June 2011 Notebook


Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 18377 [18360] rated (+17), 820 [826] unrated (-6). Sick most of last week, starting with a trip to the ER Wednesday morning with chest pains. Don't feel so great even this morning. Needless to say, didn't close out Jazz CG this past week. Now that's this week's job.

  • Leo Smith: Human Rights (1982-85 [2009], Kabell): From the avant trumpeter's pre-Wadada rastafari days, scattered pieces with Smith's vocals and horn over guitar, synth and/or mbira, backed with a world music oddity mixing koto with Peter Kowald and Günter Sommer; parts of this could break pop, but no point getting too comfortable. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

No Jazz Prospecting

Was hoping to close out this Jazz Consumer Guide round but had a rough week and got next to nothing done. Finally felt a bit better yesterday, I dusted off a couple of blog posts, but I work up feeling crummy, failed to write a short review of Abdullah Ibrahim's lovely Sotho Blue after three spins, and spent the rest of the day hacking on the metacritic file and listening to unimportant, unrelated, and unhelpful records on Rhapsody. Well, also flushed the spiders off the porch and washed the car, so I guess the day hasn't been a complete waste.

Still, I do expect to have something more substantial to report next week.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Expert Comments

My two cents on the Wire bootlegs:

For whatever it's worth, I managed to play the four Wire Legal Bootlegs on Rhapsody this week, under less than ideal circumstances, and found I liked the 1978 Bradford a bit more than the 2002 Chicago, probably because I recognized so much of it vs. nothing on the latter -- I have a copy of Send somewhere but never got into it and haven't played it since. The 2000 Edinburgh and 1988 London trailed off quite a bit.

The Lewis is the second out-of-print Rhino album to get the EW treatment. Reminds one how great the independent label was, and how it's turned into a mediocre corporate shill since WEA bought it up.

Probably a lot of great live Lewis floating around. When I did all of the Live From Austin TX discs for Recycled Goods, the Lewis (1983) was my top pick. The other ones I recommended were Merle Haggard (1985), Steve Earle (1986), Doug Sahm (1975), and Sir Douglas Quintet (1981). (Haggard and Earle have two discs each, so you should check dates.)

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week, but first: quote of the week, from Paul Krugman:

I really do worry about the state of reading comprehension. Or maybe it's just that extremists can't grasp the notion of non-extreme positions held by other people.

And again, on the repeatedly wrong predictions that raising tax rates would tank the economy, and that cutting tax rates would dramatically expand the economy:

The point is that these people have been wrong about everything -- and yet tax-cut magic is the official religion of the GOP.

  • Brian McFadden: The State of Unemployment: Comic strip at the New York Times this week. Follow link for slide show of all eight panels: the two above/right are not only the most telling, they stand alone nicely. The last one should make Obama and what's left of his fan club squirm: campaigning for office he promised to change the way we think about war, but thus far all he's given us is more of the same old same old. Even so, the mere suggestion that his kneejerk reaction to problems these days is to bomb them is damning, although he's certainly put more effort into bombing than he has into protecting workers during this massive recession. He doesn't even see unemployment as a problem or hardship on workers. The only solution he can imagine is jobs, and since he's thrown in the towel on public spending even for badly needed infrastructure and social services, all he can do is kiss the feet of the private sector, where companies like Boeing have commodified jobs into something they can auction off to governments for tax breaks and bribes -- as they liquidate jobs elsewhere to sell again as soon as possible.

  • Steve Benen: Taking a Hatched to Presidential Power: With the congressional gridlock, it's become impossible for Obama to appoint competent people to government positions:

    What I find remarkable about all of this is comparing the seriousness of the times and the severity of the GOP's restrictions. In effect, President Obama is being told, "You have to fix the economy, win several wars, fix the housing crisis, respond to disasters, improve American energy policy, and keep the country safe, all while being fiscally responsible. But you can't have a full team in place; you can't enjoy the same powers your predecessors did; you can't use the same tools your predecessors used; and you can't expect the Senate to function by majority rule the way it used to. Good luck."

    This is no way to run an advanced democracy in the 21st century.

  • Andrew Leonard: How It Went So Wrong in America: Sub: "In the U.S., [unemployment] rose much quicker and higher than in most European nations -- and it was self-inflicted."

    Finally, some data from the International Monetary Fund that proves, once and for all, that red-white-and-blue-bleeding patriotic conservatives are right: America truly is an exceptional nation. From 2007-2009, the percentage increase in U.S. unemployment was more than double that of most other advanced industrial nations. In a global recession, the abysmal performance of U.S. labor markets reigned supreme. [ . . . ]

    But there's a deeper, more troubling factor to consider, one that gets at the heart of political and economic differences between the U.S. and Europe. The rap against Europe, from a free market point of view, has always been its "inflexible" labor markets. Strong unions and strict government rules make it relatively difficult for European employers to cut their payrolls. In the United States exactly the opposite is true -- by the 21st century, American unions had been reduced to a shadow of their former strength, and employers faced dramatically fewer limitations on their hiring and firing policies.

    The reaction of American employers to the onset of the credit crisis makes this abundantly clear. From September 2008 to April 2009, the U.S. economy lost more than 4 million jobs -- an average of 500,000 a month. The demand shock delivered to the U.S. economy by so many layoffs, so quickly, was nothing short of staggering. A meteor hit the U.S. economy, and we've been living in the crater ever since. [ . . . ]

    But in Europe, where laws, social mores, and strong unions prevented any such flexible reaction, the shock ended up substantially gentler. In Germany, restrictions on firings in combination with other labor market reforms resulted in a dramatically different outcome: Germany's unemployment rate actually fell while the U.S.'s was doubling.

    For more on why Germany is different, see Thomas Geoghegan's book, Were You Born on the Wrong Continent?

  • Andrew Leonard: Our Nickel-and-Dime Slide to Libertarian Hell: Starts with airline fee scams. (Not something that bothers me much personally: I've found air travel so annoying that I've only flown once since 2001, and have no desire to do so again.) But he could have started with bank fees, or any number of other things.

    Then again, why should residents of a school district who don't have young children pay taxes that fund the local elementary school? Liberals might well wonder why they subsidize tax breaks for oil companies, war in Afghanistan, and financial aid to students studying creationism at Liberty University. But they are matched by conservatives don't want to pay for health care, or NPR, or reproductive family planning.

    Believe me, I can see the attraction of filling out a tax form that designates my hard-earned dollars fund only those products that I want to buy! Healthcare for the indigent: Check! But do we even get to call ourselves a "society" in that kind of future? Or just the United States of Customers of America?

    I know this might seem like a stretch. But when I contemplate paying a fee to use the airline kiosk followed by another fee to go through the security fast lane followed by another fee to board my plane one minute before everyone else followed by another fee for two inches more of leg room followed by another fee for a movie tailored to my particular demographic, and then I extrapolate this way of being to every other possible interaction I might have with the real world, inside and outside of airports, I don't feel much like a human being participating in a civilized society.

    I feel, instead, like a cog in a great machine, defining myself and everyone else solely in terms of how much cash I'm willing to pay for anything and everything.

    The only reason this isn't worse is that each and every fee adds a cost and inefficiency to the product. In mass manufacturing and retail you often still get stuff you don't need -- an extra cable, say, or a manual in Spanish and maybe Japanese -- because some people need them and it's not cost-effective for the manufacturer to build and for the retailer to stock differentiated packages. (Maybe the businesses are even worried a bit about confusing customers.)

    So there are specific conditions where sellers prefer to bundle or to unbundle. (To some extent that also happens with taxes, especially in the form of fees for specific services, like driving on a turnpike, or visiting a national park.) But the point to take away here is that anytime a seller wants to profit from unbundled pricing, you will hear these same arguments.

  • Andrew Leonard: Eric Cantor's Debt Ceiling Hissy Fit: Subhed: "The House majority leader picks up his marbles and repeats his mantra: No tax hikes, or we shoot the hostage."

    Isn't this where we started? Hasn't Republican intransigence on revenue increases been assumed from the beginning? Hasn't the Democratic side, led by Vice President Joe Biden, consistently held firm on the totally understandable position that a deal requires concessions by both sides?

    My takeaway from today's news is that Democrats are sticking to their position -- let's make a deal -- while Republicans are remaining firm on theirs: give us everything we want or we kill the hostage.

    If Democrats maintain their resolve, the Republican position is not sustainable. This hostage can't be killed. Wall Street and the business community are a lot less worried about revenue increases than they are about the consequences of a debt default. The closer the deadline for a deal comes, the more nervous they are going to get. Eric Cantor can throw all the hissy fits he wants, but he's not going to change that calculus.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Book Alert

Sorry for backdating, but I had this almost ready to run on Tuesday, but got distracted that day, then wound up spending most of Wednesday in the hospital emergency room undergoing cardiac tests. Seems to have been a false alarm, but a painful one. However, since I had already moved these book notes to the notebook, it makes more sense to post them on the blog on the planned date than to shove them around.

I run these whenever I get enough collected, where enough is 40 new books. All the past ones are collected in one huge file here -- the one file is handy for me lest I write up redundant notes.

Sami Al Jundi/Jen Marlowe: The Hour of Sunlight: One Palestinian's Journey from Prisoner to Peacemaker (paperback, 2011, Nation Books): Marlowe is a documentary filmmaker who has previously done work, including a book spinoff, on Darfur. Al Jundi is a Palestinian who spent 10 years in Israeli prison after a bomb he was working on misfired. Book documents his education in prison, his turn away from violence toward peaceable protest. Takes more than one to make peace, though.

Daniel Altman: Outrageous Fortunes: The Twelve Surprising Trends That Will Reshape the Global Economy (2011, Henry Holt): I wouldn't bother mentioning this futuristic speculation except that Altman previously wrote Neoconomy: George Bush's Revolutionary Gamble With America's Future (2004), which proved to be pretty scarry.

HW Brands: American Colossus: The Triumph of Capitalism 1865-1900 (2010, Doubleday): Historian, writes a lot of big books about politics and business -- I've read two recently, his biography of FDR (Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delany Roosevelt) and his postwar survey (American Dreams: The United States Since 1945) and find him to be a fair high-level chronicler. I expect this to be fair and comprehensive as well, but not to have quite as much edge as Jack Beatty: Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900, which covers the same years and doesn't scrimp on the downside.

Lawrence D Brown/Lawrence R Jacobs: The Private Abuse of the Public Interest: Market Myths and Policy Muddles (paperback, 2008, University of Chicago Press): Short book questioning conservative efforts to expand markets, showing that policy makers need "to recognize that properly functioning markets presuppose the government's ability to create, sustain, and repair them over time."

Bill Bryson, ed: Seeing Further: The Story of Science, Discovery, and the Genius of the Royal Society (2010, William Morrow): A collection of new essays retelling the 350 year history of the Royal Society of London, from its founding in 1660 by some chap named Isaac Newton.

Jennet Conant: A Covert Affair: Julia Child and Paul Child in the OSS (2011, Simon & Schuster): Fourth in a series of WWII-era studies into security-issue people, starting with J. Robert Oppenheimer. The Childs became famous much later for reasons having little to do with the OSS, and they actually seem to be minor here -- most of the book delves into Jane Foster, but that would make for a less intriguing book title.

David T Courtwright: No Right Turn: Conservative Politics in a Liberal America (2010, Harvard University Press): Argues that there has been no conservative triumph with Reagan and Bush, that they (like Nixon) repeatedly compromised conservative values to get ahead. I'm not sure that labelling the mess they did leave as liberal does us much good. They certainly did something.

Gerald F Davis: Managed by the Markets: How Finance Re-Shaped America (2009, Oxford University Press): Contrasts periods of financial and managerial capitalism, where the latter builds things and the former steals you blind. One reviewer wrote: "as compact and clear a description of how we screwed up a fine economy as you will find."

Kenneth S Deffeyes: When Oil Peaked (2010, Hill & Wang): Geologist, first came to my attention searching for gold in John McPhee's Basin and Range, but has since become more notable as the serious geologist behind the peak oil controversy. Wrote Hubbert's Peak: The Impending World Oil Shortage in 2001, followed that up with Beyond Oil: The View From Hubbert's Peak in 2005. With the economic churn of the last decade, it hasn't been clear just when oil production peaked, or whether it might peak again in the future, but Deffeyes argues for 2005. Book does seem kind of thin.

Darren Dochuk: From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (2010, WW Norton): Looks like Billy Graham on the cover; focus seems to be on Southern California, which swept up a lot of Bible Belt refugees. Seems like a substantial history, as much of the right as of the evangelicals (won Allan Nevins prize).

Geoffrey Dunn: The Lies of Sarah Palin: The Untold Story Behind Her Relentless Quest for Power (2011, St Martin's Press): Gambling on her relevance and trying to get out early, at least ahead of nosy neighbor Joe McGinniss's The Rogue: Searching for the Real Sarah Palin. Lies? Is she really coherent enough for that? Some less ambitious books might do just as well: Malia Litman: The Ignorance Virtues of Sarah Palin: A Humorous Refudiation of the Half-Term Ex-Governor; Leland Gregory: You Betcha! The Witless Wisdom of Sarah Palin; Jacob Weisberg: Palinisms: The Accidental Wit and Wisdom of Sarah Palin; and of course there are gripping memoirs, like Frank Bailey: Blind Allegiance to Sarah Palin: A Temoir of Our Tumultuous Years, not to mention Levi Johnston: Deer in the Headlights: My Life in Sarah Palin's Crosshairs.

Geoff Dyer: Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews (paperback, 2011, Graywolf): A protege of John Berger's, as incisive a critic as I've ever read, and author of an idiosyncratic jazz book (But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz) I got quite a bit out of, with 432 pp of previously published essays. Sounds like a good idea, but I also bought his previous essay collection, Yoga for People Who Can't Be Bothered to Do It and never got past the first one.

Orlando Figes: The Crimean War: A History (2011, Metropolitan Books): A big history of a small war, remarkable for its indication of how the technology of war had developed during the 19th century when European armies rarely fought each other. One might have drawn the conclusion that World War would be a bad idea, but Europe's empires were in full swagger, unable to learn anything.

John Bellamy Foster/Bret Clark/Richard York: The Ecological Rift: Capitalism's War on the Environment (paperback, 2010, Monthly Review Press): Pretty hefty book (544 pp) just to blame it all on capitalism, but Foster's been working this line of inquiry for quite some time.

Chris Hedges: The World as It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress (2011, Nation Books): Short, unhappy pieces -- someone describes them as sermons, and the former divinity student cops to the charge -- written 2006-10 and published on TruthDig.com. "It's Not Going to Be OK," "The Truth Alone Will Not Set You Free," "Liberals Are Useless," "A Culture of Atrocity," "War Is Sin," "War Is a Hate Crime," "No One Cares" -- sample chapters. One I read was less lofty: about a guy charged with stealing $9, held in jail two years before trial, acquitted of all charges, left with $12,000 in debts and no job or prospects.

Steven Hill: Europe's Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age (paperback, 2010, University of California Press): The Soviet sphere has been taken as proof positive that one form of socialism -- centralized state-commanded economies -- was dysfunctional, why do we still deny the widespread success of capitalist social democracies in north and western Europe? They've managed to solve many of our worst problems in a manner that is both humane and efficient, and when we consider future crises they look to be positioned in much more sustainable ways. Several people have written this basic book, but it's been slow to sink in.

Adam Hochschild: To End All Wars: A Story of Loyalty and Rebellion, 1914-1918 (2011, Houghton Mifflin): The so-called Great War, with its mechanized slaughter, utopian rhetoric, and brutal assault on free thought. Focuses on the dispute between those who opposed the war and those who furthered it, especially in Britain, where the former were mostly jailed.

Nathan Hodge: Armed Humanitarians: The Rise of the Nation Builders (2011, Bloomsbury): Journalist on the war beat, seems to have backed into the notion of "nation building" as it has slipped into the Pentagon's counterinsurgency dogma -- as a tactic to prolong stalemated wars; whereas we're more used to "humanitarian intervention" as a political excuse to enter new wars. So I figure this could be more critical, but the military's adoption of the conceit could prove more damaging than ever.

Susan Jacoby: Never Say Die: The Myth and Marketing of the New Old Age (2011, Pantheon): A less than rosy look at old age these days, and the issues it raises. Tough issues to get clear headed on; not even sure it's worth the effort.

Lawrence M Krauss: Quantum Man: Richard Feynman's Life in Science (2011, WW Norton): Another bio of the famous physicist, always an entertaining and enlightening subject, fits into the publisher's "Great Discoveries" series, by the author of such semi-unserious books as The Physics of Star Trek.

Greta R Krippner: Capitalizing on Crisis: The Political Origins of the Rise of Finance (2011, Harvard University Press): Argues that the growth of finance since the 1970s was encouraged by politicians trying to solve other problems (e.g., compensating for trade imbalances by encouraging capital inflows), and that one things led to another as opposed to the government being captured by the bankers or anyone having a bright idea.

James Livingston: The World Turned Inside Out: American Thought and Culture at the End of the 20th Century (2009, Rowman & Littlefield): Interesting, far-ranging survey; talks a lot about the conservative thrust, but finds the nation more liberal now than ever before, clinging to a form of socialism few actually admit to. If this sounds confused, well there is that.

Harold McGee: Keys to Good Cooking: A Guide to the Best of Foods and Recipes (2010, Penguin): Author of On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen, the first book to make a thorough survey of the science of cooking -- a book I'd say everyone should own. (I read the original when it came out in 1984 and own the revised edition from 2004.) No recipes. Just a lot of condensed expertise, basic rules of thumb.

John J Mearsheimer: Why Leaders Lie: The Truth About Lying in International Politics (2011, Oxford University Press): Short book (160 pp), only so far you can push the analysis when you're a realist; i.e., someone who believes that lying is OK when you get away with it, not so good when you don't.

Branko Milanovic: The Haves and the Have-Nots: A Brief and Idiosyncratic History of Global Inequality (2010, Basic Books): Within nations, between nations, around the world, up and down through history, even ventures into fiction.

Walter Mosley: Twelve Steps Toward Political Revelation (paperback, 2011, Nation Books): Novelist, mostly mysteries, briefly sketches out some thoughts on politics drawing on 12-step programs.

John Nichols: The "S" Word: A Short History of an American Tradition . . . Socialism (paperback, 2011, Verso): Of course it's short, but not empty. Did you know Horace Greely used to publish a stringer from Europe named Karl Marx? Probably the same author of Dick: The Man Who Is President (2004, New Press).

Robert A Pape/James K Feldman: Cutting the Fuse: The Explosion of Global Suicide Terrorism & How to Stop It (2010, University of Chicago Press): Pape's Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (2005) is the now-standard book on suicide terrorism, so this extends the franchise, adding a defense policy/decision analyst in Feldman. Before he got into suicide, Paper wrote Bombing to Win: Air Power and Coercion in War (1996, just in time for Kosovo).

Michael Perelman: The Invisible Handcuffs [of Capitalism]: How Market Tyranny Stifles the Economy by Stunting Workers (paperback, 2011, Montly Review Press): The title words in brackets aren't evident on the cover scan, but the listed title includes them. Perelman has a long list of interesting left-ish takes on economic matters, including The Confiscation of American Prosperity: From Right Wing Extremism and Economic Ideology to the Next Great Depression, published in 2007 when said depression was iminent. The only system I've ever seen where workers weren't stifled and stunted is the rare case of employee ownership, probably because it's the only one where the interests of owners and workers are fully aligned.

