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Monday, June 30, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23459 [23423] rated (+36), 539 [559] unrated (-20).

Highest rated count in some time, although a couple of those came from catching bookkeeping omissions. With nothing (of note) coming in, I took a big bite out of the jazz queue -- but still haven't gotten into the stack of Roberto Magris albums, or the Sonny Simmons box. I had one reader ask why I haven't said anything about the Miles Davis bootleg, but despite asking for it I didn't receive, and I'm not in any hurry to try to judge three discs on Rhapsody with none of the doc that is essential for "historical" releases.

Knocked out five tweets while wrapping this up, skipping the Joe Henderson albums from nearly a week ago. They'll be in the next Rhapsody Streamnotes, along with the previous week's Hendersons. My twitter feed is now up to 50 followers, so I guess that's a milestone, but it doesn't seem like much of one. Those who have signed up have seen 238 tweets.


Recommended music links:


New records rated this week:

  • Itamar Borochov Quartet: Outset (2011 [2014], Realbird): trumpet, fences with Hagai Amir on alto sax for a snappy pianoless hard bop group [cd]: B+(**)
  • Camper Van Beethoven: La Costa Perdida (2013, 429 Records): [r]: B
  • Camper Van Beethoven: El Camino Real (2014, 429 Records): return stalled, but new album gets their sound right, plus songs [r]: B+(**)
  • Mark Charig/Georg Wolf/Jörg Fischer: Free Music on a Summer Evening (2010 [2014], Spore Print): avant cornet/alto horn trio, scrawny, scrappy, scratchy [cd]: B+(*)
  • Jeff Colella/Putter Smith: Lotus Blossom (2013 [2014], The American Jazz Institute/Capri): piano-bass duets, Strayhorn title, rather quiet, unimposing, all the lovelier for that [cd]: B+(**)
  • Davina & the Vagabonds: Sunshine (2014, Roustabout): MN band, Devina Sowers writes and sings sunny blues with a jazz feel and a Fats Waller cover [cd]: B+(**)
  • Lana Del Rey: Ultraviolence (2014, Interscope): slow and not much fun, until sonics and perversity kick in, but still not sure I want to know her [r]: B+(***)
  • Danny Freyer: Must Be Love (2014, Blue Bend): "Dean Martin looks, Frank Sinatra voice" -- ok, discount that by 30%, and beware the strings [cd]: B-
  • Holly Hofmann: Low Life: The Alto Flute Project (2014, Capri): flute jazz rarely appeals, but helps that she sticks to alto here, also gets help from Anthony Wilson [cd]: B+(*)
  • Kasai Allstars: Beware the Fetish [Congotronics 5] (2014, Crammed Discs, 2CD): Kinshasa megagroup, rough vocals over thumb pianos and makeshift percussion, wears a bit [r]: B+(***)
  • Peter Lerner: Continuation (2014, OA2): guitarist manages a slickly integrated octet, Geof Bradfield on reeds, Willie Pickens on piano [cd]: B+(***)
  • Mars 4-Tet: The Blind Watchmaker (2014, Summit): average-good sax-piano quartet, pick up a bit when covering Monk, Jarrett, and Led Zeppelin [cd]: B+(**)
  • Felix Peikli: Royal Flush (2013 [2014], self-released): Norwegian clarinetist, quintet with guitar and piano, plus guests (special and not) for extra clutter [cdr]: B
  • The Ralph Peterson Fo'tet Augmented: Alive at Firehouse 12: Vol 2: Fo' n Mo' (2013 [2014], Onyx): clarinet-vibes-drums trio + soprano sax & percussion on a kick [cd]: B+(***)
  • Popcaan: Where We Come From (2014, Mixpak): Jamaican dancehall star, riddims strike me as more idiosyncratic than that, lyrics more oblique [r]: B+(***)
  • Rallidae: Paper Birds (2013 [2014], self-released, EP): art-song trio rubs me raw, better when the two instrumentalists (sax, bass) just play [cd]: B-
  • Andrew Rathbun Quartet: Numbers & Letters (2012 [2014], SteepleChase): saxophonist with Phil Markowitz piano trio, wide range of postbop moves and motifs [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Harold Rubin/Barre Phillips/Tatsuya Nakatani: E on a Thin Line (2009 [2014], Hopscotch): old but avant Israeli clarinetist, has had an interesting life, still full of surprises [cd]: B+(***)
  • Saxophone Summit [Dave Liebman/Ravi Coltrane/Joe Lovano]: Visitation (2011 [2014], ArtistShare): post-Brecker, teamwork rules, Liebman-Lovano-Coltrane flow, Markowitz-McBee-Hart help out [cd]: B+(***)
  • Bobby Selvaggio: Short Stories (2013 [2014], Origin): alto saxophonist, fills album with fast, swooping, virtuosic sax runs, with Aaron Goldberg piano [cd]: B+(**)
  • Sonzeira: Brasil Bam Bam Bam (2014, Talkin' Loud/Virgin): Gilles Peterson production, Brazilian stars + Seun Kuti, a dance mix with attractive quirks [r]: B+(***)
  • Storyboard [David Boswell/Alex Locasio/Rod MacDowell]: Hello (2014, My Quiet Moon): guitar-electric bass-drums trio, not quite fusion, nor soul jazz, just a basic groove with nowhere to go [cd]: B
  • Paul Tynan & Aaron Lington: Bicoastal Collective: Chapter Four (2013 [2014], OA2): trumpet/baritone sax marriage, their shrinking band an organ trio [cd]: B+(*)<
  • Cornelius Veit/Eugen Prieur/Jörg Fischer: Stromraum (2012-13 [2014], Spore Print): guitar-electric bass-drums, even scratchier but fits tight and goes places [cd]: B+(***)
  • Brahja Waldman Quintet: Sir Real Live at Resonance (2013 [2014], self-released): limited vinyl, two-sax quintet with piano-bass-drums, basically vamps with frills [cdr]: B+(**)
  • Walt Weiskopf: Overdrive (2014, Posi-Tone): tenor saxophonist, gets lots of help (piano, guitar, vibes) and blows right through the clutter [r]: B

Old records rated this week:

  • Joe Henderson: Joe Henderson in Japan (1971 [2006], Milestone/OJC): [r]: B+(***)
  • Joe Henderson: Joe Henderson Big Band (1992-96 [1997], Verve): [r]: B+(*)
  • Art Hodes: Keepin' Out of Mischief Now (1988, Candid): 84-year-old trad jazz pianist sums up a lifetime on this solo stroll through classics [r]: A-
  • Oscar Peterson et Joe Pass: A La Salle Pleyel (1975 [1997], Pablo/OJC, 2CD): two solo sets by virtuosi who need no help, and a few duets, turning on the charm [r]: A-


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Dave Kain: Raising Kain (Stop Time)
  • Mark Meadows: Somethin' Good (self-released)
  • Isabel Stover: Her Own Sweet World (self-released)

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links this week:


  • Josh Barro: Yes, if You Cut Taxes, You Get Less Tax Revenue: On Sam Brownback's tax cuts in Kansas:

    Kansas has a problem. In April and May, the state planned to collect $651 million from personal income tax. But instead, it received only $369 million.

    In 2012, Kansas lawmakers passed a large and rather unusual income tax cut. It was expected to reduce state tax revenue by more than 10 percent, and Gov. Sam Brownback said it would create "tens of thousands of jobs."

    In part, the tax cut worked in the typical way, by cutting tax rates and increasing the standard deduction. But Kansas also eliminated tax on various kinds of income, including income described commonly -- and sometimes misleadingly -- as "small-business income." Basically, if your income results in the generation of a Form 1099-MISC instead of a W-2, it's probably not taxable anymore in Kansas.

    Barro goes through the details, showing how to move income around to lower your tax rate, mentioning cases where reduced tax liability in Kansas is offset elsewhere. But the bottom line is that the revenue loss is much greater than advertised, and the jobs gain is hard to see if not flat out negative. Susan Wagle, the Republican Senate leader, has recently admitted that the purpose of the tax cuts was to "starve the beast" [state government], and therefore claimed that they were working, regardless of the disingenuous sales pitch. The latest GOP plan for making up the shortfall is to borrow $600 million, so that will also contribute to "starving the beast." Barro also doesn't go into cases where local governments have raised property and/or sales taxes to compensate for less state revenue. Nor that things like state college tuition keeps rising much faster than inflation, so students will bear extra burden.

    Also see John Eligon: Brownback Leads Kansas in Sharp Right Turn, which is four months old and kind of a puff piece. Brownback ran for president in 2008 and got something like 3% in neighboring Iowa's Republican caucus, so he gave up his safe Senate seat to get some executive experience as governor and prove to the nation how wonderful his radical "red state model" would be, hoping that would put him back into the presidential race. Needless to say, he's been a complete disaster.

  • Dominic Gates: 787 still having problems with unfinished work from SC: You remember this story: Boeing's genius management decided they could pinch pennies by moving 787 assembly from Washington to South Carolina -- at least they pocketed a big kickback for "creating" all those jobs (i.e., the ones they destroyed in Washington). The new workers slowed Boeing down and proved so inept that Boeing has had to ship their work back to Washington to be repaired.

    According to employees, when mechanics removed the cradles that held the rear fuselage in place on Dreamliner No. 214 -- destined for Royal Jordanian Airways -- nearly 100 improperly installed fasteners clattered to the factory floor.

    A subsequent inspection found the South Carolina team in Everett had installed hundreds of temporary fasteners near the join between the two aft fuselage sections without the collars needed to hold them in place.

    "If they can't make sure this is done, what else are they forgetting?" said a frustrated Everett employee.

    He said that the error showed a lack of the most basic knowledge and that this work should be routine at this stage in the jet program.

    Also see Paul Krugman: An Innovation Lesson From Germany: Less Disruption, More Quality:

    Here's the key point on the remarkable German export story: German labor is very expensive, even compared with the United States' (see this chart from the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

    And this has been true for decades, yet Germany is a very successful exporter all the same. Not by producing the latest tech product, but by maintaining a reputation for producing high-quality goods, year after year.

    If Germany seems remarkably competitive given its high costs, the United States is the reverse; our productivity is high, but we seem to be consistently bad at exporting -- and have remained so throughout my professional life. I used to think it was our cultural insularity, our difficulty in thinking about what other people might want. But is that still plausible?

    Actually, Boeing has long been the largest US exporter, usually by a huge margin, so they clearly know how to build for world markets. Also, their only serious competitor is Airbus, based in Germany and France, where their wages are higher than Boeing's, so there's no competitive reason why Boeing has to cut labor costs. Boeing does so for purely ideological reasons, and not infrequently they hurt themselves in the process.

  • Alicia Johnson: Supreme Court Throws Up More Abortion Barriers by Knocking Down Buffer Zones: Anti-abortion "protesters" routinely harass women as they attempt to enter Planned Parenthood and other clinics where abortions are performed -- happens routinely here in Wichita, and often elsewhere. Massachusetts passed a law promising a 35-foot hassle-free buffer zone around clinic entrances, and the Supreme Court unanimously threw it out claiming it violates the free speech of the protesters. I tend to think of myself as more protective of free speech than most Americans, but I find this ruling appalling. It says in effect not only that one has the right to speak freely but they also have the right to get in your face, to force you to listen to their rants. Moreover, in this specific case the ruling advances a specific political agenda for taking a basic right away -- something the Court should start to take an interest in protecting, given how anti-abortion agitators have used harrassment, vandalism, and murder to reduce availability of abortions. (Of course, murder remains illegal, but in places like Massachusetts and Wichita it has only occurred after an atmosphere of harrassment has developed, and that's what this ruling permits.)

    Of course, this ruling could be interpreted to allow all sorts of more aggressive, in-your-face demonstrations for worthy causes. Why shouldn't Occupy Wall Street protesters be able to hector traders and bankers all the way to their business doors? Why shouldn't Code Pink be allowed to say their piece when they interrupt speeches and government hearings? Why don't we set up gauntlets around Army recruiting offices similar to what the anti-abortion protesters do? All of this would be consistent with the Court's unanimous ruling, but in fact we do commonly place limits on where free speech can take place -- e.g., many demonstrations are penned up in so-called "free speech zones" where they can't make their targets hear their message.

  • Gaius Publius: Obama Loosens Four-Decade Ban on Crude Oil Exports: Every GOP platform I can remember has an N-point plan calling for "energy independence" but it's only under Obama that the elusive goal has been met. Still, the decision to allow crude oil exports after banning them for 40 years shouldn't have been automatic. Absent the export option, one of two things would have happened: companies would slow production down to conserve oil for later demand, or they'd pump it and cut the price until current demand caught up. Either would have benefited consumers, which is to say most Americans, and the former would be better for limiting carbon emissions. Allowing exports only helps production companies.

    Why worry about climate change when there's money? That's not oil in those tankers and pipelines; that's cash. And it's Obama's job, and every other president's so far, to not get between the owners of carbon and their profit-making (sorry, job-creating).

    Your takeaway? This is another example of Obama protecting the profits of the carbon industry, while at the same time he laments the damage it does.

  • Joseph E Stiglitz: Inequality Is Not Inevitable: This sums up a series of posts called The Great Divide.

