August 2006 Notebook


Thursday, August 31, 2006

Christgau Fired

I got the following letter from Robert Christgau today. Haven't talked with him yet, but the letter ends "forward to whoever you will," so I assume that this much at least can be posted.

If this comes completely out of the blue, I apologize.

It is now official -- Village Voice Media fired me today, "for taste," which means (among other things) slightly sweeter severance. This despite the support of new music editor Rob Harvilla, who I like as a person and a writer. We both believed I had won myself some kind of niche as gray eminence. So I was surprised Tuesday when I was among the eight Voice employees (five editorial, three art) who were instructed to bring their union reps to a meeting with upper management today. But I certainly wasn't shocked -- my approach to music coverage has never been much like that of the New Times papers,

Bless the union, my severance is substantial enough to give me time to figure out what I'm doing next. In fact, having finished all my freelance reviews yesterday, I don't have a single assignment pending. So, since I have no intention of giving up rock criticism, all reasonable offers entertained; my phone number is in the book, as they used to say when there were books. What I don't need is a vacation--the three of us just had a great two and a half weeks, and Nina matriculated at BMCC yesterday.

I shouldn't speculate about what this means, but I'll at least throw out the most obvious point: that it seems unlikely that the Voice will want my Jazz Consumer Guide without Christgau's Consumer Guide. The only counterargument I can think of is that my column is a lot cheaper than his -- especially if you factor in a chunk of his Senior Editor salary. Certainly it's the end if "for taste" is an aesthetic judgment, although you don't have to be much of a cynic to view it as legal frosting on top of a matter of money.

Whether, if they still want me, I would still want them, is one question I haven't given any thought to. But I was very pleased with the way this week's Jazz CG came out, and I have half of another one already written, plus all that stuff in the queue. Until I figure out otherwise, I plan to keep doing what I'm doing. Still, I wonder if I'd be better off in the long run writing that damn political philosophy book.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Jazz Consumer Guide #10: Surplus

One of my housekeeping tasks that follows each Jazz Consumer Guide is to cast a hard eye on the long list of records that I couldn't fit into the format and schedule, and weed out as many of those as I can see no prospect of using in the future. I've gotten to where most of the purge occurs when I do prospecting notes, so what's left in the "done" file is either worthy of honorable mention or a possible dud. Still, I finished this cycle with 137 records in the "done" file. I figured I should cut them down by half, but after a few passes I only got them down to 90. That'll do for now, but what I missed will get cut sooner or later. I managed to get 31 records into JCG #10, so the math is pretty brutal.

Records get purged for lots of reasons. I'm somewhat reluctant to spend Voice space on records that Francis Davis or others have already reviewed in the Voice. For example, both Davis and Robert Christgau reviewed the Odyssey the Band album, Back in Time, in glowing terms, which pretty much sums up my own view. It could wind up in my year-end top ten, but to put it in a Jazz CG just bumps some other worthy, relatively unknown contender. Still, I haven't purged it yet, but it's the sort of real good record that can lose out. Similarly, I cover reissues in Recycled Goods, so I rarely double up on them in JCG. But most records that get cut fall short in one way or another: many are good ones that don't quite have the edge or interest to bull their way onto the HM list. Sometimes I just get a record that I can't think of anything publishable to say about. Jazz is mostly non-verbal, so it isn't all that easy to write words about it -- especially when we get into marginal distinctions, which happens a lot in the B/B+ range. I also time out on some records, when I notice a record that has been sitting on the list three or more cycles without moving me to write it up.

This cycle's purge totals 164 albums. The surplus file has the whole list. Recycled Goods covered 31 of these albums -- old music, but also a few newer things that more/less fit my world music mandate, including some Latin jazz. I wrote Jazz Prospecting notes on almost all of the purged albums, and decided they suffice for 120. For the remaining 13 albums I wrote new notes/reviews, sometimes just explaining why they got axed. That's the next section. For the lists, see the link above. Despite all this, I still have plenty of records for the next column. The current counts are: print backlog (15); done (90); pending (140). Given an average run of 30 albums, that leaves 15 open slots for 230 albums, plus whatever shows up in the meantime. Of course, some will miss the next column but make some future one.

Michel Camilo: Rhapsody in Blue (2005 [2006], Telarc): This drags Gershwin back to classical music hell, with a symphony orch that annoys me to no end, leaving me indifferent or worse to the pianist. Still, I was reluctant to flag this as a dud -- figured my prejudices are so automatic here the world hardly needs a reminder. Then Francis Davis wrote up a sidebar admiring this, so I kept it as a dud candidate. But in the end I decided this isn't worth any more space than I'm using here. C-

Hard Cell (Berne+Taborn+Rainey): Feign (2005, Screwgun): This came out before Berne's Paraphrase album, which I made a Pick Hit, but I didn't hear it until later. Had I had it at the time, it would have been an Honorable Mention. Much the same idea, but the keyboard is more often in the way than Drew Gress' bass was, and that slows Berne and Rainey down a bit. Taborn himself is very engaged, and he's worth focusing on. B+(***)

The Roy Hargrove Quintet: Nothing Serious (2006, Verve): Sometimes I keep a B record around as a possible Dud du Jour, but I haven't used one yet. But at most I only need to hang on to one, and for now that's Cassandra Wilson. This one's too forgettable not to be forgotten. B

Lena Horne: Seasons of a Life (1994-2000 [2006], Blue Note): Got an advance copy a long time ago, but never got a final. Looks like it got delayed, then finally released in Jan. 2006, but at this point I've lost interest. As I understand it these were outtakes from her '90s albums. Ten songs, four by Billy Strayhorn, "Stormy Weather" to close. No surprises, no gaffes, not much point. B

Lee Konitz: Jonquil (2003 [2005], Blue Jack Jazz): Present at Miles Davis' Birth of the Cool sessions, which he topped with his brilliant debut, Subconscious-Lee. More than fifty years later, he's still active, still recording for labels so obscure I can't even track them down. I just jotted his name down on the Downbeat Reader's Poll ballot under "Hall of Fame," so I mean no disrespect. I'd love to hear something new-ish from him I can write about. But I'd rather not remember him for a strings album, even one finessed reasonably well. B+(**)

Brian Lynch: 24/7 (2002 [2005], Nagel Heyer): Crackling trumpet here, in a sharp, hard bop matrix, with a Latin tinge, again a bebop throwback. Miguel Zenón plays Bird to his Diz. Very solid, but it's been on the shelves quite a while. B+(***)

Eivind Opsvik: Oversaes II (2005, Fresh Sound New Talent): Unlike most bassist albums, this doesn't showcase the leader very well. In fact, two pieces are celeste solos, with different keyboardists, and were improvised as filler. Others vary the keyboards and two saxophones, with Tony Malaby appearing on half and making his usual fine impression. B+(**)

Dafnis Prieto: About the Monks (2005, Zoho): Cuban percussionist, hot shit ever since he hit New York. Real fast, with Luis Perdomo's piano racing the percussion, and two horns that rub me the wrong way -- Brian Lynch and Yosvany Terry, two guys I like quite a bit in other contexts. This record got terrific reviews, which got me thinking it might be worthwhile to flag my dissent, but I never built up the confidence to go out on that limb. Since then he's released Absolute Quintet, which strikes me as better, but not enough to send me back to this one. He's likely to be an important figure for a long time. B-

Sergi Sirvent: Free Quartet (2003 [2005], Fresh Sound New Talent). More like a piano trio with a double dose of drums, the extra set accenting the angularity of the rhythms. I've enjoyed this pianist all along, finally getting him an Honorable Mention for the Unexpected, Play the Blues in Need. That's the best, but this and others come close. B+(**)

Trio East: Stop-Start (2005, Sons of Sound): Trumpet-bass-drums, with trumpeter Clay Jenkins the probable leader, even though drummer Rich Thompson gets first billing. Three originals, six covers from Diz to Ornette, sharply played, just inside of out. Another should-be honorable mention that timed out. B+(**)

Bebo Valdés: Bebo de Cuba (2002 [2005], Calle 54, 2CD): Got this late, after Francis Davis had written about it. Wrote it up in Recycled Goods, which will have to suffice. It is a terrific record, the best Cuban jazz I've heard in a few years -- probably since one of his son Chucho's records. I still need to dig up his '50s records. A-

Vibrational Therapists: The Radius of the Mind (2002 [2003], Vibrational Therapists): Another album I liked but never got back to: avant trio, alto sax or clarinet over block chord piano and freewheeling drums. Saxophonist Henry P. Warner is the senior member. He's done work before with William Parker and Billy Bang, and will appeal to fans of both. B+(***)

Zu: The Way of the Animal Powers (2005, Xeng): I'm ambivalent on arguments about CD length. Certainly many are too long, but at 25:47 this is uncommonly short -- especially in a jazz guide. Anyhow, that's the main reason why this slipped through. The group is a bass-drums-sax trio, with Luca favoring baritone over alto sax. Cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm guests. I like the deep rumble and edgy rhythms, and the spoken piece at the end is a fine coda. B+(***)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Jazz Consumer Guide #10: Shine Balls

The Village Voice has published my tenth Jazz Consumer Guide. Although it seems like ages since I turned the thing in, the August 29 posting date is almost exactly three months after the previous one back on May 30, so what was initially conceived of as a quarterly schedule seems to be holding. As usual, I wrote too much, so a lot got held back. Looks like half of the next one is already written, so maybe I should just push another half out and see how that works.

Next task will be some housecleaning. The reviews that got held back this time will be moved to next time. The "done" file currently holds 137 records, I'll probably cut half of them, figuring they have no real chance of making a future column, even though most deserve to. Some will get turned into "surplus" notes, and I'll post them in the blog. The "print" and "flush" notes move to the notebook. Prospecting for the next Jazz CG has already started, so I've already set up the files for that. The working file currently has 140 unrated albums -- 125 new and 15 compilations of old stuff -- so I need to work through that. Looks like 34 of those records have already had one pass. Seems like a pretty complicated system, but it works well enough.

Here are the notes on the JCG entries:

  • Rabih Abou-Khalil/Joachim Kühn: Journey to the Centre of an Egg (2004 [2006], Enja/Justin Time). Kühn is best known in these parts for his duets with Ornette Coleman, but here he goes further, playing alto sax as well as piano. Either way, he is an attentive partner, pricking and prodding but never overwhelming Abou-Khalil's surprisingly muscular oud. Jarrod Cagwin's frame drums move things along, providing spare but effective propulsion. A-
  • Batagraf: Statements (2003-04 [2006], ECM): Samples of unknown media announcers, something in Wolof, Sidsel Endresen uttering words like "blowback" and "softworks" and reminding us that there are things we don't know we don't know. The music is mostly percussion, with Frode Nymo's alto sax and Arve Henriksen's trumpet making brief appearances for emphasis. Leader Jon Balke remains inconspicuous on keyboards. There's little flow, but a barren fractured soundscape. B+(***)
  • Randy Brecker w/Michael Brecker: Some Skunk Funk (2003 [2006], Telarc): A partial reunion of the Brecker Brothers. Scanning through the credits lists the only member of this band, aside from the brothers, who was an alumni of their old fusion group is Will Lee. But the new group isn't decisive here. This overheated concert tape from Germany, "live at Leverkusener Jazztage," is dominated by the WDR Big Band Köln, who manage to obliterate any sharp edge or crisp beat the band throws their way. It's not that big bands can't play funk -- cf. James Brown -- but this one can't. Can't play fusion either. And it's rather sad to include an applause track on music this mediocre. C
  • Dave Burrell/Billy Martin: Consequences (2005 [2006], Amulet): A remarkable albeit rather limited meeting. Martin doesn't drum along, because Burrell doesn't give him anything to drum along with. He plays Tayloresque pianistics, if anything more abstract. Despite its tuning and variable decay, on some level the piano is just another percussion instrument, so why not think of this as a percussion duet? It's rather arbitrary whether I make this a low A- or a high B+, but for now I like it as an Honorable Mention because I got a one-liner for it: Old pianist shows young drummer what real percussion sounds like. B+(***)
  • Bill Carrothers: Shine Ball (2003-04 [2005], Fresh Sound New Talent): Was wondering whether I hadn't graded Helen Sung's piano trio too conservatively when I put this piano trio album on. Turns out conservatively is right. Sung builds on the tradition, but here Carrothers goes somewhere else. It's not just that he plays a prepared piano -- not sure what "foreign substances" were applied where, but the piano rarely sounds like anything other than a normal piano, while the occasional metallic noises sound like they may just as well be coming off Gordon Johnson's bass or Dave King's drum set. The analogy to the banned baseball pitch is that Carrothers also applied foreign substance to his piano. The idea is to surprise the batter, or listener, with an unpredictable break, but as with the pitch the real trick is control. As with many spitballers, the prepared piano may itself be a feint -- mostly the piano comes through clear and sharp, while the improvs sneak past. A-
  • Ramón Díaz: Diàleg (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): When I see a sax-trumpet-piano-bass-drums quintet, I figure it's either a throwback to the classic hard bop lineup of 1955-65 or some slick postmodernist with a bag of advanced harmonic ideas up his sleeve. This one is neither, exactly. Unlike the harmonists, the instruments are separated out, each to its own calling -- for the piano that means slipping in a little Horace Silver or Bobby Timmons boogie and blues. But it's not stuck in a time warp either: less a throwback than a straightforward evolution forward. Never heard of any of these guys, but everyone pulls their own. Led by the drummer: guess we should call him the Art Blakey of the Canary Islands. A-
  • Jon Faddis: Teranga (2005 [2006], Koch): Back in 1974-75 Norman Granz had Oscar Peterson do a series of Trumpet Kings records -- Dizzy Gillespie, Roy Eldridge, Sweets Edison, not sure who else -- which turned out to be mostly disappointing, but the surprise, for me at least, there was one with Jon Faddis. He was barely past 21 at the time, an electrifying player, but he's had what seems like a nondescript career ever since then. For instance, the current Penguin Guide doesn't even give him an entry, and past editions have only credited him with one 3.5-star album. This comes down to career choices, and the choices Faddis made didn't produce much of a recorded legacy -- nine records in thirty years. Charlie Shavers used to have an act where he'd riff through the trumpet tradition, doing his impersonations of Louis Armstrong, Roy Eldridge, Dizzy Gillespie and others, but those guys were Shavers' contemporaries -- he was saying, hey no big deal, I can do this shit too. Faddis grew up in awe of those guys, learned to imitate them, and that's where he got pigeonholed. He was so good at it Dizzy Gillespie kept him on hand for years as backup and for relief. Reminds me of the story where a cat was dismissed for merely copying Charlie Parker; he then shoved his alto sax at the detractor and said, "here, let's see you copy Charlie Parker." Faddis also worked in the shadows of big bands, filled in on studio dates; finally he moved into the big money institutions, directing the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band. This is roughly the same career path that Wynton Marsalis, eight years younger than Faddis, took, but Marsalis did a better job of separating himself from his idols, wrote and recorded more, and got a lot more hype -- in other words, the main difference between Faddis and Marsalis is modesty vs. arrogance. For proof of that, see Faddis's new album. He rips into some high note stuff like you rarely hear these days and it's not obvious where it comes from -- must be his own. But mostly you notice that he slots his trumpet into the rhythmic roil rather than soaring beyond it: no showboat virtuosity here, just serious chops. Most of the album is quartet, and the rhythm section is exceptional: David Hazeltine is superb as usual on piano, but unexpected muscle comes from bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa and drummer Dion Parson. Then there are guests. On most albums these days, guest shots are diversions, breaking the flow, but Senegalese drums, Frank Wess flute and Gary Smulyan baritone, one song each, are seamlessly integrated. Two diversions in the middle are something else. One is a duet with guitarist Russell Malone, a relative quiet spot. The other brings in Clark Terry for a second trumpet and a dish of verbal chop suey, with Faddis joining in. Breaks in the flow like that are plusses. Another play or two and I may have a Pick Hit. A [originally A-]
  • Erik Friedlander: Prowl (2005 [2006], Cryptogramophone). Ditto the label comments on Ben Goldberg. This one's a quartet, with Friedlander on cello, Andy Laster on alto sax or clarinet, and Stomu and Satoshi Takeishi on electric bass and drums. The latter are hard to overpraise -- I've noticed both separately, but never together before. Laster is also an apposite choice, deepening and developing Friedlander's music in many intriguing ways. Cello is turning into a fascinating jazz instrument. It's not just a higher-pitched bass; cellists have started to model their instrument on roles guitarists have developed over the last two decades. Choice cut is "A Closer Walk With Thee," which starts fractured and slowly assembles itself, building volume until it becomes powerfully moving. A-
  • Dave Frishberg: Retromania: At the Jazz Bakery (2005 [2006], Arbors). Plays piano and sings, and that's all there is to it, more or less familiar songs he wrote as far back as 1970. Both piano and voice aren't much more than demo-worthy, but the clever songs are worth hearing just that way. A series of seven, plus patter, in the middle are based on baseball, and they date back quite a ways, to Christy Matthewson, Hal Chase and the Black Sox scandal, and his namefest starring Van Lingle Mungo. I know enough about that history that I recognize every Mungo-era star he lists; enough even to get choked up over "Matty," and not just because I recall a point Frishberg doesn't include, about how a whiff of poison gas in what we now call World War I pointed the great pitcher to an early grave. B+(***)
  • Kenny G: The Essential Kenny G (1986-2004 [2006], Arista/Legacy, 2CD). It always seemed appropriate that Kenny Gorelick's degree was in business, not music. He has sold more than 30 million records -- he would be a major commercial venture in any style, but in jazz he's off the scale. He's also beyond the pale -- no other musician elicits such intense hatred. Part sour grapes, in that real jazz went underground so long ago that all the masses ever hear these days are the smooth poseurs of "contemporary jazz" radio. Part gut reaction to his unnaturally pretty soprano sax and his knack for profitable exploitation, such as his "duet" with Louis Armstrong. I've never had either reaction: I'm not so insecure about real jazz that I worry about what the likes of G might do to it, and I enjoy conventional beauty when I find it, but I do find that it doesn't take him long to get awfully tedious. At least, a compilation like this tries to mix things up a bit, but ultimately it just shows you how many ways he can annoy. C
  • Larry Goldings: Quartet (2006, Palmetto). He's one of the better regarded organists to emerge in the '90s, so the first surprise here is to hear him take the first two songs on piano. He also plays various other keyboard instruments, plus "glock" to add to the toy instrument sound. Ben Allison and Matt Wilson are solid as usual. The fourth corner of the quartet is trumpeter John Sneider, providing a thin, shrill complement to the organ, but since mostly this isn't an organ record, it often sounds thin and shrill. The music wanders all over the map, adding to the inconsistency. It's mostly slow, dulling the invention. Madeleine Peyroux joins for a rendition of "Hesitation Blues" that is so hesitant it's almost a parody, with Sneider sounding especially anemic. The against-type abstraction might be considered a brave experiment, but discoveries are scarce. B-
  • Buck Hill: Relax (2006, Severn): Haven't heard from the longtime DC mailman for a while -- he recorded for Steeplechase from 1978-83 and later for Muse from 1989-92, but only has a 2000 live album since then. Pushing 80, he's still sounding pretty good: a broad tone on tenor sax, a fondness for blues licks, a typical soul jazz backup group with organ and guitar. Nothing anyway near remarkable here, but it welcomes us back home. B+(**)
  • Industrial Jazz Group: Industrial Jazz a Go Go! (2004 [2006], Evander Music). The previous record by Andrew Durkin's group confused me with its intricate scoring and fancy counterpoint -- what's industrial about that? This one feels like they've had a Sex Mob transplant, but it's still on the fancy side. The most prominent sources, cited in "Apologies/Thanks To" along with Dion and Elmore James, are Perez Prado and Oliver Nelson -- that should give you a good idea what this sounds like, and not just for the three pieces with Spanish titles. Durkin plays piano, but the seven horns are so domineering you rarely hear him. B+(***)
  • Manu Katché: Neighbourhood (2004 [2006], ECM). Like many session drummers, he calls in old chits for his own rare albums, then builds his album around his guests. In his ECM 'hood, the chosen neighbors are Jan Garbarek and three-fourths of Tomasz Stanko's quartet. Like many sessions drummers, Katché is adaptive, and here he's managed to write a near-perfect facsimile of the ECM aesthetic -- slow, free, with the horns and, especially, pianist Marcin Wasilewski standing out. A-
  • Adam Lane Trio: Zero Degree Music (2005 [2006], CIMP): A young bassist with big ambitions. He cites Ellington, Stockhausen, and Japanese noise band Melt Banana as influences prime influences. A more extensive list includes actual bassists: Charles Mingus, of course, and Bootsy Collins, why not? He has one group called Full Throttle Orchestra, and another called Supercharger Jazz Orchestra. He has orchestral works and solo works. Also a quartet with John Tchicai, Paul Smoker and Barry Altschul. I haven't heard any of those -- another SFFR. Before I looked him up, this one struck me as avant-grunge, recalling Christgau's first Nirvana review: "the kind of loud, slovenly, tuneful music you think no one will ever work a change on again until the next time it happens, whereupon you wonder why there isn't loads more. It seems to simple." This is simple like that. Lane's pieces are all pulse, some slow, most fast. Vijay Anderson drums along, reinforcing the pulse rather than fighting it. All this, especially stretched over 70 minutes, wouldn't amount to much without the third member, saxophonist Vinny Golia. He's another ambitious guy, with his own label and a huge catalogue I've barely cracked, but here he too keeps it simple, riffing over whatever pulse Lane lays out. Plays soprano and tenor, and while I naturally prefer the big horn the small one works just as well here. Could be upgraded. Could be a Pick Hit. A-
  • Carl Maguire: Floriculture (2002 [2005], Between the Lines): This recalls Monk's quartet, both in lineup and in the trickiness of the compositions: the leader plays piano while alto saxophonist Chris Mannigan tries to negotiate the unexpected changes. But whereas Monk mostly found odd notes that somehow worked, Maguire is more devious in his twists and inversions. It's a credit to the band that they hold it all together -- especially bassist Trevor Dunn, who gets the added challenge of a tribute to Mark Dresser. B+(***)
  • Dom Minasi: The Vampire's Revenge (2005 [2006], CDM, 2CD). Dedicated to Anne Rice, inspired by her vampire books, of all things, this like so many large-scale projects in the jazz underground depends heavily on the auteur's friends. Critically, I would say, because they're an interesting bunch and add all sorts of strange and wonderful things to Minasi's amusing score. Just to cite a few: Borah Bergman, Perry Robinson, Mark Whitecage, Jason Kao Hwang, Herb Robertson, Steve Swell. Minasi's core trio is solid too, with Ken Filiano and Jackson Krall joining the veteran guitarist. The vampires, on the other hand, enter through Carol Mennie's two scats-plus-shouts -- "just one more" repeats ad infinitum until she takes her "bite" -- and Peter Ratray's somber recitation. B+(**)
  • Joe Morris Quartet: Beautiful Existence (2004 [2006], Clean Feed). Jim Hobbs is bound to turn some ears with his alto sax here, both with his punchy free runs and his deft support of the guitarist's tricky single-note lines. Bassist Timo Shanko and drummer Luther Gray also pitch in -- never before have I heard Morris so confident or his music fleshed out so completely. A-
  • Michael Musillami's Dialect: Fragile Forms (2006, Playscape): The guitarist's songs might not seem so fragile if pianist Peter Madsen treated them more gently, but that would miss the point, not to mention some terrific piano. Drew Gress and Matt Wilson square off the quartet, firming up the bottom. The only problem with focusing on the fractures is that is slights the Ellingtonian elegance of something like "Emmett Spencer." B+(***)
  • NOW Orchestra & Marilyn Crispell: Pola (2004 [2005], Victo): A large free jazz orchestra, led by Coat Cooke, based in Vancouver, provincial enough that they still feel the need to keep their anarchy intact. They've been around a long time -- at least since 1987, maybe longer -- but they only record when they get a guest, and Crispell is a dandy. I don't think she's ever recorded in a group like this -- one's tempted to compare them with Alex von Schlippenbach's Globe Unity Orchestra, but the Germans are far more violent even if their pianist isn't. Crispell's solos are the gems here, but the ensemble work impresses more often than not. Could be I should hold this back in case it convinces me to slide it up a notch, but working near the deadline the best way to get it in is as what it certainly is, an honorable mention. B+(***)
  • The Ed Palermo Big Band: Take Your Clothes Off When You Dance (2006, Cuneiform): I put this on without looking at who, what, when or how -- just figured the day was about done, so I'd get a taste of it before I went to bed and play it again in the morning. Loud and brassy at first, then it gets stranger, then I notice rockish guitar, then some guy comes on and sings absolute crap. Impatiently waiting for it to end, and no it don't get no second chance in the morning -- no telling how low the grade can really go, I'll just take a guess and be done with it. Record's over, so I pick it up and proceed with my paperwork. Turns out there's a simple reason why it's so awful: all compositions by Frank Zappa. So it's not just crap; it's secondhand crap. C-
  • Randy Sandke and the Metatonal Big Band: The Subway Ballet (1988-2005 [2006], Evening Star). Conceived as dancing commuters enter and exit the series of subway stops from Brooklyn to Harlem, the music fits the concept literally enough that the unchoreographed ballet is unnecessary. The highlight comes with the Hassidic diamond merchants, identified by David Krakauer's clarinet. As for the metatonal theory, all I know is that it doesn't require a piano. Bonus: four tracks from Sandke's early days as a fusion guitarist. Guess I was wrong when I grouped him with all those young fogies he's spent most of his career playing with and for. B+(***)
  • Helen Sung Trio: Helenistique (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Don't know when or where she was born, but her "Chinese heritage" was tempered by growing up in Houston, and she got a couple of music degrees in Austin before switching to jazz, following the not-unusual track of study in Boston and career in New York. Plays piano. Has a quote on her website from a similar pianist named Kenny Barron, something about "her flawless technique, great imagination, great harmonic conception and real understanding of the language of jazz." As a critic, I probably would have fudged that a bit, but he's basically right on the money. One original here, "H*Town," leads off and reprised at the end, a vamp with some bite. It holds up as well as everything else -- pop standards, jazz standards including a Monk-Ellington-James P. Johnson sequence, Prince's "Alphabet Street" -- and there's something interesting going on in all of them. Comes with the Lewis Nash seal of approval. B+(***)
  • Trio 3 (Oliver Lake, Reggie Workman, Andrew Cyrille): Time Being (2005 [2006], Intakt): Turns out that this group has at least three more albums under the Trio 3 name, so I've changed my attribution and filing here. The musicians' names figure large on the cover, as well they should, so we'll keep them up front here, in parens. Otherwise I'd just have to name them in the review body, then point out that what they do is pretty much what you'd expect them to do, given what they've each done, together and apart, over their collective hundred-plus man-years on jazz's leading edge. B+(***)
  • Trio-X: Moods: Playing With the Elements (2004 [2006], CIMP): McPhee started recording around 1968. He is one of the most accomplished jazz musicians of the era, the kind of guy who should be climbing up Downbeat's Hall of Fame ballot, yet I wonder how many jazz fans have actually heard him. I haven't heard many myself: 9, compared to AMG's list of 46 albums and compilations. This is because no one has been more doggedly marginal, commercially speaking, but it's also because he's such a firm believer in the magic of the improvisatory moment that his records strike one -- me, anyway -- more as instances than statements. Half-a-dozen records in, you sort of know what he can do, beyond which it isn't necessary to hear all the times he does it -- not that I wouldn't mind. This one strikes me as in that same vein, a good example of his range that doesn't quite stand out. One unusual thing about McPhee is that he is the only major jazz musician since Benny Carter to distinguish himself on both brass and reeds. Here is plays tenor sax, flugelhorn and pocket trumpet, and balances them evenly, doing similar things in distinct voices. Duval and Rosen are pretty much the Cadence combine's house band, a dependable free base for any labelmate who shows up. Haven't heard their other Trio-X albums, so can't compare them. Could be being overly cautious here -- if you don't know McPhee, this is as good a place to start as any. B+(***)
  • Erik Truffaz: Saloua (2005, Blue Note). Don't know his earlier work, just that he's carved out a niche for himself in jazztronica, a latterday fusion project that typically uses regular synth beats. There's some of that here, including a soaring piece of fusion I don't find terribly appealing ("Spirale") and several, both hard/fast and soft/airy, that I do. But the album is front-loaded with vocals: four in Arabic from Tunisian Mounir Troudi and two (one overlap) in English from Swiss rapper Nya. Choice cut: "Yabous," with Mounir's wail setting up Nya's peace proposal: "Israelites and Ishaelites have to have equal rights and justice." Not inconceivable I could upgrade this. PS: His jazztronica -- electrobeats topped by trumpet -- is attractive. The vocals, by Tunisian Mounir Troudi and Swiss rapper Nya, work well, especially Mounir, whose sour note cuts against the sweet grain of the beats. B+(***)
  • Unexpected: Plays the Blues in Need (2004 [2005], Fresh Sound New Talent). This is a trio led by Spanish pianist Sergi Sirvent Escué -- the third record I've heard by him, and possibly the best. "Need" is a fairly trivial twist on Monk's "Well, You Needn't," which works as well as the original. Slow pieces poke at the edges; fast ones sharpen them up. A vocal on the final "Waltz for Someone" stretches and breaks in a manner rarely heard since Chet Baker. I have a tough time with piano trios, and this one still gives me slight pause, but I like the pianist, like the group -- Esteban Hernández on bass, Daniel Dominguez on drums. Not so sure about the nudity. B+(***)
  • Johnnie Valentino: Stingy Brim (2004 [2006], Omnitone): What's immediately striking here is the instrumentation. Three-fifths of the group would make an organ-guitar-drums trio, but their music eschews groove for shifty postmodernist patterns. The other two-fifths are horns, but they're meant to provide an old sound: Bob Sheppard favors clarinet over tenor sax, and Randy Jones plays tuba in its ancient bass mode. Organist Mick Rossi also plays harmonium, mixing a little Italian roots music into the New Orleans mud. The leader plays guitar. The promo sheet says he "grew up in the '60s and '70s in a predominantly Italian South Philadelphia neighborhood filled with musicians, including guitarists Eddie Lang and Pat Martino." Lang died in 1933, so that's a faux pas, even if he's a certain influence. Martino was more direct, but Valentino's heady mix of old and new moves well beyond his mentors. B+(***)
  • Francis Wong: Legends & Legacies (1997 [2004], Asian Improv). Two of Lawson Inada's poems detail the beginning and the end of America's WWII internment of Japanese-Americans, while a third testifies that the human spirit still offers "something grand." Glenn Horiuchi's shamisen and Miya Masaoka's koto are the sounds of the past, while tuba and Wong's reeds flesh out a jazz band of the future, straddling the globe they came from. The odd piece out is about police harassment of Latinos. For those who still know history, that's nothing odd at all. A-
  • World Saxophone Quartet: Political Blues (2006, Justin Time): Jaleel Shaw is the fourth sax these days, but only one cut here sticks to the original Quartet conception, and even that one just adds a curtain of harmony to a David Murray solo. I've never much liked Julius Hemphill's original concept even though my admiration for the individuals (Hemphill included) is nearly boundless. So the fact that the rest of the cuts have bass and drums is welcome -- the springboard, I think, so some of the most glorious honking in the three mainstay's careers. The political themes are less incisive than I'd like -- David Murray's line, "the Republican Party is not very nice," may be the first understatement in his career. (He was trying to come up with a rhyme for Rice, like "screws you twice" or "sucks like lice" or "pulls a heist.") Oliver Lake rants on the New Orleans smackdown. Hamiet Bluiett comes up with the sharpest concept, "Amazin' Disgrace," but winds up short for words. One guest who does have the words is Craig Harris, who takes his home turf's neocons on in "Bluocracy." Blood Ulmer also sings one, but the best he can come up with is "Mannish Boy" -- good enough you won't mind, even if you have to wonder. Americans hate politics, and with all due respect to Mingus, so do these guys. But when they get their blood up, they sure can blow. A
  • Zentralquartett: 11 Songs -- Aus Teutschen Landen (2005 [2006], Intakt). Two songs are original compositions by pianist Ulrich Gumpert, but they fit stylistically with the nine Volkslieder -- German folk songs, all attributed to Trad. The songs provide the safe, bouncy melodic lines that the group frequently returns to, but the group also kicks them out of shape, tears them apart, twists them into strange shapes. Two horns, Conrad Bauer's trombone and Ernst-Ludwig Petrowsky's reeds (alto sax, flutes, clarinet), lead the mayhem, while Gumpert and drummer Günter Sommer get in their licks. A-

These are the notes for the albums from the "flush" file. These are records that are no longer under active consideration for future Jazz CGs. Some are separately reviewed in the "surplus" file. Some were reviewed in Recycled Goods. Most appeared in Jazz Prospecting, which in many cases suffices.