Jack Rakove: Revolutionaries: A New History of the Invention of America (2010, Houghton Mifflin; paperback, 2011, Mariner Books): Covers 1773-92, from the Tea Party to the election of George Washington to his second term as president. Focuses on key figures, the obvious ones and a few more like George Mason and Henry and John Laurens. Won a Pulitzer Prize for his earlier Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution.

Daniel K Richter: Before the Revolution: America's Ancient Past (2011, Harvard University Press): Big, general book on pre-revolution North America, much like Alan Taylor's 2001 American Colonies: The Settling of North America (which I read recently), even down to its short chapters on "progenitors."

Daniel T Rodgers: Age of Fracture (2011, Harvard University Press): Intellectual history in America, tracking how the consensus beliefs of the 1950s fractured into so many shards, leaving an empty space where it is impossible to put coherent groups together again. Something I'm intrinsically suspicious of, which if his point is right is something of a point.

Donald Rumsfeld: Known and Unknown: A Memoir (2011, Sentinel): 832 pages of "snowflakes" -- mental dandruff slicked back with lots of Brylcreem. Slightly less disingenuous (but no briefer) is Bradley Graham: By His Own Rules: The Ambitions, Successes, and Ultimate Failures of Donald Rumsfeld (2009; paperback, 2010, Public Affairs). Finally available in paperback (to cash in on the excitement of the new memoir, no doubt): Andrew Cockburn: Rumsfeld: His Rise, Fall, and Catastrophic Legacy (2007; paperback, 2011, Scribner).

Dominic Sandbrook: Mad as Hell: The Crisis of the 1970s and the Rise of the Populist Right (2011, Knopf): One more in a string of recent books trying to blame Reagan and the 1980s on all sorts of messes in the 1970s ("America's humiliating defeat in Vietnam, an uptick in serious crime, economic malaise, rising fuel costs, environmental degradation, the Iranian hostage crisis, and an overall breakdown in respect for institutions, among others"). Most of that makes little sense, but it might be worth giving more consideration to Jimmy Carter's prefiguring of Reagan -- the outsider promise, the moralism, the lack of commitment to the party base, the ineffectual embrace of conservative motifs from deregulation to anti-Soviet demagoguery. Sandbrook, a British historian, also recently wrote the even larger (768 pp) State of Emergency: The Way We Were: Britain, 1970-1974 (2010, Allen Lane), and the previous Eugene McCarthy: And the Rise and Fall of Postwar American Liberalism (2004; paperback, 2005, Anchor).

Tom Segev: Simon Wiesenthal: The Life and Legends (2010, Doubleday): A biography of the famous Nazi hunter, which entails sorting out various "legends" -- remarkable stories, some true and some inventions.

David K Shipler: The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties (2011, Knopf): Big book on how waging war against crime and terrorism has eroded civil rights we used to take for granted.

Jason E Stearns: Dancing in the Glory of Monsters: The Collapse of the Congo and the Great War of Africa (2011, Public Affairs): Another book on the vast destruction in the Congo -- coverage had long been scarce, even compared to the better publicized Rwanda genocide that was something of a side show to the Congo, but we now have a handful of books like Gerard Prunier's Africa's World War.

Alan Taylor: The Civil War of 1812: American Citizens, British Subjects, Irish Rebels & Indian Allies (2010, Alfred A Knopf): A substantial history on what's sometimes considered America's weirdest war, declared over shipping conflicts but effectively a war to firm up America's borders, most significantly the one that doomed the Indians. Taylor has always been one historian you could count on not to count out the Indians, nor is it surprising that he would factor in recent Irish immigration.

Alex von Tunzelmann: Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder, and the Cold War in the Caribbean (2011, Henry Holt). Author's first book was Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Empire which focused a bit too narrowly on the Mountbattens in the partition of India. Here she jumps to the other side of the globe, picking up the CIA and its various targets -- not just Castro but Duvalier and Trujillo, neither Red but more trouble than they were worth.

Sarah Vowell: Unfamiliar Fishes (2011, Riverhead): A history of Hawaii, at least from the point American missionaries showed up to the American takeover in 1898, and then some -- seems to have a thing or two on favorite son Barack Obama. I reckon the missionary focus seems like a logical extension from her previous book, The Wordy Shipmates, on the New England puritans.

R Christopher Whalen: Inflated: How Money and Debt Built the American Dream (2010, Wiley): Even before the mortgage scams of the early 2000s, Americans lived on the expectation of inflation, which would among other things allow them to pay back debt cheaper; moreover, the government rarely paid today for what it could borrow and pay back later. Bankers take a dim view of this, and politicians can get all demagogic about it, but it's hard to see how else it all could work out -- the main alternatives to debt and inflation are redistribution and/or bankruptcy.

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

Anthony Bourdain: Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook (2010; paperback, 2011, Harper Collins): Scattered writings from the guy who wrote Kitchen Confidential and parlayed it into a TV career traveling around the world, eating, and not cooking. [link]

Tony Judt: Ill Fares the Land (2010; paperback, 2011, Penguin): A short tract arguing for the virtues of social democracy, at least when he's not preoccupied with slandering the New Left. [link]

Robert G Kaiser: So Damn Much Money: The Triumph of Lobbying and the Corrosion of American Government (2009, Knopf; paperback, 2010, Vintage): A book on the Washington DC lobbying business. Starts with Gerald Cassidy, as good an example as any, at least a relatively innocuous figure compared to Jack Abramoff, who also appears. I read this, wrote some notes and copied down some quotes, then got a letter from the publisher threatening dire consequences if I didn't take it down. Only time that's ever happened, so someone's touchy.

Robert Perkinson: Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire (2010; paperback, 2010, Picador): A history of the US prison system, the world's largest since the Soviet Gulag was shut down, focusing on the South and Texas in particular, where prison labor was seen as the next best thing to slavery. [link]

Geoffrey Wawro: Quicksand: America's Pursuit of Power in the Middle East (2010; paperback, 2011, Penguin Books): Sprawling book on US involvement in the Middle East, especially with Saudi Arabia and Israel. Finds lots of problems, deals with them reasonably enough, although I found he missed some details along the way. [link]

Monday, June 20, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 18360 [18325] rated (+35), 826 [837] unrated (-11). Usual week these days: cut through a lot of shit, come up with yet more. At least had the presence of mind to close this week out early, Sunday evening, not even midnight.

Jazz Prospecting (JCG #27, Part 10)

I've been dragging my feet on this, but looks like time to wrap up this round. Haven't started yet, but I'm close enough it's conceivable I could finish this coming week. Draft currently has 1916 words, with 12 reviewed A- (or better) records, 54 annotated honorable mentions, no duds to speak of. Graded but unreviewed records include 16 A or A-, 47 B+(***). Jazz Prospecting currently sits at 209 records plus 84 carryovers -- was 227 last time, and ranged from 207 to 293 since I've been keeping track (average 240, but median would be 228, which is in reach if not a slam dunk). Pending records is down to 205, including a few things I have tentative grades for. My top priority queue there is down to about a dozen records. I'll probably listen to the majority of them next week, plus a few others, but will concentrate on items I've already graded but need reviews for. Will be nice to play very good records for a week.

Actually, this past week was an exceptionally good one too.

Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! (2011, Hot Cup): Guitarist, originally from Chicago, now in Brooklyn. Looks like Big Five Chord was a self-released 2003 album, ancient history but for its group name reverberations. Second album with Moppa Elliott's Hot Cup crew: Jon Irabagon and Bryan Murray on saxes, Elliott on bass, Matt Kanelos on keybs, and Danny Fischer on drums. Guitar is tantallizingly jagged throughout but doesn't really explode until the closer, a ditty called "Faith-Based Initiative," after which the saxes follow suit. B+(***)

Premier Roeles: Ka Da Ver (2009 [2011], Vindu Music): Sure muddled this when I listed it for unpacking, but the cover was far from clear and I didn't recognize Dutch bassist Harmjan Roeles. The other credits, which are even more illegible on the card insert: Gerard van der Kamp (alto sax, soprano sax), Nico Hixijbregts (piano), and Fred van Duijnhoven (drums). Free jazz, nearly as muddled as the typography and as unorthodox as the packaging, but there's something to it -- like the early 1970s discs that John Corbett uncovered as "lost masterpieces" for Atavistic's Unheard Music Series. B+(***)

Pablo Held: Glow (2010 [2011], Pirouet): Pianist, b. 1986 in Germany; third album since 2008, after two piano trios. This one adds trumpet, two saxes, harp, celesta/harmonium, cello, and extra bass, but doesn't sound like a large band, a nonet or even a septet. The extra instruments color and shade, sometimes to interesting effect but more often they just dissolve into the ether. Can't even complain it sounds cluttered. B

Lars Dietrich: Stand Alone (2010 [2011], self-released): Dutch alto saxophonist, based in New York, not to be confused with Bürger Lars Dietrich, a German "comedy rapper and entertainer," author of albums like Dicke Dinger. Second album. No credits given; title suggests Dietrich plays everything, which mostly sounds to me like keyboards and synth drums. Don't know about his previous album, but I'd file this one under electronica: the beats are a little less mechanical than the norm, but even when the rhythm gets slippery it's just transformed into another species of plastic. B

Bastian Weinhold: River Styx (2010 [2011], self-released): Drummer, b. 1986 in Germany; studied at Conservatory of Amsterdam, New School, and Manhattan School of Music; based in New York. First album, quintet with tenor sax (Adam Larson), piano (Pascal Le Boeuf), guitar (Nils Weinhold), bass (Linda Oh), and drums. Very postbop, lots of time shifts and slippery harmony, all quite fancy. B+(*)

Operation ID: Legs (2011, Table & Chairs): Seattle group, or as they put it, "Seattle's (the world's?) only minimalistic, avant-garde, electro-pop, noise-cluster, synth-rock, free-jazz, experimental, dance-prog band": Ivan Arteaga (sax), Jared borkowski (guitar), Rob Hanlon (synthesizers), David Balatero (bass), Evan Woodle (drums). Hard to keep all those genre-fucks coexisting, so they tend to rotate from one to the other. Would be eclectic if they could space them out a bit and make at least some seem unexpected. B

Dave Juarez: Round Red Light (2010 [2011], Posi-Tone): Guitarist, from Barcelona, Spain; cut this in Brooklyn, but current base is Amsterdam. First album, with Seamus Blake (tenor sax), John Escreet (piano), Lauren Falls (bass), and Bastian Weinhold (drums). Juarez wrote all of the songs, and plays a key role but Blake does his best to blow him away, in a remarkable performance I can't quite get into. B+(*)

Chantale Gagné: Wisdom of the Water (2010 [2011], self-released): Pianist, from Quebec, studied in Montreal, and later with Kenny Barron. Second album, the first a trio with Peter Washington and Lewis Nash. This adds Joe Locke on vibes. One cover ("My Wild Irish Rose"), the rest Gagné originals (one co-credited with Locke). B+(**)

Omer Avital: Free Forever (2007 [2011], Smalls): Bassist, from Israel, has been in New York at least since 1994, with nine albums since 2001. Quintet, with Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Joel Frahm (tenor and soprano sax), Jason Lindner (piano), and Ferenc Nemeth (drums). Group pieces have a sophisticated swing and a bit of Latin tinge. Three "interludes" spotlight the trumpet, piano, and bass. Never thought of Frahm as a soprano player before -- maybe he's just never had such rich, expressive material to play. B+(***)

Neil Welch: Boxwork (2009 [2011], Table & Chairs): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1985, from Seattle, studied at University of Washington, has a couple of albums. This one is solo, something that often has the air of practice exercises. He takes this slow and soft, with gentle sonic modulation, more atmospheric than anything else. Still, the low pitch keeps you from getting too comfortable. B+(**)

Maïkotron Unit: Ex-Voto (2011, Jazz From Rant): Quebec-based trio: Pierre Côté (bass, cello), Michel Côté (bass clarinet, saxophones), and Michel Lambert (drums), where the latter two also play something called a maïkotron. Invented by Michel Côté in 1983, the only description I've found: "a woodwind instrument, played with a reed and a tenor saxophone mouthpiece, but made up of many instruments at once: trumpet valves, the bell of a cornet, parts of a euphonium and a clarinet." The instrument has evolved over time, and evidently there are various prototypes, some capable of ranging below the bass saxophone. This is reportedly the Unit's seventh album, but the first available on CD -- suggesting it's been a while. (I can't find any other reference to the missing records.) Compositions here are based on paintings (numbered tableaux), most (or perhaps all) named in Latin. I can't say as I understand any of it, but find it all strangely fascinating -- not the puzzle of mapping the stray sounds to the mysterious instrument but how the sonic abstractions cohere into quaint and inimitable grooves. A-

Craig Taborn: Avenging Angel (2010 [2011], ECM): Pianist, from Detroit, made his first impression in James Carter's quartet. Has a half dozen records under his own name, starting with a trio in 1994 and picking up the pace after 2001, and has done a lot of session work lately. In particular, he's played a lot of Fender Rhodes and is one of the few pianists who seem to improve on it. This, however, is acoustic piano, solo: figure it as a move to establish his bona fides as a real jazz pianist, and it mostly does just that. B+(**)

J.D. Allen Trio: Victory! (2010 [2011], Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1972 in Detroit, fifth album since 1999. Started mainstream but has his own sound and a powerful presence, especially in sax trios like this one. With Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. B+(***)

Avram Fefer/Eric Revis/Chad Taylor: Eliyahu (2010 [2011], Not Two): Sax-bass-drums trio, with Fefer (b. 1965) playing alto and tenor here -- a change of pace from recent albums where he's focused more on clarinet, bass clarinet, and soprano sax. Tenth album since 1999. More tuneful and grooveful than you expect free jazz to be, but that's largely because the rhythm section is so together. A-

Tim Berne/Jim Black/Nels Cline: The Veil (2009 [2011], Cryptogramophone): Front cover just has initials: "bb&c"; spine has last names: "Berne/Black/Cline"; back cover spells it all out, and adds "recorded live at the stone NYC." Alto sax-drums-guitar, if you still need to know. Starts off with a repetitive thing then slides into deep thrash, which is something Cline is prone to and that the others can play with, but it settles out into something more interesting. Still mostly a guitar album -- Berne's sax rarely breaks out. B+(***)

David Weiss & Point of Departure: Snuck Out (2008 [2011], Sunnyside): Trumpet player, b. 1964 in New York City but studied at NTU. Fourth album, first two on Fresh Sound New Talent 2001-04, third last year called Snuck In. State of the art postbop quintet, with Nir Felder's guitar in the middle, J.D. Allen's tenor sax the contrasting horn, and the rhythm (Matt Clohesy on bass and Jamire Williams on drums) slipping and sliding every which way. B+(**)

Matt Lavelle: Goodbye New York, Hello World (2009 [2011], Music Now!): Plays trumpet and bass clarinet, a unique combo, although here he substitutes cornet and flugelhorn for the trumpet, and adds alto clarinet to the bass clarinet, playing each of his four instruments on two songs each (7 total, so one shares flugelhorn and alto clarinet). Three cuts are done with just bass (plus one more with gongs), spread out with pieces that add drums and Ras Moshe on tenor sax. The larger group pieces are exceptionally strong, but the solo horns are clear and commanding as well. A-

Atsuko Hashimoto: . . . Until the Sun Comes Up (2010 [2011], Capri): Organ player, from Osaka, Japan. Career dates from early 1990s; recorded half an album in 1999 (5 cuts, the other 5 by Midori Ono Trio), and five more since 2003. This one is a trio with Graham Dechter on guitar and Jeff Hamilton on drums. That's an old soul jazz formula, and this fits the bill nicely. Still, I wonder how much it matters. B+(*)

The Louie Belogenis Trio: Tiresias (2008 [2011], Porter): Tenor saxophonist, don't have any biographical info but has recorded since 1993, can't say how many albums or how important he was to each since he's often worked behind group names -- Prima Materia, God Is My Co-Pilot, Exuberance, Flow Trio, Old Dog. Always struck me as a journeyman free player, but his workmanship here is exceptionally formidable on five group improve plus a few minutes of John Coltrane's "Alabama" -- of course the group helps, Michael Bisio on bass and Sunny Murray on drums. B+(***)

Wolfgang Muthspiel: Drumfree (2010 [2011], Material): German guitarist, b. 1965, frequently (in Europe, that is) compared to Metheny and Scofield, although I like him much more -- Bright Side was a pick hit a while back, and Black and Blue is also on my full-A list. As the title announces, no drums this time. Andy Scherrer shadows the guitar on various saxophones, and Larry Grenadier plays bass, so this works within a narrow bandwidth, its surface shimmering with little hint of depth. B+(**)

Roseanna Vitro: The Music of Randy Newman (2009-10 [2011], Motéma): Standards singer, b. 1951 on the Texas side of Texarkana. Eleventh album since 1982. Leans too hard on Newman's movie music, not trusting his biting wit or irony -- you'd hardly recognize what "Sail Away" is about. Also leans too hard on Sara Caswell's violin. The extra sincerity does offer some returns on "In Germany Before the War." B

Amy London: Let's Fly (2009-10 [2011], Motéma): Standards singer, b. 1957, grew up in Cincinnati, studied opera at Syracuse, moved to New York in 1980, worked on stage, taught voice. Third album, including one with longtime guitarist Roni Ben-Hur. Fancy technique, easily slips around the notes, and gets fine support from Ben-Hur and a tag team of pianists. Includes a tribute to Annie Ross. B+(*)

Eco D'Alberi (2008-09 [2011], Porter): First album from Italian group: Edoardo Marraffa (tenor and sopranino sax), Alberto Braida (piano), Antonio Borghini (double bass), Fabrizio Spera (drums). Four pieces, two cut at Vision Festival in New York, the others in Pisa and Zurich a year-plus later. Free jazz, improv pieces, the longest at 32:00, with scratchy sax and crashing piano and lots of ancillary noise from the back, much like it's been done ever since Ayler. B+(**)

Curtis Macdonald: Community Immunity (2009 [2011], Greenleaf Music): Alto saxophonist, based in New York, studied at New School, where he now teaches. First album, or as he puts it on his website, "latest record." Quintet with a second sax (Jeremy Viner on tenor), piano (David Virelles or Michael Vanoucek), bass (Chris Tordini), Greg Ritchie (drums), one-shot guests on guitar, violin, and voice (none of which I recall). The sort of tightly orchestrated postbop that makes me worry about academia. B

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

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:

  • Amina Alaoui: Arco Iris (ECM)
  • Wolfert Brederode Quartet: Post Scriptum (ECM): advance, July 26
  • Johnny Cash: Bootleg Vol I: Personal File (1973-83, Columbia/Legacy, 2CD)
  • François Couturier: Tarkovsky Quartet (ECM): advance, July 26
  • Norman David and the Eleventet: At This Time (CoolCraft)
  • John Escreet: The Age We Live In (Mythology)
  • Robert Johnson: The Complete Recordings (1936-37, Columbia/Legacy, 2CD)
  • Dave King Trucking Company: Good Old Light (Sunnyside): July 12
  • Ernie Krivda: Blues for Pekar (Capri)
  • Nils Økland/Sigbjørn Apeland: Lysøen/Homage to Ole Bull (ECM): advance, July 26
  • Roy Orbison: The Monument Singles: A Sides (1960-1964) (Monument/Legacy)
  • Wall of Sound: The Very Best of Phil Spector 1961-1966 (1961-66, Phil Spector/Legacy)


  • Cartagena! Curro Fuentes & the Big Band Cumbia and Descarga Sound of Colombia 1962-72 (Sounday)
  • Group Doueh: Zayna Jumma (Sublime Frequencies)
  • Generation Bass Presents: Transnational Dubstep (Six Degrees)
  • Nine 11 Thesaurus: Ground Zero Generals (The Social Registry)
  • No Age: Everything in Between (Sub Pop)
  • Rainbow Arabia: Boys and Diamonds (Kompakt)
  • Poly Styrene: Generation Indigo (Future Noise)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:

  • Steve Benen: Taking Stock of 'Brute Facts': Some folks are starting to wonder whether Republican obstructionism in Congress might just be a deliberate strategy to keep the economy down on the theory that voters will blame Obama for a continuing depressed economy. Benen quotes E.J. Dionne Jr.: "It's a brute fact that Republicans benefit if the economy stay sluggish."