    So why has America chosen these inequality-enhancing policies? Part of the answer is that as World War II faded into memory, so too did the solidarity it had engendered. As America triumphed in the Cold War, there didn't seem to be a viable competitor to our economic model. Without this international competition, we no longer had to show that our system could deliver for most of our citizens.

    Ideology and interests combined nefariously. Some drew the wrong lesson from the collapse of the Soviet system. The pendulum swung from much too much government there to much too little here. Corporate interests argued for getting rid of regulations, even when those regulations had done so much to protect and improve our environment, our safety, our health and the economy itself.

    But this ideology was hypocritical. The bankers, among the strongest advocates of laissez-faire economics, were only too willing to accept hundreds of billions of dollars from the government in the bailouts that have been a recurring feature of the global economy since the beginning of the Thatcher-Reagan era of "free" markets and deregulation.

    The American political system is overrun by money. Economic inequality translates into political inequality, and political inequality yields increasing economic inequality. In fact, as he recognizes, Mr. Piketty's argument rests on the ability of wealth-holders to keep their after-tax rate of return high relative to economic growth. How do they do this? By designing the rules of the game to ensure this outcome; that is, through politics.

    One minor quibble I have here is that I wouldn't say that "America [or capitalism] triumphed in the Cold War." I'm reminded of a wrestling match where one fighter dies of a heart attack and the other falls on top of the corpse to claim the win. The Soviet Union's economic system indeed performed poorly in the 1980s, but for Russia the real economic disaster occurred in the 1990s when state resources were turned over to a handful of oligarchs.

    But the basic point is solid: growing inequality is the result of policies that favor the rich and disadvantage virtually everyone else, and can be reversed by other policies. The rich were able to obtain those policies for a number of reasons, including that the US political system has always been highly susceptible to corruption -- and was, therefore, defenseless when business interests started their sustained assault on the political system in the 1970s (cf. the Potter Stewart letter, a conspicuous turning point).


Also, a few links for further study:

  • Juan Cole: Waiting for the Arab Summer: An excerpt from Cole's new book, The New Arabs: How the Millennial Generation Is Changing the Middle East. He's looking for a return of the liberal democrats that started the Arab Spring, that have largely been eclipsed of late, but figures the demographics will still be there once the flames of war have burned out.

  • Fred Guerin: The Compelling Conclusion About Capitalism That Piketty Resists: Well it's that capitalism, in practice if not necessarily in theory, sucks. Since Piketty takes pains to distance himself from Marx (even while adopting his title), it's the first point on the mind of every Marxist critic. This at least articulates the point at length, and rather eloquently.

  • Elias Vlanton: The Unkindest Cut: Book review of Joshua Steckel/Beth Zasloff: Hold Fast to Dreams: A College Guidance Counselor, His Students, and the Vision of a Life Beyond Poverty. Vlanton, by the way, is a very dear friend from my college days, and could well write his own book on this subject.

  • Some Iraq links:

    • Juan Cole: Top 5 Reasons US Aid to "Moderate" Syrian Fighters Is Quixotic
    • Roi Kais: US fears Israel would be dragged into war with ISIS: Fears? Dragged? Didn't Israel already bomb ISIS positions in Syria last week? Admittedly, if Israel enters an existing US war against Arabs, that's going to reflect poorly on the US, but it's not as if the US hasn't already tarred itself with its slavish support of Israel's numerous violations of human rights and international law. Given that alliance, it's all the more stupid for the US to get into an anti-Arab (or specifically an anti-Sunni) war.
    • Yifa Yaakov: US: Jordan may ask Israel to go to war against ISIL: Same credibility issues as the US asking for Israeli support, except that the latter doesn't involve any domestic risk, it just adds credibility to ISIS/ISIL in that it gives them another enemy pretty much anyone likely to support them already detests. On the other hand, if the Hashemites need Israeli support to survive a revolt of their own people, they're pretty much doomed anyway. (Not that they didn't get away with it once before, but that was a long time ago and a complete surprise.)

    There's lots more that could be said on the subject of Iraq, but I'm not finding many links that make what I feel is the key point. The only just endpoint for the now-linked civil wars in Syria and Iraq is a diplomatic agreement where all sides agree to step down and stop killing each other, and let their differences be sorted out peacefully at the ballot box. It's widely assumed that Sunni jihadists would never agree to this, but in fact Sunni Islamists do exceptionally well in elections, and only resort to terrorism when peaceful political routes are blocked. One certainly shouldn't assume that they're the problem, especially when you have dictators in Damascus (and Amman) and a narrowly sectarian government in Iraq to deal with, not to mention regional interests of the Kurds. It won't be easy to solve these issues, especially since a solution will have to appear to be fair to (i.e., to give a fair chance to) all groups. One might, for instance, consider redrawing some borders (since, frankly, Sykes and Picot didn't do a very good job). Or one might consider restructuring the countries among more federalist lines, which would allow more local control at a finer level of granularity. There's also the thorny question of oil revenues, which should be pooled and distributed per capita (benefitting Syria, and Jordan if they got involved, but inequity in Iraq is also a problem). For that matter, it would be good to throw some Saudi and Kuwaiti oil into the pool (the other Persian Gulf emirates too). But the most important thing is to get the outsiders to stop interfering: Iran, of course, but also the Saudis, Qataris, and whoever else has been bankrolling all those jihadis. Also Russia and the US, which means the US cutting some kind of side deal with Iran to ensure that the Persian Gulf shipping lanes will remain open. (It would also be good to solve the Israel-Palestine thing, but thus far it looks like that's separable -- a good thing given that Israel refuses to solve anything, and thinking about Israel costs the US about 40 IQ points.)

    So if that's the end point, what should the US be doing now? Unless Baghdad is on the verge of getting overrun, I don't see any value in backing Maliki -- least of all in giving him air support that suggests he has a hope of regaining lost Sunni territory. Nor does arming the so-called Syrian "moderate rebels" make any sense, since that just prolongs the war there. US sanctions against Iran and Russia are probably not helpful either, although surrendering them would help as would settling side issues (like that mess in Ukraine). The bigger problem is how to get some leverage on the Saudis and Gulf Arabs, but those monarchs (and their families) own a lot of assets in Europe and the US that could be frozen, and for that matter those monarchies are overdue for democratic revolutions (especially given US support, including air cover).

    If this reads like fantasy, compare its likelihood to the chance that anything good might come out of Obama's pledges of "advisers" and drones for Maliki and $500M of small arms for those "moderates" in Syria. (And try to recall the last time when any ad hoc group with $500M of arms exercised any moderation at all.) The US has repeatedly tried to pick sides in the Middle East, thinking its "lesser evils" will always trump those "greater evils," and almost invariably coming up wrong. We need to come to a comprehension that the only US interest in the region is peace and stability, and that peace and stability only comes through democracy and a sense of social justice and equality. Also that one essential part of the solution is that the US give up its military presence in the region, which has thus far brought nothing but war and instability, not least through our backing of a corrupt oligarchy.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Home Town Blackout?

Tweeted this today:

B&N pushes Sons of Wichita on their website, so I expected to find it on sale at their store, but in Wichita they don't even stock it.

The book is Daniel Schulman: Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty. B&N has it on sale for 35% off -- a much better deal than Amazon offers (looks like the publisher is one of those Amazon's been trying to shake down). B&N's website lists is as the 7th best selling book in politics & current events, just ahead of Elizabeth Warren's A Fighting Chance and Glenn Greenwald's No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State. Wichita is the home turf of the Koch family and their company, probably the second (or third) largest employer in town, so you'd think their would be more than average interest in the book here -- certainly not zero. So you don't have to be paranoid to wonder whether someone's arm's been twisted a bit.

I've seen a couple excerpts from Schulman's book in Mother Jones, and they strike me as basically fair:

I've also seen a piece (don't have link) where Schulman speculates that the Koch's libertarianism could help steer the Republicans back to more moderate positions on "culture war" issues. I've never seen any evidence of this. Presumably, for instance, as libertarians the Kochs support abortion rights, but not enough to break with any Republican who comes close to them on money issues. And they should be against drug prohibition and every aspect of America's military presence in Asia and Africa, but those issues never seem to factor into their political patronage.

Daily Log

Monday, June 23, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23423 [23394] rated (+29), 559 [568] unrated (-9).

Most of what follows showed up on Saturday's Rhapsody Streamnotes column -- Mary Gauthier's lovely little record is an exception, as are several of the "old music" entries, including two Joe Henderson sets. (More Henderson next week -- such splits are what you get with arbitrary cutoffs.) With Henderson, I've started to go beyond Penguin Guide 4-stars (Our Thing) to pick up a few 3.5 stars (Relaxin' at Camarillo, which by the way I think is the better of the two, probably because he's more comfortable as the sole horn). The unrated 4-star list was already 950 long and I was in no worry about running out (even with Rhapsody's omissions cutting that list way down). It just seemed likely that I would find some of the 3.5-star records more appealing -- indeed, I know that's often the case. I've started to put an unrated 3.5-star record list together, and it will have a bit more than 4000 records. I doubt that I'll put much effort into tracking them all down, but when I hit an artist I'm inclined to explore further (like Henderson, or the late Horace Silver) I'm likely to delve a bit deeper down the list.

Finished painting my basement steps, and that looks like a real improvement. Probably the next step is to paint a segment of basement wall that I want to build some new storage in and around. At some point I want to cover up the cement floor with something nicer, but it will take a number of steps to get there, and that wall is the start. On the other hand, the real critical project is reducing the clutter around my workspace -- a bummer, I'm afraid, every time I enter and try to work on something. Not just hideous but ridiculous.

Note that the incoming mail practically dried up this week. Indeed, only two (of five) records were by names I recognized -- one of those by a recently deceased flute player. Sorry I haven't been able to keep up with tweeting all the old music grades. I need to hit them more in real time to avoid clustering.


Recommended music links:


New records rated this week:

  • Darren Barrett: Energy in Motion: The Music of the Bee Gees (2014, dB Studios): trumpeter, a little postbop on melodies that can't escape muzak [cd]: B-
  • Darren Barrett dB Quintet: Live and Direct 2014 (2014, dB Studios): postbop trumpet, Myron Walden on sax, try running fast and wild but not far [cd]: B
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Alexey Lapin: The Russian Concerts (2013 [2014], FMR): also sounds unique but keeps growing, the pianist helps too [cd]: A-
  • Andrew Downing/Jim Lewis/David Occhipinti: Bristles (2013 [2014], Occdav Music): bass-trumpet-guitar chamber jazz trio, polite standards and light improv [cd]: B+(*)
  • Mary Gauthier: Trouble & Love (2014, In the Black): folk singer-songwriter from Louisiana, moves slowly through eight songs, deepening their truth [r]: A-
  • Paul Giallorenzo's GitGo: Force Majeure (2013 [2014], Delmark): Chicago pianist with the fun horns of the original V5 (Jeb Bishop, Mars Williams) [cd]: B+(***)
  • Brian Groder Trio: Reflexology (2013 [2014], Latham): trumpet trio with Michael Bisio and Jay Rosen, avant-jazzers working within the tradition [cd]: B+(***)
  • Chrissie Hynde: Stockholm (2014, Caroline): past pretending to be a Pretender, sounds unique as ever but never was so great that's all she needs [r]: B+(*)
  • Ideal Bread: Beating the Teens: Songs of Steve Lacy (2013 [2014], Cuneiform, 2CD): quartet (Josh Sinton, Kirk Knuffke, Tomas Fujiwara) dedicated to Steve Lacy plays on (and on) [cd]: B+(***)
  • Dolly Parton: Blue Smoke (2014, Sony Masterworks): terrific Dylan cover, amusing French-speak, nice one about old friends, hot up front, then cluttered [cd]: B+(*)
  • Adam Schroeder: Let's (2013 [2014], Capri): baritone saxophonist, fine contrast to Anthony Wilson's guitar, with John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton [cd]: B+(***)
  • The David Ullmann 8: Corduroy (2014, Little Sky): guitarist leads an octet with four name horns (Stillman, McGinnis, Knuffke, Drye) and vibes [cd]: B+(**)
  • Peter Van Huffel's Gorilla Mask: Bite My Blues (2013 [2014], Clean Feed): avant-grunge trio (sax and electric bass), plays at ugly, gets serious at ugly [cd]: B+(*)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Sleepy John Estes with Hammie Nixon: Live in Japan (1974 [2014], Delmark): grizzled oldtime blues whiner from Tennessee w/hometown harpist, served raw [r]: B+(***)

Old records rated this week:

  • Air: Open Air Suit (1978, Novus): [r]: B+(**)
  • Gil Evans: Gil Evans & Ten (1957 [1989], Prestige/OJC): [r]: B
  • The Gil Evans Orchestra: Into the Hot (1961 [1999], Impulse): [r]: B
  • Gil Evans/Steve Lacy: Paris Blues (1987 [1988], Owl): [r]: B+(**)
  • Gerry Hemingway Quartet: Devil's Paradise (1999 [2003], Clean Feed): looks like a dream group (Ray Anderson, Ellery Eskelin, Mark Dresser), but not quite [r]: B+(***)
  • Joe Henderson: Our Thing (1963 [1995], Blue Note): equally a showcase for Kenny Dorham, but look out for Andrew Hill's piano bubbling under it all [r]: A-
  • Joe Henderson: Relaxin' at Camarillo (1979 [1993], Contemporary/OJC): tenor sax quartet, Henderson enjoys the sole horn slot, and Chick Corea is at his best [r]: A-
  • New Air Featuring Cassandra Wilson: Air Show No. 1 (1986 [1989], Black Saint): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Horace Silver Quintet: The Tokyo Blues (1962 [2009], Blue Note): one of the few Blue Notes I missed and for no good reason: catchy, funky, transcendent [r]: A-
  • Horace Silver: Paris Blues: Olympia Theater, Paris, 1962 (1962 [2002], Pablo): live shot, repeats two Tokyo Blues tunes, adds three classics, stretched out a bit too much [r]: B+(**)
  • Horace Silver: The Hardbop Grandpop (1996, Impulse): big time comeback album, the rush of stars (Michael Brecker, Steve Turre) missing the point [r]: B+(*)
  • Horace Silver: Jazz Has a Sense of Humor (1998, Verve): last album, a new quintet young like the old ones, the old pianist feeling young too [r]: B+(***)
  • Terrell Stafford: Centripetal Force (1996 [1997], Candid): [r]: B+(**)
  • The Michael Jefry Stevens/Dominic Duval Quintet: Elements (1994 [1996], Leo): [r]: B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Alan Chan Jazz Orchestra: Shrimp Tale (Crown Heights Audio Network)
  • Wayne Coniglio/Scott Whitfield: Fast Friends (Summit)
  • Kali Z. Fasteau: Piano Rapture (Flying Note)
  • Sam Most: New Jazz Standards (Summit)
  • Anne Waldman: Jaguar Harmonics (Fast Speaking Music)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Weekend Roundup

Let's start with Richard Crowson's cartoon of the week for a little dose of Kansas politics:

Mike Pompeo is the current two-term Republican congressman from the greater Wichita area. He is generally regarded as a Koch crony, although he's extremely hawkish, a first-line defender of the NSA. Todd Tiahrt is his eight-term predecessor, a Tom DeLay disciple, closer to the Christian right, closer still to Boeing (Bush nicknamed him "Tanker Todd"), and he feels entitled to reclaim his House seat, so they're fighting it out in a big money primary. And being Republicans, that means they're trying to out-asshole one another, something both have real talent for (although I have to give Tiahrt the edge there, ground Pompeo will try to make up with money). And, of course, the shifty-eyed guy on the right is Gov. Sam Brownback, who's actually done the sort of damage that Pompeo and Tiahrt only dream about.

Some scattered links this week (mostly on Iraq):


  • Paul Krugman: The Loneliness of the Non-Crazy Republican: Hank Paulson wrote an opinion piece on the need to face up to climate change, "in the same way we acted to contain the financial crisis." Paulson is a Republican, in fact a very rich one, but Krugman points out:

    But that's not the sad part about Paulson's piece; no, what's sad is that he imagines that anyone in the party he still claims as his own is listening. Earth to Paulson: the GOP you imagine, which respects science and is willing to consider even market-friendly government interventions like carbon taxes, no longer exists. The reins of power now rest firmly, irreversibly, in the hands of men who believe that climate change is a hoax concocted by liberal scientists to justify Big Government, who refuse to acknowledge that government intervention to correct market failures can ever be justified.

    Given the state of US politics today, climate action is entirely dependent on Democrats. With a Democrat in the White House, we got some movement through executive action; if Democrats eventually regain the House, there could be more. If Paulson believes that he can support Republicans while still pushing for climate action, he's just delusional.

    Nor is climate change the only, or even an exceptional, topic where Republicans have simply evacuated any sort of rational ground.

  • Elizabeth Samet: Can an American Soldier Ever Die in Vain?: Samet teaches literature to officer cadets at West Point, which leads to more than a little weirdness, as we become sentimental about war instead of rigorously analytical about how to prevent or end it.

    Yet even after the revolutions in modern consciousness ostensibly occasioned by conflict in the 20th century, a pernicious American sentimentality about nation and war has triumphed, typified by demonstrative expressions of, and appeals to, a kind of emotion that short-circuits reason.

    It is a language of the heart that works to insulate us from the decisions we have made and paradoxically distances us from those whose military service we seek to recognize. We see it in the empty profusion of yellow ribbons and lapel-pin flags. We hear it in the organized celebrations of American heroes and patriotic values: celebrity public service announcements, beer commercials about military homecomings, the more jingoistic variants of country music, and the National Football League's "Salute to Service" campaign. All these observances noisily claim to honor and celebrate, in the words of the NFL, "the service and sacrifice of our nation's troops." We have become exhibitionists of sentiment: The more public and theatrical our emotional displays, the better we seem to feel.

    Indeed, what's the point of war if it doesn't give you that warm and fuzzy sense of unity that is so foreign to everyday existence in America today? Consider this passage:

    Everyone rose in unison, and some members of Congress wept as Obama extolled the sergeant's sacrifice. In this, antagonistic leaders could evince a solidarity they had not shown since they united in sending Remsburg to war in the first place. Submerged in the celebration of a "new generation of heroes" were all those nagging questions about the use of force that ought to have dominated debate in the first place. Lawmakers seemed to be seeking absolution for their earlier uncritical enthusiasm by joining together in a tearful expression of feeling.

    This sort of sentimental ity is one way Americans avoid the actual experience of war. While plenty of individuals experience tragic loss, the nation as a whole goes from one fake triumph to another, refusing to admit that so many individuals died for nothing -- "in vain," as the unspeakable phrase goes. Last week Obama was explaining the need to send more military forces into Iraq so as to prevent those who had died in the 2003-11 war from having "died in vain." The fact is that all those American soldiers -- more than 3000 of them -- died for no good reason and to no good effect, "for a mistake" as John Kerry once (but no more) had the guts to say.

  • Stephen M Walt: Being a Neocon Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry: Walt identifies four factors why people (in high places in government and the media) still take neoconservatives seriously, despite their perfect track record for being disastrously wrong: Shamelessness (their utter disregard for the truth); Financial Support (noting that even Elliott Abrams can "land a well-funded senior fellowship at CFR"); Receptive and Sympathetic Media (including New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post); and Liberal Allies (including Samantha Power and Susan Rice still working for Oama).

    The neocons' staying power also reminds us that the United States can get away with irresponsible public discourse because it is very, very secure. Iraq was a disaster, and it helped pave the way to defeat in Afghanistan, but at the end of the day the United States will come home and probably be just fine. True, thousands of our fellow citizens would be alive and well today had we never listened to the neoconservatives' fantasies, and Americans would be more popular abroad and more prosperous at home if their prescriptions from 1993 forward had been ritually ignored. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis would be alive too, and the Middle East would probably be in somewhat better condition (it could hardly be worse).

    I'd say that the problem is more deeply ideological. The American political class suffers from a tightly bound set of delusions that derive from the notions that America has a unique role in the world, that it has that role because of its unique commitment to freedom and justice, that dominant military power enhances that commitment, and that the result of American hegemony is benevolent for everyone in the world (except evil people who hate our freedom). The depth and resilience of belief in these tenets is really pretty amazing. It derives, I think, from the Cold War interpretation of the US in WWII, although that story was laid on top of a much older and deeper doctrine of American exceptionalism. It works because it is deeply flattering, and it continues to work because our political leaders (both in office and in the media, including followers of both parties as well as avowed centrists) keep repeating and reinforcing it -- a fairly trivial but nonetheless annoying example is how Obama ends every speech with "God bless America."

    Yet it wouldn't be hard to rephrase those planks in ways that make their absurdity obvious. Clearly, there are people who chafe at American power but are not evil, and all too often American power diminishes freedom. Clearly, military power does not ensure virtue, and in fact we readily recognize that power can be and often is abused. And on some level we must realize that Americans are not all that different from people elsewhere. In fact, it's worth noting that one of the old tenets of American exceptionalism was that we were a relatively classless society (at least as compared to Europe), something clung to more in theory than in fact then, but grossly overturned now -- whatever moral claims the US had as one of the world's more equitable societies has been squandered away, yet many cling to the belief and are repeatedly surprised when the world disagrees.

    It's worth noting that this cluster of ideological beliefs is more often than not untested. Although some people, mostly on the liberal interventionist side of the spectrum, instinctively see each and every problem in the world as ripe for American fixing, the powers that be have less appetite for trouble, so most conflicts are conveniently ignored. The neocons have little sympathy for all that humanitarian crap (although, as Walt says, they are shameless when it suits them -- cf. the Bushes fawning over all those Afghan schoolgirls they liberated), but what gets them worked up is any threat to US power. Thus, the US had to attack Afghanistan after 9/11, not to help anyone but to remind the world that the US can still kick their asses.

    The neocons are back now because one of their cherished myths is being tested: that the US occupation of Iraq had been a success, leaving a stable, viable allied government in place. (Conveniently, the neocons don't have to prove that any such thing ever existed, because they can quote Obama saying just that.) They argue that Obama has to act now not because lots of Iraqis may be killed -- their kind of action will just make that happen earlier rather than later -- but because if he doesn't act the myth of American omnipotence will be lost. And it looks like Obama believes them, not because they're credible so much as because the ideology they all adhere to is beyond question.


Also, a few links for further study:

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Rhapsody Streamnotes (June 2014)

Pick up text here.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Disruption in Theory and Practice

I read Jill Lepore's The Disruption Machine: What the Gospel of Innovation Gets Wrong with great interest and a little nostalgia. Her subject is Clayton M. Christensen, who became an instant business guru with his 1997 book The Innovator's Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business. From 1980 through 2000, I worked in a variety of businesses -- two large typesetting equipment manufacturers, a prepress software startup, and an operating systems spinoff -- as a software engineer and product manager. Almost from the beginning, I had unusually close access to top management, in part because I always tried to look at the big picture, at how the business worked and what it needed to survive and grow. In this I was often informed by reading business management books, although I often took them with a grain of salt.

The first big fad book I ran into was In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies (1982), by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr. The executives at my company at the time, Varityper, were much taken with the book, taking great pains to list out all the areas where their own management could be rated excellent. There was, in fact, little evidence for their conceit. I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how they even managed to stay in business, and eventually came up with an understanding of how a company with mediocre products and service could muddle through. But the relevant lesson here was realizing how fickle top management could be, how readily they could fall for the flattery of self-appointed business gurus.

Christensen's book had a similar impact when I was working for SCO much later. Like In Search of Excellence, The Innovator's Dilemma attempts to promulgate a set of general lessons from a handful of carefully selected case studies. Lepore goes back and reviews those cases, showing how arbitrarily they were selected and how systematically they were misanalyzed, effectively demolishing the book's research claims. But like Peters, who parlayed his fame into a lucrative consulting business (and continued to churn out increasingly ecstatic books, including: Thriving on Chaos, Liberation Management, The Pursuit of WOW!, and after Christensen came around, Re-Imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age), Christensen moved to cash in almost immediately.

The notion of "disruption" made a certain intuitive sense to anyone in the computer industry. The essential fact of electronics since the advent of integrated circuits has been radically falling costs and increasing capacity. The central challenge that high-tech companies faced was to find new markets for newly cost-effective technology, and often as not this was done by startup companies. By definition, their success was innovative, and that contrasted with the staid "cash cow" management strategies popular in "mature" industries. Christensen's innovation was to add the word "disrupt" to management vocabularies, which made him a big hit with managers flattered by this swashbuckling identity.

Christensen's book set off a great snark hunt for "disruption." SCO's business was selling UNIX operating systems ported to Intel microprocessors. They mostly sold OS licenses for about $1000 per machine through VARs, who would combine relatively inexpensive PC hardware, UNIX, and their own applications software into some kind of turnkey system which would be price/performance competitive against offerings from Sun and other UNIX-based "workstation" vendors. You could make an argument that SCO's business model was disruptive, and indeed companies like Sun would lose a good deal of business in the following decade. Moreover, SCO's business plan called for them to continue to profit as ever-faster-and-cheaper Intel chips powered larger-and-larger "enterprise" computers. SCO's management hired Christensen to speak at one of their gatherings, and sure enough he blessed their business plan as "disruptive."

However, when I read the book, I drew a different lesson. I saw that SCO was increasingly vulnerable to Linux, the "open source" UNIX-like operating system that anyone could use and work on for free. Companies that adopted it could add features that they needed. They just couldn't keep those features exclusively, but sharing the code reduced their costs and helped Linux grow rapidly for larger and more powerful computers. (At the time, I often quipped that SCO could sell UNIX to people who were too smart for Microsoft, or to people who were too dumb for Linux, but not both at the same time.) Needless to say, despite their endorsement from Christensen, SCO got disrupted before they could disrupt anyone. They enjoyed record revenues leading up to the Y2K drop dead rate, then collapsed and were effectively out of business a couple years later.