  • Mindi Abair: Life Less Ordinary (2006, GRP): Only got the advance on this, which has been out since April. In fact, I don't get much pop jazz anymore, even though I prospect it dutifully, and even wrote a Voice piece on it a while back. The bottom line is that the good stuff is far from great -- more like disco than anything in the jazz tradition -- and the bad stuff is pretty awful: a range that in my experience goes from low B+ to C- and may well get worse. This one is well above average. Abair has a nice, rich, blues-tinged tone on alto sax -- reminds me a bit of someone like Earl Bostic -- and she plays comfortably on top of Matthew Hager's uncluttered synth beats. She also sings every other cut or so -- a plain and cool voice that exudes no particular sexiness. On the other hand, most people trust their eyes more than their ears in that regard, and that's worked in her favor. Like most pop records, the hook song -- "Do You Miss Me" -- comes first. B
  • Ben Adams Quintet: Old Thoughts for a New Day (2005 [2006], Lunar Module): Vibraphonist, seems to be a Kansas boy -- received the "Kansas State Outstanding Percussion Award" four consecutive years, before moving on to Berklee (Gary Burton) and currently, well, somewhere near San Francisco. Quintet has two horns -- Erik Jekabson on trumpet, Mitch Marcus on tenor sax -- both of which have some bite to their solos. I'm less clear on the vibes -- harder to hook onto them, but many points catch one's attention. B+(*)
  • Eric Alexander: It's All in the Game (2005 [2006], HighNote). Same hand he's played all along, this time in a quartet with no other horn to crowd his tenor sax. Harold Mabern and Joe Farnsworth have been steady accompanists for quite a while, both fitting comfortably into Alexander's mainstream band, along with new bassist Nat Reeves. It's all Straight Up, completely Solid, if not quite Dead Center. Know what I mean? B+(**)
  • Angá: Echu Mingua (2006, World Circuit/Nonesuch). Angá is congalero Angá Díaz. Echu Mingua is his saint's name in the Yoruba religion; relates to Eleggua, the God of crossroads, the owner of all roads in the world. He says, "this album is the realisation of all the ideas that I've gathered over the years." Methinks, too much kitchen sink here; surely he could have kept a few ideas in reserve. Most cuts have vocals of some sort: coros, chants, spoken word. Most have percussion of many sorts: congas, bongos, timbales, clave, bata, shekere, tamani -- a Malinke talking drum played by Baba Sissoko, who also plays n'goni. Cachaito plays bass on most cuts. Various pianists show up for a cut each, including Rubén González and Chucho Valdés. Turntablist Dee Nasty is all over the joint. One idea was to redo an Argentine piece by Pablo Nemirovsky, who drops in on bandoneon. Some cuts have strings, others horns, one guitar, three flute. Angá himself mostly plays congas, but adds some guiro on one cut. The result is an Afro-Cuban smorgasbord, often tasty, but way over the top. I didn't plan on covering this under jazz prospecting until I noticed "Round Midnight" and "A Love Supreme" -- two more half-baked ideas -- and side credits with Steve Coleman and Roy Hargrove. I expect that we'll hear more from him, and some day it will make more sense. B
  • Ardecore (2005, Il Manifesto). Italian sources classify this as folk or folk-blues, although I suspect that this revisits at old Rome much like the Mekons rework country and western or the Pogues recast Dublin. One clue is that the title translates as "Hardcore"; another is that the core of the band comes from Zu, a group that straddles the politics of the Mekons and the Ex but usually ventures further into avant-jazz territory. But here Luca Mai's bari sax burnishes the luxurious sway of classic Italian melodies, while Giampaolo Felici sings with the coarse authority of a griot or cantor. A-
  • Lisa B: What's New Pussycat? Tunes & Tales About Cool Cats (2006, Piece of Pie). As a rock critic, I'm used to taking voices as they come, but sometimes you get one that's so annoying nothing else much matters. This is one such voice. The songs with their overstretched conceptual ties are another problem, although I do sort of like the lullaby "When Malika Sleeps." C-
  • Jeff Barnhart: In My Solitude (Arbors Piano Series, Volume 16) (2005 [2006], Arbors): Solo piano, a mix of stride and slower pieces. One of Barnhart's two originals here is "Remembering Ralph" -- for Sutton, an obvious influence. I find no real fault with this, nor much interest either, except that I wouldn't mind hearing more fast ones like "Stealin' Apples," the Fats Waller piece that closes the album. B
  • Ray Barretto: Standards Rican-ditioned (2005 [2006], Zoho): According to the notes, all but one track had been completed before Barretto died in January. That track has a scat vocal marking where he intended to add a congo solo, as well as some overdubbed conga by his son Chris. It feels more unfinished than that, but I have no real sense of Barretto's career work -- no doubt a major shortfall in my own learning. The pianist-arranger I know somewhat better, and it turns out that he too has passed from the scene: so this may serve as a double remembrance. Hilton Ruiz is the steady center here. Maybe too steady, but it wasn't meant to be his show. B+(*)
  • Stefano Battaglia: Raccolto (2003 [2006], ECM, 2CD): The first disc is a piano-bass-drums trio, slow and free, fascinating as it tiptoes around the edges of chaos without ever taking the plunge. Second disc replaces the bass with Dominique Pifarély's violin, which upsets the sonic balance, moving the piano back a notch. B+(**)
  • Beans (featuring William Parker and Hamid Drake): Only (2006, Thirsty Ear): Another advance, but street date here is April 4, so this one should be out. Can't find the useless info sheet either, so time I know even less than the usual next to nothing. Beans is half of the former Antipop Consortium: raps a little, mixes beats. With Antipop did a previous Blue Series album with Matthew Shipp. Parker and Drake are a little out of their depth here, although the acoustic bass riff is nice to hear as a pulse-line. B+(*)
  • Louie Bellson: The Sacred Music of Louie Bellson and the Jazz Ballet (2000 [2005], Percusion Power): So the former Ellington drummer follows in his master's footsteps in making an earnest offering before meeting his maker. I don't recall Bellson ever writing lyrics before, but it's a good thing he didn't try to make a career out of it. Having studiously avoided CCM, I can't say whether his words here achieve an unprecedented level in the dumbing down of Christianity or whether they're just par for the times -- the latter, I suspect. For example: "Throw the blues away/come and live God's way/you will then rejoice/'cause you made the choice/He is the one and only one/He's the Lord." USC's student choir are overkill here -- the effect could be camp, but I doubt it. USC's string orchestra are no better, but Bellson brought in a couple of ringers to beef up the Jazz Orchestra, with Bobby Shew and/or John Thomas cranking the trumpet up to, well, Bellsonian levels. In such moments, you can remember why Bellson could title albums Hot and Inferno and get credit for understatement. C+
  • The Essential George Benson (1963-80 [2006] Columbia/Legacy, 2CD). A good jazz guitarist, but conceptually he never got out of Wes Montgomery's shadow -- even if I have to score "California Dreamin'" in his favor, it's not much of a triumph. Turned into a gritless soul singer, then got worse, but this compilation cuts him off and doesn't dwell on all that. Instead, it packs sideman cuts with Jack McDuff, Miles Davis, Stanley Turrentine, Tony Williams, and Dexter Gordon. B
  • David Berger & the Sultans of Swing: Hindustan (2005 [2006], Such Sweet Thunder): The title here is à propos of nothing -- it may put you in mind of The Far East Suite, but the record offers nothing Ellingtonian beyond the instrumentation of the big band. The gem-like arrangements do have some allure, and Aria Hendricks's few vocals have some charm, but the Sultans come up short of swing, and you know what that means. B
  • Jerry Bergonzi: Tenor of the Times (2006, Savant): He has a couple of albums with his name shortened to Gonz in the title. It fits: he has a huge tenor sound and plays with a lot of muscular action -- even the ballad-tempo piece feels thick, dense, rock solid. He's backed by piano-bass-drums, but rarely out of the spotlight: an old fashioned saxophone colossus. Sure, it's been done, and better, but not all that often. B+(**)
  • David Bixler: Call It a Good Deal (2005 [2006], Zoho): An in-betweener, not quite free jazz, but a good deal dicier than the hard bop orthodoxy or your run-of-the-mill postbop. Bixler plays alto sax. His main credit is working in Chico O'Farrill's Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, which is a skill he doesn't make much use of here. This is a quintet, with Scott Wendholt's trumpet the other horn, and John Hart's guitar the chordal instrument. Both take liberties with time, as does bass-drums, and that gives this record an odd stutter that keeps it interesting. I'm not used to Hart doing this sort of thing; he acquits himself well. B+(*)
  • Lou Blackburn: The Complete Imperial Sessions (1963 [2006], Blue Note): That would be two albums in one year with the same lineup, including trumpeter Freddie Hill and pianist Horace Tapscott -- not yet 30, and nowhere near as distinctive or dominant as he became, but very solid throughout. Blackburn was a Los Angeles trombonist without much under his own name, but these sessions are bright, swinging hard bop, even the one released as Two-Note Samba. Must have been a law in 1963 that everyone had to release a samba album. B+(***)
  • Ran Blake: All That Is Tied (2006, Tompkins Square). Solo piano, something Blake has done a lot of. Blake is 70, having recorded 35 records since his ESP-Disk debut 40 years ago. I've only heard a handful, and can't say that I've ever made much sense out of him. I just have a promo, with a quote on the front from John Medeski's liner notes: "A journey into an intuitive, mystical, poetic, personal and important world." Haven't seen the notes themselves, but that's about what this sounds like, even if I don't have the imagination or vision to see it myself. Francis Davis applauded this record. Brian Morton went even further: "the most beautiful and challenging piano record of the last 25 years." I don't doubt but that there's something here, but I'm giving up on trying to get it. B+(**)
  • Art Blakey: Holiday for Skins (1958 [2006], Blue Note): One of Blakey's many multi-drum experiments, following Drum Suite and Orgy in Rhythm, this one has three trap sets, seven Latino percussionists (including Ray Barretto), Donald Byrd trumpet, Ray Bryant piano, and Wendell Marshall bass. Doesn't seem like the drummers -- Philly Joe Jones and Art Taylor are the others -- ever get on the same wavelength as the Latinos, but the latter are happy to play along with anyone or anything. Especially Ray Bryant, who contributes some tasty moments. B+(*)
  • Michael Bolton: Bolton Swings Sinatra (2006, Concord). First song is arranged for just strings; second for a big band with horns. Score that battle of the bands for the horns. The band here is slicker than Billy May's and hotter than Nelson Riddle's, which means on average it isn't quite up to either. But the rael problem, of course, is that what matters is the singer, not the song. If not, Pat Boone would be Little Richard. Q.E.D. C+
  • The Chris Byars Octet: Night Owls (2001-02 [2006], Smalls): A smallish big band, with two brass and three saxes, the latter doubling on clarinet and flutes, plus the usual piano-bass-drums. Pretty mainstream stuff, with the harmonies layered on unobtrusively, none of that postmodernist harmonic theory. Even swings some. I'm more pleased than impressed. B+(**)
  • Elliott Caine Quintet: Blues From Mars (2005 [2006], EJC Music): Standard issue hard bop quintet, led by the trumpeter, with a few extra frills: vibes (DJ Bonebrake) on three cuts, congas on three more for a little Latin tinge, and theremin for the space effects on the title track. Bright, blues-based, swings; probably fun live, but at home you're more likely to reach for Lee Morgan. B
  • Michel Camilo: Rhapsody in Blue (2005 [2006], Telarc). George Gershwin is enough of a staple in the world of jazz that one tends to forget about his contributions to classical music. But this record, with Camilo playing with the Barcelona Symphony Orchestra, is pure Gershwin classicism. I never liked classical music, and this repeatedly reminds me why. I do have a high opinion of Camilo's pianoship, but this doesn't remind me why. C-
  • Marc Cary: Focus (2006, Motema Music): Looks like Cary's main business -- can't say about interests -- is in taking his Fender Rhodes into funkier territory than the usual smooth jazz jive, but this is a conventional acoustic piano trio and the fare is respectable postbop, a bit faster and louder than usual. Cary has some impressive credentials, including a stint working for Betty Carter, and can clearly go anywhere he wants. David Ewell plays bass and Samir Gupta drums plus a little tabla -- nice touch, he might be another name to remember. B+(**)
  • Gilbert Castellanos: Underground (2005 [2006], Seedling): West coast (San Diego) trumpeter, originally from Mexico (Guadalajara); plays in the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra; has quite a bit of session work over the last 10-12 years, especially behind singers. Hype sheet compares him to "two of his earliest influences": Lee Morgan (one song covered here) and Clifford Brown. Doesn't sound a lot like either to me, although a cross isn't out of the question. Plays on their home court, mainstream hard bop. If that's your thing, I imagine you'd enjoy him live, and might even want this skillfully played, thoroughly enjoyable record as a souvenir. B+(**)
  • Joe Chambers: The Outlaw (2005 [2006], Savant). Although his credits list includes drums, Chambers primarily plays vibes here. Combined with Bobby Sanabria's percussion and Logan Richardson's soprano sax, this has a playful feel almost totally free of weight. Weird at first, then seductive. B+(**)
  • Chris Cheek: Blues Cruise (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Just Cheek fronting Brad Mehldau's trio, doing four covers and five Cheek originals, mostly blues based, smoothly played, richly appointed, stretched out to the 5-7 minute range. Probably his least ambitious album ever. B+(*)
  • Chicago Underground Duo: In Praise of Shadows (2005 [2006], Thrill Jockey): Two now, or again, just Rob Mazurek and Chad Taylor. When they stick to their main instruments, cornet and drums respectively, their spareness is attractive. However, they use the occasion to work all sorts of extra junk into the mix -- most of it can be categorized as electronics, but prepared piano and prepared vibes also enter the mix. At its most otherworldly it even sounds a bit like Harry Partch. Unfortunately, more often it doesn't sound like much of anything. B
  • Jimmy Cobb: Marsalis Music Honors Jimmy Cobb (2005 [2006], Marsalis Music/Rounder). Cobb has fewer albums under his own name -- this is his 5th -- than Carvin, but is less likely to need an introduction: Cobb worked for Miles Davis circa Kind of Blue, in a rhythm section with Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers that also worked with John Coltrane, Art Pepper, and Wes Montgomery. As with the Carvin disc, this is a quartet, this time with Ellis Marsalis on piano, Andrew Speight on alto sax, and Orlando Le Fleming on bass. There's nothing all that special here but much to like in this -- a strong swing impulse from both the bass and drums, movement on the piano, impressive work on sax. B+(**)
  • Bill Coon/Oliver Gannon: Two Much Guitar (2004 [2005], Cellar Live): I don't know, maybe I'm just getting soft on guitar at long last. Two Vancouver-based guitarists aided by bass and drums. Some of this is clearly electric, but most is subtly picked out, a steady flow that's hard to resist. Coon has been playing for twenty years, since 1995 in Vancouver. He has a previous trio album with the same bass-drums as here. Gannon is somewhat older -- why is it nobody bothers to put when they were born on their websites? -- with scattered credits going back to 1978, but only one record (as far as I've been able to find out) under his own name. B+(**)
  • Cooper-Moore: Outtakes 1978 (1978 [2005], Hopscotch). The artist was born 1946 in Virginia, had a strong music education including a spell at Berklee, moved to New York 1973. He's primarily a pianist, but builds exotic instruments, and frequently plays a one-string contraption called a diddley-bow. He didn't record much until recently. I was much impressed by him in William Parker's In Order to Survive quartet -- his piano has the sort of live-wire intensity that reminds me of Horace Tapscott -- and recall reading somewhere that the only musician he would work with was Parker. Recently he's broke out of Parker's circle a bit, recording a couple of piano trios with Tom Abbs and Chad Taylor, as well as albums with Assif Tsahar, Susie Ibarra, and Bill Cole. By my count, his short, erratic discography includes seven A-list albums -- damn impressive for a guy who doesn't get out much. This is an odd mix of tracks, without much discographical detail beyond that they were recorded in 1978. Cooper-Moore's exotic instruments are present, including ashimba on the opener and a piece on a clay fife, but most of the interest will be the early tracks with David S. Ware, recognizable a full decade before he formed his quartet. B+(**)
  • Chick Corea: The Ultimate Adventure (2006, Stretch): I don't know, and couldn't care less, what this has to do with L. Ron Hubbard, who wrote a book under the same title. But as a fusion album this at least covers the basics: the sine qua non is groove, which this delivers in spades -- first two cuts are impressive enough in that regard I began to think this might amount to something. If this doesn't quite pan out, the reasons are the usual ones: the change of pace brings out the cheesiness in the keyboards and the choice of wind instruments leans strongly toward the flutes. Corea's previous Hubbard tribute, To the Stars, was a dud. This one isn't. B
  • Joan Crowe: Bird on the Wire (2004, Evensongmusic). Her background as an actress, and maybe her summers spent on her grandparents' dairy farm in Deutschland, led her to cabaret. Don't know about her much touted comic skills, but she's a keen interpreter and runs a band that's always there for her without ever intruding, let alone tripping her up. A wide range of songs, with one original, called "Petite Southern Woman," certainly not autobiographical. She even tackles "Twisted," which she slows down and inches into, like trying out an especially weird costume. Title song from Leonard Cohen. Closing "Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss" straight out of Marlene Dietrich. B+(**)
  • Roger Davidson: Pensando En Ti (2005 [2006], Soundbrush). Boleros and rumbas, mostly composed by the pianist-leader, played with an easy rhythm that lets the richness of the piano shine through. The group includes guitar, flute, and trumpet/flugelhorn, each folded in neatly. Davidson has a classical background, but he's worked in Latin forms before, notably on tangos with Pablo Aslan, who produces here. Lovely record, but it's almost totally lacking in tension. B+(*)
  • Guillaume de Chassy/Daniel Yvinec: Wonderful World (2004-05 [2006], Sunnyside): Piano and bass, respectively, although they mostly fill in around a set of voice samples "recorded on a cheap machine on the streets of New York City." Those include half-spoken, half-sung takes on "What a Wonderful World," "It Could Happen to You," and so forth, as well as song introductions and commentaries. A slight concept, but appealingly offhanded. B+(*)
  • Sugar Pie DeSanto: Refined Sugar (2005 [2006], Jasman): Born Umpeylia Marsema Balinton in 1935, she got part of her name when Johnny Otis marketed her as Little Miss Sugar Pie in 1955. She recorded for Chess from 1959-66, then vanished until 1993 when she recorded the first of what now are four albums for Jasman. Her voice has deepened, developing some real grit and a fierce growl, and it carries what otherwise is a classic sounding but unexceptional r&b record. B+(*)
  • Philip Dizack: Beyond a Dream (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): If you're interested in auspicious debuts, here's one: Dizack was 19 when he cut this one, mostly with bandmates from the Manhattan School of Music -- Greg Tardy is the ringer, the only name here I recognize. Dizack plays trumpet, credits Nicholas Payton and Terence Blanchard as influences -- wow, that's young! Chopswise I'd say he's in their league already. My main caveats are that he tries to too many things at once -- a common complaint I have about well-schooled debut albums -- and that the messy two-sax sextet crowds his trumpet. I reckon we'll be hearing more from pianist Miro Sprague also. B+(**)
  • Dr. John: Mercenary (2006, Blue Note). The good doctor attacks the Johnny Mercer songbook, growling and snarling and occasionally kicking its ass. One Mac Rebennack original: "I Ain't No Johnny Mercer." No shit! B+(*)
  • The Miles Donahue Quintet: In the Pocket (1999 [2006], Amerigo): Donahue was born in 1944, but didn't start recording until 1995. He's produced quite a bit since then, but I've only heard these two examples. Plays alto sax, tenor sax and trumpet; also gets credit for keyboards, but the pianist you notice here is most certainly Fred Hersch. The tenor sax is most likely Jerry Bergonzi, but no other trumpet players are listed, and I like the trumpet here as much as anything else. Not sure how the Quintet is actually aligned. Credits list eight musicians, with three singled out as "featuring": Hersch, Bergonzi, and Kurt Rosenwinkle [sic]. Looks like Hersch and Bergonzi are in, but the guitarist is an add-on for four tracks. The record is the sort of postbop that I find annoyingly pointless: it sounds just like jazz, as opposed to something of its own creation. That isn't very well expressed: a rather vague idea, but "just like jazz" is a placeholder for something missing -- doesn't matter what that is, just that it's not there. What is there breaks down into separate pieces, most of which are impressive on their own. The stars -- Hersch, Bergonzi, Rosenwinkel -- are easily recognized for their signatures, which show how warranted their stardom is. Donahue's trumpet stands out more than his alto sax, but he makes an impression on both. B+(*)
  • Miles Donahue: Bounce (2004 [2006], Amerigo): Two sessions with less starpower than In the Pocket -- the names here are Adam Nussbaum on one, John Patitucci on the other, Joey Calderazzo on both. Half the tracks have guitar (Norm Zocher), others bass clarinet (Ernie Sola). All of this fits the usual bright, bouncy, slinky postbop mold. B
  • Anne Ducros: Piano, Piano (2004 [2006], Dreyfus). Her website proclaims her "de la diva du jazz vocal" -- reflecting perhaps a background steeped in classical music. I like her voice, her moves, even her scat, and how she handles many of her tried and true standards. On the other hand, she keeps her French pieces -- a Jacques Prévert song and a piece by Erik Satie -- outside of my grasp. And I don't think the multiple pianist concept works: two or three songs each by five pianists -- Chick Corea, Jacky Terrasson, René Urtreger, Enrico Pieranunzi, and Benoît de Mesmay -- doesn't sort out cleanly. But for the record, I did find myself looking up one pianist each time out: Pieranunzi. B
  • The Essential George Duke (1977-90 [2006], Epic/Legacy, 2CD). This series usually tries to span an artist's career, even if that costs a little extra. But this one cuts its losses, sticking to Duke's Epic catalog, nothing but warmed over funk. Half sounds like secondhand P-Funk, replete with Bootsy-like interjections. Other half sounds like what Pedro Bell slammed as Turf, Hot Air & No Fire, except when the girls sing -- you know, Sister Sludge. First disc is further marred by a trip to Brazil, but the second, surprisingly, turns into tacky, sticky fun. B
  • Mark Elf: Liftoff (2005 [2006], Jen Bay). He's a bop-influenced mainstream guitarist with a fairly soft tone and some speed, especially on the alternate take to the title piece, which does indeed lift off. Reminds me more of Herb Ellis than Wes Montgomery; may have some affinity to Pat Martino, but that goes beyond my area of expertise. It also helps that he works with a dream band here: David Hazeltine, Peter Washington, Lewis Nash. Tight, clean, professional; just what you'd expect. B+(*)
  • John Ellis: By a Thread (2006, Hyena). This is one of those albums that tries to do everything and does it well enough to tease you into playing along. Instrumentally, Ellis plays various saxes, bass clarinet and ocarina, backed by Aaron Goldberg's keyboards and/or Mike Moreno's guitar -- not a large group, but a loaded one. Musically, we have various shades of postbop, including blues and funk riffs. It's all impressively well rounded. B+(**)
  • Gil Evans: The Complete Pacific Jazz Sessions (1958-59 [2006], Blue Note): This marks the emergence of Evans not just as an arranger but as an auteur, and fittingly starts by recasting the entire jazz tradition into his deftly layered, intricate modernism. This disc combines two albums, released as New Bottle, Old Wine and Great Jazz Standards - the former with more of the latter, ranging from "St. Louis Blues" to Charlie Parker, the latter with more contemporary fare - not that anyone will be surprise to find "Straight No Chaser" or "Django" there. These records have always long me as cold, calculated, a bit cut and dry, but this time through I'm struck by the solos on the latter half, especially Steve Lacy and Budd Johnson. B+(***)
  • Amanda Ford: On Fire (2006, Alanna): A pianist-singer-songwriter with little in the way of jazz connections -- probably unfair to consider her here, but it's usually a safe bet for me to slot under jazz any unknown female vocalist who's not clearly from Nashville or Austin. She's from Pittsburgh. The cover poses her in an evening gown, sitting at a piano, with a candle on top. There's a whole category these days of singer-songwriters marketed as jazz for no better reason than that's their label's niche -- they're no different from others marketed as folk, country, alt-rock, etc. This is thoughtful, elegant, unexciting. Probably deserves another listen now that I know what it isn't. Wish I thought I had time. B
  • Free Range Rat: Nut Club (1999 [2006], Clean Feed): Starts chaotic. I've never been a fan of what Impulse used to define as "energy music" -- cacophony is the more normative term -- but once in a while something interesting emerges from it, and that's what more or less happens here. As far as I can tell -- another skinny promo disc -- Free Range Rat started as a trumpet-sax duo, John Carlson and Eric Hipp, respectively. Then they added bass, Shawn McGloin, then drums, George Schuller, for one of those free pianoless quartets, although a relatively messy one. This record also has Doug Yates, clarinet and bass clarinet, listed as "special guest." B+(**)
  • Frequency (2006, Thrill Jockey): I'm tempted to file this eponymous group album under Edward Wilkerson Jr., since he's probably the senior member and definitely carries the loudest horn, but most of his records are currently filed under 8 Bold Souls, an avant big band he was definitely the main force behind. He plays tenor sax and clarinet here, wood flute and bells. But everyone plays flutes of some kind or another, especially Nicole Mitchell, who ranges from piccolo to bass flute, plus melodica, Egyptian harp, and plastic bag. She has four albums and a Downbeat rising star poll win. She's also credited with two pieces to one each for the others, and perhaps more importantly the flutes take over after an early sax squall and the albums ends with a whimper. The other members are bassist Harrison Bankhead and percussionist Avreeayl Ra, both steady hands on Chicago's fringe. Lots of interesting spots here, but I have trouble keeping the thread, and weary of the flute register. B+(*)
  • The Bob Gallo Quintet: Wake-Up Call (2005 [2006], CD Baby): No label evident here, not even the usual website, although the hype sheet says this is available from North Country, and google points to CD Baby. I've used the latter before on self-released albums where no label is evident, so that will do here. No session dates either, but CD Baby gives this as a May 2005 release, while the hype sheet says Sept. 1, 2006. Gallo plays guitar. His resume mostly lists TV work, which doesn't cut much grease hereabouts. The quintet includes trumpet (Alex Sipiagin), piano (Misha Tsiganov), bass (Boris Koslov) and drums (Gene Jackson). The music is competent postbop with nice solo work from the the main three. B
  • Laszlo Gardony: Natural Instinct (2006, Sunnyside): Hungarian pianist, emigrated to US in 1983, has seven albums listed at AMG, which probably short-changes his early work. This is a trio with bassist John Lockwood and drummer Yoron Israel. Soft and sweet, worth listening to but not the sort of thing that demands you pay attention. B+(*)
  • Linton Garner Trio: Quiet Nights (2002 [2006], Cellar Live): Linton was Erroll Garner's older brother. Born 1915, raised in Pittsburgh, played piano for Billy Eckstine and others in the late '40s, moved to Montreal in 1962, and later to Vancouver, where he was a fixture on the scene until his death in 2003 -- 26 years after his more famous younger brother. His trio here includes Ross Taggart on tenor sax and Russ Botten on bass. The program offers standards with one Garner original. Garner gets a lot of space to open up, and Taggart has a broad, lush tone. It's all quite straightforward, very comfortable. B+(**)
  • Charles Gayle: Time Zones (2006, Tompkins Square). I always appreciated Gayle's occasional piano forays. Even when he ventured into Cecil Taylor territory they provided a brief respite from his torrential sax. But a whole album of solo piano offers no such contrast. And the last couple of cuts settle into a lovely pastoralism -- compounding my usual confusion. He's looking good on the cover. I'm happy for him. B+(*)
  • Jay Geils-Gerry Beaudoin and the Kings of Strings (2005 [2006], Arbors): Two guitarists. Geils is the same guy who ran the J. Geils Band, a venerable Boston rock group I never got around to checking out. According to his bio, he was a big Benny Goodman fan when he was growing up, and finally reverted to his first love when he recorded Jay Geils Plays Jazz! (Stony Plain; haven't heard it, but anything with Scott Hamilton is promising in my book). Haven't heard Beaudoin before either -- he has several swing-oriented albums going back to the early '90s. Beaudoin is also on Geils' jazz album, and they've taken to calling themselves the Kings of Strings. The guitarists are fine enough, but the only thing that keeps the hyperbole from becoming laughable is the tag, "Featuring Aaron Weinstein" -- the young violinist whose debut, A Handful of Stars I recommend highly. Beaudoin describes Weinstein as "the most mature 19-year-old I've never met." Actually, he's the world's youngest old fogie, a teenager who set his stars on Joe Venuti and figured out how to get there. He's less impressive here than on his own album, where he pointedly picked out his own choice accompanists and went straight for Bucky Pizzarelli (and Houston Person and Joe Ascione). Still, this is pretty enjoyable. B+(**)
  • Shawn Glyde: Alternate Rhythm (2006, Imuso): The idea here was to start with an interesting rhythmic concept, then flesh it out. Glyde recorded the drum parts first, lots of time signatures like 13/16 and 19/16, but however alt they may be, they still stick within fairly rigid grooves. The melodies and harmonic layering was added later, with keyboarders Jason Galuten and Brad French and fusion bassist Jimmy Haslip sharing credits. Other mix-ins include sax (more soprano than tenor), guitar, and Meghan McKown's scat (two tracks). Glyde describes this as "constructed backwards," but what he's backed into is a semi-smooth fusion album. Still, he hasn't drained it of interest -- credit the oblique strategies. B+(*)
  • Gnappy: Unloaded (2006, Bean Pie): Jazz-funk group from Austin TX, basically a sax-guitar-bass-drums quartet with a wee bit of vocals, including a rap, plus some guests. I go up and down on them -- means they can prick my interest, but have trouble sustaining it. B
  • Vinny Golia Quartet: Sfumato (2003 [2006], Clean Feed). Pianoless quartet, with Bobby Bradford on trumpet and Golia playing clarinets, high saxes and low flutes for a wide range of sounds. Interesting music, a wide range of sounds and textures, solid backing from Ken Filiano and Alex Cline. B+(**)
  • Brad Goode: Hypnotic Suggestion (2005 [2006], Delmark). Trumpet player, in a quartet with pianist Adrean Farrugia. Harvey Pekar notes that this 54-minute album was recorded in two and a half hours: "That helped add spontaneity, a live feeling, to the proceedings." Yes, but it also means that they kept what they came up with on the spot. Which isn't bad, but after playing it three times I've invested more time in it than they did, and have less to show for it. B
  • Dexter Gordon: Gettin' Around (1965 [2006], Blue Note). The last of the Blue Notes. Gordon sounds relaxed, his huge sound towering over light but sprightly accompaniment from Bobby Hutcherson on vibes and Barry Harris on piano. B+(**)
  • Grismore/Scea Group: Well Behaved Fish (2004 [2006], Accurate): Steve Grismore plays guitar. Paul Scea plays various saxes and flutes. They open with Ornette Coleman's "Dancing in Your Head," which presumably frames their interests -- certainly fits their instruments. Fun to hear that piece again, but none of their own works move Coleman forward. Rather, they move toward a fairly generic but spirited fusion, even keeping trumpeter Brent Sandy on hand for those little Milesian riffs. B+(*)
  • Marty Grosz and His Hot Combination (2005 [2006], Arbors). For some reason I hadn't put together that Marty is the son of German artist-satirist Georg Grosz. I knew that Marty was born in Berlin in 1930, but it's not all that rare for Europeans to latch onto prewar American jazz styles. In one of the stories here he identifies himself as American, which makes sense -- he came over with his father in 1932. Still, he sings the first verse of "Just a Gigolo" in German, after a 6-minute historical intro. That sets up a 10-minute explication of "English Blues." Those stories are interesting, but they're not all that replayable. On the other hand, the music pieces are delightful: he plays Condon guitar, and sings like Waller, but less convinced of his genius. Good band, too, including Ken Peplowski, Scott Robinson and James Dapogny -- all stars in a style that never loses its charm. B+(**)
  • Kip Hanrahan: Every Child Is Born a Poet: The Life & Work of Piri Thomas (1992-2002 [2006], American Clavé): Effectively this does for Thomas -- author of Down These Mean Streets, perhaps America's best known Puerto Rican writer -- what Conjure does for Ishmael Reed. The words are more prosaic, but the narration has palpable impact. However, the music, meant for a soundtrack, has less impact -- a little trumpet, but it's mostly the Latin percussionists who save the day. B+(*)
  • Hard Cell (Berne+Taborn+Rainey): Feign (2005, Screwgun). Two-thirds of the Paraphrase lineup, with pianist Craig Taborn replacing bassist Drew Gress. My preference for the latest Paraphrase album most likely has little to do with the change -- the other album just caught one of those moments when everything clicked. Nonetheless, this isn't far off the mark. Taborn is very engaged, and he is worth focusing on. B+(***)
  • The Roy Hargrove Quintet: Nothing Serious (2006, Verve): The advance copy was attributed to the Roy Hargrove Quintet, but the final backs down to the leader, the cover showing the musician in dark portrait, the business end of his flugelhorn down on his chest, the background all blurry. He looks confused, lost, or maybe just sad -- which explains nothing about the bright, brassy music inside, least of all how serious to take it. If one insists on taking it seriously, one has to wonder why he overreaches just to come up with clichés. If not, why does he make going through the motions seem like so much work? Don't know about him, but I'm confused, lost, and maybe sad here. Only things I'm sure about: the unison harmony sounds awful; Slide Hampton's guest spots are a plus; further play is more likely to send this down than up. B
  • Winard Harper Sextet: Make It Happen (2006, Piadrum): The way I parse the credits sheet, the Sextet seems to have eight members, including three percussionists not counting a leader who plays balafon as well as drums. Another five musicians show up for several tracks, including quasi-stars Antonio Hart and Wycliffe Gordon; also Abdou Mboup and his talking drum. Over fifteen tracks running 77:56 they cover a lot of ground, starting with Charlie Parker and working their way through pieces by six band members -- OK, maybe that's the Sextet? Too many different things going on here to make a coherent album, but lots of good things in the details: the African percussion pieces are notable; guest pianist Sean Higgins romps on Ray Bryant's "Reflection"; guest trombonist Wycliffe Gordon brings down the house in "After Hours"; probably more. Harper's having a ball. B+(**)
  • Jeff Healey: Among Friends (2002 [2006], Stony Plain): Blind from age one, Healey is a Canadian who learned to play blues guitar laying his axe flat on his lap. After several albums, he picked up a trumpet and started playing trad jazz, inspired and spurred on by Dick Sudhalter on this first rough cut album, now reissued by his new label. I prefer the new one, It's Tight Like That, and not only because Chris Barber joins in. But there's nice stuff here, like the rhythm guitar on "Stardust" -- also the roughness in his voice, which seems to be on the right track. B+(*)
  • Heernt: Locked in a Basement (2005 [2006], RazDaz/Sunnyside). Trio, led by drummer Tom Guiliana, who also dabbles in electronics. With electric bass (Neal Persiani) and tenor sax (Zac Colwell, who also employs alto, clarinet, flute, keyboards, guitar and whatnot) this is an oblique groove album with some rough edges -- the sort of thing I tend to fall for, but not the most compelling example. Last piece is a dirge, "Brawling on Epic Landforms" -- good title, but a downer. B+(*)
  • Vincent Herring: Ends and Means (2005 [2006], HighNote). He's out to please here, sticking within comfortable mainstream boundaries, playing bright and cheery, both on his mainstay alto sax and on soprano. Half the album is done as a quartet. The other half adds trumpeter Jeremy Pelt for a second horn. Pelt has much the same virtues as Herring, making for a comfortable pairing. B+(**)
  • Andrew Hill: Smoke Stack (1963 [2006], Blue Note). It looks like it's finally Hill's time. This year's Jazz Journalists Association Awards nominated Hill both for Musician of the Year and Lifetime Achievement Award. He's got a good new album out on his second returnt rip to Blue Note. And his new/old label has started to put his catalog in order. This one is unusual among his early records for its lack of horns. It's not quite a trio, in that he uses two bassists, frequently playing arco. But it's a good example of how far he could push his piano, especially as he surfs over such volatile time shifts. A-
  • Stevie Holland: More Than Words Can Say (2006, 150 Music). Art song seems like the right term here: standards, plus a couple of originals, played for dramatic effect -- slow, articulate, drenched in strings, torchers by aroma if not by attitude. There are at least half a dozen distinct strains competing under the general rubric of vocal jazz. This is one that has little appeal to me -- despite a couple of pianists I admire, the music has no connection to the jazz tradition, nor does the very talented singer. This just reminds me that had Barbra Streisand grown up on cabaret instead of Broadway musicals she'd be touted as a jazz singer too. B+(*)
  • Will Holshouser Trio: Singing to a Bee (2004 [2006], Clean Feed): Plays accordion, with Ron Horton on trumpet and David Phillips on bass. The trumpet stands out starkly against accordion, especially when Horton goes high. The bass, however, burrows under, with little presence on its own -- seems like drums might have been more useful. Touches of Weill seem inevitable, but nothing connects with tango or klezmer -- Holshouser also plays with David Krakauer's Klezmer Madness, but what's lacking on all fronts is momentum. (One more gripe: Clean Feed, following Palmetto and others, has started to only send out promo sleeves. I don't grade down for this, but do find it annoying. I did manage to read the liner notes online -- something about haiku that made no sense to me -- but can't comment on the real packaging.) B
  • Lena Horne: Seasons of a Life (1994-2000 [2005], Blue Note). My advance says "in stores April 12, 2005," but I never got a final copy, and doubt that it was ever released. As I understand it, these were outtakes from her '90s albums for Blue Note. Ten songs, four by Billy Strayhorn, "Stormy Weather" to close; Rodney Jones listed as producer, various musicians. She sounds fine. No surprises, no gaffes, alas not much point. It's not like she's never done "Stormy Weather" before. B
  • Ron Horton: Everything in a Dream (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Horton comes out of New York's Jazz Composers Collective, a circle that includes Ben Allison, Frank Kimbrough, and others. On a map of the jazz universe they'd fit on the seam between academically respectable postbop and the more formal segments of the avant-garde. In other words, they are serious cats, seeking to advance the state of the art within an acknowledged formal framework. This record here is nothing if not ambitious, and there is much to admire in it. Horton's own trumpet and flugelhorn are joined by two saxes, piano, drums, and two basses. The saxes are John O'Gallagher (alto) and Tony Malaby (tenor), both superb. All of the players have excellent parts, including featured bass solos for Masa Kamaguchi and John Hebert. I'm less pleased with how they come together. There's something sour in the sax-trumpet harmony I find a real turnoff. Maybe there's some new-fangled harmonic theory at work here? -- I've hade the same reaction to dozens of albums from this same milieu. Still, it's hard not to admire what he's done here, even if I can't quite bring myself to like it. B+(*)
  • Susi Hyldgaard: Blush (2004 [2006], Enja/Justin Time): Danish singer with four albums. Sings in English. Has no jazz moves that I can recognize, nor any rock moves, so this album feels rather sedentary. She plays piano. Some cuts have bass and drums; others strings and/or vocal backup. Two cuts are remixes. The beats on the last one help. C+
  • Aaron Irwin Group: Into the Light (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Irwin plays alto sax in a quartet with guitar, bass and drums. Tenor saxist Rich Perry also appears on five of eight tracks. Moderate postbop, not much distinguished, although guitarist Ryan Scott has some nice moments, and Perry makes himself heard. B
  • Nancy Kelly: Born to Swing (2005 [2006], Amherst). I wish artist's websites would provide such basic info as when and where one was born. Age in singers doesn't matter as much as it does with baseball players, but every little bit of info helps. This is Kelly's third album. The two previous ones, on the same label, came out in 1988 and 1997, so she's, uh, pacing herself in nice nine year intervals. Her website claims a "thirty-plus year career," but also notes that she started at age four, so she could be no older than Jack Benny. Standards stuff, swings heartily, like her voice and poise, and especially like her saxophone player: Houston Person. B+(**)
  • Frank Kimbrough: Play (2005 [2006], Palmetto): Piano trio, with bassist Masa Kamaguchi and drummer Paul Motian -- for more than forty years now the pianist's best friend. Moderate, tasteful postbop. If anything, too moderate, too tasteful. B
  • Rahsaan Roland Kirk: The Man Who Cried Fire (1973-77 [2002], Hyena). Scattered live bits -- clarinet, three-horn theatrics, talking, singing through his horn, honking, blues inside and out, a bit on New Orleans -- ordered with no flow, little rhyme or reason, except that the bits themselves are facets of a man unlike any other. B+(*)
  • Rahsaan Roland Kirk: Compliments of the Mysterious Phantom (1974 [2003], Hyena). Live in San Diego a year before his stroke, this lets Kirk loose to pursue his every idiosyncrasy, playing his gamut of instruments and musics, rapping and philosophizing, enjoying a band that includes Hilton Ruiz; check out the nose flute on "Fly Town Nose Blues," or his appreciation of "Old Rugged Cross." B+(**)
  • Rahsaan Roland Kirk: Brotherman in the Fatherland (1972 [2006], Hyena). One more live shot from the archives, a bit earlier and a lot louder, with less talk and fewer tricks -- although the booklet does have a picture of Kirk blowing three horns at once, and other bits of misdirection. B+(**)
  • Toby Koenigsberg Trio: Sense (2005 [2006], Origin): Piano trio, young guys who grew up together, based in Seattle. After Kimbrough, I'm immediately struck by how much livelier this is -- not just that it goes faster but slow spots develop in more interesting ways. Some of this is repertoire: a couple of Bud Powell pieces, a couple of variations on "Stella by Starlight." B+(**)
  • Lee Konitz: Jonquil (2003 [2005], Blue Jack Jazz). "Have sax, will travel" could be Konitz' motto. He is a brilliant alto saxophonist, absolutely unique, continuing to work in whatever configuration will have him more than fifty years after he first emerged in the Miles Davis "birth of the cool" nonet and weaned himself from Lennie Tristano's tutelage. This particular outing finds him working with two combined groups: the Marco Kegel/Axel Hagen Quartet and the Gustav Klimt String-Quartet. The strings fill the background unmemorably, but Hagen's guitar stands out, providing much of the shape and feel of the pieces. Kegel plays flute, alto and tenor sax, but I suspect his main job here is to make way for the master. Konitz repays the deference whenever he come to the fore with tightly reasoned eloquence. The excess, even the strings, doesn't do any real damage, but makes one wonder what a tighter group organized around Hagen and Konitz might do. I only rarely manage to get hold of recent Konitz records, so the chance to hear him play like this is always a treat, but frequently one winds up wondering whether there aren't even better examples out there somewhere. B+(**)
