, entertainment, the organization of daily life, impacts on and shapes public opinion. Maybe this is a feature of IPE rather than Winecoff, but I always find it fascinating when liberal social scientists write as if 150 years of Marxist thought did not exist; although of course in the case of the Bush tax cuts or the Iraq war one doesn't have to be a Marxist to recognize that whatever public support they may have had was obviously the product of massive propaganda unleashed by elites intent on forming the very public support needed as an excuse to implement these policies.

Josh [26]:

What about the invasion of Grenada? Did that happen because the people wanted it? 'Cause polls taken after it'd begun showed a lot of public support.

b9n10t [28]:

The public opinion poll is, for Winecoff, like the provocative dress that implicitly sanctions the violators designs.

Area Man [30]:

"If there is a housing bubble, maybe it's because public policy was skewed in ways that home ownership attractive, because that's what people want." [Kindred Winecoff]

You can't be serious.

Having public policy skewed in favor of home ownership cannot cause a housing bubble. The whole idea of a bubble is that constantly rising valuations are unsustainable; in other words, buying becomes irrational, but it keeps paying as long as other people keep buying. If public policy makes home ownership more attractive, this by itself will not cause an irrational buying spree, it will at most cause a one-time increase in home values, after which they level off. This is assuming you believe there were massive changes in public policy starting in the late 90s that encouraged people to buy houses that weren't in place before, which as far as I can tell, there weren't.

Another way to think about this is to ask precisely how public policy changed in 2007-2009 to make home ownership massively less attractive, since this is why you seem to think that people overbought homes to begin with. I am not aware of any such changes, and many to the contrary.

Martin Bento [31]:

Occasionally, you can have a policy that is popularly-driven. Legalization of medical marijuana is probably the best recent example. Most states that have passed it have done so by ballot initiative, usually over the opposition of most of the elected representatives. There was little elite agitation for it beforehand. There was some -- from libertarians, including people like Milton Friedman -- but it was scattered and limited to the occasional Op Ed. Milty like to talk this way to seem consistent, but he didn't actually do much to push for it. There was also support on the Left, but not from people credibly regarded as part of the political elite. The Iraq War and tax cuts were nothing at all like this.

hopkin [41]:

I don't see what is so difficult about this. Why on earth would donors pour millions and millions of dollars into candidates' war chests if all they were going to do once elected was reflect public opinion (whatever that means)?

Loviatar [49]:

You are giving Winecoff too much credit. I've read his original post and his responses here and all I've gotten from his writing is that he is a disingenuous, dissembling mouthpiece for the anti-Krugman portion of the political elite.

He is doing exactly what a modern day trench soldier for the conservative movement does; he puts out a poorly researched political hit job and when challenged on facts, he dissembles, when taken to task with his own words, he builds strawmen. He is not naive, he didn't read Krugman incorrectly, he is just playing by the modern conservative playbook.

Conservative Playbook -- 7 easy steps

  1. support crappy policy (e.g. Paul Ryan's budget plan)
  2. when challenged -- dissemble (we're not killing Medicaid)
  3. scream liberal media (standard)
  4. when challenged again -- build strawman (budget mess was created by housing and medical aid for poor people)
  5. scream liberal media (standard)
  6. when challenged again -- lie (the public wanted tax cuts for the rich and the Iraq war/the public wants us to cut medical care for the poor and elderly)
  7. scream liberal media (standard)

Straightwood [62]:

Mr. Winecoff seems intent on diffusing responsibility for bad policy outcomes by laying down a smokescreen of generalities regarding explicit and implicit voter "approval" of bad policy. But there are sharp distinctions of motives and methods between powerful individuals energetically pursuing an agenda and a vast aggregation of poorly informed voters tolerating faits accompli. This asymmetry does not seem to interest him, because he wants to spread blame so evenly that nobody can be blamed.

Straightwood [77]:

Brooks is possibly the worst of the VSP pundits because of his indefatigable chutzpah abetted by junk sociology. Every few days he emits an unsubstantiated "insight" that consistently supports aggrandizement of the rich and the pauperization of everyone else. Ever since Brooks saw that the Buckleys ate off silver plates, he has been a loyal servant of the fortunate, and there is no slimy sophistry that he will not stoop to to please his patrons.

That Brooks, a shameless sophist, occupies equal column space across the page from a rigorously honest Nobel Prize winning economist is a sad commentary on the swamp of "balanced" commentary that the NYT has become under the dysfunctional Bill Keller.

Jim Harrison [84]:

Winecoff is perfectly correct that our system has some democratic features, which is the reason that our conservative elites have to lie so much. [ . . . ]

Much shorter version: Of course Krugman is accusing elites of immorality. "Why do I call you a pig fucker? Because, first of all, you fuck pigs."

Henry [96]:

If Krugman is saying, as plainly as plainly can be, that Medicare Part D was driven by public demand, then why do you [Winecoff] keep on reiterating that he is saying quite the opposite of what he does in fact say? Let me repeat that again. He says -- as unequivocally, plainly and simply as someone could possibly say it -- that the initial impetus for Medicare Part D was driven by popular demand. This presents broad problems for your general claim that Krugman has a one dimensional account of politics in which the public plays no role whatsoever.

Robert [102]:

For several decades, I've noticed that the elites that the 10 or 20 companies owing the U.S. media put on regularly spout lies and bullshit. Has it become so bad that they now believe their nonsense and are now, like Winecoff, at best, extremely stupid? [ . . . ] I'm not sure if I'd like to think that for a society to continue, its ruling class must have some idea of how things work.

Straightwood [118]:

Regarding the presence of evil in political leadership, there is a simple test. Knowingly making false representations to achieve goals that are harmful to the general electorate, but beneficial to one's patrons, is evil. People who regularly do this to advance their political careers are evil. [ . . . ]

Many Republicans (and Tea Party partisans) are bluntly claiming that further concentration of wealth in America is good for the nation, despite abundant evidence that this is false. If they do not know that this is a false proposition, then they are simply stupid. If they do know it, they are evil. To the degree that Democratic politicians exhibit the same behavior, the same conclusions must be drawn.

christian_h [129]:

There is a valid criticism of Krugman to be made in particular as regards the financial crash -- while it was of course made possible by deregulation, that deregulation was a necessary component of the financialisation of modern capitalism that in turn is a response to the problems of the tendency of the rate of profit to fall and the surplus absorption problem. Seen this way, it IS indeed simplistic to blame the actions of elites, as in, individual members of the elite, for it.

This is one that could use some unpacking, but even if you regard financialization as an inexorable law of capitalism -- David Harvey wrote a Marxist take on this, and Kevin Phillips wrote a non-Marxist one -- it still comes down to actual, well-moneyed elites to grease the wheels and make it happen. If it was just surplus absorption, one could find plenty of poor workers to distribute that to -- but the bankers had other ideas.

Straightwood [140]:

Maybe the influence of elites has grown [Kindred Winecoff]

Maybe?

Have you heard of the Citizens United decision? Are you aware of the demise of the Fairness Doctrine in broadcasting? Do you understand that five corporations dominate news media in the USA? Have you heard of the Koch brothers? Do you know that 44% of US congressional representatives are millionaires?

Phil [167]:

"Krugman concedes the point on Part D." [Kindred Winecoff]

This is through the looking glass. The entire point of this thread is that Krugman didn't make the argument you ascribed to him in the first place. You can't belatedly recognise that fact and then score it in favour of your position.

There are two substantive points here. One is that Krugman quite demonstrably never said -- and there are no good reasons to read him as implying -- that public opinion has no influence over policies such as health care reform, Iraq, tax cuts usw. (You could start by conceding that one, it would clear the air.) The other is that, for a whole host of reasons, some of which go back to the Founding Fathers (try talking to them about 'democracy'), anyone who talks about public opinion in the US as an independent force which drives government policy is going to have to do an awful lot of work to make this view stand up. Either that or engage in a lot of bait-and-switchery with words like 'approve'.

You know, that's enough for today. Only got to the 193rd comment, one from Henry, which sent me off on a tangent. This comment was mostly a quote from Banjamin Wallace-Wells' New York profile What's Left of the Left: Paul Krugman's Lonely Crusade. We can close on this quote, which says something about Krugman's contention that his politics is driven by his understanding of the data:

A few years ago, Krugman, having decided that he was going to be writing about politics and so he should know more about it, did a very Krugman thing. He didn't talk to people who worked in Washington. Instead, he started to read the political-science literature. Krugman had never understood the press coverage of politics, which seemed to emphasize its most irrelevant aspects. Why dwell on a presidential candidate's psychology when the trends in unemployment would tell you who would win an election? But viewed through the prism of political science, politics began to seem much more familiar to him. There was a mathematics to it -- you could assemble data, draw correlations, understand what was essential and what was noise. The underlying shape of politics came sweeping into view: If you arranged members of Congress from left to right based on how they voted on welfare-state issues -- Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance -- it turned out that this left-to-right axis could predict every other vote: On Iraq expenditures, on abortion, whatever. "When you realize the fundamental divide in U.S. politics is just this one-dimensional thing, and that is how you feel about the welfare state," Krugman says, "that changes things."

You could see something else in the data, too. From 1979 to 2004, the income of the richest one percent of Americans grew by 176 percent, that of the richest one fifth of the country by 69 percent, and that of everyone else by less than 25 percent. Working through the numbers, Krugman came to believe that "only a fraction" of the change was compelled by global forces, which had been the standard explanation. The rest, he concluded, was political.

It was Krugman's Princeton colleague Larry Bartels who made the critical connection, in research Krugman devoured and still cites. Perhaps the most important influence on income inequality, Bartels argued, was something economists had not emphasized: whether a Democrat or a Republican was in the White House. Since World War II, Bartels found, wealthy families in the 95th percentile in income had seen identical income growth under both parties. But for families in the 20th percentile, the difference was astonishing: Under Democratic presidents, their income grew at six times the rate it did under Republican ones. There was, for Krugman, a kind of radicalization implied in this.

A lot of things fall out of this observation. One, for instance, is why Krugman regards Ron Paul as an ultra-rightist instead of as someone who has some very favorable traits, especially his steadfast opposition to using American military force abroad. It also shows why Krugman is always able to find a rationale to favor a Democrat over a Republican, even if he can say nothing else nice about the Democrat. Also helps explain why he consistently views Clinton as better than Obama -- there's even a bizarre section where he imagines the Democratic Party revolting to nominate Clinton in 2012 (he gives that the same odds as Michele Bachmann winning the election).

Not as good a profile as one might hope for. Still worth quoting the best line, in a back-and-forth section on Larry Summers:

Krugman's sense of humor is built upon self-deprecation, and sometimes Summers's sense of humor is built upon deprecating Krugman, too.

One more, an insightful lesson from Argentina that many others missed:

[Domingo] Cavallo liberalized the [Argentine] economy and drew overseas capital to Buenos Aires -- "lionized by the financial press, the maestro of the Argentine miracle," as Krugman recalls. But when the Argentine economy slowed, international investors withdrew, unemployment grew to 25 percent, and by 2003 an estimated 30,000 people in Greater Buenos Aires were surviving by scrounging for cardboard to sell to recycling plants. [ . . . ] If Domingo Cavallo, one of the elect, could preside over this collapse, then perhaps there but for the grace of God went Alan Greenspan. What Krugman took from Argentina -- and what he thinks even liberals in Washington missed -- was "a certain level of understanding," he says, "that important people have no idea what they're doing."

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Krugman Calling

Somehow I got way behind on Paul Krugman's twice-weekly New York Times columns. Rather than clutter up the Weekend Roundup with them, I thought I'd kick out the salient points here. Actually, although the columns are always well thought out and tightly crafted, most of my many Krugman quotes come from his blog, where he strays wider from his basic themes and strikes things at more interesting angles. In the columns he tends more to harp on the same points, not that they don't deserve some harping.

  • The Intimidated Fed [April 28]:

    Given this dismal picture, you might have expected unemployment, and what to do about it, to have been a major focus of Wednesday's press conference with Ben Bernanke, the chairman of the Federal Reserve. And it should have been. But it wasn't.

    After the conference, Reuters put together a "word cloud" of Mr. Bernanke's remarks, a visual representation of the frequency with which he used various words. The cloud is dominated by the word "inflation." "Unemployment," in much smaller type, is tucked in the background.

    Really, no surprise. When Bush nominated Bernanke, the only thing anyone had to say about him was to praise how vigilant he would be on fighting inflation. The Fed has a legal responsibility to further full employment, but in practice it's in thrall to the bankers. Obama could have done something about this when Bernanke's term expired, but Mr. Change-You-Can-Believe-In renominated Bernanke, giving him three more years to sacrifice employment on the holy grail of inflation-fighting. The fact is that no president since Carter nominated his own guy for Fed Chairman during his first term. (Carter nominated Paul Volcker, the all-time champ of the inflation fighters, who raised interest rates to all-time highs to induce a recession and get Carter thrown out of office.) Krugman is kind of soft on Bernanke (who chaired Krugman's economics department at Princeton), and Bernanke is less awful than Greenspan, but the actions he was praised for during the crisis were things that ran against his grain. It wouldn't have taken much effort on Obama's part to come up with who at least could have conceived of employment mattering. Hell, Larry Summers would have been a better choice.

    Lately the inflationistas have seized on rising oil prices as evidence in their favor, even though -- as Mr. Bernanke himself pointed out -- these prices have nothing to do with Fed policy. The way oil prices are coloring the discussion led the economist Tim Duy to suggest, sarcastically, that basic Fed policy is now to do nothing about unemployment "because some people in the Middle East are seeking democracy."

    But I'd put it differently. I'd say that the Fed's policy is to do nothing about unemployment because Ron Paul is now the chairman of the House subcommittee on monetary policy.

    So much for the Fed's independence. And so much for the future of America's increasingly desperate jobless.

    I'm not sure that the snipe at Ron Paul is necessary or helpful. The Fed has always favored bankers over workers. Bankers have always hated inflation, and ever since economists came up with a formula to link inflation to wage gains they've had one more reason to undercut workers.

  • Springtime for Bankers [May 1]: Usually when deregulation turns sour politicians of all stripes feel obliged to crack down on the miscreants who took advantage of the deregulator's good faith. As I recall, back during the S&L crisis Congress passed a law that defrauding a thrift a capital crime. This time the one one the Republicans could find to blame was the government for bailing the bankers out, and even there they were hardly serious -- it was, after all, a Republican administration that did most of the bailing. And they fought back on everything that implied that the bankers owed something to the public: against nationalizing banks (which is how the S&L crisis was fixed), against any sort of limit on executive bonuses, and especially against any reform or regulation (not that the Democrats were pushing for much either).

    What does it take to limit future bailouts? Declaring that we'll never do it again is no answer: when financial turmoil strikes, standing aside while banks fall like dominoes isn't an option. After all, that's what policy makers did in 1931, and the resulting banking crisis turned a mere recession into the Great Depression.

    And let's not forget that markets went into free fall when the Bush administration let Lehman Brothers go into liquidation. Only quick action -- including passage of the much-hated bailout -- prevented a full replay of 1931.

    So what's the solution? The answer is regulation that limits the frequency and size of financial crises, combined with rules that let the government strike a good deal when bailouts become necessary.

    Remember, from the 1930s until the 1980s the United States managed to avoid large bailouts of financial institutions. The modern era of bailouts only began in the Reagan years, when politicians started dismantling 1930s-vintage regulation. [ . . . ]

    To see what's really going on, follow the money. Wall Street used to favor Democrats, perhaps because financiers tend to be liberal on social issues. But greed trumps gay rights, and financial industry contributions swung sharply toward the Republicans in the 2010 elections. Apparently Wall Street, unlike the voters, had no trouble divining the party's real intentions.

    And one more thing: by standing in the way of regulations that would limit future financial crises, Republicans are giving further evidence that they don't really care about budget deficits.

    By the way, the real reform that nobody talks about is getting the money out of politics. The Democrats, who had a piece in every one of these disastrous banking deregulation laws, have been desperately chasing the Republicans for business donors, grasping for whatever they could find, which increasingly included Wall Street. Indeed, one can argue that Clinton made Wall Street more money than Reagan and all the Bushes, even after taxes. The thing that bothered me more about Obama than Larry Summers was how he crowed about what smart and savvy businessmen Jamie Dimon and Lloyd Blankfein are, and how tight he was with both personally.

  • Fears and Failure [May 5]:

    Nothing here that Krugman hasn't said dozens of times before, or won't say dozens of times in the near future. That we're stuck on these themes just shows that political interests have shoved us into a dark age of idiocy.

    It's not as if our political class is feeling complacent. On the contrary, D.C. economic discourse is saturated with fear: fear of a debt crisis, of runaway inflation, of a disastrous plunge in the dollar. Scare stories are very much on politicians' minds.

    Yet none of these scare stories reflect anything that is actually happening, or is likely to happen. And while the threats are imaginary, fear of these imaginary threats has real consequences: an absence of any action to deal with the real crisis, the suffering now being experienced by millions of jobless Americans and their families.

    What does Washington currently fear? Topping the list is fear that budget deficits will cause a fiscal crisis any day now. In fact, a number of people -- like Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the co-chairmen of President Obama's debt commission -- have settled on a specific time frame: terrible things will happen within two years unless we make drastic spending cuts. [ . . . ]

    Which brings me back to the destructive effect of focusing on invisible monsters. For the clear and present danger to the American economy isn't what some people imagine might happen one of these days, it's what is actually happening now.

    Unemployment isn't just blighting the lives of millions, it's undermining America's future. The longer this goes on, the more workers will find it impossible ever to return to employment, the more young people will find their prospects destroyed because they can't find a decent starting job. It may not create excited chatter on cable TV, but the unemployment crisis is real, and it's eating away at our society.

    Yet any action to help the unemployed is vetoed by the fear-mongers. Should we spend modest sums on job creation? No way, say the deficit hawks, who threaten us with the purely hypothetical wrath of financial markets, and, in fact, demand that we slash spending now now now -- which might well send us back into recession. Should the Federal Reserve do more to promote expansion? No, say the inflation and dollar hawks, who have been wrong again and again but insist that this time their dire warnings about runaway prices and a plunging dollar really will be vindicated.

    So we're paying a heavy price for Washington's obsession with phantom menaces. By looking for trouble in all the wrong places, our political class is preventing us from dealing with the real crisis: the millions of American men and women who can't find work.

    One more thing that could be said: in a growing economy, it's possible for everyone to come out better, but in a stagnant or shrinking economy, the only way anyone gets better is at the expense of others. The measure of wealth isn't how rich the richest are, but how much productive work is done, and the simplest way to get more done is to employ more people. Moreover, high employment not only increases overall wealth, it helps to distribute it more evenly, resulting in a more equitable society where more people participate and fewer feel like victims.

  • The Unwisdom of Elites [May 8]: The previous column all over again.

    The past three years have been a disaster for most Western economies. The United States has mass long-term unemployment for the first time since the 1930s. Meanwhile, Europe's single currency is coming apart at the seams. How did it all go so wrong?

    Well, what I've been hearing with growing frequency from members of the policy elite -- self-appointed wise men, officials, and pundits in good standing -- is the claim that it's mostly the public's fault. The idea is that we got into this mess because voters wanted something for nothing, and weak-minded politicians catered to the electorate's foolishness.

    So this seems like a good time to point out that this blame-the-public view isn't just self-serving, it's dead wrong.

    The fact is that what we're experiencing right now is a top-down disaster. The policies that got us into this mess weren't responses to public demand. They were, with few exceptions, policies championed by small groups of influential people -- in many cases, the same people now lecturing the rest of us on the need to get serious. And by trying to shift the blame to the general populace, elites are ducking some much-needed reflection on their own catastrophic mistakes. [ . . . ]

    President George W. Bush cut taxes in the service of his party's ideology, not in response to a groundswell of popular demand -- and the bulk of the cuts went to a small, affluent minority.

    Similarly, Mr. Bush chose to invade Iraq because that was something he and his advisers wanted to do, not because Americans were clamoring for war against a regime that had nothing to do with 9/11. In fact, it took a highly deceptive sales campaign to get Americans to support the invasion, and even so, voters were never as solidly behind the war as America's political and pundit elite.

    Finally, the Great Recession was brought on by a runaway financial sector, empowered by reckless deregulation. And who was responsible for that deregulation? Powerful people in Washington with close ties to the financial industry, that's who. Let me give a particular shout-out to Alan Greenspan, who played a crucial role both in financial deregulation and in the passage of the Bush tax cuts -- and who is now, of course, among those hectoring us about the deficit. [ . . . ]

    Why should we be concerned about the effort to shift the blame for bad policies onto the general public?

    One answer is simple accountability. People who advocated budget-busting policies during the Bush years shouldn't be allowed to pass themselves off as deficit hawks; people who praised Ireland as a role model shouldn't be giving lectures on responsible government.

    But the larger answer, I'd argue, is that by making up stories about our current predicament that absolve the people who put us here there, we cut off any chance to learn from the crisis. We need to place the blame where it belongs, to chasten our policy elites. Otherwise, they'll do even more damage in the years ahead.

  • Inflation and Economic Hooliganism [May 11]: This one ran in the Sunday Magazine, so it's a little more expansive (but not much).

    Emerging economies never had the luxury of complacency. The decades before the storm were a time of relative economic calm in America and Europe, but it was an era of repeated crises in the developing world: the Mexican crisis of 1994-95, the Asian crisis of 1997-98, the Argentine crisis of 2001-2 and more. And this history of crisis fed a mood of caution, both on the part of governments -- which paid down their debts and accumulated huge reserves -- and on the part of the private sector, where debt-equity ratios and other measures of financial fragility fell sharply from 1998 onward.

    As a result, by the time the big crisis in wealthy nations struck, emerging economies were far less vulnerable to disruption than they were in the 1990s -- and, as it turns out, far less vulnerable than many advanced economies. In the panicky months after the fall of Lehman, past prudence wasn't enough to insulate countries from the global recession. But once the free fall ended, the emerging world staged a strong recovery, even as advanced economies struggled.

    In fact, once the acute phase of the crisis was over, the difficulties of advanced economies actually had the effect of promoting growth in the emerging world, as investors -- finding few good opportunities in debt-burdened wealthy nations -- began funneling money into up-and-coming economies, turning those economies' recoveries into runaway booms.

    These booms are, in turn, causing inflation to rise in the emerging world. China and India grew more than 10 percent last year, Brazil more than 7 percent. These economies are overheating, and inflation is the natural result.

    By contrast, in the United States and Europe, the only serious inflation is taking place in prices of raw materials. And what's pushing up raw material prices? Mainly, it's rapidly growing demand from the emerging world, with its voracious appetite for steel, copper, cotton and, above all, oil. [ . . . ]

    For while some countries have a problem with homegrown inflation, we don't. Our problem is unemployment. And to deal with our job shortage, we need low interest rates and, yes, continuing budget deficits to keep our economy growing.

    What about complaints from other countries that they're suffering inflation because we're printing too much money? (Vladimir Putin has gone so far as to accuse America of "hooliganism.") The flip answer is, Not our problem, fellas. The more serious answer is that Russia, Brazil and China don't have to have inflation if they don't want it, since they always have the option of letting their currencies rise against the dollar. True, that would hurt their export interests -- but economics is about hard choices, and America is under no obligation to strangle its own fragile recovery to help other nations avoid making such choices.

  • Seniors, Guns and Money [May 12]: This is the sort of thing that makes people like me think the Republicans aren't just stupid and greedy but flat out evil: they not only have no interest in helping people get quality medical care; more than anything else they seek to protect the opportunities for health care businesses to rip us off. One way they do this is to divide the population into two camps, one of which foolishly thinks it's protected from the predators because they're not like the other camp who never get a chance. Ryan's scheme to divide medicare eligibility into two groups -- one that can keep their coverage while the companies rip off the government and the other that has nothing to look forward to but empty promises -- is just one example.

    Nor is demography the whole story. Over the long term, health care spending has consistently grown faster than the economy, raising the costs of Medicare and Medicaid as a share of G.D.P. Cost-control measures -- the very kind of measures Republicans demonized last year, with their cries of death panels -- can help slow the rise, but few experts believe that we can avoid some "excess cost growth" over the next decade.

    Between an aging population and rising health costs, then, preserving anything like the programs for seniors we now have will require a significant increase in spending on these programs as a percentage of G.D.P. And unless we offset that rise with drastic cuts in defense spending -- which Republicans, needless to say, oppose -- this means a substantial rise in overall spending, which we can afford only if taxes rise.

    So when people like Mr. Boehner reject out of hand any increase in taxes, they are, in effect, declaring that they won't preserve programs benefiting older Americans in anything like their current form. It's just a matter of arithmetic.

  • America Held Hostage [May 16]: Every time since the founding of the republic that the government has found itself approaching the statutory debt limit, Congress has passed a new and higher limit. The need to do so was already established by the budget that Congress passed, the costs of doing so are zero, and the risks of not doing so are catastrophic. So why are the Republicans who control the House dragging their feet and threatening doom? Mostly because they get a kick out of extorting favors from spineless Democrats, especially the one in the White House.

    Six months ago President Obama faced a hostage situation. Republicans threatened to block an extension of middle-class tax cuts unless Mr. Obama gave in and extended tax cuts for the rich too. And the president essentially folded, giving the G.O.P. everything it wanted.

    Now, predictably, the hostage-takers are back: blackmail worked well last December, so why not try it again? This time House Republicans say they will refuse to raise the debt ceiling -- a step that could inflict major economic damage -- unless Mr. Obama agrees to large spending cuts, even as they rule out any tax increase whatsoever. And the question becomes what, if anything, will get the president to say no. [ . . . ]

    What has changed? The answer is the radicalization of the Republican Party. Normally, a party controlling neither the White House nor the Senate would acknowledge that it isn't in a position to impose its agenda on the nation. But the modern G.O.P. doesn't believe in following normal rules. [ . . . ]

    So hitting the debt ceiling would be a very bad thing. Unfortunately, it may be unavoidable.

    Why? Because this is a hostage situation. If the president and his allies operate on the principle that failure to raise the debt ceiling is an unthinkable outcome, to be avoided at all cost, then they have ceded all power to those willing to bring that outcome about. In effect, they will have ripped up the Constitution and given control over America's government to a party that only controls one house of Congress, but claims to be willing to bring down the economy unless it gets what it wants.

    The piece has more details on what would happen if there is no agreement, except the critical question of who the voters will wind up blaming.

People read this stuff and get the silly idea that Krugman is some kind of radical, but he's nothing of the sort. He qualifies as being on the left because he thinks that a more equitable society is a good thing; that people should be able to feel more secure, and that we are all better off when people have more opportunities and freedom, but he's no utopian: he's pretty happy within the bounds not just of most modern social democracies but within the exceptionally modest one we enjoyed from the New Deal through the Great Society. He's really moved very little since he worked for Reagan 30 years ago. What's scary is how far the right has slid past him, how dogmatic and intractable they've become. Even so basic an idea as that the government should provide deficit-financed countercyclical spending to lessen the damage caused by recessions is now fought tooth and nail by a party whose own presidents (as late as G.W. Bush) were first in line to open the tap.


Thought I might do a post about Krugman as a bonus, but it's taking me too long to sift through the comments (which are worth sifting), so maybe tomorrow.


Facebook intro (cut down from too long):

Quotes and comments about Paul Krugman columns -- remedial education, stuff you should already know. You do know that deficits don't matter as long as bond prices are low, don't you? You do know that when/if they do matter all the US has to do is raise its currently puny taxes on the rich, don't you? You do know that the Republicans have crossed the line from greedy and stupid to evil, don't you?

Expert Comments

From Robert Christgau, on Ray Davies, after quoting a Kinks song (second sentence is something I imagine plugging into the quotes section of my music website):

That quote is precisely the sort of anti-Semitism I thought Davies capable of. Ressentiment would be his middle name if he knew how to spell it. It does not in the slightest change my reading of the song. It does reinforce my suspicions as to why he had the bad judgment that permitted him to begin and then complete it.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 18197 [18151] rated (+46), 867 [855] unrated (+12).

  • Blaze Foley: Duct Tape Messiah [Soundtrack From the Documentary Film] (1975-89 [2011], Lost Art): Michael David Fuller, better known as Blaze Foley, better still as Lucinda Williams' "Drunken Angel," lived from 1949-89, finally giving it up not to alcohol but to a bullet in the chest, the killer acquitted by reason of self-defense. Don't have any doc on this, but it claims to "span Blaze's musical life," leading off with a single released in 1979 ("Let Me Ride in Your Big Cadillac") but also appeared near the top of The Dawg Years dating 1975-78 and on another posthumous compilation dated "mid-1970s" (Sittin' by the Road, on Lost Art). Fact is, with Foley it's pretty much all posthumous: five records now on Lost Art, one on Waddell Hollow, Dawg Years on Fat Possum, all scraped up from practically nothing. A few good songs loosely done, most neither deep nor weird enough to care for unless knew and cared for him, which some folks did, otherwise he'd be as forgotten as he is dead. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Paul Gonsalves/Earl Hines: Paul Gonsalves Meets Earl Hines (1970-72 [1992], Black Lion): LP originally listed Hines first, picturing him on the cover under the title It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing!, so it's curious that the CD reissue elevated Ellington's postwar tenor saxophonist -- possibly because Gonsalves had so little in print under his own name; the sax sounds thin, and the pianist tends to hold back, emerging delectably on "Blue Sands," his only original here, and his long intro to "I Got It Bad and That Ain't Good." B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Johnny Griffin: You Leave Me Breathless (1967 [1972], Black Lion): A set recorded live at Montmartre Jazzhuis in Copenhagen with American expats Kenny Drew and Albert Heath plus every traveler's favorite Danish bassist, Niels-Henning Ørsted-Pedersen; starts sloppy with Monk's "Rhythm-A-Ning," but the tenor saxophonist regains his tone and poise on the ballads, he can always run the fast ones, and he ends with a masterful solo stretch. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Jazz Prospecting (JCG #27, Part 5)

First week after publication, but actually mid-round. Trying to cover as much stuff as I can as fast as I can handle it, so expect some short circuits. Did find a couple real good records, and I've heard a couple more but didn't manage to write them up. Will try to do this for a couple more weeks, then see how we stand on closing a column. Ironically, I've been mostly missing the high priority queue because it's slid into a poorly illuminated corner of the office mess. Also it's stuffed with reissues which will take a few days to dig through, and I'm still not sure where Recycled Goods is going.

Mail's been fairly skimpy the last few weeks, but I got inundated on Saturday, and again today, so once again I'm losing ground.


Diego Barber: The Choice (2010 [2011], Sunnyside): Guitarist, b. 1978 in Lanzarote, Canary Islands; studied in Lanzarote, Madrid, and Salzburg, before moving to New York in 2007. Second album. Cover has small print: Featuring: Seamus Blake, Larry Grenadier, Ari Hoenig, Mark Turner, Johannes Weidenmueller. No per track credits, but their contribution is small too, and vanishes completely for the final three-track "Sonata Banc D'Arguin." B

Mark Weinstein: Jazz Brasil (2010 [2011], Jazzheads): Flautist, plays an alto flute on the cover pic, credits also specify concert and bass flutes. Has about 15 records going back to 1996, mostly Latin-themed although one early title is Shifra Tanzt, and a more recent one leaned on Monk for Straight No Chaser. The Brazilian twist here comes from the rhythm section -- Nilson Matta on bass and Marceito Pellitteri on percussion -- and they come alive on the few Brazilian tunes, especially Ary Barrosa's "Brazil." Their treatment is more cautious on two Monks, "Nefertiti," pieces by Herbie Mann and Joe Henderson. Kenny Barron plays piano. B+(*)

Shane Endsley and the Music Band: Then the Other (2010 [2011], Low Electrical): Trumpet player, from Denver, studied at Eastman, based in Brooklyn, second album, looks like 30-40 side credits since 1998 (with Steve Coleman). Quartet with Craig Taborn (piano), Matt Brewer (bass), and Ted Poor (drums). Good group, was feeling kind of ambivalent about the trumpet until the sharp finale, "Gallery Piece." B+(*)

Ken Peplowski: In Search of . . . (2007-10 [2011], Capri): Plays clarinet and tenor sax; b. 1959, AMG lists 33 albums since 1987, plus numerous side credits, a very steady, unspectacular retro swing player. This pads a quartet session -- Shelly Berg on piano, Tom Kennedy on bass, Jeff Hamilton on drums -- with three cuts from 2007 with Greg Cohen (bass) and/or Joe Ascione (drums) and Chuck Redd (vibes) on one cut. Best when it gets lively, as in "Peps"; otherwise this shades into prettiness, which isn't so bad either. B+(**)

Bobby Sanabria: Tito Puente Masterworks Live!!! (2008 [2011], Jazzheads): Drummer, b. in New York, grew up in South Bronx, studied at Berklee. Sixth album since 1993, the last few big band affairs: the band here is billed as Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, conducted by Sanabria. This program of Tito Puente standards blows out all the gaskets, which is to say it sounds an awful lot like a vintage Puente disc. Looks like one too: I imagine some customers will be fooled, not that they'll mind much. B+(***)

Michael Feinberg: With Many Hands (2010 [2011], self-released): Bassist, b. 1987 in Atlanta, "raised on hip hop, international grooves, resurgent singer/songwriters and indie rock"; based in New York. Bio says this is his second album (looks like first was Evil Genius in 2009). Lists a sextet's worth of musicians on cover but no instrument credits: as best I can figure, Godwin Louis (alto sax), Noah Preminger (tenor sax), Alex Wintz (guitar), Julian Shore (piano), Daniel Platzman (drums). Postbop verging on freebop: jumps around a lot, shifting times, the sax(es) up front pushing limits. B+(**)

Femi Kuti: Africa for Africa (2010 [2011], Knitting Factory): Fela's eldest son, also plays alto sax, grew up in his father's band and continues the Afrobeat groove, with 15 albums now since 1989. This is close to formula: the beats, the sax, the chant vocals, the politics (but the pidgin English remains far short of eloquent). Fourteen moderate-length songs adds up to a long album (total 62:56), but nothing stretches out like the old Fela albums used to. B+(**)

Michel Reis: Point of No Return (2009 [2011], Armored): Pianist, b. 1982 in Luxembourg, studied at Berklee and New England Conservatory -- about the two-thousandth musician I've seen to mention George Garzone on his resume. Based in New York. Third album, with flugelhorn (Vivek Patel) and soprano sax (Aaron Kruziki) adorning what's at heart a piano trio album. (The horns appear on 3 of 9 cuts, together on the first, just flugelhorn on the other two.) B+(**)

Nick Stefanacci Band: 26 Years (2010, NS): Saxophonist (alto, tenor, soprano), also plays flute and keybs; based in New York; first album, not much of a bio but he could be doing one of those Adele things with his title. What throws you at first are the vocals: Kenny Simmons, reminds me of Blood Sweat & Tears, which I don't regard as damning although you might. (Still, what they mostly remind me of is a relative who confided in me that she didn't like them at first until she saw them on TV and realized they were white). Stefanacci sings some too. I find it all rather corny, and a bit sweet, but don't expect anyone else to. B

Matt Panayides: Tapestries of Song (2010 [2011], Pacific Coast Jazz): Guitarist, b. in Cincinnati, raised in Indianapolis; been in New York "for more than 10 years." First album, all originals; in a quartet with Rich Perry (tenor sax), Steve LaSpina (bass), and Dan Weiss (drums). Liquid tone with a slight metallic sheen, remains clear even with the sax running over it. B+(**)

Max Wild: Tamba (2008 [2010], ObliqSound): Alto saxophonist, from Zimbabwe; second album. "Tamba" means dance in Shona, probably the language of most of the lyrics here -- sung by various people, primarily Sam Mtukudzi. Has a joyous township vibe to it. B+(**) [advance: 2010]

Danny Frankel: The Interplanetary Note/Beat Conference (2010, self-released): Drummer, has a couple records under his own name, quite a few side credits since 1980 (very few jazz). Trio with Nels Cline on guitar, Larry Goldings on organ. Guitar is distinctive, especially for an organ trio, and the rhythm is relatively slinky, which reduces the organ to filler. B+(*)