I don't really think that Christensen's original research and thesis were as bad as Lepore makes out. I did get several useful insights from the book: particularly, a reminder of how desperately managers cling to existing margin models. (Not really news to me: I recall Varityper's VP of Marketing explaining to me that he would like to sell a publishing front end based on Apple's $10k Lisa computer but couldn't afford to sell one based on Apple's then-forthcoming $1.5k Macintosh. The former turned out to be an overpriced stepping stone, while the latter turned out to be the desktop publishing platform that ate the entire typesetting industry. We were, by the way, fully aware of DTP start-ups like Aldus, but we were petrified by our business model.) But what I find indefensible about Christensen is how he turned his research into a business, and how easily he perverted that research into paid advertising.

My academic background was in sociology, and my focus there was in understanding how sociological research is perverted to reproduce the assumptions of its practitioners. Happens all the time, even when the researcher isn't the least bit corrupt or deceitful. But sociology at least aims at being a science. The same can't be said of whatever you call what business departments do: like, say, seminaries, they train people to fulfill a function (e.g., CEO) and to that end provide some common cultural information, scattered skills, and contacts. I don't know what all goes into the making of an MBA -- I imagine one popular course would be "Sports Clichés for Managers" but it could be that everyone in the program would test out of that -- but the essential insight MBA programs aim for seems to be that money is everything (at least all that matters). That's the environment that produces con men like Christensen.


Some other posts commenting on Lepore's piece:

Krugman makes the best point, which is that not only does the cult theory of disruptive innovation flatter rich high-tech entrepreneurs, it lets them be more insensitive to the plight of others (the people commonly known as losers. Krugman also recalls how Schumpeter's famous definition of capitalism as "creative destruction" has the same effect, hence its popularity among capitalists.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The Bush Legacy's Caretaker-in-Chief

I was thinking about doing a roundup of Iraq/Syria war posts, but despite finding some useful links -- cf. Juan Cole: Who are Iraq's Sunni Arabs and What Did We Do to Them?; Bob Dreyfuss: How Iraq's Crisis Got Started, and How It Didn't -- they seemed to be coming in rather scattershot. Then I ran across the following Obama quote in a comment and it pretty well sums up the essential incoherence of the American position(s). Obama's quote was from November 2010 on occasion of "The Erbil Agreement" which secured a second term as Prime Minister for Nouri al-Maliki:

I want to briefly comment on the agreement in Iraq that's taken place on the framework for a new government. There's still challenges to overcome, but all indications are that the government will be representative, inclusive, and reflect the will of the Iraqi people who cast their ballots in the last election. This agreement marks another milestone in the history of modern Iraq. Once again, Iraqis are showing their determination to unify Iraq and build its future and that those impulses are far stronger than those who want Iraq to descend into sectarian war and terror. For the last several months, the United States has worked closely with our Iraqi partners to promote a broad-based government -- one whose leaders share a commitment to serving all Iraqis as equal citizens. Now, Iraq's leaders must finish the job of forming their government so that they can meet the challenges that a diverse coalition will inevitably face. And going forward, we will support the Iraqi people as they strengthen their democracy, resolve political disputes, resettle those displaced by war, and build ties of commerce and cooperation with the United States, the region and the world.

Maliki got his first term in 2006 when the Bush administration conspicuously meddled in Iraq's political process to get rid of then-Prime Minister Ibrahimi al-Jaafari, an intellectual who was considered too socialist and too timid when it came to controlling the Sadr Movement militia (the Mahdi Army), perceived by the US as a major threat to its occupation. Maliki proved to be an effective strong man, but that was partly because the US could offer Sunni Awakening groups protection against Shiite assassination squads. With the departure of US troops, the protection and bribes that the US had provided vanished behind a thin cloud of rhetoric such as Obama spouts above.

Obama's speech is doubly dangerous. The obvious problem is that what he's describing is pure fantasy: Maliki is a sectarian, and the entire basis for his government, indeed the very structure of that government, was a set of tradeoffs designed to cultivate and reward sectarian parties. It may be obvious to Obama that what the Iraqi government needs to do is to is to become more inclusive and fair, but there was no reason to think that any politician in Iraq would put the public interest above his own pocketbook (and that of his own family, clan, etc.). That just wasn't in the cards, and that wasn't an accident: the US built Iraq that way.

Beyond the obvious problem of its fantasy lies a deeper problem in Obama's speech: he's trying to use Iraq's progress toward stability and prosperity as something vindicating Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq. For someone who gained a large chunk of his credibility for his early opposition to the Iraq War, his stance is stupid and insane. It's stupid because it wasn't true and it's falsity would become clear as soon as Iraq's government faltered -- which is what just happened. It's also stupid because it shifts the blame for Iraq's failure from Bush (who was solely responsible for the war) to Obama (casting away the credibility he gained from his antiwar stance). What Obama should have done is to remind people that this was Bush's war each and every time the subject came up, that it was a disaster, and what the real costs have been. Instead, Obama's legacy is littered with speeches like the one above, where he not only lies to us, he lies to himself. That's insane.

Many commentators (e.g., see Dreyfuss above) have pointed out that the Sunni Islamist insurgencies in Syria and Iraq are joined together. That is, after all, embedded in the name ISIS. They've also pointed out that while Iran and Qatar are consistent in supporting their co-religionists, the US is confused, backing Maliki while opposing Assad. It's certainly hard to see either government as worthy of support, nor is there any reason to think that either insurgency would solve anything. Indeed, the only sensible lesson that one can derive from either war is that all those who resort to violence should be condemned. But Obama isn't drawing that lesson, and you have to wonder why. The simplest explanation is that Maliki is "our" guy while Assad isn't, but that assumes continuity between the Bush administration (which was responsible for empowering Maliki) and Obama. Then there's the notion that the US can't help but choose sides and back one with military power -- there's simply no one in power who can think differently.

Still, that's hardly reassuring for the guy who campaigned on how he wanted to change the way we think about war.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Iraq/Syria Roundup


  • Juan Cole: Who are Iraq's Sunni Arabs and What Did We Do to Them?: History going back to the succession of Prophet Mohammad in 632, but with enough detail to reveal details that I didn't know (like how southern Iraq came to be predominantly Shiite, and more recently the evolution of ISIS).

  • Bob Dreyfuss: The Iraq-Syria Civil War Challenges Both the US and Iran: Emphasizes that the civil wars in Syria and Iraq "are one" -- a point US pundits have trouble comprehending because their instincts are to fight for one side in Syria and the other in Iraq. Dreyfus expands on this in How Iraq's Crisis Got Started, and How It Didn't.

  • Shireen T Hunter: The Real Causes of Iraq's Problems: Goes against the grain somewhat in trying to defend al-Maliki, citing "US efforts to achieve too many contradictory and incompatible goals," and the perversely confused interference of so many more of Iraq's neighbors.

  • Peter Van Buren: Why America Can Never Win in Iraq: Former State Dept. "hearts and minds" guy has learned enough from his experiences to draw further conclusions. One is that each failure detracts from the credibility that the US depends on to promise anything remotely close to success. But the US has more against it than its long legacy of failure. It isn't clear that anyone who supports intervention has even a cursory understanding of what's gone wrong, and perhaps more importantly they can't even articulate what success would look like.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23394 [23370] rated (+24), 568 [574] unrated (-6).

Everything down this week, myself especially. The hardest blow, of course, was the death of Alice Powell. The obit describes her as a "Hollywood liberal activist," but I recognized her as a Jewish "red diaper baby" with with the resilience and rock-solid political principles of those who expect nothing more than a lifetime of struggle -- an creed I could map to the old "protestant ethic" I admired but could never quite believe in. She was first and foremost an activist, working the masses from her first day in Wichita, not just through the venerable Wichita Peace group but through anyone who would have her -- notably, she organized a speaker program for an ad hoc group of liberal Republican women. With more than a little Hollywood glamor -- she was married to screenwriter Dick Powell, and before that to folksinger Cisco Houston -- she was exotic for Wichita, but she put on no airs. She was not just committed, she was genuinely interested in the people she met -- I'm tempted to say "everyone she met," but what I'm most certain of was that she took a special interest in me. I spent very little time with her on picket lines, but we wined and dined each other -- her parties were plainly meant to broaden our social horizons -- and we exchanged books. She cajoled me into giving a lecture on jazz to "the group" -- I dreaded it but it turned out not to be a disaster. She sent me Otmar Ottolenghi's Jerusalem cookbook, which I used for a fancy dinner the night before she died. We saw her last in March in Florida, when she had partly recovered from an initial round of cancer treatments -- possibly the one sweet spot in her ordeal. We were very lucky that she dropped into our lives. It doesn't seem like it was only five years.

And, of course, there's other stuff, not worth talking about. I only caught up with my tweets last night. The two A- records this week are marginal: Tsahar's is not as impressive as his Digital Primitive album last week, but after I wrote my line comparing him to Ayler and Coltrane I listened to the recent Coltrane vault dig -- while the sound was as expected, it turned out to be far more tedious than expected, something Tsahar never is. Ajemian's probably runs too long, and I doubt many rock crits will prefer it to PIL's Metal Box, but that's only the obvious comparison because there's so little like it.

Not a lot on Rhapsody this past week. (In fact, when I tried last night it wouldn't run for me.) Would probably be a good idea to run Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week -- I think I'm up to about 50 records, still well below recent averages in the 70s but enough to go around. I'll also work on that Pazz & Jop Product Report spec -- got a good start on that, then haven't found time to get back into it.


Recommended music links:


New records rated this week:

  • Jason Ajemian/Tony Malaby/Rob Mazurek/Chad Taylor: A Way a Land of Life (2006 [2014], NoBusiness): two freewheeling horns, or electronics when the pace wanes [cdr]: B+(***)
  • Jason Ajemian: Folklords (2012 [2014], Delmark): avant-bassist goes industrial, writes and sings like John Lydon, less intense, knottier rhythm [cd]: A-
  • Tigger Benford & Party: Vessel of Gratitude (2014, self-released): plays amadinda (Ugandan xylophone) with violin-bass-drums for a seductive groove [cd]: B+(*)
  • Tom Chang: Tongue & Groove (2012 [2014], Raw Toast): guitarist with postbop saxes (Greg Ward, Jason Rigby), hot rhythm, and bits of Carnatic classicism [cd]: B+(**)
  • John Coltrane: Offering: Live at Temple University (1966 [2014], Impulse, 2CD): adds to the history, but the hard, earnest search finds few pleasures [cd]: B+(**)
  • Mac DeMarco: Salad Days (2014, Captured Tracks): young singer-songwriter with a '70s vibe, like Buffett with no humor or Scaggs with no sex appeal [r]: B
  • Bob Dylan in the 80s: Volume One (2014, ATO): nobodies sing obscurities by a legend at the bottom of his game, oddly seems like the right combo [r]: B+(**)
  • John Fullbright: Songs (2014, Red Dirt): Oklahoma singer-songwriter, aims for plainspoken simplicity, if anything overshoots his target [r]: B+(*)
  • José James: While You Were Sleeping (2014, Blue Note): jazz singer slouches into neo-soul, his limits never clearer than when he tries on Al Green [r]: B
  • Tony Malaby Tamarindo: Somos Aqua (2013 [2014], Clean Feed): Avant saxophonist, with William Parker and Nasheet Waits, often terrific, less so on soprano [cd]: B+(***)
  • Lenny Pickett With the UMO Jazz Orchestra: The Prescription (2012 [2014], Random Act): showy sax leads, backed by smarter-than-average Euro big band [cd]: B+(***)
  • Samo Salamon Bassless Quartet: 2Alto (2012 [2014], SteepleChase LookOut): "bassless quartet" weaves the guitar tightly with two alto saxes I'd expect to be more distinct [cd]: B+(*)
  • Spiral Mercury Chicago/São Paulo Underground Feat. Pharoah Sanders: Pharoah & the Underground (2013 [2014], Clean Feed): Rob Mazurek, his toys, and a hero who doesn't add much [cd]: B+(*)
  • Sturgill Simpson: Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (High Top Mountain): some rockish feedback, but doesn't let postmodern distract from basics [r]: B+(***)
  • Assif Tsahar/Gerry Hemingway/Mark Dresser: Code Re(a)d (2011 [2014], Hopscotch): BassDrumSax, the latter sounding like Ayler and Coltrane on same horn [cd]: A-
  • Jack White: Lazaretto (2014, Third Man): blues rootsman quotes well but can't control himself, wrecking song after song, as if an accomplishment? [r]: B-

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Mali [Second Edition] (1996-2013 [2014], World Music Network): leaner and meaner desert blues threaten to sweep away the polyphonic south [r]: B+(***)

Old records rated this week:

  • Miles Davis: The Complete Birth of the Cool (1948-50 [1998], Capitol Jazz): early nonet sides with Konitz, Mulligan, & Gil Evans aim for cool, hit slinky [r]: B
  • Bob Dylan: MTV Unplugged (1995, Columbia): [r]: B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Davina & the Vagabonds: Sunshine (Roustabout): advance, July 15
  • Jua: Colors of Life (Chocolate Chi Music)
  • Paul Marinaro: Without a Song (Myrtle)
  • Matt Pavolka: The Horns Band (Fresh Sound New Talent): June 24
  • The Ralph Peterson Fo'tet Augmented: Alive at Firehouse 12: Vol 2: Fo' n Mo' (Onyx)
  • Allison Adams Tucker: April in Paris (Allegato Music)

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Bob Dylan: Playlist: The Very Best of Bob Dylan '80s (1981-89 [2010], Columbia/Legacy): B+(*) [rhapsody]
  • Al Haig: Al Haig Trio (1954 [2012], Essential Media Group): One of the best early bebop pianists -- in the late 1940s played with Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Stan Getz. Cut two trio records in 1954 with Bill Crow and Lee Abrams: this one for Vogue (although it says Period on the cover) and the other for Esoteric, both reissued by Fresh Sound. Esoteric got the crown, probably because there's more of it. B+(***) [rhapsody]
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Mali [Second Edition] (1996-2013 [2014], World Music Network): A landlocked slice of Saharan desert and western Sahel including a stretch of the Niger River, population 14 million (50% Mande with Fula, Tuareg, and Songhai also prominent), Mali has probably produced more significant music stars per capita than any other African state, but has fallen into chaos lately as Libyan arms have fed Tuareg and Islamist rebellions, and the French have intervened. This leans more to the lately fashionable arid blues and Saharan rock of the north, with Oumou Sangare the exception in all respects. B+(***) [rhapsody]

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Ever/Never

Rather than spending the day chasing down odds and ends, I want to focus on one key piece: Tom Engelhardt: A Record of Unparalleled Failure. This came out nearly a week ago (June 10), well before the Iraqi government -- the legacy of six year of US occupation -- lost control of the nation's second or third largest city (Mosul). Now that large parts of Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and large swaths of north Africa are under (sunni salafist) Islamist control, often identified with Al-Qaeda, it should be clear that the Global War on Terror G.W. Bush launched in 2001 has not only failed; it has blown back spectacularly.