  • KTU: 8 Armed Monkey (2004 [2005], Thirsty Ear). K is for Kluster -- Kimmo Pohjonen on accordion and voice, Samuli Kosminen manipulating samples thereof. TU is another duo, formed by Trey Gunn on guitar and Pat Mastelotto on "rhythmic devices." Gunn and Mastelotto also have late King Crimson on their resumes, plus a good deal more. Not part of Thirsty Ear's Blue Series, where the jazz credentials are stronger. Somewhere on the edge betwen jazz and rock and electronica, the vocal samples have no great import, the beat is fierce. B+(**)
  • Art Lillard's Heavenly Band: Reasons to Be Thankful (2000 [2006], Summit). The big band can indeed be heavenly -- not only when they work their Latin vibe, but when they flesh out the details on more conventional fare. The vocal pieces -- six, with three lead singers -- are nicely done, but not up to the rest of the band. B+(**)
  • Joe Locke-Geoffrey Keezer Group: Live in Seattle (2005 [2006], Origin): A quartet with vibes, piano or other keyboard, bass and drums. Most of this races along at quite a clip, which seems to work for Keezer and against Locke. Indeed, in two plays I've gotten very little out of the vibes, and I've gotten rather tired of the galloping, crashing keyboards. B-
  • Fred Lonberg-Holm Quartet: Bridges Freeze Before Roads (2001 [2006], Longbox): The leader is based on Chicago, plays cello, has done some interesting things -- I particularly like a 2005 album called Other Valentines. Most recently he's replaced trombonist Jeb Bishop in the Vandermark Five. This just appeared but dates back a few years. The quartet includes Guillermo Gregorio on clarinet, Jason Roebke on bass, and Glenn Kotche on percussion. The music is dense and viscous -- it doesn't move so much as it seeps. Interest is minimal, mostly as dull background din. B-
  • Pamela Luss: There's Something About You I Don't Know (2006, Savant). Good singer, with a lot of help, especially from Vincent Herring, who produces like a kid in a candy store. Interesting that the most familiar songs -- "Georgia on My Mind," "Fever," "My Funny Valentine" -- are far and away the most irresistible. B+(**)
  • Brian Lynch: 24/7 (2002 [2005], Nagel Heyer). Lynch isn't far removed from old fashioned bebop. His quintet lineup with Miguel Zenon on alto sax and Rick Germanson on piano is straight out of Parker-Gillespie. His only quirk is a fondness for all things latin, which again fits the bebop mold. He's not as flashy as Gillespie, but then who is? He's very solid, and so is the record. B+(***)
  • Pete Malinverni: Joyful! (2005 [2006], ArtistShare): A gospel album, built around the pianist's quintet with Steve Wilson and Joe Magnarelli doing notable work on alto sax and trumpet, but dominated by a full-blown choir, the Devoe Street Baptist Church Choir, and narrated by the Reverend Frederick C. Ernette, Sr. As long as it stays traditional its joy packs a punch, but when the words stray from the old themes, you start to wonder. Or I do, anyway. Like is it true that Christians have gotten so much dumber even in my own lifetime? Or is it just that what used to be personal faith has become a social and political plague? Hard to see the joy in all that. B
  • Ray Mantilla: Good Vibrations (2006, Savant): The vibes man is Mike Freeman, and he gets off to a terrific start on two Lionel Hampton classics, but loses ground after that, as the Latin percussion takes over -- "special guest" Steve Berrios as well as the leader. Nothing wrong with that, but they need some little thing extra to make it remarkable, and that only happens when Enrique Fernández switches from flute to baritone sax for a finale called -- what else? -- "Bari Con Salsa." B+(*)
  • Klemens Marktl: Ocean Avenue (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Young drummer from Austria. Followed his studies from there to Holland and New York. His resume cites a long list of drummers he's studied under, headed by Lewis Nash -- a mainstream master who rarely stands out but invariably makes whoever he's playing with sound better. Marktl doesn't stand out either, but he's got a good pianist here in Aaron Goldberg and he's got Chris Cheek on his various saxes, and they work together to create a seamless piece of postmodern cool. B+(**)
  • Billy Martin & Grant Calvin Weston: Live at Houston Hall (2002 [2006], Amulet). I tend to reflexively discount drum records -- maybe that's my rock roots, the result of listening to John Bonham go on and on and on. Martin, of Medeski and Wood fame, has more than a dozen albums on his own label now -- solo drums, duo drums, electrobeats, turntablists, remixes of all of the above. I've heard seven, which is way more than any non-fanatic needs, but they're all interesting in various ways. This, like most live albums, was probably more fun when it was experienced live, but even now it strikes me as the best of the crop, and one of the more consistently engaging, as well as exciting, drums albums I've heard. Even so, I'm unsure how to rate it. Maybe if Weston played more trumpet than just the splash midway through? B+(***)
  • Jordi Matas Quintet: Racons (2004-05 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Spanish guitarist, based in Barcelona. Quintet includes saxophonist Marti Serra and pianist Jorge Rossy, as well as bass and drums. His guitar is more up front than Stewardson's, so it's easy to follow his clean, lean lines. Serra complements him ably, but doesn't stand out like Malaby. Nice record. B+(*)
  • The Bennie Maupin Ensemble: Penumbra (2003 [2006], Cryptogramophone): I know very little by Maupin -- certainly nothing that sounds like this. Looked him up on AMG and their Similar Artists list starts: Branford Marsalis, David Murray, Howard Johnson, Sam Rivers, Joe Henderson. Can't imagine what they have in common, much less in common with Maupin. Chico Freeman is the next guy on the list (maybe he's plausible) then Marty Ehrlich and George Coleman -- huh? Maupin's main instrument here is bass clarinet, followed by tenor and soprano sax, alto flute, and piano. The Ensemble adds bass, drums, percussion, working around whatever Maupin brings front and center. Mostly he brings an attractive, loose, low key album, that does little to resolve his stylistic affinities. Maybe he doesn't have any. B+(*)
  • Jackie McLean: It's Time (1964 [2006], Blue Note): The alto saxist set his destination for out the year before in two remarkable albums with trombonist Grachan Moncur, but this one is a bit more equivocal. The group veterans lean back toward hard bop, but McLean's pushes them hard, even getting some abstract comping from Herbie Hancock. The newcomers are bassist Cecil McBee and trumpeter Charles Tolliver, who writes three pieces, including the soft closer. B+(***)
  • Jason Miles: What's Going On? Songs of Marvin Gaye (2006, Narada Jazz). His trivialization of Gaye is less offensive than his trivialization of Miles Davis. But if I had time to listen to Marvin Gaye's songs, I'd rather listen to Marvin Gaye. B-
  • Hank Mobley: Dippin' (1965 [2006], Blue Note). Aside from a token ballad this could just as well be a Lee Morgan album, since trumpet runs roughshod over sax at will, at least when these two play; it holds up better than most because Harold Mabern and the rhythm section keep things moving, but also because Mobley gets to stretch out a bit on the ballad. B+(*)
  • Mold: Rotten in Rødby (2005 [2006], ILK): Another two horn quartet -- Anders Banke on saxes and clarinets, Stephan Meinberg on trumpets -- only with Mark Solborg's guitars and gadgets instead of bass. Can play dense and rockish or loose and free. Don't know much about the group: three Danes, one German, met in New York, one previous album, they like to muck around with capitalization, usually spelling the group name moLd. There must be a dozen more or less comparable groups in Scandinavia -- would be a project to sort them out, and may become worth tackling before too long. B+(**)
  • Ben Monder Trio: Dust (1996 [2006], Sunnyside): Having appeared on ninety-some albums, Monder is a flexible postbop guitarist who can be depended on to fit in and add something every time out. This reissue of a 1997 album originally in Arabesque shows him in the lead, laying out his kit, a fair approximation of the state of the art in jazz guitar. B+(*)
  • Ben Monder: Excavation (1999 [2006], Sunnyside): Another reissue, originally on Arabesque. Pretty much the sum of its parts: shifty microwaves of rhythm from Jim Black and Skuli Sverrisson (aka AlasNoAxis), scat hymns from Theo Bleckmann, guitar-drenched window dressing from Monder. B
  • Monk's Music Trio: Monk's Bones (2004 [2006], CMB). The trio -- veterans Si Perkoff on piano and Chuck Bernstein on drums, and young Sam Bevan on bass -- is perhaps too respectful to uncover anything truly new, but they handle the repertoire skillfully enough, and Monk continues to be an inexhaustible fount of inspiration. But the attraction here comes from the 'bones: Si's son Max, who gets to play alongside superguest Roswell Rudd, who has earned enough esteem that he can roughen up Monk any time he feels like. B+(**)
  • Monsieur Dubois: Ruff (2004 [2006], Challenge): This Dutch group bills itself as "danceable hard jazz." Reminds me of a scene in Running on Empty when the music teacher asks what's the difference between samples of Madonna and Beethoven, and River Phoenix answers that you can't dance to Beethoven. The reason is that shifting rhythm confounds dance. This group can force its hard jazz to be danceable by straitjacketing the beat, but is it still jazz? Seems like it could be, but it's tough to see how. Rock solid 4/4 is no more common in jazz these days than rhymed couplets in poetry. This isn't accidental: lack of formula, of predictability, keys our interest in jazz. The result is that I spent most of the first spin here wondering when something was going to happen, oblivious to all their hard work. I suppose it is to their credit that this didn't immediately register as smooth jazz either. It's more like dance funk played by a standard issue jazz quintet -- plus extra percussion, so it's actually a sextet. Acid jazz, I guess. B
  • Lee Morgan: Tom Cat (1964 [2006], Blue Note). With three horns this is a little busy up front, but Morgan's trumpet is never far from the spotlight. McCoy Tyner provides some slick interludes when he gets the chance, and contributes one song to make sure he does. The Penguin Guide has a clever putdown of this album: "With complete absence of irony, the final track is 'Rigor Mortis.'" The song in question is spelled "Riggarmortes" and it's pretty upbeat. Still, there's something wrong with an album where Jackie McLean doesn't bother to make himself noticed. B
  • Lee Morgan: The Gigolo (1965 [2006], Blue Note). A brisk, chunky hard bop quintet, with Wayne Shorter playing second banana to the trumpeter, and perhaps more importantly pianist Harold Mabern cooking up the grits and gravy. B+(*)
  • John Moulder: Trinity (2005 [2006], Origin). This sounds more like that vaguest of categories, soundtrack music, than jazz. It is expansive, richly orchestrated, wears its emotions on its sleeve. Moulder composed, plays guitar, and keeps it flowing, with a lot of help from friends -- Laurence Hobgood piano, atmospheric horns (including Paul McCandless), various percussionists. Impressive but not all that interesting. B
  • Mujician: There's No Going Back Now (2005 [2006], Cuneiform): This stalwart Anglo-improv quartet goes back to 1990, maybe earlier -- pianist Keith Tippett used the name in 1981 on a solo album, so how do you count that? The Penguin Guide files the group albums under saxophonist Paul Dunmall's name these days -- he's certainly the one who brings the noise. The others are Paul Rogers on bass and Tony Levin on drums. They are less prominent as leaders but have extensive discographies as well. Their circle is one that I've never really penetrated: I've heard five out of thirty albums Penguin Guide lists under Tippett and Dunmall, but can't say as I've made much sense out of them. This one doesn't help much either. There are moments of bracing sax, but they seem few and far between. There are moments when the piano or bass threatens to do something interesting, but they soon fade. Every now and then the record sort of drops into the subsonic realm, but only one piece is listed. Seems short, but 45:30 should be plenty to get your point across, if you have one. B
  • Roy Nathanson: Sotto Voce (2005 [2006], AUM Fidelity): The first song reminds me of an Annette Peacock song. The second is a sickly pop hit that Billy Jenkins got to first. In other words, both are good, but remind me of better. The music throughout reminds me of the Jazz Passengers, not surprising given that Nathanson was their leader and Curtis Fowlkes is also on board here, but the music takes a back seat to the words, and therein lies the rub. After the first two songs this gets drab, starting with a riff on "Motherless Child" and quickly descending into Brechtian territory, or do I mean Tom Waits? Interesting ideas here, but too many allusions make me think it should be better. B+(*)
  • David "Fathead" Newman: Cityscape (2005 [2006], High Note). I never got a chance to say so before, but Newman's I Remember Brother Ray was the best of a spate of Ray Charles tributes that came out following the movie, the hit duets album, and all that. Not a great record, of course, so that's sort of a backhanded complement, but to the best of my knowledge, Newman's never made a great record, at least under his ownname, in the first half-century of his recording plenty of good ones -- this is touted as "the beginning of David Newman's second half-century," if you're wondering about the wording. With three more horns for coloring (two brass and Howard Johnson's bari sax), a little flute from the leader, and songs ranging from "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" to "Goldfinger," this one is something of a mess -- but occasionally a beautiful mess. Highlights include a big solo on "Here Comes Sonny Man" and a lovely, heartfelt "It Was a Very Good Year." No doubt. B+(**)
  • Kevin Norton's Bauhaus Quartet: Time-Space Modulator (2003-04 [2004], Barking Hoop). Trumpet (Dave Ballou), tenor/soprano sax (Tony Malaby), bass (John Lindberg), drums/marimba (Norton), mostly working through small changes in a rather abstract vein. It's hard to get a handle on this, but I've kicked it back to the pending queue too many times by now. B+(**)
  • Anita O'Day: Indestructible! (2004-05 [2006], Kayo Stereophonic). Well into her 80s, she doesn't swing as hard as she used to, and her voice is more gone than not, but she inspires a couple of near-faultness bands. Roswell Rudd rumbles on three tracks, including "Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer." Joe Wilder stands out on the other tracks. O'Day's post-prime recordings have always been a matter of taste and sentiment: you have to like her a lot to see past the decline. But I, for one, can't see not liking her. B+(**)
  • Open Door: So Close So Beautiful (2006, Hipbone/Kindred Rhythm): Actually a soft hip-hop album, reminds me a bit of the Stereo MC's, perhaps crossed with some trip-hop. One cover: "DJ," from David Bowie's Eno-produced period. Principals are Vicki Bell (vocals, remix), Peter Adams (keybs), Ray Grappone (beats), with a bunch of guests. B+(*)
  • Eivind Opsvik: Overseas II (2005, Fresh Sound New Talent). Unlike most bass player's albums, this doesn't showcase the bass very well. Two pieces, in fact, are celeste solos, with different keyboardists, and were improvised for filler. Others vary the keyboards and two saxophones, with Tony Malaby appearing on half the tracks and making his usual impression. B+(**)
  • Brian Owen: Unmei (2005 [2006], OA2). First album by a young (age 23) Seattle-based trumpeter. Basic hard bop quintet format, with tenor sax (Jay Thomas), piano (John Hansen), bass and drums, but it's more advanced than that, with elaborate flows and intricate work. One of the more impressive debuts I've heard lately, but I should note that the parts that most caught my ear turned out to be the work of the veteran saxman. B+(*)
  • Evan Parker Electro-Acoustic Ensemble: The Eleventh Hour (2004 [2005], ECM). The electro brigade is larger than ever, although the acoustic side has grown a bit as well, with Agustí Fernandez on more/less prepared piano to go along with the strings (Philip Wachsmann on violin, Adam Linson on double-bass) and Parker's soprano sax. The one piece in five parts has many effects but little shape, and the flow is once again glacial. It wouldn't be hard to conclude that there's nothing much here, and it can be argued that thinking otherwise is just wishful thinking. But I think otherwise, even if I'm not real sure of myself. The effects are the show. B+(**)
  • William Parker: Long Hidden: The Olmec Series (2005 [2006], AUM Fidelity). The reissue component is "In Case of Accident," solo bass from an out-of-print self-release tacked on as an afterthought because there was a bit of space left. Avant-jazz bass solos aren't everyone's cup of tea, but this one is deep, intense, and powerfully moving -- and at 14:09 long doesn't commit you like a full album does. The new stuff includes three milder bass solos, three solos on 8-string doson ngoni, and four complex rhythmic vamps by the Olmec Group, an experiment in Mesoamericana. It all feels like a sketchbook, any piece of which could be developed into something substantial. B+(**)
  • Dave Peck: Good Road (2003 [2005], Let's Play Stella). This is one of the better mainstream piano trios I've heard lately. Standards, including two Ellingtons I'm not overly familiar with, plus one original. Good touch, well measured, thoughtful. Solid support from Jeff Johnson on bass and Joe La Barbera on drums. I never have much to say about records like this, but know one when I hear it. B+(**)
  • John Pizzarelli/The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra: Dear Mr. Sinatra (2005 [2006], Telarc): Don't recall seeing this in credits before, but for the record Pizzarelli wears Brioni suits and formal wear. He's photographed walking on the beach in his Brioni suit with an umbrella, but barefoot -- guess he doesn't have a shoe contract yet. The title suggests the likely problem is too formal and too respectful, and there's something to that, although formal is the last word one would use to describe his soft-cushioned voice. The Claytons, Hamilton, et al., know this music cold, and warm it up per the instructions on the box. In other words, nothing new, but most of the songs wear well anyway. B
  • Planet Jazz: In Orbit (2005 [2006], Sharp Nine): This is a tribute band to little known drummer Johnny Ellis, who died in 1999 at age 44. Ellis wrote most of the songs, commonly playing the others -- pieces by Charlie Shavers, Hampton Hawes, Duke Ellington-Johnny Hodges. In fact, so many Ellis alumni are on board that this could be considered his ghost band. Pianist Spike Wilner is the main mover here, and he's pulled together a solid mainstream band -- saxophonist Grant Stewart, trumpeter Joe Mangarelli, guitarist Peter Berstein. The covers take off, but the Ellis originals -- nonsense like "The Cow Is Now" and "The Lemur Is a Dreamer" -- don't quite make it. B
  • Bobby Previte: The Coalition of the Willing (2005 [2006], Ropeadope). Not sure about the iconography, but the big quote under the clear plastic tray is from George Orwell's 1984, and the liner notes end with "Wake up everybody." Previte, Charlie Hunter, and Jamie Saft try to do their part by cranking up the volume, but all they get for it is a pretty decent fusion album. Skerik and Steve Bernstein help out, and Stanton Moore appears on one track. B+(**)
  • Dafnis Prieto: About the Monks (2005, Zoho). One thing I've never gotten used to about Latin Jazz is the use of fast-paced multiple horn lines to punch up the ceiling. The operative word here is speed: Prieto is a drummer/percussionist who kicks up a storm, while Luis Perdomo is a speed demon on piano. I don't quite get the hang of what they're doing, but I'm impressed with how they do it. The two horns, on the other hand, shoot off in tangents I find little more than annoying. I know that Brian Lynch (trumpet, flugelhorn) has a lot of experience in latin bands; Yosvany Terry (reeds) is no doubt a native speaker. B-
  • Dafnis Prieto: Absolute Quintet (2005 [2006], Zoho): Cuban percussionist, made it to New York in 1999, and and ever since then folks who presumably know about such things have been raving about him. I've heard him as a sideman on half a dozen albums, and more often than not I've been impressed too. But I didn't like his previous album, About the Monks, and I don't much like this one either, although it's easier here to hear what his fans hear in him. For one thing, his knowledge of Cuban music is encyclopedic, but his ambitions are such that he tries to show it all off. One choice cut is "The Stutterer" -- amazingly jerky percussion, real strong sax blast from Yosvany Terry. That's followed by "Afrotango," more or less self-explanatory, with a nice Henry Threadgill guest appearance. But then he delves into Spanish classicism on "One Day Suite" and loses me. B+(*)
  • Andrew Rathbun/George Colligan: Renderings (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): "Art of the Duo" is a phrase that's been batted around by several labels -- I'm not sure if it's a regular feature with FSNT, but Concord had such a series, and I recall an Albert Mangelsdorff album of that title. Dave Liebman, who's done a few duos himself, wrote the liner notes here. Like Liebman, Rathbun plays tenor and soprano sax. Colligan plays piano. This is effectively chamber music. It starts with a piece by Ravel, then runs through a seven-part 25:46 suite. Later, along with a couple more originals, there's a 22:08 piece by Spanish composer Federico Mompou. So overall, it feels more like classical than jazz -- the piano plump, the sax shading. I don't really get it, but find much of it appealing. B+(*)
  • Chuck Redd: Remembers Barney Kessel: Happy All the Time (2005 [2006], Arbors). Tribute albums tend to three flavors. One is the conventional look back into the tradition thing, like Randy Sandke plays Bix Beiderbecke, or Scott Hamilton plays Zoot Sims. Usually these follow an instrument. Another is the tangential sideman memoir: a personal connection, like Mal Waldron on Billie Holiday. These most likely shift the instrument. The third is what we might call the contrived connection, neither organic like the first nor personal like the second. These are usually marketing concepts, although on occasion they pan out, as with Bud Shank (or Joe Lovano or Ruby Braff) on Sinatra. This is a good example of the second, replete with reminiscences and photos of days when vibraphonist Redd played with guitarist Kessel; also photos and a warm note from Kessel's widow. Five Kessel originals, plus standards that lend themselves to his easy swing. Howard Alden and Gene Bertoncini contribute some guitar, but it's not central. Redd does a lovely job of swinging the vibes, and that does the trick. B+(**)
  • The RH Factor: Distractions (2005 [2006], Verve): Let's pretend there are two distinct concepts here, instead of just one mess. On the one hand, we have four instrumentals -- two very brief -- where Hargrove and Fathead Newman riff over contemporary funk grooves. If he wanted to run with that, he could crank up the heat a bit and aim for a state of the art update on Roy Eldridge -- that could be a lot of fun. On the other hand, he brings on a rehash of the post-'90s r&b swamp with its cluttered vamps and turgid grooves and muddled vocals, not even leaving much room for his horn. I don't see much hope there, although I do dig the one blatant P-Funk retread here ("A Place"). B
  • Pete Robbins: Waits & Measures (2004 [2006], Playscape): Second album. Plays alto sax and clarinet. This is a sextet with Sam Sadigursky on heavier reeds (tenor sax and bass clarinet), Eliot Krimsky on keybs, guitar, bass and drums. First song, "Inkhead," is delightfully disjointed, almost Monkish. Nothing else stands out like that, but the album continues with flashes of thoughtful, intricate, sometimes quirky music. B+(**)
  • Red Rodney/Herman Schoonderwalt Quintet: Scrapple From the Apple (1975 [2005], Blue Jack Jazz). A live radio shot from 1975, with Charlie Parker's trumpeter "Albino Red" joining a Dutch quartet led by reedist Schoonderwalt. The program leans on Parker's songbook, with long pieces and generous solos. Aside from Red, pianist Nico Bunink is most impressive. Terrific lead-off "On Green Dolphin Street," but very solid throughout. B+(***)
  • Ari Roland: Sketches From a Bassist's Album (2005 [2006], Smalls). Quartet with Chris Byars on tenor sax, Sacha Perry on piano, Phil Stewart on drums. Roland plays bass, nicely featured here; also wrote seven of ten pieces. Roland has been a stalwart sideman on this label, particularly in Frank Hewitt's groups. This one works the well-worn bop idiom with a bit more swing than usual, a most comfortable and enjoyable outing. B+(**)
  • Carl Hancock Rux: Good Bread Alley (2006, Thirsty Ear): Another advance, release date May 23, so it's out already. Don't know Rux. Read that he does spoken word -- how does that differ from rap? -- but this is all sung. Could be something here, but it's hard to tell, and whatever it is it isn't jazz. Bad sign is yet another riff on "Motherless Child." B
  • Terje Rypdal: Vossabrygg (2003 [2006], ECM). The guitarist was a student of George Russell, and his approach to electronics and fusion bears Russell's stamp. His main collaborator here is trumpeter Palle Mikkelborg, also a Russell follower, with several connections to Miles Davis. The electronics, complemented by bass and two drummers, is interesting in spots, and Mikkelborg's trumpet shines. The guitar is harder to sort from the mix. B+(**)
  • Paul Shapiro: It's in the Twilight (2005 [2006], Tzadik). Part of Tzadik's Radical Jewish Culture series. Shapiro's website says: "You don't have to be Jewish to enjoy Paul Shapiro's music. But it helps to have a heart." So Jewish is a big part of Shapiro's identity, all the more clear from the booklet, but had you blindfolded me I would have missed it. Radical too, but I might have picked the name of a band he founded in the '90s, but I've never heard: Brooklyn Funk Essentials. And the big heart theme is clear. Shapiro plays tenor sax, but he sound here is thickened with a second tenor sax (Peter Apfelbaum) and trumpet (Steve Bernstein), giving the record a fat, vibrant sound. Two songs have vocal bits, which pop up informally for a social feel. If I was doing Choice Cuts, one I particularly like is Shapiro's Ribs & Brisket tune, "Oy Veys Mir" -- starts out like "Flat Foot Floogie" and takes a boogie woogie piano break. B+(**)
  • Matthew Shipp: One (2005 [2006], Thirsty Ear). Shipp has developed into a marvelously percussive pianist since he took over Thirsty Ear's Blue Series. But this solo piano album reverts to the melodic explorations of his early solo albums, with only a whiff of extra left-hand muscle. Not without some interest, but not a lot of movement. B+(*)
  • Horace Silver: Silver's Serenade (1963 [2006], Blue Note). Silver's quintets were mostly interchangeable, but this line-up was a bit shy of the others: Blue Mitchell and Junior Cook tended to blare in unison, while Gene Taylor and Roy Brooks overreacted; center, of course, was Silver's piano, a rollicking gospel-tinged party machine. B
  • Sergi Sirvent: Free Quartet (2003 [2005], Fresh Sound New Talent). More like a piano trio with a double dose of drums. The extra drums accent the angularity of the rhythms, as Sirvent plays an intriguing program with three Ornette Coleman tunes, some originals and group improvs. B+(**)
  • Sergi Sirvent/Santi Careta: Anacrònics (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Sirvent is a pianist who impressed me every time out, even though I've yet to fall hard for one of his albums. The best to date is filed under Unexpected and called Plays the Blues in Need, and that's in my draft as an honorable mention. That album plays off Monk, so it makes sense that the best of these duets is the one where Sirvent runs away with "In Walked Bud." Lots of standards here, a nice range of pieces, effectively character sketches for the pianist. Careta is a guitarist and less assertive. Don't have much feel for him, but he has another album on the shelf. B+(*)
  • Skerik's Syncopated Taint Septet: Husky (2004 [2006], Hyena): The group breakdown is three reeds, two brass, Hammond, and drums, with little or no electronics. The horns rarely break loose, so the effect is long on groove with thick harmonics, much less so on beat. I like most of what I've heard from Skerik -- think he has the potential to cross both ways; like his analysis and instincts. But when he calls one song "Go to Hell, Mr. Bush" -- the honorific blunted a punch that should have landed harder. B+(*)
  • Jimmy Smith: Softly as a Summer Breeze (1958 [2006], Blue Note). Standards fare with Smith comping lightly behind a series of light-handed guitarists -- Kenny Burrell, Eddie McFadden, Ray Crawford -- which despite some nice moments doesn't give you much of a feel for anyone involved; Bill Henderson sings on four bonus cuts -- he's not so incredible either. B
  • Dr. Lonnie Smith: Jungle Soul (2005 [2006], Palmetto): I probably should have placed Smith's previous Palmetto album, Too Damn Hot!, on my Duds list, but I had no idea that anyone might have been taken by such a slight and tepid outing. So that this one is pretty good comes as a big surprise. I don't know what to make of producer Matt Baltisaris's credits for "rhythm and acoustic guitar," but they can't have hurt. Guitar is central, most clearly electric, almost certainly the work of Peter Bernstein, who displays a rare knack for working within the soul jazz genre. Drummer Allison Miller also works inside, most tastefully on the chilldown closer, "Jungle Wisdom." Given such restraint from the group, even Smith dials his Hammond down, finding a temperate range that's just right. Maybe the previous album was too damn hot after all. B+(**)
  • The Bob Sneider & Joe Locke Film Noir Project: Fallen Angel (2005 [2006], Sons of Sound). Film music -- don't get what film noir has to do with it, given that the films and writers are second generation and then some -- Dave Grusin, Mark Isham, Jerrald Goldsmith, Tomasz Stanko. Makes for smokey atmospherics, but not much more. B+(*)
  • Sonando: Tres (2006, Origin): More gringos. Fred Hoadley took his Berklee education to Seattle and founded a salsa band in 1983, Bochinche, then moved on to Afro-Cuban with the founding of Sonando in 1990. He plays piano and tres guitar, and looks like the leader here. Tom Bergersen studied conga at Stanford. Chris Stromquist went all the way to Cuba for six weeks of bata instruction. Ben Verdier (bass), Chris Stover (trombone), and Jim Coile (saxphones, flute) are also regulars, but the record employs quite a few extras. The group has the basics down, and Hoadley's tres is particularly elegant. But compared to the model music I've heard out of Cuba, they keep it simple and moderate, easy to follow and enjoy. That's no knock: I'd rather hear them push the limits of their second language, which they do, than hear someone else water down their first, even though both can be useful bridges. B+(**)
  • Sonido Isleño: ¡Vive Jazz! (2005, Tresero). Regardless of how many people play here, the leader is guitarist Benjamin Lapidus, and he cuts an interesting figure. It would take some much more expert than I to disentangle the various Latin strains here, but Afro-Cuban percussion seems to be the dominant one -- albeit somewhat subdued. The grooves are more compelling than the vocals, but the spoken one offsets nicely against the riddims. B+(***)
  • Esperanza Spalding: Junjo (2005 [2006], Ayva): Quite a name. She comes from Portland OR, is barely old enough to legally drink, plays bass, sings, and composed all or parts of four of nine songs here. Well, sings is kind of a stretch: she reminds me more of Keith Jarrett than Sarah Vaughan, although she's a good deal more artful at scatting along than Jarrett is. The record's a trio, with Aruán Ortiz on piano and Francisco Mela on drums, but like all good bassist-leaders she gets the benefit of the mix. Nice debut. Could pick up another star if I left it open and worked on it. B+(*)
  • Melvin Sparks: Groove On Up (2005 [2006], Savant): This comes out of the gate like gangbusters -- organ and flashpick guitar, the cut is "MyKia's Dance" -- but this cools off quickly, and not just because such a narrow concept of groove needs a change of pace. That's what the two guest vocals are for. B-
  • Rossano Sportiello: Heart and Soul (2005 [2006], Arbors). Volume 14 of the Arbors Piano Series, solo piano recorded at the Old Church in Bowsil, Switzerland. Whereas Concord's Maybeck Hall Series went for relatively name pianists, including some who are a little bit out there -- Joanne Brackeen was an early one -- Arbors seems to be grooming the next generation of Dick Hymans. This one is distinguished by an exceptionally light touch, bringing a nice swing to everything he plays. B+(*)
  • Harri Stojka: A Tribute to Gypsy Swing (2004 [2006], Zoho): A set of fast-paced guitar-heavy instrumentals, more gypsy than swing, but "Swanee River" is neither. Occasional references to Django Reinhardt and four cuts with violin don't make this the Hot Club, even out here in Cowtown. B-
  • Colin Stranahan: Transformation (2005 [2006], Capri). Led by the drummer, a rather fancy postbop ensemble, with two saxes, piano and bass, plus trumpet on four cuts, vibes on another. Much of this impresses me despite some misgivings about the basic approach. B+(*)
  • Aki Takase/Lauren Newton: Spring in Bangkok (2004 [2006], Intakt): Piano and voice, the latter more instrument than verbal -- the exception is the semi-spoken "Das Scheint Mir," in amusingly orchestrated Deutsch. Impressed as I am by Newton's vocal prowess, I perhaps inevitably find the piano more attractive. B+(*)
  • The Best of Martin Taylor (1978-2004 [2006], The Guitar Label, 2CD). Having only heard three of the Scottish guitarist's many albums, I hoped this might provide a welcome overview, but it's turned out to be frustrating and annoying. Inspired by Django Reinhardt, Taylor emerged in the late '70s with Stéphane Grappelli, and went on to record a splendid Spirit of Django tribute. He has a light touch, which doesn't swing so much as it floats, dazzlingly quick and clever. This works impressively in small contexts, solo even. But he also has a fondness for cheese, which is indulged throughout, but mostly on the first disc -- simpy songs, Kirk Whallum slickness, smooth jazz that turns syrupy. Second disc is more interesting -- a better best-of is clearly possible. B
  • Toots Thielemans: One for the Road (2006, Verve). The reigning, all but permanent poll winner on "other instrument" -- in his case harmonica -- returns with an album of Harold Arlen songs. Good songs, of course. Harmonica adds soulful texture, but on nine of the songs it's background for nine guest singers, none of whom impress me as much as Carrie Smith did on Sir Roland Hanna's Arlen tribute. Also lurking in the background are uncredited strings. B
  • The Thing: Live at Blå (2003 [2005], Smalltown Superjazz). Two long pieces, each a medley of three parts, with credits ranging from Joe McPhee to the White Stripes. The Thing is a free jazz trio that makes a lot of noise, with Atomic's bassist and drummer, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten and Paal Nilssen-Love and reed man Mats Gustafsson, mostly on baritone sax. All three should be well known by now for their various collaborations with Ken Vandermark. I have a lot more trouble with Gustafsson than Vandermark, possibly for the reasons the latter spelled out in his liner notes to the former's Blues -- that Americans play out of the blues, whereas Europeans play with the blues -- although I'm more inclined to think of it as being that Gustafsson swings a heavier axe and makes much more of a mess. Still, at his best his mess can move you mightily. B+(**)
  • Thirsty Ear Presents: Nu Jazz Today (2002-06 [2006], Thirsty Ear): Another advance. Don't see a release date, so perhaps this isn't a real release. In any case it's just a label sampler, with two tracks each from five recent (or near-future) albums: Groundtruther, Longitude; Sex Mob, Sexotica; Nils Petter Molvaer, An American Compilation; Matthew Shipp, One; Carl Hancock Rux, Good Bread Alley. The first three fit into the label's jazztronica stream, even though Molvaer evolved his own independently. Shipp's solo piano and Rux's soul food fit somewhere else. Good stuff, but docked for uselessness -- unlike, I might add, their two previous samplers, Blue Series Essentials and The Shape of Jazz to Come. Also, given how Nu Soul stacks up, they should think twice about describing anything as Nu Jazz. B-
  • Trio Beyond: Saudades (2004 [2006], ECM, 2CD): The concept here was to do a Tony Williams Lifetime thing -- cf. Emergency!, a 1969 album with Williams on drums, John McLaughlin on guitar, and Larry Young on organ. DeJohnette is a fair match for Williams, but Scofield and Goldings twist the dial away from Young and McLaughlin's more outré fusion back toward soul jazz. Nothing much wrong with that, especially with them playing hotter than they have in years, but nothing much new with it either. B+(*)
  • Trio East: Stop-Start (2005, Sons of Sound). Drummer Rich Thompson gets first billing, but the three originals are all written by trumpeter Clay Jenkins, making him the probable leader (although Thompson is credited as executive producer). Maybe the billing is inverse-alphabetical, with bassist Jeff Campbell bringing up the rear. The six non-originals hail from Gillespie, Coltrane (two), Ornette, Morgan, and Waldron -- proximate springboards for postbop. Sharply played, just inside of outside. B+(**)
  • Saadet Türköz: Urumchi (2005 [2006], Intakt): Swiss-based singer, originally from East Turkestan, reverses her migration in returning to Almaty and on to Beijing to record her solemn, stately folk music in the ancient style, with sparse strings, scarce drums, haunting voice. B+(*)
  • Gebhard Ullmann/Chris Dahlgren/Jay Rosen: Cut It Out (2000 [2006], Leo): With Ullmann playing bass clarinet and bass flute, this is pitched low enough it may take a seismograph to fully sort it out. I find it shifts in and out. Like what I hear when I hear it, both the hard-earned lines and the residual rumble. B+(*)
  • The Uptown Quintet: Live in New York (2004 [2006], Cellar Live): A departure for the label, both in featuring non-Canadians and in presenting something not recorded in Vancouver's Cellar. File the group under pianist Spike Wilner, who wrote three of seven songs, but also note front line Ryan Kisor (trumpet) and Ian Hendrickson-Smith (alto sax), who add strong voices and a song apiece. As the names show, this is a strong, mainstream, blues-swinging group. The atmosphere is relaxed, they're comfortable, this is what they do. B+(*)
  • Diego Urcola: Viva (2005 [2006], Cam Jazz). Like his fellow Argentine and frequent collaborator Guillermo Klein, Urcola plays Latin jazz but with a more extended European feel. He's not as ambitious as Klein -- more like a well travelled sideman who winds up calling in a lot of chits to make an album that he does little to dominate. The group is strong all around, with Antonio Sanchez and Pernett Saturnino on percussion and a slew of guests -- Dave Samuels' marimba and Paquito D'Rivera's clarinet stand out. Leader plays trumpet. B+(*)
  • Bebo Valdés: Bebo de Cuba (2002 [2005], Calle 54, 2CD). Bebo was a prominent Cuban bandleader in the '50s. Following the revolution, he left Cuba, settling in Stockholm in 1963 and falling out of the public eye. His son Chucho rose to fame in the '70s as the founder of Irakere and as an outstanding pianist in his own right -- try to imagine Art Tatum with congas. Bebo resumed his recording in the '90s, finally scoring a worldwide hit with Lágrimas Negras, featuring Flamenco singer Dieguito El Cigala. The two sessions here -- the large canvas of his "Suite Cubana" and a more intimate retrospective called "El Solar de Bebo" -- cap his comeback, and in many ways returns us to an ideal, blissful remembrance of Cuban music. Unlike Chucho, Bebo plays piano with a measured elegance, but his orchestrations are so generous you feel like you're witnessing the full flowering of classic Cuban music. A-
  • Vibrational Therapists: The Radius of the Mind (2002 [2003], Vibrational Therapits). Avant trio, alto sax or clarinet over block chord piano and freewheeling drums. Sounds very much of its type, even though it seems to come from well off the beaten path. Alto saxist Henry P. Warner is the senior member, with previous credits with William Parker and Billy Bang. B+(***)
  • Jerry Vivino: Walkin'; With the Wazmo (2006, Zoho): A fixture in Conan O'Brien's late night orchestra, Vivino credits Louis Prima and Louis Jordan, not to mention Louis Armstrong, as inspirations. The title jump blues shows some connection to Prima, at least, but his humor deficit leaves Jordan's "Knock Me a Kiss" a little on the sweet side, and his third vocal doesn't even try. His tenor sax has some growl to it, but he takes half the album here on flute, and when he does that he gives away a lot of weight. B
  • Cuong Vu: It's Mostly Residual (2005, ArtistShare): I've heard Vu in interesting contexts before, and this got some play in last year's year-end lists, so I tracked it down. Mostly rather noisy fusion work built on Stomu Takeishi's bass riffs, with Ted Poor on drums and the leader on trumpet. I usually like Takeishi's work, but don't get much out of him here. More interesting is "Patchwork," which at least starts quiet and measured, where "recruited guest" Bill Frisell is conspicuously in the mix, then stretches out and breaks up a bit. B
  • Fred Wesley & the Swing'N Jazz All-Stars: It Don't Mean a Thing If It Ain't Got That Swing (2005 [2006], Sons of Sound): This is sponsored by or a benefit for something called The Commission Project, which has something to do with golf, which has something to do with swing, which brings us around to Ellington, who always dug trombonists, which leads us to Wesley, who got his name listed first because he's the only All-Star here you might have heard of unless you're on the Sons of Sound mailing list. Wesley actually only plays on seven cuts here, but nobody plays on all eleven -- Marvin Stamm comes closest at nine. The other All-Stars are: Carl Atkins, Mike Holober, Bob Sneider, Keter Betts, Jay Leonhart, Akira Tana and Rich Thompson. One's a bass duet. Nice record, but can't say it means much even if it swings a little. B+(*)
  • Carla White: A Voice in the Night (2001 [2006], Bright Moon): Singer. Been around a while, with eight albums going back to 1983. Open, breathy, straightforward voice; not all that jazzy, but she sings with authority, maintaining her presence on the slow ones. Has a complimentary set of musicians here, with John Hart's guitar and Claudio Roditi's trumpet and flugelhorn always welcome. B+(**)
  • Jens Winther European Quintet: Concord (2005, Stunt). Basic hard bop line-up, with Tomas Franck's tenor sax complementing Winther's trumpet, Antonio Farao on piano, and most importantly Palle Danielsson driving the bass line. Nothing unusual or special, but a fine example of the archetype one thinks of first when asked to imagine a first rate contemporary jazz ensemble. B+(**)
  • Yellowjackets: Twenty Five (2005 [2006], Heads Up): The group, founded in 1981 by Russell Ferrante and Jimmy Haslip and a couple others now long gone, has been around for 25 years now. To mark the occasion, we get a live album with old songs and a bonus DVD with more of the same. The current group includes saxophonist Bob Mintzer since 1990 and drummer Marcus Baylor since 2000. Haslip plays electric bass. Ferrante and Mintzer play synths as well as acoustic instruments. Never listened to them before I started Jazz CG, but based on their previous album I found myself wondering which smooth jazz group was the all-time worst -- their major competition seems to come from Acoustic Alchemy and Urban Knights, but I can't say as I've exhaustively researched the subject. This one, however, isn't bad. It no doubt helps that they get to cherry-pick from their songlist. It also seems to be the case that smooth jazz groups in general, regardless of what they'll stoop to in the studio, fall back on their jazz chops when they go live. Mintzer certainly knows his way around Michael Brecker if not David Murray. Ferrante knows his Chick Corea if not Dave Burrell. Baylor can play around the beat as well as on it -- "Greenhouse" strikes me as pretty valid, all the way down to Mintzer's solo coda. The "free bonus DVD" is just another concert. B+(*)
  • Bobby Zankel & the Warriors of the Wonderful Sound: Ceremonies of Forgiveness (2005 [2006], Dreambox Media): A large band with an even larger sound, this gets in your face from the get go, and rarely lets up. Most of the solos jump out, including Zankel's alto sax, Elliot Levin's tenor sax, and Tom Lawton's piano. Their sound at least flirts with wonderfulness, but it also wears down a bit -- maybe I mean wears you down. B+(**)
  • Pete Zimmer Quintet: Burnin' Live at the Jazz Standard (2006, Tippin'): This is almost exactly what most people think of as jazz these days: standard forms -- a blues, a waltz, some pop themes, but all originals -- stretched out over 7-13 minutes with solos rotated between trumpet/flugelhorn, tenor sax, piano, bass and drums, all of which are articulate and swing hard. The live setting is appropriate -- we all know that the essence of jazz is its continuous invention, on stage, before an audience. Zimmer is a young drummer, well schooled, hard working, and he's got a perfectly solid group here -- Joel Frahm is the biggest name and probably the senior citizen, but everyone does their job. Only problem is that when it comes to recorded jazz, this level of professionalism is the norm and therefore not all that noteworthy. B+(*)
  • Zu: The Way of the Animal Powers (2005, Xeng). This Italian group is a bass-drums-sax (mostly baritone) trio, sometimes (as here) using the common last name of Zu, bound to an ideology called Zuism, not unrelated to anarchism. They make alliances with similar-minded groups like the Ex, and have done match-up albums with Ken Vandermark (Spaceways Inc.) and Mats Gustafsson. Here they're joined by cellist Fred Londberg-Holm. I like the deep rumble and edgy rhythms here, and the spoken piece at the end acts as a fine coda. Short: 25:47. B+(***)
  • Zu/Mats Gustafsson: How to Raise an Ox (2004 [2005], Atavistic). With two baritone saxes, this gets ugly fast and barely lets up. Still, it has some groove to it, mostly thanks to Massimo's bass, and it's the groove that holds it together. B+(*)