Jared Gold: All Wrapped Up (2010 [2011], Posi-Tone): Organ player, fourth album since 2008, coming out fast. I was most impressed by him on Oliver Lake's Organ Quartet album Plan. This, like the Lake record, is a quartet with sax, trumpet, and drums, but mainstreamers Ralph Bowen and Jim Rotondi can't cut the grease like Lake and Freddie Hendrix. Leaves a lot of slick spots. B

Jim Snidero: Interface (2010 [2011], Savant): Alto saxophonist, b. 1958, eighteen records since 1987. I missed his early stuff on Criss Cross, RED, and Double-Time; finally caught up with Savant -- thought Crossfire was exceptional. Quartet with bass, drums, and Paul Bollenback on guitar (always a nice touch). Often sounds terrific, but this seems a bit cryptic. B+(**)

Papa John DeFrancesco: A Philadelphia Story (2010 [2011], Savant): Organ player, Joey's father, seventh album since 1992, which is to say he didn't really get his career going until after Joey started recording. Mostly trio, with John DeFrancesco Jr. on guitar and Glenn Ferracone on cover. Despite the cheesesteaks on the front cover and the girth on the back, Papa John has a light touch on the Hammond, and this skips along pleasantly. Three cuts add horns: Joe Fortunato's tenor sax on "Blues in the Closet," plus two tracks with Joey playing trumpet: doesn't stretch much but he's actually pretty good. B+(*)

The NYFA Collection: 25 Years of New York New Music (1988-2010 [2010], Innova, 5CD): I've been avoiding this, if for no more reason than sheer length. NYFA is the New York Foundation for the Arts, set up in 1983. Since then they've provided fellowships for over 200 new music composers, and they're showing off 52 of them in this set. They run the gamut, but have been programmed to flow somewhat: the third disc is the most jazz-centric, with Iconoclast, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Fred Ho, John Lindberg (sometimes d/b/a BLOB), Newman Taylor Baker. The fourth and fifth shade more classical. The first is more avant, mostly primitivist rhythm pieces. Packaged in a double-width jewel case with a loose booklet for each disc packed with lots of information in small type, and priced like a sampler. B+(**)

The Sway Machinery: The House of Friendly Ghosts Vol. 1 (2010 [2011], JDub): Brooklyn collective centered around Balkan Beat Box guitarist-vocalist Jeremiah Lockwood, "inspired by ancient Jewish Cantorial music, blues, afro-beat and rock," goes to Mali's Festival in the Desert and comes back with featured singer Khaira Arby and such guests as Djilmady Tounkara and Vieux Farka Touré, mixing it up with horns from Antibalas. Sounds interesting, and is, but the parts clash more than mesh, and much of the interest comes from the wreckage. B+(*) [advance]

Dan Raphael/Rich Halley/Carson Halley: Children of the Blue Supermarket (2008-09 [2011], Pine Eagle): Raphael is a poet, b. 1951 in Pittsburgh, changed his name from Daniel Raymond Dlugonski (says his driver's license reads Dan Raphael Dlugonski); influenced by the beats, studied at Cornell; moved to Portland, OR in 1977. Has six books. I've never read him -- haven't read poetry since the late 1960s, when I read everyone he was reading, Yevtushenko included. Not sure if he's ever been recorded before, but he's terrific here: the phrases just shoot out, nearly every one hitting an unexpected target somewhere beyond you. Too fast for me to scribble down -- the two I got near the end were "because night is when we get to talk back" and the last line, "my brain is the largest city in the world." Wish I had a lyric sheet. Behind him is Rich Halley, a gray-haired tenor saxophonist who spent most of his adult life as a field biologist, and a drummer with the same last name, presumably his son. Striking as the poetry might be on its own, the sax shadowing it heightens every line. He has a distinctive sound and style, comparable (not to say similar) to Von Freeman. He can't stretch out much here, but is terrific nonetheless. My only quibble is the line equating Kansas and Iowa: not the same at all (except in the middle of a corn field, of course). Suggest he read Richard Manning: Grassland and do some exploring. Not that he's wrong about Malta's low level of coronary heart disease. A

Other Dimensions in Music featuring Fay Victor: Kaiso Stories (2010 [2011], Silkheart): Group was originally formed in 1989 with Roy Campbell (trumpet), Daniel Carter (alto sax), William Parker (bass), and Rashid Bakr (drums). They cut a group improv album for Silkhear then, then reappeared in 1997 with two albums for AUM Fidelity, one with Matthew Shipp added. This is their fourth, with Charles Downs taking over the drums for Bakr, but the more important change is adding vocalist Fay Victor. As Lars-Olof Gustavsson explains in the liner notes, he was looking to do a vocal album, found Victor, then matched the band. Victor is a very strong, distinctive vocalist -- when I reviewed her Cartwheels Through the Cosmos all I could do was compare her to Betty Carter -- and she takes yet another twist here, exploiting her Trinidadian roots with eight lyrics from classic calypso tunes (Roaring Lion, Lord Executor, Lord Kitchener, Mighty Sparrow) and 1939 field recordings. The free jazz improv doesn't make this easy, introducing a tension as Victor is torn between tying the rhymes down and surrendering to the chaotic rhythm. B+(***)

Alexis Cuadrado: Noneto Ibérico (2009 [2011], Bju'ecords): Bassist, from Spain, based on Brooklyn; fourth album since 2001. Brooklyn nonet, Marc Miralta's cajon and percussion adding to the Spanish flavor, as do a trio of "special guests" on four tracks -- not explained on the album but the website credits them with "Flamenco Handclaps and 'Jaleos'." The rest of the group are names I recognize: Perico Sambeat (alto/soprano sax, flute), Loren Stillman (alto/tenor sax), Avishai Cohen (trumpet/flugelhorn), Alan Ferber (trombone), Brad Shepik (guitar), Dan Tepfer (piano), and Mark Ferber (drums). Groups that size often get cluttered or break into pieces but this one is cohesive throughout, the horns weaving and bobbing, the flow inexorable. Don't have a recording date, just that the piece debuted in October 2009. A-

Nordic Connect: Spirals (2008 [2011], ArtistShare): Trumpet player Ingrid Jensen, b. 1967 in Vancouver, BC, Canada; studied at Berklee; AMG counts six albums since 1994, coutning her previous Nordic Connect album but not this one. Group includes sister Christine Jensen (alto/soprano sax), Maggi Olin (piano, often Fender Rhodes), Mattias Walin (bass), and Jon Wikan (drums) -- Olin and Welin are Swedish, Wikan from Alaska with Norwegian roots (married to the trumpeter). Olin wrote 5 of 9 pieces, and her electric piano is the center point of the action, vs. just one piece for Ingrid Jensen (two for Christine, one for Wikan), so AMG may be justified in treating this as a group effort. Still, the trumpet is what shines brightest here. B+(***)

Pitom: Blasphemy and Other Serious Crimes (2010 [2011], Tzadik): Guitarist Yoshie Fruchter's group, adopting the name of their possibly eponymous first album, as seems to happen over and over and again. With Jeremy Brown (violin, viola), Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz (bass), Kevin Zubek (drums). Evidently has to do with Yom Kippur, attonement, and "punkassjewjazz." Heavy guitar riffs with dense metallic filler over Jewish riddims. No vocals, so they neither make nor break it. B+(**) [advance: Feb: 22]

Marc Copland: Crosstalk (2010 [2011], Pirouet): Real good postbop pianist, has a couple dozen record since 1988, paired in a quartet with real good alto saxophonist Greg Osby. Wonder why it didn't work. (Thumbing through my database, I see they've done it before, only slightly more successfully, on Night Call in 2003. B+(*)

Iro Haarla Quintet: Vespers (2010 [2011], ECM): Plays piano and harp, b. 1956 in Finland, 5th album since 2001, two on the Finiish label TUM, two on ECM. Quintet gives her two horns -- Mathias Eick (trumpet), Trygve Seim (tenor/soprano sax) -- bass (Ulf Krokfors) and drums (Jon Christensen). Seems soft at first, then chilly, then you finally notice the hidden strength of the horns -- not surprising given that Eick and Seim regularly produce strong albums under their own names. B+(**)

Chris Donnelly: Solo (2008 [2010], ALMA): This has been sitting around awhile: package says 2008, artist's website says released in September 2008; AMG says 2009 and also says 2010; my records say 2010; can't find the hype sheet. Pianist, from somewhere in Canada, studied and currently teaches in Toronto. Debut record -- looks like there is a later one but I didn't get it. Solo, like the title says. Donnelly wrote 7 of 11 tracks; the others are Bill Evans, Bud Powell, a set of variations on Charlie Parker's "Donna Lee," and a "Cinderella Medley." Pretty decent as these things go, the originals well-conceived exercises, the covers have their intrigues. Bet he'd sound even better with bass and drums, even at the expense of some clarity. B+(*)

Taeko: Voice (2009-10 [2010], Flat Nine): Singer, full name Taeko Fukao, born and raised near Kyoto, Japan; based in New York, not sure how long. Second album. Wrote one song, picks two more from Japanese sources, picks others from Ellington to Monk to Hancock and Shorter to Marvin Gaye and Sly Stone. Scats quite a bit early on. B

Mon David: Coming True (2009, Free Ham): Singer, from somewhere in the Philippines, based somewhere in US. Second album. Mostly standards, some (like "Footprints") jazz pieces run through the vocalese mill. Technically impressive, and in some ways rather likable, but I have little taste for his mannerisms -- comparisons to Mark Murphy are lavishly earned -- so in the end I find this more annoying than not. Includes a duet with Charmaine Clamor, another talented Filipino. B-

Jessica Williams Trio: Freedom Trane (2007 [2010], Origin): Pianist, b. 1948, has close to 40 records since 1976, a lot of solos, many more trios. Four Coltrane songs here, plus four originals. Impeccable, as usual. 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:

  • Ralph Alessi and This Against That: Wiry Strong (Clean Feed)
  • Scott Amendola Trio: Lift (Sazi)
  • AsGuests: Universal Mind (Origin)
  • BassDrumBone: The Other Parade (Clean Feed)
  • Marco Cappelli Acoustic Trio: Les Nuages en France (Mode/Avant)
  • Frank Carlberg: Uncivilized Ruminations (Red Piano): June 14
  • James Carter: Caribbean Rhapsody (Decca)
  • Bruno Chevillon/Tim Berne: Old and Unwise (Clean Feed)
  • Michael Dessen Trio: Forget the Pixel (Clean Feed)
  • Jeff Fairbanks' Project Hansori: Mulberry Street (Bju'ecords): June 7
  • Laszlo Gardony: Signature Time (Sunnyside): May 31
  • David Gibson: End of the Tunnel (Posi-Tone)
  • Gutbucket: Flock (Cuneiform)
  • Magos Herrera: México Azul (Sunnyside): May 31
  • Art Hirahara: Noble Path (Posi-Tone)
  • William Hooker: Crossing Points (1992, NoBusiness)
  • Anne Mette Iversen Quartet: Milo Songs (Bju'ecords): May 24
  • Daniel Jamieson's Danjam Orchestra: Sudden Appearance (OA2)
  • Lisa Kirchner: Something to Sing About (Albany): July 1
  • Daniel Levin: Inner Landscape (Clean Feed)
  • Boban & Marko Markovic Orchestra verus Fanfare Ciocárlia: Balkan Brass Battle (Asphalt Tango)
  • Terrence McManus: Transcendental Numbers (NoBusiness)
  • Pat Metheny: What's It All About (Nonesuch): advance, June 14
  • Sei Miguel/Pedro Gomes: Turbina Anthem (NoBusiness)
  • Silvano Monasterios: Unconditional (Savant)
  • Ocote Soul Sounds: Taurus (ESL Music)
  • Matthew Shipp/William Parker/Beans/Hprizm: Knives From Heaven (Thirsty Ear)
  • John Stowell/Michael Zilber Quartet: Shot Through With Beauty (Origin)
  • Travis Sullivan: New Directions (Posi-Tone)
  • Helen Sung: (Re)Conception (SteepleChase)
  • Tunnel Six: Lake Superior (OA2)
  • Dave Valentin: Pure Imagination (High Note)
  • Anthony Wilson: Campo Belo (Goat Hill -10)

Purchases:

  • Tim Berne's Bloodcount: Poisoned Minds: The Paris Concert (1994, JMT)
  • Tim Berne's Bloodcount: Memory Select: The Paris Concert (1994, JMT)
  • Tim Berne & Enten Eller: Melquiades (1999, Splasc(h))
  • Jim Black: Alasnoaxis (2000, Winter & Winter)
  • Beastie Boys: Hot Sauce Committee Part Two (Capitol)
  • Raphael Saadiq: Stone Rollin' (Columbia)

Expert Comments

Cam Patterson:

Tom Hull has done a pretty deep dive on Brubeck recordings over at his web site. Brubeck recorded an album with Jimmy Rushing? How did that happen?? I always thought Brubeck was more "nerdy" than "pretentious".

SpaceCoast has previously writen:

Any Brubeck or Kenton fans? Like them ok, but neither are personal faves. Borrowing comments made previously in this thread, I find them a tad too classical/pretentious/white in comparison to my jazz favorites.

I combined comments on them:

Brubeck is a mensch. Anyone who knocks him for being too educated or too successful or too white just doesn't know the guy. Those are things he overcame. He did the record with Rushing because he was a fan; same for the Jazz Ambassadors with Armstrong. I've never seen him happier than in a video clip where Willie "The Lion" Smith introduces him as his son. He doesn't have a pretentious bone in his body. The fancy time signature may have started out as an academic exercise, then turned into a parlor trick, but by the time he did Time Out they were so tightly integrated you didn't notice them. Jazz Goes to College wasn't his ambition to make jazz intellectually respectable; it was just a fact that turned into a fashion. His quartet would have seemed much more avant-garde but for Paul Desmond, who made it all so sensible, and so sensuous, no one could object.

None of those things can be said about Kenton. I haven't delved very deeply into him, so I can't say for sure whether he was as pompous and grotesque as his reputation -- something about a jazz musician who keeps getting likened to Richard Wagner steers one away. What little I have heard -- I have three records in my database, a tiny sliver of what he produced -- doesn't support the Wagner charge: he wields a lot of power and flash, but he often gets delicate effects, never bombast. A lot of very good musicians came up in his band, and there's every reason to think he made them better -- indeed, that he had a huge effect on the whole West Coast Cool Jazz scene. (One could joke that he was what they were chilling out from.) Also, as far as I know, all of them were white. Had some good singers too. Penguin Guide has a lot on Kenton.

Christgau wrote:

My first jazz album was Brubeck's Jazz Goes to College and I've always retained a fondness for it. Time Out too, though not as much. As Tom says, definitely a good guy. But that civil rights suite thing Giddins praised a (whole) while back is pretty much unlistenable by me.

On MJQ:

I don't have a lot to say about MJQ (Modern Jazz Quartet). Pianist John Lewis was the main guy, and everyone else just worked around him. They dressed sharp, acted cool, tried to invent what nowadays we'd call chamber jazz, but then they were looking for the sort of respectability classical string quartets held: no strings, of course, but also no horns, just the vibes adding to the harmonics of the piano. I always preferred horns, but I've managed to hear 7 MJQ records, plus Lewis's The Modern Jazz Society Presents a Concert of Contemporary Music (which got a Penguin Jazz Guide crown), various Lewis (5) and Milt Jackson (8) solo albums, and Percy Heath's lovely debut/swansong. Those are pretty low counts, but enough to get the idea. Dedicated to Connie is widely regarded as MJQ's best, and it's a good one. What they tried to do was honorable and ambitious and I'm probably not doing them justice. Giddins is off the charts as a Lewis fan. (When Giddins did his big concert production, Lewis was his musical director.)

Jackson is often terrific on his own. He was one of the first to figure out how to play with Monk, and his eponymous Blue Note album has some of Monk's best early performances. Also ends with three vocal tracks which I swear are the worst ever recorded in the 1950s. His two Savoy records from 1956 are exceptional (The Jazz Skyline and Jackson's-ville). It's been said that he couldn't help but swing, and there's much to bear that out.

Heath cut A Love Song in 2002 and it came out just before he died. Only record under his name, although he probably has close to 300 side credits. One of my first Jazz CG finds.

Original drummer was Kenny Clarke, who was the first drummer to figure out bebop. He quit early, moved to France, cut a couple of good records there. Was replaced by Connie Kay.

On a question about my database:

How to find my lists (and other things) at tomhull.com:

  1. Look under Local Links for Music, and click that.
  2. For the ratings database, look for Introduction to Ratings Database, and click that. The rest of the file has more or less self-explanatory links to all sorts of music-related things.
  3. On the gray page, the ratings are organized by genre and (sometimes) period. The period is when someone got started: Duke Ellington is Jazz '20s, Thelonious Monk Jazz '40s, Rolling Stones Rock '60s, etc. I used 10-year chunks for rock and 20-year chunks for jazz because at the time I came up with this I had more rock than jazz -- no longer true.

Under each genre/period there are two links, with the second one labelled DB. You probably want the second one, because it has both what I rated and a bunch of unrated records. The latter are records that show up as recommended in various guides (far from complete, but there are quite a few of them): for instance, anything I noticed that AMG gives 4.5 stars to, Penguin Guide 3.5 stars, etc. I add things when I see them, but most of that research was done 7-10 years ago. In the DB files the ratio of blue to black print gives a rough indication of how well I know an artist. The A/A+ lists are self-explanatory subsets.

There are also several thousand reviews and crypto-reviews and pidgin notes scattered elsewhere, but I've never figured out how to stuff them into a real database like I did for Christgau's CG reviews.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:


  • Tariq Ali: Killing the Golden Goose: A little paranoid conspiracy fodder, from someone who can't quite be dismissed as someone who couldn't have such a source:

    This is slightly bizarre, given that Bin Laden had apparently been in a safe house near the Pakistan military academy for six years. Nobody believes this could have happened without the knowledge of senior intelligence officials. A meeting with one such person in 2006, which I recounted in my last book on Pakistan, confirmed that Bin Laden was in the country and being kept safe. The person concerned told me the Americans only wanted Bin Laden dead, but that it was in Pakistan's interest to keep him alive. In his words: "Why kill the goose that lays the golden eggs?" -- a reference to the billions in aid and weaponry being supplied to the army. At the time I wasn't sure whether my informant was fantasising to amuse or misinform me; he was obviously telling the truth.

    Pakistan is in the grip of a fierce debate, its politico-military establishment damned whatever the case. If they admit they were in the know, they stand condemned within their own ranks. There is a great deal of dissension among junior officers and soldiers unhappy about border missions in which they are forced to target their own people. If it turns out that the US didn't even bother to inform the Pakistanis that helicopters were on the way to clip Bin Laden, they stand exposed as leaders who permit the country's sovereignty to be violated at will. [ . . . ]

    In Afghanistan, the Taliban leaders will be relieved that they can no longer be tarred with the Bin Laden brush, but his killing does not change the situation there one bit. The insurgents might not be in a position to take Kabul, (they never could even during the Russian occupation) but elsewhere they control a great deal. The US cannot win this war. The sooner it gets out, the better. Until it does, it will remain dependent on Pakistan, the ally Americans love to hate.

  • Juan Cole: The Koch Brothers and the End of State Universities:

    Positions at state universities ought to be decided upon by the students, faculty, and deans in consultation. They shouldn't be decided just because a wealthy crank wants us to study X. Along with Koch-funded positions in 'unregulated capitalism' of the sort that brought us the 2008 meltdown, we no doubt could have a raft of positions in Atlantis Studies and Post-War Ufology. Rich people are good at making money. They aren't necessarily good at academic skills. In fact, many are downright hostile to academic knowledge that brings into question their shibboleths. The tenure system was created for academics precisely because one got fired, at the University of Pennsylvania, in the early 20th century, for objecting to child labor. Some of the regents made their money that way and took offense.

    For more on this, see Alex Pareene: Right-Wing Billionaires Purchasing Own Professors:

    If you're going to spend a lot of money endowing a professorship, it's only rational to ensure that the professor whose salary you're paying advances your interests, right? After all, when the Kochs invested millions in George Mason University, they got the incredibly influential anti-environmental regulation nonprofit Mercatus Center out of the deal. The least FSU can do for its cash is teach "Atlas Shrugged" in a business ethics class. (Which is something that Randian-run bank BB&T has made happen, also at Florida State University.) (Yes, BB&T received billions of dollars of TARP money.)

    Today's rich libertarian knows the real ticket to winning the future is filling schools with people who agree with you. (This hasn't worked for the left, but that may be because they spent all their time in control of academia rigorously critiquing texts instead of just inventing pseudo-scientific justifications for gutting the welfare state and eliminating the tax burden of very rich people.)

    But is buying an academic a good investment? Sure! Just ask the DeVos family, who -- when they're not pushing "education reform" -- are keeping Austrian economics afloat at their weird fake Michigan university. As Andrew Leonard reported yesterday, DeVos-funded ideas have made it all the way to the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee! [ . . . ]

    (Though, to be fair, libertarian ideas that don't benefit people like Koch don't get a fair hearing in this system, either. Because cutting back on military spending and ending the drug war are not exactly "moneymakers.")

    Andrew Leonard's piece is called A New Powerhouse for Ridiculous GOP Economics. It's about Northwood University and Rep. David Camp. Aside from the theoretical muddle, the conclusion is especially worth quoting:

    But the correctness of Austrian theory is beside the point. Because if it was ever applied in practice by actual politicians, the voting public would become more than just annoyed. If the response of the Bush and Obama administrations to the financial crisis of 2007-08 had been to allow every beleaguered financial institution to go bankrupt while simultaneously endeavoring to balance the budget while government revenues tanked and social welfare obligations spiked, the economic devastation would have been well nigh unthinkable. There simply would be no political future for politicians who simply abandoned the general public to the viciousness of the free market.

    Economic crises and bank panics predated the creation of the central bank in the United States; indeed, to many observers, they seem to be endemic to capitalism and unregulated markets. And when markets run completely amok, the public expects its leaders to do something. Dave Camp is well aware of that. He voted for the Bush stimulus in early 2008, for TARP and the bailout of GM and Chrysler. And he'd do it again, if he had to. We expect our government to govern, and if it doesn't, we'll get another one that does.

    Despite all the bad theorizing conveniently cited by the right, the bottom line seems to be that the Republicans are still Keynesians when they're in power -- witness the passion for deficit spending by Nixon, Reagan, and the Bushes -- so their opposition to countercyclical spending when they're out of power has nothing to do with doubts about whether it works: it's that they don't want the Democrats to get credit for recovery. Having a bunch of Hayek-Mises freaks around is handy obfuscation, but when it suits their interests the Republicans will believe whatever they want.

  • Paul Krugman: Clarity Has a Well-Known Liberal Bias: Seems the Washington Post is trying to make Republicans look serious again:

    Because it is, you know, a plan to dismantle Medicare. When you transform a program that pays seniors' medical bills into a program that gives them a voucher that almost certainly isn't enough to buy adequate insurance, you can call the new scheme Medicare, but it isn't the same program. [ . . . ]

    Here's an analogy: think of Medicare as a footbridge that is deteriorating and will eventually become unsafe. You could propose structural repairs to fix its faults; Ryan doesn't do that. Instead, he proposes knocking the bridge down and replacing it with trampolines, in the hope that pedestrians can bounce across the stream. And the Post declares that he deserves credit for pointing out that the bridge is falling down, and proposing a solution. Um, we knew that the bridge was in bad shape -- and his solution is a fraud.

  • Paul Krugman: Hitting the Ceiling:

    When you look at the US fiscal position in terms of what we're capable of as a nation, it's not a big problem. Never mind those big numbers you hear about implicit liabilities; we have a big economy, too. So modest tax increases and reasonable efforts to limit health care costs could bring our long-run finances into line.

    But all this depends on our having the political will and cohesion to do what's necessary. What if it turns out that we're a banana republic, with crazy extremists having so much blocking power that we can't get our house in order?

    And failing to raise the debt limit could be widely read as a signal that we are, in fact, a banana republic.

    In that case, however, what should Obama do? My answer is that despite all that, he must not let himself be blackmailed.

    Partly that's because once he gives in the first time, the blackmail will never stop. Once the crazies know that they can get whatever they want by threatening to blow up the economy, they'll just keep demanding more and more. Obama just can't let that dynamic get started without setting up an even worse crash down the road.

    Plus, the hard right may claim that it's worried about deficits, but it's actually deeply fiscally irresponsible. Realistically, the Ryan plan would sharply increase the deficit -- because its spending cuts are in many cases impossible, and its supposed revenue neutrality is a sham. So giving in to the right would be just as much a signal of banana-republic-hood as a temporary default.

    Good advice to Obama not to give in now, but it was even better before he gave in on extending the Bush tax cuts: this is, like, act three in the continuing series of Republican extortion crises.

  • Paul Krugman: Algorithms:

    What Chait doesn't quite say, however, is that there are also reverse Al Gore problems, in which the press corps in effect decides that someone is a genuine, honest, good fellow, and ignores all evidence to the contrary. George W. Bush is the most obvious example; anyone remember Chris Matthews saying -- in 2005, no less -- that the man who misled us into war and made dishonesty about policy standard operating procedure -- "glimmers" with "sunny nobility"? Oh, and this was after Katrina.

    And as for McCain -- not only weren't his mannerisms taken as evidence of character flaws, he retained his label as a straight-talking maverick long after he had established through his actions that he was anything but. Actually, the McCain enabling continues to this day: he's a perennial Sunday talk guest, even though he has no significant political power and has been wrong about everything for years.

  • Paul Krugman: Send in the Cranks: Another example of the say-anything, do-nothing ethic:

    I have to admit that the triumph of the hard-money/goldbug view among Republicans has surprised even me. After all, Milton Friedman -- who castigated the Fed for not printing enough money during the Great Depression -- used to be the patron saint of conservative economics.

    And let's also note that we've had a strong test of monetary doctrines these past three years, and the inflation worriers have been proved overwhelmingly wrong. Yes, they've seized on the rise in commodity prices since last summer; but they have yet to find any signs of domestic inflation, as opposed to movements in prices determined on world markets and strongly driven by China and other emerging markets.

    Look, very early on I tried to explain that "printing money" -- what people who say that really mean is increases in the monetary base, which includes bank reserves as well as currency -- doesn't cause inflation, or even a rise in broader definitions of the money supply, when you're in a liquidity trap.

  • Matthew Yglesias: The Public Supports a Path to Citizenship for Employed Undocumented Immigrants: Higher percentage than I would have guessed, given how easy it is to demagogue this issue, but the bottom line is 72% in favor, 24% opposed, with majorities in seven of eight ideological subgroups, the exception a 49-49 tie among Staunch Conservatives. Framing matters a lot here.

Expert Comments

Christgau on Ellington:

Book? I don't know shitlist about any Ellington emotionally except the early stuff plus This One's for Blanton and maybe the Newport date with that Paul Gonsalves solo. Right, danced to Mercer's version of the band covering the Carter nomination for the VV and had a lovely time. And if I live to 90 and get bored, maybe I'll finally delve into his "great" period, which I take to be, what, 1936-41? Not even sure exactly. Too arranged for me, that's all. Like it if you want. Many people I love do. Just not to my taste, and since I'm not in the end a jazz critic, not my responsibility either.

Chris Monsen added:

Why not try Tom Hull's Music Database pages? Of the records I have, or at least have heard, I pretty much agree with all of his assessments on Ellington: Bubber Miley Era, The Early Ellington-records, The Fargo-set, Blanton-Webster Band or the slightly better Never No Lament (same band, same period), Ellington Uptown and Ellington at Newport are all great. The Flaming Youth record, now long out of print, has slightly different and often better versions of some of Ellington's early great tunes (among them, "East St. Louis Toodle-Oo"), and is fantastic. I personally also have a weak spot for some of Ellington's later records that are not as valued by Hull, notably Such Sweet Thunder ('56, TH A-), and Afro-Eurasian Eclipse ('71, TH B), while I'd nudge Far East Suite ('66) down from an A+ to an A.

Me:

I don't know when Bob turned so cranky on Ellington, but after he did those book reviews on Armstrong and Monk I wrote him suggesting that Ellington should be next he snapped at me. Wasn't always so. Ten or so years ago I suggested he give a listen to MCA's single disc best-ofs from their 3-CD sets of early Ellington and Basie and he did grade A CG reviews of both. Many years earlier he turned me onto Ellington's early Bluebirds (what you refer to as Flaming Youth, later on CD as Early Ellington and now -- as I've said many times, criminally -- out of print); also Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins, which even more importantly introduced me to Hawkins (as the Gramophone Guide put it, "the fount of all worthwhile saxophone playing"). I knew that what little he's written on Ellington has been on the fringes, and I probably suspected that he's none too fond of big bands (an instinct I happen to share; anyway, he overcame that with Sinatra), but I'm far from alone in regarding Ellington as one of the main figures not just in jazz but in 20th century American popular music. I guess my thinking was that for any critic interested in the historical breadth of popular music that Bob has taken on Ellington is just part of the job, as much as Armstrong, Holiday, Sinatra, Crosby, and proto-rockers like Cab Calloway and Nat Cole (to sneak in two important artists Bob has never written about). I'm not insisting that I'm right here: indeed, just as I typed out that list, Ellington is the odd man out not just because he wasn't a vocalist, he had flat out awful taste in singers (unless you score extra points for T&A, but even that doesn't explain Herb Jeffries).

Ok, so Bob doesn't know much about Ellington: the "great period," by the way, was 1940-42 ("the Blanton-Webster band"), just before the recording strike and Jimmy Blanton's death, although like many things that's a categorization myth. There's great Ellington all over the timeline, even in the weirder late 1940s (when he was grappling with bebop and Stravinsky, not to mention press clips about America's greatest living composer), the early 1950s (when Johnny Hodges went AWOL), and the mid-1930s (which Columbia insists on keeping out of print). And while most of the recordings are arranged for big band -- he called it an orchestra, but aside from occasional fiddle solos by Ray Nance he never used strings -- most of them are set up for his soloists, mostly players like Hodges, Webster, Gonsalves, and an amazing series of great trumpet players. Plus there is an awful lot of small group Ellington -- two Columbia sets from 1934-39, the RCAs in the early 1940s (some of the best under Hodges' name), and all sorts of chance encounters from 1958 on. As Monsen mentioned, I've sorted through a lot of these -- I probably have more by Ellington than anyone else, but I'm still missing things (including, sad to say, This One's for Blanton). He's a lot of work to master, and I certainly haven't done it -- so I can see why Bob might rather not. I just don't get the crankiness. Dive in anywhere (well, not the gospel music at the end). How can you not love Ellington?

PS: For Joe, the original 1-CD Ellington at Newport is as dramatic, as thrilling as recorded jazz ever got: Gonsalves gigantic solo, the trombones jumping in, Cat Anderson's high notes. The 2-CD Complete undercuts this drama but adds a lot of very good music and gives you a clearer take on what Gonsalves actually played -- part of the excitement of the original is that with its weaker sound you hear more of the crowd and the stage rocking. Take your pick (and beware of the 1958 Newport, not nearly as good).

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Expert Comments

Someone mentioned Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw:

On Anthony Bourdain's Medium Raw: I thought the writing in the first chapters was atrocious, but either it picked up later or I got used to it. You can get a taste at my book page: /ocston/books/bourdain-medium.php.

As I recall, he singled out Olive Garden among his named evils, although I don't find that in my notes.

More memoir:

When I was real young all we had was a record player that would only play 45s. We had a stack of records less than six inches tall: main ones I remember were "Sixteen Tons" (Ernie Ford), "Honey Comb" (Jimmie Rodgers -- not the country singer), "Puff the Magic Dragon" (Peter Paul & Mary), and "Monster Mash." I don't recall having much input into those (well, maybe the latter).

In 7th or 8th grade I saved up $40 and bought a machine that would play LPs. First ones I bought were Bobby Vinton, Gene Pitney, Kinks-Size, and Having a Rave-Up With the Yardbirds. The latter had a song called "Respectable" on it that changed my life (Isley Brothers cover). First Rolling Stones album was Between the Buttons, but I had all the singles from "Satisfaction"; mostly Beatles singles too, one Dylan ("Rainy Day Women"), one James Brown (you know it). Seems like I got a slightly better stereo before I went to college, but I don't recall when. Music wasn't a big interest until then: in college I discovered music as a form of social and intellectual currency: early 1970s now, lots of prog rock, some Miles Davis. After Wash U, back in Wichita, got a job and bought a fancy component system -- Yamaha, B&O, cost more than my car ($900 v. $600), lasted me a long time. When I was shopping my test record was "Brontosaurus" by the Move. My God, it sounded great.

Growing up I never knew anyone who had a record collection or knew anything about music, so I figured out what I figured out the hard way. Read Christgau in the Voice in 1969, but it didn't sink in until I moved back home and found the old copies in the attic. Next generation was different: my nephew grew up on Ornette Coleman and Public Enemy.

More Bourdain, more food:

With food still on my mind, thought I'd mention that the nephew I turned on to Ornette Coleman and Public Enemy has a cooking blog: porkalicious.blogspot.com. I had some influence there too, although I wasn't the only one. He's probably ahead of me by now -- moved to New York after his eyes were opened, and has held out a lot longer than I did. Still, good as those green beans look, I'd stand the dry-fried ones I made last week up against them: you can only put sauce on a boiled bean, but once you deep fry it the sauce goes in.

Bourdain's line on Olive Garden was that Italian is so easy it's a crime not to do it well. I mostly do Italian when I'm pressed for time, like when I get roped into a midday meal. Never fails, even with all sorts of short cuts, and lots of things I can't get.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Expert Comments

Several people posted on their first CD:

The first CD I bought was Brian Eno's Thursday Afternoon, so that would have been 1985. it only came on CD, so that finally broke my resistance. I probably had everything Eno had done to that point so I was kind of boxed in. It was another 2-3 years before I switched over and stopped buying LPs. I hated the higher prices, and only bought CDs when I there was an extra reason. Christgau used to complain a lot about the length of CDs, but I found I preferred the longer playing time; also the ease of use. The most surprising gain for me was Keith Jarrett's Koln Concert, which was painful (and stupid) to manage on 3 LP sides but just got better and better on one CD.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Cashing In

Just got a piece of email from Craig Aaron at freepress.net. I get a lot of mail like this but this is the first time I've just copied it verbatim:

FCC Commissioner Meredith Attwell Baker is leaving the FCC to become a lobbyist for Comcast -- just four months after she voted to approve the Comcast-NBC merger.

This is just the latest -- but perhaps most blatant -- example of so-called "public servants" cashing in on companies they are supposed to be regulating. But Baker's jump to Comcast is particularly egregious. As recently as March, the commissioner was giving speeches complaining that the Comcast-NBC deal "took too long."

Baker's new position is actually Senior Vice President of Government Affairs, working directly for Comcast. Baker was appointed to the FCC by Obama, assuming office July 31, 2009, and has been an opponent of "net neutrality" ever since she landed. She's listed as a Republican, married to the son of Reagan-Bush consigliere James Baker. I have no idea how she got appointed, but this is a question that anyone who thought that Obama might actually change anything important needs to contemplate.

Whether this is the most blatant corruption ever is something we can debate. When Boeing paid Pentagon procurer Darleen Druyun off with a Vice President job, she (but not the Boeing execs who hired her) wound up in jail. When Billy Tauzin pushed the Medicare D bill through the House -- the one that prohibited the government from negotiating prices with pharmaceutical companies -- he didn't even bother to finish his term before cashing in as President and CEO of PhRMA, the pharmaceutical industry lobbying conglomerate. Those are two of the more blatant cases I can think of, but there are many more. On Obama's watch, the biggest one thus far has been Peter Orszag, who served as CBO Director before landing the job as Citigroup's Vice Chairman of Global Banking: you can say that was less blatant, but Orszag was an important peripheral figure in the bank bailouts and the new job is worth millions.