    As I've been reminded more than once after writing items like this one, it's considered beyond the pale to discuss motives in debates like these. There's nothing wrong with saying, "Republican economic policies would be disastrous for the economy." But one tends to get in trouble for saying, "Republican economic policies would be disastrous for the economy -- which may be why Republicans are pursuing them."

    But that's why I find it all the more interesting when credible, well-grounded figures raise the argument at all. E.J. Dionne is known for being a responsible center-left voice, not an unhinged partisan bomb-thrower, and he came close to the "sabotage" argument in his column today. A few months ago, his Washington Post colleague, Eugene Robinson, conceded on national television that "maybe" the Republican approach to the budget "is to depress economic growth to set up the Republican Party for 2012, so people will be angry with President Obama and maybe elect a Republican." Robinson, incidentally, is a Pulitzer Prize winner, not some wild-eyed activist.

    And reader J.S. alerted me to these recent comments from Daniel Gross, a former senior editor at Newsweek and now an economics editor at Yahoo, who also argued that it's at least possible that some congressional Republicans are pursuing a destructive economic policy on purpose. Indeed, Gross suggested it's practically common sense: Republicans believe they will benefit from a weak economy, so it "stands to reason" that the party "would engineer policy to get that outcome."

    Gross added that there's "an element" of the Republican Party "that just wants to blow stuff up."

    The idea that the Republicans, regardless of how obstructionist they are, benefit from Obama's inability to reinflate the economy survived the 2010 election intact. But that was remarkably dumb of the voters: much more a matter of those disinfatuated with Obama dropping out than switching to a Republican Party that has nothing at all to offer them. Still, you have to wonder how far they can push their luck, especially since common wisdom says that it's the Democrats who benefit when people are worried about the economy.

    Favorite comment: "The GOP is the last remaining Leninist party in the parliamentary West." They are every bit as obsessive about seizing power, their cadres are imbued with an increasingly extreme and destructive ideology, and they could care less about the victims of their class warfare.

    Besides, with business profits up, the labor market weak, and government services shrinking at all levels, the Republicans are getting the recovery they want. What they really hate is that Obama might get the credit, especially among their core supporters. After all, Obama did as much as the Republicans to undercut the 2009-11 Democratic congressional majority.

    Another comment (square1):

    Once again, Steve Benen avoids the elephant in the room: The failure of the Democratic Party to attack supply-side economics and defend the proven Keynesian alternative.

    It is rather asinine to attack the GOP for allegedly ignoring job creation when the GOP has consistently claimed that tax cuts will create jobs and consistently pushed for more tax cuts.

    Unfortunately, the Democratic Party is led by a bunch of gutless corporate whores. It is impossible for the Democratic Party to accuse the GOP of deliberately harming the economy when the Democrats are incapable of coherently articulating what the proper policies should be.

    In the past two years, Democrats have repeatedly rejected Keynesian economics, either unilaterally (e.g. Federal wage freeze) or in bipartisan fashion (e.g. deficit reduction in a recession and extension of Bush tax cuts).

    IOW, Benen wants to accuse the GOP of deliberately harming the economy because the GOP won't support policies that Democrats either openly reject or, at best, grudgingly support.

  • Steve Benen: Pawlenty Sees Bush Agenda as Far Too Liberal: When liberals lose elections they most often start adjusting their principles, veering back toward the center where they imagine the people -- at least the ones who deserted them -- reside. That's partly because one principle -- the people are right -- allows for infinite revision. Conservatives don't suffer from principles like that: they believe in the rich, or more abstractly in the unfettered right of the rich to make money by hook or by crook; as for the people, they're there to be manipulated, an unfortunate but not insurmountable fact of democracy. But conservatism is more than crass manipulation: it's also a religion, and when religions fail most followers will double down on their beliefs. The Bush administration was a catastrophic failure, which we should take as proof of the fallacy of conservative beliefs given how blindly and rigorously they were followed. But true conservatives can't accept that. Instead, they blame Bush's failures on imagined lapses of faith, insisting that where Bush failed they will succeed becuse their hearts remain true.

    Looking back at the Bush/Cheney era, most of which was dominated by Republican majorities in Congress, it didn't occur to us to think, "Wow, it's remarkable how the GOP has embraced economic liberalism!" But that's what Pawlenty and other Republicans are going to ask voters to believe -- the GOP of the Bush era spent too much, taxed too much, and raised the deficit too much.

    Come to think of it, they're likely to say the same thing about the Reagan era, too, since government grew in the '80s; the deficit tripled; and tax rates were even higher then than now.

    In other words, Pawlenty and other Republicans want voters to believe this is an entirely new GOP -- one that will slash taxes and slash spending, taking money out of the economy, deliberately making things much harder on working families, and effectively embracing an economic model unlike anything Americans have seen in modern economic times. The pitch boils down to this: Republicans intend to be much more right-wing than George W. Bush.

    For more on Pawlenty, see Andrew Leonard: Tim Pawlenty's Reagan Amnesia.

  • Steve Benen: The Military's "Astonishing Liberal Ethos": The quote is from Nicholas Kristof, but Wesley Clark gets to the point quicker, describing the US military as "the purest application of socialism there is." Single-payer, single-provider health care is one key part, but there's more to it. One way to understand this is to imagine its opposite: a military where everyone is out to make a buck, advancement is purely political, and group cohesion is strictly a matter of self-interest. On the other hand, the procurement function and the services spun off to private contractors are more like the latter, which is why they're the ones always embroiled in scandals.

  • David Dayen: I Ruined the Economy and All I Got Were These Lousy Tax Cuts: Not clear who "I" is here, or even how the title ties to the article, but it does neatly sum up the Bush administration's economic leadership. Still, the article is more about the Boehner administration's ambitions to cut taxes and ruin the economy even further. Or is that the Obama administration? Hard to tell sometimes.

    We don't have to guess the outcome if Republicans succeed in cutting federal spending. Earlier this year, Republicans proposed a budget for the rest of the current fiscal year that included $100 billion in spending cuts. Many analysts from groups like the Economic Policy Institute, Moody's Rating Agency, and Goldman Sachs calculated the effect of those spending cuts on the economy, and they all foresaw major job losses and reductions in GDP growth. Economist Mark Zandi's analysis for Moody's predicted the economy would lose 700,000 jobs this year as a result. Given that there's nothing about the economic picture in the next fiscal year that is appreciably different from this one, there is little reason to believe cutting spending against would yield a different result. "Those are reasonable estimates for what you could point to," Linden said.

    The budget framework that House Republicans are using for appropriations bills, which serves as an indication of what they want from a debt-limit deal, restricts discretionary spending by $103 billion more than 2010 levels, a cut of 21.5 percent, according to the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities. "It definitely violates the 'do no harm' principle in the short term," said CBPP's Chuck Marr, who estimates a loss of 1 percent of GDP this fiscal year under the Republican budget. Nonetheless, the Republican Study Committee, a conservative rump faction, wants an even larger spending reduction for FY 2012, some $380 billion in cuts. According to Larry Mishel of the Economic Policy Institute, cuts at that level would ensure a double-dip recession.

    One only needs to look to Britain, which cut $180 billion from its budget last year, to preview the disastrous effects of such a cut. The economy shrank, and real household income dipped to its lowest level since the 1930s. "There's no way that budget cuts are not going to slow down the growth of the economy," said EPI's Mishel.

    If anything, the economy is even more fragile than it was at the beginning of the year. Soaring gas prices, the European debt crisis, and strained supply chains after the Japanese earthquake have hurt countries around the globe. But also, a series of stimulus measures enacted in December's tax-cut deal are slated to run out at the end of this year. This includes extended unemployment benefits and the employee-side payroll tax cut, two programs that cost $177 billion through 2011. Letting them expire would contract fiscal policy by that amount, on top of the contraction from the budget cuts. [ . . . ]

    In theory, policymakers could construct a deal with a fiscal stimulus in the next two years followed by significant reductions in spending in later years to hit a longer-term deficit-reduction target. In this scenario, Democrats would get stable economic growth in the near term, while Republicans would get the deficit stabilization they want. [ . . . ] Such a bargain would be more likely to work, because nothing reduces the deficit like increased economic and job growth and the surging tax revenues that go with it.

    "In a rational world, it should be possible to create a deal," says Linden. "Unfortunately, economic Luddite-ism has overtaken one of the major political parties. They are resistant even to stimulative measures that they would normally be for, like tax cuts."

    Mike Konczal adds:

    Someone noted that with Goolsbee leaving, all of the big names surrounding economic policy are no longer economists but lawyers and people associated with Wall Street. And it is also telling that, with the Larry Summers editorial from the weekend, all of the economists you'd recognize who have left the administration are calling for more stimulus, while it is those there now calling for confidence.

    For more background on the mantra about how austerity breeds confidence, see Konczal's The Broken Mousetrap Board Game of Growth Through Austerity Deficit Reduction. They cite a lot of relevant literature, then turn to the actual Republican budget proposals:

    These budget cuts are entirely minnows. If we release a minnow, it'll just be eaten by a whale. If we cut funding for the Special Olympics do we honestly not believe it'll just be reallocated to the military, or health-care costs, or to tax cuts for the top 1%? And if we know that you can bet the bond market knows that. This theory requires the bond market to be terrified of a permanent rent-seeking hegemony of people with challenges getting to compete in sports while being recognized as equals among each other in a public space and poor women having reasonable access to pap smears, and thus we need to smash the Special Olympics and Planned Parenthood immediately to show "political will." It just doesn't make sense within its own theory.

    The current path is sustainable. Run a short term deficit to help with unemployment. Remove the Bush tax cuts for the medium term deficit, tinker with Social Security at some point and deal with health care for the long-term deficit. That's what credibility looks like for the deficit. All this other stuff is a sideshow.

  • Mark Kleinam: Bitter Clingers Die Young: Map here shows counties where female life expectancy has actually declined over the decade from 1997-2007:

    This is one of those things that few of us can even conceive of as happening, given that medicine has continued to advance -- sometimes dramatically -- during the period (and needless to say, health care costs have risen alarmingly during that same period). The counties in red are mostly rural, isolated, poorly served -- most likely they show breakdowns in our private sector allocation of health care services, although there could be environmental factors (I'm looking at eastern Kentucky) and possibly political ones (the south and east borders of Oklahoma are sharply etched, not that Texas and Arkansas normally have much to brag about). Kleinman also has a map trying to relate this to voting changes, but I find that less persuasive

  • Paul Krugman on Inspiration for a Liberal Economist: Interview, gets Krugman to pick and talk about five books. His picks:

    • Isaac Asimov: Foundation
    • David Hume: An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding
    • John Maynard Keynes: The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money
    • John Maynard Keynes: Essays in Persuasion
    • James Tobin: Essays in Economics

    Other similar interviews on the site, worth reducing to their lists. Robert Shiller ("argues that rising inequality in the US was a major cause of the recent crisis, and little is being done to address it"):

    • Adam Smith: The Theory of Moral Sentiments
    • Albert O Hirschman: The Passions and the Interests
    • Richard H Thaler/Cass R Sunstein: Nudge
    • Raghuram G Rajan: Fault Lines
    • Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pierson: Winner-Take-All Politics

    Keith Ellison on Progressivism:

    • Martin Luther King Jr.: Stride Toward Freedom
    • The Autobiography of Malcolm X
    • Elizabeth Warren/Amelia Tyagi: The Two-Income Trap
    • Jacob S Hacker/Paul Pieson: Winner-Take-All Politics
    • Jim Wallis: God's Politics

    Raja Shehadeh on Palestine:

    • Edward Said: After the Last Sky
    • Mahmoud Darwish: Mural
    • Adina Hoffman: My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness
    • Joe Sacco: Footnotes in Gaza
    • Victor Kattan: From Coexistence to Conquest

    I looked at a lot more lists than these, ranging from Madhur Jaffrey (citing two of my favorite cookbooks, by Marcella Hazan and Irene Kuo) to Abraham Foxman and Karl Rove. I will say that some writers have a tendency to dress up their lists, picking things that make them look good rather than things they actually relate to -- e.g., Rove came up with Adam Smith, The Federalist Papers, de Tocqueville, Barry Goldwater's Conscience of a Conservative, and Milton Friedman. (On the other hand, what were his alternatives? Machiavelli? Mein Kampf? Frank Luntz?) David Frum, on the other hand, had a more obscure book by Friedman, plus James Q. Wilson, Charles Murray, Julian Simon, and Hernando de Soto -- pretty awful stuff, but at least it seriously relates to Frum's awful worldview.

    Then there are lists I didn't look at, like David Brooks on neuroscience.

  • Andrew Leonard: Michele Bachmann's Dangerous Beach Reading: Ludwig von Mises, the Austrian economist who keeps popping up among Tea Partiers who take themselves seriously as intellectuals:

    Ludwig von Mises, an Austrian economist who moved permanently to the United States during World War II, is probably the most famous name associated with the so-called Austrian school -- a branch of economics that views nearly all government intervention in the economy as utterly beyond the pale. Central banking: forget about it! Fiscal stimulus? Original sin. Taxes? A crime against freedom. [ . . . ]

    Mises on the beach! The news is both hilarious and scary. Once you have imagined Rep. Bachmann in her bikini, margarita in one hand, well-thumbed copy of "Human Action" in the other, a wry smile cracking her stern cheekbones as she savors von Mises' earnest and passionate elucidation of the theory that free-market economics are the basis of civilization, there is no going back. If you worship at the altar of laissez-faire capitalism, you have found your high priestess. If you dismissed Bachmann as a lightweight version of Joe McCarthy, think again. There's nothing lightweight about the Austrians.

    I've read two books on the Tea Party movement, and in both sooner or later you run into some crank quoting von Mises. That's the point where things shift from ignorant emotional reactions to intellectually considered nonsense. I see this as a future schism in the movement: how can anyone claim they want to take their country back and then hand it over to von Mises?

    For more on Bachmann, see Michelle Goldberg: Michele Bachmann's Unrivaled Extremism, or at least Alex Pareene's comment/intro, Michele Bachmann, Gay-Curing Theocrat. Pareene's bottom line is: "She talks like Ron Paul now, but she's Pat Robertson at heart. [ . . . ] She is, really, a pretty awful piece of work."

    The most insightful bit in the Goldberg article is a quote from Betty Arnold: "What an amazing imagination. Her ideology is so powerful that she can construct a reality just on a moment's notice." While Goldberg and Pareene are right to worry about Bachmann's fanatic religion, her grasp of economics is at least as treacherous.

  • Alex Pareene: The Conservative Movement Is an Elaborate Moneymaking Venture: Well, of course. What could be more conservative than making money?

    Yesterday, Politico reported what an educated listener could've guessed: Right-wing radio pundits are paid by conservative organizations to mention them favorably. FreedomWorks pays Glenn Beck to talk about how great FreedomWorks is, Rush Limbaugh wholeheartedly endorses the Heritage Foundation because the Heritage Foundation pays him, and Mark Levin receives a check for telling you that donating to Americans for Prosperity will help defeat Obama.

    Glenn Beck is the most obvious and tacky about it, and he has learned that there is essentially no downside to being obvious and tacky about it. He is a very rich man and still inventing ways of getting richer by bleeding his incredibly devoted followers. He is now asking them to directly send him money in order to watch his show, which was formerly included in the cost of people's cable or satellite subscriptions.

    Of course these talk radio hosts are shameless hucksters -- they're on talk radio -- but the hucksterism is not limited to the former morning zoo DJs who make up the intellectual vanguard of the movement. Virtually everyone who is famous for being conservative -- or simply famous and conservative -- is making a killing, or at least attempting to. In 2009, the Boston Phoenix calculated that there was about $2 billion floating around the right-wing nonprofit network. [ . . . ]

    Most of the money comes from buying and selling lists of names of suckers. Some nonprofits receive millions in donations and give it to marketing and direct-mail companies controlled by the nonprofits' managers. Even the "reputable" right-wing think tanks exist as part of a donor-funded full-employment plan for right-wing thinkers. There is always a comfy "fellowship" available at CEI to the writer who declines to believe that CO2 emissions cause climate change. A well-connected right-wing book author is guaranteed a best-seller, thanks to bulk orders and the aforementioned book clubs.

  • Alex Pareene: White House Spokesman and Kos Blogger Have Uncomfortable Chat: Dan Pfeiffer and "Angry Mouse":

    Angry Mouse (or, OK, Kaili Joy Gray) repeatedly questioned him on what the White House is doing about unemployment, and Pfeiffer was rather unwilling to admit that the answer is "nothing."

    "You can expect the president to continue to propose additional initiatives," Pfeiffer said, referring to the nothing that has been proposed and the nothing that will be proposed. (They are apparently not even clear on the fact that the president can make recess appointments to the Fed. Do they want to be reelected?)

    Pfeiffer didn't really have to submit to this. The White House desperately wants liberal dollars but I can't imagine they're particularly worried about liberal votes. Democrats are never scared of their base, because liberals are terrified of Republicans:

    "We can either work together and finish that work that we started in 2008 or we can be relegated back to the sidelines and see what a Republican president . . . does to this country," he said at the event, which was streamed online.

    He's right! A Republican president will most likely do what the last three Republican presidents have done: Starve the government of revenue, allow industries to capture regulators, launch pointless and bloody foreign misadventures, and threaten to gut the welfare state. I mean, all of those things might be happening now, with a Democrat, but they would happen so much worse with Mitt Romney, probably! So vote Obama again!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Expert Comments


In my opinion, Adorno is the enemy. If you really want to get into mass culture theory, he's essential. But he was a Viennese snob who adored Schoenberg, and there are literally hundreds of writers who've written better about jazz and pop than him. Basically he's worth reading to get a sense of the counter-ideology. He had a few interesting ideas, but his very limited acquaintance with jazz and pop was strictly for research, which is always a bad start.

I wrote (but didn't post):

I haven't read Adorno in some 35 years. I can't imagine what it would be like to read him for the first time now, but when I was 20 (c. 1970) he was, to use a term du jour, mind blowing. I stopped reading him (and the rest of the Marxist Kulturkritiker) because he got to be too easy: I found I could feed anything into his intellectual machinery, crank it a few times, and get results that once seemed amazing but over time had become routine.