Monday, August 28, 2006

The Downbeat Poll

The last few years I've written up a second opinion to Downbeat's annual Critics Poll. This year's results were published in the August issue, now eclipsed on the newsstand, so I'm running late. Thought I'd do this on the road, since it's mostly just spouting off the top of my head, but now I'll just try to do it fast. Still got a day to send my Readers Poll ballot in. I don't vote in the poll, so this is just another data point.

To speed things up, I'll list the winner, then limit my choices to the top ten vote getters. Most categories also have a Rising Star (RS) category, which I'll also do following the same rules.

Trumpet: Dave Douglas. Agreed. I don't always like his records, but that's usually because he's playing over my head. RS: Jeremy Pelt. He's makes an impression, but I'll go with #4 Steven Bernstein, and note that a lot of people I like made neither list, starting with Dennis Gonzalez.

Trombone: Steve Turre. Haven't heard enough from him lately, but I still like #8 Ray Anderson. RS: Gianluca Petrella. I like his record, but haven't heard enough to pick him over #4 Jeb Bishop or #8 Wolter Wierbos.

Tenor Saxophone: Sonny Rollins. Lifetime, sure, but his newest album was recorded in 2001. Lately, #5 David Murray. RS: Chris Potter. I have to go with #4 Ken Vandermark, who should be on the main list by now.

Alto Saxophone: Phil Woods. Several good options here, but #12 Anthony Braxton has to be the first choice. RS: Miguel Zenón. Agreed, narrowly over #8 Dave Rempis.

Soprano Saxophone: Wayne Shorter. I generally lean against people who play soprano as a second instrument, which would rout this list -- the exceptions I see are Jane Ira Bloom and Jane Bunnett, but let's compromise a bit and go with #5 Evan Parker. RS: Ravi Coltrane. None. Same problem here, even worse at the top. Looking back through my database I find very few primary sopranos, but many secondary ones.

Baritone Saxophone: James Carter. A great tenor saxophonist who dabbles on everything else, I don't see how he wins year after year. The clear choice is #3 Hamiet Bluiett. RS: Claire Daly. Don't know her well enough to say, but I'm not quite ready to commit to #5 Mats Gustafsson or #6 Alex Harding yet either.

Clarinet: Don Byron. Agreed, but partly because the others I'm tempted by also play other reeds -- #2 Marty Ehrlich, #8 Michael Moore, and #9 Louis Sclavis. RS: Chris Speed. Agreed, but here because #4 Ehrlich, #5 Sclavis, and #6 Moore should be established by now.

Flute: James Moody. Again, mostly dabblers on the list, of whom #4 Frank Wess remains the most consistent, but I think I'll go with the equally dependable #5 Lew Tabackin. RS: Nicole Mitchell. Don't even know her -- oh, yeah, her. Still, I have to go with my old fave, #7 Robert Dick, even though he's my age and I haven't heard anything from him in ages. His secret weapon is that he goes for the heavyweight flutes, which can put him below bass clarinet.

Guitar: Bill Frisell. Not sure. Seems like six or so of these guys may have topped at one point or another, but on the basis of recent work I'm inclined to pick #8 John Abercrombie. RS: Kurt Rosenwinkel. I'll go with #10 Jeff Parker, but #6 Marc Ribot and #8 Charlie Hunter are contenders.

Acoustic Piano: Keith Jarrett. I admire Jarrett more each year, but I also take him for granted and suspect he's plateaued. So maybe this is the year we credit #4 Andrew Hill. RS: Jason Moran. I'll go with #2 Vijay Iyer. Moran seems to have slipped a bit, and in any case has already risen to #6 on the main list. Again, there are so many pianists that lots of people I like didn't make either list -- some that quickly pop into mind are: Dave Burrell, Marilyn Crispell, Matthew Shipp, Uri Caine, David Hazeltine, Myra Melford, but there are many more.

Electric Keyboard/Synthesizer: Joe Zawinul. Clear choice is #2 Uri Caine, even though he's probably better still on acoustic. RS: Uri Caine. Agreed.

Organ: Joey DeFrancesco. No strong opinion, but the last one I've really liked is #9 Melvin Rhyne. RS: Sam Yahel. None.

Bass (Acoustic & Electric): Dave Holland. My standard here is #4 William Parker. RS: Ben Allison. Half of this list, including Allison, are neck and neck, but I'll go with #3 Drew Gress.

Drums: Jack DeJohnette. Agreed, but #7 Hamid Drake and #8 Lewis Nash are in line. RS: Matt Wilson. Since he's still on the list, I have to go with #6 Hamid Drake.