I'm sure we'll be hearing much more about this over the next few weeks, including numerous campaign quotes from Obama about how he was going to clean up the stench of corruption that smells just like this.


Don't have any new links, but the NLRB ruling against Boeing for building a new aircraft assembly plant in South Carolina is heating up. Boeing is acting dumbfounded, as well you might expect given how little flack they've gotten for their anti-union activities in the recent past. (Among other things, when the office workers in Wichita unionized, Boeing sold off the plant in a private equity deal, then managed to decertify the union from the tiny rump group they kept for military work.) What I find even more disturbing than the anti-union aspects of the South Carolina move is that they got the state to fork over $900 million in bribes to build the plant. Even there, only the size of the booty is surprising: for quite a while now Boeing has made a practice of selling jobs to state and local politicians, both in the US and abroad. Their whole business swims in an ocean of corruption: that they can't deliver new aircraft like the 787 and that they aircraft they do sell like the 737 have been turning up to be defective is a side effect. Like all good US corporations, their real business is making money for investors (and upper management), and their products hardly matter.


Expert Comments

Someone mentioned that Jim Determan had a file "translating" John Morthland's The Best of Country Music into the CD era:

avatar I looked for the Morthland-on-CD page a while back and the available links were all dead. Tried again tonight using the Wayback Machine and tracked it down. Looks like it's been broken since 2007, but perhaps more importantly that the file hasn't been updated since December 2002. I made a copy of it and a similar one Jim Determan did on Len Lyons, The 101 Best Jazz Albums: A History of Jazz on Records. Not sure what to do with them, but it's tempting to clean them up and post them -- looks like a fair amount of work. A much bigger task/question would be bringing them up to date.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Jazz Consumer Guide (26): Pure Joy and Hard Work

New Jazz Consumer Guide on the Village Voice website today, out on the streets tomorrow: Pure Joy and Hard Work. This is the 26th column going back to July 2004, now up to 963 records (see index and/or artist index). Previous one was published December 22, so this has taken a good deal longer than the usual three months: mostly my fault as I slogged through a miserable winter, but the change of the guard at The Village Voice added to the delay. (Mostly before, rather than after, Maura Johnston took over. Once she got hold of the lost draft she turned it around in little more than a week.)

Space got cut back a bit: my word count is 1488 where we've been running close to 1600 lately. Still running late: I think the only 2011 release here is Vijay Iyer's Tirtha, and I'm not sure there aren't any 2009 (or earlier) albums. Four records got cut from the draft I sent in, and I had left out a lot more -- enough for the next column (and then some). And I still have about 250 records in my prospecting queue, so this all takes time.

One format change this time: I didn't bother turning in any Duds, and the new editor didn't seem to miss them. When Robert Christgau restructured his Consumer Guide in 1991 he wanted to eliminate the Duds and just look for good records. The editor at the time (I forget who) talked him out of it, so he carried on with a Dud of the Month and an alphabetized, ungraded list of Extra Duds -- plus he was still expected to spend a couple miserable months each November shooting turkeys. Finally with his Expert Witness blog he's gotten past all that nonsense. I started off doing a featured dud per column, then cut back to an annotated dud list. I could have done one this time, but didn't want to spend the space. They're relatively easy to write, and I do the painful part -- the listening -- anyway, so it really comes down to space and interest. And while some readers may get off on me whacking some unfortunately misconceived unlistenable crap, I don't. The other reason I've heard for doing Duds is to prove that I don't fall for everything. But the fact is that I keep notes on everything, it's all in the Prospecting files and in the year-end lists. You can look through either of them and find all the Duds you can stand.

The Jazz Prospecting that went into this column is archived here: 227 records, plus 96 carryovers from the previous round. That's about typical for a column -- over the last few years I've ranged from 207 to 293. Most of those records get dismissed after prospecting: the record of that is kept in the surplus file here. The more I fall behind, the harder I try to catch up by cutting out records that are marginal for one reason or another. In most cases I refer you to the Jazz Prospecting notes, but some of the cuts deserve further explanation. The rest of this post are near misses from the surplus file. Some of the best are Ivo Perelman records that I mentioned in the review and expand upon here. Cutting them out helped to work other things in, but he really had a great run this past year.


Pick up reviews from surplus file here.


Publicist letter:

The Village Voice has published my 26th Jazz Consumer Guide column
this week:

link

The previous one came out December 21. Longer than the usual 3-month
interval, but next one should come out sooner.

Index by label:

  ACT: Vijay Iyer
  Arbors: Warren Vache/John Allred
  Bju'ecords: David Smith
  Clean Feed: Lisa Mezzacappa, Billy Fox, Stephan Crump/James Carney,
    Hugo Antunes
  Cuneiform: The Microscopic Septet
  Dox: Benjamin Herman
  ECM: Marilyn Crispell/David Rothenberg, Anat Fort
  Fenomedia: Marcin & Bartlomiej Brat Oles
  High Note: Ernestine Anderson, Kenny Burrell
  ICP: ICP Orchestra
  In+Out: Sun Ra Arkestra
  Jazzwerkstatt: World Saxophone Quartet, Chris Dahlgren
  Kabell: Wadada Leo Smith/Ed Blackwell
  Leo: Ivo Perelman, Anthony Braxton
  NoBusiness: Commitment
  NYC: Mike Mainieri
  Pine Eagle: Rich Halley
  Porter: Henry Grimes/Rashied Ali, Profound Sound Trio
  RogueArt: Marshall Allen/Matthew Shipp/Joe Morris
  Smalls: Harold O'Neal
  Smalltown Superjazz: Lean Left
  Songlines: James Carney
  Sunnyside: Stephan Crump, Paquito D'Rivera, John McNeil/Bill McHenry
  Tzadik: Rafi Malkiel
  Valid: Rob Wagner/Hamid Drake/Nobu Ozaki
  Water Baby: Anthony Brown
  Zoho: Pablo Aslan
  self-released: Ben Syversen

Jazz Prospecting for this round covered 227 new albums, with
96 older albums carried over for consideration here. The Jazz
Prospecting notes are collected here:

  link

The index for all Jazz Consumer Guide columns:

  link

Another index, this time by artist name:

  link

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

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


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

  • Marshall Allen/Matthew Shipp/Joe Morris: Night Logic (2009 [2010], RogueArt): In the label's minimalist design style, the artists are listed with first initials, but I figured I should go ahead and spell them out. Allen is well into his 80s now; b. 1924, he joined the Sun Ra Arkestra in 1956 and still directs it in its ghost band phase. He has a few albums since the late 1990s with his name on the marquee, like this one alongside other notables. He plays alto sax and flute, and is gritty enough on the sax that he draws out Shipp's David S. Ware Quartet mode, which itself is worth the price of admission. Morris is best known for his guitar, but plays bass here. B+(***)
  • Ernestine Anderson: Nightlife (2008-09 [2011], High Note): Veteran r&b singer, came up with Johnny Otis 1947-49, moved on to Lionel Hampton, and has been moving ever since. Cut some records 1956-60, then dropped out of sight until Concord revived her in 1976 with 12 albums through 1993, and now has 3 since 2003 on High Note, this one sampling two Dizzy's Club Coca Cola sets straddling her 80th birthday. Voice is a bit gruff; songbook is mostly blues. Should be ordinary but actually she gives a remarkable performance, with a big boost from the label's resident saxophone genius, Houston Person. B+(***)
  • Hugo Antunes: Roll Call (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Guessing on the recording date, given only as "September 3" -- seems inconceivably tight to be 2010, but if it was more than a year old you'd think they'd think of noting the year. Portuguese bassist; based in Brussels, Belgium. First album, as far as I can tell, fronted by two tenor saxophonists -- Daniele Martini and Toine Thys (who also plays soprano and bass clarinet), backed by two drummers (João Lobo and Mark Patrman). Lots of deep rumble and fleeting reeds, remarkable when it works, which is more often than not. B+(***)
  • Pablo Aslan: Tango Grill (2010, Zoho): Bassist, born in Argentina, based in New York, has several records based on tango themes -- 2007's Buenos Aires Tango Standards is one I particularly recommend. New one is more of the same -- an assortment of old tango tunes given a jolt of jazz improv, with piano and trumpet kicking in as well as the usual bandoneon and violin. B+(***)
  • Anthony Braxton: 19 Standards (Quartet) 2003 (2003 [2010], Leo, 4CD): This is actually the third 4-CD box from Braxton's 2003 standards tour, so it should be surplus, but like its predecessors it's just marvelous. Braxton haters won't have a clue in a blindfold test, and fans may have some trouble too -- aside from one improv where he's on home ground, he reminds me of Sonny Stitt more than anyone else, with more range and even faster, or Bird without the dank sound, or McLean without the weird bite, but where all those guys had to sweat to put out, Braxton has never seemed more relaxed or laid back. (And no one else would pick up a sopranino sax and kick out an utterly distinctive "The Girl From Ipanema.") With guitarist Kevin O'Neil getting a lot of room to stretch, and Andy Eulau on bass and Kevin Norton on percussion. Main thing that holds me back from grading it higher is that I haven't spent as much time with it as A records usually take. But you can dive in anywhere and find something wonderful. A-
  • Anthony Brown's Asian American Orchestra: India & Africa: A Tribute to John Coltrane (2009 [2010], Water Baby): Drummer, mother Japanese, father African-American with a bit of Choctaw, came up on the idea of organizing a big band of Asian-American musicians -- an early fruit was Big Bands Behind Barbed Wire, inspired by Japanese-American bands who played in WWII concentration camps. His records incorporate various bits of Asian music, but they're also masterful exercises in big band arranging -- as was proven, for instance, in Brown's previous Monk's Moods. This one is organized in two sets, mostly using Coltrane's compositions, in particular "India" and "Africa." The India set picks up more Indian music than Coltrane ever knew, including a duet between Steve Oda's sarod and Dana Pandey's tabla. The Africa set is less exotic, and ends with a slice of Mongo Santamaria's "Afro Blue" -- a piece Coltrane used to play. (Afro Blue Impressions is one of Coltrane's better live albums.) The percussion is notable, and the horn solos and section work are muscular and daring. A-
  • Kenny Burrell: Be Yourself (2008 [2010], High Note): Live at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola -- looks like I'm supposed to use the fancy logo for the last two words. Born 1931, cut his first record in 1956 and has rarely missed a year since, one of the few survivors of the bumper crop of bop-oriented guitarists that emerged in the 1950s. (Jim Hall is the only other one I can think of who's still active.) Has a couple of exceptional records -- Guitar Forms (1964-65), Ellington Is Forever (1975, Vol. 1 much better than Vol. 2) -- and a lot of pretty nice ones. I flagged his 75th Birthday Bash Live! (2006) as a dud, but this one is a delight, with Tivon Pennicott blowing some warm sax, Benny Green on the ivories, the great Peter Washington humming along on bass, and Clayton Cameron on drums. In this company, Burrell doesn't have to offer much more than tasty, which is just his thing. B+(***)
  • James Carney Group: Ways & Means (2008 [2009], Songlines): Pianist, from Syracuse, NY, based in Los Angeles and/or Brooklyn (sources differ), fifth album since 1993. Group is a septet: Peter Epstein (soprano/alto sax), Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Tony Malaby (tenor sax), Josh Roseman (trombone), Christ Lightcap (bass), Mark Ferber (drums). Seems like a lot of horn power, but the horns are folded in tightly, layered for color, the individual personalities appearing here and there -- Epstein has an especially delectable lead spot. Carney plays some electric piano and analog synth, only gradually emerging as a leader with intricate ideas and taste. B+(***)
  • Commitment: The Complete Recordings 1981/1983 (1980-83 [2010], No Business, 2CD): Bassist William Parker was less than 30 when he formed this group, with one self-released album (released 1981; reissued as Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace by Eremite in 1998), side credits with Frank Lowe and Billy Bang, with Cecil Taylor still in his future. Violinist Jason Kao Hwang was less than 25. The senior member was Will Connell, Jr., b. 1938. He turned to music after an accident in the Air Force nearly blinded him. In Los Angeles in the 1960s he fell into Horace Tapscott's circle, then moved back to New York "because I wanted to be a hermit." He plays flute, alto sax, bass clarinet, wood flutes here. I haven't found any other credits for him, unless he's the "Will Connell" playing bass clarinet on a a 2007 Bill Dixon album -- would have been close to 70, still 13 years younger than Dixon. Fourth member is drummer Zen Matsuura, who went on to play with Billy Bang and Roy Campbell -- not a long credit list, but he's on Campbell's 2007 Akhenaten Suite, deserving of another plug. Parker recorded a piece called "Commitment" in the late 1970s, but the piece doesn't appear here. What we get is the 1981 Commitment Ensemble album (recorded October 13-14, 1980; 36 minutes on the first disc) and a long live set from Germany in 1983 (38 minutes on the first disc and 48 more on the second). One of those records that would have sounded interesting but unfocused at the time, but sounds prophetic now. Hwang, who was born in Waukegan, IL, had yet to develop his mastery of Chinese classical music, so he sounds more like Leroy Jenkins here -- a pretty good deal. Connell is plug ugly on alto, but his flutes hit the right notes in contrast to the violin. Parker and Matsuura keep it all moving at breakneck speed. A-
  • Marilyn Crispell/David Rothenberg: One Night I Left My Silent House (2008 [2010], ECM): I got confused early on here, first confusing David Rothenberg with Ned Rothenberg and possibly others my brain has incoherently muddled together, but also thinking that Crispell should be the main focus. She plays piano on about half of the cuts, soundboard and percussion on the rest -- for all intents and purposes, her piano is one of many percussion options, all revolving around Rothenberg's bass clarinet and clarinet. Rothenberg has ten albums since 1992, something to research further some time. He describes himself as a "philosopher-naturalist" and writes about Why Birds Sing. This is spare but deep, mostly slow and careful but never mushy. Crispell, as I said, takes on the percussionist role, which is not to denigrate her near-perfect piano. A-
  • Stephan Crump with Rosetta Trio: Reclamation (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Bassist, from Memphis, mother "an amateur pianist from Paris," father "an architect and jazz drummer"; studied at Amherst, based in New York, plays in Vijay Iyer's piano trio. Fourth album since 1997; third was called Rosetta with same lineup here, the bass flanked by guitarists Liberty Ellman and Jamie Fox. Seems slight at first, the guitars tuned down to adorn the bass, a balance that lets you enter the framework. Didn't get much out of the previous record, but this one draws me in every time. A-
  • Stephan Crump/James Carney: Echo Run Pry (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): A while back I got a package of 6-7 Clean Feed releases from Portugal; opened them up and when I noticed this one, I stopped, thought about what a remarkable job Pedro Costa does with his label. In particular, I recalled Costa's comment back when I wrote that mega-article on jazz labels: that he doesn't have any special tastes, but just releases whatever strikes his fancy. That's mostly included various circles of well-connected avant-gardists, plus a wider range of Portuguese artists. I've never really thought of Crump (bass) or Carney (piano) as avant-garde, although they've been doing interesting and rather daring postbop, scoring HMs or better, so I was surprised to see them pop up together, and here. The record has the same basic flaw of all duos: limited pallette with no one extra to smooth the flow. But Carney holds back enough to work with the bass instead of running roughshod over it, and Crump's leads are always interesting. B+(***)
  • Chris Dahlgren: Mystic Maze & Lexicon (2008 [2010], Jazzwerkstatt): Bassist, b. 1961 in New York, studied under La Monte Young. Half-dozen records as a leader, plus a couple dozen side credits including Anthony Braxton and Gebhard Ullmann. With Antonis Anissegos (keyboards), Ullman (tenor & soprano sax, bass clarinet), Christian Weidner (alto sax), and Eric Schaefer (drums). Music is very slippery, sliding from spot to spot, never getting in the way of the narration, which includes stories about Béla Bartok and painless dentistry. B+(***)
  • Paquito D'Rivera: Tango Jazz: Live at Lincoln Center (2010, Sunnyside): Cuban clarinet/also sax player, b. 1948, studied at Havana Conservatory of Music, co-founded Orchestra Cubana de Musica Moderna, and later Irakere, before skipping over the the US in 1980, where has since built up a substantial discography. Opens the liner notes with a rant about "Che Guevara and his henchmen" which even if it's true -- and I don't know one way or the other -- reminds me how convenient America is for right-wing Cubans and how much political damage they've done since being welcomed here so generously (unlike refugees from far more murderous right-wing regimes like El Salvador in the 1980s, or Haiti any time). Still, the gist of D'Rivera's notes is that he loves the tango music that Guevara evidently forsook, and he at least proves his enthusiasm in the grooves. The critical ingredient, not surprisingly, is the Pablo Aslan Ensemble, with Michael Zisman (and on one track Raul Jaurena) on bandoneón, Aslan on bass, and Daniel Piazzolla on drums. Aslan's own tango records have tended to be elegant updates -- Avantango kicked off the series, and Buenos Aires Tango Standards is even better -- but the band gets hot and rowdy here, especially when Gustavo Bergalli cuts loose on trumpet. A-
  • Anat Fort Trio: And If (2009 [2010], ECM): Pianist, b. 1970 near Tel Aviv in Israel, moved to US in early 1990s, based in New York. Third album, second on ECM. Trio with Gary Wang (bass) and Roland Schneider (drums). Quiet but remarkably assured. Opens and closes with meditative pieces dedicated to Paul Motian; one exception is "Nu" which jumps around a bit. B+(***)
  • Billy Fox's Blackbirds & Bullets: Dulces (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Percussionist, credited only with maracas here, has two previous albums, The Kaidan Suite and Uncle Wiggly Suite, and a couple of side credits -- e.g., worked with Bobby Sanabria. So how does a maracas player sustain interest? He recruits players I've barely (or never) heard of, spread out among two saxes, trumpet, keybs, a one-track violin guest, and gives them each a few minutes to stand up and out. Also does a superb job of working out horn charts for transition. B+(***)
  • Henry Grimes/Rashied Ali: Spirits Aloft (2009 [2010], Porter): Grimes' story should be fairly well known by now. B. 1935, he was a popular bassist from 1957-67, breaking in with Gerry Mulligan but from 1964-67 mostly playing with avant-gardists, including Albert Ayler, Frank Wright, Charles Tyler, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, and Don Cherry -- for that matter, 1962-63 was transitional, credits there including Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Roy Haynes, and two exceptional avant albums: Perry Robinson's Funk Dumpling and Steve Lacy/Roswell Rudd's School Days (the name inspiration for the Ken Vandermark group). Grimes dropped out in 1967, and wasn't heard from again until 2002 when someone tracked him down, and William Parker gave him a new bass -- at the time he reportedly hadn't realized that Ayler had died. He's been a semi-celebrity since 2002, working steadily, but I generally suspected that the world was cutting him a fair amount of slack. He had, for instance, one album under his own name back in 1965; he picked up a second album in 2005, Live at the Kerava Jazz Festival, but the Henry Grimes Trio there was supported by two much more famous players: Hamid Drake and David Murray. Still, this record forces me at least to make some adjustments. This is a duo and Ali -- who didn't disappear after Coltrane died but never got much recognition either -- was clearly secondary. Mostly bass-drums duets, but Grimes plays some violin as well, not very slick but the higher pitch projects him impressively. Begins and ends with short poems, the live set full of sharp edges as Grimes works his way around his tools, with drum interludes and comments -- less commanding but no less sharp. This is actually the second duo album with Grimes and Ali, so I need to check the first out too. A-
  • Rich Halley Quartet: Live at the Penofin Jazz Festival (2008 [2010], Pine Eagle): Featuring Bobby Bradford, whose cornet adds a second free-wheeling horn to tenor saxophonist Halley's trio. Halley is from Portland, OR; trained as a field biologist, plays free jazz with a feel for Aylerian primitivism (what Ayler thought of as spirit). Has a dozen or so albums since 1984. Bradford adds something, but I still slightly prefer his trio Mountains and Plains, and someday hope to dig up deeper background. B+(***)
  • Benjamin Herman: Hypochristmastreefuzz [Special Edition] (2008-09 [2010], Dox, 2CD): Title broken up onto three lines on front cover, but one word on spine, and one word as a song title. I probably put this off thinking Xmas music, a big mistake that should have been flagged by the subtitle: More Mengelberg. The Dutch pianist doesn't play, but did write all but two compositions, and emerges for a short interview fragment at the end of the first disc -- in Dutch, natch. Herman is a Dutch alto saxophonist, b. 1968, has a healthy list of albums since 1999, including Plays Misha Mengelberg in 2000 and Plays Jaki Byard in 2003. Looks like Hypochristmastreefuzz originally came out as a single in 2009, then was reissued in 2010 with a second disc, "Live at the North Sea Jazz Festival." I recognize Mengelberg (b. 1935) as one of the giants of the European avant-garde, but I've actually listened to very little by him (or his longstanding ICP [Instant Composers Pool] Orchestra), so the big surprise for me here is how this all jumps. Mostly sax-bass-drums, a little guitar, one track with mellotron, one with a Ruben Hein vocal, another with a bit of choir. Manages to be edgy and catchy at the same time. Several songs reappear on the live disc, looser and rougher, as you'd expect. [Was: A-] A
  • ICP Orchestra: ICP 049 (2009 [2010], ICP): Cover lists the musician names, alternating black and gray; under that ICP Orchestra in red; at bottom ICP 049 in black and gray. Spine reads: ICP (049) Orchestra. Pretty sure this is the ICP Orchestra record Francis Davis picked as last year's best. The group -- ICP stands for Instant Composers Pool -- dates back to 1967, founded by Misha Mengelberg, Han Bennink, and the late Willem Breuker. Current lineup is named on the cover: Mengelberg (piano), Bennink (drums), Tristan Honsiger (cello), Ab Baars (reeds), Ernst Glerum (bass), Michael Moore (reeds), Thomas Heberer (trumpet, Mary Oliver (violin, viola), Tobias Delius (tenor sax) -- at least four expats settled in Amsterdam (Moore, Oliver, and Honsiger from US; Delius from UK; not sure about Heberer, from Germany, does play with a lot of Dutch musicians). Have a lot of catching up to do, especially on Mengelberg, but this sums up the usual virtues of the Dutch avant-garde: continental culture, with a delirious twist. A-
  • Vijay Iyer with Prasanna & Nitin Mitta: Tirtha (2008 [2011], ACT): Piano-guitar-tabla. Prasanna's guitar propels the flow, the most distinguishing feature here, very attractive at times with the soft tap of the tabla. Iyer elaborates but rarely breaks loose. B+(***)
  • Lean Left: The Ex Guitars Meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo, Volume 1 (2008 [2010], Smalltown Superjazz): Maybe artist name and title should be switched. "Ex Guitars" are Andy Moor and Terrie Ex of the Dutch mostly-rock group The Ex, which started much like the Mekons but instead of going country-folk hung out with African noise bands and avant-jazzers. Drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and Ken Vandermark (tenor sax, Bb clarinet) have five or six albums as a duo, many more in larger configs, and in fact many Vandermark albums have been multi-band mash-ups along such lines. Cut live at Bimhuis. Liner suggests that Vandermark couldn't hear himself over the guitars although he was aware of blowing his lungs out; no problem, the sax is loud and clear here (especially loud). The guitars are less obvious, cutting in and out with harmonic strings and blasts of distortion. While the rockers are ripping up the sonic landscape, the jazz vanguardists rock out, with Vandermark riffing heavy and the drummer tying it all together. Three short pieces and one long at 27:26 for an intense bit over 41 minutes. A-
  • Lean Left: The Ex Guitars Meet Nilssen-Love/Vandermark Duo, Volume 2 (2008 [2010], Smalltown Superjazz): A second set at the Bimhuis, not as loud as the first, and not just because Vandermark lays out on the 12:26 opening "Knuckle Cracking Party": an exercise where Andy Moor and Terrie Ex tease abstractions out of their guitars. The main act is the 30:16 "Chunk of Lung," so named because Vandermark thought he lost one somewhere. Same piece appeared on Volume 1, not that you can tell. This is less loud, has some breaks, lets the guitars articulate more. Probably a development, but gives up a bit of Volume 1's rush. B+(***)
  • Rafi Malkiel: Water (2009 [2010], Tzadik): Trombonist, b. 1972 in Israel, based in New York, second album, following the delightful My Island in 2007. Also plays euphonium, which he has tricked up to make something he calls aguaphonium here. Styles himself as a Latin jazz specialist, surrounding himself with various Latino percussionists as well as fellow travelers like Anat and Avishai Cohen. Jumps to a fast start, wavers a bit when they slip and slow down. Depends more on the horn layers than on the rhythm, but needs both to work: "Eden Rain" is a good mix, "River Blue" another. B+(**)
  • Mike Mainieri: Crescent (2005 [2010], NYC, 2CD): Vibraphonist, b. 1938, discography starts in 1962 but AMG only lists 17 albums over 48 years and he's never registered much on my radar -- just enough to keep him separate from the Maneri clan. Been sitting on this for a while, noticing how far behind I was when another new 2CD set came in. Can't say I was looking forward to it, but that's only because I missed the fine print. Actually, front cover says "featuring Charlie Mariano" then adds another name in smaller print, Dieter Ilg -- the bassist here. Mariano died in 2009, an alto saxophonist whose vast discography goes back to the early 1950s. Don't know him all that well either, but he's blown me away on occasion, especially on the two It's Standard Time volumes he cut with Tete Montoliu (1989, Fresh Sound). Don't have the recording date here, but liner notes refer to a 2005 session with Mariano winded from an illness and Mainieri affect by a hand injury. Title and more than half of the songs are from Coltrane -- the other half must fall in the songbook somewhere. Mariano sounds more poignant than I expected, suits a posthumous album. The vibes and bass keep a respectful distance. B+(***)
  • John McNeil/Bill McHenry: Chill Morn He Climb Jenny (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Trumpeter McNeil is a generation older and probably a good deal more idiosyncratic than the others, which means not only he revives lost bop gems he embues them with their own idiosyncratic spin, including some of that Latin tinge. I'm rather surprised not to see this pop up on any year-end lists so far. Not exactly my thing, but I could imagine more bop-oriented fans falling hard for it -- unless they can't loosen up. B+(***)
  • Lisa Mezzacappa's Bait & Switch: What Is Known (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Bassist, based in San Francisco, first album, has a handful of side credits going back to 1996, no one I recognize except (barely/obviously) Pyeng Threadgill. Quartet, with Aaron Bennett (tenor sax), John Finkbeiner (guitar), and Vijay Anderson (drums). Anderson I recognize because he has a new record on Not Two I just added to my wish list. Needed to jog my memory on Bennett and Finkbeiner, but they are indispensible cogs in Adam Lane's Full Throttle Orchestra -- which has a past pick hit and a new record I don't have yet but Stef Gijssels has raved about -- and Finkbeiner is part of Nice Guy Trio. Finkbeiner has an uncanny knack for adding harmonics to Bennett's sax, making this play more like a two-horn group than sax-guitar. The bassist composed eight of ten pieces, covering one from Air -- Pyeng's father's group, although Steve McCall is the author -- and one from Don Van Vliet called "Lick My Decals Off, Baby." She also works in a lot of bass solos/leads, fine by me. [PS: Did finally get the new Adam Lane record, and neither Bennett nor Finkbeiner are on it, so maybe not so indispensible; will see when I get to it.] A-
  • The Microscopic Septet: Friday the Thirteenth: The Micros Play Monk (2010, Cuneiform): Sax quartet (Phillip Johnston on soprano, Don Davis on alto, Mike Hashim on tenor, Dave Sewelson on baritone) plus piano-bass-drums (Joel Forrester, David Hofstra, Richard Dworkin). Been around since the early 1980s, skipping a couple decades between 1988 and 2008. Monk mostly wrote for a sax-piano quartet, so the extra horns scale up cleanly. That the group's leader, Johnston, plays soprano sax makes it likely that he's refracting Monk through Steve Lacy. Also helps that the tenor guy (Hashim) is one of the most irrepressible swingers in the business. In any case, it all works like a charm. A-
  • Marcin & Bartlomiej Brat Oles: Duo (2008, Fenomedia): Twin brothers, b. 1973 in Sosnowiec, Poland. Marcin plays bass; Bartlomiej drums. They've recorded quite a bit since a 1999 group called Custom Trio, sometimes as Oles Brothers, often named separately with Marcin listed first. Some are the result of international jazz stars tramping through Poland -- David Murray and Ken Vandermark appear to have been the first, and there's a more recent record with Herb Robertson. Some are fronted by Polish saxophonists -- Adam Pieronczyk is one I like, Andrzej Przybielski is one I haven't run across yet. Aside from a drum solo album, they almost always play as a team, so you'd expect tight communication and balance, but it's still surprising how well this duo works out. The bass provides all the melodic structure and harmony you need -- this never feels empty, unlike 80% of the duo records I've heard. (Not sure how many bass-drums duos there have even been -- Parker-Drake, of course, some good records there.) Helps that this mostly keeps a regular groove. A-
  • Harold O'Neal: Whirling Mantis (2008 [2010], Smalls): Pianist, b. 1981 in Tanzania, raised in Kansas City -- father and uncle were leaders in Black Panther Party in KC; uncle remains "in exile" in Tanzania. Studied at Berklee and Manhattan School of Music. First album, quartet, with Jaleel Shaw on alto sax, Joe Sanders on bass, Rodney Green on drums. Postbop, Shaw roughs it up a bit, piano whirls around making a nice impression. B+(***)
  • Ivo Perelman/Dominic Duval/Brian Wilson: Mind Games (2008 [2009], Leo): Conventional tenor sax trio, with Duval on bass and Wilson on drums. I saw Duval play once, with Cecil Taylor, who ran him ragged for about 20 minutes, then after Duval was worn out Taylor started to play a little himself. Wilson is a drummer. Can't find out much about him, but he's certainly not the ex-Beach Boys singer-guitarist who shows up in his stead for the first million or so Google searches. Pretty good drummer, too. As for the tenor saxophonist, this is billed marking the 20th anniversary of his recording career, and he's in his prime, sticking to what he knows best. Before this string, I had only heard 4-5 of his recordings, the delta there an unrated duo with Borah Bergman, and only had one at A-: 1996's Sad Life. It, too, was a sax trio, with William Parker and Hamid Drake. I wonder whether, had I played the records in some other order, I might have nitpicked one or the other down a notch. After three plays I'm not totally blown away here either, but have no nits to pick. I need to go back the review the others, and figure out what to do with this cluster -- probably a lead and two high HMs. (Also wonder why they didn't send me the Perelman/Wilson duo The Stream of Life -- hard to think of any label I don't get that I'd be more excited to hook into than Leo.) A-
  • Profound Sound Trio: Opus de Life (2008 [2009], Porter): Andrew Cyrille on drums, Paul Dunmall on tenor sax and bagpipes, Henry Grimes on bass. Live set, all group improvs, raw both in sound and substance. Grimes sounds especially primitive here, Ayleresque even. Dunmall has always been hit-and-miss, but he's pretty much always on here. He even squeezes out a couple of minutes of rather sublime music on his bagpipes, elsewhere more often than not an implement of torture. Cyrille may get first billing alphabetically, but he does a remarkable job of holding it all together, and gets to end the set on a rapturous crash. They didn't try to tone down the applause, and for once it's deserved. A-
  • Sun Ra Arkestra [under the direction of Marshall Allen]: Live at the Paradox (2008 [2010], In+Out): Sun Ra died in 1993. Alto saxophonist Allen joined Ra's Arkestra in 1958, was a mainstay until the end, and at 86 is the ghost band's undisputed leader. I don't know how active the Arkestra has been since 1993: Allen's website shows three albums including this one, another live album from 2003 and an earlier album dating from 1999. I only count four band members here who also played on 1990's Live at the Hackney Empire, the last of Ra's full Arkestra albums I have listings for: Allen, Noel Scott (as), Charles Davis (ts), and Elson Nascimento (surdo). The nine songs are split 4-4 between Allen and Ra, with Fletcher Henderson's "Hocus Pocus" the odd tune out -- Ra learned his craft arranging for Henderson; don't know if any of Allen's pieces are new. This covers all the bases, most of the planets and quite a few moons, cranking up the space synths, cracking up into cacophony, breaking down with corny vocals, and swinging like hell. You've heard it all before, yet still can't predict it: this is one ghost band that never gets trapped in its past because its past is still so far in the future we can't anticipate it. B+(***)
  • David Smith Quintet: Anticipation (2009 [2010], Bju'ecords): AMG lists 50 Dave or David Smiths, none obviously the right one, which makes no sense. Trumpet player, from Canada, based in Brooklyn, second album -- first was a quintet with Seamus Blake on Fresh Sound New Talent, Circumstance, which I should have flagged as an HM but somehow escaped -- plus thirty-some side credits. Kenji Omae replaces Blake on saxophone, and new bass and drums, but guitarist Nate Radley is a significant carryover. Crackling postbop, especially the trumpet. Tough name to make one with, but if I were running AMG I'd flag him in bold. B+(***)
  • Wadada Leo Smith and Ed Blackwell: The Blue Mountain's Sun Drummer (1986 [2010], Kabell): Trumpet/drums duets, from the vaults. Not sure what it is about Blackwell that holds this so together. But Smith is exceptionally sharp, not that it hurts much when he wanders, as when he plays flute or mibira, or sings. A-
  • Ben Syversen: Cracked Vessel (2010, Ben Syversen): Trumpet player, b. 1983, based in Brooklyn; first album, a trio with Xander Naylor on guitar and Jeremy Gustin on drums. Syversen cites Tim Berne, Ellery Eskelin, and Jim Black for ideas, as well as "seminal punk bands such as Black Flag, twisted takes on Americana, and sly, just beneath the surface references to Eastern European folk music." There seem to be a lot of young guys like that coming up, with the MOPDTK gang on the more scholarly end of the spectrum, with this on the more punkish end. The jumbled riddims and guitar noise are exhilarating, but even the one where they slow it down gives you pause for thought. A-
  • The Warren Vaché/John Allred Quintet: Top Shelf (2009 [2010], Arbors): Cornet and trombone for the leaders, piano (Tardo Hammer), bass (Nicki Parrott), drums (Leroy Williams). Vaché followed Ruby Braff in keeping the swing revival going, reverting from trumpet to cornet, with dozens of albums since 1976. Allred is a decade younger, the son of a similar-minded trombonist, Bill Allred. Vaché, of course, isn't the first cornet player to appreciate the value of keeping a trombonist on tap -- Louis Armstrong never went anywhere without one. Only thing unusual here is that while nearly half of the songs are Tin Pan Alley standards, the rest come from the bop-era -- Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Clifford Brown, Benny Golson, Cannonball Adderley, the title track from Blue Mitchell. But in these hands the once radical break from swing to bop has blurred to nothing. Booklet credits Vaché with the vocal on "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)" but sounds like Parrott to me. B+(***)
  • Rob Wagner/Hamid Drake/Nobu Ozaki: Trio (2005 [2007], Valid): Can't find any bio for Wagner -- empty page on his website, empty section on MySpace -- but he plays clarinet, tenor and soprano sax, is based in New Orleans, has four trio records since 2001, only this one with Drake and Ozaki. Needless to say, Drake is a huge pickup, his frame drums providing a soft rumble that blends especially well with Wagner's clarinet. The sax stretches, and the drum kit, are louder, less exceptional, but still invigorating free jazz. A-
  • World Saxophone Quartet: Yes We Can (2009 [2011], Jazzwerkstatt): Live in Berlin, about two months after Obama took office as president of the United States. WSQ dates back to 1977, their initial album (Point of No Return) also released on a German label (Moers). Back then the foursome were Hamiet Bluiett (baritone), David Murray (tenor), Oliver Lake (alto), and Julius Hemphill (alto): four major players each in his own right, but Hemphill was arguably the leader, the one most focused on the harmonic possibilities of four saxophones and nothing else. With Hemphill's death in 1995, the survivors diversified, sneaking in drums, auditioning a wide range of fourth horns, even juking up a terrific collection of Political Blues. This one goes back to their roots, four saxes, nothing else. Not sure why Lake sat it out; his alto is replaced by Kidd Jordan. The other slot goes to James Carter, playing tenor and soprano; not only a great player in his own right, but early in his career he was played on Hemphill's sax-only Five Chord Stud, and briefly ran his own sax choir, recorded as Saxemble. As much as I admire the individuals in WSQ, I've always found the sax-only palette to be a bit narrow, and that's a limit here, which they work around ingeniously. B+(***)

