March 2007 Notebook


Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The Myths of Superpowerdom

Tom Engelhart has an interesting and rather disturbing piece on the latest polls on the Iraq war. At this point, opposition to the Iraq war is, at least in terms of polls, as strong as opposition ever was to the Vietnam war, but the antiwar mobilization is far weaker. Here's his summary:

The Iraq demobilization, then, is certainly part of a larger demobilization, a deeper belief that, as Bill Moyers made vividly clear in a recent speech, your vote doesn't matter; that democracy is a-functional; that none of this has anything to do with you, or your ballot, or your feet, or your sign, or your shout.

Our world has changed radically since the Vietnam era. Today, an increasing part of what matters in public life (and work life) has been "privatized" and subcontracted out, or simply outsourced. The U.S. military has essentially been subcontracted out to small-town and immigrant or green-card America -- to, that is, the forgotten or ignored places in our land; as a result, for most people in draft-less America, the war is not part of our lives or that of our children. (The draft itself has been carefully kept off the table by the Bush administration, despite the desperation of a body-hungry, overstretched military.) In addition, war-fighting has been outsourced to private corporate contractors who deliver the mail and the fuel, do KP, wash the laundry, build the bases, and, in the case of tens of thousands of rent-a-cop mercenaries, do some of the guarding, fighting, and interrogating in Iraq and Afghanistan.

And yes, the political system has increasingly been subcontracted out, with malice aforethought, to thieves, looters, cronies, and absolute dopes. Little wonder that Americans, living through the Age of Enron, scanning the horizon from Iraq to New Orleans to Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and watching Halliburton head for Dubai, generally believe their system no longer works; that those high-school civics texts are a raging joke (that, in fact, fierce joking, à la Jon Stewart, is the only reasonable response to the extreme, roiling absurdity of this administration as well as our world); and that, if you took to the streets of the capital, no one in either party would be paying the slightest attention.

No wonder Americans have arrived at a series of striking conclusions on Iraq, but haven't done much about them.

Of course, this goes further than demobilization. This is part and parcel of a disengagement from politics at all levels -- or at least from progressive politics, by which I mean politics aiming at advancing the spread of equal rights throughout the populace. For a couple of centuries one could see that advance as inevitable progress, but something happened to it. Coincidentally, one started talking about postmodernism, as if modernity had hit a brick wall and could progress no more.

In many ways that brick wall was the Vietnam war. The problem there wasn't that the US lost the war, let alone deserved to lose the war. The problem was that the war's promoters managed to hang on to power -- not in Vietnam, but in Washington, where they would eventually turn the war into myths that led directly to Iraq. In classic shoot-the-messenger mode, they sought to pin their defeat on on the antiwar movement: to characterize the loss in Vietnam as a loss of will in America. To do that they had to turn against democracy: they needed to show us that protest doesn't work, that they can hold onto power regardless of the polls. They could do that in large part because the anti-communist consensus dominated both parties, allowing no opposition. Eventually, their efforts jelled into mythology, which had the remarkable effect of moving politics out of the real world and into fantasy. Just in the nick of time, too, given that US power in the world was slipping, as was the lot of most working Americans.

Ultimately that leads to the current state, where the problems are obvious and even the solutions are obvious but no politicians can face up to the obvious because they've all been selected for their skills in navigating the mythic world of US superpowerdom.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Music: Current count 13000 [12975] rated (+25), 834 [834] unrated (+0). Hit a major round number milestone this week. Actually surprised to have pulled in +25 this week -- didn't seem all that productive. Working on Recycled Goods. Having replaced March's column with a greatest hits stop gap, I had quite a bit of backlog going into April, and that's grown to 80 at this point. Almost two column's worth, so I can hold back a bunch and not get pinched by May. I could use a couple of relatively slack months to get some long-postponed work done.