Whatever else, Adorno was never the enemy. I've cited a quote from him many times: "The bourgeoisie likes its art lush and life ascetic; the other way around would be better." I wouldn't even say he was a snob: for one thing, he worked too hard to doubt that his erudition was earned. But he was trapped in his time, the great catastrophe that Arno Mayer dubbed "the thirty years war of the twentieth century": no one was a more penetrating critic of the forces behind the rise of fascism. But we grew up in milder times and eschewing popular culture was never an option. We're stuck, but not in Adorno's nightmare, in something else.

Back when I cared about such things I wanted to write a book on Marxist intellectual history, which I would call Secret Agents: the title comes from Benjamin who called Baudellaire a "secret agent: an agent of the bourgeoisie's discontent with its own rule." I figured I'd recast Marx and so on at least through Adorno as creatures of the bourgeois revolution calling out all the contradictions.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 18325 [18286] rated (+39), 837 [856] unrated (-19). Started off trying to clear a lot of reissues from my queue. Then found I was short on Jazz Prospecting, so made a hard push on that. Didn't get much mail, so the unrated count even dropped a bit.

  • Till Brönner: Chattin' With Chet (2000 [2011], Verve): German trumpeter-vocalist, no idea how he adds up given this is the only one I've heard; mostly a credible Chet Baker tribute with "When I Fall in Love" touching and the instrumental "My Funny Valentine" sly, the main shift a preference for synth beats; however, he throw in a rap on the side, and more smooth funk than is really healthy. B [Rhapsody]
  • Johnny Hodges: Blues-A-Plenty (1958 [2011], Verve): A download-only release, the latest gambit in reducing back catalogue to pure profit. Hodges was Duke Ellington's prize alto saxophonist from 1927 until his death in 1970, except for a few ears in the 1950s when he wandered off feeling underappreciated, or more specifically underpaid. But he never wandered far, and his personal albums are the crown gems of small group Ellingtonia. Here, for instance, his rhythm section includes Billy Strayhorn and Sam Woodyard, and they do "Satin Doll" as gorgeously as it's ever been done. And when Hodges wants a little more horn power, he taps his peers: Roy Eldridge (trumpet), Vic Dickenson (trombone), and Ben Webster (tenor sax). Aside from a Japanese release, the last time this appeared on CD was when Verve slipped this and a Sweets Edison album into the 2-CD The Soul of Ben Webster. Fabulous combination, but Hodges, as ever, was the sweet spot. I'd grade this higher if it were real. A- [Rhapsody]
  • NYC Salsa: The Incendiary Sound of Latin New York (1970-79 [2007], Fania, 2CD): One of the things that attracted me to New York in the mid-1970s was salsa music: on the radio, but especially on the streets pumping out of boom boxes. I wanted to make a project out of exploring it, but somehow the records I bought never quite jelled in my mind, and thrashing I pretty much gave up. The 1970s were the heyday of Fania records, their house band, the Fania All Stars, and their vast roster including many famous from elsewhere -- Celia Cruz, Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Mongo Santamaria, Willie Colón were among the names I had heard much of. Still should be a project, but I doubt I'll ever be able to sort out so many artists who all sound the same to me: the hyper upbeat grooves with offbeat percussion, the massed brass flashes, the way-too-many singers. Liner notes don't provide dates or discography, but the ones I could look up landed in the 1970s, what they call the Golden Era. Seems more like the Brass Age, but on some level it still moves me. B+(**)

Jazz Prospecting (JCG #27, Part 9)

I should start working on closing this out. The draft already has 65 albums reviewed for 1887 words, a total more than I can use, and the only way that goes down is to publish something. My "high priority" queue box is half empty, so there's probably not a lot that I should listen to sooner rather than later. The other trays are jammed, and not looking very appealing, but sometime something surprises me.

Started this past week with the decision that I had to finally deal with the pile of CTI reissues -- not below, but they should be in the next Recycled Goods -- and that flowed into some Legacy 2-CD comps and a 2-CD salsa set. That all took half the week, so I had to hustle to come up with a rather disappointing column's worth of material.

The Essential Django Reinhardt (1949-50 [2011], RCA/Legacy, 2CD): A thin slice from Reinhardt's underappreciated postwar period, sets by two quintets with local rhythm sections recorded in Rome. The former returns to the Hot Club formula with old hand Stéphanne Grappelli on violin; the latter ditches the violin in favor of clarinet and alto sax played by André Eryan. Both work nicely, especially given a familiar tune that responds to a little gypsy swing. B+(**)

The Essential Eartha Kitt (1952-57 [2011], RCA/Legacy, 2CD): Black-white-Cherokee singer-dancer-actress with a penchant for mambos en français, mixes show tunes, standards, novelties -- her big hit was "Santa Baby," not that it was that big -- and W.C. Handy's blues. This six-year slice covers her commercial prime, the basis of her future iconic status, but she reinvented herself so many times and so effectively you're barely getting a glimpse. Still, the one you're least likely to know, unless you're a hell of a lot older than I am. B+(***)

The Essential Lena Horne (1941-75 [2010], Masterworks/Legacy, 2CD): Black-white singer-dancer-actress, a tough ten years older than Eartha Kitt, but Horne knocked down many of the doors that Kitt walked through. "Stormy Weather" was her big hit in 1941, and that got her into Hollywood. Still, she was a terrific big band singer, taking firm command on the many show tunes and standards here -- most of the cuts date from 1957-62, with a few from 1941-44 and a couple later. A-

Ralph Alessi and This Against That: Wiry Strong (2008 [2011], Clean Feed): Trumpet player, eighth album since 2002, which moves him beyond the usual temptation to treat him as a superb sideman. Group names after his 2002 album, although the only constants are saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and bassist Drew Gress -- Andy Milne plays piano, and Mark Ferber drums. B+(***)

Adam Kolker: Reflections (2010 [2011], Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, also credited with alto flute, bass clarinet, flute, and clarinet here. Fifth album since 1999. Mostly a very reflective trio with John Hébert on bass and Billy Mintz on drumss. Adds several scattered guests: Judi Silvano and Kay Matsukawa (voice, one track each), John Abercrombie (guitar, 2), and Russ Lossing (piano, 3), but he guests never manage to perturb the mood much. Very seductive at its core. B+(**)

New York Electric Piano: Keys to the City: Volumes 1 & 2 (2011, Buffalo Puppy, 2CD): Pat Daugherty-led group, sixth album since 2004. He plays keyboards and sings. Split this release into two discs, one with vocals, one instrumental. On the vocal volume he trades off with Deanna Kirk and Ava Farber. Erik Lawrence is notable in the band, playing various saxes and alto flute. Some nice stuff on both discs, but not consistently so. B

Henry Darragh: Tell Her for Me (2010, self-released): Pianist, singer-songwriter from Texas; studied at San Jacinto College and University of Houston. First album, with six originals and five standards. Has a soft spot for Chet Baker, especially on "Everything Happens to Me" -- even adds some soft trumpet, by Carol Morgan. B+(*)

Whitney James: The Nature of Love (2009 [2010], Stir Stick Music): Standards singer, first album, no bio; has a fairly well known band with Joshua Wolff (piano), Matt Clohesy (bass), Jon Wikan (drums), and paired almost duet-like, Ingrid Jensen (trumpet/flugelhorn). Attractive singer, but not distinctive enough to retain my focus when the song isn't as ingrained for me as "Tenderly" or "How Deep Is the Ocean." B

Antoinette Montague: Behind the Smile (2009 [2010], In the Groove): Singer. Wrote the title cut, but the rest are more or less standards -- Bill Broonzy, Dave Brubeck, and Marvin Gaye are outliers. Second album. Don't see where the band is credited -- just a picture and some thank yous, but if I could line up Mulgrew Miller, Peter Washington, Kenny Washington, and a big-toned sax player like Bill Easley I'd brag about it. Everything here impresses me as well done, except for the CD packaging -- very polyethelene. B+(*)

Roy Gaines and His Orchestra: Tuxedo Blues (2009 [2010], Black Gold): Blues shouter, an appellation commonly used for blues-based KC big band singers like Walter Brown, Jimmy Rushing, and Big Joe Turner. B. 1937 in Texas, started on piano but switched to guitar on hearing T-Bone Walker. Played in the Duke-Peacock house band (Big Mama Thornton, Bobby Bland); worked with Rushing, Coleman Hawkins, Ray Charles, Chuck Willis, Quincy Jones, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, and T-Bone Walker. Has a dozen albums since 1982. Not a top notch singer, but he gives a strong showing here, an anachronism in front of a big band, but true to his calling. B+(**)

Peter Eldridge: Mad Heaven (2011, Palmetto): Vocalist, plays piano, best known as a founding member of New York Voices, also a member of the group Moss. Third album since 2000 under his own name. Writes a little (7 of 12, with help), leaning Brazilian on most of the rest. Makes ample use of his background singers, or excessive may be more what I meant. Mostly backed with guitar-bass-drums-percussion, but a few cuts add horns, most importantly Joel Frahm (tenor sax). I've found his tics annoying in the past, but this nearly slipped by me, until his uncommonly warbly "The Very Thought of You." B-

Weasel Walter/Mary Halvorson/Peter Evans: Electric Fruit (2009 [2011], Thirsty Ear): Drums, guitar, trumpet, respectively -- no credits on cover or insert, but someone plays drums. Evans and Halvorson are famous names by now -- Halvorson more like infamous, since I keep missing out on what are supposed to be her best records. Took some more effort to dig up the dirt on Walter: b. 1972 in Rockford, IL; given name Christopher Todd Walter; Hal Russell protege, although he couldn't have been more than 20 when Russell died, but that left him in the company of Mars Williams and Ken Vandermark. Formed the Flying Luttenbachers by 1994: AMG lists them as Jazz, but under Styles they're Math Rock and Grindcore and Black Metal as well as Avant-Garde Jazz, so you tell me. AMG list 7 albums under Walter's name, plus he has various other groups and projects, including Lake of Dracula, Burmese, XBXRX, Hatewave, and Zs (albeit more recently than the one impressive record I've heard). Abstract and gravelly, with Halvorson's note-bending guitar tricks and the trumpet blasts shooting past each other, the drums off enough to give it all some coherence. B+(**)

Ketil Bjørnstad/Svante Henryson: Night Song (2009 [2011], ECM): Piano-cello duet. Bjørnstad was b. 1952 in Oslo, Norway; has 30-some albums since 1989, 7 on ECM; classical training, touches on folk-jazz and avant-classical and plays with the moderated intensity you expect from Manfred Eicher's pianists. Henryson was b. 1963 in Stockholm, Sweden; also moved through classical music to jazz, although he also pops up on the occasional Yngwie Malmsteen heavy metal album. Nice, relaxing, not too pretty. B+(**)

Michael Dessen Trio: Forget the Pixel (2010 [2011], Clean Feed): Trombonist, also credited with electronics. Second album; also appears in a pianoless two-horn quartet, Cosmologic, which I file under saxophonist Jason Robinson. Here, in a trio with Christopher Tordini (bass) and Dan Weiss (drums), just the trombone is out front, which slows things down a bit, but the focus is useful. B+(*)

Mort Weiss: Mort Weiss Meets Bill Cunliffe (2010 [2011], SMS Jazz): Or to continue the title further: With Special Guest the Undisputed Father of the Jazz Flute Sam Most. I can't argue, although it looks like James Moody played a little jazz flute before Most's 1953 debut, and while I can't find any credits for Frank Wess before 1954, he's a few years older than Moody, nearly a decade older than Most. Most cut ten records 1953-59, then a few more for Xanadu 1976-79. The better known flautist is Herbie Mann, a few months older than Most but with no records until 1954. Most always struck me as someone trying to translate Charlie Parker to flute as literally as possible. Not a great or even very notable innovation, but he's much more listenable than nearly all of the jazz flute that followed. Still, he adds little more than color and background here. Pianist Cunliffe is superb at establishing the swing rhythm, guitarist Ron Eschete' (no idea why he prefers the apostrophe to an acute accent) swings too, and the leader's clarinet is bright and cheery. A nice diversion is Peter Marx's spoken word "Readings of Kerouac 1" which is really about Slim Gaillard. Out of character is the cut Weiss turned over to his grandson. Weiss, you should recall, started to leave his mark after retirement age. Fifth album I've heard since 2006, and very nearly his best. [By the way, my copy has a manufacturing defect which renders the last cut interminable.] B+(***)

Jeremy Udden's Plainville: If the Past Seems So Bright (2011, Sunnyside): Saxophonist, from Plainville, MA, the town name he took for his second album and kept for his group on this his third. Studied in Boston, played in Either/Orchestra, now based in Brooklyn. Credit here read alto sax, soprano sax, and clarinet. Group includes Brandon Seabrook on guitar, Pete Rende on keyboards (Fender Rhodes, pump organ, Wurlitzer), Eivind Opsvik on bass, R.J. Miller on drums. He seems to be seeking out plainness, hiding behind nearly transparent electronic chimes, a strategy that turns out to be rather winning in spite of itself. Two songs have vocals, as understated as everything else. B+(*)

Marcin Wasilewski Trio: Faithful (2010 [2011], ECM): Piano trio, with Slawomir Kurkiewicz on bass and Michal Miskiewicz on drums, first came to our attention as Tomas Stanko's "young Polish band" a few years back. Third album together, growing ever more refined, and perhaps as a result less interesting. 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:

  • Stephane Belmondo: The Same as It Never Was Before (Sunnyside): July 12
  • Daniel Bennett Group: Peace & Stability Among Bears (Bennett Alliance)
  • Randy Brecker with DR Big Band: The Jazz Ballad Song Book (Red Dot Music): July 19
  • Yamandu Costa/Hamilton de Holanda: Live! (Adventure Music)
  • Giacomo Gates: The Revolution Will Be Jazz: The Songs of Gil Scott-Heron (Savant): July 19
  • Rich Halley Quartet: Requiem for a Pit Viper (Pine Eagle)
  • Eric Harland: Voyager: Live by Night (Sunnyside): July 12
  • Pat Metheny: What's It All About (Nonesuch)
  • Dida Pelled: Plays and Sings (Red)
  • Kevin Tkacz Trio: It's Not What You Think (2008, Piece of Work of Art)
  • Cedar Walton: The Bouncer (High Note): July 19

Expert Comments

Reflecting on Jazz Prospecting:

Jazz Prospecting is up at my site. One reason I thought I'd mention it was that there was some discussion of Djangology here a while back, which finally motivated me to play The Essential Django Reinhardt. The 1949-50 Rome recordings are in a sort of critical limbo, with some inclined to argue that they're pretty good, or at least not as bad as most others think. They're available in a 4-CD JSP box, the new 2-CD set (which reissues an old 2-CD RCA set), and the much-reissued single disc Djangology. My bottom line is that while the sets are representative of Reinhardt they lack the excitement and intrigue of his 1934-38 recordings (both the Hot Clubs and the sessions with visiting Americans like Coleman Hawkins). I have several of these listed on my site, and there are a lot more I haven't heard. The JSP boxes are probably the best bet if you want something in-depth (start from the beginning). If you just want a taste, ook for ASV's Swing in Paris.

Also finally got around to the Lena Horne and Eartha Kitt 2-CD sets: both better than I expected, and Kitt a lot weirder. Both could be improved if reduced to a single disc (although RCA has repeatedly failed that test with Horne). Both interesting crossover efforts in the late Jim Crow era.

Also worked through the CTI reissues, but didn't want to clutter up Jazz Prospecting with them -- figure them for next Recycled Goods, assuming I can come up with an intro on Creed Taylor. The best of the batch are Freddie Hubbard's Red Clay and Stanley Turrentine's Sugar, although both are more cluttered than their 1960s Blue Notes (less of a problem for T, who mostly worked with organ and never had the crispness of Hubbard's best work).

Not much more to say about the new jazz, except that Mort Weiss has turned into a critic's nightmare: frequently writing me with heartfelt thanks and nitpicks, including a plea to ignore his grandson's track (were it that easy) but unclear whether he meant to re-release it without the track (said his inclusion of it was "a brain shit"). Swinging mainstream clarinet -- better, I'd say, than Evan Christopher (who showed up on Treme the other night); still no Edmund Hall.

I forget the exact context, but someone asked about critics and age. The main thing you pick up over time is an ever-broadening network of comparisons and contexts. On the other hand, it's harder to recognize, much less be impressed by, something new -- in part because there's less of that than young people realize. A common casualty of all this expertise is that you also lose the sense of wild-eyed wonder in your prose: which ultimately makes the job tedious and dreary, like routinely filing books in a library.

When I tried posting this, I got back the message: "There's a problem creating posts right now. Please try again later." I eventually tried to post a complaint, quoting this message. It went through.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week, not counting the big pile of Krugman links yesterday -- the ones here were for all practical purposes selected before the ones yesterday. I could have included four more blog posts today:

  • Medicare Versus Private Insurance: The Data: Shows (again) that Medicare payments "have grown 1 percentage point more slowly than insurance premiums over the past 40 years. That adds up to a lot."

  • Discretionary Truthiness Update: On the myth (or right-wing talking point) that discretionary non-defense spending is up 80 percent under Obama.

    So, two questions.

    First, why wasn't this obvious to everyone? I mean, where are those huge new government programs?

    Second, why did I have to be the one pointing out this falsehood? Doesn't the White House have any kind of response team? Or are they so eager to be bipartisan that they don't want to point out that Ryan is talking nonsense?

  • Free to Lose: Mercatus Center has a report ranking states "by their levels of freedom" -- New Hampshire was the winner, with South Dakota in second, while New York came in last, a bit worse than New Jersey. Includes a quote from a commenter to a Matt Yglesias piece on this:

    The Mercatus Institute's freedom score was significantly linked to (by state) -- lower educational attainment (measured by percent of Bachelor degrees or higher), lower population density, lower per capita GDP, increased infant mortality, increased accident mortality, increased incidence of suicide, increased firearm mortality, decreased industrial R&D, and increased income inequality.

  • It's the Health Care Costs, Stupid: Chart here showing how Medicare costs have risen since 1969 vs. private insurance costs, a much steeper slope.

Now that we're caught up again, back to the week that was:

  • Paul Krugman: Everything Is Political:

    I think the rejection of a Nobel laureate [Peter Diamond] for a seat at the Fed is tied, in a fundamental way, to the willingness of economists with decent professional reputations to sign on to the increasingly crazy proclamations issued by Republican politicians. Whether they are honest with themselves or not, what they've realized is that they face a loyalty test -- or maybe that's an apparatchik test; if they have any ambitions of serving in a policy position, they have to prove themselves willing to follow the party line wherever it goes.

    There's nothing comparable on the other side. For one thing, you don't find people like Christy Romer or, well, me taking positions on policy issues that are directly at odds with what they've said in their professional writings; whereas you see that a lot on the Republican side. And ex-officials on the Democratic side like Christy or Jared Bernstein are quite willing to criticize Obama policies, if only from a basically friendly position.

    Also on Diamond: Andrew Leonard: At the Federal Reserve, Another Big Win for the GOP:

    A president who comes into office after a huge economic crisis that occurred on the watch of the opposition party ought to be able to make his own appointments to institutions such as the Federal Reserve. The fact that he can't isn't just another sign that government is broken now, but also a promise that it will be broken even further in the future, as Senate Democrats retaliate against whomever the next Republican president attempts to put into meaningful positions of power.