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

  • Jason Adasiewicz: Sun Rooms (2009 [2010], Delmark): Vibraphonist, the guy everyone in Chicago goes to when they want one. Third album since 2008; pushing three dozen side credits. This one's a trio with Nate McBride on bass and Mike Reed on drums. McBride is Ken Vandermark's Boston bassist, and it's especially good to see him getting around -- terrific player, really lifts this up, just the setup the leader needs. B+(***)
  • Dan Adler/Joey DeFrancesco/Byron Landham: Back to the Bridge (2010, Emdan Music): Organ trio, obviously. The guy you don't know gets top billing, slightly larger type (but fewer letters), is pictured on a bridge with a guitar -- what more do you need to know? Web bio includes everything I want to know except year born -- probably mid-late 1960s, in Israel. Trained as a semiconductor engineer/computer scientist, has an impressive resume there including notable open source software work. Moved to New York in 1986. Picked up guitar in 4th grade. Studied with Gil Dor, and cites a lot of other musical influences -- Roni Ben-Hur stands out, but also DeFrancesco's usual sidekick Paul Bollenback. First album. Nothing ambitious or pretentious, just does a nice job of laying in the groove. B+(**)
  • Aeroplane Trio: Naranja Ha (2010, Drip Audio, CD+DVD): Trumpet-bass-drums trio out of Vancouver: JP Carter, Russell Sholberg, and Skye Brooks respectively. Carter's the only name registered in my memory: no albums under his own name, but was in the Inhabitants and I could swear more places than the 7 credits AMG lists. He can play free, make an impression solo, or toot along when bass-drums work up a groove. Some tentative spots hold me back, plus I haven't seen the DVD yet (and in most cases never do). B+(***)
  • Afrocubism (2010, World Circuit/Nonesuch): Cuba was the only new world post where slaveholders didn't try hard to strip the roots of their chattels, so the island developed as a microcosm of the mother continent, with well-defined religious and musical tribes mapping straight to Senegal, Nigeria, and Congo, permitting hybridized African music to flow back into Africa itself. But Africa is a big and diverse continent, and Mali was isolated, much of its land parched, its music simpler and more ethereal, which oddly enough has lately turned Mali's musicians -- especially kora master Toumani Diabaté into the continent's most prolific musical diplomats. This is their record, aided by a few Cubans like Eliades Ochoa, primed with Benny Moré and Nico Saquito songs, with a sweet but slight "Guantanamera" to ice the cake. B+(***)
  • Howard Alden: I Remember Django (2010 [2011], Arbors): Of course, being b. 1958 Alden has no direct connection to Django Reinhardt -- the title comes from a song, mixed in with "Nuages" and "For Django" and other things less obvious. Swing-oriented guitarist, lots of records since 1986, coached Sean Penn for Woody Allen's Django-inspired Sweet and Lowdown. Seems a bit off the mark here, with Matt Munisteri's second guitar and Jon Burr's bass but no Grappelli. On the other hand, we are treated to five cuts with Anat Cohen on clarinet, plus four with Warren Vaché on cornet. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Rahim AlHaj: Little Earth (2010, Ur, 2CD): Iraqi oudist, got some notice in the wake of Bush's Iraq misadventure with his modestly straightforward Iraqi Music in a Time of War. A half dozen albums later comes this double, each of 15 tracks pairing AlHaj with a name guest (and sometimes an unnamed extra, like Bill Frisell brings along violist Eyvind Kang). Still, the guests are relatively transparent, partly because the instrumentation is designed to mesh readily with the oud -- strings including guitar, kora, sitar, bass, pipa; flutes, ney, didjeridu, accordion, percussion. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Geri Allen & Timeline: Live (2009 [2010], Motéma Music): Pianist, b. 1957, several dozen albums and scads more credits since 1984 -- a major jazz pianist by any reckoning. Two Jazz CG appearances: an A- for her superb trio The Life of a Song, and a dud for the sprawling Timeless Portraits and Dreams. Haven't gotten anything from her since, including two well-regarded albums this year. Flying Toward the Sun got nearly all of the poll attention, finishing ninth at Village Voice, but it takes something really exceptional in a solo piano record to hold my interest. This has more rhythmic push -- a trio with Kenny Davis on bass and Kassa Overall on drums, plus something extra in tap dancer Maurice Chestnut. The piano remains impressive when it breaks out, the rhythm helps sustain things, and the taps are hard to figure. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Vijay Anderson: Hardboiled Wonder Land (2008 [2010], Not Two): Drummer, based in Oakland. Works with Lisa Mezzacappa's Bait & Switch (real good album on Clean Feed) and Aaron Bennett's Go-Go Fightmaster (haven't heard their record, but I've bumped into Bennett on Mezzacappa's record and an even better one by Adam Lane). First album under his own name. Two guitars (Ava Mendoza and John Finkbeiner), two reeds (Sheldon Brown on alto/tenor/soprano sax, Ben Goldberg on clarinet), and vibes (Smith Dobson V). Starts with slick textures, and the horns always remain rather soft, rarely standing out. Nice feature with the vibes. B+(**)
  • Laurie Antonioli: American Dreams (2009 [2010], Intrinsic Music): Singer, b. 1958 in California, based in Oakland; third album since 2005, including a duo with Richie Beirach. Wrote most of the songs -- co-credited with five others, so I figure her for the lyricist. Covers include "Moonlight in Vermont," "Oh, What a Beautiful Morning," and a dreadful "America the Beautiful." Arty high voice. Good band, usually picks up when she lets go. Especially notable is soprano/tenor saxophonist Sheldon Brown. B-
  • Artvark Saxophone Quartet: Truffles (2010, Challenge): Dutch sax quartet: Rolf Delfos (alto), Bart Wirtz (alto), Mete Erker (tenor), Peter Broekhuizen (baritone). Delfos appears to be the oldest, with about 20 years experience vs. 10 (9-12) for the others. Covers include one by Corea and two by Ibrahim, plus one trad; originals include one called "Ornat 'King' Coleman." The altos tend to lead, and the others keep the bounce clean and stress-free. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Gilad Atzmon and the Orient House Ensemble: The Tide Has Changed (2010, World Village): Saxophonist, alto is his mainstay but I hear a lot of soprano here, some clarinet. From Israel, b. 1963, based in London. Writes a lot of political screeds about Israel, which I mostly agree with but he has a chip on his shoulders I don't share. Names his band after the headquarters of the PLO in East Jerusalem. Combines traditional Jewish and Arab music, a dash of Weimar cabaret, some Coltrane-ish sax, accordion, some exceptionally lovely piano. U [Rhapsody]
  • Patti Austin: Sound Advice (2010 [2011], Shanachie): Soul singer, church-style although she actually got her first break with song-and-dance-man Sammy Davis. Checkered career, her RCA contract at age 5 doesn't seem to have left anything in her discography, then there were patches from 1976 with CTI, Qwest in the 1980s, and GRP in the early 1990s. She probably has more records than any soul singer who never appeared in Christgau's Consumer Guide. Probably one of the most famous singers I've never heard before this album. This one wasn't easy either: in some sort of "wardrobe malfunction" the disc I received, with her name and number clearly printed on it -- final product, not an advance -- has someone else's music on it: no idea who, but the lead instrument is some kind of electronic keyboard backed by chintzy Latin percussion and virtually no vocals (not that I bothered listening to much of it). Finally resorted to Rhapsody (although I won't flag it as such, since I do have the packaging, just didn't get the music). Mixed bag of things, including a sturdy "Lean on Me," but I found the cleanup slots (4-5-6 if you're not into baseball) to be rather disorienting: the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want," McCartney's "Let 'Em In," and Dylan's morosely Manichaean "Gotta Server Somebody" -- annoying in any context, but certainly Christianist here. I've rarely hated a song more, although the grade doesn't really reflect that. B
  • Dmitry Baevsky: Down With It (2010, Sharp Nine): Alto saxophonist, b. 1976 in Russia; moved to New York in 1996, studying at New School. Second album. Half quartet, with Jeb Patton (piano), David Wong (bass), and Jason Brown (drums); four cuts add Jeremy Pelt for a classic bebop quintet. Indeed, this is classic bebop, with a couple of songbook standards, Ellington's "Mount Harissa," and everything else from 1950s boppers (Bud Powell, Clifford Brown, Gigi Gryce, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins). Not sure he's doing anything Gryce didn't do, or for that matter Parker -- whom he reminds me more of, at least when Pelt is goosing him along, but his ballad tone is lighter and cleaner. Has one of the worst Flash websites I've ever seen; bet it cost him a fortune. A- [Rhapsody]
  • Chase Baird: Crosscurrent (2010, Junebeat): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1988 in Seattle, grew up in Salt Lake City then San Francisco, studied in Los Angeles. First album. Cites Gato Barbieri and Michael Brecker as influences/models -- bold, straightforward players, and Baird makes a strong impression in their wake. Group includes piano, guitar, bass, drums, and percussion -- possibly a bit much as the record loses momentum when the sax lays out. Could be a guy worth watching. B+(**)
  • The Lynn Baker Quartet: Azure Intention (2010, OA2): Saxophonist, opens with soprano but also plays tenor, b. 1955, grew up in Oregon, teaches in Denver at Lamont School of Music. First album, sax-piano-bass-drums quartet, lively postbop, gets a lot of mileage out of pianist Reggie Berg and gives bassist Bijoux Barbosa some quality time. B+(*)
  • Billy Bang/Bill Cole: Billy Bang/Bill Cole (2009 [2011], Shadrack): The violinist you must know by now. He had my jazz record of the year last year, and that wasn't the first time he did that. Cole you should know: I credit him with two A- records, 2002's Seasoning the Greens and 2008's Proverbs for Sam, both group albums. His duo albums, like this one and previous work with Bang and William Parker and others, are a bit sketchier. He was b. 1937 in Pittsburgh; wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Coltrane; teaches at Syracuse; mostly plays non-Western wind instruments. He faces off Bang's violin here with digeridoo, nagaswarm, sona, flute, and shenai, ranging from deep throated background to even squeakier than Bang's violin. Takes off slow, wanders a lot; while Cole eventually comes up with some interesting flurries, Bang pays close attention but never really takes charge. B+(*)
  • BANN [Seamus Blake/Jay Anderson/Oz Noy/Adam Nussbaum]: As You Like (2009 [2011], Jazz Eyes): Acronym group, quartet: Seamus Blake (tenor sax), Jay Anderson (bass), Oz Noy (guitar), and Adam Nussbaum (drums). Anderson leads on points: he's credited with "recorded, mixed and mastered"; also wrote 3 of 5 new songs -- one each for Noy and Nussbaum, four covers (Jerome Kern, Thelonious Monk, David Crosby, and Joe Henderson). Anderson is a bassist from Canada: a couple of albums in the 1990s, a long list of side credits starting with Woody Herman in 1978. He keeps the rhythm loose and limber here. Nussbaum is the only American, same type of drummer. Blake is a saxophonist from England, a mainstreamer with a big, bold tone, always a welcome presence. Noy is an Israeli, probably a good deal younger, does some of his best work here. B+(***)
  • 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]
  • Matt Bauder: Day in Pictures (2010, Clean Feed): Plays tenor sax and clarinet. Fourth album since 2003, not counting a duo with Anthony Braxton and I'm not sure what else. Passed through Ann Arbor and Chicago; now in Brooklyn. Quintet with Nate Wooley (trumpet), Angelica Sanchez (piano), Jason Ajemian (bass), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums). Wooley and Sanchez have good spots on their own, but aren't a lot of help overall, except in some fluttery free spots where it all evens out. What's more striking is when Bauder's tenor sax goes solo or with minimal bass/drums. Turns out he could carry a mainstream sax ballad album, although he's still a little restless to settle into that. B+(**)
  • Bedrock: Plastic Temptation (2009 [2010], Winter & Winter): Uri Caine's electric keyboard group, the main reason he polls so high on an instrument that's actually a small part of his toolkit. WIth Tim Lefebvre on electric bass and guitar, and Zach Danzinger on drums, probably others popping in here and there -- vocalist Barbara Walker with a big-time gospel sample is one. Two previous Bedrock albums broke my A-list, so I was keenly interested in this one. But Rhapsody cut short nearly all of the 18 cuts, turning this into an annoying hodge podge. Not fair, for sure, but I'll note this with a placeholder grade -- it's probably better but it's not inconceivable that it's worse. B [Rhapsody]
  • Roni Ben-Hur: Fortuna (2007 [2009], Motema): Guitarist, from Israel, moved to US in 1985, on sixth album since 1995. With Ronnie Matthews on piano, Rufus Reid on bass, Lewis Nash on drums, and Steven Kroon adding a little extra percussion. Light, elegant lines, the best Wes Montgomery impression I can think of in quite some time, with backup that feels the grooves. Matthews has a couple of complementary solos. Reid's been popping up a lot this week. It must be a pleasure playing with Nash. B+(***)
  • 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]
  • Natalia Bernal/Mike Eckroth/Jason Ennis: La Voz de Tres (2010, Jota Sete): Album cover just lists the three last names, one per line; spine and elsewhere sticks with last names separated by slashes. All this underscores the tight group dynamic, but Bernal comes first not just alphatetically. A singer from Chile, based in New York, she wrote three songs and most likely picked the rest, some from her native Andes, most from Brazil -- most striking for me is the one US cover, "Tenderly." Eckroth plays piano/keyboards; Ennis 7-string guitar. B+(*)
  • Tyler Blanton: Botanic (2010, Ottimo): Vibraphonist, first album, wrote all the songs. Joel Frahm gets a "featuring" cover credit, playing tenor sax on two cuts and soprano on five of the other six -- typically superb, the best thing on the album, but the vibes do make a nice contrast, and AMG's crediting the album to Frahm was larcenous. B+(*)
  • Matt Blostein/Vinnie Sperrazza: Paraphrase (2010 [2011], Yeah-Yeah): Alto saxophonist and drummer, respectively, split writing credits 4-4, have a couple previous albums together. Quartet with Geoff Kraly on electric bass and Jacob Garchik on trombone -- Garchik seems to be the key player, slowing things down and adding depth. B+(**)
  • Blue Cranes: Observatories (2009 [2010], Blue Cranes): Portland, OR group; second album since 2007. Two saxophones (Reid Wallsmith on alto, Sly Pig on tenor), keyboards (Rebecca Sanborn), bass and drums. The horns are mostly yoked together, slowed down and muscled up with a harmonic fuzz I don't much care for -- reminds me of rock opera more than anything else. Three cuts add strings, four guitar, the closer adds a "family percussion section" that concludes with a shout-out. B-
  • Ralph Bowen: Power Play (2009 [2011], Posi-Tone): Tenor saxophonist, can't find any record of when born but 1965 is a fair guess; 7 or 8 albums since 1992, more going back to 1985 if you count his group Out of the Blue. Mainstream player, imposing on tenor, plays a little soprano or alto (not specified which) here, not his strong suit. Quartet with pianist Orrin Evans, who does what the role requires but doesn't make his usual strong impression. "My One and Only Love" is a highlight. B+(**)
  • Anthony Branker & Ascent: Dance Music (2010, Origin): Composer-arranger, b. 1958, evidently started off playing trumpet but just runs things here. Second album, mostly a sextet plus vocalist Kadri Voorand, who wrote lyrics to four Branker pieces. Not so danceable, but bold compositions, strong sax breaks, especially tenor Ralph Bowen. B+(**)
  • Amy Briggs: Tangos for Piano (2010, Ravello): Pianist, exclusively classical as far as I can tell, although this is only her first album under her own name. Solo piano. The 22 tangos include one by Piazzolla, but are mostly by composers not normally associated with tango -- some I more/less recognize are Stravinsky, Nancarrow, Rzewski, Harrison, but most are too obscure for me. Drama and panache, of course, and in some ways it's refreshing not to carry along the standard instrumental baggage. B+(*)
  • Dave Brubeck: Legacy of a Legend (1955-70 [2010], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): The key to parsing the awkward title is the relatively narrow timespan covered, limited to Brubeck's Columbia recordings, now managed by Sony's Legacy division. That cuts off the important early recordings and interesting later ones swept up in the excellent The Essential Dave Brubeck, released in 2003 and a better place to start if you want an overview before delving into his many worthwhile individual albums. Some solos, but mostly delectable quartet with Paul Desmond, three vocal spots that should have been better (Jimmy Rushing, Carmen McRae, Louis Armstrong), and winding up with two cuts featuring Gerry Mulligan. B+(***)
  • Henry Brun and the Latin Playerz: 20th Anniversary (1992-2010 [2010], Richport): Drummer, congalero, "Mr. Ritmo" to his friends, formed his Latin Playerz group in 1989, but I'm not finding much discography for them -- AMG only lists one record, Spiritual Awakenings (2005, Mambo Maniacs), but doesn't, for instance, list this one. Two songs date from 1992, one 1993, one 2000, one 2004, three 2006, most newer. The booklet doesn't list the Playerz, but does spotlight Judi Deleon, presumably the singer. She takes some overworked standards like "Lullaby of Birdland," "Lover Man," and "Bye Bye Blackbird," and turns them all into high points. B+(**)
  • John Bunch: Do Not Disturb (2009 [2010], Arbors): Pianist, b. 1921 in Indiana; plane was shot down in WWII and he finished the war in a German POW camp. Played with Eddie Condon, Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson; from 1966-72 was Tony Bennett's music director. Cut his first record in 1975; in the 1990s mostly recorded as New York Swing Trio with Bucky Pizzarelli and Jay Leonhart. Returns to that same piano-guitar-bass format here with Frank Vignola and John Webber, reprising the title song of his first album ("John's Bunch") and a bunch of standards, the most modern from Brubeck and Parker. Turns out to have been his final studio album, a long but relaxed 71 minutes. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • David Caceres (2010 [2011], Sunnyside): Vocalist-alto saxophonist, b. 1967 in San Antonio, TX; family includes several musicians, including Ernie Caceres, who played sax for Benny Goodman and Woody Herman. Studied at Berklee; teaches at University of Houston. Second album, with Gil Goodstein arranging and playing keybs on most of the pieces; Aaron Parks playing piano on others. Voice strikes me as a broad, sly smile, and his sax is even warmer. Margret Grebowicz duets on one piece. B+(*)
  • Roger Cairns and Gary Fukushima: The Dream of Olwen (2010, AHP): Vocalist and pianist, respectively. Cairns was b. 1946 in Scotland; is based in Los Angeles; has two previous albums, his 2006 debut titled A Scot in L.A. All standards, Alec Wilder and Marilyn and Alan Bergman getting multiple calls. Very minimal, like Tony Bennett and Bill Evans, not quite that special. B+(*)
  • Vinicius Cantuária & Bill Frisell: Lágrimas Mexicanas (2011, E1): Brazilian singer-songwriter, b. 1951, has more than a dozen albums since 1983, a name I've often run across but never before managed to check out. Plays guitar and percussion, sings all the songs, light and lyrical, naturally. Frisell, of course, also plays guitar. He presumably adds something, but for once it's hard to pick out. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Andrea Centazzo/Perry Robinson/Nobu Stowe: The Soul in the Mist (2006 [2007], Konnex/Ictus): Part of my Nobu Stowe backlog, but the pianist plays a relatively minor role here. Centazzo wrote the pieces, plays percussion, also credited for "Mallet Kat Keyb., Sampling"; record feels like the work of a percussionist, jumpy abstractions with everything else reduced to color, especially Robinson's clarinet. B+(*)
  • Mina Cho: Originality (2010, Blink Music): Pianist, b. 1981 in Seoul, South Korea, started playing gospel in church, moved on to Berklee, and now has her first album. Piano itself is rich and flowing, with Andrew Halchak's soprano sax or Shu Odamura's guitar adding to the lushness. Bonus track is the only non-original, with a David Thorne Scott vocal in the usual hipster style. B+(*)
  • Fay Claassen: Sing! (2009 [2010], Challenge): Standards singer, b. 1969 in the Netherlands, 7th album since 2000. Backed by WDR Big Band Cologne, who do their best to remain anonymous, and fortified on four cuts by WDR Rundfunkorchester, who hardly bothered me at all. Wide range of material -- fellow vocalist heroes Betty Carter and Abbey Lincoln; fellow feminists Miriam Makeba, Joni Mitchell, and Björk; a bit of Louis Jordan sass; the obligatory Jobim ("A Felicidade" no less); a tortuous "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing"; still, I was most struck by the two most pre-feminist cuts, a very antiquarian "Tea for Two" -- I hadn't really noticed the line about not disclosing that they had a telephone before -- and the submissive "A Good Man Is Hard to Find." No idea if there's a hidden message here, or it's just stuff they thought might be fun to try. B
  • Mike Clark: Carnival of Soul (2010, Owl Studios): Drummer, b. 1946, got a fusion rep playing in Herbie Hancock's Headhunters. Here he reaches back deeper, mostly to the organ-fueled soul jazz circa 1960, rotating three organ players, with honking sax from Rob Dixon, and a "Cry Me a River" vocal by Delbert McClinton. Seems like basic stuff, but "T's Boogaloo" is irresistible. And for his finale, he namechecks a drummer great from further back. Calls that piece "Catlett Outa the Bag." B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Clayton Brothers: The New Song and Dance (2010, ArtistShare): Bassist John Clayton and reedist Jeff Clayton (alto sax and alto flute this time) are the brothers. They got their start in the Basie Orchestra, then formed the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra with drummer Jeff Hamilton -- the group Diana Krall tapped when she wanted a big band like Sinatra used to use. The quintet includes a third Clayton, John's son Gerald on piano, plus Obed Calvaire on drums and Terrell Stafford on trumpet and flugelhorn. Despite the small group size, they know how to make a splash. It's usually Stafford up front, of course, but the band swings at unit force, and the sax is much more than a foil for the trumpet. B+(**)
  • Todd Clouser: A Love Electric (2010 [2011], Ropeadope): Guitarist, b. 1981 in Minneapolis, studied at Berklee, based in Baja, Mexico -- wanted a slower paced life in which to develop his own voice. Second album, fusion that grows out of the 1970s but isn't contained by it. No credits breakdown I can see: Bryan Nichols on Rhodes, Julio de la Cruz on piano, and Jason Craft on B3 would seem to be either-or; same for the two bassists (Gordy Johnson and Adam Linz) and the two trumpeters (Steven Bernstein and Kelly Rossum). One cover, Harry Nilsson's "One" -- smartly reinforcing the period thing. One uncredited vocal, on "Mo City Kid" -- unpro but sly. B+(**)
  • Avishai Cohen: Introducing Triveni (2009 [2010], Anzic): Anat Cohen's trumpet-playing, third-world loving brother -- not the bassist of the same name, although it's worth knowing that Rhapsody has this under the wrong guy -- leading a trio with Omer Avital on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. Wrote four originals. Covers Don Cherry, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Cole Porter. Puts his chops on fine display. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Richard Cole: Inner Mission (2007 [2010], Origin): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1957, based in Seattle, name inevitably recalls alto saxophonist Richie Cole (nine years older, presumably unrelated, recorded extensively 1976-88 and not much since). Fourth album since 1994, all on Origin. Front cover says "featuring Randy Brecker" -- the trumpet player on 5 of 9 cuts, with Thomas Marriott on trumpet on two others. Bill Anschell plays piano on 6 cuts; John Hansen on two others, and bassist and drummers come and go. Cole takes Henry Mancini's "Slow Hot Wind" on soprano. I don't get much out of the postbop arrangements here, but the sax is often impressive. B
  • David Cook: Pathway (2010, Bju'ecords): Pianist, based in Brooklyn, looks like he has one self-released album back in 2002, otherwise this piano trio is it. One cover, Ellington's "Come Sunday"; eight originals, crisp, thoughtful postbop. B+(*)
  • Patrick Cornelius: Fierce (2009 [2010], Whirlwind): Alto saxophonist, b. 1978, AMG credits him with two records but his website claims four going back to 2001. Trio plus two extra horns -- Nick Vayenas on valve trombone and Mark Small on tenor sax -- what he calls his Chordless Jazz Ensemble. Solid postbop effort, bold even, fierce too. B+(**)
  • Roxy Coss (2009 [2011], self-released): Tenor sax, soprano sax, flute. From Seattle, based in New York, first album. Money quote from someone at AAJ: "just like Coltrane, Coss achieves a perfect balance of lyricism and intensity in her improvisations through a superb sense of timing, rhythmic and harmonic structure." Not "just like Coltrane"; not remotely near. Much of the album is wiped out by a pop jazz rhythm section, and the flute adds no significant weight. When the drummer drops down to brushes she finally gets a chance, shows some poise and taste. Just not like Coltrane. B-
  • Jacques Coursil: Trails of Tears (2010 [2011], Sunnyside): Trumpet player, b. 1938 in Paris, parents from Martinique, cut a couple of well-regarded avant albums in 1969 and pretty much vanished until 2005. Title comes from the 1830s expulsion of the Cherokee from the Carolinas and Tennessee to the future Oklahoma. Packaging includes a couple of maps tracing the route. I first learned about this in 8th grade -- the only person I recall learning much from was my 8th grade American history teacher -- but I never quite visualized the routes before: one by river seems convoluted but obvious, descending the Tennessee to the Ohio to the Mississippi, then upriver on the Arkansas to Fort Smith and into Oklahoma; the other a land route further north, across Kentucky and Missouri where I would have expected a more direct southerly route. The music is muted, somber, brief, with relatively minor contributions from Mark Whitecage, Perry Robinson, Bobby Few, Sunny Murray, and others who normally don't blend into the vintage woodwork. B+(**)
  • Sylvie Courvoisier & Mark Feldman: Oblivia (2009 [2010], Tzadik): I've seen the artist-order presented both ways here. Feldman's name is to the left on front cover, but the print only runs from top to bottom, not from left to right, and other sources credit Courvoisier first. (The spine is usually more definitive, but rarely scanned.) Piano-violin duets, sharp and prickly. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Neil Cowley Trio: Radio Silence (2009 [2010], Naim Jazz): English piano trio, third album. I figure Cowley has been most influenced by Esbjörn Svensson (aka EST), a much more prominent force in European jazz than over here. I got an advance of their first album, Dis-Placed, and wrote it up in an early Jazz CG, but they never bothered to send me anything more. Like the other albums, this one is sharply played, beat-wise, catchy, and just tough enough no one will mistake it for pop. Could aspire to popular, though. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Patty Cronheim: Days Like These (2009 [2010], Say So): Singer-songwriter, b. 1960, probably based on New York, first album. Wrote 7 of 10 songs, covering "Summertime," "Superstition" (lists Stevie Wonder's Talking Book as a desert island disc), and "Bye Bye Blackbird." Has a slight scratch to her voice, which works well in a jazz context. Covers aren't especially notable, although her "Bye Bye Blackbird" is the best of three I've heard in the last week -- she lets it romp free instead of using it to end the Beatles' "Blackbird" on an up note. Originals are pretty solid, with "Don't Work Anymore" outstanding. And she gets terrific sax breaks from Dan Wall. B+(**)
  • Tom Culver: I Remember You: Tom Culver Sings Johnny Mercer (2010, Rhombus): Singer, based in Los Angeles, second album, does a nice job on 18 Johnny Mercer songs, with enough grit and resonance to salvage even things like "Moon River." B+(*)
  • Dadi: Bem Aqui (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Brazilian singer-songwriter, full name Eduardo Magalhães de Carvalho, b. 1952 in Rio de Janeiro. Hard to find much info: has at least one previous album (Dadi, from 2005, released on a Japanese label) and some (maybe a lot) of session work -- was on a Mick Jagger record, and several by Marisa Monte. He plays guitar, keyboards, percussion, and sings. This one has been sitting patiently in my queue for over a year now. Got zero metafile mentions. All in Portuguese, one cover (Chico Buarque), only one solo credit among the remaining eleven songs, several shared with Marisa Monte or Arnaldo Antunes -- makes me wonder if he isn't some sort of Billy Joe Shaver-type songwriter recycling his hits-for-others. Reinforcing that is that everything here is catchy, the quirks engaging, the flow irresistible. A-
  • David's Angels: Substar (2009 [2010], Kopasetic): David is presumably Swedish bassist David Carlsson, although the key person in the group is Sofie Norling, who sings and wrote all but two of the tracks. Other angel candidates are keyboardist Maggi Olin and drummer Michala Østergaard-Nilsen. They are also joined here by well known trumpet player Ingrid Jensen. Pieces are slow and moody, some sort of churchly (or classical) chamber effect, which I've yet to break through. B
  • Dawn of Midi: First (2010, Accretions): Piano trio: Pakistani percussionist Qassim Naqvi, Indian contrabassist Aakaash Israni, and Moroccan pianist Amino Belyamani. Based in New York and/or Paris. First album. Evenly balanced group, the piano more rhythm than melody, especially setting out various minimalist lines, while the bass covers the whole gamut. Got stuck playing this too many times today, which makes me want to force the grade and move on. Agreeable as background, but really appreciates your full attention. B+(***)
  • Colin Dean: Shiwasu (2010, Roots and Grooves): Bassist, b. and raised in Long Island, studied at New School, first album, composed all the pieces. Quartet with Sean Nowell on tenor and soprano sax, Rachel Z on piano, and Colin Stranahan on drums. Nowell and Nicolazzo make typically strong impressions, the pieces are thoughtfully constructed and flow effortlessly. B+(**)
  • Joey DeFrancesco/Robi Botos/Vito Rezza/Phil Dwyer: One Take: Volume Four (2010, Alma): Something the label and producer Peter Cardinali do: round up a set of musicians, bust them loose on standard songs with no rehearsals, everything done in one take. Lineup varies a little. Volume One had DeFrancesco, Guido Basso, Lorne Lofsky, and Rezza; Volume Two had Dwyer, Botos, Marc Rogers, and Terri Lyne Carrington; Volume Three went with Don Thompson and Reg Schwager. Volume Four returns with four repeaters from previous lineups. DeFrancesco does his usual organ shtick, although with out his usual guitarist he stands out a bit more, even with the Botos' contrasting keyboards. But Dwyer is key -- one of those broad-toned tenor saxophonists born to play soul jazz. B+(**)
  • Mike DiRubbo: Chronos (2010 [2011], Posi-Tone): Alto saxophonist, b. 1970 New Haven, CT, studied under Jackie McLean, six albums since 1999, starting with mainstream mainstays Sharp Nine and Criss Cross. Sharp player, runs very fast postbop races, lovely tone and soulful touch on ballads. This one's a trio, with Brian Charette on organ and Rudy Royston. Six DiRubbo originals, three by Charette. I don't find the organ all that interesting, but DiRubbo's one to keep an eye on. B+(**)
  • The Dominant 7 and The Jazz Arts Messengers: Fourteen Channels (2009 [2010], Tapestry): Two groups, a septet (plus a guest on one cut) and a nonet, each good for seven cuts, no more than two in a row. The groups come from Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts (CCJA), directed by Paul Romaine. Never heard of anyone listed, or for that matter of CCJA. Much of the growth in jazz over the last 10-20 years, at least in the US, has been fueled by jazz programs in music schools, where the most likely result is classical-trained postbop with an emphasis on intricate arrangements and complex but annoying harmonies. I've long been suspicious of this, and will continue to be, but these sets are surprising on many levels. The groups provide the range of big bands with chamber intimacy, so there are plenty of solo options but little section bombast and relatively simple harmonic ranges. The two groups fit nicely together, and there are no dominant players or auteurs: each of the 14 pieces is credited to a different composer, and the solos are scattered widely. The sum lacks the raging individualism I think I prefer, but there's nothing here I don't enjoy -- even the flute solos. B+(***)
  • Kenny Dorham: The Flamboyan, Queens, NY, 1963 (1963 [2010], Uptown): Hardbop trumpeter, had a strong run 1955-64, sliding off to a premature death in 1972. Live set, picked up from a broadcast tape with three stretches of MC Alan Grant talking between six songs -- two Gershwins, two Dorham originals, "Autumn Leaves," and one from pianist Ronnie Mathews. Dorham is in fine form; tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson lays back a bit at first, but earns his "featuring" cover credit. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Dave Douglas & Keystone: Spark of Being: Expand (2010, Greenleaf Music): The new record, or three, or you can buy them all in a box, or download, etc., in some sort of subscription -- the business plan behind this product is more complicated than the music. Expand is the second disc if, e.g., you buy the box, and it's the only one on Rhapsody. The first is Spark of Being: Soundtrack, the edited soundtrack to a Bill Morrison "multimedia collaboration." Expand is made up of seven long-ish pieces before they got hacked up for the soundtrack. The third is Spark of Being: Burst, which are ten more pieces written for the film but not used. Group includes Douglas on trumpet and laptop, Marcus Strickland on tenor sax, Adam Benjamin on Fedner Rhodes, Brad Jones on Ampeg baby bass, Gene Lake on drums, and DJ Olive on turntables and laptop. The keyb and electronics are as tightly integrated and integral as ever, maybe more so. The horns are far less bracing, but that goes with soundtrack mode. I'm reluctant to rate this higher without being able to see the rest of the puzzle. But Douglas is in a prolonged creative stretch, albeit sometimes a puzzling one. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Brian Drye: Bizingas (2008 [2010], NCM East): Quartet, led by Brian Drye (trombone, piano, synth). Also includes Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Jonathan Goldberger (guitar, baritone guitar), and Ches Smith (drums, glockenspiel). Drye: b. 1975 in Rhode Island, father musician, studied at University of Miami in Florida, based in Brooklyn, has a couple dozen side credits since 2001, some rock (Clem Snide), some world-ish (Slavic Soul Party; Brooklyn Qawwali Party but no record yet). Trombone/cornet harmonics yield a signature sound, the guitar carrying the group through its circus curlicues. Interesting mix. B+(***)
  • The Dymaxion Quartet: Sympathetic Vibrations (2010, self-released): Drummer Gabriel Gloege, student of Bob Brookmeyer and fan of Buckminster Fuller, wrote all nine pieces here, arranged as three sets of three labelled Hong Kong, Paris, and Manhattan. Dymaxion is Fuller's term, fused together from dynamic, maximum, and tension and used for all sorts of wild and wooly ideas. This one is a pianoless quartet: Michael Shobe's trumpet and Mark Small's tenor sax are the free horns, with Dan Fabricatore on bass. Seems more composed-through than maximally dynamic, a neat effect but maybe too neat. B+(**) [advance]
  • Yelena Eckemoff: Cold Sun (2009 [2010], Yelena Music): Pianist, from Russia, in New York since 1991. Most of her reputation is based on classical music, but this is jazz, a low-key but smart and sharp piano trio, with Mads Vinding on bass and Peter Erskine on drums. B+(**)
  • Taylor Eigsti: Daylight at Midnight (2010, Concord): Pianist, b. 1984, got one of those prodigy hypes cutting his first album in 2001; Concord picked him up in 2006, releasing his third album, one annoying enough I singled it out as a dud. Haven't heard much from Concord since then, although Eigsti's only one of many possible explanations. It's not that he can't play, but he doesn't have very interesting ideas: here, some trio, occasional electric keybs, some Julian Lage guitar, five songs handed over to vocalist Becca Stevens -- a wet blanket on an otherwise ordinary set. B- [Rhapsody]
  • Shauli Einav: Opus One (2010 [2011], Plus Loin Music): Saxophonist, b. 1982 in Israel, based in New York, second album. Has a silky, slinky postbop sound; helps when it's offset by Andy Hunter's trombone. B+(**)
  • Kurt Elling: The Gate (2010 [2011], Concord): Male vocalist, automatic pick for Downbeat's polls. Between his hipsterism and penchant for slipping in unnecessary notes I've never cared for his records. This is less idiosyncratic than most, less defined, quieter. Not the worst "Norwegian Wood" I've heard. Not much else either. B- [Rhapsody]
  • Erika: Obsession (2009 [2010], Erika): AMG finds 10 entries for "erika"; no idea which one this one is. Booklet makes a point of always printing "ERIKA" all caps. Actual name: Erika Matsuo. Very striking on the right song -- opener "Night and Day" and the sure-fire "Moondance"; otherwise she leans heavily on Brazilian music: Jobim, of course, but also Nascimento, Djavan, Caymmi, Lins, nicely done -- the band includes Paulo Levi and Yosvany Terry on saxes, Romero Lubambo on guitar, Essiet Essiet on bass, and Nanny Assis on percussion. B+(*)
  • Kellylee Evans: Nina (2010, Plus Loin Music): Singer, second album, songs more or less associated with Nina Simone. Doesn't have Simone's voice, which leaves the most familiar of these songs a bit hollow. 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+(**)
  • Andy Farber and His Orchestra: This Could Be the Start of Something Big (2009 [2010], Black Warrior): Conventional big band, just the way Count Basie intended -- four trumpets, four trombones, five reeds (plus the leader, so make that six), piano, guitar, bass, drums; one-cut guest slots for Mark Sherman on vibes and Jerry Dodgion on alto sax, plus two vocal tracks with Jon Hendricks. B+(**)
  • Lorraine Feather: Ages (2008-09 [2010], Jazzed Media): Daughter of jazz encylopedist Leonard Feather, b. 1948, full name Billie Jane Lee Lorraine Feather, the first for a godmother named Holiday -- not the first comparison a fledgling jazz singer wants to bring to mind. Cut an album in 1979, not regarded as much, then restarted her career in 1997, this her eighth album. She wrote the lyrics, picking up music from her band and guests -- guitarist Eddie Arkin; pianists Shelly Berg, Russell Ferrante and Dick Hyman; banjoist Béla Fleck. Several striking songs, like "The Girl With the Lazy Eye," "Two Desperate Women in Their Late 30s," and "I Forgot to Have Children." B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Cynthia Felton: Come Sunday: The Music of Duke Ellington (2010, Felton Entertainment): Vocalist, based in Los Angeles, goes by the honorific Dr. on her business card as Artistic Director of The Ethnomusicology Library of American Heritage, whatever that is. First album covered Oscar Brown Jr. This aims for bigger game, although Ellington doesn't necessarily give a singer much to work with, and those who have been most memorable have broken rules that Felton wouldn't dare monkey with. B
  • Agustí Fernández Quartet: Lonely Woman (2004 [2005], Taller/Sirulita): Spanish pianist, b. 1954, hangs in avant-garde circles; AMG credits him with 7 albums since 2000, which is way short -- doesn't include this one, or two recent ones I was looking for, or, well, his website lists 32 solo, duo, trio, and leader albums since 1987, plus 9 collaborations. Rhapsody gave this one a 2010 date, fooling me into putting it on, and it was good enough I let it spin. Quartet with sax (Liba Villavecchia), bass and drums; don't have song credits but some (most? all?) come from Ornette Coleman -- "Lonely Woman" and "Virgin Beauty" I recognize, and "Latin Genetics" is irresistible. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Scott Fields/Matthias Schubert: Minaret Minuets (2010 [2011], Clean Feed): Guitar/tenor sax duo. Guitarist Fields has a couple dozen albums back to 1993. Schubert has four albums since 1992, including the well-regarded Blue and Grey Suite from 1994. They previously played together on Fields' 2006 album Beckett. They're careful here to match up their tones, so you get close listening and interaction, even balance. Does run on rather long. B+(**)
  • Anna Figarova: Sketches (2010, Munich): Pianist, b. 1966 in Baku, currently Azerbaijan; studied in Baku, Rotterdam, and at Berklee; based in Rotterdam; 8th album since 1998. The piano leads are very striking, but most cuts add horns -- Ernie Hammes on trumpet, Marc Mommaas on tenor sax, Bart Platteau on flute -- which seem less focused. B+(*)
  • Dave Frank: Portrait of New York (2009 [2010], Jazzheads): Pianist, based in New York, fourth record since 1997, most or possibly all of them solo. Does the one thing that most helps carry a solo piano recording: keeps his own rhythm churning. B+(*)
  • Paolo Fresu: Mistico Mediterraneo (2010 [2011], ECM): Italian trumpet player, b. 1961 in Sardinia, has 30-some albums since 1985, mostly on small Italian labels; second release on ECM, or third if you count Carla Bley's The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu. The idea here seems to be to come up with a sunnier version of Jan Garbarek's Officium collaborations with the Hilliard Ensemble. The vocal ensemble here is A Filetta Corsican Voices -- seven voices, lead by Jean-Claude Acquaviva, who wrote 5 of 13 pieces. Also playing is Daniele di Bonaventura on bandoneon. The other pieces, from Bruno Coulais, Di Bonaventura, and Jean-Michel Giannelli (using texts by Corsican poet Petru Santucci) appear to be contemporary. Lovely, of course. B+(**)
  • Erik Friedlander: Fifty: Miniatures for Improvising Quintet (2008 [2010], Skipstone): Reading the cover I get 50 Miniatures for Improvising Quintet, but Friedlander's own sources spell out Fifty, so I compromised above. Each miniature is a 14-note figure having something to do with a Hebrew letter, but they've been glommed together for seven pieces ranging from 3:53 to 6:26. Quintet is Friedlander on cello, Jennifer Choi on violin, Sylvie Courvoisier on piano, Trevor Dunn on bass, and Michael Sarin on drums. String sounds dominate, but they have a cutting edge, and while the miniatures can break abstractly they can also flow together powerfully. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Ricardo Gallo's Tierra de Nadie: The Great Fine Line (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Pianist, b. 1978 in Colombia; studied in Bogota, later at UNT. Has divided time between Bogota and New York. Fifth album since 2005. Tierra de Nadie is a New York group, with Ray Anderson on trombone, Mark Helias on bass, either Satoshi Takeishi or Pheeroan Aklaff on drums, often with Dan Blake on soprano (6 cuts) or tenor (2 cuts) sax. Lucid, flowing freebop, very impressive when it all connects. B+(***)
  • Maxfield Gast Trio: Side by Side (2010, Militia Hill): Saxophonist, credits list soprano, alto and tenor here. First album he tried doing a hip-hop beat thing with EWI and it didn't work out so well. This time he's running a straight sax trio with Brian Howell on bass and Mike Pietrusko on drums, and turns in a very solid performance. B+(**)
  • Eddie Gomez/Cesarius Alvim: Forever (2010, Plus Loin Music): Gomez is a bassist, b. 1944 in Puerto Rico, AMG credits him with 17 albums since 1976, plus more than a hundred credits, with Bill Evans looming large on the first page, also Chick Corea. Don't know much about Alvim: I've seen him described as "Brazilian-French"; AMG lists one more album (from 2000) and a few side credits, starting in 1982 playing bass with Martial Solal. (Discogs has three 1976-79 credits with Alvin playing bass with pianist Jean-Pierre Mas.) Plays piano here, not very splashy. Low key, intimate, rather lovely duet. B+(**)
  • Charlie Haden Quartet West: Sophisticated Ladies (2011, Decca): Just a quick impression here -- I'm rather surprised not to have been serviced on this, something that no doubt can be remedied easily enough. New drummer in Quartet West, Rodney Green, doesn't have much to do. Ernie Watts' tenor sax is as delicious as ever, but 6 of 12 tracks are given over to pianist Alan Broadbent's string orch, and 6 of 12 (the same save one) have guest vocalists, spread out with instrumentals. The ladies: Melody Gardot, Norah Jones, Cassandra Wilson, Ruth Cameron, Renee Fleming, Diana Krall. The one I did a double take on and had to look up: Fleming. Which isn't to say that I didn't prefer Jones and Krall. Ends with the quartet alone playing "Wahoo" -- something I could have used a lot more of. Not sure how many Quartet West albums this makes -- at least a half-dozen, plus a best-of, since 1986. At best a terrific group, given to gimmicks, like patching vocals by Billie Holiday and Jo Stafford into Haunted Heart. Haden's a soft touch, and he's never been mushier than with this group. I could see loving this, as I do Haunted Heart, or not. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Jim Hall & Joey Baron: Conversations (2010, ArtistShare): Guitar-drums duo, of course. Hall just turned 80 on Dec. 4. His discography starts in 1957 with the straightforwardly titled Jazz Guitar -- about the same time as Wes Montgomery, Tal Farlow, Mundell Lowe, Herb Ellis, Kenny Burrell, Jimmy Raney, Charlie Byrd, a bit after Barney Kessel, the generation that established postbop/pre-fusion jazz guitar. I missed most of his early work -- except, of course, the ones with Evans, Rollins, or Desmond -- but he has a distinctive style and sound. This is fairly minor, pretty much by intent, but a nice taste. Baron is a fine drummer, of course, and has the added virtue of even less hair on top than his senior partner. B+(**)
  • Scott Hamilton/Rossano Sportiello: Midnight at NOLA's Penthouse (2010 [2011], Arbors): Duets, tenor sax and piano respectively. Sportiello is a swing pianist, b. 1974, modeled on Ralph Sutton and many others from Earl Hines to Bill Evans; has some solo albums, a couple of duos with bassist-vocalist Nicki Parrott, but has never been so completely at ease as here. Same for Hamilton, a very relaxed, easy swinging set. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Joel Harrison: String Choir: The Music of Paul Motian (2010 [2011], Sunnyside): Guitarist, has a lot of half-baked ideas like Harrison on Harrison, where he plays George Harrison songs. This one is, well, different. Paul Motian's songs are much more difficult and much more intriguing. Arranging them for string quartet draws out the abstractness and sharpens the edges. No doubt it helps that his string section is made up of jazz musicians: Christian Howes and Sam Bardfield on violin, Mat Maneri or Peter Ugrin on viola, and Dana Leong on cello. He also plays guitar, as does Liberty Ellman. Two non-Motian compositions: "Misterioso" (Thelonious Monk) and "Jade Visions" (Scott LaFaro), both completely appropriate. B+(*)
  • Laura Harrison: Now . . . . Here (2010, 59 Steps): Vocalist, from Canada, studied at University of British Columbia, got a DMA from University of Southern California. First page of booklet mostly talks about crooked lawyers and how much pain and expense it took to get a Green Card. First album. Classically precise voice, although she starts out with credible scat on "Shulie A Bop" (misspelling Sarah Vaughan on the credit). Three originals, nine covers ranging from Bizet to Ellington to Sting. B+(**)
  • David Hazeltine: Inversions (2010, Criss Cross): Pianist, wrote a song here "For Cedar" (Walton) which helps establish his niche, although there have been days when I'd take him for a bit less florid Oscar Peterson. Runs a quintet here which provides too many distractions to focus on his piano, but Eric Alexander is back in typical form at tenor sax, and Steve Nelson has a particularly bright and sunny day on vibes. With John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums, natch. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Yaron Herman Trio: Follow the White Rabbit (2010 [2011], ACT): Pianist, b. 1981 in Israel, studied at Berklee, fifth album since 2003. Trio with Chris Tordini on bass and Tommy Crane on drums, recorded in Leipzig, Germany. Four covers plus ten originals (one group-credited); covers include one from Nirvana and one from Radiohead. B+(*)
  • Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica: Presents . . . The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel (2010, Tiki): That would be Juan Garcia Esquivel (1918-2002), from Mexico, who led a big band c. 1956-62, hawking his tricked-up standards as exotica, space age pop, lounge, and latin-esque. In the intensely homogeneous 1950s it didn't take much to qualify as exotic. Mr. Ho is percussionist Brian O'Neill, and his 23-piece Orchestrotica from spare parts in greater Boston. O'Neill is also involved in the similarly inspired Waitiki. Band has some punch to it -- Russ Gershon is the most recognizable name -- and most of the songs are proven standards. Not sure what's so exotic or supersonic about them, but then I never paid much attention to Esquivel. B
  • John L. Holmes y Los Amigos: The Holmes Stretch (2010, John L Holmes): Guitarist, b. 1950 in Walla Walla, WA. Can't find much on him, can't read the microscopic type in the booklet, don't recognize anyone he's playing with. Could be that he's still based in Walla Walla. Did see a review that tried to sandwich him between George Benson and John McLaughlin; he's more interesting than that. 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
  • 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+(**)
  • Raúl Jaurena & His Tango Orchestra: Fuerza Milongnera (2008 [2010], Soundbrush): Bandoneon player, from Uruguay, based in New York but recorded this in Montevideo. Group features four bandoneons, two violins, viola, cello, piano, guitar, bass, and Marga Mitchell sings a couple of tunes. Pablo Aslan produced but doesn't play. Deep, rich, sounds very old-fashioned, downright classical. B+(**)
  • Jazz Folk: Jazz in the Stone Age (2008 [2010], 1 Hr Music): Piano trio, with Peter Scherr on bass, Simon Barker on drums, and Matt McMahon on piano, listed in that order. Hype sheet treats this as Scherr's record, with minimal bio on him -- lives in Hong Kong -- and nothing on the others. The eight songs are all covers, with "stone age" mostly meaning rock: three from Beck, two Velvet Undergrounds ("Pale Blue Eyes" and "All Tomorrow's Parties"), one each from Taj Mahal, Joni Mitchell, and the Grateful Dead. Of course, I was most moved by "Pale Blue Eyes," and baffled by the Beck pieces. B+(*)
  • Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra With Wynton Marsalis: Vitoria Suite (2009 [2010], Decca, 2CD): Cover also adds: Featuring Paco de Lucia. That would be the famous flamenco guitarist, a sop to the home crowd as Marsalis takes LCJO on the road to Spain, and tries his hand at writing his own "Sketches of Spain." It sprawls over two discs, slipping into occasional dull stretches but mostly feeding clever arrangement details to what's become a very imposing big band -- the all-star trumpet section is if anything topped by the reed section (Sherman Irby, Ted Nash, Walter Blanding Jr., Victor Goines, Joe Temperley). B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Norman Johnson: If Time Stood Still (2010, Pacific Coast Jazz): Guitarist, b. in Kingston, Jamaica; studied at Hartford Conservatory, was dean there for nine years. First album under own name, has scattered credits, mostly backing vocalists. Credits George Benson for inspiration, and Earl Klugh as an influence; sole cover is from Pat Metheny. Plays some nylon-string as well as electric and acoustic. Mostly stays in comfortable grooves with piano-bass-drums-percussion, dressed up with string on one cut, brass (Josh Bruneau and Steve Davis) on three, with Chris Herbert's sax on more, flute on one. B
  • Darius Jones/Matthew Shipp: Cosmic Lieder (2010 [2011], AUM Fidelity): Avant alto sax/piano duo. Jones emerged with a most impressive album in 2009, Man'ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing), then followed it up last year with Throat, attributed to Little Women, which crossed my threshold for how much ugly bleating I can stand, but turns out to have been admired elsewhere -- the record got six votes in the Pazz & Jop poll, third best among jazz albums (behind Jason Moran and Mary Halvorson). I'm caught in between here, finding Jones a bit awkward, doing nothing naturally and getting by forcing it. Shipp too, although what he does fits in as comping, even if it's exceptionally brutal. B+(*)