  • Introducing Nat Adderley (1955 [2001], Verve): Fine introduction, in a quintet with older brother Julian, Horace Silver, Paul Chambers, and Roy Haynes. Appealing hard bop, bright trumpet. B+
  • Count Basie: Kansas City Powerhouse (Bluebird's Best) (1929-49 [2002], Bluebird): The label goes with what it's got, which in this case means Benny Moten's Kansas City Orchestra in 1929-32 with Basie on piano and pretty much in the driver's seat plus some 1947-49 sessions. The former were formerly available in a full CD called Basie Beginnings, worth searching for. The latter is transitional, with some great solos like the '30s band and some sharp arranging -- final track, "Blee Blop Blues," sounds downright New Testament. One Jimmy Rushing track. B+
  • Georg Graewe, Ernst Reijseger, Gerry Hemingway: The View From Points West (1991 [1994], Music & Arts): Interesting group -- a later album, Saturn Cycle, by the same trio is a personal favorite -- but this one is hard to hear. Long stretches of quiet, or faint squeaks of cello, and generally not enough piano, although the leads are captivating. Hemingway, too. B+(*)
  • Billie Holiday: The Commodore Master Takes (1939-44 [2000], Polygram): Four sessions, four cuts each, starting with "Strange Fruit" and ending "On the Sunny Side of the Street." Extraordinary singer, but you know that. On the other hand, the bands didn't offer much, especially compared to the earlier sessions with Teddy Wilson and a plethora of stars, or the later ones under Norman Granz. Is Lem Davis your idea of an alto saxophonist? So this isn't essential, and not for completists either, given the alternative of the 2-CD The Complete Commodore Recordings padded out with all the scraps. B+
  • Matisyahu: Youth (2006, JDub/Epic): Your basic Hasidic reggae-copping hip-hopper: a concept more intriguing in theory than in fact, mostly because the standard issue beats marshall the words past you before they have a chance to sink in -- or maybe they just lack the weight, given that G-d can be trivial as well as profound. B
  • John Phillips (John the Wolfking of L.A.) (1970 [2006], Varèse Sarabande): The Mamas and the Papas go solo, down to one papa, shorn of the pomp and fluff the group ran on when the hits thinned out, with a bit of roots to match the stubble of his beard; more promising than the his non-career delivered, padded with eight bonus tracks. B+(**)
  • Jill Scott: Beautifully Human (2004, Hidden Beach): Been playing Mary J. Blige and thinking about whatever it is that makes post-1990 soul music sound so much less appealing than the older stuff -- even stuff from the '80s which is oft transitional. For a while I was thinking that Scott is significantly better than that, but further listening reveals some of the tics that turn me off Blige and others. Scott's edge, like Macy Gray's, is that she's more of an auteur -- she pushes her stories harder. Also, she's not out to impress you with church roots. B+(***)
  • Zoot Sims: That Old Feeling (1956 [1995], Chess): Two sessions recorded late in 1956, released originally as Zoot on Argo and Zoot Sims Plays Alto, Tenor, and Baritone on ABC, omitting two tracks from the latter. Both are quartets with John Williams (piano), Knobby Totah (bass), and Gus Johnson (drums), with Sims overdubbing horn section parts on the latter. As a young player, Sims managed to stradle bop and swing without ever getting rutted in either. That may not have qualified him as an innovator, but he was a damn impeccable craftsman, as even the overdubs show. A-
  • Tierney Sutton: Something Cool (2002, Telarc): Jazz singer with a piano trio for backup and an interesting mix of standards. Two Patsy Cline songs and a latin-tinged "Comes Love" are the most immediately appealing. The title song takes more work, but comes out acceptably. B+(*)
  • Teddybears: Soft Machine (2006, Big Beat/Atlantic): Three Swedes craft catchy beats behind guest vocalists, the best known/most obvious being Iggy Pop and Neneh Cherry -- the latter has the choice cut, the former the odd song out, but it holds up anyway. Other cuts are subtler. A-
  • Vieux Farka Toure (2006 [2007], World Village): Don't know if the name is given -- who in their right mind would name a son "old man"? -- but judging from the music it is well earned: the second coming of Ali Farka Toure's desert blues, moderated by the more intricate sound of Toumani Diabaté's kora, with a bit of the father's last guitar patched in as if passing a baton. B+(***)
  • Lucinda Williams: West (2007, Lost Highway): Doesn't sound like she's enjoying herself. Still one helluva songwriter. A-