Of course, the people who brought you all that war have a solution: more war. They blame the stalemate in Syria on Obama's reluctance to arm the so-called "moderate Syrian rebels" -- allowing the Islamist rebels to take over. And they see the chaos in Iraq as a consequence of the US pulling its troops out: firepower that both limited the Sunni insurgency and restrained the Shiite-dominated government. And they have more or less similar fixes for everything else, like the drone warfare over Yemen and the recent insertion of US Special Forces into Chad. They blame Obama for his week-kneed, wobbly responses. He, in turn, without any success on the Israel-Palestine diplomatic front, has been unable to resist the hawks' browbeating, repeatedly putting himself into lose-lose positions, where the hawks get to characterize the failures of American force as the results of "too little" rather than "too much."

There is an alternative view that virtually no one in Washington in any way invested in US foreign policy would dare bring up. Engelhardt makes this view succinctly:

Given the historical record, those conclusions should be staring us in the face. They are, however, the words that can't be said in a country committed to a military-first approach to the world, a continual build-up of its forces, an emphasis on pioneering work in the development and deployment of the latest destructive technology, and a repetitious cycling through styles of war from full-scale invasions and occupations to counterinsurgency, proxy wars, and back again.

So here are five straightforward lessons -- none acceptable in what passes for discussion and debate in this country -- that could be drawn from that last half century of every kind of American warfare:

  1. No matter how you define American-style war or its goals, it doesn't work. Ever.

  2. No matter how you pose the problems of our world, it doesn't solve them. Never.

  3. No matter how often you cite the use of military force to "stabilize" or "protect" or "liberate" countries or regions, it is a destabilizing force.

  4. No matter how regularly you praise the American way of war and its "warriors," the U.S. military is incapable of winning its wars.

  5. No matter how often American presidents claim that the U.S. military is "the finest fighting force in history," the evidence is in: it isn't.

And here's a bonus lesson: if as a polity we were to take these five no-brainers to heart and stop fighting endless wars, which drain us of national treasure, we would also have a long-term solution to the Veterans Administration health-care crisis. It's not the sort of thing said in our world, but the VA is in a crisis of financing and caregiving that, in the present context, cannot be solved, no matter whom you hire or fire. The only long-term solution would be to stop fighting losing wars that the American people will pay for decades into the future, as the cost in broken bodies and broken lives is translated into medical care and dumped on the VA.

Engelhardt's memory of America's wars goes back past the GWOT, all the way to Korea and Vietnam in the anti-communist era (the so-called "Cold War"), and he doesn't find any exceptions there either (nor in the so-called "little wars" that Max Boot is so fond of). The essay continues with him going back over all five points, adding details to reiterate the case. But he doesn't go after deeper answers. He doesn't, for instance, wonder how the American fetish for individualism and obsession with profit warp a military culture which has traditionally depended on selfless sacrifice. He doesn't go into the changes brought about as the Army abandoned the draft in favor of career soldiers (something Andrew Bacevich goes overboard on in his latest book, Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country). He doesn't even note that all of "America's wars" have been fought on foreign ground for political reasons that have had nothing to do with "the American way of life." He doesn't note the fickle tendency of American leaders to pick sides in fights they hardly understand, and how this almost invariably leads to the US allied with corrupt and ineffective leaders. He doesn't delve into how the desire to impose American-like systems of government always wind up reproducing the most unjust aspects of American society -- a problem that only became worse as conservatives gained power. (This is, of course, why Peter Beinart argued that only liberals could win the War on Terror, ignoring the fact that liberals had tried and failed to win the anti-communist wars in Korea and Vietnam.) Nor does he go into factors extrinsic to the US, such as the analysis that Jonathan Schell summed up perfectly in his book title, The Unconquerable World: Power, Nonviolence, and the Will of the People: could it be the case that one reason the US has always failed was that time and again it attempted the impossible?

When you think about it, not only is what Engelhardt says true, it's pretty obviously true for lots of easily identifiable reasons. Yet hardly anyone with a stake in power realizes that. Engelhardt reminds us: "keep in mind that we are inside an enormous propaganda machine of militarism, even if we barely acknowledge the space in our lives that it fills. Inside it, only certain opinions, certain thoughts, are acceptable, or even in some sense possible." There are lots of components to this propaganda machine, but I think the blinders that most elites have that prevents them from doubting the efficacy of "the military option" are rooted in two great myths.

The first is that the US always fights for right, and therefore our motives and goals are beyond question. For this, one can cite our major wars: the War for Independence, which established our democracy free from foreign rule; the Civil War, which ended the odious "peculiar institution" of slavery; and the World Wars, when Germany and Japan threatened to subdue whole continents and subject them to racist and colonialist exploitation. Of course, this ignores the 1848 Mexican-American War and 1898 Spanish-American War, which were blatant imperialist land grabs, and slights the many Indian wars, which were land grabs with a whiff of genocide thrown in. But after WWII, the anti-communist wars aligned the US with capital (and its cronies) against labor, ultimately leading to grave damage to America's own working class -- which is to say to the detriment of most Americans, as well as most people in the countries we fought or subverted. Moreover, where the US failed to impose its will, it turned out to be remarkably petty and vindictive, as we see even today in US efforts to blockade Cuba and North Korea.

The problem here is not just that our motives are impure -- if you look close enough you'll find that they never were, although it certainly suited the people who led those wars to get us to think so -- but that this sense of self-righteousness results in a huge blind spot around the terrible costs of war. Indeed, how blind one can be is amply demonstrated by WWII, which saw the US carpet-bombing Europe, creating horrific firestorms in Japan, and ultimately using nuclear weapons that obliterated whole cities. The notion that that was "the good war" is frankly obscene. What was "good" about it was that it was run by the most fair-minded and equitable administration the US ever enjoyed, one that worked hard to instill in all Americans an unprecedented sense of joint purpose and solidarity, and that was what felt good. But on the war fronts, which few Americans actually experienced, the usual atrocities of war prevailed.

And ever since then, that sense of solidarity is remembered in unthinking ritual, in waving the flag and commemorating veterans and cheering the troops, as if what they do now has anything to do with our declining standard of living.

The second myth has to do with the ever-increasing efficiency of killing that the US military wields. The problem here isn't that the efficiency is mythical (although it takes on mythical airs in some respects, like the doctrine of "shock and awe"), but that it gives our political elites a false sense of superiority and, indeed, invulnerability which makes them excessively confident and therefore more likely to use "the military option." On the other hand, the military's measures of killing efficiency turn out to be of very little value in the real world. No enemy since the Chinese in Korea have fought anything resembling a conventional war against the US, yet that never stopped them from finding effective ways to fight -- especially as the US is always fighting on foreign territory, ostensibly in support of local allies which necessarily provide cover for their enemies.

We also need to consider the touchy subject of defense. The US military has become increasingly reluctant to risk the lives of its soldiers: eliminating the draft has much to do with this, but one should also factor in the decreasing stakes of the wars the US has entered into -- maybe Iraq matters to Exxon, but is it worth your while to risk your life for slightly cheaper gasoline back home? The worst case scenario for Iraq might embarrass some politicians and generals but won't change a single thing in everyday life back home -- except, of course, for the ex-soldiers wounded and traumatized, and recognizing that helps push survival to the top of nearly every soldier's priority, changing the risks they're willing to take, and reducing their effectiveness at everything but killing.

The bottom line here is that the first time anyone in power says anything about "hearts and minds" you know that the US has lost the war, because American soldiers don't do "hearts and minds": they kill people, they blow shit up, they act menacing and invincible, but that's it. They may be the most efficient killers in the world, but for anything else they're useless, in large part because they're scared shitless any time they're not on the offensive.


While I was contemplating writing about Engelhardt's post, I ran across another piece that says the exact same things (working in a few of the extra points that I chided Engelhardt for not digging up): Gordon Adams: Blame America ("The United States tried to build a stable state in Iraq. We should've known better."):

What is happening in Iraq right now is both a cautionary tale and an unfolding tragedy. The lesson is not about leaving Iraq too early, nor is it about having a Status of Force Agreement that would have kept us there. It's not about firing the current national security team and appointing another one. It's not about the effectiveness of air power in halting the advance of an insurgency.

The caution is about the blithe American assumption that the United States is omnipotent, that with enough money, good will, expertise, equipment, and training Americans can build foreign forces and bring security to troubled areas around the world. The tragedy is that what the U.S. does and has done leads down the road to failure. And more often than not, America bears the costs of its mistakes.

Iraqi security has always depended on the quality of Iraqi security forces and the capabilities of the government in Baghdad that commands them. Since 2003, the United States has spent more than $25 billion training and equipping the Iraqi military. Supporting the government that commands them cost the American taxpayer more than a trillion dollars, more than 50,000 dead and wounded Americans (not to speak of the trillion we will spend mopping up the mental and physical damage the war did to our own soldiers). Somewhere between 500,000 and a million Iraqis, so far, have paid for that temporary sense of security with their lives.

Now that the Iraqi military is folding like a cheap umbrella in a thunderstorm, reshaping the surrounding region, from Syria to Kurdistan and potentially far beyond, the Obama administration is left with a pitifully ugly set of options about what to do next.

The lesson is a telling one, and not one the administration or Congress (or much of the public) has learned: We cannot remake other countries, build their militaries, make them behave, and guarantee their security, either through occupation or by training and equipping their militaries.

The story of Iraq is a microcosm of American experience intruding in the security affairs of other countries and being humbled. It started more than 100 years ago, when we invaded the Philippines, spent years there, and left behind a country that remains insecure to this day. In the 1930s and beyond, we provided security and armed and trained a Nicaraguan military that became a dictatorship and remains troubled to this day. From early in the last century to the 1990s, U.S. forces imposed order in Haiti, which remains a basket case.

The biggest and most disastrous case, of course, may be Vietnam, where we supported a corrupt regime with little popular support. That war cost more than $750 billion (in constant dollars), took the lives of 58,000 U.S. military personnel, and left more than 150,000 wounded. And it ended in a loss with security guaranteed by the Viet Cong and the armies of North Vietnam.

Why do we repeatedly do so badly when trying to bring security to troubled countries? Because our military doesn't do it very well. Because we don't have the military or civilian capacity -- nor the wisdom -- to build other countries' forces. And that is because it is almost impossible to do. The very attempt to provide security and build stability in another country is tragic in the most pure, Greek sense: We head toward a doomed fate, doing what we believe to be right, only to have our efforts undone by the effort itself, since occupation always creates resistance and opposition.

Back during Bush's runup to the Iraq War, it suddenly became very popular to talk about the US occupation of Germany and Japan as huge success stories. Anyone familiar with the details should have objected, as indeed John W. Dower (author of War Without Mercy: Race and Power in the Pacific War and Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II) did, explaining both that Iraq had next to nothing in common with Japan, and that the United States in 2003 was nearly as far removed from the US in 1945. Some of the big differences:

  • Germany and Japan were utterly exhausted by war, their economies destroyed, and facing starvation.
  • Their people plainly understood that their leaders had started the war with no real provocation. In both cases the US entered the war long after it started, in response to acts or declaration of war by the Axis powers.
  • Neither Germany nor Japan had had any previous experience under colonial control, and the US at the time had no ambitions other than to make sure that neither country would start another war. (Japan's constitutional embrace of pacifism hit that note perfectly.)
  • The US government was well left-of-center, and sought not just to establish democracy in Germany and Japan but to bolster labor unions and ensure that the democracies would be left-of-center.
  • Within a few years, the US shifted direction in opposition to the Soviet Union and opened up investment and trade to pick up local business support, effectively turning Germany and Japan into allies.