  • Matt Jorgensen: Tatooed by Passion: Music Inspired by the Paintings of Dale Chisman (2009 [2010], Origin): Drummer, b. 1972, based in Seattle, sixth album since 2001. Not familiar with Chisman, although his abstracts in the package and booklet are interesting and attractive. Music is conventional postbop quintet, with Corey Christiansen's guitar in lieu of piano, and Thomas Marriott and Mark Taylor the horns, trumpet and sax. Three cuts add some strings, and one Richard Cole's clarinet. B+(*)
  • Theo Jörgensmann/Marcin Oles/Bartlomiej Brat Oles: Live in Poznan 2006 (2006 [2007], Fenomedia): Could have parsed the titles differently here, as all the front cover and spine have is Fenomedia Live Series, the back cover adding Volume 1 (or Volume 2 for the Oles Brothers/Rob Brown Live at SJC set). Both have thin kraft brown wallets, some info in one slot, the CD in the other. I went with the top two lines of the back cover, which are formatted similarly. Jörgensmann seems to be the Oles brothers' preferred (or default) trio partner. He is older, b. 1948 in Bottrop, Germany, plays clarinet (here "bassett clarinet" -- more commonly spelled "basset"; a bit longer with more low notes than a standard clarinet), evidently has a couple dozen records since the early 1970s. He's often terrific here, fast, something the bass-and-drum style facilitates. First time I've heard him; someone I'd like to hear more from. B+(***)
  • Stacey Kent: Raconte-Moi . . . (2010, Blue Note): Singer, b. 1966 in South Orange, NJ; lives in England, and (this time at least) sings in French. Thirteenth album since 1997. Light touch, an elegant stylist. Starts with a particularly charming translation of Jobim. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Majid Khaliq: The Basilisk (2010 [2011], self-released): Recording date presumed -- got this so early it couldn't have been recorded this year, but it could have been recorded earlier. (Website says he "will release" this record in late 2010, but publicist gives 2/15/2011 as the release date.) Violinist. Grew up in New York, cites Ray Nance as an inspiration, but mostly cites Wynton Marsalis. First album, with trumpet (Charles Porter), piano, bass and drums. Wrote 5 of 8, with "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" plus one each by McCoy Tyner and Charlie Parker. Flows along nicely. B
  • Jin Hi Kim/Gerry Hemingway: Pulses (2009 [2010], Auricle): Kim -- I'm assuming that that's the surname and that the Korean name has been reversed for western tastes (Wikipedia lists her as Kim Jin-Hi) -- plays komungo (Korean fourth century fretted board zither), and "co-designed the world's only electric komungo." Born in Seoul in 1957, moved to US in 1980. Appears to be a significant figure in Korean traditional music although her discography includes a number of duos/small groups with jazz musicians: Elliott Sharp, Henry Kaiser, Derek Bailey, Eugene Chadbourne, Evan Parker, Sainkho Namchylak, Fredy Studer, Peter Kowald, Thomas Buckner, Robert Dick, and a previous album with Hemingway called Komungo Ecstasy. The komungo strikes me as like a bass with guitar harmonics. It fills the grooves with sound and carries a strong rhythm. Hemingway has much less to do here than on the other two records, or at least does much less. Makes it a bit less interesting as a duo but fascinating in its own right. B+(***)
  • Soweto Kinch: The New Emancipation (2010, Kinch): Alto saxophonist, b. 1978 in London, parents from Barbados and Jamaica. Has an Ornette-ish twist to his alto, something he could build on, but he's got this idea of doubling up as a rapper and spinning complex story lines about life in his 'hood -- interesting idea, but hard to follow, tripping up both on accents and beats. U [Rhapsody]
  • The Kora Band: Cascades (2010, Origin): Seattle group, seems to mostly be the project of pianist Andrew Oliver, but Kane Mathis is the indispensible kora player. More than half of the 13 tunes are African, mostly trad. from Gamaia, Mali, and Guinea but also from Les Tetes Brulees and Ntesa Dalienst; four originals, three from Oliver, one from Mathis. Group includes Chad McCullough on trumpet/flugelhorn, Brady Millard-Kish on bass, and Mark DiFlorio on drums. More synthesis than ersatz, the brass a nice touch. B+(*)
  • Boris Kozlov: Double Standard (2007 [2010], self-released): Bassist, b. 1967 in Moscow, moved to New York in the 1990s, joined the Mingus Big Band in 1998, has had a lot of side-credits since 2000 or so. First album, solo bass, two and a half originals -- the fraction mixed in with a Mingus piece. A little narrow and subdued to focus on, which tends to be the nature of the beast. B
  • Irene Kral: Second Chance (1975 [2010], Jazzed Media): Singer, b. 1932 in Chicago, younger sister of Roy Kral (pianist-vocalist, mostly of Jackie & Roy fame); bounced through several big bands, getting her name first on a 1958 album with Herb Pomeroy (The Band and I). Most of her recordings cluster around 1974-77, just before she died in 1978 of breast cancer. This is the second 1975 live session the label has come up with (after 2004's Just for Now). Accompanied by pianist Alan Broadbent, superb in this context. Some standards, some pop songs of more recent vintage, mostly ballads which she nails, but ends on a very upbeat "Nobody Else but Me" and nails it too. Never heard her before -- just a name I recognized but couldn't place. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Kristy: My Romance (2010, Alma): Standards singer, full name Kristy Cardinali, from Montreal; first album, but popped up on Mario Romano's Valentina album recently. Cover throws a "featuring" credit to pianist Robi Botos. Nice voice, picks great songs, makes them feel comfy -- "You Don't Know Me" is an inspired choice. Second album I've seen lately to pair "Blackbird" with "Bye Bye Blackbird," but here as separate songs rather than mashed into a medley. Cut idea, but the Beatles' songs remain obdurately jazzphobic. I would have preferred more comfort food along the lines of "It Could Happen to You" and "Teach Me Tonight." B+(**)
  • The Brian Landrus Quartet: Traverse (2010 [2011], Blueland): Plays baritone sax and bass clarinet, b. 1978, grew up in Reno, NV; studied in Boston, based in Brooklyn. Has a couple previous albums on Cadence, but doesn't seem that far out -- at least he not with this group: Michael Cain (piano), Lonnie Plaxico (bass), Billy Hart (drums). B+(**)
  • Erik Lawrence's & 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]
  • Daniel Levin Quartet: Organic Modernism (2010 [2011], Clean Feed): Cellist, b. 1974 in Burlington, VT; seventh album since 2002, plus such notable side credits as Soulstorm with Ivo Perelman. Quartet with Nate Wooley on trumpet, Matt Moran on vibes, and Peter Bitenc on bass. This feels very compressed, with Wooley in particular working inside the cello lines. B+(**)
  • Pete Levin: Jump! (2008-10 [2010], Pete Levin Music): B. 1942, started out playing French horn in Gil Evans' orchestras, then around 1980 switched to keyboards, eventually settling on the organ. Straight, upbeat soul jazz session, with Dave Stryker adding quite a bit on guitar, plus Lenny White on drums and Manolo Badrena on percussion. Closer was a 2008 "Honeysuckle Rose" with the late Joe Beck on guitar, rescued from the archives and spruced up a bit. B+(*)
  • Dave Liebman Big Band: As Always (2005-07 [2010], MAMA): Liebman plays soprano sax and wooden flute, in front of a big band led by saxophonist Gunnar Mossblad: five reeds, four trumpets, four trombones, piano (Jim Ridl), guitar (Liebman's long-time collaborator Vic Juris), bass (Tony Marino), and drums (Marko Marcinko). Liebman's tunes, arranged by various others. Dense, complex, not much stands out. B
  • The Dave Liebman Group: Turnaround: The Music of Ornette Coleman (2009 [2010], Jazzwerkstatt): Quartet, with Vic Juris on guitar, Tony Marino on bass, and Marko Marcinko on drums. Liebman's done a lot more Coltrane over the years than he's done Coleman, but does a fine job on nine covers and one original -- his soprano seems better suited than usual, and he also plays some wood flute. Juris is more key than ever. B+(**)
  • Charles Lloyd Quartet: Mirror (2009 [2010], ECM): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1938, joined Chico Hamilton's band (replacing Eric Dolphy as music director) in 1960, broke out on his own in 1965 and was remarkably successful, both popularly and critically, in turn launching the careers of Keith Jarrett and Jack De Johnette. Had the usual rough spot in the mid-'70s and '80s, landing at ECM in 1989 and working steady ever since. Last year's record, Rabo de Nube, placed very high in year-end jazz polls. This is the same group -- Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass, Eric Harland on drums -- doing pretty much the same thing; just fewer originals, but Monk and trad. make up for that. B+(***) [advance]
  • Elisabeth Lohninger: Songs of Love and Destruction (2009 [2010], Lofish Music): Singer, b. 1970 in Austria, based in New York since 1994. Third album since 2004. Was immediately struck by how strikingly her voice reminded me of Joni Mitchell, but stupid me, it was just a Joni Mitchell song, "River" no less. Followed that with K.D. Lang, same trick, but my interest was waning. Then came one in Spanish, and a Beatles tune, but the album recovered some after that. Bruce Barth is a superb pianist for this sort of thing, and two guest spots each for Ingrid Jensen and Donny McCaslin shine things up. Choice cut is "No Moon at All," with Christian Howes violin. B+(*)
  • Joe Lovano/Us Five: Bird Songs (2010 [2011], Blue Note): Second album by Lovano's two-drummer quintet, with Otis Brown III and Francesco Mela the drummers, Esperanza Spalding on bass, and James Weidman on piano. Charlie Parker compositions, except for "Lover Man" and the Lovano original "Birdyard" -- wonder if anyone thought of that before. (AMG sez no.) None of the sonic crudeness that always turned me away from Parker's records, nor any of the daring crunchiness that made Bird such a legend. Don't know why Lovano decided to play this so sweet, other than that the band isn't really up to it. B+(**)
  • Russell Malone: Triple Play (2010, MaxJazz): Guitarist, tenth album since 1992. Strikes me as about midway between Wes Montgomery's fluidity and Bill Frisell's poise on standard American fare, which is a pretty neat trick when no one gets in the way, or when he lets things get too complicated. No problems on either count with this guitar-bass-drums trio. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Karen Marguth (2009, Wayfae Music): Standards singer, raised in Livermore, CA; based in Fresno, CA. Fourth album since 2005. No background given, but most likely well into middle age. Six cuts are voice-bass duets, which she carries ably, and "Everything Happens to Me" is just mandolin -- gives it a Tiny Tim-like feel although her voice is no joke. The other nine cuts add guitar, electric piano, and drums, turned out nicely. B+(**)
  • Marhaug: All Music at Once (2007-08 [2010], Smalltown Superjazz): Lasse Marhaug, b. 1974 in Norway, has ten or so albums since 2001, does electronics -- at least that's the credit on 3 of 6 cuts here; others are piano on 2, scrap-metal on 2, and noise on the title track, not that I notice much difference between electronics, scrap-metal, and noise, or recognize much in the way of piano. More evident are the guitars of Jon Wesseltoft (4 cuts) and Stian Westerhus (the other 2), although they're more electronics than strings, and can pass for noise as well. Interesting stuff, but I'm not very acclimated to it. B+(*)
  • Delfeayo Marsalis: Sweet Thunder (2008 [2011], Troubador Jass): Subtitled "Duke & Shak" -- Shakespeare, which Ellington flirted with a bit on his album Such Sweet Thunder. Long section in the fold-out booklet sheet "On the Music" -- have to admit I didn't read it (fit of bad eyesight) so I don't know how much of this is Ellington as opposed to Marsalis playing Ellington or what any of it has to do with the Bard. A lot of work went into the packaging -- unwraps to four panels, lots of details, plus the booklet, all lavishly produced. Musicians vary, but run between 5 and 8 per song, more often 8, with piano-bass-drums, Tiger Okoshi on trumpet, Marsalis on trombone, and three reeds -- Mark Gross, Mark Shim, Victor Goines, Jason Marshall, Branford Marsalis (just soprano on 4 cuts). Does a nice job of getting the Ellington look and feel. B+(*)
  • Mike Marshall: An Adventure 1999-2009 (1996-2009 [2010], Adventure Music): Mandolinist, started out in bluegrass with a 1987 album called Gator Strut, but eventually took a liking to Brazilian choro and set up shop, releasing a few dozen records by a wide range of Brazilian artists; this samples his own grooveful string-driven oeuvre, working back to his first Brazil Duets. B+(**)
  • Mason Brothers: Two Sides One Story (2010, Archival): AMG lists two albums, but they're by different pairs of Mason Brothers: the other one has James Mason and Christian Mason playing guitar, presumably something country-rock. This one has Brad Mason on trumpet and flugelhorn, Elliot Mason on trombone and bass trumpet, playing mainstream postbop. From England, b. 1973 (Brad) and 1977 (Elliot), both studied at Berklee; Brad has more session work going back to 2004; Elliot holds down a chair in JLCO. Wynton Marsalis wrote the liner notes. The band shows how well connected they are: Chris Potter (sax), Joe Locke (vibes), David Kikoski (piano), Tim Miller (guitar), Scott Colley (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums). Don't have (or can't read) track breakdowns, but you'd think that if Potter, to say the least, had played through I'd have noticed him. Did hear a lot of trombone, tight, snug between the lines. B+(*)
  • Lisa Maxwell: Return to Jazz Standards (2010, CDBaby): Singer, b. Nov. 29 sometime in the 20th century; second album, standards as advertised -- Porter, Gershwin, Rodgers & Hart, Loesser, the obligatory Jobim -- produced and arranged by pianist George Newall, replete with goopy, anonymous strings. Nice voice, all smiles. B
  • Chad McCullough/Michal Vanoucek: The Sky Cries (2009 [2010], Origin): McCullough plays trumpet/flugelhorn, is based in Seattle, has a previous record plus a later one in my queue -- I've been negligent getting to this one. Vanoucek is a pianist, b. 1977 in Slovakia; studied in Bratislava and The Hague. No idea how he hooked up with McCullough, but together they've "toured major venues in Washington, Oregon and Idaho." They split ten compositions, with a post-hard-bop quintet, Mark Taylor on alto sax, Dave Captein on bass, Matt Jorgensen on drums. Lively compositions with fluid piano leads. B+(*)
  • Donny McCaslin: Perpetual Motion (2010 [2011], Greenleaf Music): Tenor saxophonist, you know, an awesome player when he builds up a full head of steam. Most tracks have Fender Rhodes (Adam Benjamin, sometimes on piano; two tracks add Uri Caine on piano, and one subs Caine on Fender Rhodes), electric bass (Tim Lefebvre), and drums (Antonio Sanchez or Mark Guiliana). Dave Binney produced, dabbles in electronics, and plays alto sax on one track. The Fender Rhodes/bass grooves go on way too long and rarely rise above the pedestrian. The sax is something else, but you know that. B+(*)
  • Barton McLean: Soundworlds (2010, Innova): Avant composer, b. 1936, student of Henry Cowell. The five pieces date from 1984-2009; don't know if those are composition or recording dates, since no separate recording dates are given, and the groups vary although most was worked out by McLean on his computer and/or tape recorder. Opener is a concerto with piano solo with Petersburgh Electrophilharmonia. Closer picks up some Amazonian and Australian bird samples. B+(**)
  • Terrence McManus: Brooklyn EP (2009 [2010], self-released): Solo guitar, five tracks, only 16:52, just a few bites, albeit tasty ones. Better is his duo with Gerry Hemingway, Below the Surface Of, and not just because drums make life better. B+(*)
  • 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]
  • Stephen Micus: Bold as Light (2007-10 [2010], ECM): German composer, b. 1953, plays various zithers, flute-like things, and percussion instruments from all around the world. Has a couple dozen albums since 1976, most on ECM. Did this solo, including three cuts where he multitracked his own voice. Too exotic to fall into the New Age genre AMG assigned him to; too minimalist for AMG's Ethnic Fusion style. An interesting set of upset expectations. 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+(**)
  • Joe Morris: Camera (2010, ESP-Disk): Much like the guitar-drums duo with Luther Gray, except that here the group is expanded to four, with Katt Hernandez on violin and Junko Fujiwara Simons on cello. The strings blend well enough with guitar, but have a sharper sound, and Morris tends to slip into the background. Thoughtful avant noodling, interesting as long as you can focus on it. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Joe Morris/Luther Gray: Creatures (2010, Not Two): Guitar-drums duo, both based in Boston where they frequently play together, especially in an explosive trio with Jim Hobbs; Morris quite prolific since 1990. Starts out so slow that it takes Gray a while to come up with something to do, but this come together, intimate, interactive, interesting. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Ted Nash: Portrait in Seven Shades (2010, Jazz at Lincoln Center): Saxophonist, b. 1959, played mostly alto early on but (I think) mostly tenor now. Uncle was a well known saxophonist, also named Ted Nash; father played trombone. Broke in with Quincy Jones at age 17, played in big bandsa (Louie Bellson, Toshiko Akiyoshi, Don Ellis, Gerry Mulligan, Mel Lewis, most recently the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, while knocking out ten or so albums under his own name, some quite good. It's real hard to judge this one by streaming it: the sound isn't coming through loud or clear enough to catch the details, so I'm tend to give Nash credit for things I can't quite follow, but perhaps not as much as he deserves. Pretty impressive sax player when he bothers to get out front. Also, I'm a little confused about those shades, since the seven pieces are named for actual painters: Monet, Dali, Matisse, Picasso, Van Gogh, Chagall, Pollock. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Negroni's Trio: Just Three (2010, Mojito): Piano trio, fourth album since 2003. The pianist is José Negroni, from Puerto Rico; his son, Nomar Negroni, plays drums, and Marco Panascia plays bass. Fast, percussive, not much more. B+(*)
  • 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]
  • Jovino Santos Neto: Veja O Som/See the Sound (2009-10 [2010], Adventure Music, 2CD): Pianist, b. 1954 in Rio de Janeiro, played with Hermeto Pascoal 1977-92, Sergio Mendes, Airto Moreira, Flora Purim. Seven albums since 1997. Twenty duets with as many guests, some well known (Moreira, David Sanchez, Bill Frisell, Joe Locke, Anat Cohen, Paquito D'Rivera), others obscure (to me, anyway); five vocals, five horns (plus a harmonica), an accordion, a couple guitars and a couple more mandolins, one piano duo, some percussion. Varied as it is, it still flows nicely, avoiding the thinness that often mars duets. B+(**)
  • Margaret Noble: Frakture (2010, Amnesty International): Sound artist, former DJ, some press suggests she started in Chicago, is now in San Diego, plays turntables and analog synths. Website lists three albums, but this is the first one cited by places like AMG. This is presented as George Orwell's 1984 "remixed into sound art album." The music is intriguingly electronic, with lots of spoken word samples. I'm not making a lot of sense out of the Orwell thing -- a book I've largely managed to avoid -- but the electronic collage is interesting. Proceeds go to Amnesty International. B+(**)
  • Mike Olson: Incidental (2009 [2010], Henceforth): Composer, from Minneapolis, plays keyboards but looking at his web site there is little there other than his compositional theories and focus. Six numbered pieces here. Haven't found any other albums by him. Large cast of musicians, including strings, flutes, bassoon, guitars, and the usual jazz horns. Fairly dense and gloomy; makes for an interesting framework. B+(**)
  • Markku Ounaskari/Samuli Mikkonen/Per Jørgensen: Kuára (2009 [2010], ECM): Subtitle "Psalms and Folk Songs"; Jørgensen appears after the title on the front cover line, on the second line of the hype sheet preceded by "with" but the spine merely lists him last (although AMG parsed this backwards and credits the album to "Jorgenson"). Drums, piano, and trumpet/voice respectively. Ounaskari (b. 1967) and Mikkonen (b. 1973) are Finnish, and don't appear to have much prior discography; Jørgensen (b. 1952) is Norwegian, has a couple of albums, and appears on at least ten more (Pierre Dørge, Jon Balke, Anders Jormin, Marilyn Mazur, Michael Mantler, etc.). The psalms are Russian; the folk songs Finno-Ugric: Vespian, Karelian, Udmurtian. Ounaskari and Mikkonen wrote three originals. Much of this is very captivating, but once again I get thrown off by the occasional vocal. B+(**)
  • Chris Parrello + Things I Wonder (2010 [2011], Popopomo Music): Probably should attribute whole title to group name and consider album eponymous but I didn't want to write both twice (the style I've been leaning to lately) or italicize it all (a style I've long used). Parrello plays guitar, composed the songs; Karlie Bruce wrote and sings the lyrics. Other people I've never heard of play trumpet, sax, cello, bass, drums, and pedal steel. (Hype sheet just mentions five names: Parrello, Bruce, Ian Young [tenor/soprano sax], Rubin Kodheli [cello], and Kevin Thomas [bass]. Website shows one photo, a lineup of five.) They're probably easier to take as a rock band than as a jazz group: Bruce sings wordlessly on several occasions, but she's better when she has something to say; while the sax and cello avoid rock usages, the guitar and bass don't, and they seem to be happier playing a groove and riffs. B+(*)
  • Ivo Perelman/Brian Willson: The Stream of Life (2008 [2010], Leo): The fifth of this year's batch of new albums from the Brazilian tenor saxophonist, a duo with drummer Willson (name spelled correctly this time), cut about the same time as the trio Mind Games with bassist Dominic Duval. I'll have to do a final sort on four of the five albums when I wrap up JCG, but for now this is a bare notch below the other three. Without the bass, this should open up a bit, and there are some superb stretches when that happens, but a bass would take a bit of the raw edge off the sax, which can grate here. Willson's drumming doesn't explode, although he does help out. B+(***)
  • Ivo Perelman/Gerry Hemingway: The Apple in the Dark (2010, Leo): Hemingway is a drummer with a notable discography under his own name, as well as renown as a sideman, perhaps most importantly in Anthony Braxton's 1980s quartet. Perelman is the tenor saxophonist from Brazil. I have in my notes that he's also played cello (in Strings, a duo with guitarist Joe Morris), but hadn't noticed him playing piano before (the only instance I can find is a 1999 album, Brazilian Watercolor). In these duos, he plays piano about half of the time -- didn't manage to count the cuts -- and tenor sax the other half. He's more assured, and more relaxed, on his main instrument, but I'm even more struck by the piano. James Hall's liner notes described it as "a kaleidoscopic jumber of Erroll Garner and Monk" but I was thinking more of Cecil Taylor, and not just because he makes a lot of noise but because he turns it into something remarkable. A-
  • Ivo Perelman/Daniel Levin/Torbjörn Zetterberg: Soulstorm (2009 [2010], Clean Feed, 2CD): Recording date just given as "April 18" -- presumably before the March 2010-dated liner notes. Tenor saxophonist, b. 1961 in Brazil, based in New York, has at least 35 albums since 1989, including a few more in the queue that I haven't gotten to yet. Levin plays cello (as has Perelman on occasion), and Zetterberg bass, so they sort of flow together into a backdrop for Perelman's musings, some rough and tumble but most sensitive and eloquent. A-
  • Jeremy Pelt: The Talented Mr. Pelt (2010 [2011], High Note): Trumpet player. I first bumped noticed him as a Downbeat poll rising star, and when I finally heard him I thought he was worthy, brilliant even. Now this is his eighth album since 2002, and I've yet to see much from his undoubted talent. This is livelier than most, as it should be with tenor saxophonist J.D. Allen sharing the front line, Danny Grissett on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass, and Gerald Cleaver on drums, but he's yet to break loose over a full album. B+(**)
  • Danilo Pérez: Providencia (2010, Mack Avenue): Pianist, b. 1966 in Panama; father was a bandleader; studied and now teaches at Berklee. Not someone I've followed closely, but has a solid reputation, with ten or so albums since 1992, including one dedicated to Monk. Mixed bag: impressive enough solo or trio, especially memorable when Rudresh Mahanthappa joins in on alto sax, but some cuts add classical orch instruments (flute, oboe, French horn, bassoon) and/or Sara Serpa vocalizing. The one with flute and Serpa would be unlistenable except for Pérez fighting back with his most bracing piano. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Jay Phelps: Jay Walkin' (2010, Specific Jazz): Canadian trumpet player, been in UK since he was 17; first album at 28, which I guess would make him b. 1982. Kind of a hard bop throwback, with piano-bass-drums and Shabaka Hutchings on tenor sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet. A couple of hipster vocals by Michael Mwenso, and occasional guests, all reinforcing the band feel. B+(**)
  • The Pickpocket Ensemble: Memory (2010, Pickpocket Ensemble): San Francisco group, fourth album since 2003, plays "café music" -- "the inversion of folk," as leader Rick Corrigan (accordion, piano) puts it. Band includes violin (Marguerite Ostro), guitar/banjo (Yates Brown), bass (Kurt Ribak), and percussion (Michaelle Goerlitz), with Myra Joy on cello but evidently not in group. Hype sheet talks about them picking up elements from all over the globe, but nothing very clear emerges from the cosmopolitan mishmash. B
  • Chico Pinheiro: There's a Storm Inside (2010, Sunnyside): Guitarist-vocalist, from Brazil, 5th album since 2003. Mostly originals, a couple co-written with Paulo César Pinheiro; two English lyrics: Gershwin's "Our Love Is Here to Stay" and Stevie Wonder's "As" -- the latter a guest spot for Diana Reeves. The other name guest is saxophonist Bob Mintzer. Pinheiro's a talented guitarist and a tossaway vocalist, backed by large bands of evanescent texture -- on three cuts fortified with a large string section. Oddly brilliant, but I can't say I enjoyed it. C+
  • Leslie Pintchik: We're Here to Listen (2010, Pintch Hard): Pianist, based in New York, third album since 2003 although she dates her trio and collaboration with bassist-guitarist Scott Hardy back to 1992. This adds Mark Dodge on drums and Satoshi Takeishi on percussion. Thoughtful, deliberate. I also have a DVD of here around here somewhere, but you know how it is with DVDs. B+(*)
  • Suzanne Pittson: Out of the Hub: The Music of Freddie Hubbard (2008 [2010], Vineland): Singer, don't know how old, teaches at City College in New York, has two previous albums, one from 1992, the other from 1999; both appear to be substantial projects to pull new vocal music out of relatively untapped sources: Blues and the Abstract Truth (the Oliver Nelson classic), and Resolution: A Remembrance of John Coltrane. She, and/or husband-pianist Jeff Pittson and/or son Evan Pittson wrote new lyrics for six Hubbard pieces; they picked up other lyrics for two more, and included three covers ("You're My Everything," "Moment to Moment," and "Betcha by Golly, Wow!"). Half the tracks add Jeremy Pelt, who does a pretty good Hubbard impersonation, and Steve Wilson, who at least at first threatenes to run away with the record. The hornless cuts are less exhilarating, although Pittson is a technically impressive singer and scatter, and the project is ambitiously conceived and executed. B+(**)
  • Plunge: Tin Fish Tango (2010 [2011], Immersion): New Orleans trio, "chamber-jazz group" as they call themselves, led by trombonist Mark McGrain, with Tim Green on sax, James Singleton on bass, and others as works out -- Tom Fitzpatrick and Kirk Joseph also play sax on this record. Been around a while -- AMG lists seven records since 1996. Dominant sound is the trombone growl, contained in their chamber framework, with the sax a bit lighter and sweeter. B+(**)
  • Noah Preminger: Before the Rain (2010 [2011], Palmetto): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1986 (not in current "long bio" but in my previous notes), based in Brooklyn, second album (AMG only has one, but I have two, and recall that his first won the Voice Critics' Poll's debut section). Quartet, with Frank Kimbrough on piano, John Hébert on bass, Matt Wilson on drums. Wrote 4 of 9 songs, picking up 2 from Kimbrough, 1 from Coleman (pretty sure that's Ornette), two standards ("Where or When," "Until the Real Thing Comes Along"). Preminger has a lot of potential, but the more I play it the more I suspect he's awed by his band, who try to be supportive but tend to stand out. B+(**)
  • Gene Pritsker: Varieties of Religious Experience Suite (2010, Innova): Following spine here; cover has two blocks of type: on top, "Varieties of Religious Experience Suite Gene Pritsker's Sound Liberation"; below and larger, "VRE Suite." Pritsker is a guitarist and -- sometimes but not here -- rapper. Can't find much discography, but website claims Pritsker "has written over three hundred ninety compositions, including chamber operas, orchestral and chamber works, electro-acoustic music, songs for hip-hop and rock ensembles, etc." This group is string-driven, with two guitars, cello, bass and drums. Title comes from William James, who is namechecked in 3 of 8 titles; Tolstoy gets one more. B+(**)
  • 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]
  • Eric Reed: The Dancing Monk (2009 [2011], Savant): Mainstream pianist, recording steadily since the early 1990s, in a trio with Ben Wolfe on bass and McClenty Hunter on drums, plays ten Monk songs, with a little more dexterity and a lot less mystery than Monk himself. Interesting that music that was so idiosyncratic as to be unplayable in the 1950s now seems so routine. B
  • Tom Rizzo: Imaginary Numbers (2009 [2010], Origin): Guitarist, based in Los Angeles, plays in the Tonight Show Band, before that with Maynard Ferguson. First album, looks like it was originally released in 2009 then picked up by Origin. Runs a bigger group than necessary -- five horn credits including Bob Sheppard on soprano and tenor sax and four brass including French horn and tuba -- but the guitar is the most memorable. B+(*)
  • Mario Romano Quartet: Valentina (2010, Alma): Pianist, from or at least based in Toronto, Canada. First album, but he's been around since the early 1970s. Quartet with Pat LaBarbera on tenor sax, Roberto Occhipinti on bass, and Mark Kelso on drums, with someone identified only as Kristy singing one song (Romano's "Those Damn I Love Yous" -- only song he wrote here, although Occhipinti wrote one for him, "Via Romano"). LaBarbera is drummer Joe LaBarbera's older brother; b. 1944, joined Buddy Rich in 1968, has a scattered career after that, with a half-dozen records on his own. He's an impressive mainstream player, a fine counterpart to the pianist. Mostly covers from 1950s and 1960s, many I associate with Miles Davis ("Nardis," "On Green Dolphin Street," "Someday My Prince Will Come"); one Beatles song ("Norwegian Wood"), which hardly spois the day. [PS: Kristy is Kristy Cardinali; turns out I have her debut album, My Romance, in my queue.] B+(**)
  • Kurt Rosenwinkel and OJM: Our Secret World (2010, Word of Mouth Music): Guitarist, b. 1970 in Philadelphia, based in Berlin, Germany; tenth album since 1996 -- a prominent figure, but one I haven't followed closely. OJM is Orchestra de Jazz de Matosinhos, a Brazilian big band conducted by Carlos Azevado and Pedro Guedes, with Ohad Talmor also arranging. Most impressive when the guitar is cruising away from the band. B+(*)
  • Alison Ruble: Ashland (2009 [2010], Origin): Singer, second album, mix of traditional standards -- "S' Wonderful," "Let's Fall in Love," "Night and Day" -- and rock-era pieces, if only up to the early 1970s -- "Route 66," Dylan, King Crimson, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris. Arrangements by guitarist John McLean, flute and sax by Jim Gailloreto, Hammond B3, cello, bass, and drums. Pieces are handsomely framed and elegantly sung. B+(*)
  • Salo: Sundial Lotus (2009 [2010], Innova): Ben Gallina wrote all of this (except for an extract from Hindemith), and it's very much a composer's album -- the three reeds, guitar, piano, bass and drums deployed precisely, working out an impressive series of postbop progressions. B+(**)
  • Angelica Sanchez: A Little House (2010 [2011], Clean Feed): Pianist, b. 1972, moved to New York 1994, third album since 2003; has a list of 13 groups she is "a regular member of" -- nearly everyone mention is someone I want to hear everything by, and while I've never heard of Kevin Tkacz, "Kevin Tkacz's Lethal Objection w/ Paul Motion & Ralph Alessi" has got to be a winner. This one is solo piano. Doesn't amount to much as background, except for the bit on toy piano, but when I sat down at the computer to dismiss it I started hearing things that intrigued me. Takes focus. B+(**)
  • Antonio Sanchez: Live in New York at Jazz Standard (2008 [2010], CAM Jazz, 2CD): Drummer, from Mexico, b. 1971, studied at Berklee and New England Conservatory; second album under his own name, but has scads of side credits. All-star two sax quartet, Miguel Zenon on alto and David Sanchez on tenor, with Scott Colley on bass. Often turns into a thrilling sax chase, not that far removed from Gordon and Gray, or Stitt and Ammons. B+(**)
  • Heikki Sarmanto: Moonflower (2007, Porter): Finnish pianist, b. 1939, discography at Wikipedia lista 38 albums since 1969 but misses this one (AMG has 7 including this); his website claims 30 and shows 21 (but not this). I ran across him on a fusion album by Eero Koivistoinen, but that seems to have just been a 1970s phase. Porter, which reissued Koivistoinen's 3rd Version, has several albums by Sarmanto, so I was expecting more of the same, but this appears to be a new recording. Quartet, with Juhani Aaltonen on tenor sax, brother Pekka Sarmanto on bass, and Craig Herndon on drums -- just plays acoustic piano here, nicely setting up Aaltonen, who makes his usual big impression. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Heikki Sarmanto/The Serious Music Ensemble: A Boston Date (1970 [2008], Porter): Parsing the cover: "The Serious" is in much smaller print than "Music Ensemble" so maybe I shouldn't take that so seriously; the title is also followed by "1970" which is useful but far enough off I omitted it from the title. Other references vary. Quintet, led by Juhani Aaltonen's tenor sax, really superb free bop. Cover appears to show Sarmanto on an electric, but his piano sounds more acoustic, with sharp accents and smart bridges. Guitarist Lance Gunderson also helps connect the dots. Not sure where in Boston this was recorded, but starts with a piece called "Top of the Prude" -- I'm guessing that means the Prudential Center. A- [Rhapsody]
  • Heikki Sarmanto Quintet: Counterbalance (1971 [2008], Porter): Nearly the same group as on A Boston Date -- Pekka Sarmanto plays bass replacing George Mraz (who was probably a one-shot replacement in Boston; he was a student attending Berklee at the time) -- but the sound and gestalt is markedly different, with the leader playing tinkly Fender Rhodes and Juhani Aaltonen forsaking his saxophone for flute. I should have cited his flute on my Downbeat ballot -- by any fair measure he's one of the best jazz flute players ever -- but I'd rather he give the instrument up. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Dolores Scozzesi: A Special Taste (2010, Rhombus): Singer, b. in New York, don't really grasp her comings and goings but wound up from 2005 on producing cabaret programs, the first called "Stuck in the 60s." Covers not quite standards -- Bob Dylan gets two calls. Voice takes some getting used to but has authority. Mark Winkler produced. 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+(*)
  • Marcus Shelby Orchestra: Soul of the Movement (2010 [2011], Porto Franco): Bassist, b. 1966, seventh album since 1997, delving into black history last time for Harriet Tubman, and again here. Heavy with gospel, from "There Is a Balm in Gilead" to "Go Tell It on the Mountain" to "Take My Hand Precious Lord" with the iconic "We Shall Overcome" in the middle; four new Shelby pieces on key moments in the civil rights struggle, and a few more things that seemed like they'd fit -- can't go wrong with "Fables of Faubus," can you? Big band: five trumpets, four trombones, five reeds plus Howard Wiley toward the end, lots of vocals. Very nice packaging, things everyone should know and appreciate. I find it overwhelming, and itch to move on, before I start to get annoyed. B+(*)
  • Archie Shepp: The New York Contemporary Five (1963 [2010], Delmark): One of two contemporaneous John Tchicai groups that took New York for their name -- the other was New York Art Quartet with trombonist Roswell Rudd -- yet recorded mostly in the alto saxophonist's native Denmark. This one sported Don Cherry (cornet) and Archie Shepp (tenor sax) on the front line, Don Moore (bass) and J.C. Moses (drums). They recorded a studio album in New York for Fontana in August 1963, then two live sets at Jazzhus Montmartre in Copenhagen for Sonet in November. The latter, minus two cuts, were consolidated by Storyville into a single CD. This reissue goes back to Sonet's Vol. 1 -- perhaps the other shoe will fall later, although there is no indication of it here. They went on to cut one more album for Savoy in 1964, with different bass and drums, Ted Curson replacing Cherry on two cuts, and Shepp's name (for the first time, I think) out front. Starts with the three horns brawling before the rhythm section enters to sort things out. Rough, primeval avant-garde, of the moment, with 1967-vintage liner notes that fall into the period. B+(***)
  • Jeremy Siskind: Simple Songs: For When the World Seems Strange (2010, Bju'ecords): Pianist, b. 1986 in California, based in New York; second album. Mostly piano trio, with Chris Lightcap on bass and Ted Poor on drums. Some songs add Jo Lawry singing. Piano often impressive, don't mind the vocals, but overall I'm not getting much traction, finding myself with little to say. B+(*)
  • Suresh Singaratnam: Lost in New York (2009 [2010], Suresong Music): Trumpet player, born in Zambia, moved to UK then Toronto then New York, studying at Manhattan School of Music. Has some classical music on his resume. First jazz album, fairly dense and fancy postbop with Jake Saslow on tenor sax, Jesse Lewis on guitar, piano, bass, drums, plus a guest vocal I could do without. Lewis has the key support role; trumpet is bright and bold. B+(**)
  • Harrison Smith Quartet: Telling Tales (2007 [2008], 33 Records): Tenor saxophonist, with soprano sax and bass clarinet for change-ups. From England, b. 1946. AMG lists one previous album, from 1998, but played in District Six for much of the 1980s with South African pianist Chris McGregor, and also shows up with the London Improvisers Orchestra. Quartet, with piano (Liam Noble), bass (Dave Whitford), and drums (Winston Clifford). B+(*)
  • The Tommy Smith Youth Jazz Orchestra: Exploration (2007, Spartacus): A Scottish big band, organized by Smith after he returned to his homeland in 2002. Don't know how young the players are -- no one I recognize other than the guests, notably vibraphonist Joe Locke, who gets a "featuring" credit on the cover. Smith conducts and arranges but doesn't play. The best known cuts are the best by far: a rollicking "A Night in Tunisia" and a spiffy "Cottontail," with Locke in particularly good form on the former. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Tommy Smith/Scottish National Jazz Orchestra: Torah (2010, Spartacus): Five pieces, each named for a book of the Torah or Bible, performed by a conventional big band (four trumpet, four trombones, five reeds, piano, bass, drums) led and dominated by Smith's exceptional tenor sax. One stretch where he plays solo is mesmerizing, rising to magnificent when the band joins in. But mostly the band camouflages the leader, making this one of his less distinctive albums. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Joan Soriano: El Duque de la Bachata (2010, IASO, CD+DVD): Supposedly the rougher, cruder country version of merengue, fit for small-time royalty, the 7th of 15 children with scant education, just a fine sense of how to keep a guitar rhythm rolling, with a seductive voice. DVD gives you more personal sense, less music. B+(***)
  • Nobu Stowe: Confusion Bleue (2007 [2010], Soul Note): Pianist, from Japan, based in Baltimore. He sent me about six albums dating back to 2006, and I've been remiss in getting to them. This is the most recent, the one I figured I should focus on, and it's been tough to get a handle on. Quartet with two looks, depending on whether Ros Bonadonna plays guitar or alto sax. The former steers this in a fusion direction, a configuration of unruly grooves, while the latter lets the piano undercut the sax pressure. With Tyler Goodwin on bass and Ray Sage on drums. Intriguing record. Should return to it when I get around to the others. B+(***)
  • Colin Stranahan: Life Condition (2009 [2010], Tapestry): Drummer, from Colorado, third album since 2004, basically a sax trio with Ben Van Gelder on alto and Chris Smith on bass, with Jake Saslow joining on tenor sax on 2 of 8 cuts. Snakey freebop, the beat lagging behind not so much to steer the sax as to steer our ears. B+(**)
  • Milton Suggs: Things to Come (2009 [2010], Skiptone Music): Vocalist, b. 1983 in Chicago, grew up in Atlanta but is back in Chicago, having studied at Columbia College and DePaul; second album. Has an old-fashioned crooner style with a hint of vocalese, feels much older than he looks. I didn't like his style at first, and found the nostalgic "Not Forgotten" almost morose, and I'm not sure I'll ever acquire the taste, but he does some remarkable things with it. Tasteful horns, everything neatly in place. B+(*)
  • Will Swindler's Elevenet: Universe B (2010, OA2): Saxophonist, alto then soprano, studied at UNT, teaches at Colorado State. First album. Eleven-piece ensemble, shuffling some of the 14 credited musicians in and out, but basically breaks down to 3 reeds, flute, 2 trumpets, trombone or euphonium, French horn, piano, bass, drums. Five originals, covers from Miles Davis (arr. Gil Evans -- a key influence), Billy Strayhorn, and George Harrison. Took me a while to get used to the harmonics, but the arrangements have a silky flow -- not much solo and not much mass. B+(*)
  • 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+(**)
  • Toots Thielemans: European Quartet Live (2006-08 [2010], Challenge): B. 1922 in Brussels, Belgium, played some guitar early on but distinguished himself on harmonica to the point that he has dominated Billboard's miscellaneous instrument category for ages now. His records start in 1955 and continue with few gaps -- only four in the last decade but mostly toward the end. Quartet with piano (Karel Boehlee), bass (Hein Van de Geyn), and drums (Hans van Oosterhout, so he carries almost every moment selected here from various unspecified concerts. Mostly venerable standards, ending with two originals he did much to turn into standards. His tone is as striking as ever, but that's about it. B+(*)
  • Toca Loca: Shed (2010 [2011], Henceforth): Two pianos -- Simon Docking, from Australia, and Gregory Oh, from Toronto, although he's also studied in Michigan and worked in San Diego (Toronto seems to be where the action is, but the record label has a San Diego address) -- plus percussionist Aiyun Huang, born in Taiwan but also based in Toronto (teaches at McGill) and also passed through San Diego (UCSD). Oh seems to be top dog, as he's also credited as conductor. Album doesn't have a jazz feel, and I've shuttled it over to my vaguely defined "avant-garde" file (mostly following AMG, which pretty much ensures vague defs). Four 11-22 minute cuts, composed by others -- Frederic Rzewski is the only one I recognize but further research would probably put them all into the post-classical avant-garde. One cut has some guests on clarinet, cello, french horn and flute; another has extra percussion, but mostly I'm hearing piano abstractions varied with the extra percussion. Mostly interesting stuff, but nothing to sweep you away. [PS: Digging a bit deeper, Toca Loca has one previous album, P*P. Oh also scored a "doll opera" called "XXX Live Nude Girls!" which the poster warns: "contains crude language. adult sexual content. doll nudity. not suitable for children." See the website for samples of the doll porn.] B+(*)
  • Gabriele Tranchina: A Song of Love's Color (2008 [2010], Jazzheads): Singer, b. in Germany, based in New York, second album, the first self-released in 2003. Most songs are credited to pianist Joe Vincent Tranchina; one based on Hindu trad, another a trad Spanish lullaby. Multilingual: English, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, the latter leaning heavily on Jobim. Band mostly piano and Latin percussion: Bobby Sanabria, Renato Thoms, Santi Debriano on bass. B+(*)
  • Tribecastan: 5 Star Cave (2009 [2010], Evergreene Music): New York group -- that much shouldn't be hard to figure out -- with pretensions to exotica rooted in the real world today, very much including Afghanistan but not limited by it, as opposed to Esquivel-ish fantasies of Polynesian fleshpots. Principals are John Kurth and Jeff Greene, each with a dozen or more obscure instruments, most with strings, some flute-like or percussive. Group is rounded out with Todd Isler on more percussion and Mike Duclos because music always sounds better with a bassist on hand, and sprinkled with a dozen "special guests" -- the sort of people easy to find in New York (some names I recognize: Steve Turre, Charlie Burnham, Al Kooper, Badal Roy). Samantha Parton sings one song, a cool breeze with words by A.P. Carter. Everything is very mild and painless; I guess not like the real Afghanistan. B+(**)
  • Trichotomy: Variations (2007 [2010], Naim Jazz): Piano trio, from Australia: Sean Foran on piano, Pat Marchisella on bass, John Parker on drums. First album, or third if you count two released in Australia under the name Misinterprotato. One track adds violin-viola-alto sax; another adds trumpet-electronics. Foran composed 5 pieces, Parker 4, and one was a joint improv. They have a brash, beatwise, populist feel, not unlike EST or Neil Cowley, and it suits them well. B+(***)
  • Paul Tynan & Aaron Lington: Bicoastal Collective: Chapter Two (2010, OA2): Trumpet/baritone sax respectively, met at North Texas State, nowhere near any coast. Quintet, with Scott Sorkin's guitar central and essential. B+(**)
  • Chucho Valdes & the Afro-Cuban Messangers: Chucho's Steps (2009 [2010], Four Quarters): Cuban pianist, b. 1941, son of famed pianist Bebo Valdés, now in his 90s and at least recently active; led Irakere from 1972, and has released a steady stream of records under his own name since 1986 including several on Blue Note. He is still a spectacular pianist, the kind that reminds one of Art Tatum although Tatum never tackled such tricky rhythms. With trumpet and tenor sax that don't often add much, lots of percussion, a chorus for one song. Swept the Voice poll's Latin Jazz category -- an obvious choice although it strikes me as a bit out of sorts. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Roland Vazquez Band: The Visitor (2010, RVD): B. 1951 in California, drummer, AMG credits him with 7 albums since 1979's Urban Ensemble. His band is a big one -- four trumpets, four trombones, five reeds, piano, guitar, electric bass, drums, congas, vibes. Vazquez composed and conducts but doesn't play. A lot of star power in the band, but it rarely stands out. B
  • Melvin Vines: Harlem Jazz Machine (2010 [2011], Movi): Trumpet/flugelhorn player, b. 1952 in Toledo, OH; "mis-educated in the Ohio public school system for 12 years"; taught himself trumpet, inspired by Hugh Masekela. First album, as far as I can tell. Harlem Jazz Machine, a large unit with 8-10 players, has been touring since 2005, especially in Japan, home of Vines' wife, vocalist Kay Mori. Record starts with two Vines originals, one by pianist Chip Crawford, a Mori vocal on "My Heart Belongs to Daddy, then winds up with four covers from trumpet players -- Masekela (vocal by Makane Kouyate), Freddie Hubbard, Lee Morgan (twice). Impressive sax work by Yosuke Sato and/or Tivon Pennicot; snazzy Latin percussion by Roland Guerrero; Masekela's township jive is a highlight. 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+(**)
  • Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet: 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+(*)
  • Doug Webb: Renovations (2009 [2011], Posi-Tone): Saxophonist, plays 'em all but is pictured with a tenor, and that's mostly what I hear. Lives in LA, where he's done a ton of studio work. Second album on mainstream-focused Posi-Tone -- has also recorded for avant-oriented Cadence/CIMP in a group with Mat Marucci. Quartet, with bass (Stanley Clarke), drums (Gerry Gibbs), and a changing cast of pianists. All covers, like "Satin Doll" and "They Can't Take That Away From Me." Big, bold sound, perfect for saxophone lovers. B+(***)
  • Walt Weiskopf: See the Pyramid (2010, Criss Cross): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1959, grew up in Syracuse, has taught at Eastman School of Music and Temple University, co-wrote a book on Coltrane; 14th album since 1989, most on Criss Cross. Quartet with piano (Peter Zak), bass (Doug Weiss), drums (Quincy Davis). Wrote 5 of 10 tracks, including the first four, but the record only takes off with "Call Me," the first cover, which dispenses with postbop ideas and peels back the delicious theme like old-fashioned bebop. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Bob Wilber: Bob Wilber Is Here! (2010, Arbors): Trad jazz player, plays clarinet, soprano sax, and alto sax; b. 1928 in New York, played in a high school band with pianist Dick Wellstood, studied with Lennie Tristano, but broke in playing with Eddie Condon and Buddy Hackett, was a protégé of Sidney Bechet's who he has long honored in his Soprano Summit group with Kenny Davern. Clarinetists Antti Sarpila and Nik Payton are introduced here as Wilber's protégés, and I can't begin to sort out who's playing what when here. The rhythm section supplies the necessary swing: Jeff Barnhart on piano, Nicki Parrott on bass, and Ed Metz on drums. Mostly delightful, although it seems a bit diluted. B+(**)
  • Matt Wilson: Matt Wilson's Christmas Tree-O (2010, Palmetto): Read the end of the title as a pun on Trio, which is what Wilson assembled here: Paul Sikivie on bass; Jeff Lederer on various saxes, clarinets, piccolo, and toy piano; the leader on drums. Songs are mostly trad, but Wilson (like myself) is just the right age to include Dr. Seuss and "The Chipmunk Song" among the classics, and for good measure he works in a solemn "Happy Xmas (War Is Over)." Not so solemn are the classics, with "Angels We Have Heard on High" warming to a free sax freakout, and "Hallelujah Chorus" full of squawk and tympani. Can't recall hearing this at the mall this year; for one thing, it would have lifted my spirits. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • 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+(**)
  • John Zorn: What Thou Wilt (2009 [2010], Tzadik): Composition only, no Zorn playing. Main group consists of piano, three celli, and viola, but there's also the Tanglewood Orchestra on the 13:37 opener, "Contes de Fées," with more violins than I can count, another phalanx of celli, and the occasional oboe, bassoon, or flute. Demands a high tolerance for abstract string sounds, especially on the first piece. The remaining two pieces bounce the piano off the strings, which is more entertaining to say the least. B [Rhapsody]
  • John Zorn: Interzone (2010, Tzadik): Lost track of whether Zorn succeeded in his quest to release one record for each month of 2010, but this is Miss November. It's also the one that sounds most like a standard-issue John Zorn record: screechy sax, open spaces, lots of scattershot percussion. John Medeski's "keyboards" sound like they include a piano; Marc Ribot plays guitar-like instruments; Trevor Dunn basses; Cyro Baptista, Ikue Mori, and Kenny Wollesen are responsible for the bumps and blips. Theme has something to do with William Burroughs and Brion Gysin, which in Zorn's hands means comic book punk jazz with surreal or absurdist interludes -- the sort of thing he used to do c. Spillane and Spy vs. Spy before he got all Jewish on us and/or discovered he discovered he could throw a bunch of index cards at other musicians and get them to record 3-4 times as many records under his name as he could do himself. So this feels a bit like a con, but Ribot is terrific, there are some utterly sublime oases amidst the chaos and cartoon violence, and, well, unless Medeski somehow snuck a Cecil Taylor sample into his synth I for one have never heard him play piano like this. Very tentative grade: A- [Rhapsody]