Jazz Prospecting (CG #13, Part 3)

Jazz Consumer Guide #12 came out last week, under the title "No Training Wheels Necessary" -- thanks to Rob Harvilla for that, and for taking a light hand during what could have been a very arduous editing period. I felt a little frustration in featuring long-time faves Molvaer and Vandermark as Pick Hits, but none of the others managed to beat them out. The rest of the A-list is more varied, as are the Honorable Mentions. I have so much stuff left over that I should be able to push a good case for a two-month cycle, but this week has gone into the more pressing Recycled Goods deadline. Accordingly, what follows as Jazz Prospecting was really fallout from Recycled Goods. The latter is in pretty good shape now -- should be done in a couple of days, and posted nearly on schedule.

I've done all the requisite website cleanup for ending JCG moved to the notebook. I'm carrying 12 reviews over from JCG file has another 135 records -- 53 prospected but put back for further listening, 82 unheard (or at least unprospected). Of course, those numbers were already obsoleted by today's mail, but that gives you a rough idea of the starting point.

I should also note that the ratings database has hit the 13000 album mark.

Funky Organ: B3 Jazz Grooves (1997-2006 [2007], High Note): The packaging and the concept reminds me of those compilations Joel Dorn threw out to expedite the recycling of the Muse catalog on his later, now defunct 32 Jazz label. They represented recycling at its crassest -- arbitrary compilations sold purely as mood music, but they sold well enough (and were profitable enough) that Savoy Jazz has kept many (most?) of the titles in print. The connection is all the more obvious given that Dorn bought Muse from Joe Fields, who went on to start the catalogues plundered here. At least there's no attempt to pump up the historical significance: these records aren't meant for people who hope to learn something, even on a subject as trivial as late-'90s soul jazz. The Hammond was funkier in the late '50s and '60s when soul jazz developed out of r&b, and it's been increasingly rote ever since -- a staple crop of minor interest. Even within its limits High Note doesn't exactly have a command of the market: past-prime Charles Earland and Reuben Wilson, minor newcomers Bill Heid and Mike LeDonne, two generations of DeFrancescos. B

Jazz After Midnight (1998-2006 [2007], High Note): Well, no, this is recycling at its crassest. I suppose it's inevitable that "after midnight" translates to ballads, but that doesn't explain the choice of flute (James Spaulding) and organ (Mike LeDonne, Joey DeFrancesco). Indeed, the organ pieces will never be taken for funky. Aside from those low points, there are worthwhile cuts -- especially the opener by Houston Person and the closer by Fathead Newman. Note that both came from better albums, even though neither made my A-list. B-

Ornette Coleman: To Whom Who Keeps a Record (1959-60 [2007], Water): Odds and sods, released Japan-only in 1975 but not in the US until boxed for Beauty Is a Rare Thing: The Complete Atlantic Recordings. Starts with an outtake from Change of the Century with Don Cherry on pocke trumpet, Charlie Haden on bass, Billy Higgins on drums; filled out with leftovers from This Is Our Music with Ed Blackwell replacing Higgins. At this point this sounds so typical of the classic Coleman quartet that it's hard to wax ecstatic and impossible to fault. Art of the Improvisers and Twins picked over the same sessions first; it's hard to figure why these cuts were passed over, unless it's the relative prominence of Cherry. A-