Iraq and Afghanistan had their own experiences with colonial and quisling rulers. As Muslims, they had grown up with the historical remembrance of the Crusades and the knowledge that their ancestors had beaten back the infidel invaders. (Afghanistan, of course, was responsible for the utter rout of British colonial forces in the 19th century, as well as the more recent destruction of the Soviet Union.) So the idea of fighting back was deeply embedded in both places, and the pathetic performance of the Saddamist and Taliban armies smelled more like desertion than defeat, and happened to haphazardly that the people wound up with large stockpiles of arms.

The Bush administration, on the other hand, was utterly cynical about government, seeing it as little more than a vast store of pilferage and patronage -- they invested more in Iraq for the bare reason that there was more to steal there. Moreover, they were absolutely shameless in their manipulation of constitutions and elections, seeing them as games to be scammed to make sure that the resulting institutions were dependent on and submissive to the US, as opposed to representative of their constituencies. (In other words, pretty much the same attitude Republicans have toward elections in the US.) And when things went wrong, they talked a lot about "hearts and minds" and sent the military out to do the only thing it does at all well: kill. And when that didn't work, they whipped multiple sides up and aimed them at killing each other, a divide strategy that didn't conquer so much as protract the embarrassment of defeat. Obama finally pulled out not so much because he knew better as because the entire war machine was so wore out that they preferred to move on to greener pastures -- drone warfare, Libya, north Africa, places where they can do their damage without getting their boots dusty (or bloody).

Still, Engelhardt and Adams are very exceptional in pointing out the obvious about US military power. It's very hard for politicians to do the same, not because they can't see failure all around them so much as that hawk patriotism is so entertwined with self-flattery of Americans, and politicians understand that flattery works. Give us a prospective crisis like, say, preventing the destruction of the Shiite shrine in Karbala and no self-revering American will concede that there's nothing we can do to save it, and that if we even tried the most likely outcome would be that we blow it up ourselves.

Ultimately we need to understand: there is no answer to war but no war. Until we take that to heart, we'll be stuck in this endless cycle of futility.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Stage Right in Wichita

The Wichita Eagle ran my little "Opinion Line" squib yesterday:

Terrific timing by longtime Boeing flack Todd Tiahrt to announce his campaign the same day the last Air Force plane left Boeing Wichita. At least the Koch flunky belongs to a company that still employs Wichitans.

Opinion Line is anonymous, limited to 50 words or less (mine was 36, but still half again too long for Twitter), published daily next to the letters on the editorial page. Mine refers back to May 30, when the front page article was "Final Air Force plane leaves Boeing Wichita" while Tiahrt's announcement that the former congressman (1995-2011) would run against incumbent Mike Pompeo (2011-) in the Republican primary was further back.

Some background: Stearman Aircraft was founded in Wichita in 1927, one of several dozen airplane companies back then. Stearman wound up as part of Boeing in the late 1930s, and Boeing's Wichita plant grew enormously during WWII, becoming the main manufacturer of a series of Boeing bombers (B-17, B-29, B-47, B-52). My father worked at Boeing for 38 years, and my brother for 23, but Boeing started breaking down their Wichita operations (for several reasons, one of which was that Wichita was the most heavily unionized plant Boeing had). In 2005, most of the plant was merged into a private equity company called Spirit AeroSystems, set up by Onex. At the time, Boeing kept the small military part of the plant attached to McConnell Air Force Base. A large part of their military business was maintenance of the KC-135 tankers based at McConnell, but Boeing came up with a scam to replace the aging tanker fleet with planes modified from the obsolete 777 commercial airliner. The leading advocate in Congress for those tankers was Todd Tiahrt -- so much so that Bush's nickname for Tiahrt was Tanker Todd. All through the long sales effort Wichita was promised 1,000 jobs if the deal went through, but as soon as it did, Boeing announced they would close their Wichita plant and move the work elsewhere.

Tiahrt was first elected to congress in 1994. He was one of the crop of political activists who developed out of the so-called "Summer of Mercy" when anti-abortion activists targeted Wichita. He was on Boeing's payroll before he was elected, and remained as one of Boeing's most reliable lackies throughout his eight terms. He was a religious fanatic, but he was also very close to Tom DeLay and deeply involved in the culture of corruption around DeLay. (DeLay rewarded Tiahrt with a seat on the House Appropriations Committee.) Tiahrt was an extreme right-winger, but not the sort of principled Tea Partier who would vote against Big Pharma's Medicare drugs scam.

In 2010 Tiahrt ran for an open Senate seat and lost the Republican primary to Jerry Moran, also a Congressman initially elected in 1994, but slightly more libertarian, and much closer to the Kochs. Tiahrt's seat was picked up by Mike Pompeo, a businessman very close to the Kochs. Tiahrt tried his hand as consulting, and seems to have been involved in Boeing's decision to leave Wichita. Pompeo, meanwhile, has been relatively active in Congress. He's worked hard to promote the Kochs' line on ending subsidies for renewable energy (even though wind power is very popular here in Kansas), and he's generally been critical of the sort of "corporate welfare" that Tiahrt specialized in (although I don't think he's questioned the Air Force tanker deal, and he managed to pass a deregulatory bill that's very popular with local general aviation interests). But he's also taken a very hawkish stand in favor of the NSA spying on Americans -- most libertarians are against those things, but the Kochs don't seem to care much as long as it doesn't affect their bottom line. And he's a West Point graduate, so jingoistically pro-military he got appointed to the House's Benghazi! circus committee.

In short, Pompeo is awful, but Tiahrt is evil. It's hard to know where to start. It's not just his perfect sense for the worst possible policies -- his tireless promotion of the Boeing tanker scam, his "Tiahrt amendment" sheltering deals between gun sellers and criminals, his campaign to send US troops into the Philippines in 2001 (resulting in needless deaths), barely start the list -- but also his sanctimonious demeanor and charismatic appeal to the worst instincts of his followers. (And, of course, who know why one of his sons killed himself? What can I say? The guy is downright creepy.)

Pompeo was recently reported as having $2.1 million left in his campaign slush fund. Tiahrt routinely collected more money than that. Good chance the campaign will be nasty and brutish.


Some more Opinion Line today, by others but along similar lines:

Sad to see Boeing Wichita close. Somewhere on a golf course in Florida, a former dismissed CEO named Harry Stonecipher is smiling.

How is voting Republican working for you union-hating right-wingers at Boeing? Are you going to "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" and start a business? Or are you going to take the unemployment insurance you wanted to deny others and complete your journey from maker to taker?

Tiahrt has entered the Republican primary for Congress saying that Mike Pompeo is not far right enough. I guess Pompeo is a flaming liberal. As a Democrat, I'm just going to sit back and enjoy the fun.

I can't forsee much fun in this campaign, but I do hope that both drain their campaign coffers in the primary, and in the process thoroughly expose themselves to be the malignant political forces they both are.

Monday, June 09, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23370 [23342] rated (+28), 574 [557] unrated (+17).

Although the rated count doesn't look too shabby, I fell way behind in new jazz this past week, partly because more mail came in than any week this year, partly because I didn't find much time for it. My main time sink this past week was a woodworking project: I built a stand to mount a large TV on. To keep the clutter out of the house, I did most of the work in the back yard, and the weather wasn't very accommodating. There were a lot of rain breaks -- as of May 1 we had suffered through the driest first four month stretch in Wichita history; we're still 3.5 inches low, but unlikely to set any further records -- and when it wasn't raining it was uncomfortably hot and humid. Plus both sawdust and paint irritate my allergies, so I've been suffering and as grouchy as can be. Finally got the stand bolted to the wall on Saturday, then spent several trips to the hardware store until I got some VESA mounting screws that worked. Then we had to find some generous muscle to lift the TV into place -- finally got that done today. Maybe we'll catch up on Game of Thrones after I get this posted.

The other major time sink this past week has been Bob Dylan. Michael Tatum gave a surprise (to me, anyway) A- to Bob Dylan in the '80s, a tribute album out in March, then Robert Christgau wrote a very favorable review of the album in Spin. But rather than dive straight into it, I thought it would be helpful to fill in the gaps in my own Dylan database -- two 1973 albums, and literally everything from 1976-88, plus a couple best-ofs. Dylan was a huge figure for my generation but he was less than monumental for me. I recall buying a single of "Rainy Day Women" when it came out, but I didn't pick up any Dylan LPs until the early 1970s, and often had mixed feelings about them. For various reasons, I hated The Times They Are a-Changin', "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands," and "Forever Young" -- pet peeves that stuck in my mind -- but worst of all was an album nearly everyone praised, Blood on the Tracks but I found little short of nauseous. My initial response to Desire was more favorable -- "Hurricane" had become the second Dylan single I bought -- but when various critics slammed it I demurred and gave up any interest. I stopped buying, and stopped listening, a streak that didn't break until Christgau hyped Under the Red Sky as a major comeback. Premature, that turned out to be, but I found myself rather liking 1992's Good as I Been to You, and that was followed by a remarkable series of albums, at least up to 2009's Together Through Life.

I'm not quite through with that exercise, and I didn't find the time (or inspiration) to craft tweets as I worked my way through, so you'll have to wait for the next Rhapsody Streamnotes for more info than the grades convey. The grades, by the way, rarely wander more than a notch from Christgau's -- Dylan & the Dead was probably the largest shift (up), which I'm inclined to explain by comparison to his numerous so-called live albums. (I also didn't tweet the various versions of Miles Davis' In Person, as they would all have wound up saying the same thing.)

One other item worth noting here is that Chuck Eddy recently made a pitch for a revival of the Pazz & Jop Product Report. The original ran 1976-77, with ten critics asked to rate up to ten records they like on a 1 . . 10 scale (except no 9, 6, or 4), and up to four records they dislike on a -1 . . -4 scale. These votes would then be summed up, cumulatively over time. A monthly report would list the top ten records with at least one new vote each month. For a sample, see this scan (thanks to Brad Luen for finding it).

I'm thinking about writing up a brief technical proposal for such a thing. Could be a variation (or even a subset) of two other projects I have been thinking about.

Also note that the first three June 3 releases I checked out got A- grades (the Alvins, Miranda Lambert, Parquet Courts). I even bought the only one available in the local Best Buy. Haven't yet checked out Fucked Up, Die Antwoord, Meshell Ndegeocello, Camper Van Beethoven, Joe Henry, Bob Mould, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, Lee Fields, Sage Francis, Harry Dean Stanton, or anything else in an exceptionally promising week.


Recommended music links:

  • Odyshape Mid-Year Report: For list fanatics. Note that Withered Hand, which sounded pretty minor when I checked it out, swept Wussy four-for-four.


New records rated this week:

  • Dave Alvin/Phil Alvin: Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy (2014, Yep Roc): surefire, especially with Muddy Waters pointing the way [r]: A-
  • Angles 9: Injuries (2013 [2014], Clean Feed): saxophonist Martin Küchen's vigorous and intricate ensemble, adding Magnus Broo's trumpet fireworks [cd]: B+(***)
  • Boogaloo Assassins: Old Love Dies Hard (2013, Sicario, EP): LA salsa crew returns to simpler times, "Do You Wanna Dance" crosses over every way [r]: B+(***)
  • Digital Primitives: Lipsomuch/Soul Searchin' (2011 [2014], Hopscotch, 2CD): Cooper-Moore's homemade strings warp space and time, Assif Tsahar's sax soulful [cd]: A-
  • Dave Douglas & Uri Caine: Present Joys (2013 [2014], Greenleaf Music): trumpet-piano duets by brilliant musicians who somehow fail to generate expected sparks [cd]: B+(**)
  • Miranda Lambert: Platinum (2014, RCA Nashville): already rich & famous, she buffs up her brand, which includes smokin', drinkin', and "Oh Sh!t" [cd]: A-
  • Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal (2014, What's Your Rupture?): Brooklyn group of Texans, get a lot of mileage with their post-Velvets sound, all it takes [r]: A-
  • Cene Resnik Quartet: Live: From the Sky (2013 [2014], Clean Feed): stealthy avant sax backed with violin, bass, and drums; unexceptional but very tight [cd]: B+(**)
  • François Tusques: La Jungle du Douanier Rousseau (2013 [2014], Improvising Beings): longtime avant pianist from France with a sax or two in the mix [cd]: B+(**)
  • Neil Young: A Letter Home (2014, Third Man): the real Americana -- the covers folkier, cornier, sweeter, slighter, triter [r]: B+(**)

Old records rated this week:

  • Miles Davis: In Person: Friday Night at the Blackhawk, San Francisco: Complete Volume 1 (1961 [2003], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Miles Davis: In Person: Saturday Night at the Blackhawk, San Francisco: Complete Volume 2 (1961 [2003], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): [r]: A-
  • Miles Davis: In Person: Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk: Complete (1961 [2003], Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): builds on two LPs because more is much more [r]: A-
  • Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. II (1962-71 [1971], Columbia): [r]: A-
  • Bob Dylan: Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973, Columbia): [r] B-
  • Bob Dylan: Dylan (1973 [2014], Columbia/Legacy): [r]: C-
  • Bob Dylan: Hard Rain (1976, Columbia): [r]: C+
  • Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan at Budokan (1978 [1979], Columbia): C
  • Bob Dylan: Street Legal (1978, Columbia): [r]: B-
  • Bob Dylan: Saved (1980, Columbia): [r]: B-
  • Bob Dylan: Shot of Love (1981, Columbia): [r]: B
  • Bob Dylan: Infidels (1984, Columbia): [r]: B-
  • Bob Dylan: Real Live (1984, Columbia): [r]: B-
  • Bob Dylan: Knocked Out Loaded (1986, Columbia): [r]: B
  • Bob Dylan: Down in the Groove (1983-87 [1988], Columbia): [r]: B-
  • Bob Dylan/Grateful Dead: Dylan & the Dead (1987 [1989], Columbia): [r]: B-
  • Bob Dylan: Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 (1973-90 [1994], Columbia): [r]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Jason Ajemian: Folklords (Delmark)
  • Darren Barrett: Energy in Motion: The Music of the Bee Gees (dB Studios)
  • Darren Barrett dB Quintet: Live and Direct (dB Studios)
  • Beat Funktion: Voodooland (DO Music)
  • Mark Charig/Georg Wolf/Jörg Fischer: Free Music on a Summer Evening (Spore Print)
  • Sebastien Chaumont Quartet: Still Walkin' (ITI)
  • Digital Primitives: Lipsomuch (Hopscotch)
  • Andrew Downing/Jim Lewis/David Occhipinti: Bristles (Occdav Music)
  • Paul Giallorenzo's GitGo: Force Majeure (Delmark)
  • Brian Groder Trio: Reflexology (Latham): July 15
  • Ideal Bread: Beating the Teens: Songs of Steve Lacy (Cuneiform, 2CD)
  • The John A. Lewis Trio: One Trip Out (Valarteri)
  • Roberto Magris Quintet: Cannonball Funk'n Friends (JMood)
  • Roberto Magris Space Trek: Aliens in a Bebop Planet (JMood, 2CD)
  • Roberto Magris Trio: One Night in With Hope and More, Vol. 2 (JMood)
  • Roberto Magris Septet: Morgan Rewind: A Tribute to Lee Morgan Vol. 2 (JMood, 2CD)
  • Lenny Pickett With the UMO Jazz Orchestra: The Prescription (Random Act)
  • Rallidae: Paper Birds (self-released, EP)
  • Sam Reed Meets Roberto Magris: Ready for Reed (JMood)
  • Ellynne Rey: A Little Bit of Moonlight (self-released): July 2
  • Jefferson Rose Band: Feel Like Dancing (self-released)
  • Harold Rubin/Barre Phillips/Tatsuya Nakatani: E on a Thin Line (Hopscotch)
  • Samo Salamon Bassless Quartet: 2Alto (SteepleChase LookOut)
  • Adam Schroeder: Let's (Capri)
  • Assif Tsahar/Gerry Hemingway/Mark Dresser: Code Read (Hopscotch)
  • Assif Tsahar/Tatsuya Nakatani: I Got It Bad (Hopscotch)
  • The David Ullmann 8: Corduroy (Little Sky)
  • Cornelius Veit/Eugen Prieur/Jörg Fischer: Stromraum (Spore Print)

Purchases:

  • Miranda Lambert: Platinum (RCA Nashville)

Daily Log

Chuck Eddy made an interesting proposal to the Expert Witness Facebook group:

So, you know what I just realized you Expert Witnesses should start doing every month? A Pazz & Jop Product Report, that's what! (Actually I wonder how many of you will even know what I'm talking about.)

Excerpts from the subsequent comment stream:

Clifford Ocheltree:

Chuck, That was quite some time ago, 70s? 80s? Still have many clipped, somewhere in a file cabinet.

Richard Cobeen and Thomas Walker thought it a good idea.

Chuck Eddy:

So let's do it, already! Anyway, you may be right Allen, but just in case somebody *isn't* familiar with the concept: The Pazz & Jop Product Report ran monthly in the Voice for a few years in the late '70s and early '80s. Only about ten writers voted every month in it. They were allowed to give positive points (from 1 to 10) or negative points (-1 to -4) to new releases. (albums, singles, EPs, comps, reissues, tapes, whatever). Points for each release accumulated (with negative points subtracted) from month to month, and a top ten for the month ran on the top of every month's votes. (Like Clifford, I still have a bunch of them on the actual original newsprint in a file cabinet.)

Jason Gubbels:

Perry Meisel has a few examples up on his blog: http://perrymeisel.blogspot.com/2010/08/stracheys-counterplot.html

Greg Morton:

You know what I like best about this -- It's a way for me to keep track of what I am current on and what I am behind on. Not having a finite list to focus my time on has been depressing, says this amateur. Pros don't have the luxury so maybe that won't make sense to some of you, but the pre-sorting aspect of the CCG and then EW was a huge help. So I'm a yes vote also. Good idea, Chuck.

Chuck Eddy:

Oh, one thing I left out -- Voters were allowed up to ten positive records and up to four negative records each month. I think. (And I when I say "new" I obviously don't just mean new *that month*; different voters voted for the same record in different months; hence the accumulation part.)

Chuck Eddy:

Okay, I got a couple details slightly wrong up above. These bylaws actually ran beneath the results at the top of the column each month (for one thing, apparently 9's, 6's, and 4's weren't allowed!): "Each critic votes for up to 10 'yea' records per month and awards each one 10 (masterpiece), 8, 7 (shades of recommended), 5 (borderline), 3, 2, or 1 (shades of listenable) votes. The above tally compiles the point vote into a top 10, with the (parenthetically indicated) number of critics naming a record a 'yea' used for tie breaking. Each critic gets up to five 'nay' votes of between 1 and 4 minus points a month; these are subtracted from 'yea' totals. The top 10 tally is cumulative; a record is current in any month any critic names it a 'yea' for the first time."

Jimmy Cook:

I loved the old pazz & jop product report but I never realized that certain numbers weren't allowed! Yeah no 9's--wha?? Anyway, I'm into contributing to the report. I remember Lester listing tons of old blues albums when he didn't have anything to say about new releases and I suspect some of us could do that too...but that was Lester

Tom Hull:

Sounds like a great idea to me, but I can't imagine trying to manage it on Facebook. You'd need a database: a table of albums, voters/users, ratings, with timestamps and all that. Could spit reports out to Facebook.

Brad Luen cited an example (link here). Voters (Nov. 22, 1976) were: Lester Bangs, Ken Emerson, Stephen Holden, Greil Marcus, Perry Meisel, Jim Miller, John Morthland, Wayne Robins, Susin Shapiro, Ed Ward. In the accompanying Consumer Guide, Robert Christgau explains:

Directly across from Consumer Guide this month, if the Divine Typesetter so wills it, you will find the second monthly Pazz & Jop Product Report. It is explained (the DT willing) in italics below the monthly top 10, but additional explication seems appropriate. Basically, the theory of the P&JPR is that a lot of critics formulate opinions that they don't get the chance to write down. This is an attempt to schematize that information. All 10 critics represented listen to many records: in general, rock and roll is near the center of their tastes, but because breadth and eclecticism were prime criteria when I selected my panel, you will find a country record, two new jazz records, and one jazz reissue among their collective favorites this month. Another important criterion is that these critics do not form a clique; most of those who live in New York (six of the 10) know each other, but those few who are close to each other tend to differ sharply in their tastes. It is my hope that they will study each other's lists and maybe get turned on to records they might otherwise have ignored. I'll do the same; perhaps you will too.

The scoring system is obviously a problem. I set up the strange gaps between permissible point awards because in my experience with the Consumer Guide I have learned that the difference between an A minus and a B plus (roughly speaking, a 7 and a 5) is more pronounced than that between a B and a B minus (a 3 and a 2). And it seemed only right, on the basis of my experience, that an A (an 8) should be worth four times as much as a B minus (a 2). Most critics who do their work hear more than 10 records of at least 1 or 2 quality each month, but some of them just don't seem worth noting (in this month's Consumer Guide, Heart would be an example for me) or so generally overrated that they might excite a negative vote (I would award Ry Cooder a minus 1). That's why mere mentions count for as much as they do.

We've left off most of the labels this month to be sure we have room for the negative votes. It was a painful decision, since I know how hard it is to find obscure records even when they're from major companies. Maybe eventually we'll see a way to squeeze them all in.

Chuck Eddy:

I don't even know what timestamps are, Tom! D'you think the Voice used them back in the day? (Also, ha ha, are you voluntererering?)

Tom Hull:

I didn't recall the name so was imagining something slightly different, but now that you (Chuck) mention it, I do recall the system all the way down to the gaps in the voting scale and a few of the invited pollsters -- I don't think there were ever more than ten, in which case it could be run on paper or (gag me) a spreadsheet. Even so, there are a lot more records of potential interest now. A database would scale better (more records, more voters) but takes some serious work to set up. I have a server and domain name that could host such a thing, and some technical know how, but could use some help and would need someone else to deal with day-to-day administration issues. A timestamp, by the way, simply marks when an event happens. If you want to identify records with new votes within the past month, you need timestamps. (Back in the day I'm pretty sure it was done on paper and in head, the limits of which had something to do with the fact that it wasn't done very long.)

Ioannis Sotirchos:

Tom: I would happily volunteer to handle any day-to-day aspects of such an endeavor if yer willing to set it up. (You set 'em up and I'll knock 'em down.) Sounds like fun to me (plus, i have waaay too much free time on my hands as is; it would be nice to feel somewhat useful for a change . . . i suppose).

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Weekend Roundup

Spent most of the past week working on a stand for a large TV as we attempt to adopt some 21st century technology. Project should be done by now, but for lack of some muscle isn't. Very frustrating. As, of course, is the news, once again generating some scattered links this week:


  • Fred Kaplan: What People Don't Understand About the Bergdahl Deal: Quite a bit, then there's what Kaplan doesn't understand either. It's been amusing to watch the right react with horror and disgust over this all-too-human soldier as if he's the reason their holy war went down the shitter, much as it's been something else (silly?) as Obama and company have tried to paint his recovery as a triumph. Still, I take it to be good news that one of the war's loose ends has been tied up. I also regard it as a plus that the population of Guantanamo drops by five -- locked up they may not be personal threats but they're glaring symbols of US injustice, and that's a far more dangerous game. Finally, this shows some promise for negotiating an end to the Afghan civil war -- a vast improvement over the more likely course, which is to continue the war through proxies.

    Also see: Greg Sargent: On Bowe Bergdahl, lawmakers need to do better. Better still, Elias Isquith: Wingnuts' war on the troops: The ugly lesson of Bowe Bergdahl and Sarah Palin:

    We're all familiar with how conservatives -- but especially extreme ones like Palin -- deify, romanticize and claim ownership of the men and women in the armed forces. [ . . . ] Less understood is that when a member of the military fails to adhere to the far right's rigid formula of what a soldier should be (nationalistic, religious, obedient; conservative) right-wingers like Palin come down on them like a ton of bricks. Where they once were heroes of almost mythic proportion, now they become charlatans -- or maybe even traitors. During these moments, the far right's hatred for the apostate soldier can only be understood if it's recognized as a mirror image of their usual reverence. It's not just that Sarah Palin is disappointed with Bergdahl for loathing the war in Afghanistan so much that he was "ashamed to be an American"; it's that she now considers Bergdahl to be someone who is worth so little that the president's acting to secure his life and liberty is, effectively, an insult to the rest. [ . . . ] Taken together, the far right's dehumanization of the American soldier is clear. If he or she is willing to promote the Sarah Palin version of patriotism, honor and masculinity (or at least allow themselves to be used for that purpose), they are not human beings but rather legends and gods. And if they refuse, they lose their humanity once more, now becoming contemptible beyond all measure.

    The right's love-hate relationship with the American soldier shows up again in their approach to the VA. In particular, they tend to treat something like PTSD as a character flaw, a disgrace to hero status they automatically assign to soldiers, until they prove human. They prefer that the VA only serve soldiers who prove worthy of their worship, as opposed to the ordinary people who get caught up and spit out by the military's cult of violence.