Expert Comments

No politics yet, but Mostly Other People Do the Killing came up, so I explained:

On MOPDTK, the advantage that Shamokin! has is that it takes off from classic bebop, more familiar stuff so it's easier to follow what they're doing. The later albums make more reference to Ornette Coleman and Roland Kirk (respectively). All three are real good (up in my top-ten range), and you don't have to get the jokes to enjoy them. I didn't spend much time with Live in Coimbra -- have it as an HM in tomorrow's Jazz CG. Two discs, good sampler of what they do, but I didn't find that much new or interesting in it. (Monsen likes it more; has it way up on his 2011 list -- a list worth checking regularly.)

The two horn players have independent careers of note. Evans is more avant-garde on his own. Irabagon is all over the place, but his Rollins take-off Foxy Foxy will appeal to anyone into MOPDTK. Shea's spinoffs are pretty awful but they're amusing to write about (e.g., a Velvet Underground tribute called Puttin' on the Ritz). Elliott's label has released some more mischief, like Bryan and the Haggards -- basically, bebop riffs on Merle Haggard tunes.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 18151 [18116] rated (+35), 855 [869] unrated (-14). Another week: big music posting week, happens first of each month.

Jazz Prospecting (JCG #27, Part 4)

I complained last week about no acknowledgment from the Village Voice over my pending Jazz Consumer Guide column. That's all been straightened out now. They have the piece. It's been edited. It's slated to run this Wednesday. Looks like it's too long for the space, so things will get cut. I've offered a list, all painful, and will probably find out when you do (although you'll be less conscious of it). I still have a lot of stuff I've written up and didn't include with the draft. Maybe we can get the next one expedited, too.

Quite a bit of Jazz Prospecting this week, and I'm finding better records, although I'm also pulling stuff almost at random, including some from the lower priority queues.


