Tuesday, June 28, 2011
Music: Current count 18377  rated (+17), 820  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 , 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.
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
Monday, June 27, 2011
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
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
Sunday, June 26, 2011
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week, but
first: quote of the week, from
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Monday, June 20, 2011
Music: Current count 18360  rated (+35), 826  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.
Premier Roeles: Ka Da Ver (2009 , 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.
Pablo Held: Glow (2010 , 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.
Lars Dietrich: Stand Alone (2010 , 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.
Bastian Weinhold: River Styx (2010 , 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.
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.
Dave Juarez: Round Red Light (2010 , 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.
Chantale Gagné: Wisdom of the Water (2010 ,
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).
Omer Avital: Free Forever (2007 , 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.
Neil Welch: Boxwork (2009 , 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.
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.
Craig Taborn: Avenging Angel (2010 , 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.
J.D. Allen Trio: Victory! (2010 , 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
Avram Fefer/Eric Revis/Chad Taylor: Eliyahu (2010 ,
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.
Tim Berne/Jim Black/Nels Cline: The Veil (2009 ,
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.
David Weiss & Point of Departure: Snuck Out (2008
, 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.
Matt Lavelle: Goodbye New York, Hello World (2009
, 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.
Atsuko Hashimoto: . . . Until the Sun Comes Up (2010
, 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.
The Louie Belogenis Trio: Tiresias (2008 ,
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.
Wolfgang Muthspiel: Drumfree (2010 , 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.
Roseanna Vitro: The Music of Randy Newman (2009-10
, 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."
Amy London: Let's Fly (2009-10 , 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.
Eco D'Alberi (2008-09 , 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.
Curtis Macdonald: Community Immunity (2009 ,
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.
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,
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
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
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
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
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."
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,
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
- 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
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
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
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
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
Thursday, June 16, 2011
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
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
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: Current count 18325  rated (+39), 837  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 ,
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.
- Johnny Hodges: Blues-A-Plenty (1958 , 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.
- NYC Salsa: The Incendiary Sound of Latin New York
(1970-79 , 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.
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
The Essential Django Reinhardt (1949-50 ,
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.
The Essential Eartha Kitt (1952-57 , 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.
The Essential Lena Horne (1941-75 , 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.
Ralph Alessi and This Against That: Wiry Strong (2008
, 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.
Adam Kolker: Reflections (2010 , 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
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
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.
Whitney James: The Nature of Love (2009 ,
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."
Antoinette Montague: Behind the Smile (2009 ,
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.
Roy Gaines and His Orchestra: Tuxedo Blues (2009
, 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.
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."
Weasel Walter/Mary Halvorson/Peter Evans: Electric Fruit
(2009 , 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.
Ketil Bjørnstad/Svante Henryson: Night Song (2009
, 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.
Michael Dessen Trio: Forget the Pixel (2010 ,
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.
Mort Weiss: Mort Weiss Meets Bill Cunliffe (2010
, 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.]
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
Marcin Wasilewski Trio: Faithful (2010 , 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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?
Paul Krugman: Welcome to the Recovery, the title taken from
Geithner's "tone-deaf" August 2010 op-ed. Krugman then cites Goldfarb,
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:
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
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.
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
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: [ . . . ]
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,
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.
Just a reminder: when people start talking about the plunging dollar,
dollar debasement, whatever, the actual numbers look like this:
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.
Previously hinted-at 2010 "left-field" find: Archie Bronson Outfit:
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
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.
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
Band that got better when a key member split: Roxy Music.
Monday, June 06, 2011
Music: Current count 18286  rated (+31), 856  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
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.
Claire Ritter: The Stream of Pearls Project (2009-10
, 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.
New Tricks: Alternate Side (2010 , 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.
Lisa Hilton: Underground (2010 , 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.
Helen Sung: (re)Conception (2009 , 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.
BassDrumBone: The Other Parade (2009 , 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.
Sei Miguel/Pedro Gomes: Turbina Anthem (2008 ,
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.
Bruno Chevillon/Tim Berne: Old and Unwise (2010 ,
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.
Orchestre National de Jazz: Shut Up and Dance (2010
, 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.
Orchestre National de Jazz: Around Robert Wyatt (2009
, 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.
I Compani: Mangiare! (2010 , 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.
Harriet Tubman: Ascension (2010 , 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
Kenny Werner: Balloons (2010 , 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.
Nguyên Lê: Songs of Freedom (2010 , 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.
Pedro Giraudo Jazz Orchestra: Córdoba (2010 ,
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.
FivePlay Jazz Quintet: Five of Hearts (2008-10 ,
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.
Peter Evans Quintet: Ghosts (2010 , 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
James Carter: Caribbean Rhapsody (2009-10 ,
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.
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
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.
Matana Roberts: Live in London (2009 , 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.
Chris Barber: Memories of My Trip (1958-2010 ,
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Facebook, and on
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Wednesday, June 01, 2011
Stepped in a big pile of Bird shit tonight, starting innocently
enough over at the
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 , 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
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,
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
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.
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.
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.