Percussion: Ray Barretto. Many different traditions here, making it hard to compare. I could pick Drake again, but let's go with #3 Zakir Hussain for a change. RS: Hamid Drake. Agreed, if you evaluate his frame drums here, but I view him as a drummer. But then the others I'm most tempted by -- #2 Susie Ibarra and #7 Satoshi Takeishi -- are drummers too.

Vibes: Bobby Hutcherson. Agreed, certainly over the long haul, but recently what does he have to show but the SF Jazz Collective? RS: Stefon Harris. I'll give it to #2 Joe Locke, but he belongs up top, maybe on top, with someone else moving in here, like #6 Matt Moran.

Male Vocalist: Kurt Elling. Can't stand him, nor most of the list, which leads me to #10 Bob Dorough. RS: Jamie Cullum. Not much better, except for #6 Theo Bleckmann.

Female Vocalist: Cassandra Wilson. Easy, #6 Sheila Jordan. RS: Luciana Souza. I'll go with #8 René Marie.

Violin: Regina Carter. Come on, #2 Billy Bang -- this shouldn't be close. RS: Jenny Scheinman. Agreed.

Miscellaneous Instrument: Toots Thielemans (harmonica). This is an apples-and-oranges category, hopeless. I'll go with #8, Rabih Abou-Khalil (oud). RS: Grégoire Maret (harmonica). I'll take #6 Fred Lonberg-Holm, the third of three cellos in the top six.

Record Label: Blue Note. Hard to say, but given this list I'm inclined to throw a plug for Sunnyside.

Composer: Maria Schneider. I never have a real good sense of how to judge composers, but one rule of thumb is look toward the back of the band, since bassists and drummers have to convince others to play their music. On this list, that argues for #6 Dave Holland. RS: Vijay Iyer. Again, the rule favors #2 Ben Allison or #3 John Hollenbeck, so flip a coin.

Arranger: Maria Schneider. This should be a little clearer, but I'll go with my sentimental favorite, #2 Carla Bley. RS: Steven Bernstein. Agreed.

Producer: Michael Cuscuna. No idea. RS: Branford Marsalis. I'll give this to #7 Seth Rosner, the guy who runs Pi Recordings. Don't know if it's his production, but everything he touches is worthwhile.

Blues Artist/Group: B.B.King. Let's stay on the jazz side and give it to #3 James "Blood" Ulmer. RS: Derek Trucks. None, not that Trucks or several of the others are bad.

Blues Album: James "Blood" Ulmer, Birthright. I like it, but better still is #6 Odyssey the Band, Back in Time -- Ulmer's other record. But those and a bad Susan Tedeschi album are the only ones I've heard.

Beyond Artist/Group: Elvis Costello. Not something they know much about, but #5 Kanye West is fine with me.

Beyond Album: Ry Cooder, Chavez Ravine. I've heard 7 of 10 here, and have 4 at A- or above, including their winner, but the easy choice is Kanye West, Late Registration. Of coruse, there's a lot more to Beyond.

Jazz Artist: Sonny Rollins. Don't know what this means, but I'm a product guy, and of the finalists the guy who seems to be everywhere these days is #7 Paul Motian, so let's go with him. RS: Vijay Iyer. Agreed.

Jazz Group: Wayne Shorter Quartet. None. I'm still stuck with the idea that a group is something other than a leader's band, but 11 of 12 here are not only leader's bands, they're named after the leader. The other one is #11 SF Jazz Collective, but they don't win either -- partly because they never sent their second album. RS: SF Jazz Collective. I'm partial to #9 The Claudia Quintet.

Big Band: Maria Schneider Orchestra. I like the recent records by #4 Liberation Music Orchestra and #7 Gerald Wilson Orchestra, but both strike me as ad hoc, so I'll go with #10 Either/Orchestra. RS: Either/Orchestra. Agreed, but I thought they'd risen -- they've done more for longer than Schneider.

Hall of Fame: Jackie McLean. Agreed. I've been griping for years that he wasn't even on the ballot -- see my obit post. Too bad he had to die to get some attention. Same thing happened to Steve Lacy the year before. Next up should be #3 Lee Konitz, but I hope he gets in while he's still alive.

Jazz Album: Andrew Hill, Time Lines. I only have three of the top twelve albums at A-, and didn't even hear two more (Bill Frisell, Brad Mehldau). So I'll go for Liberation Music Orchestra, Not in Our Name over Sonny Rollins and Wayne Shorter, but my real album lists are available elsewhere. The only one I had under B+ was Terence Blanchard, Flow.

Historical Album: Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane, At Carnegie Hall. Agreed. Enough already.

After this exercise, I filled out my Readers Poll ballot -- real quick, since this is the deadline day:

  • Hall of Fame: Lee Konitz
  • Jazz Musician of the Year: Ken Vandermark
  • Jazz Album of the Year: Jon Faddis, Terranga
  • Jazz Historical Album of the Year: Irène Schweizer, Portrait
  • Jazz Record Label of the Year: Sunnyside
  • Jazz Combo: Vandermark Five
  • Jazz Big Band: Either/Orchestra
  • Blues Musician/Group of the Year: James "Blood" Ulmer
  • Blues Album of the Year: Odyssey the Band, Back in Time
  • Composer: Ben Allison
  • Trumpet: Dennis Gonzalez
  • Trombone: Ray Anderson
  • Soprano Sax: Joe Giardullo
  • Alto Sax: Anthony Braxton
  • Tenor Sax: David Murray
  • Baritone Sax: Hamiet Bluiett
  • Flute: Robert Dick
  • Clarinet: Marty Ehrlich
  • Electric Keyboard/Synthesizer: Uri Caine
  • Acoustic Piano: Irène Schweizer
  • Organ: Melvin Rhyne
  • Guitar: Joe Morris
  • Bass (Acoustic & Electric): William Parker
  • Drums: Hamid Drake
  • Percussion: Hamid Drake
  • Vibes: Joe Locke
  • Misc. Instrument: Rabih Abou-Khalil
  • Singer Male: Van Morrison
  • Singer Female: Sheila Jordan

I wouldn't put too much weight on this ballot. In a couple of places I just pulled names off the top of my head. It's easy to say that none of these are bad answers; saying they're the right ones is something else.

One thing I'm always struck by in Downbeat's polls is not just how orthodox the critics are but how Blue Note they are. The label vote -- Blue Note 277, ECM 141, Palmetto 77, Mosaic (a Blue Note subsidiary) 59, Verve 55 -- is one indication, but the roster placements are even more striking, especially in the anomalies. Obviously, I'm not talking about what Joe Lovano, Don Byron, Wynton Marsalis, or even Jason Moran and Bill Charlap are scoring -- Moran and Charlap help Blue Note's reputation as much as the reverse. But Robert Glasper #3 RS piano? He might turn out to be better than his album (note singular) indicates, but there are literally hundreds of young pianists who have accomplished more -- they just don't have that Blue Note contract. Glasper's just the most glaring example, but everyone on Blue Note's roster places somewhere, and usually well above where I would put them.

I always figured that critics are obligated to go out of their way to survey as much turf as possible, so the clustering in this poll strikes me as dereliction of duty. On the other hand, as a working critic, one thing I can read between the lines is that the aesthetic constriction has a lot to do with which labels support the most critics. Nine of the top twelve record labels give me consistent support, and the other three certainly ship a lot of promos, even if not always to me. (Mosaic and ArtistShare are odd cases; Nonesuch is presumably a problem that can be fixed.) Again, you can prove this case by looking for anomalies. Pi Recordings doesn't release much, but they support their releases well, and their artists pop up here and there; e.g., under RS alto saxophone we find #2 Rudresh Mahanthappa and #10 Steve Lehman. I don't mean to knock either, but they wouldn't be there if critics didn't hear them.

On the other hand, even though I do a better job than most, I get so much stuff coming to my door that I don't bother chasing down a lot of things that I should -- especially when it comes to labels like Tzadik and Leo that never send anything, that I hear mostly when a musician sends something. Before I started writing, I would buy anything that sounded promising -- but then I could afford to, and now I never have the time to play anything after I've written about it, so the prices look steeper than ever. Most critics are in this same boat, which gives us these partial views. The useful thing about a poll is that it statistically integrates a bunch of views. Downbeat's poll is as skewed as Cadence's, but it's useful nonetheless. You just need to figure out how to read it.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Music: Current count 12268 [12238] rated (+30), 931 [930] unrated (+1). Two or three days of jazz prospecting, then a dive into Recycled Goods to pull the September column together. At the moment, I'm up to 11 main reviews, an "In Series" special on Stax Profiles, and a mess of Briefly Noted -- total 59 records. That's more than enough, so I'm starting to build up an inventory for October, and should be able to wrap things up nicely in a day or two. Jazz CG should appear this week. The pending queue there is getting huge. Still, I feel like I'm chasing my tail on all this. The office space is a total mess; the shelves are falling over. A lot of blog ideas are pending. Total mess. I'm starting to wonder how I manage at all.

  • Konono No. 1: Congotronics (2004 [2005], Crammed Discs): Second album, following the live Lubuaku on tiny Dutch label Terp. This one is on a Belgian label, but better packaged as part of a series of contemporary electrobeat from Kinshasa's favelas -- or whatever they're called; in these parts they're called slums, and better distributed via Ryko. Enough rock critics got this that is placed in last year's P&J poll, but I haven't found that connection yet -- this is used loot. The music is half likembe (thumb piano), half garbage percussion, giving it a spare feel, even when they pump up the volume. A-
  • Wilson Pickett: The Definitive Collection (1962-72 [2006], Atlantic/Rhino, 2CD): A soul shouter from the Alabama cotton patch, Pickett had a hit with the Falcons with a line about "the midnight hour." Atlantic picked him up, then sent him to Stax where he found his rhythm and turned his line into a hit. He recorded for Atlantic until 1971, when Muscle Shoals dried up and his Philadelphia makeover didn't take. But give him a beat and he could rise above it, nailing improbable covers or just projecting a macho posture so scary it could be true. His 1992 best-of A Man and a Half is still in print, offering everything here plus 14 more songs for an extra $5 list. You won't miss those extras here, nor mind them there. A
  • Savoy Blues (1944-92 [2003], Savoy Jazz, 3CD): The jukebox jazz of the '40s was called jump blues or just r&b, and that sums up Savoy's take on the blues -- Hot Lips Page, Joe Turner, Billy Eckstine, Helen Humes, Joe Williams, Esther Phillips, LaVern Baker; that's good for half, the rest coming from catalog acquisitions, with John Lee Hooker the odd man out. B+(**)

Jazz Prospecting (CG #11, Part 4)

Another short jazz prospecting week, as I had to shift gears to work on September's Recycled Goods column. That's almost done now, though it's tempting to build up a hedge against October, as those deadline tend to sneak up on me. The other project for this coming week will be "done" file purge as the next Jazz CG gets started in earnest. The last one, #10, should be out in the Voice on Tuesday or Wednesday -- not sure of the details, since I don't normally get to see the paper edition. Should be, I said; still don't have the cut list, so you'll probably know what's in there before I do. Meanwhile, the incoming queue has been piling up, with a lot of things looking promising.

Tone Collector (2004 [2005], Jazzaway): The group here is Tony Malaby on tenor sax, Eivind Opsvik on bass, Jeff Davis on drums. The record was recorded live in Stockholm at the Glenn Miller Café. I filed it under Malaby, but further research suggests Opsvik may be, if not the leader, at least the guiding light. Malaby doesn't even mention the record on his website. Opsvik lists a dozen or more groups and projects, describing Tone Collector as "Mostly free improvising trio, debut cd released on jazzaway records in 2005." That holds out the prospect for more, but this just seems to have been one of those night when the group met, improvised something, had it recorded, and let it out. Malaby is rougher and more forthright than elsewhere -- a frequent sideman, he tends to fit in rather than stand out. But Opsvik is equally conspicuous -- his bass has real presence here, often setting not just the pace but the tone as well. Davis does what most drummers do in these free-for-alls, which is to maintain a parallel commentary. B+(**)

Crimetime Orchestra: Life Is a Beautiful Monster (2004 [2005], Jazzaway): Veteran bassist Bjørnar Andresen gets a "featuring" credit here -- he passed away three weeks after this session, but to say he was featured is a misnomer. The group is large -- ten pieces, including three saxes, two brass, guitar, keyboards, both electric and acoustic bass, and drums. The title cut -- in seven parts, most of the album -- is straightforward in its aim to create beauty out of monstrous sound, and in that it mostly succeeds. The group is mostly -- maybe all -- Norwegian, with tenor saxophonist Vidar Johansen first listed and perhaps most important. B+(**)

Anders Aarum Trio: First Communion (2005 [2006], Jazzaway): Norwegian pianist, odds that he'll show up on ECM some day are way better than 50-50. I regret not having cited his Absence in Mind (Jazzaway) as an Honorable Mention back in the JCG that featured that Sonny Simmons + strings record, one Aarum contributed so much to. Only reason I didn't was that I got tongue-tied, as often happens with piano records -- I do know when I like one, but still have a lot of trouble explaining why. This one is less muscular, more contemplative, which probably means it's even more likely to slip through the cracks. Talks, or groans, a bit like Jarrett. Plays a bit like him too. [B+(***)]

Sonny Simmons: I'll See You When You Get There (2004-05 [2006], Jazzaway): The first of a planned three Sonny-goes-to-Norway records matched the veteran avant saxophonist with a sharp trio and a bank of strings. Now the second one goes to the other extreme, giving him ten duets: six with bassist Mats Eilertsen, two with pianist Anders Aarum, two with drummer Ole Thomas Kolberg. The drums have the most immediate appeal, probably because they add some snap, but the others are fine accompanists. I'm less certain what I think of Sonny in this setting -- not used to him playing so alone. Wonder what's next -- maybe like the three bears the third will be just right.. [B+(*)]

Jazzmob: Infernal Machine (2005 [2006], Jazzaway): The nominal similarity between Jon Klette's Norwegian band and Sex Mob seems to be based on a shared desire to advance jazz popularity by simply juicing it up -- especially as opposed to waterng it down. In flow and dynamics, this sextet sounds like a swing band, but the tone is avant, and fusion is skipped over completely. They do this with two saxes and trumpet, which play together less for harmony than for comradeship -- pretty much the same reason people drink together. Anders Aarum spends most of the record on Rhodes, which qualifies as the avant-sounding successor to the B3. I don't quite buy it all, but it makes for a good time anyway. B+(*)

Santi Careta Group: Obertura (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist, Spanish (or Catallan) I would assume, although the first website I found anything about him on appears to speak Basque (Euskaraz) as a first language. I've also heard his duo with Sergi Sirvent, but haven't heard the organ trio he plays in, something called Asstrio. The Group here is a guitar-bass-drums trio plus moody tenor sax on four cuts and a singer on one more. The trio is itself rather slight, but Careta's guitar has a nice ring. But the add-ons don't add much, and are somewhat in the way, although I'm not quite sure of what. B

Joyce Cooling: Revolving Door (2006, Narada Jazz): My editor thinks I'm some kind of expert on smooth jazz just because I've been a good enough sport to listen to what I've been sent. But I get less and less of it, especially when guys like Anthony Braxton score Pick Hits. Also when I review records like this one. Cooling's a so-so guitarist who can handle a mid-tempo blues or maintain a shallow groove. Her voice isn't bad but it's even less capable of redeeming a bad song than her guitar. Typical here is "Cool of the Night," which even with vocal oodles isn't a cheesy enough cliché for disco. Still, this is a big improvement over her last one. B-

McGill Manring Stevens: What We Do (2001-04 [2006], Free Electric Sound, 2CD): What I think of, referring back to Cream, as a Power Trio -- electric guitar, electric bass, drums -- but no vocals, minimal blues, a lot of jazz movement. The latter is more clear on the studio disc, a collection of jazz standards that they don't really murder, despite their liner notes: "Quick! Somebody call the JAZZ POLICE! Where's STANLEY CROUCH when you need him?" The second disc is a live set from 2001, mostly originals -- a bit more power there, a bit cruder. I like what they do soundwise, but find it a bit unadventurous at such length. B+(*)

Anke Helfrich Trio: Better Times Ahead (2005 [2006], Double Moon): Pianist, German I think, although her website bio only starts in 1989 with studies in the Netherlands. This appears to be her second Trio recording, both with featured guests -- Mark Turner on 2000's You'll See, Roy Hargrove here. Hargrove plays on three of nine cuts, including one of two Monk covers. The byword here is lively: everything comes up bright, shiny, vibrant. Even Hargrove, who sounds like he's having a lot more fun than he has on his own records lately. B+(**)

Miles Davis: Cool & Collected (1956-84 [2006], Columbia/Legacy): Cool wasn't a defining attribute for Davis, but assembling a superb compilation of his slow stuff from 1956-65 is a no-brainer, as three-fourths of this one proves. But pushing the Gil Evans angle to 1984 turns the ice to slush, and the remix is even more plastic. B+(*)

Stompin' at the Savoy: The Original Indie-Label (1944-61 [2004], Savoy Jazz, 4CD): Herman Lubinsky launched his record label in 1942, but between the war and the recording ban didn't release regularly until 1944. A notorious skinflint, or perhaps just a cheat, he managed to keep his label in business until his death in 1974. His early records were mostly jazz, and later on he gravitated toward gospel, but this box focuses on r&b singles. Early on he had hits with novelties like Dusty Fletcher's "Open the Door Richard" and dance grooves like Hal Singer's "Cornbread" and Paul Williams' "The Hucklebuck," but they trail off over time, and only two songs on the fourth disc cracked the r&b charts -- Big Maybelle's "Candy" is the best known, and Nappy Brown his most consistent performer. Which means that as the period's r&b labels go, little here is essential. Nonetheless, it is remarkably consistent within its limits. B+(**)

Savoy on Central Avenue (1941-52 [2003], Savoy Jazz, 2 CD): Though based on Newark, Savoy seemed to have a pipeline into Los Angeles. Just how this worked isn't clear from the scanty doc. This mingles locals like Johnny Otis and Harold Land and visitors like Charlie Parker, while running the gamut of '40s r&b and jazz -- often the same thing. B+(**)

Charlie Parker: The Genius of Charlie Parker (1944-49 [2005], Savoy Jazz, 2CD): I have a confession or two. I've always been turned off by the extreme adulation accorded Parker. He was an exceptionally charismatic person, in his early death as much as his fast life, and he had a huge, almost immediate impact on the music. But encountering him late, after I had absorbed Ornette Coleman and Anthony Braxton, it took me a long time to hear how anything in Parker matched up with the hype. For one thing, Parker's regarded as jazz's quintessential modernist, but already by the late-'70s, when I first heard him, he sounded old -- his innovations so commonplace they'd become mainstream clichés. He never made it to the LP era: his records were short 78s -- head, flashy solo, reprise -- but too arty for the jukebox. He was the pied piper who led jazz away from its swing-era popularity, making up in intensity what he lost in numbers. His cult was such that every scraps of live recording, regardless of how crappy the sound, has been added to the canon -- more clutter for us to sort through. But after having listened to all the Parker regarded as great, the case comes down to the Savoy and Dial singles and the Royal Roost live shots collected here -- not that there isn't more: the title is actually recycled from an old 14-cut Savoy LP, but only three songs are duplicated here. Some of the fast ones, like his solo on Dizzy Gillespie's "Shaw 'Nuff" or his "Bird Gets the Worm" are remarkable lines of improvisation. At a more moderate pace, his tone and poise shines through on pieces like "Yardbird Suite." No doubt Bird deserves at least some of his reputation. A

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

Jamie Stewardson: Jhaptal (2003 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): I'm less impressed by the leader-guitarist than by the company he keeps: especially Tony Malaby, who again somehow manages to keep his tenor sax toned down but still quietly carries the day, but also Alexei Tsiganov on vibes, John Hebert on bass, and George Schuller on drums. But it's hard to evaluate postbop composers -- Stewardson wrote all of the pieces here, evidently passing his best lines to his band. B+(**)

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Ways of War

Andrew Bacevich has been an insightful critic of American militarism recently, but he's made a faux pas in titling a recent article "The Islamic Way of War" -- unless we can blame the title on whoever edits The American Conservative? It's safe to say that there is nothing specifically Islamic about the war tactics used by Islamist fighters against the US and/or Israel. Rather, the tactics represent adjustments to the enemy, reflecting both sides' relative strengths and weaknesses. In other words, what's happening is what happens in wars everywhere: they grind toward an unwinnable stalemate.

Bacevich's formulation underestimates the skills of Arab fighters in past wars. In particular, Egypt and Syria were more successful at the start of the 1973 war than anyone expected -- even themselves, which caused them trouble later on. Syria also held its own in 1982 in Lebanon, despite Israel's dominance of the air. Neither of those cases involved guerrilla resistance because the Arab armies weren't initially overwhelmed. There's no need to fight a guerrilla war -- the more general case of Bacevich's "Islamic way of war" -- until you've been overrun. On the other hand, by the time the US invaded Iraq in 2003, there were several clearly successful examples of armed resistance to northern occupiers in the Arab/Muslim world: the Algerian revolt against France, the Afghan revolt against the Soviet Union, and Hezbollah's revolt against Israel. Palestinian intifadas against Israel have been less successful but no less tenacious. These revolts go back many years. Moreover, there are no comparable examples of northern occupations in the Arab/Muslim world that have not been similarly resisted. The US ran into the same dynamics in Lebanon in 1984 and Somalia in 1992. So it took a tremendous amount of self-delusion to think that we could just roll into Baghdad and be welcomed with flowers.

The interesting thing about these wars isn't that the mujahedin have managed to adjust and become more effective at fighting the occupiers. It's that the imperialists -- the US and Israel -- show signs of losing the will to fight. The first sign of this is that they increasingly hide behind their air power, inflicting massive collateral damage which undermines them politically but at least allows them to kill from a safe distance. The Soviets' mining of Afghanistan was a similar move. On the ground, the occupiers' fear translates to exceptional brutality, to hostage taking, to torture, all of which result in further political loss. The pointlessness of the occupation starts to seep into the soldiers' consciousness, reinforcing the fear, hostility, desire to escape, and doubt about the program. Even when not conscious, the stress undermines essential discipline.

The key thing to understand is that the playing field isn't level. The occupiers fail merely by not pacifying the people, and that can be foiled by a small but dedicated minority. Bacevich sums this up:

What the Islamic Way of War does mean to both Israel and to the United States is this: the Arabs now possess -- and know that they possess -- the capacity to deny us victory, especially in any altercation that occurs on their own turf and among their own people. To put it another way, neither Israel nor the United States today possesses anything like the military muscle needed to impose its will on the various governments, nation-states, factions, and political movements that comprise our list of enemies. For politicians in Jerusalem or Washington to persist in pretending otherwise is the sheerest folly.

It's time for Americans to recognize that the enterprise that some neoconservatives refer to as World War IV is unwinnable in a strictly military sense. Indeed, it's past time to re-examine the post-Cold War assumption that military power provides the preferred antidote to any and all complaints that we have with the world beyond our borders.

I would add that this WWIV thing is unwinnable by political means as well, in large part because the military impulse backfired. The only answer is to come to an accommodation based on giving up ground that is not really tenable anyway. This should be easy, in that it is hard to see much gross benefit for Israel occupying the West Bank and Gaza, let alone Lebanon, or for the US occupying Iraq -- never mind the net benefit once you factor the costs of occupation in. But that accommodation is nearly impossible to make without changing the whole tenor and direction of the political system that staked so much on those wars. France didn't withdraw from Algeria until DeGaulle came to power, and the Soviet Union didn't withdraw from Afghanistan until Gorbachev committed what turned out to be political suicide. Unfortunately, neither the US nor Israel have suffered enough to come to their senses.

Friday, August 25, 2006

One Down, Another Downer

I've been slow blogging this week. Things have been interfering with my normal life, plus I've been more successful than usual at tuning out the news. Still, I thought I should note two items in Thursday's Wichita Eagle newspaper.

The first is a lengthy obituary starting on Page 1B for Rev. Gary Cox, the pastor at University Congregational Church. It's unusual for the Eagle to devote so much space to any obituary. I don't know what motivated the Eagle, but everyone I know who knew Cox held him in exceptionally high regard. I hardly knew him at all, but he was a founder of People of Faith for Peace, and I knew of him through his steadfast work with local antiwar groups. But I also knew of him from friends tracking news of his brave fight with renal cancer. He was 51. Interestingly, he only joined the ministry less than a decade ago, after spending most of his adult life working in a car factory. He only got his Divinity degree after he was diagnosed with cancer. [See below for corrections.]

Cox's death is a setback for the antiwar movement here, but things like that happen. Still, I found it bizarre that the the same issue of the paper would have an editorial column from the paper's right-wing idiot-savant Brent Castillo announcing that his wife is pregnant with what he already counts has his seventh child. His column's title is "Conservatives have fertility on their side." Of course, it's not just Castillo who's contributing to this demographic trend. He cites a study that shows that 100 random liberals have 147 children, while 100 random conservatives have 208 -- "a 40 percent fertility gap, and it's growing every year."

I suppose being a childless atheist makes this juxtaposition between the admirable but unfathomably pious Reverend and the chipper moron all the more painful. I can't argue that my concern with the fate of humanity is born of self-interest for my genes, let alone my immortal soul. What concern I do have has more to do with verifying that my understanding of how the world works tracks reality, but I'm also more concerned with what happens now than what might happen in the future -- what's happening now is pretty alarming in its own right.

Castillo dismisses liberal concerns about overpopulation, then adds, "research on the problem of overpopulation is debatable." Well, if you're dumb enough, anything can be debated. It's only when you know something that your debate options start to be limited. We actually know quite a bit about population dynamics by observing other species. It's been hard to apply that knowledge to humans mostly because human ingenuity has been able, thus far at least, to expand our resource base enough to avoid a severe crash. Julian Simon and other "cornucopians" have argued that the resource base will always expand to meet our growth needs, and that growth itself will drive this expansion. That argument is especially appealing to people of faith -- in Castillo's sense, if not necessarily in Cox's -- because it exempts them from responsibility. All Castillo has to do is have more children and God will take care of them -- unless, of course, those dastardly liberals get in the way.

This argument is frustrating, not so much because it is wrong as because its advocates are so determined to stay wrong regardless of how much worse they make things. If one group could defeat another by outbreeding them, the Palestinians would have had their way with Israel. But the Palestinian birth rate hasn't even led to positive economic growth, much less political power. And this is not just Israeli repression: all around the world high birth rates correlate with poverty, while deliberately depressed birth rates are often the springboard to economic growth -- China is the poster nation here, but is hardly alone. The reason is pretty simple: as our world becomes more complex, more dependent on science and technology, and more vulnerable to malicious disruption, parents need to put more effort into raising their children; but time and energy is limited, so it makes more sense to focus on fewer children.

Liberals understand this, even if sometimes they try to build their intuition up into a plan to save the world. Lots of real conservatives -- i.e., the kind with money to protect, as opposed to Castillo's kind -- also get this: even if they can afford the bills, they don't have more time than anyone else. The far right used to be down right eugenic about poor folks breeding, at least until they found they could gain votes attacking birth control. And rolling back the trend toward smaller families does sort of fit into their general plan to return to the robber baron age. But the world of 1880 had half as many people and twice as much easily tapped oil in the ground -- as such, they had leeway for growth that we no longer have. But even they didn't have a smooth ride ahead: the closest thing to a global disaster we've had to face so far was the Great Depression of the '30s, which led to Fascism, Nazism, Stalinism, and World War.

Richard Heinberg's The Party's Over has a population growth chart that tracks pretty closely to mankind's ability to tap energy sources, principally oil. He then tries to project that chart into the future when oil supplies diminish and become increasingly, eventually prohibitively, expensive. Doing so he forsees a population drop -- not all the way back to pre-oil level, but a significant drop nonetheless. This is just one of several looming crises we'll face over the next century or two, and it's the sort of thing that no one alive today has the first bit of experience at dealing with. Makes you wonder how anyone will deal with it, much less Castillo's benighted kids.

Most likely the worst of this won't be my problem -- not that what we're seeing now isn't plenty bad already. You do what you can do, with the time you got. Gary Cox didn't get enough.

Postscript (2006-09-07): I got the following note from Leigh Cox, the wife (now widow) of Rev. Gary Cox, correcting some of my facts:

Rev. Dr. Gary Cox worked on an auto assembly line for only 3 years in the late 1970s. In the 1980s and early 1990s, he worked as a regional salesman for a division of ITT. He began seminary in 1996, graduating from Phillips Theological Seminary in 1999 with a Master of Divinity degree. Gary received his Doctor of Ministry degree from Chicago Theological Seminary in 2005, after his cancer diagnosis.

I didn't see a way to patch up what I had written above, so just noted the error, which comes around to reflect back on me. Not sure if I knew about the sales work and just passed it over in favor of the factory work. I tend to associate the latter with working class notions of solidarity, which might have affected Cox's decision to enter the ministry. On the other hand, factory work is often no more than a way to make a living, and one shouldn't read too much into it, especially for such a brief period. The sales background frames the choice somewhat differently, but that may be wrong as well. I did, of course, know that his ministry began before he was diagnosed with cancer, and that he graduated from seminary before his ministry.

F5 Record Report (#4: August 24, 2006)

This week's F5 Record Report is up on the website today. The records reviewed are:

  • The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet: Hey, Look Me Over (Arbors) A- [jazz]
  • Charles Lloyd: Sangam (ECM) A- [jazz]
  • Cheikh Lô: Lamp Fall (World Circuit/Nonesuch) B+ [world]
  • The Rough Guide to Bhangra Dance (1998-2005, World Music Network) A- [world, dance]
  • Run the Road Volume 2 (Vice) B+ [rap, dance]
  • Darrell Scott: The Invisible Man (Full Light) B [country]
  • Wayne Scott: This Weary Way (Full Light) A- [country]
  • The Streets: The Hardest Way to Make an Easy Living (Vice/Atlantic) A- [rap]

I sent next week's column off to the editor today, so it should appear in print at the usual dropoff points here in Wichita on Wednesday, and on the web around next Friday. I'm still mostly pulling stuff that I've written previously, including some 2005 albums, but the Streets is new -- the notebook entry was useless on it -- and even the recycleds are coming in for more editing than I expected. For example, in next week's column, I picked out Bob Rockwell's Ben Webster tribute, then started wondering whether the F5 audience knows much about Webster, so I doubled the length of that review with a laundry list of essential Webster albums.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Short Memory

Billmon quotes a report on Bush's press conference, where he urged France to step up to the task of leading the UN forces in Lebanon -- you know, the ones supposed to disarm Hezbollah after Israel failed to do so:

"France has had a very close relationship with Lebanon," Bush said during his Monday press conference. "There's historical ties with Lebanon. I would hope they would put more troops in. They understand the region as well as anybody."