Ben Kono: Crossing (2010 [2011], 19/8): B. 1967, grew up in Vermont, studied at Eastman and UNT, did a stretch with the Army's Jazz Ambassadors, settled in New York in 1998. Plays reeds; credited here with: oboe, english horn, flute, alto flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor saxophone, shakuhachi. Has mostly appeared in big bands: John Hollenbeck, Chris Jentsch, Ed Palermo, Jamie Begian. First album, with Hollenbeck (drums), John Hébert (bass), Pete McCann (guitar), Henry Hey (keybs), and Heather Laws (voice and french horn). One thing this shows is that not all horns are created equal: the sax sections are terrific, the flutes and oboe superfluous (all the more so when Laws weighs in). B+(*)

Q.E.D. [Ben Thomas/Chris Stover/Alex Chadsey]: Yet What Is Any Ocean . . . (2010 [2011], Origin): Seattle trio; all three write songs (Thomas 4, Chadsey 3, Stover 2). Thomas plays vibes, cajon, bandoneon, percussion; has three previous albums. Stover plays trombone; Chadsey piano. Makes for a nice combination of sounds, especially when they work up a groove. B+(**)

La Cherga: Revolve (2011, Asphalt Tango): Not jazz, more like trans-Yugoslav dubstep, with its Balkan brass run through a Jamaican sound system. Their previous, even better album (Fake No More) featured a striking vocalist, replaced here with Adisa Zvekic (from Bosnia) and occasional guest MCs; evolution turned around -- maybe that's how they translate it. A-

Rich Pellegrin Quintet: Three-Part Odyssey (2010 [2011], OA2): Pianist, first album, wrote three of eight pieces, drawing on band members R. Scott Morning (trumpet, flugelhorn), Neil Welch (tenor sax), and Evan Flory Barnes (bass) for all but one of the rest -- the odd piece out is "Piano Phase" by Steven Reich. The other quintet member is drummer Chris Icasiano -- odd enough, the one name I'm most familiar with. The eight pieces are organized into three parts, hence the title. Postbop, but the horns can get pretty aggressive, and the piano blocks well. Rather like the Reich intermission too. B+(**)

Darren Johnston/Aram Shelton/Lisa Mezzacappa/Kjell Nordeson: Cylinder (2011, Clean Feed): No recording date given -- unusual for this label -- but songs are all copyright 2011, so this may be the first recorded-in-2011 album I've gotten to. Familiar names: trumpet, alto sax/clarinet/bass clarinet, bass, drums. Each writes two songs, or three for Shelton. Free jazz, struggles a bit here and there but has lots of fine moments, especially the trumpet. B+(**)

Chad McCullough & Bram Weijters: Imaginary Sketches (2010 [2011], Origin): Trumpet and piano, respectively, leading a quartet with Chuck Deardorf on bass and John Bishop on drums. Third album for McCullough, not counting his work in the Kora Band; based in Seattle. The pianist was b. 1980 in Belgium; looks like he has one previous trio album, several group efforts. Pairing does a nice job of bringing out the rich lustre of the instruments. B+(*)

Giancarlo Vulcano: My Funny Detective (2008 [2011], Distant Second): Guitarist, grew up and is based in New York, second album, the soundtrack for a movie that doesn't exist (a film noir, no less). Credits include working as music director for the TV show 30 Rock. This has some of the usual traits of soundtracks: short vignettes (6 of 12 finish in less than two minutes), fill up space, don't leave much aftertaste. Most distinctive thing is the use of two trombones (Brian Drye and Ryan Keberle) as the only horns. B+(*)

The Chris Byars Octet: Lucky Strikes Again (2010 [2011], SteepleChase): Tenor saxophonist, plays some soprano as way too many do, but actually started on alto; AMG hasn't bothered to provide a biography yet, but for those who have paid attention he is one of the major arrivals of the past decade (e.g., his Photos in Black, White and Gray was one of my pick hits). What you might call a hard-core bebopper (not same as hard bopper). Focused on Gigi Gryce last time out, moved back a bit back to Lucky Thompson this time, who hit the cusp between swing and bebop almost perfectly -- aside from his own superb records he played in the septet on some of Charlie Parker's most famous singles, and for my money he was the star. Byars gets a lot of help here, adding Zaid Nasser's alto, Mark Lopeman's baritone, Scott Wondholt's trumpet and John Mosca's trombone, which saves him from a more direct comparison. Eloquent arrangements, rich and flowing, with a touch of swing. [PS: First thing I did when I got this was to ask the publicist to fill in the gap left by two recent Byars albums on SteepleChase I didn't get. Still waiting.] A-

Landon Knoblock/Jason Furman: Gasoline Rainbow (2008 [2011], Fractamodi): Piano-drums duo, based in New York but originally got together in Miami. Second album together. Knoblock, b. 1982, has two other albums since 2007. Strong performance, a lot of rumble in the piano. B+(**)

Cuong Vu 4-tet: Leaps of Faith (2010 [2011], Origin): Trumpet player, b. 1969 in what was then called Saigon, in Vietnam. Came to US in 1975, grew up in Bellevue, WA; studied at New England Conservatory; spent some time in New York, then moved back to Seattle, teaching at UW and having a pretty significant impact on the area. He's long had a fusion focus, and I haven't been much impressed by what he's come up with, but this is an advance: adding a second electric bassist (Luke Bergman) to his trio (Stomu Takeishi on electric bass and Ted Poor on drums) adds a lot to what I reckon you can call the grunge factor -- all the more amusing when burying standards like "Body and Soul" and "My Funny Valentine" but it neatly sets off the trumpet. B+(**)

François Carrier/Alexey Lapin/Michel Lambert: Inner Spire (2010 [2011], Leo): Alto saxophonist, from Canada (Quebec actually), b. 1961, has been on a tear since 1998. I've recommended a bunch of his albums. Trio, with his longstanding drummer Michel Lambert, plus pianist Alexey Lapin -- picked him up when they cut this in Moscow. He works his usual free jazz charms; piano doesn't quite come out, but has promising moments. B+(***)

Fredrik Carlquist: Playing Cool (2010 [2011], FCJazz): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1969 in Jönköping, Sweden; based in Barcelona; fourth album since 1999. Two originals, ten covers intended to explore "his influences from players llike Paul Desmond, Stan Getz and Lars Gullin." Helping with the latter is "special guest" baritone saxophonist Joan Chamorro on three tracks; rest is sax-guitar-bass-drums quartet. That adds up to a pretty mild mannered sax album. One song is even called "Sweet and Lovely," but really they all are. B+(**)

Benjamin Drazen: Inner Lights (2010 [2011], Posi-Tone): Saxophonist, alto and soprano, from Roslyn, NY, b. 1972; studied at New England Conservatory with George Garzone (who else?); moved back to NYC in 1995. Debut album, quartet with piano (Jon Davis), bass (Carlo de Rosa), and drums (Eric McPherson); seven originals plus "This Is New" and "Polka Dots and Moonbeams." Fat pitch right down the middle. B+(**)

Orrin Evans: Captain Black Big Band (2010 [2011], Posi-Tone): Judging from the credits, seems to be a very big band, with 10 trumpets, 5 trombones, 14 saxes and a bass clarinet, 3 pianos, but I also note that it was recorded in three chunks, the first day and track in Philadelphia, two more days (4 and 2 tracks respectively) later in New York, so I wonder if everyone was really everywhere all the time. (Some of the bass and drums players are linked to specific tracks.) Pianist Evans wrote 4 of 7 pieces, the last four. The band is crackling hot, but I'm not getting much out of it, just a lot of drive and energy. B+(*)

Christian Weidner: The Inward Song (2010, Pirouet): Alto saxophonist, b. 1976 in Kassel, Germany; studied in Hamburg, Stockholm, and Berlin, where he is currently based. Second album. Quartet with Colin Vallon on piano (Vallon has a new ECM album in my queue), Henning Sieverts on bass, and Samuel Rohrer on drums. All originals. Light, delicate sound, almost lurks behind the piano, giving it all an ECM-lite feel. B

Fernandez & Wright: Unsung (2009 [2010], New Market Music): Singer Vanessa Fernandez, guitarist Steve Wright, home base Melbourne, Australia. First album, backed with piano, organ, bass, drums, percussion. Wrote their own material. Has a dark, dank sound, a resonant voice with occasional jazz fillips. B

Jenny Davis: Inside You (2009 [2010], self-released): Singer, from Seattle, third album. Wrote one of ten songs, the others scattered standards with Charlie Parker's "Confirmation" and Lennon & McCartney's "Blackbird" on the far edges. Barely backed by Chuck Easton (guitar, flute) and Ted Enderle (bass), with Louis Aissen's tenor sax on one cut. The boppish stuff has a touch of Sheila Jordan, not pushed so far, but she doesn't need a lot of support. Ambivalent about "Blackbird" -- almost invariably a disaster -- not to mention the obligatory Jobim. B+(**)

Annie Kozuch: Here With You(2009 [2010], self-released): Standards singer, raised in Mexico City, got a Dramatic Arts degree from Mills College in Oakland, CA; based in New York. First album. Leads off with Jobim, but rather than getting him out of the way she returns three songs later with one of the nicest strolls through "Corcovado" I've heard, and later on returns with a third Brazilian piece, this one by Pixinguinha. Spanish songs from Pedro Junco and Armando Manzanera are less successful, but she nails English-language songs (what she calls "jazz tracks") like "I Love Being Here With You" and "You're Getting to Be a Habit With Me." B+(**)

Jonathan Kreisberg: Shadowless (2010 [2011], New for Now Music): Guitarist, b. NYC, grew up in Florida, came back in 1997. AMG lists eight records since 1997. Probably too simple to take this as a fusion play, but that's easy to do with guitarists. With Will Vinson on sax, Henry Hey on piano, Matt Penman on bass, Mark Ferber on drums. Sax and piano don't add much. B

Nicholas Urie: My Garden (2010 [2011], Red Piano): Composer, b. 1985, listed as conductor here. Second album. Music for poems by Charles Bukowski, the lyrics sung by Christine Correa, who always strikes me as a tad operatic. Attractive packaging, but the light blue type on off white is too subtle, downright unreadable. The music itself has numerous interesting passages, the group only slightly below big band weight (4 reeds, 3 trumpets, 2 trombones, piano-bass-drums), mostly names I recognize including John Hébert, who usually lifts everything he touches. Problem here is a common one: the curse of trying to wrap music around words meant to stand on their own. B

Jake Fryer/Bud Shank Quintet: In Good Company (2009 [2011], Capri): Fryer is a young British alto saxophonist with a trad bent, which nowadays is as likely to embrace 1950s mainstreamers -- Shank, of course, also Phil Woods -- as the pre-boppers. Shank died shortly after this: a West Coast alto saxophonist, b. 1926, came up in progressive big bands and recorded some sweet cool jazz records in the 1950s, although by my reckoning his best records came out in the early 1990s (cf. Lost in the Stars and I Told You So!). I haven't managed to untangle the two saxes here, which makes it possible to view the whole thing as a sharp revival for Shank, and a fine memento. With Mike Wofford (piano), Bob Magnusson (bass), and Joe La Barbera (drums). Fryer wrote 6 of 9 pieces -- titles like "Bopping With Bud," "Tip Top and Tickety Boo," "Breaking Loose," and "In Good Company." A-

Big Neighborhood: 11:11 (2006, Origin, 2CD): Group: Chris Fagan (alto sax), David White (guitar, guitar synth), Doug Miller (bass), Phil Parisot (drums). Second album. Been on my shelf a long time. Partly I've avoided it because I rarely feel up to tackling multi-disc sets by unknowns, although it turns out that all this could have been squeezed onto a single CD. White and Miller split most of the writing, with one piece by Parisot. Flows along nicely on the guitar, the sax mostly window dressing. B

Vince Norman/Joe McCarthy Big Band: Bright Future (2009 [2010], OA2): Norman plays various saxophones, tenor probably his first choice; his father, Ray Norman, played in the big bands of Claude Thornhill and Charlie Barnet, and he played in the Army's Jazz Ambassadors. McCarthy, a drummer, played in the Navy's Jazz Ensemble. Second album together, both big bands, the only thing unconventional is that they rely on guitarist Gary Malvaso for more than rhythm. B+(*)

Rondi Charleston: Who Knows Where The Time Goes (2009 [2011], Motéma Music): Singer, from Chicago, father taught English and played jazz piano, mother taught voice; studied at Juilliard. Third album since 2004; starts mostly covers (Sandy Denny, Stevie Wonder, Jobim of course), but winds down with four songs co-written with pianist Lynne Arriale and the annoying "Freedom Is a Voice" ("freedom is a man"; no lyric sheet but that's what it sounds like). Best thing here is "Please Send Me Someone to Love" -- but even there she'd rather come on strong. B-

Cheryl Bentyne: The Gershwin Songbook (2010, ArtistShare): Singer, b. 1954, best known as part of Manhattan Transfer since 1979, but has ten solo albums, most since 2002. This one is a lock, mostly top drawer songs, given light, delectable treatments with piano (Corey Allen or Ted Howe), Peter Gordon's flutes, and Ken Peplowski's bubbly clarinet. Mark Winkler joins for "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off." Only disappointment is "Summertime," which has yielded so many great versions I've long wanted to dump them all into a mixtape. Here she goes falsetto, with a lot of warble to the backup, which just seems weirdly off. B+(*)

Tania Gill: Bolger Station (2009 [2011], Barnyard): Pianist, lives in Toronto; first album, also credited with organ and voice. Group includes Lina Allemano (trumpet), Clinton Ryder (bass), and Jean Martin (drums). I don't get a strong sense of direction here; interesting little piano bits, some trumpet twists, two Gill vocals, so plain that's probably her limit, but not without charm. B+(*)

Trio Richochet: February 2006 (2006, self-released): Nobu Stowe (piano), Tyler Goodman (bass), Alan Munshower (drums). First of a bunch of background music Stowe sent me. Aims at "post-fusion," where "post" is something new and "fusion" is a bit of everything. One cover ("Nardis"), the rest Stowe originals. Bright, upbeat, dynamic; some ballad-type things to mix it up. B+(***)

Blaise Siwula/Nobu Stowe/Ray Sage: Brooklyn Moments (2005, Konnex): More background. Siwula plays alto and tenor sax, bass clarinet, bamboo flute; Stowe piano; Sage drums. Siwula was b. 1950 in Detroit; has a couple dozen albums (AMG's discography starts in 1994, which strikes me as late). All improv, rough to start although they mix it up, and the bass clarinet part softens the blows. First record by Siwula I've heard, so I'm way behind here. B+(***) [cdr]

Blaise Siwula/Dom Minasi/Nobu Stowe/Ray Sage: New York Moments (2006, Konnex): Siwula plays soprano, alto, and tenor sax here -- no bass clarinet; Minasi guitar; Stowe piano; Sage drums. More spontaneous composition, group improvs, twice dropping down to trio strength. At times it all works, but often it feels a bit crowded, or cramped. 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:

  • Omer Avital: Free Forever (Smalls)
  • Sarah Bernstein: Unearthish (Page Frame Music)
  • Taylor Ho Bynum/Joe Morris/Sara Schoenbeck: Next (Porter): June 21
  • Mark Dagley: Mystery of the Guitar (Abaton Book)
  • Mr. Ho's Orchestrotica: Presents . . . Third River Rangoon (Tiki)
  • Iron Dog: Field Recordings 1 (Iron Dog Music)
  • Lee Konitz/Brad Mehldau/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian: Live at Birdland (ECM)
  • Matt Lavelle: Goodbye New York, Hello World (Music Now!)
  • Alphonse Mouzon: Angel Face (Tenacious)
  • Wolfgang Muthspiel: Drumfree (Material)
  • Richard Nelson Large Ensemble: Pursuit (Heliotrope): June 7
  • NY Jazz Initiative: Mad About Thad (Jazzheads)
  • Beata Pater: Blue (B&B): June 1
  • Ursa Minor: Showface (self-released)

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Bin Laden Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week, plus a belated comment at the end on Bin Laden:


  • Paul Krugman: Hume Day:

    I read Hume's An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding in college, probably in my sophomore year, and it changed my life. I was at the age when impressionable young people can all too easily get pulled into a rigid belief system -- say, by getting hooked on Ayn Rand. Hume, by contrast, was wonderfully liberating: his amiable skepticism, his insistence that what we think we know comes from experience, and that knowledge is always provisional, opened up my whole outlook.

    I owned a copy but never read Hume's big book, but I did pick up much of what he had to say secondhand -- not least as refracted in Immanuel Kant's A Critique of Pure Reason. While I mostly read Marxists from age 18-25, I often bounced that off against empiricists (Hume), rationalists (Kant), and pragmatists (Pierce), which among other things meant that I never took Hegel as much more than a mythologizer.

  • Paul Krugman: Shadow of the Torturers: This is very true:

    After reading John Yoo's attack on the president for not taking Osama alive and bringing him to Gitmo, I thought I might take a minute to explain something I sometimes say. Once in a while I mention, in passing, that the Bush administration saw torturing people as a plus, not a cost. And whenever I do, some readers clutch their breasts and reach for the smelling salts: how dare I say such a thing?

    But it's true -- not because they're sadists, but because it suited their self-image.

    From day one of the War on Terror (TM), it was clear that the Bush people reveled in the notion that they were tough guys, willing to Do What Needs to be Done. They were all wannabe Kiefer Sutherlands. Far from showing qualms about suspending the rule of law and using torture to extract information, they obviously enjoyed the idea that they were willing to go all the way, unlike those wimpy liberals.

    I've long maintained that torture has always been much more about asserting power, in the most intimate and personal manner possible, than anything else. What bothered Bush and company about the 9/11 attacks more than the loss of life or the disturbance to our sense of security in everyday life was the symbolic challenge to their overweening sense of superpower: the only response they considered was a Global War on Terror because only through reasserting their total world dominance could they overcome Al-Qaida's affront. On a global level that meant war, but when it came down to individuals, of course it meant torture. Those who lament that Bin Laden was killed rather than captured should consider the real alternative: if captured Bin Laden would have been driven through the whole Guantanamo gauntlet of torture and endlessly procrastinated sham show trials. Rather than the justice system showing the world his crimes, the US would have wound up exposing how dysfunctional and unjust our justice system actually is.

  • Michael Lind: Why This Won't End World War IV: As I recall, Lind was the first person to really explain the critical role of the neoconservatives in shaping the shocked reaction to 9/11 terrorism into a full-fledged War on Terror (as well as such shoddy rebranding efforts as World War IV and The Long War). Turns out that Lind knew because Lind was one of them. But where he was satisfied with the collapse of the Soviet Union, other neoconservatives were just getting warmed up, identifying war abroad as valuable mostly to advance their war against liberalism at home. Lind quotes from a 1993 essay by Irving Kristol, My Cold War:

    There is no "after the Cold War" for me. So far from having ended, my cold war has increased in intensity, as sector after sector of American life has been ruthlessly corrupted by the liberal ethos. It is an ethos that aims simultaneously at political and social collectivism on the one hand, and moral anarchy on the other. It cannot win, but it can make us all losers. We have, I do believe, reached a critical turning point in the history of the American democracy. Now that the other "Cold War" is over, the real cold war has begun. We are far less prepared for this cold war, far more vulnerable to our enemy, than was the case with our victorious war against a global communist threat. We are, I sometimes feel, starting from ground zero, and it is a conflict I shall be passing on to my children and grandchildren. But it is a far more interesting cold war -- intellectually interesting, spiritually interesting -- than the war we have so recently won, and I rather envy those young enough for the opportunities they will have to participate in it.

    Kristol's admission ("that he had never really been interested in defeating the Soviet Union. The real enemy had been American liberalism, all along") matters less for its cynicism and scheming than because it reveals what should have been obvious to liberals all along: that the build-up and use of the military-security state is itself corrosive of every instinct and principle liberals and leftists believe in. Among other things, this is why Republicans treat Obama (and treated Clinton) so gingerly when he engages in war abroad, even while they go crazy in attacking him over domestic matters. (On the other hand, Bush helped his cause by launching wars: they were distractions from domestic issues, they built up his patronage machine, they crowded out other interests, they let him question the patriotism of his opponents and split them into rival camps, a significant slice accustomed to selling out their true interests.) Lind doesn't quite get this, but what he writes is also true:

    9/11 fortuitously provided the American right with the external enemy that allowed it to go back into business demonizing the internal enemy, liberalism. And the idea of World War IV enabled the right once again to smear American liberals as defeatists or appeasers, if not traitors, in a struggle on the scale of the world wars and the Cold War.

    Central to the rhetoric of American rightists, be they literate neocons or populist wingnuts like Glenn Beck, is the accusation that America is on the verge of destruction by powerful enemies without and traitorous or defeatist progressives within. In this political psychodrama, the identity of the foreign threat is secondary. If terrorists identifying themselves with Peru's Sendero Luminoso had massacred Americans on 9/11, conservatives might well have declared war on "Latinofascism," called for the invasion of Cuba, Venezuela and other leftist Latin American regimes, and denounced cultural relativism and multiculturalism and the welfare state for weakening the will of Americans to resist the imminent overthrow of Western civilization by Latin American Maoism.

    World War IV was never really about bin Laden or al-Qaida. It was always about American domestic politics. Whether or not al-Qaida fades away after the death of bin Laden, the right will continue to wage its American civil war, using World War IV as an excuse. Or maybe World War V or World War VI. Whatever.

  • Alex Pareene: A Patriot's Guide to Still Hating Obama for Killing Osama: Quotes from the right pundits, trying to paint Obama out of the picture, trying to paint Bush in, arguing that we couldn't have done it without waterboarding, etc. Pareene followed up with When George W. Bush Killed Bin Laden: An Alternate History.


Killing Bin Laden

I held back from making any rash comments about the killing of Osama Bin Laden, and don't have much to say now. I never believed that the US should have taken military action against Afghanistan in 2001, either to pursue Bin Laden or to overthrow the Taliban (Bush's either-you-with-us-or-against-us theory). I never had a problem with the assertion that Bin Laden was a criminal or with conventional (non-military, non-CIA) efforts to bring him to justice. His culpability for the 9/11 attacks and for previous crimes like the bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania is well established including by his own unforced (and boastful) admissions. Moreover, he has provided ideological cover for any number of similar criminal acts. And while he's not the only one responsible for the US -- one hesitates to blame this solely on Bush although he was, as he liked to proclaim, "the decider" -- response to his provocations, he claims to have acted aware of and actually hoping for the US to strike back at Afghanistan, launching a horrific war. Given all this, plus the failure of pre-2001 efforts to apprehend him, I could even see a case for taking extraordinary actions to capture or kill him. But I do draw the line well short of sending an army and air force to occupy another people's country, which is what the US did and for ten years continues to do.

For one thing, no system of justice is perfect, and ours breaks down especially when it comes to the most staggering crimes: politicians who commit acts of war, violently depriving people of human rights. The fact is that most such people have never had to face justice. As unfortunate as it was the Bin Laden to have escaped after 9/11, worse things have happened: one of which is that the US lost all sense of what justice means. Today we instinctively equate might with right, since the only sense in which we have been right over the last ten years is in our ability to get away with it. We have come to admire and emulate gangsters -- people who think that all they have to do to solve their problems is to kill those in the way.

It bothers me not at all that Bin Laden is dead. My position on capital punishment was never that the person doesn't deserve to die; it's that the government has no right to kill. Does the US have the right to send commandos into a foreign country to kill someone there? No. On the other hand, that Bin Laden was executed by a team of Navy SEALS does have a certain justice to it: it was, after all, his scheme to get the US to invade his adopted homeland and wage war against him and the people who adopted him. You can't say he didn't have it coming, and you can't say he hadn't asked for it.

I could also try to look at this pragmatically. Killing Bin Laden doesn't justify the US mission in Afghanistan (and Pakistan), but does it help end that mission? Killing Bin Laden was one of the main rationales for getting into Afghanistan in the first place. Now that he is dead, why not just say "mission accomplished" and get out? If indeed that happens the killing will be a blessing. There are lots of things I don't like about this, but anything that extricates us from occupying Afghanistan and meddling in Pakistan would be good news.

One aspect of this that is rather disturbing has been Obama's own elation over the killing -- not least his "victory lap" going to NYC and sucking up to the troops. Some of it is that he took a rather cynical political position when he reframed his opposition to the Iraq war as mistaken priorities -- he didn't want to be seen as an anti-war candidate, so he pushed Afghanistan as the right war, and Bin Laden as the true object of that war, so he gains on two counts by killing Bin Laden: he vindicates his policy vs. Bush, and he gets a tangible milestone which allows him to get out from under the millstone of an endless, fruitless war. But what's truly disturbing is how much he's getting into his role as killer-in-chief. He got his first taste of directly ordering death in a Somali piracy event shortly after he took office. However, this week he's really hitting his stride: killing one of Gaddafi's sons in Libya, missing his target in Yemen (but killing a couple people anyway), and the big kill of Bin Laden. Moreover, there's very little to stop him from doing this: the military and CIA are geared up to keep doing this (indeed, moving Petraeus from one to the other looks like a policy decision to shift targeted assassination programs into ever more secretive and informal frameworks), the Republicans and the media will just cheer him on, and the ICC can't touch him; that just leaves his conscience, such as it is.


I thought about ending this with several trivial observations, but will leave you with just one. I noticed several pieces trying to parse Obama's speech: specifically the phrase "captured and killed," reading the two verbs as serial. My theory is that the person on scene said something like "we have Bin Laden and he is dead." Being a much better writer than the average Navy SEAL, Obama's instinct was to punch up the line, eliminating passive voice and using action verbs. Still, as a lawyer, you'd think he would have thought better. But I guess he's been in politics too long for that.


Expert Comments

Carlos Catalan says things like: "I see Bush as an ignorant but well-intentioned man, surrounded by corrupt men. In my view, Obama is the one who is being let off the hook." And: "The naivety of so many concerning Obama is scary." And: "There are worse villains than George Bush in America and in our world." And: "I'm not sure that's fair. Suggesting he has no ordinary concern for the well-being of other human beings?"

Not sure where all this Bush matter is coming from, but I have to caution anyone against crediting intentions over actions, most of all to excuse those actions. Everyone intends good; otherwise, how could they face themselves? Long ago I read Eugene Genovese's The World the Slaveholders Made, which amply demonstrated the intellectual and moral coherency of the masters of the slave South. The only thing unusual about them is how little sympathy we now hold for their world-view. But the idea that the unfettered pursuit of self-interest is somehow a social good is widely shared today, especially among people whose self-interests are predatory on social goods -- e.g., people like George W. Bush.

It's sort of interesting to pick apart the Bush administration and try to figure out who was responsible for what -- e.g., would Bush have been so inept on Israel/Palestine had Elliott Abrams disappeared into a well somewhere? -- but the bottom line was that his administration was probably the most ideologically coherent in American history. Of all the things he did, the worst was how he institutionalized corruption in the government. He didn't just deregulate: he gave lobbyists the controls to the entire regulatory apparatus, purged the civil service, and privatized the grunt work, turning it into political patronage. The big BP offshore oil spill was one fruit of Bush's reorganization -- one of many offices Obama hadn't touched since becoming president. And that sort of thing was perfectly consistent with Bush's intentions (as was the dismantling of FEMA pre-Katrina).

I must have read 20 books on Bush and they keep adding up the same way. Some of the best: Kevin Phillips: American Dynasty; Michael Lind: Made in Texas; Ira Chernus: Monsters to Destroy; Jacob Weisberg: The Bush Tragedy. You can get some personality quirks, but where it counts Bush is very consistent with, and obedient to, the political movement that sponsored him.

Meanwhile, Christgau wrote:

I'm not going to go into this any further, because these arguments are generally a waste of time. But the reason I believe GWB was both the worst and the most evil US president in history is only marginally about his hideous and wasteful war. That's a symptom. Bush entered the White House determined to bring into full flower the conscious aim of the Republican Party since Reagan -- that is, the shrinkage of government in all its public-welfare functions and the further transfer of wealth to the already wealthy. Everything proceeds from that, including a war that enabled billions of deficit-creating tax dollars to be pocketed without public outcry by the energy and defense industries, which was always its chief, conscious economic goal.

Carlos Catalan responded (can he possibly be serious?):

In my opinion, Republicanism is not a threat anymore, and it could even be in its last throes. Paper tigers like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump and the Tea Party movement are the current face of the party.

The real villains are Democrats and Republicans. It sounds like a cliche, but things aren't black-and-white anymore. Partisanship is naive and outdated. The bad guys are out there. And the one's that wear liberal clothes are just as bad as the ones that wear conservative clothes.

More from me:

Given the asynch nature of this, I didn't see Christgau's post until I posted mine. Many ways to carve this pig, but he has it exactly right. Lots of folks still like to pick on poor James Buchanan, but Bush was worse in more ways than I can count.

Carlos Catalan:

In my opinion, Republicanism is not a threat anymore, and it could even be in its last throes. Paper tigers like Sarah Palin and Donald Trump and the Tea Party movement are the current face of the party.

Obviously you don't live in Kansas, where the faces of the Republican Party are Gov. Sam Brownback (anti-abortion jihadist), Sen. Jerry Moran (C Street-bred agribusiness tool), and Rep. Mike Pompeo (Koch puppet). All were elected with landslides in 2010. Most likely, to say such a think you don't even live in the US, where the Republican-controlled House can kill any bill to raise the deficit limit, thereby provoking a financial crisis in the midst of a recession. Palin and Trump are jokes, and the Tea Party Movement is full of them. But the right-wing heirs still have their foundations and think tanks, corporate funding has never been stronger, and the media just laps it all up.

Sangfreud is right that the Democrats have been complacent and often complicit in the rise of the ultra-right. I wrote a post on my website today that was as down as I've ever been on Obama. At this point I don't care if you want to argue that the Democrats are hopeless. But it's plain wrong to claim that the Republicans are harmless, or that there's no difference between the parties.

Much more flack hits the fan. Again, I write:

Carlos Catalan:

I'm sorry this outrages some of you, but I believe that there are bigger evils in our world than... Republicans!

Maybe Peterike164 is right that "nobody ever convinces anybody of anything by political discussions on chat boards" but it should be possible to share some information. I would like to know what Carlos thinks those evils are. He's made several vague assertions like that, but I'd like to see some details.

The one example so far hasn't been very convincing. Abortion rights may be secure in some states, but here in Kansas the last doctor in Wichita (pop. 400,000) who offered those services was murdered. And when another doctor wanted to set up a clinic recently, she couldn't find space for fear of boycotts and vandalism. Since then the state has passed more laws to allow legal authorities to harrass clinics. It's only a matter of time before Kansas joins Mississippi as a state where one has the right to seek an abortion, but no one is able and willing to perform the service.

Much later, solidstatendc wrote:

Carlos, don't be discouraged because you were taken to task by encouraging folks to think outside their respective boxes (which actually look a lot like the same box, but that's part of the point; the left celebrates diversity in everything except thought). Take the caliber of the replies -- e.g., Obamacare is "free health care," left vs. right as "sanity vs. pure evil," and the apparently sincere belief that the right's social-issues claque is more of a threat to the country's health than, oh, I don't know, the fact that the national debt is increasing by over four billion dollars a day -- as sufficient evidence that your efforts never stood a chance. Besides, there's some really good music commentary here.

No idea where the Obamacare quote came from. The "sanity vs. pure evil" quote was misframed: Alex Wilson wasn't describing "left vs. right"; he was describing Democrats vs. Republicans. Going back to look for something else, but while I'm on it, here's what Alex said:

I'm gonna write this message quick, cos I got 3 minutes to get to work (I live right next door)! I said this before, but Xgau is right. There is no real 'left' in America. In England there is nothing like republicans, we have conservatives (who, stereotypically, save money, and are rich), labour (who, stereotypically, spend money, and are working-class) and lib-dems (who are hippies, and never get in power). All of that stereotyping is ****, I suppose a lot of politicians are very similar in nature. But, at least, here we have a much more narrow left-right. Out right is still, basically, left. In the U.S. it's like sanity vs. pure evil. I'm not over-exaggerating! Anyway, have fun ya'll, I'll read the comments when I get back! x

Still working back, Christgau wrote:

One of the assumptions of my criticism is that art and politics always interact. Another is that most politicos have a lot to learn from pop music, especially about what people really believe and need. I agree that political discussions quickly get out of hand in these forums, and always hesitate before putting my two cents in for that reason. But I am a political person, so occasionally I will. Like for instance to note that the notion that anyone here is "hard Left" -- myself definitely included -- is yet another sad reflection of how constrained and distorted American politics are. There isn't another developed country in the world where such an assertion would fly, because all other developed countries have real Lefts that make themselve felt. I doubt I'd be part of any "hard Left" myself, though I'd probably dabble the way I did in the '60s just to enjoy the brainpower. But I wish there was one to keep everybody else on their toes.

Beyond that there's a lot of nonsense about "checks and balances" -- Carlos seems to think that elections every four years are part of that. Still looking for the Carlos quote that solidstatendc refers to about thinking outside the box. MarkE6 has something along those lines:

I don't respect anyone who's not willing to criticize someone in their own group. Liberals not criticizing other liberals and conservatives not willing to criticize other conservatives. If we're going to have political discussions here, I wish there was more balance in that area.

This idea that left and right are equivalent and symmetrical is one of the worst myths, derived from nothing more tangible than geometry.

While I'm collecting, Cam Patterson wrote (probably chastizing yours truly, since one of my posts appeared after Carlos' last post, and since I wrote about abortion):

Folks-- Carlos bailed on his argument long ago. I realize there was a lot of dialog, but can we give the guy a break at this point? He's clear that he's moved on, so referencing him in your posts has more to do with what you have to say than with getting Carlos to reply or change his mind. If this exchange wasn't so personal, I'd be in the middle of it-- I lived around the corner from the Brookline clinic that John Salvi attacked and knew Shannon Lowney by sight-- but I'm going to hope that we get a reset Tuesday AM. Any chance for an early post, Xgau?

Later, MarkE6:

Greater evil than Republicans? I would say The Joker, Lex Luther, and Magneto for starters.

Sangfreud:

The Joker, definitely. Lex Luthor is a republican. Magneto is a blue dog dem -- when push comes to absolute shove, he'll throw down on the side of righteousness.

Following the solidstatendc "Carlos" quote, Chris Drumm replied by quoting "the left celebrates diversity in everything except thought" and added:

. . . and they get their coordinated daily talking/attack points from where?

Solidstatendc replied:

It doesn't work quite that baldly. How much time would you say you spend in (let's say) a month reading/watching/listening to political, social and/or economic views not necessatily in agreement with your own?

(OK, that's the quote I remembered and was looking for.) Chris replied:

I read Reason magazine, and The Economist. To name just two, Andrew Sullivan and David Brooks seem like agreeable people. As are no doubt many conservatives. You are the one who said the left celebrates diversity in everything except thought. It just seems to me that, if anything, the right is where such thought-control occurs. I've seen Tom Hull take Christgau apart (over the wikileaks controversy). And Tom Hull just got through taking Krugman to task for his calling some wars "good wars". And I don't think Xgau, or Krugman, get all huffy about it. They would listen and weigh Tom's views, maybe learn something. There's a ton more diversity of opinion among liberal and yes, open-minded people, than the narrow-thinking "party of no" adherents, constantly scrambling for ways to skewer and tear down the president, no matter how far-fetched they have to reach. Fact is, he came into office after a great deal of damage had been done to the country. To say he's not doing his best, with a truculent congress and a Supreme Court giving corporations the right to buy elections, to say there is something "scary" about him, well, I'm sorry if I haven't subjected myself to enough opposing opinion to go along with that.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Rhapsody Streamnotes (May 2011)

Pick up text here.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Expert Comments

On the Rolling Stone Album Guide (4th Edition):

The stuff I wrote for the 2004 Rolling Stone guide is at http://tomhull.com/ocston/arch/rs/ including my notes. Doesn't include any edits they did because they never told me about any. I got in late. Was given a big list of artists they hadn't assigned and picked some from that, plus suggested a few more. The only jazz I did was James Carter and Matthew Shipp. They had very little jazz to choose from, and weren't interested when I suggested Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, like that. I was signed up for John McLaughlin, but they killed that when I asked to buy some of his early stuff. They did agree to some suggestions not on their list, like Ani DiFranco. At one point they got cold feet on assigning me Pink Floyd: my impression was that they were afraid I was going to dis Dark Side of the Moon -- a silly fear, probably my most played album of the 1970s.

I thought there was going to be an updated re-release of the 4th edition. They actually paid me decent money to revise my Willie Nelson piece since there were about ten new albums to work in, but they didn't mention anything else -- my impression was that they were going to just hack away however they saw fit. Book hasn't come out yet, and Milo may know more than I do. Huge amount of work for practically nothing. I hoped they would throw me a bone and ask me to do a magazine review, but that never happened. When I pressed them hardest to do a little jazz spinoff box they had Fricke do it.

Thursday, May 05, 2011

The Two Great Moral Wars of Our History

Paul Krugman: How Should We Think of the Civil War?: Not often I disagree with Krugman these days, but he's out of his depth here:

Via Brad DeLong, Ta-Nehisi Coates argues that the Civil War wasn't tragic in the way it's so often portrayed. The human losses were terrible -- but the war marked the end of the far greater horror of slavery.

I agree; the Civil War and World War II are the two great moral wars of our history, and they should be remembered with pride.

I don't have much beef with Coates here, even not understanding however it is that the Civil War's "so often portrayed": the real issue is what actually happened in those wars, and what happened is often far removed from anything we might be inclined to take pride in. But before you go around glorifying wars, I think you have to ask some hard questions: Did the war achieve the intentions you are attributing to it? Did the people who fought the war, especially at the command level, understand and act on those intentions? Did the prosecution of the war undermine them? Did the aftermath of the war implement them? Did the war cause unintended consequences that complicated or compromise or deprecated its intentions? Ask those questions and I think you'll find that both wars are highly problematical.

The Civil War ended the institution of chattel slavery in the US and influenced its elimination elsewhere (in Brazil at the time and in Cuba twenty-some years later). Had the Confederate States been able to secede and form a modern state based on the institution of slavery, the system would have continued for at least a generation, no telling how much longer. It is not impossible that slavery could have continued well over a century, into our lifetimes and possibly into the present, even though we cannot now conceive of such a world persisting. The Union's suppression of the secession changed history so profoundly that we might as well embrace it because we can't make sense out of the alternative. Nor is it just descendents of slaves who were affected and therefore owe their lives to the war.

However, while the Confederate States seceded to protect the legal institution of slavery and the economic system built upon it, the Union had other reasons for suppressing the rebellion: above all, it did so to preserve the integrity and power of the nation state, to protect and promote its economy, and to position the United States as a more significant imperial power. The secession profoundly tipped the balance of power, resulting in a tariff to protect industrial development and a Homestead Act to accelerate the absorption and integration of frontier territories. With the Union victory, the economic gains from the power shift continued, while the ideals of ending slavery atrophied: slaves were freed nominally but soon subjected to economic and political controls, including a reign of terror, that left them as destitute (if not as hopeless) as before. Moreover, in the decades following the Civil War "free labor" throughout the Union was more often than not reduced to conditions of near-slavery (what came to be called "wage slavery," most blatantly in company towns).

One has to wonder to what extent the extreme brutality of the Civil War -- it was at the time the deadliest war in human history -- contributed to undermining the anti-slavery ideals. It certainly became a point of honor in the South both to reduce and roll back the initial gains of the Freedmen and to restore the antebellum social and political order. The South was willing to suffer great poverty and economic backwardness for over a century to make a point of revenge -- something the North permitted because those in power in the North were little troubled by gross inequality or even by the use of terror (indeed, Northern plant owners were as likely to hire goons to bust strikes).