Ray Charles/The Count Basie Orchestra: Ray Sings, Basie Swings (2006, Concord/Hear Music): First, let's clear this gripe away: Concord has dropped or fumbled me off their mailing list. I don't know whether that's accidental or deliberate. Don't know whether citing Chick Corea and Taylor Eigsti as duds has a thing to do with it, or they just don't care that Scott Hamilton has two A- albums and an Honorable Mention to his credit. Maybe it's both malevolence and incompetence, as suggested by one of the company's exes who described Concord as "the Bush Administration of the record industry." So, despite asking for this several times, and having been promised it at least once, I'm listening to it courtesy of the Wichita Public Library. As for the record, the first thing to point out is that it is a case of fraud: Charles never recorded with Count Basie; Charles's vocals were lifted from an undated live tape, most likely from the late '70s; the arrangements were newly recorded by the Basie ghost band, now directed by Bill Hughes, 22 years after the Count passed away, and for that matter two years after the singer died. The second thing is that it sounds pretty near-great, passably realizing its "what if" concept. Two reasons for this: first, Charles himself sounds great, even if pieces like "The Long and Winding Road" and "Look What They've Done to My Song" aren't up snuff; second, the Basie-trademarked arrangements were fit to the vocals with a smartness that never would have occurred to them live. It also helps that originating as a live concert Charles recycles some dependable warhorses. Docked a couple of stars for fraud. I could have gone deeper, but don't want you to think I prefer Genius Loves Company. B+(*)

Jaki Byard: Sunshine of My Soul (1978 [2007], High Note): Solo piano, recorded live at Keystone Korner in San Francisco. Nothing strikes me as new or particularly interesting here, but I'm not much of a fan of solo anything. That said, Byard has a strong presence, and he expertly works his way around a broad songbook -- including a Mingus medley, "Spinning Wheel," "Besame Mucho," a bit of boogie woogie. Don't know how this compares to his other solo albums, like the early Blues for Smoke (1960) or the later At Maybeck (1991), both well regarded. B+(*)

Zoot Sims: Zoot Suite (1973 [2007], High Note): Grew up in a vaudeville family, picked up the tenor sax, and made a name for himself with Benny Goodman and Woody Herman, emerging as one of the latter's legendary "four brothers" sax section. On his own, his discography splits into two chunks: he recorded a lot in the late '50s, with 1956 a bellweather year (cf. Zoot!), but he faded in the '60s, with nothing between 1966-72. Norman Granz brought him back in 1975 for Zoot Sims and the Gershwin Brothers, where his distinct tone and innate sense of swing reinvigorated the whole songbook, and kicked off a marvelous run until he succumbed to cancer a decade later. This poorly recorded archival tape leads into the latter period, one of the few great second acts in jazz history. The quartet with pianist Jimmy Rowles, bassist George Mraz, and drummer Mousey Alexander is in gear. The songbook looks back to Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, and Sims' main influence, Lester Young. Sims even unveils his soprano sax "Rocking in Rhythm." Not exactly history being made; more like one of those faint tremors the significance of which emerges later. B+(**)

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

The Microscopic Septet: Seven Men in Neckties: History of the Micros Volume One (1982-90 [2006], Cuneiform, 2CD): Long before Sex Mob, this was the sound of New York's avant-garde yearning to be popular. The Micros matched a sax quartet led by Philip Johnston on alto and soprano with a rhythm section led by pianist Joel Forrester. Both leaders were clever, writing a little and appropriating a lot. Johnston trod on after the Micros' demise with groups like Big Trouble, the Transparent Quartet, and Fast 'N' Bulbous, while making ends meet by hacking film scores. The Penguin Guide sums him up aptly: "the perfect Tzadik artist: intellectual, playful, perverse and generically undefinable." That could also describe Tzadik honcho John Zorn, but Francis Davis adds that Johnston's is "a kinder, gentler postmodernism." Unfortunately, the abundant good humor lacks a killer punch line. B+(*)