France understands Lebanon, of course, because they ran the place following WWI under a League of Nations mandate. They did about as bad a job as the British did with their mandate in Palestine, and for pretty much the same reasons: dividing the local population into warring groups so they could appear to be the protectors of order. The only difference is that the British imported Jews to buttress their colonialism, while the French found local groups willing to be adopted -- principally the Marionite Christians and the Druse. Lebanon's civil wars follow the same pattern of local groups trying to advance their interests by allying with foreigners. That Hezbollah has looked to Iran for support fits this pattern, but it doesn't give France any special insight -- other than the memory that as long as France was in charge, the Shiites were kept at the absolute bottom of Lebanon's confessional barrel. Also the memory that the last time France sent "peacekeeping" troops like the Americans they sided with Israel and left after a devastating suicide attack.

In other words, Bush's insistence that France lead the way in disarming Lebanon is as historically deaf as the time he invited the Brits, Turks and Mongols to help the US occupy Iraq.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Music: Current count 12238 [12208] rated (+30), 930 [908] unrated (+22). Kind of worn and weary after getting back from Detroit, so I spent most of the week playing various finds from the record scrounging instead of working on new jazz, recycleds, or whatever. Hence most of what there is to report is here.

  • AALY Trio/DKV Trio: Double or Nothing (1999 [2002], Okka Disk): AALY is Mats Gustafsson, Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, and Kjell Nordeson. DKV, more straightforwardly, is Ken Vandermark, Kent Kessler, and Hamid Drake. Starts off with a hornless stretch, presumably to let the rhythm sections establish themselves and start to mesh. The two saxophonists never grate like they've done on occasion in the past, but they do generate agreeable heat. B+(*)
  • Horace Andy: Feel Good All Over: Anthology (1970-76 [2002], Trojan/Sanctuary, 2CD): A durable star who navigated all the changes in Jamaican music from rocksteady onward, Andy's voice is light and sweet, his articulation subtle, his roots primly rasta; even his hits take a while to sneak up on you. B+(**)
  • Jean-Jacques Avenel: Waraba (2004, Songlines): French bassist "with his Mande friends" -- flautist Michel Edelin sounds like a ringer, but the kora, bala and ngoni players are no doubt the real thing. The African music is exceptionally gentle, with the bass laying back in the grooves and the flutes neither here nor there. This is the sort of thing that I imagine New Age aficionados would love if they ever got the chance to hear it, which isn't likely on a Canadian avant-jazz label. A-
  • Derek Bailey/John Stevens/Trevor Watts: Dynamics of the Impromptu (1973-74, Entropy): This strikes me as typical of the scratchy, abstract improv that Bailey recorded throughout his career -- not that I've heard a lot of it (five albums, including this one), nor made much sense out of it. This one doesn't help shed much light on the guitarist, but Stevens and Watts add some interesting wrinkles to the scratchy, abstract improv, and that's enough to keep it interesting. B+(*)
  • Scott Colley: Initial Wisdom (2001 [2002], Palmetto): Well regarded mainstream bassist, does a lot of session work, has won a few Downbeat TDWR awards, recorded six albums under his own name. This one is smartly conceived postbop -- a quartet with guitarist Adam Rogers, drummer Bill Stewart, and saxophonist Ravi Coltrane. As far as I know, Coltrane has done nothing in his career to embarrass himself. It's probably unfair to say he sounds like his dad; more accurate to say that he sounds like no one in particular, rather generic, which these days is more Coltrane-influenced than not, but he's very good with his dynamics, always has something interesting to blow. And he's typically solid here, but Rogers is even more impressive. That may well be a tribute to Colley's lines. B+(**)
  • Eddie Condon/Wild Bill Davison/Ken Davern/Dick Wellstood/Gene Krupa: Jazz at the New School (1972, Chiaroscuro): Condon gets first credit alphabetically, but this also works as his swan song. Davern, at 36-37, would be the youngster in the group, but he's the standout. Fine old music at the New School -- nuthin' wrong with that. B+(*)
  • Skeeter Davis: RCA Country Legends (1953-71 [2001], Buddha): As a solo artist, she doesn't have much worth remembering: a fluke hit with the maudlin "The End of the World" and the better advised, more spirited "Gonna Get Along Without You." So they've filled this out with cuts from the Davis Sisters, her sister act from the '50s. They try their hands at "Single Girl" and "Foggy Mountain Top" and "Rock-a-Bye Boogie," distinguishing themselves at none. B-
  • Defunkt: Heroes (1990, DIW): Joe Bowie's funk group, produced by the Art Ensemble of Chicago. Sounds good on paper, but the two Hendrix covers neither ignite nor deviate in surprising directions -- perhaps an instance of hero worship -- and the others don't merit much more than a cursory notice. B
  • Gogol Bordello: Multi Kontra Culti Vs. Irony (2002, Rubric): Haven't heard Voi-La Intruder, which came out a few months before this one, but had been recorded earlier. Don't know what to make of Christgau's omission of this one after rating the other a low HM -- later he says "for two albums, Eugene Hutz's concept was better than his songs," so that's probably his view, even if the accounting doesn't quite add up. (He wrote that after J.U.F. bumped the count to three.) My preference for this one over J.U.F. may be because I find the Gypsy punk concept more accessible in this simpler form, or it may be just that I got here last. Not sure that I haven't underrated all of the three albums I've heard. B+(***)
  • The Best of Lesley Gore (20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection) (1963-67 [2000], Mercury): She had a #1 pop single in 1963 with a teen tantrum called "It's My Party," a snappy follow up with the #5 charting "Judy's Turn to Cry," and two more top ten singles in the next six months. After the magnificent "You Don't Own Me" the hits tailed off, and she was done by age 21. The 2-CD It's My Party: The Mercury Anthology is way too much, but this series' artificial (aka cheap) 12-cut limit fits nicely, covering all eleven of her top-40 singles plus the #76 "Hey Now." She was as good as she needed to be, but like most teen stars she was someone else's creation, dependent on others' songs and production -- Quincy Jones handled the latter. Time: 28:06. B+(**)
  • Craig Harris: Black Bone (1983 [1984], Soul Note): Trombonist-led quintet, with George Adams' tenor sax the other horn, Donald Smith on piano, Fred Hopkins and Charli Persip in back. This was his first album, after an apprenticeship that included Sun Ra, Abdullah Ibrahim, and David Murray. Strikes me as full of ideas but inconsistent, with the 13:02 "Blackwell" the standout on a rhythm that justifies its length. B+(**)
  • Tony Malaby: Sabino (2000, Arabesque): Early album by a saxophonist who would turn out to be one of the most dependable of the coming decade, working with a good group -- Marc Ducret, Michael Formanek, Tom Rainey -- showing promise. B+(*)
  • Bill McHenry: Graphic (1998 [1999], Fresh Sound New Talent): A tenor saxophonist I've heard good things about but hadn't run into before, in a quartet with Ben Monder on guitar, Reid Anderson on bass, and Gerald Cleaver on drums. Same lineup and similar aesthetic to Scott Colley's record above, but a good deal more delicate -- not what one would suspect from Anderson and Cleaver, who rarely emerge from the shadows. But I like his tone, and how Monder melts into the background. B+(**)
  • Mylo: Destroy Rock & Roll (2004 [2006], RCA/Breast Fed): Well, not really. They're mostly out to get Michael Jackson, and even that's kinda fake. Cute, though. B+(*)
  • Paris: Sonic Jihad (2003, Guerrilla Funk): Never heard his early albums, but his work on Public Enemy's latest got me curious. PE and Dead Prez also appear here, and no doubt that helps. Chuck D is probably the sharper thinker as well as the more compelling beatmaster, but Paris has an attitude for the times. He's more ideological, more paranoid than I am, but the main lines of his analysis are valid. A-
  • Mondo Mambo: The Best of Pérez Prado & His Orchestra (1950-61 [1995], Rhino): Drawn from the same well as Legacy's recent The Best of Pérez Prado: The Original Mambo No. 5, I give the nod to the more recent one, even though this is longer and covers more of the angles -- more vocals, including one by Rosemary Clooney, more guest shots, probably bigger hits, but the other one strikes me as more consistent, which befits a mostly instrumental album. But I haven't done my due dilligence here, so that's just an impression. One of the -- perhaps the -- major figures of Afro-Cuban jazz in the '50s. A-
  • Stan Rogers: Fogarty's Cove (1977, Fogarty's Cove): Canadian folksinger, originally from Ontario but adopts Nova Scotian themes here, down to the celtic airs. This came highly recommended, but I've put it on too many times over years without it connecting. Someone else's cuppa something. B
  • Max Romeo: Open the Iron Gate (1973-77 [1999], Blood & Fire): A simple man with important messages and a superb rhythm section. I'm not sure just how this intersects with Island's Ultimate Collection, which covers the same period and a bit earlier, and is recommended over this for "War Ina Babylon" -- here you get the less clear but very similar "Fire Fe the Vatican." On the other hand, the world could learn lessons here, especially in matters of war and poverty. And "Open the Iron Gate" is tailor-made for resolving the Palestinian conflict. Don't know if he was aware of Jabotinsky's Iron Wall concept, but a wall without a gate isn't even a prison -- more like a coffin. A-
  • The Roots: Home Grown! The Beginners Guide to Understanding the Roots Volume Two ([2005], Geffen): In a bit of ambivalence, I only bought Volume One when these came out, so picking up this one rounds out the set. I don't have eyes good enough to sort through the orange-on-brown booklet print to figure out when these pieces were recorded. B+(**)
  • Tomasz Stanko Quartet: Matka Joanna (1994 [1995], ECM): With Bobo Stenson, Anders Jormin and Tony Oxley, providing straightforward support that leaves the trumpeter free to paint his dark expressionism. This marked Stanko's return to ECM -- he had recorded Balladnya in 1975, but otherwise was limited to obscure Polish labels -- and started a remarkable series of records. B+(***)
  • Rappers Delight: The Best of Sugarhill Gang (1979-85 [1996], Rhino): One of the first groups to lift rap out of Last Poets territory and put it on the pop charts, they didn't convince me when they first appeared, and sound pre-Old School now. It's not that the beats have lost their freshness -- disco still sounds fine to me, too -- but what the words reveal is best forgotten. Still, I've lost track of whatever it was that annoyed me back in the day. Graded leniently for historians. B+(*)
  • Steve Swell & Chris Kelsey: Observations (1996, CIMP): Two-horn duets, a minor avant format that rarely pays off, probably because the sound narrows too much when they harmonize but doesn't spread out enough when they diverge. But this one works better than most. Kelsey's soprano sax provides some contrast with Swell's trombone. May also help that Swell mostly sets the pace. B+(**)
  • Territory Band-2: Atlas (2001 [2002], Okka Disk): This is the second instantiation of Ken Vandermark's big band, named for but otherwise bearing no resemblance to the Kansas City blues powerhouses of the '30s. I've yet to make much sense out of this grouping. For one thing, I'm not sure whether it's a vehicle for Vandermark's compositions, or whether the pieces are mostly holes for free improv which sometimes works and sometimes doesn't. The group lineup has a couple of interesting twists beyond the usual -- three brass, three reeds, piano, bass, drums -- with Kevin Drumm's electronics, Fred Lonberg-Holm's cello, and Tim Mulvenna's percussion. The most distinctive thing on the record is a loud buzz that shifts the whole album in a new direction. The cello also breaks loose in interesting directions. Many more interesting details, including some near-swing in the early going and slick clarinet later on. B+(**)
  • Miroslav Vitous: Miroslav (1976-77 [1988], Freedom): Classically trained in Hungary, an exceptionally talented bass player, almost by accident he fell into fusion circles in New York, building a reputation on one small facet of his talent. This one is something else, not free or avant, but experimental in a low key way: overdubbed bass and keyboards, with a little extra percussion from Don Alias and Armen Halburian. Would be at home on ECM, which was developing much the same aesthetic, but isn't quite developed enough to be compelling. B

Jazz Prospecting (CG #11, Part 3)

I spent most of my week back from Detroit playing the odd things that I picked up in the used shops north of town. So I didn't get to unpacking some of the new jazz until late in the week. Thought about slipping another week, but I figure next week doesn't look promising either -- what with Recycled Goods looming. Still, I have a few things to report here, and will have a few more next week. That's about when the 10th Jazz Consumer Guide will finally appear in the Village Voice, so it makes sense that prospecting for #11 won't move into high gear until #10 is out. Lot of promising stuff on the shelves for then.

Art Ensemble of Chicago: Non-Cognitive Aspects of the City: Live at Iridium (2004 [2006], Pi, 2CD): Recorded a couple of months after bassist Malachi Favors passed, this selection from a long stand at New York's Iridium is intended as rebirth, renewal, survival. Jaribu Shahid, from James Carter's old Detroit quartet, is Flavors' replacement. Corey Wilkes does a pretty good job of plugging the other hole, left by the irrepressible, but evidently not irreplaceable, Lester Bowie. Roscoe Mitchell is more clearly the leader than before, but that's not such a bad thing. Not sure how high this should rate, but it's sure good to hear them. [B+(**)]

Ted Nash & Still Evolved: In the Loop (2006, Palmetto): Another album name reiterated as group name: Still Evolved is Nash's postbop quintet, with Marcus Printup on trumpet opposite Nash's tenor sax, and a rhythm section that frequently works together: Frank Kimbrough on piano, Ben Allison on bass, and Matt Wilson on drums. In many ways, this is the ideal postbop group. Certainly there's much to admire here, but I find the fancy harmony and slippery rhythm indecisive, when they're probably just too subtle. B+(**)

Soft Machine Legacy: Live at the New Morning (2005 [2006], Inakustik, 2CD): Half of the '70s lineup, with Hugh Hopper on bass and Elton Dean on alto sax or saxello, but the reunion group sounds much tougher with guitarist John Etheridge replacing Mike Ratledge's keybs. Too bad that Dean died shortly afterwards. His avant-riffing over steady grooves is a fine solution to the fusion puzzle. B+(***)

Scott McLemore: Found Music (2000 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Drummer, originally from Virginia, now makes his home in Iceland, which I suppose could be described as equally inconvenient to everywhere. He wrote all of the pieces here, providing a near-perfect left-of-mainstream postbop textbook. The band is equal to the task, with Tony Malaby on tenor sax, Ben Monder on guitar, and Ben Street on bass. Sounds a little scrawny for something so near-perfect, but maybe I'm just a bit jaded these days. B+(**)

Sebastian Noelle Quartet: Across the River (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist, based in Brooklyn, don't know much more. Quartet has Ben Street on bass and Ari Hoenig on drums, with the fourth member a saxophonist, either Javier Vercher or Donny McCaslin. Based on past experience, I assume that McCaslin is the slicker, more voluble one, but I didn't check the tracks for sure. As befits a leader, Noelle is much more prominent here than Ben Monder is on Scott McLemore's similar record, and his guitar gives this a luxurious sheen. [B+(**)]

Vicente Espí Quartet: Tras Coltrane (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Any time a group covers A Love Supreme -- three-fourths of it, anyway -- they're begging for comparison with the original, which is to say they're boxing way out of their weight class. The four earlier tracks are more interesting, in large part because they have more leeway on them. But any way you look at it, the group here is pure tribute. The leader plays drums. Jesús Santandreu gets the starring role. Albert Bover plays McCoy Tyner. Paco Charlín gets the great Jimmy Garrison lines. They had fun, and if it sounds a bit old, it's just because Trane was actually a lot heavier than his postbop followers. They got that right. B+(*)

Denis DiBlasio: View From Pikes (2006, Dreambox Media): Leader plays baritone sax. Never heard of him before, but a little digging tells me he played with Maynard Ferguson in the '80s, teaches at Rowan College, and has a handful of his own albums starting in 1998. He has a trio here with piano and bass, takes most of the pieces at a leisurely pace, and lets the instruments enjoy their natural sounds. Plays a little flute too, which is more upbeat. Recorded at Maggie's Farm, with Matt Balitsaris getting an engineer credit. Not much to it, but it's a lovely album. B+(**)

Mort Weiss Meets Sam Most (2006, SMS Jazz): Title could be extended: "Recorded live at Steamers Jazz Club & Cafe"; perhaps also "With Ron Eschete', Roy McCurdy and Luther Hughes." Most is a name associated with bebop flute, although his earliest credits suggest earlier sources -- Don Redman, Tommy Dorsey, Boyd Raeburn -- and even later on he worked with older guys -- Teddy Wilson, Red Norvo, Louie Bellson. That suggests he's ancient, but 75 is more like it. He recorded several mid-'50s albums with Debut and Bethlehem, then a few more in the late-'70s with Xanadu. Most also plays a little tenor sax here, which is a plus, and sings one, which isn't. Weiss plays clarinet. A bit younger, he started with trad jazz, but fell for Charlie Parker and Buddy DeFranco, then dropped out of music in the '60s, only picking it up again when he reached the usual retirement age. This is minor, but charming, with Escheté's guitar the secret ingredient. B+(*)

Mike Boone: Yeah, I Said It . . . (2005 [2006], Dreambox Media): At the end of this record, Boone says, "I guess one of the advantages of doing your own CD is that you can put on it whatever you want." That about sums this up: a personal memoir of a bassist who's been around at least since the early '70s but never moved into the spotlight. Twenty-two pieces here, many not much more than fragments. Eight are stories narrated by Boone, including three or four about Buddy Rich, with samples of Rich Big Band or Rich cussing in the background. The music is scattered all over the map. No band: I count sixteen different musicians on drums or percussion, none appearing more than twice, rarely two or more at once. One story about a pianist named Barry Kiener has Uri Caine tinkling in the background. The record is more interesting than good -- so much so I'm not done with it. [B]

Adam Unsworth: Excerpt This! (2006, Adam Unsworth): Young French horn player, hangs with the Philadelphia Orchestra and has some sort of association with Temple University. This is his first album, reportedly assembled from ten years of compositions. His dilligence is clear enough, but his decision to mix solo and sextet settings breaks the flow and feels like two distinct things. Not so much the problem as the limit to both parts is the horn, a rather awkward if not exactly ugly thing. The solo pieces can get tedious even when you don't doubt his skill or dexterity. But the sextet is much livelier. Les Thimmig plays bass clarinet and flutes -- contrasting horns with well-matched limits. With neither horn player overpowering, the field is rather open for someone else to stand out, and both Diane Monroe on violin and Tony Micelli on vibes make the best of their opportunities. B+(*)

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

Sam Bardfeld: Periodic Trespasses (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Subtitled "The Saul Cycle," with Bardfield's narration slipped into a "Peter and the Wolf" flow. I can't say as I get, let alone care about, the story. The music seems to pursue flow for its own sake, with bass and drums pushing violin and vibes along. So it helps when Ron Horton's trumpet occasionally disrupts the flow, as on "Harry's Mambo" -- a choice cut. B

Ismael Dueñas: Mirage (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): This is the second piano trio I've heard from Dueñas -- liked the first one, like this one a bit more. Still, this is a tough one for me to write about -- that Guillermo Klein's liner notes are in Spanish is more an omen than an excuse. What I like is that this has some crunch to it, that it turns in unexpected ways then nails the deal down with a strong chord. B+(***)

The following letter was written by Rabbi Michael Davis and posted by the Wichita Eagle, Fri., Aug. 18, 2006.


I read with great interest, yet disappointment, the Rev. Bob Layne's commentary ("Lay aside suspicion and hostility for a moment," Aug. 15 Opinion).

He opened by saying that "not all Christians support the Israeli destruction of Lebanon." He continued by speaking well of our Muslim neighbors and his experiences attending their mosque.

I am glad that Layne is coming "to know Muslims as neighbors, friends and fellow Americans" and that he has found "no reasons to fear." As a Jew and an American, these are notions that I do not need to learn anew, for I have never forgotten them.

As a Jew, vilified, feared and reviled by some for millennia, I know firsthand the dangers of prejudice and discrimination. As a Jew, I have been taught by the prophets and sages of our people to love our neighbors and to treat them with justice and with kindness.

But as a Jew and a lover of Israel, I am saddened by Layne's implication that Israel's goal is the destruction of Lebanon. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I would hope that both Christian and non-Christian might support Israel's desire to protect its citizens from the deliberate targeting by terrorists. I would also hope that Layne might see the difference between these deliberate attacks against Israeli civilians and the regrettable loss of life and limb suffered by Lebanese civilians as Israel attempts to defend itself.

For Israel, the death of civilians is not the goal; the same cannot be said of the terrorists.

Furthermore, I would like to extend my personal invitation to Layne to attend our synagogue, as well as attending the mosque. Here, too, he will find words of peace and not vengeance. Here, too, he will find calls for responsibility. Here, too, he will hear prayers for all who have suffered -- Muslim, Christian and Jew -- from this tragic war, as I'm sure were offered at the mosque.

Yes, Jew and Christian can come together -- along with Buddhist, Hindu, Bahai and others -- to pray for peace, to work for peace and to create peace in our community and beyond. All it takes is an open mind and an open heart.

Congregation Emanu-El

What Jews Know but Deny

On Friday the Wichita Eagle published a letter written by Rabbi Michael Davis of Congregation Emanu-El here in Wichita. Davis' letter was actually a response to a previous letter written by Reverend Bob Layne, arguing that "not all Christians support the Israeli destruction of Lebanon." I don't recall Layne's letter -- the quote is taken from Davis quoting him, so I don't bother with that part of the Davis letter. But his defense of Israel's self-defense is typical stuff, and should be checked against reality. I wrote the following letter as a response. Davis' letter was about 350 words, exceptionally long for a letter in the Eagle. Mine comes in just over 600 words, which pretty much dooms it as a letter, even if the arguments passed whatever muster applies in the Eagle these days.

Rabbi Michael Davis ("Reader View: Jews Know About Prejudice") asserted, "For Israel, the death of civilians is not the goal; the same cannot be said of the terrorists." The facts don't support this claim. Since war broke out on June 12, Hezbollah's rockets managed to kill 44 Israeli civilians. On the other hand, Israel has killed over 1,100 Lebanese civilians -- a toll that grows daily as bodies are still being pulled out of the rubble. The facts show that neither side, regardless of what they think of as goals, respects the lives each other's people.

Rabbi Davis hopes that we'll "see the difference" between dead Israelis ("from the deliberate targeting of terrorists") and dead Lebanese ("the regrettable loss of life and limb suffered by Lebanese civilians as Israel attempts to defend itself"). But the body counts are so disproportionate, to even equate them implies that he places much higher value on the lives of Israelis. While that view may be understandable from someone who describes himself as "a lover of Israel," that argument won't convince anyone who believes, as one of America's founding fathers put it, that "all men are created equal."

But Rabbi Davis is right about one thing: Jews have known the pain and fear of prejudice and discrimination, and at least in the U.S. many Jews have distinguished themselves in struggles not just for their own civil rights but for everyone's. But too many American Jews have developed a blind spot for Israel, not seeing that Israel was founded in 1948 in a war of ethnic cleansing that drove 700,000 Palestinians from their homes to squalid refugee camps, and rationalizing the belligerency ever since as Israel's defense against the curse of anti-semitism.

What happened in 1948 is messy history, but over recent years all Arab nations and most key militias have agreed to settle the conflict along the lines laid out by the U.N. in 1967: to recognize Israel's right to exist in peace within its pre-1967 borders, for Israel to give up all lands taken in the 1967 war, and for claims to be settled for refugees unable to return to Israel. But as this consensus has grown, Israel has chosen to withdraw from the "peace process" (as they quaintly termed it) and depend exclusively on the threat of force, peroidically demonstrated, to bully all around them into submission.

Israel has been able to take this unilateral approach because the U.S., and especially the Bush Administration, has backed it all the way -- with arms, money, diplomacy. Such uncritical favor is shared by many groups in the U.S. body politic, from a military-industrial complex that counts Israel as its best customer to Christian fundamentalists pining for the judgment day, but most anomalously by liberal-minded Jews like Rabbi Davis, who otherwise would be quick to recognize the horror and injustice of self-perpetuating war. But such support only indulges Israel's worst instincts, warped by lifetimes of war and hate. If "friends don't let friends drive drunk" is good advice, friends don't let friends bomb other countries should become the mantra of Israel's true friends.

In destroying Lebanon while failing to intimidate Hezbollah, the Israel-Lebanon War of 2006 shows us the moral, political, and even military bankruptcy of Ariel Sharon's unilateralism. The only way out of this debacle is the only true hope for Israel: to make peace with its neighbors and with its people. To admit mistakes, to apologize profusely, to start to make amends, to learn to be generous, to earn the trust you desire. As Rabbi Davis knows, there is much in the Jewish tradition to facilitate this change. He could help but first he needs to stop making excuses.

Even at 600-plus words, there is a lot to unpack here. My line about 1948 being "messy history" is worth a few thousand words by itself. I've been thinking a lot about the dislocations in 1948, why they happened, and what they still mean half a century later. I need to write that up at some point, but for practical purposes -- for deciding how to move forward, as opposed to understanding how we got here -- it is largely a moot point. Part of my thinking here is that since hardly anyone showed any interest in my little peace proposal, I've mostly reverted to the standard 1967 borders plan, which is backed by international law and sweetened a bit by Saudi Arabia's support. Its major selling point is that if Israel wanted peace, they could make that deal immediately with no quibbles or resentment. Many other formulations, such as the Geneva Accords, might be acceptable, but far and away the fastest and safest way to close a deal is to accept an offer already on the table. Whatever Israel might "leave on the table" by not negotiating further would be trivial. On the other hand, an up front concession on sovereignty might make it possible to make it possible to negotiate a relatively gracious transition, especially if that would aid the Palestinian economy.

On the other hand, Israel is still far away from seeking peace, especially with the Palestinians -- whose rocket technology, antitank weaponry, and guerrilla skills leave them far less formidable an opponent than Hezbollah. It's also worth noting that Gaza gets far less world press attention than Lebanon. But even in Lebanon Israel has already violated the ceasefire with a raid in the Bekka Valley, and Israel continues to weasel the wording of the UN resolution in ways likely to provoke further hostilities -- the press likes to refer to this as a "fragile ceasefire" but it's more accurate to note that the asymmetric terms are intentionally destabilizing.

Still, the extent to which Israel's war failed to meet their goals has yet to fully sink in. The fevered reaction of Israelis to rocket threats played well as propaganda, but sent a clear signal to all of Israel's opponents that rockets are an effective way to get on their nerves. So expect more rockets, possibly from all fronts, and expect more strenuous, more expensive efforts at defending against them. That Hezbollah held together under Israeli fire will inspire others. That the IDF performed so poorly makes others more eager to take them on -- we've already seen hotshots in the Syrian military eager to take the Golan Heights back by force. Syria and Iran have become more credible threats not only to Israel but to the US as well. The US has accused Syria and Iran of helping Iraq's resistance with IEDs, but Hezbollah proved to be even more effective with antitank weapons. It would be bad news if such weapons found their way into Iraq.

But Israel's military shortcomings, even given their significance under a regime that depends on nothing else, are trivial compared to Israel's political losses. The wanton destruction of Lebanon, all the more senseless given their inability to undermine Hezbollah, should leave Israel more isolated than ever. The US, hopelessly mired in Iraq and if anything losing ground in Afghanistan, is equally likely to feel the chill. Israel had in many ways attempted to style its efforts according to American interests -- what other reason was there to present war with Hezbollah as "the western front of the war with Iran"? The US has gotten a remarkably free ride of late in western Europe as well as with the usual Arab cronies, but how long can that really last?

A big part of the letter concerns what Jewish-American supporters of Israel should do. Some, of course, are neocons or crypto-fascists, so I'm not talking about them, but most aren't. Most have progressive political records here -- are good on civil rights, better still on civil liberties and church-state issues, and mostly opposed to Bush including the war in Iraq. A good many have nominal peace positions on Israel -- oppose settlements, favor two states -- but still they reflexively defend every kneejerk belligerent response that comes out of Israel's defense establishment, even though the net effect works against their supposed preferences. They really need to get smarter and start working against the unilateralist policies -- indeed, the whole Manichaean mindset that condemns all opponents as terrorists -- of the Israeli right, not only for the direct effect they might have, but to take cover away from the militarists and Armageddon groupies who seek mere profit from Israel's wars.

I don't have any idea whether there's any hope for that sort of political outreach -- I'm just an armchair theorist, not an activist. But in theory that's where I'd place my bets. Certainly, many people who supported this war have some second thinking to do.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Keeping Score

Robert Fisk reports that Lebanon's death toll has topped 1300. It's been obvious all along that Lebanese deaths were underreported. The increase here are newly discovered bodies, and certainly won't be the last.

The Israeli government has released a preliminary estimate of the war's cost to Israel and its economy: $5.3 billion. Again, that's a number likely to grow as longer term effects are recognized. I don't know of any authoritative estimate of damage to Lebanon. The only thing that might keep such a total under $100 billion is that Lebanon's per capita income is (or more precisely, was) less than 25% of Israel's. So dollar figure damages aren't likely to be a true measure of the difference in the damage level.

Meanwhile, there's no ceasefire in the Occupied Territories of Palestine, where Israel's attacks have killed 207 Palestinians.

AP reports that a US airstrike killed ten Afghan border policemen. Hamid Karzai complained, "I have repeatedly asked the coalition forces to take maximum caution while carrying out operations."

Friday, August 18, 2006

Hersh on Lebanon

Seymour Hersh on the start of the Olmert war:

Several current and former officials involved in the Middle East told me that Israel viewed the soldiers' kidnapping as the opportune moment to begin its planned military campaign against Hezbollah. "Hezbollah, like clockwork, was instigating something small every month or two," the U.S. government consultant with ties to Israel said. Two weeks earlier, in late June, members of Hamas, the Palestinian group, had tunnelled under the barrier separating southern Gaza from Israel and captured an Israeli soldier. Hamas also had lobbed a series of rockets at Israeli towns near the border with Gaza. In response, Israel had initiated an extensive bombing campaign and reoccupied parts of Gaza.

The Pentagon consultant noted that there had also been cross-border incidents involving Israel and Hezbollah, in both directions, for some time. "They've been sniping at each other," he said. "Either side could have pointed to some incident and said 'We have to go to war with these guys' -- because they were already at war."

The war plans had been vetted and approved by the US months ahead of the event that triggered/excused the war:

Earlier this summer, before the Hezbollah kidnappings, the U.S. government consultant said, several Israeli officials visited Washington, separately, "to get a green light for the bombing operation and to find out how much the United States would bear." The consultant added, "Israel began with Cheney. It wanted to be sure that it had his support and the support of his office and the Middle East desk of the National Security Council." After that, "persuading Bush was never a problem, and Condi Rice was on board," the consultant said.

The initial plan, as outlined by the Israelis, called for a major bombing campaign in response to the next Hezbollah provocation, according to the Middle East expert with knowledge of U.S. and Israeli thinking. Israel believed that, by targeting Lebanon's infrastructure, including highways, fuel depots, and even the civilian runways at the main Beirut airport, it could persuade Lebanon's large Christian and Sunni populations to turn against Hezbollah, according to the former senior intelligence official. The airport, highways, and bridges, among other things, have been hit in the bombing campaign. The Israeli Air Force had flown almost nine thousand missions as of last week.