  • Phillip Longman: VA Care: Still the Best Care Anywhere?, and Part II: A few weeks ago we accidentally picked up a robocall from Senator Pat Roberts promising to get to the bottom of the VA Scandal -- you can imagine how reassuring that was. Then, as now, the news was dominated by political reaction with a minimum of facts. On any given news topic there are people you expect to be able to weigh in with informed and intelligent opinions, and there are many more you are best off ignoring. On the VA health care system, the one person I wanted to hear from was Phillip Longman, who wrote a long article in 2005 touting the VA as offering The Best Care Anywhere, which he later expanded into a short book, Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care Is Better Than Yours (paperback, 2007, Polipoint Press). Longman's argument runs against the common wisdom, which basically argues that government bureaucracy is intrinsically self-interested and therefore careless or incompetent when it comes to fulfilling its chartered duties. Indeed, the history of the VA is littered with political cronies with a very mixed record of performance. However, Longman attributes two moves by Bill Clinton as leading to a major turnaround at the VA: the appointment of Kenneth W. Kizer as VHA undersecretary of health, and a 1996 law which greatly expanded eligibility for VA coverage. Historically, one of the major problems with VA health coverage has been determining eligibility. Vets with combat injuries are covered, but vets without combat injuries are not, and there is a lot of gray area between the obvious cases, and a lot of the controversy surrounding the VA is over eligibility. Bush, in 2003, reversed Clinton's expansion of eligibility, probably because he wanted to make the Iraq war look cheaper, and indeed future medical needs for veterans are a large component of the costs tallied up by Joseph E. Stiglitz and Linda J. Bilmes in The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict. Obama, in 2009, loosened up VA eligibility, but it still remains a bureaucratic battlefield and a background component of the scandal.

    Longman's article and book detail just how the VA health system was reformed. The key point is that the VA is a single-payer, single-provider system: all the hospital staff, including doctors, are employees, and the patients are lifetime wards of the system. This explains why the VA was able to pioneer the use of electronic records, and thereby to almost totally eliminate common errors like giving patients the wrong medication. This also made the VA a leader in measuring outcomes and determining best practices, and ultimately in building tools to give management a fine-grained picture of system performance. That should work very well, but it turns out that one of the metrics -- wait time for various procedures -- was scammed by various administrators who risked the health of their patients in order to fake a metric. As Longman explains, this scandalous practice only happened in Sun Belt hospitals where resources have been strained by migration. Still, it's unlikely that the problem ends there. It's rare for managers to lie like this unless they feel other incentives are more important, like the desire to limit costs. (Otherwise, any bureaucrat worth his salt would highlight increasing wait times are proof that he needs more resources.) Indeed, despite all the sanctimonious blather about supporting the troops, costs are a contentious issue. Republicans, in particular, have ideological problems with the VA, which first and foremost is a welfare organization -- a parasite on the country which encourages soul-crushing dependency on the state -- plus it's proof that the most cost-effective way to provide high qualify health care is through a fully non-profit public system.

    But if taxpayers are willing to put a little more money into the system, the "scandal" can be fixed easily enough. First, of course, get rid of the administrators who tried to game the system. In the short term, allow services that the VA system cannot perform in a timely fashion to be outsourced to commercial. In the medium term do a better job of tracking veterans' migration and make sure the resources you'll need are there in time. In the long term, stay out of war, but that would bring into question the need for a separate system for veterans -- although even as the number of veterans drops, the vitality of the system could be extended by allowing non-veterans to choose the VA as a "public option." (For starters, I wish all VA hospitals would offer free abortions to all comers. Doing so would defend a constitutional right of the American people, and it would be very hard for anti-abortion mobs to disrupt the VA.)

    PS: also see Phillip Longman: How VA Outsourcing Hurts Veterans.


Also, a few links for further study:

  • Kathleen Geier: Polarizing Plutocracy: Our Broken Higher Education System: Review of Suzanne Mettler's Degrees of Inequality: How the Politics of Higher Education Sabotaged the American Dream (2014, Basic Books). One example:

    For affluent students, an elite college education represents a crucial opportunity for networking and resume-building on their paths to prosperity and success. But students from low- and moderate-income families are finding it increasingly difficult to complete their bachelor's degrees, even when they boast academic qualifications identical to their wealthier counterparts. Indeed, one study cited in Mettler's book showed that a student with high test scores from a low-income family is no more likely to graduate than a low-scoring rich kid. Research has identified rising tuition in public colleges as the chief reason for lower college completion rates among the less well-off.

    Most people run into crises of some sort during college, but the big advantage of the wealthy is that their money cushions the blows and gives them extra opportunities. (I know, for instance, that personal crises, including lack of money, kept me from the Ph.D. and an academic career that I was easily capable of. And I'm pretty certain that if G.W. Bush had been Bill Clinton's cousin, the only way he would have got out of Tyson's chicken factory was jail.) The poor are more vulnerable, and they carry the burden of higher costs -- unconscionable debt load is the best known, but working odd jobs and such take their toll. And in the end, they don't even get the same education. As inequality increases, the value of an education shifts from what you learn to who you meet and how agreeable you are to them. (Clinton and Obama are prime examples of smart poor kids who met many rich patrons and proved most agreeable. That used to be an important path to upward mobility, but one wonders whether future generations will be able to point to similar examples.)

  • Daniel Schulman: Late Libertarian Icon Murray Rothbard on Charles Koch: He "Considers Hmself Above the Law": More from Schulman's book, Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty. Back in the mid-1970s I worked in a type shop in Wichita. We did occasional work for Koch Industries. The toughest job I had there was doing some math-intensive technical papers on oil viscosity, but I was also given whole books by Murray Rothbard to type, and as such became intimately familiar with the contorted gymnastics Rothbard went through to come up with schemes for conflict resolution and justice that didn't involve government. At that point I pretty much loathed everything associated with government, and I had a relatively generous view of human nature, but I still couldn't see any way Rothbard's schemes could work, or even should work, so that was the point when I soured on libertarianism. It's not clear if Charles Koch also decided that Rothbard's schemes were unworkable, as it was Rothbard to split from his sponsor, charging Koch with abusing his political theories for personal gain. That, of course, rings true.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Daily Log

Day started off with a horrendous thunderstorm that hit about 5AM. Hail must have been two inches or more, not enough to carpet the ground but we heard some very hard thwacks on the roof. Heavy rain. Don't know about wind. In the morning lots of small branches and leaves on the ground, but didn't see any other damage, not that I looked very close. Should probably look at the roof, but no obvious damage to the Nissan in the back yard -- sheet metal there is a good deal tougher than on the Toyota, which was protected by the carport.

Did a bit of painting on the last drawer for the TV stand. We had moved the TV stand into the house the night before. I moved it into position tonight to get a feel for the fit, and it looks like I got the measurements right. I still have a bunch of things to do to get it all installed, but shouldn't take more than a couple days. Most mysterious thing is figuring out where the studs are behind the wood plank paneling. Once I do, I'll secure it to the wall with several lag bolts. Need to assemble the final drawer and finish painting it. Need to secure the HVAC duct from the wall to my register. Need to get various things wired up. I have a dedicated AC line in the wall. Thinking I'll plug a small UPS into it, also a plain surge protector strip, and that combo will give us plenty of outlets. Need to run an Ethernet cable into the TV, and a coax from the cable connect to the basement TV.

Most important, of course, is mounting the TV on the stand, and the key milestone there is getting the TV. We went out this evening and bought a 65-inch Samsung Smart TV. Should be delivered tomorrow, so that's when the pressure will hit.

Also bought some paint for the basement steps. It's formulated for decks and has a rough grain, supposedly ten times the depth of whatever it's being compared to. I guess that will be the next project.

Started listening to all the old Dylan albums I never heard, which covers most of 1976-88. Wanted to do that as background to a tribute that Tatum likes, Bob Dylan in the '80s. So far, so bad.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Daily Log

Boston Globe/James Reed's The Best 2014 pop albums you might have missed (h/t Jeffrey Melnick):

  • Neneh Cherry: Blank Project
  • Dawn Landes: Bluebird
  • Jorge Drexler: Bailar en la Cueva
  • Jessica Lea Mayfield: Make My Head Sing . . .
  • Sturgill Simpson: Metamodern Sounds in Country Music

Like Melnick, I've only heard/heard of the Cherry. [Well, Landes and Mayfield are in n2014, group 0.]

Monday, June 02, 2014

Music Week

Music: Current count 23342 [23334] rated (+8), 557 [555] unrated (+2).

A very skimpy music report this week. We had a visitor for much of the week, so we drove around and ate out a lot, including a drive up Coronado Heights and a pilgrimage to Brookville Hotel for their famous fried chicken dinner. I cooked a dinner party -- pad thai and teriyaki salmon plus a couple sides, probably the easiest surefire menu combo I've discovered. I spent most of my spare time working on a carpentry project: built a cage that I can attach to a wall and mount a pretty large TV on. I still have to add some sliding shelves to it, anchor it to the wall, extend an HVAC register to the front of the contraption, figure out some wiring issues. Oh, and buy and mount a new TV, but the hard part is done. Looks kinda ugly but functional. Then on top of all that Laura spent the weekend in the hospital. She's back home now, and things are returning to normal.

All this distraction not only reduced my listening time, it also kept me from tweeting album grades as they happened, so I caught up working on this. Sometimes I wonder "why bother" -- as when I read this snippet on Facebook by a guy who picked three words way out of context from last week's Wussy review:

Wow. If I ever say "loud and samey" in a music context I would like you all to promise that you will gently and lovingly say "It is done, old wise one" and give my canoe a final push out into the welcoming waters of the ultimate river.

Others objected to the facts of the matter, where they may well have a case: I've never had much of an ear for lyrics, so don't do well at distinguishing songs differentiated by little else. But this comment was something else. Indeed, the suggestion is that I should stop writing to avoid further embarrassing myself. I can see where "samey" -- like "boring" -- may reveal more about the limits of the listener than the record, but it also has a literal descriptiveness that I have to insist is sometimes appropriate. (How often can one write "undifferentiated"? Appears twice in my notebook, vs. seven times for "samey"; well, plus six for "sameyness" or "samey-ness"; "loud" is more common, but when I grep for it most of the finds are related to "cloud").

Others turned on my "late to the cult" comment: they suggested various alternatives to "cult," but I'd say my point was born out by the evident fact that of 72 records in that column, the only one they cared to comment on was the one they already knew. It seems unlikely they're upset that I gave twelve other records the same A- I gave Wussy -- even if you reduced my review to "loud and samey" that grade alone puts a lot of distance between it and any of dozens of other rock records I could say the same of -- or the three I gave full A grades to. (The Lily Allen is one there's a lot of disagreement over. The Steve Lehman is more widely admired and will probably end up in the top ten in jazz critic polls -- ours more likely than theirs. The Junior Mance is a forgotten classic.) Expert Witnesses, after all, aren't jealous god types: they search pleasures out all over the map rather than focusing on a few archetypal favorites, although their Wussy fetish does seem to have jumped from a reified to a social signpost (I'm thinking here of the reports of sightings and meet-ups at concerts and pilgrimages to Shake It Records in Cincinnati -- things that wouldn't be out of place in the teen fanzines I read when I was a teen).

Still, good chance I'll keep trudging along, wherever my ears take me. Took a long nap this afternoon. Decided not to work on the TV stand again until tomorrow. Next week's Music Week will rebound, though maybe not all the way. Taking it easy and finally listening to Miles Davis At the Blackhawk now.


Recommended music links:


New records rated this week:

  • Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band: Landmarks (2010 [2014], Blue Note): drummer doesn't flex his muscles, just moderate tempos, neatly tailored harmonies [r]: B+(*)
  • Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York: Shiki (2013 [2014], Libra): all-star big band rarely hits the expected peaks of intensity and creativity [cd]: B+(**)
  • Gato Libre: DuDu (2013 [2014], Libra): trumpeter Natsuki Tamura's folkish chamber jazz quartet swaps bass for trombone, loses its pace, takes on airs [cd]: B
  • Hat: Twins (2012 [2014], Hot Blues): Spanish "jazz-rock" quartet with Sergi Sirvent on keybs, Jordi Matas on guitar, rocks ok but jazzier than fusion [cd]: B+(***)
  • Beat Kaestli: Collage (2013 [2014], B+B Productions): Swiss jazz singer savors trad French chanson, even the inevitably soupy "Frere Jacques" [cd]: B+(**)
  • Amy LaVere: Runaway's Diary (2014, Archer): a songwriter with a deceptive voice, her world nowhere near as simple, let alone charming [r]: A-
  • Barbara Morrison: I Love You, Yes I Do (2014, Savant): digs deeper into the songbook, meaning more blues, perfect fodder for Houston Person [cd]: A-
  • Alon Nechushtan: Venture Bound (2012 [2014], Enja): pianist-led sax quartet, alternates John Ellis and Donny McCaslin up front, either fine [cd]: B+(**)
  • Röyksopp & Robyn: Do It Again (2014, Cherrytree, EP): album-length but with one single and four pieces of extended filler, figure it for an EP [r]: B+(***)

Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:

  • Jaki Byard: The Late Show: An Evening With Jaki Byard: Live at the Keystone Korner, Vol. 3 (1979 [2014], High Note): [cd]: B+(**)


Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Angles 9: Injuries (Clean Feed)
  • Jeff Colella/Putter Smith: Lotus Blossom (The American Jazz Institute/Capri)
  • John Coltrane: Offering: Live at Temple University (1966, Impulse, 2CD)
  • Tony Malaby Tamarindo: Somos Aqua (Clean Feed)
  • Cene Resnik Quartet: Live: From the Sky (Clean Feed)
  • Spiral Mercury Chicago/São Paulo Underground Feat. Pharoah Sanders: Pharoah & the Underground (Clean Feed)
  • Peter Van Huffel's Gorilla Mask: Bite My Blues (Clean Feed)


May 2014 Jul 2014