    One can only wish the Senate Democrats would retaliate, but all evidence suggests that the two parties play by different rulebooks. When Democrats threatened to fillibuster against Bush's racist judges, Trent Lott stomped up and down about the "nuclear option" to bypass the fillibuster rule. Yet when the Democrats "controlled" the Senate, they meekly let the Republicans fillibuster everything, creating a de facto 60-vote minimum to pass legislation or to confirm anyone.

  • Paul Krugman: The White House Believes in the Confidence Fairy:

    Obama has operated under severe political constraints, and those of us who criticize the inadequacy of the stimulus and other policies have to be mindful of that. But the White House did not have to concede the economic argument the way it has -- especially when the confidence-fairy, invisible-bond-vigilante believers have been proved utterly wrong. I mean, how could you have a clearer test of liquidity preference versus loanable funds than having the US government borrow almost $3 trillion with zero, absolutely no, effect on interest rates?

    Confidence is actually a very big concept within economics: when investors are confident, they invest, expanding the economy; when they aren't confident, they retrench, letting the economy collapse. Where Obama screwed up was in thinking that he had to project confidence -- that his confidence would be contagious, and that if he didn't he'd be not just blamed but culpable for the economy's failure to recover. In retrospect it was a very naive and even stupid thing to do. If he wanted a realistic recovery program, what he should have done was to scare the hell out of people -- which in Feb. 2009 shouldn't have been all that hard to do. Much harder to do now, because the recovery we have now is quite satisfactory to some people -- Krugman points them out in his Rule by Rentiers column.

    I can't rule out the possibility that Obama wanted the exact recovery that his policies obtained -- many of those rentiers were big supporters early on and he stuffed his administration with their cronies -- but the prevalance and credibility of confidence arguments these days as much as anything reflects the triumph of rhetoric-based fantasy over science in contemporary politics. John Quiggin wrote a whole book on Zombie Economics where he catalogues economic theories that should at long last have been killed off by the 2008 meltdown but persist as rhetoric, mostly because they suit certain political and economic interests. Why should we worry about inflation in a deflationary recession? Why should we worry about government debt when the private sector is disinvesting? And let's add this one: why should we think that people are so uncertain of their own interests that would change their investment thinking depending on which way Obama's head turned?

  • Andrew Leonard: Tim Geithner's Plan to Lose the 2012 Election: Based on a Washington Post profile, Zach Goldfarb: Geithner Finds His Footing, which shows Geithner to have been the key person persuading Obama to switch from stimulus policies to fight unemployment to a focus on deficits (but credit Citibank VP Peter Orszag with an assist). From Goldfarb:

    The economic team went round and round. Geithner would hold his views close, but occasionally he would get frustrated. Once, as Romer pressed for more stimulus spending, Geithner snapped. Stimulus, he told Romer, was "sugar," and its effect was fleeting. The administration, he urged, needed to focus on long-term economic growth, and the first step was reining in the debt.

    Wrong, Romer snapped back. Stimulus is an "antibiotic" for a sick economy, she told Geithner. "It's not giving a child a lollipop." [ . . . ]

    Even as Geithner stumbled in his first months, Obama stood by him. And they grew closer, their relationship nurtured by daily meetings and occasional basketball games. "They don't get worked up when things are going wrong. They don't get worked up if things are going well," a senior White House official said.

    Romer's gone now. Same for Larry Summers, who for all his faults at least recognized unemployment as a problem. Now Austan Goolsbee's resigned, which leaves, well, Geithner. Leonard adds:

    Geithner doesn't deserve all the blame here. Obama picked him and Obama backed him to the hilt. [ . . . ] But the electoral problem for Obama may not hinge on whether or not the president has the actual power to make manifest his will on job creation, but rather on whether he is perceived to be trying. Is he giving it his best shot? Is he making it clear to the general public what constraints have been placed on him by the opposition party and external events?

    Also see: Paul Krugman: Welcome to the Recovery, the title taken from Geithner's "tone-deaf" August 2010 op-ed. Krugman then cites Goldfarb, and concludes:

    I get really depressed. Whether he knew it or not, Geithner was making the Mellon-Schumpeter-Hayek argument that any effort to push up demand was somehow artificial and unsound. Not what anyone should be saying in the modern world, least of all a top official in an allegedly progressive Democratic administration.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Krugman Bonus Roundup

Looks like tomorrow's Weekend Roundup is going to be nothing but Paul Krugman and Andrew Leonard. I haven't been getting around much, but nearly everything Krugman (especially, but also Leonard) writes hits on what seems to be the central issue of the age, which is why so many prominent Democrats as well as Republicans (and their media cohort) persist in saying such stupid things about economics. We've entered into an intellectual and moral vortex where everything is political, where truth is strictly a measure of political loyalty. On the surface this looks like a Dark Ages scenario, where we are willfully forgetting things that we used to know to be true.

Some bonus Krugman links (more tomorrow), including links to a few of his charts:

  • Ideologies That Fail Upwards:

    CBPP reminds us that the Bush tax cuts totally failed to deliver, even before the financial collapse:

    follow link for chart

    And the story is even worse for believers in tax-cut magic if you include the Clinton years; some of us remember the confident predictions that the 1993 tax hike would lead to a catastrophic recession.

    You might have thought that an ideology that failed so dramatically would have been to at least some extent abandoned. But noooo: belief in tax-cut magic is central to the Ryan plan, and aspiring GOP candidates like Pawlenty seem to be in a race to see who can go more overboard in supply-side faith.

    I'd like to add three points that further reduce the efficiency of Bush's tax cuts: one is that the government ran record-setting deficits the whole period, stimulating the economy; second is that interest rates were kept way below postwar norms, again to stimulate the economy; the third is that the dollar lost a huge amount of value under Bush (see "Dollar Debasement" below), which should have given US exports a big push. Yet with all that political effort to shore up the economy, GDP growth was mediocre at best. Moreover, most of what growth there was vanished when the real estate bubble collapsed. The other thing that this chart doesn't show is to what extent employment grew by reducing real wages: the postwar average not only includes three times as many new jobs; those jobs also paid better.

  • Monetary Calvinball:

    I was trying to come up with a way to describe Raghuram Rajan's latest on why interest rates should go up despite high unemployment and quiescent inflation -- but Mike Konczal saved me the trouble. As Mike says, it's Calvinball -- making up new rules on the fly to justify whatever you, for some reason, want. And today's column was about that reason.

    Rajan pulls two tricks. First, he makes interest-rate setting sound as if it's a form of price control -- and by the way, the critique of China's low rates on deposits is that they're controlled rates kept below the true price of credit in the economy, not that overall monetary policy is too loose. So, for the record, open-market operations that move rates are nothing like price controls.

    Second, he simply takes it for granted that there's something unnatural about very low rates right now. But why? It's obvious that desired saving (or rather, the amount people would want to save if we were anywhere near full employment) is currently greater than desired investment. That suggests that the natural rate of interest right now is negative; only the zero lower bound keeps it from going there.

  • Joe Lieberman's Plan to Make Health Care Worse and More Expensive:

    So Joe Lieberman is proposing that we raise the Medicare eligibility age. That's a truly cruel idea; as it happens, I know several people who are hanging on, postponing needed medical care, hoping that they can make it to 65 before something terrible happens. And if I know such people in my fairly sheltered social circles, just imagine how widespread such stories must be.

  • Why I Don't Believe in the American People:

    Tim Pawlenty -- who has turned out to be a much bigger fool than I or, I think, anyone imagined -- replies to criticism of his claim that he can get 10 years of GDP growth at 5 percent: [ . . . ]

    see link for chart

    Except for the big jump from the depths of the Great Depression to the height of World War II, we have never had a decade of growth at 5%.

    What's also notable in this figure is the invisibility of all the supposed economic miracles we hear about. Saint Reagan was supposed to have revitalized the economy; can't see it here. All you can really see is that the 60s were very good, and the recent slump has been very, very bad.

  • Thoughts on Voodoo:

    With Tim Pawlenty -- who was supposed to be a sensible Republican -- going all-in for high voodoo, I thought it's worth pointing out that at the moment there's a pretty good case that there is a kind of Laffer curve in which more is less and less is more. Namely, there's a good case that fiscal stimulus right now would actually improve the long-run fiscal situation, while fiscal austerity makes it worse.

    I don't have a strong opinion on whether Krugman's envelope math adds up, but it's pretty clear that the kinds of austerity cuts that are being imposed today, especially in education, if not remedied pretty soon, will depress what's called human capital development over the long term, and that will reduce national wealth. I'd go so far as to say that it's already had that effect -- one need only look at the preponderance of foreign-born doctors and engineers as a way of compensating for our inability to educate our own.

    Intuitively, austerity is much like bleeding was as a medical treatment. Nowadays even when we don't fully understand an illness, we often get lucky by treating symptoms -- for instance, chilling high fevers, figuring that if you can keep the symptoms from killing the patient might buy time to recover. That was in fact what we did with the banking crisis: we flooded the system with liquidity long enough to keep it from freezing up. Of course, once the banks were out of intensive care, they didn't want to share that sort of treatment with any other industry, so they reverted to preaching austerity for everyone else.

  • Kenneth Arrow Was Here:

    Some readers ask why my argument that relatively centralized systems work better for health care than the "free market" isn't an argument for government ownership of everything.

    The answer is that health care is different: it's a sector in which basically every market failure you can think of takes place. And we've known that since Kenneth Arrow's classic analysis half a century ago.

    It's shocking, though not surprising, that we keep having to relearn this basic point.

  • Dollar Debasement:

    Just a reminder: when people start talking about the plunging dollar, dollar debasement, whatever, the actual numbers look like this:

    follow link for chart

    So we're talking about that downward jog toward the end, which basically brought the dollar back to its level just before the crisis; during the worst of the crisis safe-haven demand temporarily pushed the dollar up.

    And the recent decline is, of course, dwarfed by the dollar's slide during the Bush years; funny how we didn't hear cries about dollar debasement back then.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Rhapsody Streamnotes (June 2011)

Pick up text here.

Expert Comments

Previously hinted-at 2010 "left-field" find: Archie Bronson Outfit: Coconut (Domino):

Coconut is presumably the aforementioned "left field" 2010 find. What makes it unexpected isn't its obscurity -- no record released on Domino can truly be deemed obscure -- but the fact that it was so out in plain sight that you could assume that someone would have noticed if it was any good. It was actually fairly well reviewed: Metacritic was 72/13, supported by AMG, Drowned in Sound, Filter, MusicOHM, NME, PopMatters, and Uncut ("Cacophonous, chaitic, and a lot of fun"). It must have popped up on about 10 year-end lists (I didn't keep records of where) but didn't get any Pazz & Jop votes.

It finished with 17 mentions in my year-end metafile, tied at 437 with 16 others (including Corin Tucker's 1,000 Years and Lil Wayne's I Am Not a Human Being). I played 9 of those 17 (4 were jazz: Bill Frisell, Jon Irabagon, James Moody, and Tarbaby; only Moody not an A-), but didn't bother with ABO -- possibly because I had checked out their better-reviewed 2006 album and found that a waste of time. I guess Christgau finally found the time.

Wrote the above about Domino before crunching any numbers, so here goes: they placed 9 records in my metafile above ABO (Four Tet, These New Puritans, Owen Pallett, on down to Clinic); 7 below (most notably Tricky), trying to weed out the EPs and misfiled votes for the Orange Juice box. Not quite the indie powerhouse that Sub Pop is (11), but comparable to Merge (8) and Anti/Epitaph (8), and for that matter to 4AD (7) and XL (7).

Don't have time to check the record out right now. I'm stuck in the middle of a CTI orgy. Makes me wonder how anyone could have ever thought that Creed Taylor had any business producing jazz records. Any ideas on that?

Christgau wrote:

After I predicted that no one could guess ABP [Archie Bronson Outfit] I went to Tom's roundup and realized that they'd done OK there -- in the 400s as I recall. My guess is that they have some visibility in Britain, where for all I researched some sales might have ensued, and zero here.

I wrote:

Bob is basically right: the majority of pubs favorably reviewing Archie Bronson Outfit were British (Drowned in Sound, MusicOHM, NME, Uncut). I count PopMatters as US-based but they're all over, and they specifically track UK release dates and labels. On the other hand, there is a lot more music crit per capita in the UK than in the US, maybe even a plurality, at least at the commercial level. This introduces a systematic bias into metacritic standings, which among other things diminishes my file's predictive power for the US-biased P&J poll. Probably also means that more Brits buy records based on reviews.

Band that got better when a key member split: Roxy Music.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 18286 [18255] rated (+31), 856 [853] unrated (+3). Got hot. Will remain hot for the indeterminate future. (Gee thanks, Exxon!) I'm staying inside, staying cool, swamped with music and books. Just like always.

Jazz Prospecting (JCG #27, Part 8)

Getting close to time to close this round, so I'm trying to pull more stuff out of the top drawer since that's where I'm most likely to find something, or some of the more interesting stuff from the middle. Best record this week was one that took a lot of time, but it got that time by getting better each round. I didn't expect it to finish first, but that's how it works out sometimes. I did rather expect the James Carter to finish last: this is his third B- record, and possibly the worst of them -- a great saxophonist, but he does have a bad habit of picking the wrong horse.

Bebop Trio (2011, Creative Nation Music): Former NEC students: Lefteris Kordis (piano, from Greece), Thor Thorvaldsson (drums, from Iceland), and Alec Spiegelman (clarinet, from Brooklyn). Drummer has mostly played in rock bands. Clarinetist also belongs to Klezwoods. Group/album name is a misnomer: their covers stake out various pianists, some bebop, some harder to pin down: Bud Powell, Duke Ellington, George Shearing, Elmo Hope, Herbie Nichols, Lennie Tristano. Still, Spiegelman's model isn't Buddy DeFranco or Jimmy Giuffre; it's Steve Lacy, who was famous for bypassing bebop when he jumped from trad jazz to avant-garde. Lacy taught some at NEC during his last years, and Irène Aëbi passed some Lacy charts to Spiegelman, and one thing led to another. B+(***)

Claire Ritter: The Stream of Pearls Project (2009-10 [2011], Zoning): Pianist; b. 1952 in Charlotte, NC; studied with Ziggy Hurwitz and (later) Mary Lou Williams and Ran Blake. Tenth album since 1988. Eighteen original pieces ranging from 1:41 to 4:30, each referring to some instance of water in nature: the Charles River, Franconia Notch, 1000 Islands, Horshoe-Niagara Falls, Carolina Ponds, Ocracoke Island, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, Currituck Beach, Pamlico Sound. Some of the pieces are solo piano, translating her sharp eye into sure-footed sound; others add percussion (Takashi Masuko), banjo, cello, accordion, vibes. I like it best when the pace picks up and the accordions -- yes, there are two -- kick in, but every piece finds its place. A-

New Tricks: Alternate Side (2010 [2011], New Tricks): I've started referring to records by artists who can't go to the trouble to think up a label name "self-released," but the back cover here says "New Tricks Records" so credit where credit is due. Quartet: Mike Lee (tenor sax), Ted Chubb (trumpet), Kellen Harrison (bass), Shawn Baltazor (drums). Lee wrote 6 of 9 songs; Chubb the other 3. Was blogging about Miles Davis when I put this on, so I was immediately struck by the '50s vibe, bop only hotter and harder, with no piano to underwrite the chords and gum things up. Second group album -- Lee also has two under his own name; don't think any of the others do, although the bassist has some side credits. This sort of clash is bracing, but on occasion they slow down, yoke the horns together, and act like modern postboppers. B+(**)

Lisa Hilton: Underground (2010 [2011], Ruby Slippers): Pianist, from San Luis Obispo, CA, has 15 album since 1997, most of the early ones with titles suggesting chintzy cocktail piano and romance: Cocktails at Eight, In the Mood for Jazz, Jazz After Hours, Midnight in Manhattan, After Dark, all with alluring cover photography -- My Favorite Things may be the most alluring in that respect. I've only heard one previous album, didn't think much of it, but this one is something else. For starters, she's got a first rate group: Larry Grenadier on bass, Nasheet Waits on drums, and J.D. Allen on tenor sax. Wrote all but one Bill Evans piece. Pretty respectable outing, the piano authoritatively centered. Allen doesn't break out, as he can, but he's an asset. B+(**)

Helen Sung: (re)Conception (2009 [2011], SteepleChase): Pianist, from Houston, TX; fifth album since 2004. Piano trio, with the stellar mainstream rhythm section of Peter Washington and Lewis Nash. She doesn't write much -- one song here, not unusual although her debut was about half originals; picks two Ellingtons, Shearing's title cut, Monk, Bacherach, Loesser, others more obscure. B+(**)

BassDrumBone: The Other Parade (2009 [2011], Clean Feed): Longtime collaborators, Ray Anderson (trombone), Mark Helias (bass), and Gerry Hemingway (drums) first hooked up in 1977, cutting Oahpse in 1978. First used the group name on Wooferlo in 1987, but their reference album for me is 1997's (Hence the Reason) (Enja). Not sure how many BassDrumBone records there are -- Hemingway's website refers to Cooked to Perfection as the group's "sixth and latest," but doesn't have all of its predecessors, and there are at least two since. This is the latest: can't say Anderson is at his peak, but he's an able and inventive frontman, and Helias and Hemingway are marvelous, as usual. B+(***)

Sei Miguel/Pedro Gomes: Turbina Anthem (2008 [2011], NoBusiness): Pocket trumpet/guitar duets. I've run across Miguel before: b. 1961 in Paris, lived in Brazil before settling down in Portugal in the 1980s. Released a record in 1988, more since 2002 including two on Clean Feed: one under his own name and another as part of Afterfall (which I filed under guitarist Luis Lopes). Not much on Gomes; probably his first record. Cranks up lots of guitar distortion, playing it for rhythm and harmonic backdrop for the trumpet. Too harsh to recommend highly, but too visceral to ignore. Stef, who has fewer compunctions about what other people think, gave this all five stars. B+(***)

Bruno Chevillon/Tim Berne: Old and Unwise (2010 [2011], Clean Feed): Bassist, b. 1959 in France, one previous album under his own name, side-credits with Louis Sclavis, André Jaume, Daniel Humair, Marc Ducret, Stefano Battaglia, Tony Malaby. Berne has a lot of records going back to 1979. He sticks to alto sax here, his main instrument. Chevillon wrote all of the pieces. Pays to focus on the bass here -- a more diversified source of noise than the sax, which just moves from note to note, however inventively. B+(***)

Orchestre National de Jazz: Shut Up and Dance (2010 [2011], Bee Jazz, 2CD): ONJ was founded in 1986, a legacy of Miterrand's socialism, or more specifically Culture Minister Jack Lang. AMG lists seven records since 1996, including a Led Zeppelin tribute called Close to Heaven. Various artistic directors came and went, currently Daniel Yvinec, managing the current ten-piece band: most notable trait here is the large number of people with at least some use of electronics. Program here was written by percussionist John Hollenbeck. Not my idea of dance music, but rich in percussion and electronics, scaled between his big band and his Claudia Quintet. B+(**)

Orchestre National de Jazz: Around Robert Wyatt (2009 [2011], Bee Jazz, 2CD): This looks to have been one of Daniel Yvinec's first projects on becoming artistic director of ONJ. The songs are all by Robert Wyatt, arranged by Vincent Artaud. The eleven songs on the first disc all have vocals, rotating between seven guests, including Wyatt himself on four cuts; only other guest I recognize is Rokia Traore. The band does a nice job of straddling jazz and prog idioms. Second disc adds four Bonus Tracks, totalling 21:37, only one repeat from the first disc: two more Wyatt vocals, one by Traore, and a particularly luscious one by Yael Naim. B+(**)