Bush administration support was largely based on using Israel's war against Iranian-supported Hezbollah as an object example for a threatened US bombardment of Iran:

A former intelligence officer said, "We told Israel, 'Look, if you guys have to go, we're behind you all the way. But we think it should be sooner rather than later -- the longer you wait, the less time we have to evaluate and plan for Iran before Bush gets out of office.'"

Cheney's point, the former senior intelligence official said, was "What if the Israelis execute their part of this first, and it's really successful? It'd be great. We can learn what to do in Iran by watching what the Israelis do in Lebanon."

Given how things turned out, the obvious lesson for the US viz. Iran is to give it up. Nonetheless, Hersh quotes a "former senior intelligence official" as saying, "There is no way that Rumsfeld and Cheney will draw the right conclusion about this. When the smoke clears, they'll say it was a success, and they'll draw reinforcement for their plan to attack Iran." Hard to say, but the manifest failures will certainly stiffen resistance within the non-political ranks to yet another insane adventure.

Two bonus quotes from Hersh. The first is a history special on Kosovo, still remembered fondly by liberal hawks as some sort of humanitarian exercise. What actually happened was a good deal messier than is commonly remembered -- in fact, the place is still a strangely unsettled mess.

In the early discussions with American officials, I was told by the Middle East expert and the government consultant, the Israelis repeatedly pointed to the war in Kosovo as an example of what Israel would try to achieve. The NATO forces commanded by U.S. Army General Wesley Clark methodically bombed and strafed not only military targets but tunnels, bridges, and roads, in Kosovo and elsewhere in Serbia, for seventy-eight days before forcing Serbian forces to withdraw from Kosovo. "Israel studied the Kosovo war as its role model," the government consultant said. "The Israelis told Condi Rice, 'You did it in about seventy days, but we need half of that -- thirty-five days.'"

There are, of course, vast differences between Lebanon and Kosovo. Clark, who retired from the military in 2000 and unsuccessfully ran as a Democrat for the Presidency in 2004, took issue with the analogy: "If it's true that the Israeli campaign is based on the American approach in Kosovo, then it missed the point. Ours was to use force to obtain a diplomatic objective -- it was not about killing people." Clark noted in a 2001 book, Waging Modern War, that it was the threat of a possible ground invasion as well as the bombing that forced the Serbs to end the war. He told me, "In my experience, air campaigns have to be backed, ultimately, by the will and capability to finish the job on the ground."

Kosovo has been cited publicly by Israeli officials and journalists since the war began. On August 6th, Prime Minister Olmert, responding to European condemnation of the deaths of Lebanese civilians, said, "Where do they get the right to preach to Israel? European countries attacked Kosovo and killed ten thousand civilians. Ten thousand! And none of these countries had to suffer before that from a single rocket. I'm not saying it was wrong to intervene in Kosovo. But please: don't preach to us about the treatment of civilians." (Human Rights Watch estimated the number of civilians killed in the NATO bombing to be five hundred; the Yugoslav government put the number between twelve hundred and five thousand.)

The other concludes the article:

Even those who continue to support Israel's war against Hezbollah agree that it is failing to achieve one of its main goals -- to rally the Lebanese against Hezbollah. "Strategic bombing has been a failed military concept for ninety years, and yet air forces all over the world keep on doing it," John Arquilla, a defense analyst at the Naval Postgraduate School, told me. Arquilla has been campaigning for more than a decade, with growing success, to change the way America fights terrorism. "The warfare of today is not mass on mass," he said. "You have to hunt like a network to defeat a network. Israel focussed on bombing against Hezbollah, and, when that did not work, it became more aggressive on the ground. The definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing and expecting a different result."

I'll leave it there.

F5 Record Report (Aug. 17, 2006)

Another F5 Record Report has been posted: number three in the series. Meanwhile, I turned number four in this afternoon. Should be on the newsstands here in Wichita next Wednesday or Thursday, and up on the web next Friday. This stuff is routine enough it's almost anticlimactic to keep filing blog entries announcing them. In theory I thought I'd be recycling old reviews, so this would be a minimal work spinoff, but I keep editing, and a few of the reviews are genuinely new. The roster this time is:

  • Fred Anderson: Timeless: Live at the Velvet Lounge (Delmark) A- [jazz]
  • Balkan Beat Box (JDub) A- [world, rock]
  • James McMurtry: Childish Things (Compadre) A- [country]
  • Charlie Musselwhite: Delta Hardware (Real World) B [blues]
  • The Best of Pérez Prado: The Original Mambo No. 5 (1949-59, RCA/Legacy) A [world, latin]
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of the Sahara (1998-2004, World Music Network) A- [world]
  • Sonic Youth: Rather Ripped (Geffen) A- [rock]
  • Waco Brothers: Freedom and Weep (Bloodshot) A- [rock]

PS: The link above should get you whatever piece is most recent, which in turn will have links to previous pieces.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

War Accounting

I see from an Amira Hass piece that Hezbollah's rockets killed 41 Israeli civilians, including 18 Israeli Arabs. That would mean that Israeli Arabs were more than twice as likely of being struck, although the odds might go down a bit if we limit the per capita calculations to the missile range. (Many Israeli Arabs live in Northern Israel, much of which the UN originally allocated to the Arab partition in 1947. The IDF conquered the territory with little resistance, resulting in few refugees. Most Palestinian refugees in Lebanon were from Jaffa, dumped there by the ever-helpful British.) I've seen reports that Israel did little or nothing to provide shelters for Israeli Arabs, a piece of negligence that should be factored into arguments about Hezbollah using Lebanese civilians as human shields.

Wikipedia reports deaths as: 43-53 Israeli civilians, 120 Israeli soldiers, 74 Hezbollah and allied militias (8 Amal, 1 PFLP-GC), 36 Lebanese soldiers, and 727-1009 Lebanese civilians. These numbers all roughly confirm my understanding: Hezbollah's rocket attacks were far less effective at killing civilians than Israel's air war; on the other hand, Hezbollah was able to put up punishing resistance to Israel's ground offensive. But the numbers also indicate different strategies: Israel's air war was focused on long-term infrastructure destruction, a form of collective punishment that moved a million people out of their homes and is likely to total hundreds of billions of dollars in economic damage, but Israel's ground war was limited to short and temporary search and destroy missions which Hezbollah made expensive. Hezbollah's goal was essentially defensive: to make Israel pay a steep price for its aggression.

But to call Hezbollah's rocket attacks defensive assumes a theory of deterence that I don't actually believe in. Deterence is a vile threat that works only when it gives both sides an excuse not to engage in war, and such excuses are only operative when both sides are disposed to avoid war. However, deterence fails when one side decides it would rather risk war. That's what happened here, and the side that took the plunge -- as the numbers clearly show -- was Israel. If you believe that nations have the right to self-defense, and that credible deterence is essentially defensive -- and those are assertions that Israel and the US have repeatedly made during this war -- you should believe that Hezbollah's rocket attacks on Israel were justified, or at least necessary. Whether it worked is something that remains to be seen -- e.g., by whether Israel sets off another volley of rockets by resuming their bombing.

Just for the record, I don't believe those things. I don't believe that Israel, or any other country, has a right to self-defense. I'm not surprised that a nation, or a group within a nation, would fight back when attacked: that behavior is deeply ingrained in human nature and indelibly carved in human history. But elevating that instinct to a right is a recipe for an unending string of atrocities. On the same grounds, I reject the idea that there is any such thing as Just War. War, by its very nature, is an engine of injustice, so profane that no provocation can justify it. War is not an extension of politics by other means, as the Clausewitz cliché has it; it is the failure of politicians by any and all means. It comes from overestimating what might be gained, from underestimating what will be lost, and from thinking in ruts -- fancy ones like the theory of deterence, or plain stupid ones like good and evil.

If I seem to favor Hezbollah in these posts, it is not because I believe that what they do is just or even productive. It's because I view them as a reflection of Israel's war machine. They were, after all, formed under and in opposition to Israel's occupation of Lebanon. They have the instinct to fight back, in large part because that's the only option Israel has been unable to thwart. And they've fought back effectively enough to back Israel down. That's certainly not the ideal way to get Israel to change its ways, but anything that limits Israel's belligerence is a positive outcome, at least on that level. The only way this conflict will end is when all sides are tired of fighting it. Hopefully, this war will show enough people how futile all these wars have been. Still, the people who faught this war are a long ways from realizing this -- especially the guy Billmon refers to as Commander Codpiece (aka President Psycho). He's so far removed from reality, the Wichita Eagle published this Crowson cartoon today:

Small, hard to read bit in the lower right corner: "He has a Plutonic relationship to reality."

Another figure in the Hass story is that the IDF has killed 188 people in Gaza -- the war that supposedly slipped onto the back burner once Lebanon. Again, Israel's strategy has been to use its overwhelming force to inflict collective punishment. The difference between Gaza and Lebanon is that the Gaza militias are far less effectively armed and organized than Hezbollah. In other words, that there's a ceasefire in Lebanon but not in Gaza is only due to Israel's recognition of opposing force. This example won't be lost on Hezbollah, or indeed on anyone tempted to take up arms against Israel or its indispensible ally, the US. Unfortunately, it won't be recognized until the cost is too dear. Unless, of course, people wise up to the way the world is working, and stop trying to force others into one's ideological fantasies. The Olmert wars offer ample evidence of this. It would be doubly tragic if we don't learn those lessons.

Losers and Sore Losers

Billmon on the outcome (more or less) of Israel's recent attack of Halutzpah:

Strictly from a humanitarian point of view, it's both grotesque and repulsive to have to listen to Ehud Olmert, Sheikh Nasrallah and the Boy King all proclaiming victory in their nasty little war -- even as the bodies are still literally being pulled out of the rubble. It brings to mind Victor Hugo's description of Napoleon as a rooster crowing on top of a dung heap, until God grew bored with him. (Except in this case it's pretty clear who the smallest cock is.)

This is the kind of simian hooting and chest beating that makes me wish I'd been born into a more respectable species -- like the hyenas or the slime eels or the dung beetles.

Of course, nobody won the war. I'm not sure that anybody ever wins wars. I suppose you could point to some cost-effective "butcher and bolt" operations where the calculus is mostly limited to looting, but even there you're likely to have to go back a century or more. Even so, such wins are pathetic more often than not. Did Britain win the Opium War? Well, they got to sell their opium, corroding the Chinese political authority, but in the long run that just led to revolution. But the real problem is that people still think they can win wars -- otherwise they wouldn't bother, would they? And the real danger in this is that success, based on whatever warped criteria one chooses to spin, breeds an appetite for more, while failure feeds a desire for redemption and revenge. So regardless of the immediate outcome, the long-term effect of war is to promote more war. Once whet, that thirst only gives way to utter, abject defeat -- as happened to Japan and Germany in 1945, at least until the US got the bright idea of rearming them.

Olmert's victory claims are particularly hollow, given that none of their original stated goals were met. They did manage to destroy Lebanon's infrastructure, kill a thousand or more civilians, and drive a million or more away from their homes -- all of which were deliberate acts, just not what they advertised as goals. As you'll recall, the original goal was first to recover two captured Israeli soldiers, then to destroy Hezbollah. They did manage to successfully promote the war within the Israeli body politic -- at least the part that counts -- primarily by depicting Hezbollah as an existential threat: a terrorist force committed to destroying Israel, implying an intent to finish the Holocaust. Evidently some 80% of Israelis are paranoid and myopic enough to buy that line, although that may be too charitable -- some percentage of war supporters were merely racist brutes.

Ironically, the one thing Israel inadvertently established was that Hezbollah is not an existential threat to Israel. Hezbollah's rockets, while far more numerous and sophisticated than the Qassams launched from Gaza, were remarkably ineffective. I don't deny that they killed a few people, injured more, did some physical damage, ignited fires, disrupted everyday life, and got on people's nerves. They did all that, but it would take several orders of magnitude more firepower to do anything remotely resembling what Israel did to Lebanon. Moreover, the frequency and pattern of Hezbollah's attacks followed Israel's air war, halting when Israel briefly curtailed bombing after the Qana massacre. This means that there is an effective method whereby Israel can limit the missile threat: accept it as a deterence and Hezbollah as an effective defensive force. Better still, settle the border and prisoner issues with Lebanon and Syria, and kick in some money to repair the damages and help those Palestinian refugees get on with their lives.

The best news that has come out of this is that at least some Israelis have started to question Sharon's unilateral Iron Wall strategy. Olmert's knee jerk attacks on Gaza and Lebanon were the result of insisting on going it alone -- on not building any sort of partnership on the other side of the wall. On the other hand, there's little reason for optimism. The usual reaction to losing a war on points, as opposed to a flat knockout, is to turn the reins over to badder badasses. Given that Olmert-Peretz count as center-left on Israel's spectrum, most of the opposition is on the extreme right. Then there's the problem of the US, where Bush favored Israel so blatantly that he wound up having to declare victory too. It's hard to think of any respect in which the US comes out of this better off than before, but the debate is so fogged the only political threat Bush faces is from the extreme right, who figured we've sold Israel down the river, not to mention squandered a marvelous opportunity to blow up Iran.

Of course, if Hezbollah lets its "victory" go to its head, they could become the threat Bush and Olmert made them out to be. But for now the more dangerous "victors" are the ones in Washington and Jerusalem, not least because they're the more deluded.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Yellow Wind Blows Back

One thing I don't understand is why so many of Israel's leftish-liberals went so gaga over Olmert's razing of Lebanon. During the first week we were hearing that something like 90% of all Israelis backed the war. Certainly, a large slice of the nominal Peace intellectuals and organizations saluted and cheered. I don't think Peace Now officially changed its name to Peace in a Couple of Weeks, but the main reason was that they couldn't see that far ahead. Meretz lined up. Peretz went way over the deep end. Amos Oz and David Grossman, two of Israel's most famous novelists, gave their blessing.

Ran HaCohen wrote a piece called "Israeli Intellectuals Love the War" with a partial list and some quotes: Ari Shavit says, "Israel is currently waging the most just war in its history." A.B. Yehoshua says, "At last we've got a just war, so we shouldn't gnaw at it too much till it becomes unjust." Oz rationalized, "This time, Israel is not invading Lebanon. It is defending itself. . . . The Israeli peace movement should support Israel's attempt at self-defense, pure and simple, as long as this operation targets mostly Hezbollah and spares, as much as possible, the lives of Lebanese civilians."

As the war has unrolled -- atrocities and casualties mounting while the proclaimed aim of smashing Hezbollah proved impossible -- at least some of these people have entertained second thoughts. The case of David Grossman is particularly poignant, as his 20-year-old son Uri was killed in one of Olmert's last-minute land grabs -- a desperate and pointless attempt to assert some pretense to victory, quickly surrendered in the post-ceasefire retreat. One never knows whether the price of supporting the rush to war will be personal or just political. But Grossman should have known better. He wrote The Yellow Wind, an important early (pre-Intifada) book examining the human cost of Israel's occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. He, of all people, should be able to imagine how all sides feel and act. So why couldn't he find the will to oppose this war when it might have made a difference?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Music: Current count 12208 [12207] rated (+1), 908 [883] unrated (+25). On the road. Nothing much to report. Likely no jazz prospecting this week either.

No Jazz Prospecting

No jazz prospecting this week. Spent most of last week in the Detroit metro area, away from the amenities of home. Took more Recycled Goods with me than new jazz, but didn't get anything written on them either. I can report that new albums by Art Ensemble of Chicago and Ted Nash should please committed fans if not necessarily skeptics. The same might be said of the new Dennis Gonzalez album on Clean Feed, but being more of a fan I have higher hopes for it.

Jazz prospecting will return next week.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

F5 Record Report (Aug. 10, 2006)

My second F5 Record Report column has been posted. No introduction this time -- just a handful of short reviews:

  • Billy Bang: Vietnam: Reflections (Justin Time) A-
  • Hayes Carll: Little Rock (Highway 87 Music) A-
  • Elvis Costello Live With the Metropole Orkest: My Flame Burns Blue (Deutsche Grammophone) B
  • Everybody's Talkin': The Very Best of Harry Nilsson (1966-77, RCA/Legacy) A-
  • Public Enemy: Rebirth of a Nation (Guerrilla Funk) A
  • Amy Rigby: Little Fugitive (Signature Sounds) A
  • Miguel Zenón: Jíbaro (Marsalis Music/Rounder) A-

Friday, August 11, 2006

The following quote comes from Dhar Jamail at TomDispatch:

"I care about my people, my country, and defending them from the Zionist aggression," said a Hezbollah fighter after I'd asked him why he joined the group. I found myself in downtown Beirut sitting in the backseat of his car in the liquid heat of a Lebanese summer. Sweat rolled down my nose and dripped on my notepad as I jotted furiously.

"My home in Dahaya is now pulverized," he said while the concussions of Israeli bombs landing in his nearby neighborhood echoed across the buildings around us, "Everything in my life is destroyed now, so I will fight them. I am a Shaheed [martyr]."

He asked to remain anonymous, and that I refer to him only as Ahmed.

The late afternoon sun was behind him as he told me just how hard his life had been. When he was eleven years old, he and his youngest brother had been taken from their home by Israeli soldiers and put in prison for two years. I asked him what happened to him there, but that was a subject he wouldn't discuss. One of his brothers was later killed by Israeli soldiers. After his release from an Israeli prison Ahmed was spending his teenage years in southern Lebanon when he was caught in crossfire between Hezbollah fighters and Israeli soldiers near his home. He was shot three times. Many years before, his father had been killed by an Israeli air strike on a refugee camp in south Beirut.

"What are we left with?" he asked, while the angle of the sun through the windshield highlighted tears welling in his eyes, "I know I will die fighting them, then I will go to my God. But I will go to my God fighting like a lion. I will not be slaughtered like a lamb."

Nothing all that remarkable about the quote: it's a common enough story. But after the last month it's going to be all that more common. The people busted in the UK's "Air Scare" plot most likely have a different story -- a combination of personal snubs and frustration inflated by a global context that creates fighters like Ahmed and a religious fable that comforts them. Stopping those fighters is a tough, draining, dehumanizing task. How much simpler it would be to just keep these stories from developing.

Just a quick list of stuff I've bought in Detroit this week:

  1. Horace Andy: Feel Good All Over: Anthology (1970-76 [2002], Sanctuary/Trojan, 2CD)
  2. Art Brut: Bang Bang Rock & Roll (2005 [2006], Downtown)
  3. Jean-Jacques Avenel: Waraba (2004, Songlines)
  4. Derek Bailey/John Stevens/Trevor Watts: Dynamics of the Impromptu (1973-74, Entropy)
  5. Big Youth: Screaming Target (1973 [2006], Trojan/Sanctuary)
  6. Scott Colley: Initial Wisdom (2001 [2002], Palmetto)
  7. Eddie Condon/Wild Bill Davison/Ken Davern/Dick Wellstood/Gene Krupa: Jazz at the New School (1972, Chiaroscuro)
  8. Skeeter Davis: RCA Country Legends (1953-71 [2001], Buddha)
  9. Defunkt: Heroes (1998, DIW)
  10. Gogol Bordello: Multi Kontra Culti Vs. Irony (2002, Rubric)
  11. The Best of Leslie Gore (20th Century Masters: The Millennium Collection) (1963-67 [2000], Mercury)
  12. Konono No. 1: Congotronics (2004, Crammed Discs)
  13. Tony Malaby: Sabino (2000, Arabesque)
  14. Bill McHenry Quartet: Graphic (1998 [1999], Fresh Sound New Talent)
  15. Mylo: Destroy Rock & Roll (2004 [2006], RCA/Breast Fed)
  16. Paris: Sonic Jihad (2003, Guerrilla Funk)
  17. Wilson Pickett: The Definitive Collection (1962-72 [2006], Atlantic/Rhino, 2CD)
  18. Mondo Mambo! The Best of Pérez Prado & His Orchestra (1952-61 [1005], Rhino)
  19. Max Romeo: Open the Iron Gate (1973-77 [1999], Blood and Fire)
  20. The Roots: Home Grown! The Beginners Guide to Understanding the Roots Volume Two ([2005], Geffen)
  21. Soft Machine Legacy: Live at the New Morning (2005 [2006], Inakustik, 2CD)
  22. Tomasz Stanko Quartet: Matka Joanna (1994 [1995], ECM)
  23. Rappers Delight: The Best of Sugarhill Gang (1979-85 [1996], Rhino)
  24. Steve Swell & Chris Kelsey: Observations (1996, CIMP)
  25. Miroslav Vitous: Miroslav (1977, Freedom)
  26. Hank Williams III: Straight to Hell (2006, Bruc)

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Suckers for Slaughter

I saw a little bit of a debate between James Zogby and Alan Dershowitz. Most of what Dershowitz said could be dismissed as baldfaced lies, but one comment struck me as revelatory. He argued that deliberately hides behind civilians in order to bait Israel into killing civilians because this builds up public support for Hezbollah. This statement contains a rare kernel of truth, if not necessarily about Hezbollah's intentions at least about the practical effect of Israeli atrocities. But it also begs the question: if Israel understands this effect, why do they repeatedly let themselves be suckered into promoting Hezbollah like this?

The answer to that question is that, starting with Jabotinsky's Iron Wall metaphor and winding up with Olmert's concrete instantiation, Israel has systematically limited its options to just one: the application of raw force. So even when they acknowledge that force doesn't work, or that it works against them, they employ it anyway, because that's all they can do. To do anything else would concede that their supposed enemies are human, are entitled to respect, to rights, and to some kind of peaceful accommodation. Start unraveling that thread and pretty soon the whole Israeli conceit falls apart.

But more than the question and answer, what bothers me is how common such casually self-contradictory argument is. When Tony Blair came to Washington recently to snuggle up to Bush, he went into a disquisition on how 9/11 changed things -- the usual platitudes, but buried in the middle was a line that recognized that the US-UK wars in the Middle East actually generate more terrorists. That's the sort of line that an engineer or anyone with a scientific mind would jump all over, but for Blair, Dershowitz, and others like them, this sort of thing is just another catchphrase meant to advance some agenda.

I don't know what's causing this. It could be that folks are getting stupider, at least as selected for public discourse. Could be that they're just getting more cynical. Could be that the world has gotten so daunting and complicated that most of us have reverted to primal instincts -- in stress, trust the guy who's so sure of himself that he's willing to get eaten first. In any case, it's making it hard not just to find the right answer but to agree on any facts to base one on, or to recognize any role for reason in sorting problems out. I've written in the past about ruts of rhetoric, but we may be entering even more treacherous verbal terrain. Hard to see a silver lining in any of this.

More From Karon

The link to the Tony Karon post I quoted yesterday is here. Title is: "Israel Disappoints the Neo-cons in Lebanon Proxy War." I jumped the gun a bit in writing about the Krauthammer quote. The piece has much more worth reading, including long quotes from Daniel Levy, Sidney Blumenthal, and Tom Segev.

From Levy:

Finding themselves somewhat bogged down in the Iraqi quagmire, the neoconservatives are reveling in the latest crisis, displaying their customary hubris in re-seizing the initiative. The U.S. press and blogosphere is awash with neocon-inspired calls for indefinite shooting, no talking and extension of hostilities to Syria and Iran, with Gingrich calling this a third world war to "defend civilization."

"Somewhat" is wry understatement. I think it's very likely that Israel vetted the main outlines of their war strategy with the US, and got a go-ahead for several reasons, starting with a desire to get Iraq off the front pages. But the neocons also viewed this war as an opportunity to seize the offensive, to employ the only ally they trust in the Middle East, and hopefully to let the Israelis show the American soldiers how to win. In doing so they brushed aside the conventional wisdom that appearing too close to Israel would do the US more harm than good in the Arab world -- a move that soon came to look like nothing more than desperation. Levy continues:

Disentangling Israeli interests from the rubble of neocon "creative destruction" in the Middle East has become an urgent challenge for Israeli policy-makers. An America that seeks to reshape the region through an unsophisticated mixture of bombs and ballots, devoid of local contextual understanding, alliance-building or redressing of grievances, ultimately undermines both itself and Israel. The sight this week of Secretary of State Rice homeward bound, unable to touch down in any Arab capital, should have a sobering effect in Washington and Jerusalem.

The Blumenfeld quote gets into how the NSA is supplying signals intelligence to Israel. This, as well as mapping data useful for targeting all those bridges, oil depots and power grids, has been widely assumed. Ron Suskind wrote about similar cases where CIA/NSA data was used by Israel for capturing or killing Palestinians. This not only binds the US and Israel into closely collaborating units, equating them, it opens up new possibilities for expansion of the war, based on whatever intelligence the US feeds Israel regarding Syrian and/or Iranian support of Hezbollah.

After 9/11 Israel pushed hard to equate the anti-US terrorism of Al Qaeda with anti-Israel resistance of Hamas and Hezbollah. The net effect was to reinforce both countries worst instincts, especially the notion that all problems can be solved with a sufficient application of force. But the effect has been to give each nation a share of the other's problems. The Tom Segev quote suggests that Israel is paying a price for its eager subservience to a Washington that is increasingly out of control:

Over time, we have grown accustomed to the Americans saving us, not only from the Arabs, but from ourselves too. Not in this war. It is still unclear whether this war was coordinated with the United States; only the release of government records of the past three weeks will shed light on this. Whatever the case may be, the impression is that the Americans are linking the events in Lebanon to their failing adventure in Iraq.

Segev goes on to describe how an Israel more attuned to Europe than to the US might have handled Hezbollah's capture of those two Israeli soldiers differently. Unfortunately, Europe doesn't seem to be much interested in pursuing solutions like that, leaving the field of international mischief wide open to the US. Still, these wars are the joint production of a binational neocon movement -- politically successful in Israel and the US for the self-flattery of their rhetorical bluster, but disastrous in application.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

When Stalemate Is Failure

I've been away from home, which means ducking most of the news, with only sporadic Internet access via inferior equipment. Not that much has changed. At first glance, the war in Lebanon continues much as before: Israel continues to inflict obscene damage to everyone in Lebanon except Hezbollah; Hezbollah manages to pester northern Israel with occasional rocket attacks, and to effectively pin down Israeli ground troops in their periodic adventures just over the Lebanese border. Meanwhile, Condoleezza Rice continues to frame the talk of a ceasefire in ways that prevent it from happening, giving Israel more time to reduce Hezbollah's threat. On the other hand, first glances may be sufficient for people immediately affected, like the hundreds of thousands of newly homeless Lebanese. But strategists need to ponder not just the war but its perception, and this is the level where Israel has been coming up short.

I found a Aug. 4 post by Tony Karon that sums this up nicely:

Hear, Oh Israel! Charles Krauthammer is disappointed. Very disapppointed. And he clearly speaks for the rest of the neo-conservative fraternity that has worked so hard to destroy any distinction between U.S. interests and Israeli interests. That's because, as we pointed out a couple of days ago, the Bush administration sees Israel's war in Lebanon as its own war, by proxy, against Iran. And Israel is quite simply failing to deliver the knockout blow against Hizballah that Washington is demanding -- it can't be done, of course, but reality has never restrained the neocons from pursuing their fantasies, at the expense of thousands of lives. Krauthammer offers candid confirmation of what many, including Hizballah leader Hassan Nasrallah, have suspected all along:

Israel's leaders do not seem to understand how ruinous a military failure in Lebanon would be to its relationship with America, Israel's most vital lifeline . . . America's green light for Israel to defend itself is seen as a favor to Israel. But that is a tendentious, misleadingly partial analysis. The green light -- indeed, the encouragement -- is also an act of clear self-interest. America wants, America needs, a decisive Hezbollah defeat.

He explains, as we've done, that the U.S. sees Hizballah as nothing more than a cat's paw for Iran, which it sees as its major strategic competitor in the Middle East. It therefore saw the Hizballah provocation as a golden opportunity to strike a blow, by proxy, at an organization deemed an important part of Iran's own deterrent capability. It is also mindful of the power of the challenge offered by Hizballah to further destabilize the decrepit autocracies in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia on which its influence in the Arab world rests.

Hence Israel's rare opportunity to demonstrate what it can do for its great American patron. The defeat of Hezbollah would be a huge loss for Iran, both psychologically and strategically. Iran would lose its foothold in Lebanon. It would lose its major means to destabilize and inject itself into the heart of the Middle East. It would be shown to have vastly overreached in trying to establish itself as the regional superpower.

The United States has gone far out on a limb to allow Israel to win and for all this to happen. It has counted on Israel's ability to do the job. It has been disappointed . . . (Olmert's) search for victory on the cheap has jeopardized not just the Lebanon operation but America's confidence in Israel as well. That confidence -- and the relationship it reinforces -- is as important to Israel's survival as its own army.

From the horse's mouth.

I don't wish to minimize the human tragedy of this war, but I'm beginning to think that this meta-level isn't working out as badly as it first threatened. Plenty of really horrible scenarios are still possible, but from a strategic standpoint the war looks like a bloody awful stalemate. One reason that's not so bad is that the victory of one side or another only leads to further arrogance of power. Another is that in the long run it's important that all sides see how little such a war with such great costs actually accomplished.

The key thing to understand about this war is that the initial goal, subscribed to by both Israel and the US, was the complete destruction of Hezbollah. That goal is scarcely even under discussion any more, excepting pundits far from the front lines, like Krauthammer and Bill Kristol -- so generous they are with other people's blood. It should also be understood that the goal is inherently aggressive, so much so that Israel and the US must be deemed the aggressors regardless of who did what when that occasioned the outbreak. (The blame Hezbollah position is very much equivalent to blaming on WWI on Serbia.) So for Israel and the US, as Krauthammer notes, the war is lost by failing to achieve its initial goal -- especially since the point behind the goal was to establish the dominance of US-Israeli military power: to teach those Arabs and Iranians the futility of defying us. Phrased that way, the problem is obvious: by surviving, it is Hezbollah that's teaching the lesson, that defiance is not doomed.

Still, Hezbollah's survival is not the sort of victory that leads one to escalate one's ambitions. Their rocket attacks cause damage but hardly threaten Israel's existence, and they've shown no sign of wanting to advance the ground war into Israel. The argument that their goal is the destruction of the Jewish State isn't validated by their actions. Maybe that's just pragmatism on their part -- an understanding that their limited success to date is largely due to the fact that they are defending against an invading army. Still, that pragmatism is a check against the sort of arrogance that the US and Israel has shown. Contrary to the Rice line, it seems likely that a ceasefire with an Israeli retreat from Lebanese territory -- not exactly status quo ante, given that the Sheeba Farms dispute has been exposed as unwarranted Israeli occupation, so has become part of any realistic deal, along with a full prisoner/hostage swap.

As for Syria and Iran, thus far cooler heads on both sides have kept them out of the war. Again, what's made this possible has been Hezbollah's success at fighting off Israeli incursions. As long as Hezbollah is able to hold its own, Syria and Iran are under little pressure to step up their support or put themselves at risk; as long as Israel is tied down, and the US is tied down in Iraq, it makes little sense for either country to bite off more. The real losers in this stalemate are the warmongers, which is as it should be. After all, they got the rest of us into this mess. And without any success on any front, it's well nigh time realists both in the US and Israel start to lock the neocons back in their closets.