Whereas the Union was pretty clearly the aggressor in the Civil War -- and set an example for many other nations to suppress their breakaway regions, Congo-Katanga, Nigeria-Biafra, Russia-Chechnya, and Serbia-Bosnia are among the bloodiest recent examples; that each was a choice based on dubious principles is clearly shown by the exception, Czech-Slovakia -- one can make a good case that war was thrust upon the US (and many other countries) by the Axis. I can quibble with that. The war was fundamentally about how the world should be carved up into colonial empires, each a broad swath of the world dominated by a relatively small and autocratic home base convinced of its racial superiority over its dominions. As early as the 17th century, the model for such empires was set by England and France (outflanking earlier efforts by Portugal, Spain, and Holland). Only in the latter half of the 19th century did Germany and Italy (previously not unified states), the United States (revolutionized by the Union's Civil War victory), and Japan forcibly "opened" by the US) decide that they needed to enter the game and play catch up -- indeed, each of these nations often saw their own aggressions as necessarily defensive. (Two other empires come into play here, Russia and China, but they were constructed on more ancient lines, by subjugating their neighbors, much as the Romans and Ottomans had done. Whereas Italy and the US primarily intended to build their empires along Anglo-French lines, Germany and Japan combined both models.)

The progressive idea attributed to the Civil War was abolition of slavery and establishment of civil rights: the latter failed, in large part because so much of the Union was unwilling to work to make it happen, indeed because so much of the Union didn't believe in it. (One result was that the Civil War was refought in the 1960s, much less violently even if it seemed pretty nasty at the time.) The progressive idea attributed to WWII was the abandonment of the colonial empire system and the establishment of universal human rights. The problem here was that both sides were committed to their respective empires, and indeed the US-UK-France had been more successful at it than the Axis powers ever could be. Indeed, the western Allies entered into the war not because they had been directly threatened but because their dominions and international interests were at risk. When Chamberlain sacrificed a sliver of Czechoslovakia, he made a calculated cost-benefit analysis; when asked to do the same over half of Poland, the results changed (but even then he didn't begrudge Stalin for scooping up the leftovers, because the Soviet Union was not deemed anywhere near as serious a challenge to British interests as Germany was). While Roosevelt was admirably principled about not firing the first shot, he was far from neutral, arming and financing China and Britain while embargoing Japan and Germany, all but daring them to sink US ships (Wilson's entrée to WWI) or, as happened, to bomb US bases in the Pacific. The US had become the world's largest economy well before WWI, the largest trading country, a net exporter (safe behind high tariff walls), and as such a net invester and lender, so the people who thought about such things realized that the world couldn't be trusted to handle anything so important as a World War on its own: the US had to take part, because US interests were already involved. The big problem was selling this war to the people who didn't have any real money at stake, and that's where progressive ideas -- anti-imperialism and human rights, also fear of Fascism -- came in handy. It helped that New Deal progressives were in power, and it helped that the Soviet Union was already in the war. But progressive ideas had always served to sell war -- at least ever since selling became necessary, at least since the American and French Revolutions. (It may seem laughable now, but "white man's burden" passed for progressivism in its time; even more cynically, King Leopold vowed to rid the Congo of slavery.) About the only thing those trying to nudge the US into WWII didn't use as a reason was the need to prevent the Nazi extermination of Jews from all over Europe.

There's no doubt that WWII resulted in some progressive things: it conclusively ended German and Japanese imperialism and militarism; it wiped out all of the Fascist and/or ultraconservative states in Eastern Europe (replacing them with Soviet-dominated satellites, which you may not like but was still an improvement in most cases); it led to a communist revolution in China (which again you may not like, but it put an end to foreign depredations like Britain's Opium War and eventually led to the fastest growing economy of the last 20 years); it significantly weakened the victorious western imperial powers, speeding up the liquidation of their colonial states (Spain and Portugal, their Fascist regimes having skipped the war, held out the longest, except for the US which gave up the Philippines but still holds onto scattered outposts); it led to an international declaration of human rights and to the United Nations and other international organizations (which ultimately proved inadequate to fulfill their promises but on balance have been more progressive than not); it resulted in a recognition of the horrible injustice of genocide; perhaps most important to an economist like Krugman, the war solved the chronic demand shortage of the Great Depression and laid the basis for several decades of widespread affluence. Needless to say, only the first item was on Roosevelt's progressive agenda when he led the US into war, and even that wasn't conceived of progressively: US Treasury Secretary Morgenthau wanted to reduce Germany to nothing more than a 17th century agricultural economy. The rest was made up on the fly, or happened on its own, but so did much else.

On the other hand, much else happened during and after the war. Some seventy million people were killed, including some ten million people in German concentration camps -- mostly Jews in the Nazi's deliberate program to eradicate "the race," but also huge numbers of communists and other political opponents and Russian prisoners of war. Some 22-25 million of the dead could be considered combattants, including 410,000 Americans -- a number that is small only compared to 2 million Japanese, 3-4 million Chinese, 5.5 million Germans, and 8-10 million Soviets. But the overwhelming majority of those killed were non-combattants. One number I can't find is how many perished by the main new technology of the war: aerial bombardment. When the war started, the US was very high-minded about limiting bombing to strictly military targets, but the war ended with the US wiping out entire cities with nuclear weapons.

Beyond those dead were many more wounded, millions dislocated, many forced into slave labor. In the German-Russian borderlands from Latvia to Ukraine prewar populations were reduced by 15-25%. The war changed people, and while many (especially in Europe and Japan) resolved to live in peace, some developed a taste for war. The Chinese communists continued to fight the Kuomintang army. The Vietnamese fought against the return of the French. Indonesia, the Philippines, and India would have erupted but were quickly granted independence (the Indians turning on themselves when the British decided to partition the country, resulting in more than a million deaths). Both sides of divided Korea plotted to unify the country, resulting in a horrendous war from 1950-53, sucking in the US and China. The Zionist settlement in Palestine revolted against Britain and seized three-quarters of the land, fighting off several Arab armies and driving 700,000 Palestinians into an exile that has still not been resolved. Israel was initially backed by the US, the USSR, and France, partly out of sympathy for the Holocaust, possibly out of a desire to settle displaced Jews elsewhere, with an almost absent-minded disdain for the Palestinians signifying that the colonial mentality had not yet been broken. The result was the creation of the most belligerent nation of the postwar period, one which still denies basic human rights to several million people -- one of many not-so-progressive things that emerged from WWII.

Then there was the US, the nation which gained the most and suffered relatively little, with virtually no civilian casualties, the homeland never seriously threatened. The war rescued the US economy; fear of slipping back into recession made the idea of maintaining a permanent war economy attractive. Moreover, the war swelled the American ego to a humongous degree: we had, after all, saved the world from extraordinary evils; we led the world, were good enough to rebuild Europe; our ideals were the world's. Except, that is, for the communists, who soon turned out to be more useful as enemies. They gave us reason to keep the military economy in gear, and they gave the right an opportunity to purge the left -- which they proceeded to do with generous but suicidal support from the liberal establishment.

Nearly everything bad that has happened to America since 1945 can be traced back to the unsatisfied sense of winning WWII and the craving for more. Tom Carson was right when he said that the worst thing that ever happened to the US was winning WWII. That isn't to say that losing would have better, or that we shouldn't have entered at all. But it should be understood that war isn't something one wins; it's always a loss, the real dilemma being how you handle that loss. It should also be understood that war itself is never progressive. The whole idea behind progressivism is to deliberately arrange society and economy in ways that work more productively and more equitably for all. Going to war doesn't do that, not least because in going to war you throw your fate to the winds. Maybe you'll learn something from the experience and use that insight to do something progressive: for instance, racism became much less popular after watching what the Nazis did with it, and that lesson helped revive the US civil rights movement, and indeed helped fuel anticolonial movements around the world. But real progressives didn't need, let alone want, that example. Had progressives been more successful before WWII they'd be less likely to think WWII a progressive war because they would have had less ground to make up, and less to learn from really awful events. Indeed, had they been more successful there might not have been a WWII.

Pacifism is a philosophy to live by; not one to judge history by. The prevalence of wars throughout history shows two things: that war is a plague upon human society, and that through so much history we haven't had the good sense to prevent it. One might cold-heartedly look back on history and say some war made for a turning point after which we decided to become more progressive. Maybe Krugman's favored wars qualify, but taking pride in them strikes me as not just excessive and selective but foolish. For every progressive impulse or moment, we should recognize two things: that it could and should have been done less violently, and that the process of going through war damaged us in too many ways to fully comprehend. For example, what abolitionist who supported the Union in the Civil War could imagine the residual power of George Wallace and Jesse Helms more than a century later? What liberal democrat (or communist) who understood the urgency to defeat Hitler could imagine the bloodthirst of Dick Cheney and Ariel Sharon sixty years later?

The lesson is that war begets iniquity and further war, and that is nothing ever to take pride in.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

A Downloader's Diary (10): May 2011

Insert text from here.


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

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Recycled Goods

Pick up text here.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 18116 [18080] rated (+36), 869 [882] unrated (-13). More Jazz Prospecting this week. Picked up a few things for Recycled Goods as well, and the Rhapsody file is overflowing. Laura spent last week in Detroit. I usually go out more, shop more, get less done, but for some reason was stuck at home. Did do some yardwork -- very unusual for me.


Jazz Prospecting (JCG #27, Part 3)

Haven't heard a peep from the Village Voice about the Jazz CG I sent in several weeks ago. Don't know what that means, other than not yet. I should probably start nagging. Just been out of sorts, not up to much of anything. But I did manage to cover more Jazz Prospecting this week than either of the last two. Also found better records -- in fact, I played a few more A-list prospects but didn't write them up, wondering if I'm getting soft for some reason. (Certainly can't be that I was in a good mood.)

One thing to note below is the return of the brackets. A grade in brackets means I'm not sure and I'm not done, but it's a good guess for now. For practical purposes, a [A-] is a record that might not hold up over time, while a [B+(***)] is a record that might get better. I used to hold such records back as ungraded, but now I've decided to treat those grades as real for everything -- the year-end list, the database -- except Jazz CG. When I go to wrap up a Jazz CG, I'll revisit those records and reconsider. (Actually, at that time I sometimes change a grade anyway, no matter how firm I initially think it to be.) Conceivably I could bracket any grade. When I do so, most likely you should read that as meaning that the record has upside potential: I really doubt that I'd ever grade anything [B-] thinking it could drop into the C-range. I'm not masochistic enough to bother finding out.

Don't know what the future holds, at least beyond the next week (or two). This week we should have a lot of music posts: first a new Downloader's Diary, then a decent-sized Recycled Goods, then a pretty hefty Rhapsody Streamnotes. No news on my Recycled Goods proposal either -- something else that's probably dead.


Alekos Galas: Mediterranean Breeze (2010, Ehos): Bouzouki player. No biography, but was recorded in Laguna Beach, CA; also in Glendale, Chicago, and Las Vegas. Debut record. Most (or all) originals. Backed by band: usually guitar, keyb, bass, drums, some extra percussion. Uses the word "fusion" a lot, also "smooth jazz" and "pop"; does manage to keep it breezy. B-

Sanda: Gypsy in a Tree (2010 [2011], Barbes): Vocalist, Sanda Weigl, evidently her first album. Don't know how old she is, but she's been around: born in Romania, fled for political asylum in East Germany, then after 1968 decided that wasn't so great either. Wound up in New York, singing traditional gypsy songs in front of a band of Japanese expat jazz musicians: Shoko Nagai (piano, accordion, farfisa), Stomu Takeishi (electric bass), and Satoshi Takeishi (percussion). Also picked up some help from Doug Weiselman (guitar, clarinet) and Ben Stapp (tuba). Picked up some Brecht-Weill influence, but that only seems to have made the album even darker. B+(*)

Peter Erskine/Bob Mintzer/Darek Oles/Alan Pasqua: Standards 2: Movie Music (2009 [2011], Fuzzy Music): Prerogatives of alphabetical order, although the label seems to be Erskine's property, and he's probably the most famous among near-equals -- you know, the drummer back in Weather Report. At least I assume that ranks him above Mintzer's long run with the Yellowjackets -- a group I've never been fond of, but the tenor saxophonist was always the best thing they had going. Pasqua and Oles are established pros with no tainted baggage. They make a nice, mild-mannered group here, easing their way through juicy themes like "Cinema Paradiso" and "Rosemary's Baby" and snagging a couple of Cole Porter songs that have far outlived their movies. B+(*)

Tom Luer: Project Popular (2009 [2011], Origin): Saxophonist (tenor and soprano), originally from Wisconsin, studied and taught at UNT, based in Los Angeles. First album, quintet with piano (mostly Fender Rhodes), guitar, bass, drums. The "popular" in the project is to mix five 1980s-vintage rock covers in with three originals, drawing on Pearl Jam, Coldplay, Soundgarden, Audioslave, and Prince. Only one that really registered with me was "Black Hole Sun" -- nice to hear, holds up well. B+(*)

Tommy Smith: Karma (2010 [2011], Spartacus): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1967 in Scotland, studied at Berklee, had a run on Blue Note that is long out of print, more records on Linn where his amazing facility often outran his ideas -- for me his breakthrough was Blue Smith in 2000, where he finally slowed down and let his rich tones develop. Returned to Scotland after that, releasing little publicized records on his own label, cultivating local talent, directing a group called Scottish National Jazz Orchestra. One of the few records I managed to get hold of was a duo with pianist Brian Kellock, Symbiosis (2005) -- an early Jazz CG Pick Hit, one of the best records of the decade. So I was surprised to get this one, replete with a full color promo booklet no less: a quartet with three of his young Scottish protégés -- Steve Hamilton on piano, Kevin Glasgow on electric bass, Alyn Cosker on drums. Fine group, but it all turns on the saxophonist, who seems a bit subdued at first, until he realizes he's got to finish the job himself, and closes with a dazzling finish. A-

Tobias Preisig: Flowing Mood (2009 [2010], ObliqSound): Violinist, b. 1981 in Zurich, Switzerland; studied in Paris and at the New School in NYC. Looks like his second album; also has a couple with pianist George Gruntz and a few group records. Quartet with piano, bass, and drums. Title is appropriate, especially the sense of flow. Especially striking when the violin is clear and sharp. B+(**) [advance: 2010-06-01]

Al Di Meola: Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody (2010 [2011], Telarc): Guitarist, b. 1954, studied at Berklee, joined Chick Corea's Return to Forever 1974-76 as they slipped into the 1970s fusion muddle; has 30-some albums since 1976, of which I've heard two (one with John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia) so I'm way behind the curve here -- never quite convinced it's one worth learning. Pretty fancy here, with a wide range of Latin effects from flamenco to tango to salsa, accordion and slinky percussion (including Mino Cinelu on four cuts), bits of Gonzalo Rubalcaba piano, three songs with dripping string arrangements, two covers ("Strawberry Fields Forever" and "Over the Rainbow") with Charlie Haden on bass. Like I said, fancy. B+(*) [advance: 2011-03-15]

Marika Hughes: Afterlife Music Radio: 11 New Pieces for Solo Cello (2010 [2011], DD): Cellist, debuts with two records, has a couple dozen side credits since 1997, including Tin Hat, Ani DiFranco, and various Tzadik projects. Solo cello. Eleven pieces written by other musicians, evidently just for this project. Names I recognize (mostly string players): Charlie Burnham, Nasheet Waits, Trevor Dunn, Jenny Scheinman, Carla Kihlstedt, Abraham Burton, Todd Sickafoose, Eyvind Kang. Well, you know the problem with solo anything, and this can run thin or ragged, but she loves the sound -- story goes that she switched from violin instantly first time she plucked the low C string. Tiny bit of vocal on the mysterious twelfth track. B+(**)

Marika Hughes: The Simplest Thing (2010 [2011], DD): Plays cello, wrote most of the songs (sometimes with band help), and sings them. Not jazz, although she draws on some jazz musicians, and vocal jazz isn't a very useful genre these days. CDBaby is even less helpful: they list genre as "Pop: Chamber Pop" and recommend "if you like: Eva Cassidy, Roberta Flack." I suppose there are people who like Cassidy and/or Flack, but that's shooting pretty low. On many superficial points, the obvious comparison would be to Grammy-winning bassist-singer Esperanza Spalding, but Hughes is a stronger writer, a much better arranger, has good taste in friends (cf. "Back Home," with Jenny Scheinman's violin and Charles Burnham's gravelly duet vocal), and has a lot more voice. B+(**)

Kathleen Kolman: Dream On (2010 [2011], Walkin' Foot Productions): Singer, from Montana, based in New England somewhere; second album, after one in 1999 called The Dreamer. Band mates come and go, although saxophonist Rick DiMuzio is gone after a promising opener. Title song is from Aerosmith; one original, three from Brazil (two Jobims, one Lins). She sings with poise and depth. B+(*) [advance]

Abdullah Ibrahim & Ekaya: Sotho Blue (2010 [2011], Sunnyside): South African pianist, b. 1934, cut his first record in 1963, titled Duke Ellington Presents the Dollar Brand Trio; throughout his long career his trick card has always been to slip in South African melodies, especially bits of township jive -- there are many fine examples of this, like the 1983 album Ekaya that he later took for his band name. Spent much of his career in exile, but since the Apartheid regime fell he's been a national hero. This new album lacks any trademark South African touches even though South Africa creeps into his song titles. But it's about as Ellingtonian as anythng he's done: with three saxes plus trombone, the horns lead, the piano connects multilayered movements, with searching patches and gorgeous sweeps. A-

Matija Dedic Trio: MD in NYC (2009 [2011], Origin): Pianist, b. 1973 in Zagreb, Croatia; studied in Austria, is based in Zagreb, but recorded this in New York, with Vicente Archer on bass and Kendrick Scott on drums. Second album, both trios. Rather quiet, inside stuff. Don't have much more to say. B

Terrell Stafford: This Side of Strayhorn (2010 [2011], MaxJazz): Nine Billy Strayhorn songs, a couple co-credited to Duke Ellington. Saxophonist Tim Warfield also plays (soprano listed ahead of tenor), but Stafford's trumpet and flugelhorn are nearly always up front, well oiled and brightly polished. Bruce Barth plays piano, Peter Washington bass, Dana Hall drums. Stafford's seventh album since 1995. First I've heard, although I must have bumped into him ten times on others' records. Could go higher on this. [B+(***)]

Joshua Redman/Aaron Parks/Matt Penman/Eric Harland: James Farm (2010 [2011], Nonesuch): Can't call this a supergroup -- only saxophonist Redman comes close, although drummer Harland's the sort of guy who gets into such groups. But it's not Redman's backup group either. Both Parks (piano) and Penman (bass) are on the rise, and each writes three songs here (same as Redman, leaving one for Harland). Parks has one previous album, a good one, on Blue Note (which had a good run of breaking piano stars, notably Jason Moran and Bill Charlap). Penman has two, on Fresh Sound New Talent, which I've missed (tough to get them these days; something I miss, perhaps a casualty of the weak dollar). Solid work all around, tuneful and beatwise. B+(***)

Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers: The Sesjun Radio Shows (1978-83 [2011], T2 Entertainment, 2CD): The second in a series of radio shots from Tros Sesjun in the Netherlands -- Chet Baker came out first, last year. Blakey was in the midst of a comeback in the late 1970s: his most famous lineup introduced Wynton and Branford Marsalis, but they're not in any of the three sets here. Instead, Bobby Watson and Donald Harrison play alto; David Schnitter, Billy Pierce, and Jean Toussaint tenor; Valery Ponomarev and Terence Blanchard trumpet. The May 1980 group bops hardest (Pierce, Watson, and Ponomarev, with James Williams on piano and Charles Fambrough on bass), their set split across the two discs. Blakey responds as usual, playing even harder. B+(**)

Muhal Richard Abrams: SoundDance (2009-10 [2011], Pi, 2CD): Chicago pianist, b. 1930, AACM founder and eminence grise, gets more respect in polls than I'd expect although arguably should get more. Looking back over my database, I find I'm all over the place with him -- admiring early albums like Things to Come From Those Now Gone (1972) and the recently reissued Afrisong (1975), being a bit overwhelmed by his big orchestras like The Hearinga Suite (1989), winding up pretty cautious on his recent works for Pi. I could hedge here on these two disc-long improv duos -- they're not compelling and I find myself phasing in and out -- but something tells me this is the time to show some respect. The Fred Anderson set is the easy one: he mellowed noticeably over his post-retirement decade-plus, and has rarely sounded sweeter than here -- I'm not the sort of person who gets all weepy over losing someone, but this could do the trick. The set with George Lewis is more demanding, more intellectual, as one would expect. But I do love his trombone, and the piano goes beyond abstraction to teasing him along. Bought a copy of Lewis's massive AACM history a while back, and hope to find time to read it some day. Maybe then this will come clear; until we'll just let the mystery be. A-

Inzinzac: Inzinzac (2010 [2011], High Two): Every now and then when I get to a record I find that I had mistyped it when I listed it in "unpacking" and stuffed it into the appropriate nooks and crannies of my filing system. Happened here, then I made yet another mistake trying to fix it, and floundered fruther until I got the hang of it -- was reminded of Ike Quebec trying to play Monk. Philadelphia trio: guitarist Alban Bailly writes the songs (took several tries to get his name typed right, too); Dan Scofield plays soprano and tenor sax (I know him from Sonic Liberation Front); Eli Litwin drums. Scofield's line on the group: "an improvising jazz trio playing rock music in odd time signatures." By "rock" he means loud and harsh, and fast; by "odd" he means odd. I get quite some charge from the thrash. Just not sure how long it will hold up. By the way, group name comes from a town in France (Inzinzac-Lochrist), where Bailly is from. [A-]

Farmers by Nature [Gerald Cleaver, William Parker, Craig Taborn]: Out of This World's Distortions (2010 [2011], AUM Fidelity): Yet another instance of a group's previous album, entered into by a set of individuals, has assumed group stature, as if the previous album was especially notable (which, by the way, this one wasn't). Still, the individual names ride the masthead, as they indeed still have marketing value. Group is reportedly "a fully-improvising unit, a complete musical collective." Cleaver plays drums, Parker bass, Taborn piano; Parker's done numerous piano trios -- with Matthew Shipp, of course, even more with Cecil Taylor. Taborn actually manages some Taylor moments here -- far more exciting than the slow start or the melodic end. B+(***)

Brad Mehldau: Live in Marciac (2006 [2011], 2CD+DVD): Trifold package, with a plastic tray in the middle for the DVD, the two CDs just slipped into the outer panels. Indeed, they plug this as DVD+2CD rather than the other way around, so I suppose I'm remiss in not watching the DVD, but I hardly ever bother with the things. Solo piano. My first thought was that he's aiming for his Köln Concert, and I doubt that he's ever rollicked more like Jarrett than on the first disc here. But whereas Jarrett worked one long improv, this is a program -- mostly originals on the first disc, all covers on the second (Nick Drake, Kurt Cobain, James Alan Shelton, Lennon/McCartney, Rodgers/Hammerstein, Bobby Timmons). Impressive, as usual. B+(**)

Thomas Marriott: Constraints & Liberations (2009 [2010], Origin): Trumpet player, from Seattle, b. 1975, fifth album since 2005 (with a sixth one out since then). Quintet with Hans Teuber on tenor sax, Gary Versace on piano, Jeff Johnson on bass, and John Bishop on drums. Six originals, plus one piece by Johnson. Postbop, probably his strongest record to date, both for the clarity of his trumpet and an impressive performance by Versace. B+(**)

Thomas Marriott: Human Spirit (2009 [2011], Origin): Plays trumpet/flugelhorn. Sixth album since 2005. A variation on the organ trio, with Gary Versace on the B-3 and Matt Jorgensen on drums. Marriott shares the front line with alto saxophonist Mark Taylor -- by far the most aggressive player in this group, where the organ seems an afterthought and the trumpet dressing. B

Steven Lugerner: These Are the Words/Narratives (2010 [2011], self-released, 2CD): Reed player -- alto and soprano sax, clarinet and bass clarinet, flute, oboe, English horn -- from California, based in New York. First album, actually two in symmetrical packaging joined at the spine. These Are the Words is an edgy near-all-star quartet with Darren Johnston on trumpet, Myra Melford on piano, and Matt Wilson on drums. Needless to say, the sharpest edge there is the pianist, who slices and dices a set of pieces with Hebraic titles. Narratives is something else, a septet with no one I'm familiar with (produced by flautist Jamie Baum, who doesn't play), with neatly layered horns over effortlessly flowing guitar and piano. Quite a lot to sort through, and I'm not sure I am there yet. [B+(***)]

Francis Coletta/Jonas Tauber: Port Saïd Street (2010 [2011], Origin): Coletta plays "Godin electroacoustic guitar"; b. 1957 in Marseilles, France, also the source of the title where it seems to have a Beale Street resonance; has at least three previous records, not counting countless collaborations. Tauber plays cello here, bass elsewhere; is from Switzerland, has a couple previous albums. Intimate, chamberish, flows gently, nothing fancy. 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.

John Zorn: Nova Express (2010 [2011], Tzadik): Ten Zorn compositions, played by a piano-bass-vibes-drums quartet: John Medeski, Trevor Dunn, Kenny Wollesen, Joey Baron. Takes a book title from William S. Burroughs -- song titles include "Dead Fingers Talk" and "The Ticket That Exploded." Nothing MJQ-ish. The vibes add an electric ring to the piano, but compete in the same space, and both can clash fiercely. Does tail off into a nice groove-laden thing at the end. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Banquet of the Spirits: Caym: The Book of Angels Volume 17 (2010 [2011], Tzadik): More John Zorn compositions, or maybe the same old ones cut up, tossed up, and redressed with a different bunch of musicians. Brazilian percussionist Cyro Baptista seems to be leader here -- everything is given remarkable rhythmic twists, something that drummer Tim Keiper helps with. The others flesh out those twists: Brian Marsella (piano, harpsichord, pump organ) and Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz (oud, bass, gimbri). All four add vocals. Not necessarily a good idea, but infectious here. 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:

  • Nels Cline/Tim Berne/Jim Black: The Veil (Cryptogramophone)
  • Coyote Poets of the Universe: Pandora's Box (Square Shaped)
  • Ellery Eskelin Trio: New York (Prime Source)
  • Melvin Jones: Pivot (Turnaround)
  • Nguyen Lê: Songs of Freedom (ACT)
  • Jessie Marquez: All I See Is Sky (Carena): May 31
  • Joshua Redman/Aaron Parks/Matt Penman/Eric Harland: James Farm (Nonesuch)
  • Jim Snidero: Interface (Savant)
  • Jeremy Udden's Plainville: If the Past Seems So Bright (Sunnyside): May 31
  • Colin Vallon Trio: Rruga (ECM)


Expert Comments

Robert Christgau, on the late Osama bin Laden:

Personally, I am very glad Osama is dead -- that is, happy, positive -- and think the world is a better place for his having left it and the U.S. having dispatched him.

Most commenters agreed, more or less.

Space Coast:

All I meant to imply was that I, personally, don't see fit to react to the news as if we'd won the Ryder Cup or an Olympic gold medal in ice hockey. Should others want to display their satisfaction and patriotism by gloating, dancing, cursing or rejoicing in whatever law-abiding manner they so desire, I shall not take offense as we are all entitled to our own emotions. Without being too dispassionate, I am thankful that the bastard can do no further harm and fervently hope his followers have no retaliatory strike in the works. Notwithstanding all the honorable feelings of "justice" and "morality" expressed so eloquently here, I'm just as happy we won't be spending millions on his upkeep and a show trial.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:


  • Steve Benen: So Much for Mr. Serious: Gov. Mitch Daniels (R-IN), sometime GOP presidential candidate, in the news now for signing a bill to "defund" Planned Parenthood in the state of Indiana: basically, to deny PP any Medicaid payments for any services (not just abortion, which is already banned but only 3% of PP's services). Like many such "issues" this seems to have started as a crackpot think tank idea and morphed into a test of political wills, completely blind to the actual issues. It used to be that conservatives were big on personal responsibility, and few personal decisions weighed more than whether and when to bear children. Planned Parenthood not only embodied that sense, it gave women the tools to make responsible decisions. Whatever it is that Republicans believe in -- and I could run this same riff on the right to privacy from an oveweening government, or I could do the same thing on welfare costs and/or crime -- has been lost in their crass efforts to seek political gain by hyping up abortion issues. We got a glimpse of how far conservatives had sunk at the 2008 GOP convention, where Sarah Palin was celebrated for her unwed teenage daughter's pregnancy -- a real role model for America.

  • Kevin Drum: Rich Man, Poor Man: Chart here plots out perception of income decile vs. actual ranking. It's not surprising that those with under-average incomes think they fare better than they do, not that those with over-average incomes think they are more average. More surprising that those on both ends think they're so close to the middle. One thing this reminds me of is that if you have any experience in working for non-union companies you'll recall how secretive management is about who gets paid what. They may explain something about limiting petty jealousies, and there is something to that, but they really depend on widespread ignorance. On the other hand, labor unions usually seek more transparency. When everyone knows what everyone else makes, our instincts tend to make that distribution more fair, and more just.

  • Paul Krugman: Bernanke at Bat:

    I have to say, even I thought that we wouldn't make the same mistakes we made in 1931; I thought we'd make different mistakes. But somehow conventional wisdom has gelled into the view that the course of wisdom is to forget everything we've learned over the past 80 years.

  • Andrew Leonard: Boeing Flies Into South Carolina Labor Turbulence: Looks like Boeing's bragging over how they're screwing their workers by moving jobs to non-union states is liable to cause them some discomfort. Boeing's obsession with squeezing out labor costs and with demolishing labor morale has never made any practical sense. Boeing grew to become the world's largest airframe manufacturer when they had most of their workforce in pro-labor Washington state, plus a significant slice in Wichita (in anti-labor Kansas, but a fully unionized plant, until the last two decades treated the same). As Boeing has moved more and more jobs around, trading for political favors, their quality and morale have plumeted, and their ability to coordinate complex projects like the 787 Dreamliner has gone to pot. Leonard didn't mention this, but the recent Southwest Airlines disaster where fuselage panels on 737s have ripped off in flight has been tracked down to quality problems with their Wichita plant, where Boeing first tried to break the union then spun the plant off in a private equity deal. Boeing's only real competition is Airbus, which pays more for labor than Boeing does, and in any case the weakening of the dollar has given Boeing far more pricing advantage than they could ever squeeze out of their workers. They do this stuff because they're stuck in an ideological cellar where their brains have rotted so bad they'd rather shoot themselves in the foot than give their workers a break.

  • Andrew Leonard: How Swipe Fee Politics Have Crippled Washington: Intro to a long piece by Zach Carter and Ryan Grim: Swiped: Banks, Merchants and Why Washington Doesn't Work for You. This is an epic battle between two business interest groups, so unlike most disputes between a business interest and the public this is one that could go either way. Still, it provides a good example of how a Congress dedicated to the pursuit of lobbyist money turns out to be good for nothing else. That's a lot of what's wrong with US politics these days.

    For what it's worth, I favor the retailers here: swipe fees are way too high, almost pure profit for the banks, and the legality of their contracts that require retailers to charge the same for cash or credit (which, by the way, keeps the retailers from marking up the swipe fees even more) suggests to me that the fees should be regulated close to their transaction costs. Still, if the retailers win I don't expect to get a dime back out of the deal: we'd just be shifting pure profit from the banks to the retailers (which is, of course, why they're all fighting this issue so hard. Here's a typical quote:

    Credit and debit swipe fees cost Sheetz $5 million a month, second only to labor costs among the company's top executives, he says. "I am a die-hard capitalist pig," Sheetz tells HuffPost. "That's why Visa and MasterCard piss me off. . . . . They treat us like shit. The arrogance is unbelievable."

    Actually, the arrogance is universal, but you get the idea.

  • Matthew Yglesias: The People Behind the Interest Group: Rep. Dan Boren (D-OK) takes a populist job-saving stand in favor of oil and gas subsidies, proving that even Democrats are useful (to the CEOs) for something:

    This is something that I think a lot of intra-left discourse tends to miss about why policy reform is so difficult. Any time you want to disrupt a coalition of entrenched incumbent rent-seekers, be they in the oil industry or the health care industry or the financial services industry or what have you, you're going up against a strong team. And it's not strong simply because the CEOs have access (though they do) or because the firms can give money (though they can) it's strong because big companies have employees. And those employees have spouses and kids and siblings and they pay taxes that support local government and shop at nearby stores. And this entire trail of dependents fears change, and deems itself entitled to whatever economic privileges the industry in question currently receives.

    That doesn't make change impossible, but it does make it hard, and it all but ensures that on any major issue you like there'll be hometown legislators standing in your way.


Book Thinking

I wrote the following fragment at least six months ago, and have been carrying it forward expecting to turn it into something postable. Well, I'm giving up on that. Book thinking has actually moved on to yet another idea, which I should write up before long. Meanwhile, this is dead weight, but not without interest.

For several years now I've been toying with the idea of writing one big book on everything, something I've kicked around since the late 1990s -- back then tentatively titled Life After Capitalism -- but as the Bush wreckage piled up I came to see the fat middle part of the book as a critique of the conservative (or neo-fascist) right. This was to be preceded by a schematic introductory section where I would lay out how real world problems have developed and how to think about them -- my working title there comes from Andrew Leonard's blog, "How the World Works." The end piece of the book would in turn start to plot out novel approaches to dealing with real problems -- that would be "The Way Things Ought to Be," a title previously wasted by Rush Limbaugh. Both the first and last parts could well turn into big book projects of their own, so my emphasis there has always been to make them schematic and suggestive for now, then pursue them later. However, it now occurs to me that maybe the middle section should be spun off and self-contained.

One title that occurs to me is The Death March of the Conservative Dream. Maybe we can even work a little Hobbes into it, which might be more striking up front rather than in the subtitle: Nasty, Brutish, and Short: The Death March of the Conservative Dream. I've always conceived this as one section on theory -- how conservatives spin such seductive arguments -- and one on practice -- how much social (and for that matter economic) damage they do when they're given the chance. Hobbes, of course, was merely, contentedly describing his contemporary world, taking it as eternally given (as conservatives are wont to do), their assurances that it is unchangeable nervously laced with threats of violence if anyone dare tries. If we've learned little else since then, we should at least have realized that "nasty, brutish, and short" were historical contingencies that have been overcome by various means, none conservative. In fact, it's unlikely that most conservatives could imagine such a world, even though their principles took shape in such conditions, and even though their policies aim at restoring just such a world.

Probably best to split these book ideas up, although doing so is bound to lead to problems focusing and ordering. I've always wanted to start the book off with some autobiographical background, but I recently separated that out into its own project space where I can beat to death a subject of little interest to anyone else. I can't make any claims that my own history is of any general interest, but it's what I know best, and it touches on everything else. (It is, for instance, a space where I can write about book ideas without getting bogged down in having to write the actual books.)

Another book idea that caught my fancy lately is The Last War, where the main point is that war has lost so much of its past attraction that it is becoming more and more obsolescent. This may mean that the US War on Terrorism is literally the last war, although this also plays on the tendency to refight last wars, and indeed to seek justification for new wars in old wars. The latter occurs largely because it is well nigh impossible to find current or future benefits in waging war. Many nations have simply given up on war as a sensible interest, including such formerly martial nations as Germany and Japan. The US signalled a change in renaming its War Department the Department of Defense. Even though the US has fought many wars, none in defense against real threats, many quite nakedly aggressive, the Orwellian double-speak persists [ . . . ]

My latest idea is to structure something around the motto Share the Wealth. This was last popularized by Huey Long in 1935, who organized hundreds of Share Our Wealth clubs on the way toward running for president in 1936. Long himself is probably excess baggage here -- I read T. Harry Williams' sympathetic biography when it came out in 1969, and I never read Robert Penn Warren's scathing novel based on Long, All the King's Men or saw the subsequent movies, so I may be more pleased with Long than I should be. (In The Big Rich: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Texas Oil Fortunes, Bryan Burroughs explains that some Texas ultraconservatives like John Henry Kirby backed Long as a way to get rid of Roosevelt.) Also, I'm not as focused on income redistribution or the establishment of what the right likes to call entitlements as Long's program proposed -- not that those aren't ideas to take seriously and write about. I'm more into cooperative efforts to create as well as to share wealth. But one thing I do like about the Share the Wealth movement was that it was organized, so it provides a basis for community involvement and action. Also seems like the right counterpoint to the Tea Party -- ultimately a mob of individuals whining to be left to survive by their own wits.


Apr 2011 Jun 2011