I Compani: Mangiare! (2010 [2011], Icdisc): Dutch group, led by saxophonist Bo van der Graaf, but they've been around a long time, with more than a dozen albums since 1985. Early albums were focused on the films of Federico Fellini and the film music of Nino Rota (who resurfaces here in the first piece). Last album was based on circus music (Circusism), and you get more than a mere taste of that here as well, but the food theme eventually takes over. Band mixes the leader's soprano and tenor sax, trumpet and trombone, violin and cello, bandoneon, piano, bass, and drums -- with some diversion on synth and "cheap organ." Less avant and even more amusing than the similar bands of Breuker and Mengelberg. B+(***)

Harriet Tubman: Ascension (2010 [2011], Sunnyside): The Harriet Tubman you've probably (but not necessarily, especially if you've been "educated" in Texas) heard of was born in 1822, in Maryland, into slavery. She escaped, then returned to help others escape through the underground railroad, and helped guide fugitive slaves to freedom in Canada. She helped John Brown organize his ill-fated insurrection at Harper's Ferry. During the Civil War she was an armed scout and spy for the Union. After the war she worked for women's suffrage. She died in 1913, but was well remembered in the civil rights and women's liberation movements more than a half century later. A couple years ago Marcus Shelby cut a gospel-tinged jazz album called Harriet Tubman, in her honor. But this ain't that; this Harriet Tubman is a fusion band formed by Brandon Ross (guitar), Melvin Gibbs (bass), and J.T. Lewis (drums). They cut a record in 1998, another in 2000, and now a third. The new group is billed as Harriet Tubman Double Trio, the additions Ron Miles (trumpet), DJ Logic (turntables), and DJ Singe (turntables). The spiritual clash they are looking for comes with the title cut, which starts the album off with 8:09 from John Coltrane's rafter raiser, then returns periodically for more inspiration. Coltrane's piece is either one that moves you or not -- it doesn't bother trying to reason with you. Tubman more than anything else was a force for action, and that's what the band aims for -- they do aim high. B+(***)

Kenny Werner: Balloons (2010 [2011], Half Note): Pianist, b. 1951 in Brooklyn, has 25-30 albums since 1977, considered a postbop player -- I've heard very few of his records, and flagged his Guggenheim-winning orchestral No Beginning No End as a dud. Still, he bounces back impressively here, using the oldest trick in the book: a really first-rate band, recorded live: David Sanchez (tenor sax), Randy Brecker (trumpet), John Pattitucci (bass), and Antonio Sanchez (drums). Four pieces stretch out, the horns taking especially strong solos, the piano holding the fort together. Ends with a drum flourish. B+(***)

Nguyên Lê: Songs of Freedom (2010 [2011], ACT): Guitarist, b. 1959 in Paris, France, draws on the Vietnamese music of his ancestors, also on Jimi Hendrix. Has 17 albums since 1990. Describes this record as "a tribute to those musicians who established pop culture in the '70s with their mythic songs," and proclaims them to "have truly become World Music i.e. 'music the world listens to.'" Aside from a couple short connecting pieces, the songs come from the Beatles ("Eleanor Rigby," "Come Together"), Stevie Wonder ("I Wish," "Pastime Paradise"), Bob Marley ("Redemption Song"), Led Zeppelin ("Black Dog," "Whole Lotta Love"), Janis Joplin ("Mercedes Benz"), Cream ("Sunshine of Your Love"), and Iron Butterfly ("In a Gadda Da Vida"). All feature guest singers I've never heard of (and don't expect to ever again): Youn Sun Nah, David Linx, Dhafer Youssaf, Ousman Danedjo, Julia Saar, Himiki Paganotti. (Their names strike me as selected to illustrate Lê's world music concept.) I'd have preferred more of the instrumental breaks, where Lê's electric guitar powers over tinkly vibes and percussion. B

Pedro Giraudo Jazz Orchestra: Córdoba (2010 [2011], Zoho): Argentine bassist, plays electric and acoustic, moved to New York in 1996; fourth album since 2002. Orchestra has 11 pieces, many New Yorkers I recognize from elsewhere but no big names: four reeds, three brass, an extra cajón in the rhythm section. Flows elegantly, the sort of thing that shows how jazz has supplanted classical forms as a composing medium. B+(*)

FivePlay Jazz Quintet: Five of Hearts (2008-10 [2011], Auraline): Guitarist Tony Corman and pianist Laura Klein produced and split the eleven songs 6-5 in favor of Corman. The others are Dave Tidball (saxes, clarinet), Alan Hall (drums), and Paul Smith (bass), listed in that order for no reason I can fathom. Second album, the first out in 2010. Corman has previous albums as Triceratops and as Crotty, Corman and Phipps. Klein has a previous duo with vibraphonist Ted Wolff. Looks like they intercepted in Boston -- lots of Berklee resumes -- although I also see a note that Tony and Laura got married in 1984 and moved to the Bay Area. They bill what they do as "melodic modern jazz," and that's about right. The leaders' instruments tend to hold things together and keep them flowing, and Tidball's reeds ride the waves instead of cutting against the grain. Not to be confused with Sherrie Maricle's quintet, Five Play. B+(**)

Peter Evans Quintet: Ghosts (2010 [2011], More Is More): Trumpet player, best known for his work in Mostly Other People Do the Killing, but has 7 albums under his own name since 2006. Most of those have been solo or small group, nothing as big as this, literally let alone figuratively. With Carlos Homs (piano), Tom Blancarte (bass), Jim Black (drums), and Sam Pluta (live processing) -- the latter hard to figure, or easy to blame. Aside from the processing, this rumbles and roars more like MOPDTK than anything Evans had done on his own. I'm torn here, duly impressed but not sure I really like this sort of splatter action. B+(*)

James Carter: Caribbean Rhapsody (2009-10 [2011], Emarcy): Starts with "Concerto for Saxophones and Orchestra," composed by Roberto Sierra (from Puerto Rico), played by Sinfonia Varsovia Orchestra (from Warsaw, Poland), conducted by Giancarlo Guerrero, with Carter handling the saxophones. Then we get a "Tenor Interlude" showcasing Carter; another Sierra composition, "Caribbean Rhapsody," with the Akua Dixon String Quartet, Regina Carter for a violin solo, bass, and soprano and tenor sax; finally a "Soprano Interlude." So this is basically a sax with strings thing, except that for the bulk of the record the strings are in charge. Ever since Charlie Parker saxophonists have been eager to play in front of strings, and they haven't all been atrocious -- Stan Getz's Focus and Art Pepper's Winter Moon are two resounding exceptions, but I can't think of any others offhand. The "interludes," by the way, are solo; they do help to clear out the ears. 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.

Brazilian Groove Band: Anatomy of Groove (2009, Far Out): Leo Gandelman project. He plays sax, flute, keyboards (here at least), has 15-20 records under his own name, the majority with obvious Brazilian themes (Brazilian Soul, Bossa Rara, Perolas Negras, Ao Vivo, like that). The horns are massed up like salsa, but the guitars work Brazilian themes, and the beats feel electronic: all seems a bit off, but not enough to be odd. Packaging at least is truthful, including the absence of definite articles. B [Rhapsody]

Matana Roberts: Live in London (2009 [2011], Central Control): Alto saxophonist from Chicago, always identifies herself as a member of AACM even though the Association was founded forty years before she came up -- kind of like growing up in a union family. With Robert Mitchell (piano), Tom Mason (bass), and Chris Vatalaro (drums). First song runs 27 minutes, everything skewed at odd angles, just like in the good old days. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Chris Barber: Memories of My Trip (1958-2010 [2011], Proper, 2CD): English trombonist, one of the major figures in Britain's trad jazz movement in the 1950s, looking back from age 80 on a career that did more than preserve past music: Barber was especially important in building British interest in American bluesmen, which led to all sorts of things, not least the Rolling Stones. I don't have good dates on everything here, but some of the earliest tracks come from a 1958 tour with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee; later tracks feature bluesmen from Muddy Waters to Jeff Healey, but also Lonnie Donegan, Van Morrison, and Andy Fairweather Low. The guest star framework slights Barber's own play and his wry vocals, making room for old jazz hands like Edmond Hall, Albert Nicholas, and Trummy Young. But at least he leaves some space for Ottilie Patterson, his long-time singer and wife. Could use more of her, and more jazz instrumentals: Hall's "St. Louis Blues" is definitely a high point. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:

  • Aimée Allen: Winters & Mays (Azuline Music)
  • Amikaeyla & Trelawny Rose: To Eva, With Love: A Celebration of Eva Cassidy Live! (Patois)
  • Katie Bull: Freak Miracle (Innova)
  • Steve Coleman and Five Elements: The Mancy of Sound (Pi)
  • Eliane Elias: Light My Fire (Concord)
  • Orrin Evans: Freedom (Posi-Tone)
  • The Falconaires: Sharing the Freedom (The USAF Academy Band)
  • High Fiddelity: Tell Me! (High Fiddelity)
  • Itai Kriss: The Shark (Avenue K)
  • Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: Race Riot Suite (Royal Potato Family): advance
  • Nicole Mitchell: Awakening (Delmark)
  • Christian Pabst Trio: Days of Infinity (Challenge)
  • Art Pepper: Blues for the Fisherman [Unreleased Art Vol VI] (190, Widow's Taste, 4CD): sampler only, can't review
  • Ivo Perelman Quartet: The Hour of the Star (Leo)
  • Ed Reed: Born to Be Blue (Blue Shorts)
  • Aaron Shragge & Ben Monder: The Key Is in the Window (Tzviryu Music)
  • Starlicker: Double Demon (Delmark)
  • Andrew Sterman: Wet Paint (Innova)
  • Vicious World: Plays the Music of Rufus Wainwright (Spinaround)
  • Andréa Wood: Dhyana (Wood)
  • Randy Sandke: Where the Dark and the Light Folks Meet: Race and the Mytholology, Politics, and Business of Jazz (The Scarecrow Press): book

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:

  • Alyssa Battistoni: Sarah Palin and Profit-Motive Politics: Good picture of Palin in the New York Times today, dressed in black leather and perched on the back of a huge motorcycle. She'd sure be more entertaining than some presidents we've had lately. Then I saw some of her interview on Fox where she showed that assembling words into sentences is a far more daunting task than posing for an iconic photo. Still, she came perilously close to promising to pull back the troops from Afghanistan and Iraq and wherever else she doesn't know they are, provided Gen. Petraeus consents. So despite her numerous handicaps, for the moment I'd score her 2-1 ahead of Obama. But people keep reminding me that Obama is playing some kind of "long game": in the pursuit of wealth (but not power), that seems to be the case, and provides a starker contrast to Palin than their intellects or even their oratory. When it comes to grabbing the cash, Palin is playing a very short game indeed.

    Nothing she's done since resigning her position as governor of Alaska really suggests she's planning a serious presidential candidacy, nor are her current activities indicative of any real commitment to public service. What they do demonstrate is an understanding that outrageous statements, calculated controversy and the blurring of the line between candidate and celebrity are a sure route to lots of attention -- and lots of money.

    For all of Palin's gushing over the Statue of Liberty and Independence Hall, the most revealing stop of the trip occurred Wednesday, when she sat down for a slice of pizza with Donald Trump. Fresh off his own feint at a presidential bid, Trump seems to share Palin's understanding that there's money to be made in political celebrity.

    Speaking of Trump, now that he's no longer a candidate, he's managed to say something pretty sensible. Evan McMorris-Santoro reports:

    "Representative [Eric] Cantor, who I like, said we don't want to give money to the tornado victims," Trump said. "And yet in Afghanistan we're spending $10 billion a month. But we don't want to help the people that got devastated by tornadoes. Wiped out, killed, maimed, injured -- we don't have money for them but we're spending $10 billion a month in Afghanistan."

    Trump wasn't done.

    "We're spending billions of dollars in Iraq," he said. "We're spending billions of billions of dollars and we can't help people that got flooded by the Mississippi, that got hit horribly by the tornadoes."

    The direct target here was Cantor, but more and more the wars belong to Obama. Last week the House passed a lame resolution on Libya. The week before they came close to passing a stronger rebuke on Afghanistan. Obama may have no fears of a Democrat challenging him from the left, but he's moved so far to the right he's starting to leave himself exposed to attack from Republicans.

  • Jonathan Easley: The Revolving Door Keeps Spinning: Among the former legislators with new big money influence jobs: Judd Gregg (senator, R-NH, now with Goldman Sachs); Chris Dodd (senator, D-CN, Motion Picture Association of America); Byron Dorgan (senator, D-ND, Arent Fox); Bob Bennett (senator, R-UT, also Arent Fox); Earl Pomeroy (rep, D-ND, Alston + Bird); Kit Bond (governor/senator, R-MO, Thompson Coburn); Evan Bayh (senator, D-IN, Apollo Global Management).

    Goldman CEO Lloyd Blankfein, whose firm was upbraided by a Senate committee only one month ago for perpetrating a massive fraud in the run-up to the financial crisis that some now believe warrants criminal charges, said of Gregg, "His experience and insight will contribute significantly to our firm and our continuing focus on supporting economic growth."

  • Paul Krugman: Shoulda Could Woulda: Links here to a column on misconceiving unemployment and a comment by Jared Bernstein on how we're stuck now with limited political options, and therefore should think inside the box of what's feasible (given that the Republicans have carte blanche to obstruct anything). I'd be more sympathetic if the pragmatists in the Obama administration had recognized this obstructionism before 2010 and warned of the impending disaster of giving the Republicans control of the House.

    But on the Obama issue, I still think that the administration has made four serious misjudgments.

    First, I think that it has paid too much attention to the short-run political risks of taking unpopular positions versus the medium-run political risks of having a lousy economy. Yes, a real mortgage-mod program would have fed Tea Party sentiment -- but it might have meant a stronger economy in the second half of 2010, and that would have mattered a lot more. As best as I can tell, the political types in the White House have, year after year, operated on the principle that the economy is on the mend, so it's time to pivot to centrist-sounding themes -- only to keep finding that no, the economy isn't on the mend, and they're paying for that at the polls.

    Second, the administration made what I continue to believe was the awful decision to pretend that the half-measures it was actually able to get were exactly right, not a penny too small. Would it have made a difference in 2010 if Obama had been able to say to the country, "I asked for more aid to the economy, but those guys blocked it, and that's why we're not recovering faster"? I don't know -- but it could hardly have been worse than the position he actually found himself in, which was trying to explain why a policy he insisted had been perfect wasn't doing the job.

    Third, it's one thing to recognize that there's only so much you can do; it's another to adopt the arguments of your enemies. Since some time in the fall of 2009, Obama's rhetorical stance has been basically that he's like the GOP, but less so; can you even remember him offering a full-throated defense of Keynesian policies?

    Finally, while the White House doesn't set Fed policy, it does get to appoint Fed governors. Why are there all those vacant seats? Why weren't there recess appointments?

    And why, for that matter, did he reappoint Ben Bernanke?

  • Paul Krugman: Medicare Doublethink: Mostly a quote describing a Medicare cost containment scheme, which attempts to motivate hospitals into providing better care by tracking results and paying bonuses when they do and exacting fines when they don't. Hospitals don't like it, especially that last bit. Krugman is in favor, saying:

    But here's my thought: I do believe that many people in the commentary business can manage to read stories like this, tut-tut about the difficulties, and then -- in the very next breath -- complain that Obama is doing nothing to limit the growth of health care costs.

    The point is that this is what cost control looks like. Things like the Ryan plan, which just shift the cost of care onto seniors, are fake; this is the real thing.

    I guess I can go along with this sort of thing, but it should be understood that this is the sort of trade-off scheme that you wind up with only if you first assume that hospitals should be run as profit-seeking businesses.

  • Andrew Leonard: Grim News From the Jobs Front:: Economy added 54,000 jobs in May, as unemployment rate rose from 9.0 to 9.1%. Long-term unemployment is up again. Local government austerity killed off 28,000 more jobs.

    We've seen this pattern before in the Obama administration -- early signs of recovery turning dim as external shocks depressed economic activity. But the most dispiriting thing about the new numbers is the sense that there will be no government response to them -- aside from even more budget cuts.

    The Republicans were quick to respond, blaming the Obama administration's "over-taxing, over-regulating and over-spending." (Leonard responded to this in a post called This Is Why the United States Is Doomed.) Those are time tested sound bites, but they should be wearing thin by now. Regulation is something that can be argued over -- maybe some things are overregulated but we do keep getting our asses chomped on by businesses that need more effective regulation. But it's pretty clear that what's killing the economy is government under-spending, and that one thing that's holding necessary spending back is chronic under-taxation. When you consider the profits recorded by business, at the cash they have on hand, at the ability of the rich to evade taxation, it's pretty clear that they're just not very effective at job creation, especially in what still feels to most people like a huge recession. Deficit spending doesn't bother me much in times like this, but it would be even better to take more of their money and put it to work.

  • Andrew Leonard: The Emerging Liberal Doctor Majority: More fundamentally, more and more doctors are employed as labor rather than running their own shops as capitalists. Quotes Atul Gawande, who describes this shift as Cowboys and Pit Crews. Gawande writes:

    The distance medicine has travelled in the couple of generations since is almost unfathomable for us today. We now have treatments for nearly all of the tens of thousand of diagnoses and conditions that afflict human beings. We have more than six thousand drugs and four thousand medical and surgical procedures, and you, the clinicians graduating today, will be legally permitted to provide them. Such capabilities cannot guarantee everyone a long and healthy life, but they can make it possible for most. [ . . . ]

    We are at a cusp point in medical generations. The doctors of former generations lament what medicine has become. If they could start over, the surveys tell us, they wouldn't choose the profession today. They recall a simpler past without insurance-company hassles, government regulations, malpractice litigation, not to mention nurses and doctors bearing tattoos and talking of wanting "balance" in their lives. These are not the cause of their unease, however. They are symptoms of a deeper condition -- which is the reality that medicine's complexity has exceeded our individual capabilities as doctors.

    The core structure of medicine -- how health care is organized and practiced -- emerged in an era when doctors could hold all the key information patients needed in their heads and manage everything required themselves. One needed only an ethic of hard work, a prescription pad, a secretary, and a hospital willing to serve as one's workshop, loaning a bed and nurses for a patient's convalescence, maybe an operating room with a few basic tools. We were craftsmen. [ . . . ]

    Before Elias Zerhouni became director of the National Institutes of Health, he was a senior hospital leader at Johns Hopkins, and he calculated how many clinical staff were involved in the care of their typical hospital patient -- how many doctors, nurses, and so on. In 1970, he found, it was 2.5 full-time equivalents. By the end of the nineteen-nineties, it was more than fifteen. The number must be even larger today. Everyone has just a piece of patient care. We're all specialists now -- even primary-care doctors. A structure that prioritizes the independence of all those specialists will have enormous difficulty achieving great care.

    We don't have to look far for evidence. Two million patients pick up infections in American hospitals, most because someone didn't follow basic antiseptic precautions. Forty per cent of coronary-disease patients and sixty per cent of asthma patients receive incomplete or inappropriate care. And half of major surgical complications are avoidable with existing knowledge. It's like no one's in charge -- because no one is. The public's experience is that we have amazing clinicians and technologies but little consistent sense that they come together to provide an actual system of care, from start to finish, for people. We train, hire, and pay doctors to be cowboys. But it's pit crews people need.