The Microscopic Septet: Surrealistic Swing: History of the Micros Volume Two (1981-90 [2006], Cuneiform, 2CD): Comparisons to the Lounge Lizards were inevitable, but Philip Johnston points out: "When the Lounge Lizards wore suits and ties they looked cool and hip and aloof; when the Micros wore suits and ties, we looked like a bunch of unemployed vacuum cleaner salesmen." Volume One's Seven Men in Neckties title reflects the dissheveled eclecticism of their first two albums. Volume Two's title, referring to the music rather than the musicians, suggests that they found themselves, and indeed they finally hit their stride in 1986's Off Beat Glory. Postmodernism can mean distance from the past, as with the Lounge Lizards, or it can take a playfully perverse turn by diving back into a past shorn of its historical bindings and context. Still, their limits are literal: you can conjure up a pretty good idea of what surrealistic swing might sound like even before you play this fine example. B+(**)

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Meritocracy

Before we were so rudely interrupted, I had a Tony Karon quote flagged that I meant to turn into a posting. I finally got back to digging through his blog and recovered it. Like so much having to do with Iraq, it hasn't lost any relevancy:

The U.S. media with very few exceptions enabled the catastrophic war in Iraq by its failure to challenge the core assumptions on which the march to war was based -- assumptions which were patently false -- patently, that is, for anyone daring to break with a nationalist consensus fueled by demagogues in the Administration and among the neocon and "liberal hawk" talking heads (Yes, folks, the Tom Friedmans and Peter Beinarts and George Packers are every bit as responsible for enabling this moral and political disaster as were the Kristols, Krauthammers and O'Reillys -- not that having been wrong about Iraq has harmed anyone's infotainment career . . . )

At that point Karon links to a piece by Jebediah Reed on the track record of war advocate and meritocracy advocate David Brooks:

A few years ago, David Brooks, New York Times columnist and media pundit extraordinaire, penned a love letter to the idea of meritocracy. It is "a way of life that emphasizes . . . perpetual improvement, and permanent exertion," he effused, and is essential to America's dynamism and character. Fellow glorifiers of meritocracy have noted that our society is superior to nepotistic backwaters like Krygystan or France because we assign the most important jobs based on excellence. This makes us less prone to stagnancy or, worse yet, hideous national clusterfucks like fighting unwinnable wars for reasons nobody understands.

Reed then goes on to review the words and fates of four pro-war pundits: Thomas Friedman, Peter Beinart, Fareed Zakaria, and Jeffrey Goldberg. (Reed chose not to dwell on Brooks on the theory that the conservatives run in packs following the party line, while pundits with liberal or moderate or centrist reputations should have been less predictable -- they carried more weight precisely because their prowar stance was not taken for granted.) Reed's main point is how well businesswise these disastrously wrong pundits have fared -- a point he underscores by bringing up Robert Scheer (fired in 2005 by the LA Times), William S. Lind (a marginal arch-conservative), Jonathan Schell (author of The Unconquerable World, now without even his Nation column), and Scott Ritter (the only one I can think of who actually argued that the US could be beaten militarily in Iraq).

I've had a low opinion of liberals since the late '60s when they were the leading figures at rationalizing the Vietnam war. Some of those liberals, starting with Norman Podhoretz, have since mutated into the neoconservatives who marched the country into Iraq. Those people are power-mad fanatics, but they couldn't have succeeded had they not been able to persuade large numbers of more sober conservatives and moderates of the desirability and plausibility of their project. What made this possible was the marginalization of genuine critics and the promotion of the muddle-headed liberal pundits, who effectively legitimized the neocon stories even when they expressed doubts. The main agent in this was the media, which has likewise yet to be held accountable for their own gross errors.

Perhaps thinking of this long-pending post, I've finally started reading George Packer's The Assassin's Gate, which -- at least early on -- is largely concerned with the romantic liberal path to war. It takes an extraordinary amount of self-deception to imagine that a government led by someone like Bush could catalyze a sudden re-ordering of civil society in a nation ravaged by more than two decades of war and privation over which most of its people had no say and no representation. It takes vast ignorance of Iraq and the whole area. It takes a completely clueless self-regard on the part of Americans. It takes the conviction that war can be a constructive force. On some level even Packer has come to the point of realizing that there's something wrong with this fantasy. And there is some evidence that most Americans have grown at least suspicious. But when you listen to the mainstream debate -- e.g., the Congressional debates on war funding -- it's clear that we're still a long ways from understanding what went wrong in Iraq.