But one lesson of this fiasco should be registered immediately: Israel has proven no more competent at beating the Middle East into obedience than the US. Maybe it's just not meant to be.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

F5 Record Report (Aug. 3, 2006)

F5 is a weekly tabloid published here in Wichita. It was founded a few years ago by Chris Owen, the guy who owns an ISP called Hubris Communications. I've known several of the people who wrote for F5, and every now and then thought about contributing something myself, but never got around to it. At the time I was thinking more about doing opinion pieces than music, but they already had a guy doing opinion pieces, and he wasn't even half bad. The music section also looked overloaded, although nowhere near as well done.

However, Owen dumped F5 recently. Don't know the story, but a good guess is that he got tired of pumping money into it. It's distributed free, so depends on advertising. He sold it to a local advertising company, and when it reemerged it came out as a faint echo of its prior self. Only music writer was someone writing as Rock Girl doing live reviews. So I thought it might be worthwhile to approach F5 about doing a CG-style record review column. Figured I could mostly recycle material that I was already writing. Also that it would give me a more immediate outlet for some of the new records I get, or could get, that I have trouble servicing in my current columns. Maybe it would even impress that Rough Guides guy who worships print but hates web outlets.

Anyhow, the first of these columns appeared in the Aug. 3 issue. For some reason they delay posting the columns on the web -- probably want you to pick up the paper with its adversiting, since there's no advertising on their website yet. So I've delayed announcing this column until I had an URL to post. Not sure how I'll handle this in the future. The column comes out weekly, on Wednesdays here at distribution spots in Wichita, Friday maybe on the web. I've handed in three columns to date -- the second should be hitting the stands tomorrow. Looks like I'm averaging 6-8 records per column. Some of the reviews are copied from my columns, prospecting blogs, and notebook, but I still do some editing. But a few are actually written from scratch -- e.g., Arctic Monkeys this time. Initial batch of records:

  • Arctic Monkeys: Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not (Domino) A-
  • Nik Bartsch's Ronin: Stoa (ECM) A-
  • Michael Bolton: Bolton Swings Sinatra (Concord) C+
  • Johnny Cash: Personal File (1973-82, Columbia/Legacy, 2CD) A-
  • Los de Abajo: LDA v the Lunatics (Real World) A-
  • Maria Muldaur: Sweet Lovin' Ol' Soul (Stony Plain) A-

I wanted to have mostly good records, but at least one exception; mostly new records, but at least one exception; mostly recent but Muldaur's year-old one is close enough; some alt-rock, country and rap, but didn't really manage the latter this time. As long as I can keep this going weekly, the range should be pretty broad. We'll see how it works out.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Music: Current count 12207 [12183] rated (+24), 883 [891] unrated (-8). Cut the week short due to travel. Wanted to pack everything up so I can copy it on the notebook and take it on the road. Not that I expect to get much done on the road -- never do. Just didn't want to foreclose the possibility.

  • Geri Allen Trio: The Printmakers (1984, Minor Music): With Anthony Cox and Andrew Cyrille, the latter meriting notice as "special guest" -- does a special job, too. Allen plays rough and tumble here, impressively so, probably more so than I've ever heard her otherwise. B+(***)
  • Apaturia Quintet: Apaturia (1994-95 [1996], YVP): Good postbop group, led by Roberto Ottaviano on soprano sax, with Flavio Boltro on trumpet/flugelhorn, Nico Morelli on piano, Giuseppi Bassi on bass, Marcello Magliocchi on drums. B+(***)
  • The John Cowan Band: New Tattoo (2006, Pinecastle): A bluegrass journeyman, Cowan plays bass but goes high and lonesome when he sings. The fiddle, mandolin, and banjo are all up to spec, and this moves along at an impressive clip, at least until the child molestation song "Drown" brings things to a dreary close. Guess it's cathartic. Hard to imagine. B+(*)
  • Tresa Jordan (2006, South River Road): It must serve as some sort of milestone in the comeback of neotrad country that it can sound so perfectly realized and still fail to carry the day. The problem is that the songs have no life to them, and don't confuse that with beat. The opener is jaunty enough, but its title, "Country High," only begins to suggest how corny and pie-eyed she can get. Some other titles: "Angels Cry," "Underneath the Wheels," "I Turn to Country," "Sweetwater Road," "Beyond the Blue." Almost included "Dancin' on Daddy's Feet" in that list, but I figure at least there she's trying. Music does sound good, though. B
  • David Murray & Low Class Conspiracy: At the Bim Huis: First Set (1977 [1998], Circle): One of a handful of live albums from Murray's early years. Many different ways the artist name and title could be parsed. The spine says David Murray Quintet. The back cover adds "featuring Don Pullen and Stanley Crouch." Why someone would be more impressed with Crouch on drums than Butch Morris on cornet and Fred Hopkins on bass beats me, but even the most marginal of labels think they have marketing geniuses. The music isn't exceptional, but Pullen's part is interesting, and ordinary Murray is still pretty impressive. B+(*)
  • The Ravens: Their Complete National Recordings (1947-50 [2003], Savoy Jazz, 3CD): The first major black vocal group of the postwar era, and as such the first stop on the road to rhythm and blues, rock and roll, soul, funk, and everything else; their signature was bass singer Jimmy Ricks, who anchored "Old Man River," "Summertime," and other landmark hits; this is way too much -- a single disc will do almost anyone just fine. B+(**)
  • Darrell Scott: The Invisible Man (2006, Full Light): Not sure what kind of country singer is sorry he never read books like War and Peace, but he's one. Tries to make up for it with good intentions and gospel invocations, but I'm not sure he's got the right bead on either. Half-inspirational lyric: "I only wanted to be half crazy and to be half happy and to call it a life." He's got half an album too. B
  • Sonic Youth: Rather Ripped (2006, Geffen): Their basic album, not just consistent but remarkably even, in speed, in tone, in their signature guitar tunings. A-

Jazz Prospecting (CG #11, Part 2)

On the road, so this is somewhat abbreviated. Next week is likely to be even more so. Still no date on Jazz CG, not that I'm very close to that loop.

Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron: Ballads (2004 [2006], Cam Jazz): What a lovely album! As the notes say, the band needs no introduction. Title's pretty much to the point, too. [B+(***)]

Jon De Lucia Group: Face No Face (2005 [2006], Jonji Music): Leader plays alto and soprano sax. Group includes guitar, piano, bass and drums, as well as one guest spot on kato and shamisen. Pieces are longish, except for the Japanese one. Rhythm is loose and ragged, sax postbop, arrangement postmodern. Fresh Sound releases a lot of stuff like this, and I'm familiar with several of the players here from releases there. Not bad, but not much that distinguishes it either. B+(*)

Gordon Grdina/Gary Peacock/Paul Motian: Think Like the Waves (2006, Songlines): Motian and Peacock need no further introduction here. Grdina is a young guitarist from Vancouver -- also plays oud in a group called Sangha. Also seems to be involved in other groups: Loose Acoustic, Box Cutter, Maqam. There's a low key, somewhat rough, somewhat abstract feel here -- Peacock is a mentor to Grdina, so they play particularly close, while Motian is all misdirection, as usual. B+(**)

Charlie Musselwhite: Delta Hardware (2006, Real World): Not as old as he looks, let alone sounds, not that that's the problem -- age reinforces the blues, both by the accumulation of suffering and by its survival. But his claim to fame used to be his harp, and he needs to air it out more. He's too ordinary a singer to get by on that alone. B

Elvis Costello & Allen Toussaint: The River in Reverse (2005 [2006], Verve Forecast): Mostly Toussaint songs, mostly Costello singing -- all things considered, a reasonable division of labor. Starts real strong with "On Your Way Down," which sets us up for a level of message that may or may not be delivered, but certainly doesn't kick in clearly. B

Elvis Costello Live With the Metropole Orkest: My Flame Burns Blue (2002-04 [2006], Deutsche Grammophone, 2CD): My copy is a large square booklet with two discs on little foam buttons, but it looks like the more pedestrian jewel box version contains all the same music, including the bonus CD "Il Sogno Suite." The live album is bracing, with the Metropoles moving boldly out front both on string and brass fronts, and Costello crooning in the tradition to which he was born. Also helps that he's kept old songbook standbys like "Clubland" and "Watching the Detectives." The bonus suite is classical music in the vein I learned to hate as a child, with no vocals, no song structure, but a smattering of tympani. I have no idea how it compares with its models, nor do I care, but I found it unannoying enough that I didn't feel compelled to cut it short when I played it a second time. That's at least one definition of a B record. B

Tom Cohen: The Guitar Trio Project (1999-2001 [2006], Dreambox Media): Cohen's a drummer. He's lined up six guitarist and six bassists for trios -- not exactly six trio combinations, but close. One odd thing is that I can't tell much difference between the guitarists, even though I know most of them from elsewhere. Songs are standards, starting with "Caravan" and "Cherokee" -- gets this off to an overly familiar start. Not bad, but I'm having trouble figuring out the point. B

Ann Hampton Callaway: Blues in the Night (2006, Telarc): In front of Sherrie Maricle's Diva Jazz Orchestra, which happens four times here, she reminds me a bit of Sinatra -- not the voice, of course, but the brassy big band singer, at least until she tries to scat. In front of her usually impresive trio -- Ted Rosenthal on piano, Christian McBride on bass, Lewis Nash on drums -- the limits of her voice become more of a liability. The song selection makes me wonder, too. B-

Geri Allen: Timeless Portraits and Dreams (2006, Telarc, 2CD): The second "special bonus" CD is one song, 3:52 long, "Lift Every Voice and Sing," with the Atlanta Jazz Chorus. Total playing time is 62:22, so it could have fit on the first CD, which already has four songs with the Chorus on them. The vocal cuts have gospel themes, although the one called "Well Done" makes me wonder what it is about Christianity that dumbs people down so. Wallace Roney appears twice on trumpet, and that I have no problem with. Allen's piano is hard to follow, and her trio mates are nearly inaudible -- all the more surprising since their names are Ron Carter and Jimmy Cobb. Big change, given that last time out Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette put her over the top. Not sure how bad this really is, but thus far it's pretty annoying. [B-]

Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid: The Exchange Session Vol. 1 (2005 [2006], Domino): Hebden usually does business as Four Tet, with a couple of the better electronica albums I've heard in the last few years. Reid is a drummer who can list James Brown, Fela Kuti, and Martha and the Vandellas on his resume, but I know him best for a self-released 1976 album with Arthur Blythe called Rhythmatism (reissued in 2004 on Universal Sound). The purported model here was a 1972 sax-drums album called Duo Exchange with Rashied Ali and Frank Lowe (reissued in 1999 by Knitting Factory, and well worth searching out), but the match isn't all that close. Reid enjoys a good beat more than Ali, while Hebden's electronics are more diffuse than the solitary point of Lowe's sax. Three pieces, just 36:45 long, recorded live with no overdubs or edits -- about right for an early '70s vintage Impulse, but they keep their spiritual concerns wrapped up in dense layers of sound. A-

Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid: The Exchange Session Vol. 2 (2005 [2006], Domino): Three more pieces from the same sessions, slightly longer (53:30). Not as compelling, not because they're longer but because the initial ideas just didn't work out as well. That happens sometimes -- more often than not -- when you try live improv. Not superfluous either, but check out Vol. 1 before you spring for the leftovers. That's why they packaged them this way. B+(**)

Deep Blue Organ Trio: Goin' to Town: Live at the Green Mill (2005 [2006], Delmark): Organ-guitar-drums trios were far from mbitious even back in their '60s heyday, so groups like this don't promise much today. Small pleasures, maybe. This one definitely has more than its predecessor, Deep Blue Bruise (2004). Mostly from guitarist Bobby Broom, who holds the lead more often than not. B+(*)

Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble: The Messenger: Live at the Original Velvet Lounge (2005 [2006], Delmark): Dawkins plays alto and tenor sax. The group includes trumpet and trombone, bass and drums. Don't see a credit for vocals, but there are quite a few -- blues shouts, hip-hop, and various hollers, not to mention the patter. Dawkins himself seems to be more out than in, but the ensemble is out for party more than art. A good time, for sure, but I don't have it calibrated yet. [B+(**)]

Hot Club of Detroit (2006, Mack Avenue): Founded by lead guitarist Evan Perri, this is more explicitly Django-inspired than the other "Hot Club" bands I can think of -- six of thirteen songs were penned by Reinhardt. In addition to Perri, the group has two rhythm guitarists, bass, clarinet and accordion. The guitars sound is intriciate, meticulously precise, but the clarinet and accordion soften the background and add a European, or perhaps specifically Gypsy, folk flavor. But no Grappelli. Wouldn't be a bad idea to invite Aaron Weinstein in for a session. B+(*)

One for All: The Lineup (2006, Sharp Nine): This group has been recording since 1997, with five albums on Criss Cross and now three on Sharp Nine. Haven't checked all of the rosters, but five of six players here were on the 1997 album -- only change is John Webber on bass in lieu of Peter Washington. The group is an all-star throwback to a common '60s hard bop lineup, with sax (Eric Alexander), trumpet (Jim Rotondi), trombone (Steve Davis), piano (David Hazeltine), bass (John Webber) and drums (Joe Farnsworth). The arrangement allows for plenty of solo moments, and it's rare to focus on one and not notice what fine musicians these guys are. But it doesn't add up to much: conservative, in the decent, unadventurous sense; skillful, of course. B

The Roger Kellaway Trio: Heroes (2005 [2006], IPO): No drums, just Bruce Forman on guitar and Don Lutz on bass. If that's not enough to remind you of Oscar Peterson, note that the fifth song is "Night Train." A look at the notes cinches it: they start with an interview where Peterson pays tribute to Kellaway. Nice touch. Well earned, too. B+(**)

Andrey Dergatchev: The Return (2006, ECM): Music for a film by Andrey Zvyagintsev. Don't know when this was recorded, but the film is from 2003 or before. Usual soundtrack ambience, haunting tones, very minimal, with splotches of dialog, words, whatever. One called "Titles-run" is more upbeat, very attractive. B

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

Sex Mob: Sexotica (2005 [2006], Thirsty Ear): The final copy at last has some useful information in the booklet: who plays, what, when. Why's still an open question. About all I've figured out about Martin Denny's music is that when bongos don't suffice for exotica, he brings in the bird whistles. They're here too, but less conspicuously. The group was as expected, but the whole thing appears to have been further processed by Goodandevil, thickening up the electronic undertow. This has grown on me a bit, but still seems like a marginal idea, too inside a joke -- if that's what it is -- for someone not in on it. B+(*)

Friday, August 04, 2006


There's this little widget on the left column of the blog called Calendar, and the dates get filled in every day I manage to post at least one entry. It serves as a constant reminder of how much I manage to get written, which most months isn't all that much. But I got off to a good start in July, which made me think I might be able to hit every date for the month. Did, too, although the satisfaction was fleeting, as the day after I filled it out an empty August calendar appeared. Already missed a day this month -- a day I would just as soon forget in general. Will most likely miss quite a few more over the next two weeks. Going out of town, so even on the instances when I am able to connect I won't have my usual tool set, office, and all that.

I do have quite a bit I want to write about, even putting aside Israel's going apeshit in Lebanon, which shot to the top of the priority list in July. The priority should be easy enough to explain. We like to talk about how 9/11 "changed everything," but that's just our usual myopia. It mostly became an excuse for overreacting on a global scale, bringing out many of our very worst characteristics. But while most of the rest of the world, including a great many and possibly most Arabs, sympathized, the world's tolerance of our great tantrum was bound sooner or later to run thin. Israel's destruction of Lebanon, and Hezbollah's defense of Lebanon, amount to another watershed event, and I think for most Arabs and a great many Muslims this event will resound like nothing in recent history. As an affront it is comparable to 1948, where the pro-West Arab regimes were so severely humiliated that most soon fell to coups led by junior officers. The Arab nationalism of the officers was critically damaged by the 1967 war, leaving the region's more progressive, more secular forces moribund, opening the way for an Islamist insurgency -- especially in the regions most oppressed by the US-Israel alliance. But two things have happened in this war that hadn't happened in 1948 or 1967: one is that the US role has never before been so nakedly exposed, and this is bound to taint every regime in the region with close ties to the US: Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, the rump of Iraq. The other is that Hezbollah has thus far frustrated Israel bad enough to be widely seen as a viable force, and as such a model for the whole long list of complaints the region has accumulated. So the net effect of the US in Iraq and Israel in Lebanon will likely be to drive the region into increasingly bitter strife directed at us.

That may not seem like all that big of a military problem, but the US and Israel have weaknesses that their arms don't cover -- especially from people who aren't likely to back down. Over the last few weeks I've read four books about oil, which happens to be a pretty good place to start. The Saudi "oil weapon" in 1973 was flawed in several ways that aren't true any more, but even if it isn't deliberately employed, the US is extremely vulnerable to even minor disruptions, and such disruptions are likely to have sizable political costs. The US is also economically vulnerable, especially to China, and that's another front where arms aren't all that useful.

Meanwhile, the public in the US is totally clueless, and not just the segment that still follows Bush or points even loonier. The last month has made me vastly more pessimistic, not so much because of all the things that have gone wrong -- and there's a lot in that department that will prove awfully tough for many people to get over -- but for how little grasp our so-called leaders have of it. I've spent a good deal of my life watching corporate leaders follow the book straight into the jaws of financial disaster -- I've worked for three or four companies like that, and seen it coming every time, each time more clearly. This is like that, but this time the scale is humongous. This looks very bad.

Anyhow, for me at least it's probably good to take a break. Get away from the news. Burn up some gas while it's still only $3/gallon. Go to a town that actually has record stores. Maybe read that Ruth Reichl book I haven't had time for. Learn to tolerate a few holes in the calendar -- you just got the gist of it anyway. And at the end of August, the calendar will flip over and all those holes will be gone, replaced by a blank slate.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Recycled Goods #34: August 2006

The August 2006 Recycled Goods column is now up at Static Multimedia. Mostly jazz this time, the big chunk being the Impulse Records 45th Anniversary extravaganza: didn't get the box, but did sort my way through ten artist comps and a best-of, which felt insufficient enough that I added short notes on thirteen more albums they slighted. The Impulse comps of Sonny Rollins and McCoy Tyner intersect with Concord's Milestone Profiles series, so I figured I should work their five titles into the column. Again, I thought better of the compilers' art and added a note on an older Sonny Rollins compilation, Silver City. Didn't note it clearly enough, but that's just one of many cases that show that critics make superior compilers -- John Morthland's Okehs and Billy Altman's RCAs are two more.

The Monk/Coltrane and the jazz remixes also got tangled up in threads that started with Impulse. Everything else was just slipped in, but given how much space Impulse chewed up I wound up holding quite a bit back for September.

Label index:

  • Concord (Fantasy): Thelonious Monk/John Coltrane, Milestone Profiles (5), Delaney & Bonnie, Silver City
  • Crammed Discs: Mahala Rai Banda
  • EMI (Blue Note): Jackie McLean
  • Heartbeat: Ska Bonanza, Freddie McGregor
  • Piranha: Maurice El Medioni/Roberto Rodriguez, Boban Markovic
  • Runt (Water): Allen Ginsberg (2)
  • Sanctuary: Prince Far I
  • Savoy Jazz: Re-Bop (2)
  • Sony/BMG (Legacy): DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince, Marvin Sease, Whodini
  • Universal (UME): Cream
  • Universal (Verve): The House That Trane Build, The Impulse Story (10), "further Impulses" (13), Impulsive
  • WEA (Reprise, Rhino): They Might Be Giants, Neil Young

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

The Face of War

I found this poster picture on the Tennessee Guerilla Woman blog. It strikes me as very evocative of the face of the war: how Rice has moved to the forefront with Olmert smiling in the shadows. As I understand it, the inscript translates as: "The massacre of children in Qana 2 is the gift of Rice. The clever bombs. Stupid."

What led me to this blog was a post of a Paul Krugman column called "Shock and Awe" -- turns out to be mostly about Israel's war in Lebanon. Krugman is pretty negative about Israel's bombing campaign, but he seems seriously confused about what's going on and why. The column starts:

For Americans who care deeply about Israel, one of the truly nightmarish things about the war in Lebanon has been watching Israel repeat the same mistakes the United States made in Iraq. It's as if Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has been possessed by the deranged spirit of Donald Rumsfeld.

Yes, I know there are big differences in the origins of the two wars. There's no question of this war having been sold on false pretenses; unlike America in Iraq, Israel is clearly acting in self-defense.

Why is it that people like Krugman who should know better give Israel such a wide berth to justify aggression in the name of self-defense? Further down, Krugman writes: "There is a case for a full-scale Israeli ground offensive against Hezbollah. It may come to that, if Israel can't find any other way to protect itself." Once again, we find the assumption that Hezbollah is implacably obsessed with attacking Israel. But this flies in the face of the facts: with minor exceptions, Hezbollah only fights on Lebanese soil, and only fires rockets into Israel in response to Israeli bombing of Lebanon. I'm enough of a pacifist I can see the argument that Hezbollah is wrong to do so, but that's not the argument Israel and its partisans make against Hezbollah. Rather, they claim a right to self-defense. If you grant any such right, you have to recognize that Lebanon also has a right to self-defense. Hezbollah is very much a part of Lebanon -- specifically, it is the part that defends against attacks by Israel.

The source of this confusion is that Israel's partisans keep changing the subject back to Hezbollah: insisting that we stand up and condemn Hezbollah's violence while accepting Israel's violence as self-defense; insisting that we stand up and reject Hezbollah's motives while never questioning Israel's -- after all, they're just trying to defend themselves. But everything becomes much clearer if you simply forget about Hezbollah -- after all, what is Hezbollah but a side-effect of Israel's past war in Lebanon? Nations have various options for self-defense. They can, for instance, appeal to the UN for pressure to halt and rectify cross-border attacks. Few nations have the sort of firepower to respond to a minor border incident by taking out a nation's airports and major roads and throwing up a naval blockade, but Israel does, and effectively no one -- certainly not Lebanon -- can stop them.

At some level, Krugman understands this -- he should, since he's spent the last 3-4 years watching the Bush regime try to apply Israeli methods to Iraq. Krugman writes:

The most compelling argument against an invasion of Iraq wasn't the suspicion many of us had, which turned out to be correct, that the administration's case for war was fraudulent. It was the fact that the real reason government officials and many pundits wanted a war -- their belief that if the United States used its military might to "hit someone" in the Arab world, never mind exactly who, it would shock and awe Islamic radicals into giving up terrorism -- was, all too obviously, a childish fantasy.

As Billmon has pointed out, Israel's war amounts to little more than a gigantic tantrum -- this same desire to go out and hit someone. Israel is no different than Bush in this regard. In fact, Israel is the model, the chief argument that it works. Except right now it's mostly just working to cause atrocities and fevered resistance. The idea that more war is needed to reach a "sustainable peace" is exactly wrong -- exactly as wrong as the argument that the road to peace for Israel and Palestine runs through Baghdad.

AMG's mid-term report: "The Best of 2006 So Far: Six Months' Worth of Great Music": Legend: AK=Andy Kellman, CAl=Cammila Albertson, CAp=Corey Apar, DJ=David Jeffries, HP=Heather Phrares, JB=Jason Birchmeier, JCM=James Christopher Monger, JSM=J. Scott McClintock, MB=Marisa Brown, MF=Megan Frye, MW=MacKenzie Wilson (cites songs, not albums), RT=Rob Theakston, SL=Steve Leggett, STE=Stephen Thomas Erlewine, SW=Sean Westergaard, TS=Tim Sendra.

  • Li Alin: All In [HP]
  • Ellen Allien: Orchestra of Bubbles [DJ]
  • Ashley Parker Angel: Soundtrack to Your Life [RT]
  • Architects: Revenge [CAp]
  • Jon Auer: Songs From the Year of Our Demise [RT]
  • Beatlemaniacs!!! The World of Beatles Novelty Records [STE]
  • The Beauty Room: The Beauty Room [RT]
  • Belle & Sebastian: The Life Pursuit [STE, TS]
  • Belong: October Language [RT]
  • Big Sandy & His Fly-Rite Boys: Turntable Matinee [RT]
  • Scott H. Biram: Graveyard Shift [MF]
  • Boogie Uproar: Texas Blues and R&B 1947-1954 [RT]
  • The Bouncing Souls: The Gold Record [CAp]
  • Brand New Heavies: Get Used to It [DJ]
  • Built to Spill: You in Reverse [JB]
  • Camera Obscura: Let's Get Out of This Country [TS, JB]
  • Regina Carter: I'll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey [RT]
  • Neko Case: That Teenage Feeling [JB]
  • Ray Cash: Cash on Delivery [DJ]
  • C.J. Chenier: The Desperate Kingdom of Love [SL]
  • The Church: Uninvited, Like Clouds [JCM]
  • Cocteau Twins: Lullabies to Violaine [AK]
  • Harry Connick, Jr.: Harry on Broadway, Act 1 [RT]
  • Elvis Costello/Allen Toussaint: The River in Reverse [STE]
  • Dabrye: Two/Three [RT]
  • Danielson: Ships [JCM]
  • Def Leppard: Yeah! [STE]
  • Destroyer: Destroyer's Rubies [JCM]
  • Taylor Deupree: Northern [RT]
  • J Dilla: Donuts [AK, MB, JB]
  • Bob Dorough: Small Day Tomorrow [JSM]
  • Dr. Octagon: The Return of Dr. Octagon [MB]
  • Drive-By Truckers: A Blessing and a Curse [JB]
  • East River Pipe: What Are You On? [JSM]
  • Echo & the Bunnymen: [?] [MW]
  • Editors: The Back Room [MW]
  • Eleventh Dream Day: Zeroes and Ones [SW]
  • Envelopes: Demon [TS]
  • The Essex Green: Cannibal Sea [TS]
  • Donald Fagen: Morph the Cat [STE]
  • The Fiery Furnaces: Bitter Tea [MB]
  • Final Fantasy: He Poos Clouds [JCM, JSM]
  • The Format: Dog Problems [CAp]
  • Robert Fripp: Exposure [Bonus CD] [SW]
  • Nelly Furtado: Loose [MW]
  • The Futureheads: News and Tributes [HP]
  • Ghostface Killah: Fishscale [AK]
  • Gnarls Barkley: St. Elsewhere [MB]
  • Goldfrapp: Supernature [MW]
  • The Gourds: Heavy Ornamentals [JCM, JSM]
  • Grizzly Bear: Yellow House [HP]
  • The Guillemots: From the Clitts [CAl]
  • Oakley Hall: Second Guessing [MF]
  • Herbert: Scale [AK, RT]
  • His Name Is Alive: Detroia [HP]
  • I Am Robot and Proud: The Electricity in Your House Wants to Sing [RT]
  • Idol Tryouts Two: Ghostly International, Vol. 2 [RT]
  • Jesu: Silver [RT]
  • Kaizers Orchestra: Maestro [JCM]
  • Toby Keith: White Trash With Money [STE]
  • Mike Keneally: Guitar Therapy Live [SW]
  • Jamie Kennedy/Stu Stone: Blowin' Up [RT]
  • Kissing the Pink: Naked/Kissing the Pink [JSM]
  • Chris Knight: Enough Rope [MF]
  • Lacuna Coil: Karmacode [CAl]
  • The Lawrence Arms: Oh! Calcutta! [CAp]
  • Cari Lee & the Saddle-ites: Brought to You Via Saddle-ite [RT]
  • Larry Levan: Journey Into Paradise: The Larry Levan Story [AK]
  • Loscil: Plume [RT]
  • Love Is All: Nine Times That Same Song [TS]
  • Lucero: The Attic Tapes [CAp]
  • Serena Maneesh: Serena Maneesh [MW]
  • Miss Lauren Marie: Introducing Miss Lauren Marie [RT]
  • Jah Mason: Princess Gone . . . The Sage Bed [DJ]
  • Matmos: The Rose Has Teeth in the Mouth of a Beast [HP]
  • The Bennie Maupin Ensemble: Penumbra [AK]
  • Freddie McGregor: Bobby Bobylon [Bonus Tracks] [SL]
  • Mikkel Metal: Victimizer [AK]
  • Modern Memory: Fraction of the First [RT]
  • Mogwai: Mr. Beast [HP]
  • Mojave 3: Puzzles Like You [TS, RT]
  • Barbara Morgenstern: The Grass Is Always Greener [JB]
  • Morrissey: Ringleader of the Tormentors [MW]
  • Murder by Death: In Bocca al Lupo [MB]
  • Nada Surf: The Weight Is a Gift [MW]: 2005
  • NOMO: New Tones [MB]
  • Beth Orton: Comfort of Strangers [STE]
  • The Paper Chase: Now You Are One of Us [MB]
  • Pearl Jam: Pearl Jam [JB]
  • Peeping Tom: Peeping Tom [CAl]
  • Pet Shop Boys: Fundamental [DJ]
  • Pink: I'm Not Dead [STE]
  • Plastilina Mosh: Tasty + B Sides [CAl]
  • Brian Prosehn: Live In: Nerd Rage [DJ]
  • Brian Protheroe: Pinball and Other Stories: The Best of Brian Protheroe [STE, JSM]
  • Psapp: The Only Thing I Ever Wanted [CAl]
  • The Raconteurs: Broken Boy Soldiers [STE]
  • James Raynard: Strange Histories [JCM]
  • Rebel Meets Rebel: Rebel Meets Rebel [MF]
  • Megan Reilly: Let Your Ghost Go [MB]
  • Rihanna: A Girl Like Me [MW]
  • Riverboat Gamblers: To the Confusion of Our Enemies [CAp]
  • Carl Hancock Rux: Good Brea Alley [DJ]
  • Saturday Looks Good to Me: Sound on Sound [TS]
  • Paul Simon: Surprise [STE]
  • Slewfoot & Cary B.: Rainin' in New Orleans [SL]
  • Sonic Youth: Rather Ripped [HP, RT, JB]
  • The Sounds: Dying to Say This to You [CAl]
  • Bruce Springsteen: We Shall Overcome [STE]
  • Stills: Without Feathers [JCM]
  • Kelly Stoltz: Below the Branches [SW]
  • T.I.: King [AK]
  • Tool: 10,000 Days [JB]
  • The Twilight Singers: Powder Burns [MB]
  • The Velvet Teen: Gyzmkid [CAl]
  • The Veronicas: The Secret Life of the Veronicas [STE]
  • Triffids: Born Sandy Devotional [TS]
  • Aki Tsuyuko: Hokane [HP]
  • TV on the Radio: Return to Cookie Mountain [HP]
  • Julieta Venegas: Limon y Sal [JB]
  • Scott Walker: The Drift [AK]
  • Keith Fullerton Whitman: Lisbon [RT]
  • Hank Williams III: Straight to Hell [MF]
  • Thom Yorke: The Eraser [AK]
  • Young and Sexy: Panic When You Find It [TS]
  • Benjamin Zephaniah: Naked [MB]

Jul 2006