    Another sign this is the case is the unsustainable growth in the cost of health care. Medical performance tends to follow a bell curve, with a wide gap between the best and the worst results for a given condition, depending on where people go for care. The costs follow a bell curve, as well, varying for similar patients by thirty to fifty per cent. But the interesting thing is: the curves do not match. The places that get the best results are not the most expensive places. Indeed, many are among the least expensive.

  • 14 Unarmed Palestinians Killed While Protesting Near Israeli Border: Number is up since this was reported. Quotes Haaretz:

    Uri Avneri, former MK and activist with Gush Shalom left-wing organization, said Sunday that the IDF used excessive force against the protesters in the Golan Heights. "The trigger-happy behavior stands out in particular when compared to the softness with which violent settlers are treated," he said.

    Avneri conceded that a country has a right to defend its borders and prevent illegal entrance to its territory, yet added that "in order to effectively protect its borders, the state should first know where its borders are and have them recognized by the international community -- and this is a decision which Israel has been avoiding for years."

    "A state that trespasses its neighbors' borders, steals their land and erects settlements on them will have a hard time justifying actions taken to protect its own borders," Avneri said. "Contrary to what Prime Minister Netanyahu says, only a recognized and agreed upon international border -- that is, a border based on the 1967 lines -- is a defensible border."

    I saw a report somewhere of Israelis charging that Syria is orchestrating these demonstrations to draw attention away from protests against Syria's government, where the Syrian army routinely shoots demonstrators. I don't see how Assad comes out ahead in provoking Israel's military to act like Syria's military, suggesting in turn that Syria's military is acting just like Israel's.

Probably not the right analogy, but indicting John Edwards reminds me of Stalin's show trials, especially the ones used to wipe out the left. I never thought Edwards was an especially credible populist, and I wish he would have limited his ambition to becoming a multi-term senator from North Carolina. I'm not saying he's not at fault, but I do think that the problem is far larger than his own pathetic case. We've concocted a massive multi-billion-dollar system of systemic corruption, and what he's charged with is diverting a bit of that to cover up a personal embarrassment. But Edwards raised far less money than Obama or Clinton or Bush, and he delivered far less favor for it. To my mind, by far the biggest disappointment of Obama's first two years was his failure to push hard and pass really strong campaign finance reform. Having been outhustled the last two elections, the Republicans might have blinked, but even more so he had the votes to do something -- even if the actual Democrats in Congress didn't want to because they had been selected for their skills by the current system, they could have been shamed into voting for reform. And opponents could have been shamed as well. Instead, not only did Obama do nothing, the Supreme Court weighed in with their unlimited corporate spending ruling.

Then there's the other side of this: if Obama wanted to prosecute anyone, he should have started with the Bush administration, which broke all records for the corrupt interaction of business and politics. The main reason Obama's change rhetoric has soured so bad isn't that he hasn't lived up to his proffered ideals. It's that he's forgotten what people so desperately wanted a change from. Even if he couldn't prosecute the past administration's wrongdoers, the least he could do was to expose them, and where they might defend themselves as being within the technical lines of the law, to campaign for tightening up those laws. By whitewashing the previous administration, Obama's has become continuous with it.

Expert Comments

Christgau wrote:

If I were in the market for cool jazz, I'd think Chet Baker, Django Reinhardt, Prestige-era Miles Davis, then maybe, were I feeling adventurous, Lee Konitz or Art Pepper -- and, were I not myself, rely on Hull's advisories, which are based on a lot more listening than my own, which since I am myself are augmented by what I decided to store in the A shelves without making any final decision on quality. Problem with all of the big three is that their catalogues are messier than need be.

Shouldn't speculate what the garbled sentence mentioning me means. But I wrote back:

Cool Jazz, especially when used interchangeably with West Coast Jazz, groups a loose aggregation of players who became prominent in the 1950s at the same time Hard Bop was becoming the dominant East Coast style. Hard Bop means Art Blakey and everyone who was associated with him from Horace Silver to Wynton Marsalis. Most of the key Cool Jazz musicians came out of the Kenton and/or Herman big bands. A lot of things fall out of those two poles, including the tendency to sort everyone by race into these two camps. It's almost impossible to say anything about race in jazz without saying something stupid, so I should leave it at that. But I will say that even though black and white jazz musicians listened to and adored each other ever since the 1920s, in the 1950s they still usually hung out separately.

There's even more Hard Bop worth hearing, but a lot of very fine jazz came out of the West Coast/Cool Jazz cluster. Start with Stan Getz: The Complete Roost Recordings (or the Best Of), West Coast Jazz, East of the Sun (or its Best of the West Coast Sessions). Then Gerry Mulligan: The Original Quartet With Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan-Paul Desmond Quartet (or even better, Two of a Mind, with Desmond's name first). I'm not a big Baker fan: his vocals usually (not always) trigger a gag reflex, and his trumpet is understated, but he has good records scattered throughout his career (and many people do love the vocals; even I approve of Sings and Plays).

Art Pepper would make a great "summer project": he spent most of his adult life in jail, but made great records every time he got out: the 1956-57 Blue Notes (available as a Mosaic box or separately, e.g. The Art of Pepper; Meets the Rhythm Section; Smack Up; Living Legend; Straight Life; the supernally beautiful Winter Moon. An intensely emotional saxophonist -- really nothing cool about him.

Lee Konitz is an outlier: a protege of Lennie Tristano, he was out in 1950 when he cut Subconscious-Lee and never fit into anyone's norm. Motion and Jazz Nocturne are two of my favorites; one link is his early Konitz Meets Mulligan.

Shelly Manne's At the Blackhawk, available on 5 separate discs, is another key set, even as Manne points out that everyone in the band came from East Coast cities. The real West Coast includes people like Wardell Gray (look for Memorial), Jimmy Rowles, and Frank Morgan (who played with Pepper in Sing-Sing); also Brubeck and Desmond. Wikipedia lists some people I don't associate with Cool Jazz: John Lewis, Gil Evans, and Jimmy Giuffre (the latter started in Herman's band next to Getz but went somewhere else). I think more of Bud Shank, Bob Cooper, Lennie Niehaus, Jack Sheldon, Conte Candoli, Chico Hamilton, Mel Lewis. (Shank's last record, In Good Company with Jake Fryer, is real nice.)

I don't think of Django Reinhardt as cool: after all, he called his band the Hot Club de Paris. (I recommend the JSP boxes, especially the first.) I always figured the Miles Davis Prestiges for hard bop: I mean Philly Joe Jones, now really! Certainly there are cool themes in East Coast bop, and Davis played with them more than most. He may have come closest in 1962 when he hired Victor Feldman, but Feldman refused to tour so Davis settled for Herbie Hancock.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

A Downloader's Diary (11): June 2011

Insert text from here.

This is the eleventh installment, monthly since August 2010, totalling 281 albums. All columns are indexed and archived here. You can follow A Downloader's Diary on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Expert Comments

Responding to Joe Lunday's requests on country music compilations:

Those Time-Life Country sets look to me like they jump around a lot, so it's not obvious how well they fit together. Also, at 15-16 songs per disc, and $12 per disc, they're not huge bargains.

Smithsonian's Classic Country Collection was real good from start to finish, albeit most useful early on. Legacy issued a set of 5 Columbia Country Classics in 1990. The first two are real good, with Vol. 2 (Honky Tonk Heroes) mostly 1950s.

Shout! Factory has both 2-CD and 3-CD 1950s-70s sets. Both have a weakness for pop crossover, but mostly look pretty good. The first two discs of the 3-CD look better to me than the 2-CD.

European copyright law allows companies to reissue anything more than 50 years old, which is why virtually all of the prewar US country, blues, and jazz that's in print is in print on European labels. In 2002 Proper released a fabulous 4-CD set called Hillbilly Boogie, with 100 songs from 1939-51 with "Boogie" in the title. I haven't followed that stuff closely lately -- Proper wasn't very happy with my review of their "Nazi Swing" compilation -- but the threshold keeps advancing. I know there's tons of 1950s jazz coming out, especially in Spain. If I ran a European reissue company, I'd hire someone like John Morthland and tell him to go crazy.

Buck Owens was very consistent. His 3-CD Rhino box is very nearly as good as any of his smaller best-ofs (21 #1 Hits is probably the best). Not one of the greats. Given the choice between one of his sets and, say, The Essential Carl Smith, I'd recommend the latter.

Looks like I have about 1000 country/bluegrass records in my ratings database (93 on the A/A+ list, mostly single-artist comps). But not much on Glen Campbell.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Recycled Goods (86): June 2011

Pick up text here.

Expert Comments

Some comments on lack of disclosure by Christgau on various records that he's chosen to write about. Christgau wrote:

Nothing is to imply anything. I'm gradually learning when to stop listening to albums that I can tell quickly aren't worth an A. I will say for purposes of illustration that at least one of the records named in this discussion I never got to the end of once and very much doubt I ever will. Whether I've even heard them all is my business. My obligation is two posts a week, two albums a post, with occasional exceptions of which there have been a book review and a film review so far, with more anticipated. Who knows what that will end up meaning -- not me. (Trans-Continental Hustle preceded the current dispensation. There'a review on my site.) I write for money and am proud of it, but I'm not sorry things worked out this way. My years on this earth are shortening perceptibly, and those years are and will be improved the less time I spend listening to marginal music -- which I still spend many many hours a week doing -- when I, for instance, haven't heard the Group Doueh record since I wrote about it last week and probably won't for a while.

Seemed like a reasonable time to kick this out:

I ran some stats last week comparing how many new (in this case 2011-release) records got A/A-/B+ grades up to then versus how many new records got those grades up to comparable dates in previous years (I wound up using end of June because of shifts in publication dates, and I only went back to 2003 when I added entry dates to the database). I excluded releases from previous years, which make up the bulk of the early year CG entries (although that also cancelled out more distant discoveries like Tazi and El Monguito). Unfortunately, I didn't save the numbers so I'm commenting from memory. But the upshot is that Christgau is identifying A/A- records on a rate that is at least 20% higher than any previous year (since 2003; as I recall, 2004 is the closest, but that includes a late June CG). B+ reviews are approximately double the average for previous years, but the numbers are still small and past years varied more. (Again from memory, I think the highest past year is -1 from this year.)

It's not real easy to run this data, so I probably won't try again until September or so. I can think up several hypotheses, not including grade inflation. The most obvious one is that posting every Tuesday provides an incentive to weigh in on release day, which has never been a scheduling possibility before. Don't know how many records that covers -- 10 is an offhand guess (which would mean more than one out of four, and that seems high). If the trend continues, the Dean's List could top 100 records. That wouldn't bother me -- I've long thought that that many A-list records are out there, many unfound for lack of time and/or access (the two big advantages the new format has) -- but it's also likely that a lot of the difference can be explained by shortened time lags.

Christgau responded:

I've been wondering about the numbers Tom breaks down, which I'd guessed were the case without doing a count. I don't rule out grade inflation. It's harder to know what is and isn't an HM when you're spending so little time on HMs -- there's a certain dead feeling in the pit of the stomach that you have to actually have lived through recently when a better record comes along to remind you why you do this strange thing. But I also believe that I have more time to find really good records because I'm much more dismissive with fairly good ones. We're not done with '10s yet, I can safely say without the slightest fear that someone will figure out which is the next '10 I have in mind -- a left-field record I very much doubt I would have found in the old format.

You do know Odditties is a '10, don't you, Tom? You would. My practice is to mark anything '09 or before but treat all '10s as current.

I reckon we can exclude even the most esoteric non-jazz that popped up in my 2010 list, although this seems like as good an opportunity as any to mention them:

  • The Left: Gas Mask (Mello Music)
  • 7L & Esoteric: 1212 (Fly Casual)
  • LoneLady: Nerve Up (Warp)
  • Smile on Smile: Truth on Tape (Kirtland)
  • Lower Dens: Twin-Hand Movement (Gnomonsong)
  • Rakaa: Crown of Thorns (Decon)
  • Lars Vaular: Helt Om Natten, Helt Om Dagen (Bonnier/Cosmos)
  • Zs: New Slaves (The Social Registry)

Also less obscure records by the Books, El Guincho, Lyrics Born, Manu Chao. Pretty idiosyncratic picks, so beyond their obscurity I don't expect much consensus -- the one exception is 1212, which hit me immediately, much more than the previous 7L/Esoteric CG picks.

I collected 3422 records in last year's metacritic file, all things that showed up on someone's year-end list. Good chance it's in there somewhere, but not a lock.

Yes, I have Odditties as 2010. An easy way to check the dates is to use get_ydate.php (the default is the current year, so 2011). The database at robertchristgau.com is one week short of current, so you can get a pretty good idea how the year shapes up.

I'm personally having a real tough time with the A-/B+ cusp in my current 2011 list -- probably a combination of rating to too much too fast on Rhapsody and losing my patience with jazz. I'd say that the bottom third of my A- list feel real weak. I have 40-plus records piled up for Streamnotes next week. Insane but not useless (I hope).

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Fossil Fuels Will Kick Your Ass

Michael Lind kicked off an argument on energy and climate policy. Andrew Leonard was taken aback, and Lind tried to regroup. The three pieces:

Lind's basic point is that fracking will save our energy-intensive way of life:

If gas hydrates as well as shale gas, tight oil, oil sands and other unconventional sources can be tapped at reasonable cost, then the global energy picture looks radically different than it did only a few years ago. Suddenly it appears that there may be enough accessible hydrocarbons to power industrial civilization for centuries, if not millennia, to come.

So much for the specter of depletion, as a reason to adopt renewable energy technologies like solar power and wind power. Whatever may be the case with Peak Oil in particular, the date of Peak Fossil Fuels has been pushed indefinitely into the future.

Lind skips over the two basic problems with nonconvential hydrocarbon extraction: the cost, especially as measured in energy, and the side effects, which include pollution and climate-altering carbon dioxide created when those hydrocarbons are burned. Lind doesn't deal with cost factors at all. Lind handwaves evidence that fracking pollutes, attacks Greens for promoting uncompetitive renewables, and dismisses climate change as "low probability" -- if it were probable that would be all the more reason for going nuclear, but since nobody wants nuclear the climate change risks must be negligible.

He goes further to blast conservation:

The renewable energy movement is not the only campaign that will be marginalized in the future by the global abundance of fossil fuels produced by advancing technology. Champions of small-scale organic farming can no longer claim that shortages of fossil fuel feedstocks will force a return to pre-industrial agriculture.

Another casualty of energy abundance is the new urbanism. Because cars and trucks and buses can run on natural gas as well as gasoline and diesel fuel, the proposition that peak oil will soon force people around the world to abandon automobile-centered suburbs and office parks for dense downtowns connected by light rail and inter-city trains can no longer be taken seriously. Deprived of the arguments from depletion, national security and global warming, the campaign to increase urban density and mass transit rests on nothing but a personal taste for expensive downtown living, a taste which the suburban working-class majorities in most developed nations manifestly do not share.

Eventually civilization may well run out of natural gas and other fossil fuels that are recoverable at a reasonable cost, and may be forced to switch permanently to other sources of energy. These are more likely to be nuclear fission or nuclear fusion than solar or wind power, which will be as weak, diffuse and intermittent a thousand years from now as they are today. But that is a problem for the inhabitants of the world of 2500 or 3000 A.D.

Leonard doesn't get into costs either, which I suspect is the real limit on how much nonconventional hydrocarbons we actually extract, but he does note the pollution externalities -- a word which attempts to translate oft-ignored intangibles like pollution into costs. And while he concedes that it would be nice to have more cheap energy to fall back on, he sees this as buying time, not carte blanche to act like the world's problems aren't our own.

The thrust of Lind's piece is that we have nothing to worry about. But that's the wrong moral to take from the surprising surge of accessible natural gas. If the environmental problems associated with fracking can be managed, then the fact that natural gas is cheap and relatively clean should definitely be celebrated. But not because it signals some illusory new golden age of fossil fuels, but rather because it gives us more breathing room than we thought we had to get our act together and find ways to limit the vast -- and increasing -- amounts of fossil-fuel derived greenhouse gas emissions that are currently getting pumped into the atmosphere.

Lind at least tried to put some distance between himself and the industry propagandists:

I am not a "global warming denialist." Although science is always provisional and subject to revision, I have no reason to doubt the scientific consensus that greenhouse gases almost certainly are warming the atmosphere. Nor do I have any reason to doubt that as a result of human greenhouse gas emissions the earth's temperature will rise in the next few centuries. This being the case, efforts wasted on lobbying for unrealistic mitigation schemes that are doomed for political reasons would be better devoted to plans for minimizing any damage that global warming, already underway, might cause to particular areas of the world.

As I wrote in my essay, if the threat of global warming is really as bad as James Lovelock and James Hansen says it is, then we should listen to those eminent scientists, who argue for a rapid transition from fossil fuels to nuclear power. [ . . . ]

If there were really a clear and present danger of catastrophic overheating, we could not afford to rely on feeble, indirect, "market-friendly" measures like cap and trade and renewable energy mandates on utilities, to say nothing of trivial, symbolic gestures like LEED certification of "green" houses. The only rational course of action would be for the federal government to declare martial law, nationalize the energy sector, conscript American industry and engage in an emergency nuclear power build-out at taxpayer expense. There would need to be Marshall Plan subsidies to help poor coal-burning countries shift to nuclear energy. Most people would consider an occasional Fukushima or Chernobyl a price worth paying, if the apocalyptic alternative were a runaway global greenhouse effect and the end of civilization or humanity on an earth as dead as Venus.

At least Lind didn't reiterate the relatively underdeveloped smears against conservation and renewables from the original article. I'm one of the first to admit that windmills have a downside -- the cemetery where many of my ancestors are buried is towered over by the things, creaking eerily in the sky, destroying an atmosphere that should be serene. But even if the upper limits of wind and solar power fall short of current, let alone future, fossil fuel demands, every kilowatt they shift extends the available reserves. Same for local food, for public transit, for tighter cities. It makes no sense to dismiss an alternative because it doesn't solve everything.

As for nuclear, Lind is either attempting to scare us, or he naively believes in utopia. There is a lot of uranium scattered about the crust of the earth, and quite a bit of thorium too. But it's not clear how much can really be mined and refined efficiently enough to produce more power than is consumed along the way -- a way that necessarily includes whatever you wind up having to do to safely dispose of the waste. Plus we don't have an especially good record of understanding the risks and accounting for their costs. Lind may be happy to suffer "an occasional Fukushima or Chernobyl" but most of us are more cautious, especially near our own backyards. I'm not hardcore anti-nuclear, but I don't see how this works.

I'm also not a global warming crank, but I can see a lot of real bad things happening short of turning Earth into Venus. Again, even if the little things that are doable prove inadequate, I don't see the logic of ridiculing them: can't hurt, and maybe they buy you a little time and flexibility to grapple with the big problems. Lind, however, rejects any moderating effort until we snap, at which point all he can offer us are horrors: martial law, conscripted business, an accident-prone nuclear power industry, God knows what else. He immediately rejects the first principle of progressivism, which is, hey, let's stop a minute and think about this, so we can plot out a course that does what we want to do.

But let's go back to the beginning here: fracking. I saw the movie Gasland recently. It's hard to tell from one personal take whether gas fracking is always destructive to the environment, but the movie does make the case that sometimes it is, and that there needs to be more trustworthy oversight so we can understand when things go wrong and what can be done about it. One thing that is clear is that the fracking fluid is deadly poisonous. Another is that industry standard practices of drilling gas wells and hooking up pipelines and infrastructure are not as safe and reliable as they should be. Another is that the profit-seeking gas companies have powerful incentives to hide rather than to face up to problems. It also isn't clear how economical it is to tap into shale gas: the deposits are thin and often poorly sealed; the horizontal drilling and fracturing are expensive and difficult. This raises questions: how densely do you have to drill? how quickly do the fields loose pressure? how much gas is actually recoverable? Unless all of this can be done by spending much less energy than is returned it will prove uneconomical.

The same basic questions apply to any tight oil or gas source. Until fracking was developed gas shale was uneconomical. Now, how far have we move that equation. We've known for a long time that there is a lot of oil shale in Canada, but it's always been real expensive to extract it. For now, all we can do is to strip off the shale closest to the surface, heat the rocks up to extract the oil, and dump almost everything as waste. Every step along the way uses up a significant fraction of the extracted oil, so you don't wind up with much profit. Tar sands are even tougher. When oil was $20/barrel people speculated that tar sands would be profitable at $40/barrel, but we've still never hit a price that works: it just takes too much energy. And everything else in the industry works that way. The biggest conventional oil finds in recent times have been deepwater offshore fields, and the real costs of drilling them just took a sudden leap in 2010.

And now Lind just waves his hand and we'll be able to process massive amounts of gas hydrates. All we have to do there is sink robots to the bottom of the ocean, have them dig off the sediment, then pick up little clumps of ice and methane and shuttle them back to the surface. Good news is that once you got them, the chemistry is pretty simple, but getting them is something else.

I don't doubt that eventually we'll pump every recoverable barrel of oil out of the ground, that we'll suck up all the gas we can afford, and that we'll mine all the coal we can get to. Nor do I doubt that we'll convert almost all of that carbon into carbon dioxide because we'll want to use all of the energy packed into those molecules. And we'll dump most of that carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, where it will trap solar energy and make the planet hotter and hotter. We've spent the last century doing just that as unthinkingly as possible, and if Lind has his way we'll just keep on doing just that, assuming that any problems that do crop up will miraculously solve themselves.

What bothers me about all this is its unthinking nonchalance. I don't doubt that if we really did think about it we would wind up burning all that fossil fuel. But we would recognize the benefits of slowing down the pace, both of the burning and of everything else that depends on that energy. Slow down the pace and you'll postpone the reckoning. Slow down the pace and you'll reduce the concentration of carbon dioxide and lessen its warming effect. Slow down the pace and you'll have more time to think about what you really want to do. In particular, you might think about how much consumption is enough for human happiness, and narrowing the band between not enough and too much to develop a more equitable society that leans more to cooperation than to competition, and therefore reduces conflict, allowing us to slow down further, and stretch out the time before we face the end of our fossil fuel endowment.

On the other hand, Lind doesn't want to slow down. He wants to keep racing on until we hit a wall, then start a big fight over whatever's left. Reminds you he never was a real progressive. He just got a lot of credit for turning on his fellow neocons and opposing the War on Terror. But here he is, dumb again.

Bonus link: Bill McKibben: Obama Strikes Out on Global Warming: Tom Engelhardt's intro reviews the latest climate news, before McKibben gets to what's bugging him:

The Obama administration is making its biggest decisions yet on our energy future and those decisions are intimately tied to this continent's geography. Remember those old maps from your high-school textbooks that showed each state and province's prime economic activities? A sheaf of wheat for farm country? A little steel mill for manufacturing? These days in North America what you want to look for are the pickaxes that mean mining, and the derricks that stand for oil.

There's a pickaxe in the Powder River Basin of Montana and Wyoming, one of the world's richest deposits of coal. If we're going to have any hope of slowing climate change, that coal -- and so all that future carbon dioxide -- needs to stay in the ground. In precisely the way we hope Brazil guards the Amazon rainforest, that massive sponge for carbon dioxide absorption, we need to stand sentinel over all that coal.

Doing so, however, would cost someone some money. At current prices the value of that coal may be in the trillions, and that kind of money creates immense pressure. Earlier this year, President Obama signed off on the project, opening a huge chunk of federal land to coal mining. It holds an estimated 750 million tons worth of burnable coal. That's the equivalent of opening 300 new coal-fired power plants. In other words, we're talking about staggering amounts of new CO2 heading into the atmosphere to further heat the planet. [ . . . ]

Strike two against the Obama administration was the permission it granted early in the president's term to build a pipeline into Minnesota and Wisconsin to handle oil pouring out of the tar sands of Alberta. (It came on the heels of a Bush administration decision to permit an earlier pipeline from those tar sands deposits through North Dakota to Oklahoma). The vast region of boreal Canada where the tar sands are found is an even bigger carbon bomb than the Powder River coal. [ . . . ]

Fortunately, that sludge is stuck so far in the northern wilds of Canada that getting it to a refinery is no easy task. It's not even easy to get the equipment needed to do the mining to the extraction zone, a fact that noble activists in the northern Rockies are exploiting with a campaign to block the trucks hauling the giant gear north. (Exxon has been cutting trees along wild and scenic corridors just to widen the roads in the region, that's how big their "megaloads" are.)

Unfortunately, the administration's decision to permit that Minnesota pipeline has made the job of sending the tar sand sludge south considerably easier. And now the administration is getting ready to double down, with a strike three that would ensure forever Obama's legacy as a full-on Carbon President.

The huge oil interests that control the tar sands aren't content with a landlocked pipeline to the Midwest. They want another, dubbed Keystone XL, that stretches from Canada straight to Texas and the Gulf of Mexico.

Needless to say, this is just a small subset of Obama's handling of energy and environmental issues since taking office. You might recall that he had just unveiled a huge giveaway program to open up deep water oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico and up and down the Atlantic coast when BP's well blew up. And he had just announced another round of incentives and subsidies for the nuclear power industry when Fukushima melted down. Time and again he's tried so hard to follow in GW Bush's footsteps, championing the crony capitalism his predecessor(s) worked so hard to advance. And time and again he's tripped himself up. That's not change you can believe in. That's the same old story you voted against.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Expert Comments

Stepped in a big pile of Bird shit tonight, starting innocently enough over at the Expert Witness comment thread. After my second post (hacked into two pieces on the site due to a throttle restriction) I watched some television and spent much of the time fretting over what I had gotten myself into. Came back and saw a lot of thumbs up, so maybe it's not that bad.

This is roughly how it went down.

Schweitzer asks about Gillespie:

Responding to David Schweitzer on Dizzy Gillespie, there are two superb compilations: probably the best place to start is Night in Tunisia: The Very Best of Dizzy Gillespie (1946-49 [2006], Bluebird/Legacy) -- early big band including "Manteca" and "Cubana Be/Cubana Bop" with Chano Pozo; those cuts are also on Shout! Factory's 2-CD Career 1937-1992, which flows remarkably well for a 55-year span. Surprisingly, neither includes "Shaw 'Nuff" (although Career has six early Sextet tracks). Those sides were cut for Musicraft in 1945-46, and are available from Collectables as Shaw 'Nuff ($6.98). Much more of note, but the one other record that really stands out for me was Duets (Verve), cut in 1958 with Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt taking turns.

I got into jazz in the 1970s, but I didn't really get systematic about it until the mid-1990s, and the book I got the most good out of was Tom Piazza's The Guide to Classic Recorded Jazz. I always meant to make an index from it but never got around to it. He reviews about 800 albums, and I must have 90% of them. Nothing useful on avant-garde jazz, but he stops with Woody Shaw. I don't agree with him on some things -- it bothers me when people fawn so over Parker and Tatum, to pick on two guys I like but not that much. (I'll take Hines over Tatum in a close cutting contest, and to go further out on a limb, I prefer Stitt to Parker, and Konitz and Pepper over both.) On the other hand, I have nothing but love for Diz.

The Gramophone Jazz Good CD Guide is also a superb resource. The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings is every bit as solid up to 1960 or so, and much more useful after that (although also way more idiosyncratic, so it's a lot more work to learn to use). I have the new The Penguin Jazz Guide but literally haven't opened it. Looks to me like a big step backwards, but I suppose that people who haven't been there might find that useful.

JY47NY was looking for a set of Parker's Savoys, and Bradley Sroka responded on that then added a bit:

Bradley Sroka writes:

In his Dial comp review, the Dean also recommends The Charlie Parker Story, which is the Savoy "Koko" sessions. I haven't heard it, but I'm sure it's a thrill to hear the session as it happened.

Actually, it's excruciating. You start off with three flubbed takes of "Billie's Bounce," then they play around with "Thriving on a Riff," find it tepid (and rename it "Warming Up a Riff"), then go back to dribbling "Billie's Bounce." When they finally get a take, they start destructing "Now's the Time," and eventually slog their way through "Riff" and "Koko." I've been tempted to write about "Koko" both when we were on Miles Davis's chops and and again when Gillespie came up. Diz played piano on the set, which was neither here nor there. Davis was supposed to play trumpet, but couldn't hack "Koko" so Diz pinch hit, but toned it down to to make it sound like Davis, so the trumpet line there isn't much of anything. But card-carrying jazz critics were so awestruck by Parker's breakneck solo that they've never stopped talking the song up.

This has long struck me as weird, but so does everything else in the Bird cult. Parker played virtually the same solo on Gillespie's "Shaw 'Nuff" -- all the way down to the fillip at the end which reminds me of a guy legging out an inside-the-park home run and finishing with a slide at home -- but the big difference was that Diz played like he could, and pushed Parker even harder. Until I heard Parker with Gillespie I never could stand the guy. But "Shaw 'Nuff" comes with a side-story that helped me to get it. Thad Jones first heard it in the navy on a boat in the Pacific and was so blown away he fell to the deck in rapturous convulsions. I've never felt that way myself, but sure, I can see it.

I first listened to Charlie Parker in 1976, when I was in New York. I picked up Bird/The Savoy Recordings (Master Takes), which Bob had recommended in terms little short of ecstatic, and a second 2-LP set, The Verve Years (1950-1951). I thought they sounded like utter crap. I quizzed Bob about them. He assured me I had the right stuff, and never understood why I couldn't get it. When CDs came out, I bought Parker again, and again, and again. I've never listened more to music I didn't like. One theory I had was that I had gotten spoiled on Coleman and Braxton. For a while I thought I hated bebop, but soon I found myself making exceptions for virtually everyone else: Gillespie, Powell, Fats Navarro, JJ Johnson, Wardell Gray, Clifford Brown, Art Blakey, Dexter Gordon, Al Haig, Elmo Hope. I liked Parker's Dials a bit better than his Savoys, but the septets included Lucky Thompson.

When I wrote my "Jazz for Dummies" piece in 1996, I dropped in a line critical of Parker and ran into stiff resistance and painful editing. I had crossed some sacred line, and my editor was pushing back not so much because he disagreed (although he did) as he didn't want me to be permanently blacklisted by saying anything so ridiculous and/or blasphemous. Indeed, it took another eight years before I the Voice published another jazz piece by me (and even then, nowhere near Parker). I softened on him, partly because I figured out ways to interpret other people's reactions to him -- like the Thad Jones story, or various Mingus interviews -- and partly because I heard so many of his songs done by others. I have 28 sets rated in my database (44 CDs). Didn't bother with the 10-CD Verve box or the dregs of the live bootlegs, from Bird's Eyes through the 7-CD Dean Benedetti Recordings box.

Rhino's 1997 2-CD Yardbird Suite strikes me as all anyone needs: starts off with Gillespie's sextet tracks, does a nice job of fileting the Savoys and Dials, ends with a generous slice of the Rockland Palace Concert, which is as good as "Bird with strings" ever got. If you still want more, try Verve's eponymous Charlie Parker (but nothing else on Verve) -- a quintet set with Hank Jones, the cleanest sound Parker ever got. The only other thing I really recommend is "Red Cross," originally under Tiny Grimes' name. Shows up in a super 2-CD comp, The Birth of Bebop, that came out on Charly in 1997 -- probably real hard to find these days.

PS: Looks like the 2003 reissue of The Charlie Parker Story has been reordered more sanely, and may have more stuff, although the latter is a scary prospect. I don't have the set Milo mentioned (JSP's 5-CD Charlie Parker: A Studio Chronicle 1940-1949) but it has the aforementioned "Red Cross," in fact a whole CD pre-1945.

Couldn't post that as I wrote it: MSN has a 4000 character limit for comments and this came close to 4700, so I cut out the "Jazz for Dummies" paragraph and a bit of the previous, posted what was left, then read it and it all felt broken, so I posted the cutout with a short intro for context. Cam Patterson later quoted some of this, and commented:

Is this common and/or unique within jazz criticism? From my perspective as a reader, a "Kill Yr Idols" perspective seems better accepted within the rock crit literature. (OK, maybe not so much at Rolling Stone, but TH is talking about the Voice here.) I'm not taking sides here, just curious how this works for writers.

I've run across this vibe once before: when it seemed like every rock critic on earth suddenly fell in love with Bruce Springsteen. We didn't, and that was taken more as a lack of sanity on our part than as the sort of thing that critics can respectably dispute -- we here meaning Don Malcolm and myself in Terminal Zone. Still, the Parker taboo is much deeper. If you're a trad jazz fan, fine, Parker isn't your guy, but if you believe in modern jazz in any way shape or form, Parker is your founder and savior, the one who changed everything, who made the new world possible, and who gave his life in the process. You can't doubt Jesus and claim to be a Christian. How can you doubt Parker?

That seems a little melodramatic, but it's the closest I can come to explaining what I experienced. I can't think of a single non-trad jazz critic who describes Parker in terms less than miraculous: he's always improvising, always inventing; someone slams a door or blows a whistle and lo and behold he's already worked it into his flow. Musicians are no less awestruck, and writers often take their clues from musicians. There are other jazz musicians who are consensus heroes: Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane at the very least, but even there it isn't hard, or unacceptable, to point to weak spots in their work. Dizzy Gillespie started earlier, lasted much longer, but isn't given anywhere near the credit Parker gets.

I doubt that it is just jazz. It's basic to paradigm building to collect a set of shared beliefs including exclusions, and if you can't buy into those beliefs, you belong in some other paradigm. Rock, country, blues, each has its own pantheon, and you challenge them at your peril. A lot of blues people think of Robert Johnson in terms similar to Parker. Both died young, although Parker left a lot more work. Both were hailed as founders, which required one to forget much of their context and history.

Milo Miles agreed with my comments on the false starts in The Charlie Parker Story:

I agree, idolizing all this fumbling around is like saying the holy grail is the manuscript with all the author's cross-outs and multiple revisions preserved. Jaysus, the idea is to eliminate all that prolog noise. A bit may be interesting, but not nearly as much as the version-maximalist culture decrees.

He also commented on his own reaction to Parker:

Of course, these are the same sides that made me hear jazz the for the first time. I vote to listen how Parker chops up rhythm and phrases -- especially on extended rolls of doing so. It's quite extraordinary to my ears, but I got zero tech training, so I may be a mudbug. Also, I think he's an emotional snarl of yarn that you either relate to or not. In a way more appealing than fellow-snarl Miles Davis. Because Parker, you know, he's on a KC plain, he can't complain.

That's fair enough; reinforces my idea that going through Coleman and Braxton first took some of the edge off Parker. Sroka returned quoting Christgau, and then some:

This is the best I can do concerning Parker: Bob writes "No one else has ever articulated so many ear-boggling, mind-expanding, stomach-churning, rib-tickling musical ideas so easily -- so brilliantly -- so insouciantly -- so passionately -- so fast." I agree with this, but want to add "and yet somehow remained faithful to every chord change, and maintained perfect voice leading." These latter two things are not essential for "good" music, but hearing him navigate these changes with so many fresh notes, and then hit notes all up and down his range, and have them all fold together into perfect little gestures that fall into unusual places within the harmonic rhythm . . . It's thrilling!

That said, I'm much colder on Clifford Brown, who regularly practiced a similar feat. I think the difference is that Parker remains so melodic (rather than just virtuosic), and so rhythmically inventive. Bob writes that Parker wrote heads with a "jokily virtuosic tunesmanship that suited his arcane harmonic interests," but honestly, his harmony is rarely as complex as advertised (instead, see Tadd Dameron). But the rhythms, phrases, and chromaticism were rich, complex, difficult, fantastic, etc. So, is it heady? Yes. Emotional? Maybe not for everyone. But I find that it is for me.

I can't argue with fast, but can't say as I hear much of any of the rest of it, and not just because it's expressed in superlatives that turn out to be short on substance. Most writing on Parker is chock full of this sort of abstract hagiography. Christgau was tickled enough with his quote to add:

The stuff about his arcane harmonic interests was me writing slightly over my head, of course, but the fact that Dameron's may have been (were, if you say so) more arcane doesn't mean Parker's weren't arcane as well. The rest follows from there -- with jazz, I've learned how to be fairly canny about writing over my head. Parker is really the only bebop player I've ever listened to a whole lot, unless Monk counts, which I'm convinced he doesn't -- bebop was just lucky to share an era with him. I know the rest of the canon and admire just about all of them, but Parker I love. Just put on a record now and my own personal shitlist detector was in heaven. And she's not even all that deeply into him. That could be a fun summer project.

The remarks about Parker being "so melodic" and "so rhythmically inventive" at least get me to scratch my head and think: certainly the rhythm must be distinct otherwise someone other than Max Roach could have played it; but while Parker appropriated great heads, did how solos really hold up as melody, or were they just dazzling speed flashes? But the rest of this is mysticism or mythmongering. Admittedly, I'm not proficient enough technically to do anything but envy Bob's ability to cannily write over his head: his line on Parker is great hype; the only problem is that I can't hear it. And when he proposes Parker as a summer project, I can only think how dreary: spending all that time digging out nuggets about which he can only say more of the same thing. Parker wasn't quite a one-trick pony, but he wasn't much more either.

Jeff Binder:

Re: Charlie Parker, I'm not sure what it is that makes him hard for some people to hear, but I can identify as well. When I actually manage to pay attention to one of his solos I find it hard to stop listening for an hour or more, but half the time they just fly by. I've always gotten a much more intense kick out of Diz and Bud Powell, both of whom can get me dancing around the apartment pretty much instantly. It can't just be the recording quality. Maybe it's a combination of recording quality and tempo.


As much as I try not to -- and I've been trying not to since that Dial LP 2-fer -- I tend to zone out when Parker is soloing. That's with years of music theory in my baggage (though admittedly, muso is not my usual listening mode). Whereas I snap to attention when, you guessed it, Dizzy takes over. Same experience, over and over. What is it about the one that's so much more engaging than the other? Undoubtedly at half speed, or transcribed, as in the Giddins and Deveaux book, Parker can be more easily parsed to understand why he's great . . . . But parsing doesn't equal aural pleasure. That latter has to be worked at in his case.

Jason Gubbels:

My attraction to Charlie Parker has always been primarily the ebullient sound that came out of his alto -- not so much his flurry of runs or sustained melodic outbursts, but just the shimmering bright noise he offered up. To this day, when I think of Bird, the first thing that comes to find is the sheer joy of listening to a rapid statement of a theme followed by cascades of sound. Sorry to be so non-technical, but sometimes you go with your gut.

May 2011 Jul 2011