The sign to look for to tell when/if we finally turn the corner is when the media start seeking out those who were right all along on Iraq and shunning those who were wrong. It may be possible to push meritocracy too far, but in the present when merit has such low regard we are lost and subject to manipulations. Unfortunately, the media have no motivation to lead the way -- except citizenship, perhaps; what a quaint concept.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Jazz Consumer Guide #12: No Training Wheels Necessary

The long-awaited Jazz Consumer Guide (#12) has finally appeared at the Village Voice. It had been scheduled for two weeks ago, then got bumped at the last minute. The previous one was published on Dec. 13, 2006, so this is actually just a week more than the three months that has been the normal period since the column's inception. Still, it feels longer -- for one thing, Jazz Prospecting for this cycle went on the fourteen weeks and 247 records. In the end, 33 made the cut.

As usual, I wrote about 600 words more than the Voice was able to fit in. The excess will be held back for next time, but I'll go ahead and list the holds here -- check the prospecting notes for more info. The following records, all A-, were held back from the main section:

  • Club D'Elf: Now I Understand (Accurate)
  • Satoko Fujii Four: When We Were There (Libra)
  • Gato Libre: Nomad (No Man's Land)
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa: Codebook (Pi)
  • Bob Reynolds: Can't Wait for Perfect (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Sound in Action Trio: Gate (Atavistic)
  • Frank Wright: Unity (1974, ESP-Disk)

And the following were held back from the Honorable Mentions list:

  • Carneyball Johnson (Akron Cracker)
  • BassDrumBone: The Line Up (Clean Feed)
  • Satoko Fujii/Natsuki Tamura: In Krakow in November (Not Two)
  • Dave Liebman: Back on the Corner (Tone Center)
  • Russell Malone: Live at Jazz Standard: Volume One (MaxJazz)

Other records have been noted and graded but not yet written up for Jazz CG. This sort of foot-dragging is normal -- part of the reason it all seems to take so long. As readers of the prospecting notes know, there are good records not mentioned above but in the pipeline by Fred Anderson, Steve Lacy, Wolfgang Muthspiel, Vittor Santos, and Sonic Liberation Front, and promising ones by others. I've started to do the pruning that happens every cycle as I realize that there are some records I'm never going to be able to squeeze in. These go into the surplus file. Most of that file just lists records that have been covered in prospecting notes, but I've written a few extra notes where I feel further explanation is warranted:

Omer Avital Group: Room to Grow (1997 [2007], Smalls): The second volume of archival tapes from the Israeli bassist's long residence at Smalls, a legendary NYC afterhours club, where he held a long residence riding herd over a bunch of tough young saxophonists: Greg Tardy, Grant Stewart, Charles Owens, Myron Walden, names worth looking out for. B+(***)

Serge Chaloff: Boston Blow-Up! (1955 [2006], Capitol Jazz): The ill-fated baritone saxophonist's masterpiece was Blue Serge (1956), an elegant quartet where everything goes right. This earlier sextet is much sloppier but nearly as impressive -- the three horns achieving a balance of raw power and feather light touch that producer Stan Kenton often aimed for and rarely achieved. A-

Conjure: Bad Mouth (2005 [2006], American Clavé, 2CD): Long after two '80s albums, another helping of Ishmael Reed texts, read by the man over Kip Hanrahan's music. The first was called Conjure: Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed, the title becoming a virtual group of sorts. I dig the concept, admire the man, only wish the music was a bit better -- especially from what looks on paper to be a Latin percussion dream team. Only David Murray truly rises to the occasion. B+(**)

Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid: The Exchange Session Vol. 2 (2005 [2006], Domino): Enough of a fall-off this didn't quite merit an Honorable Mention to go along with Vol. 1's A-. Same ideas, but some experiments works better than others. B+(**)

Jay McShann: Hootie Blues (2006, Stony Plain): Last album by the Kansas City bandleader, who lasted way beyond his standard 15 minutes of fame, reinventing himself as one of the last whorehouse piano players and surviving Ralph Sutton to claim the title. Seems like a typical album, but worth a spin when you read his obit. B+(**)

Harry Miller's Isipingo: Which Way Now (1975 [2006], Cuneiform): A sextet, half South African exiles, half English avants, roaring through a 75-minute Radio Bremen air shot. Trombonist Nick Evans is especially noteworthy, and Keith Tippett's piano get a good airing out, but most of the interest focuses on two South Africans who died tragically young, leaving us with little: trumpeter Mongezi Feza and leader-bassist Miller. A-

Nils Petter Molvaer: Live: Streamer (2002 [2006], Thirsty Ear): I gave this an Honorable Mention when it originally came out on Molvaer's own Sula label, and liked it even more when I heard the reissue. But not as much as my Pick Hit ER, a review that at least mentions this. Live electronica always seems like an oxymoron, but the chance to revisit older material often points up some interesting new twists, and perhaps more importantly lets you choose stronger pieces. A-

Odyssey the Band: Back in Town (2005 [2006], Pi): Third time around for James Blood Ulmer, Charles Burnham, and Warren Wenbow, whose original Odyssey tour de force is still striking enough to knock our ears. Francis Davis praised this. Robert Christgau Consumer Guided it. I had it in my top ten list, and revisited it in Recycled Goods. Seems redundant to keep plugging it at this point, unless I find myself hard up for a Pick Hit. A-

I should also note that I've weeded out another handful of records that Francis Davis praised in the Voice. As the grades indicate, I'm quite fond of most of these. It's just that given the space squeeze I have little to add (see the prospecting notes) and too many others to try to squeeze in:

  • Fred Anderson: Timeless: Live at the Velvet Lounge (2005 [2006], Delmark) A-
  • Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra: MTO Volume 1 (2005 [2006], Sunnyside) A-
  • The Andy Biskin Quartet: Early American: The Melodies of Stephen Foster (2000 [2006], Strudelmedia) B+(***)
  • Houston Person/Bill Charlap: You Taught My Heart to Sing (2004 [2006], High Note) B+(***)
  • The Source (2005 [2006], ECM) B+(***)
  • Steve Swallow With Robert Creeley: So There (2001-05 [2006], ECM/XtraWatt) B+(***)
  • The David S. Ware Quartet: BalladWare (1999 [2006], Thirsty Ear) A-

Some of those I've written about elsewhere, such as in Recycled Goods. If I had more space, it would be nice to make Jazz Consumer Guide more comprehensive. But, alas, that would also take more time and resources, and I'm somewhat at wit's end as it is.

Publicist letter:

The Village Voice has published my 12th Jazz Consumer Guide column:,hull,76137,22.html

I've also posted an announcement on my blog, which has more info,
including info on space effects: what got held back, some things
I'm skipping entirely. I've also updated my website to reflect
this column and manage the next column cycle: here's hoping that

You're receiving this mail because I have you on a hacked up list
of folks who have sent me jazz records. I don't have a good way
of managing this list -- in particular, no way for interested
parties to just sign up for it. If you're on the list mistakenly
please let me know.

I figure that thanks to you I get a chance to listen to something
like 30% of the new jazz released each year. That means I wind up
hearing something like 700 records a year. The columns come up
more/less quarterly -- we've never been good at scheduling, and
the Voice has had some turmoil lately, but we're still only a
couple of weeks late. I cram as much in as possible, but that
still winds up with something like the 33 records listed this
time. Obviously, most of what I hear doesn't make it into the
column, but I do manage to write up brief Jazz Prospecting Notes
on everything I get, and post them in weekly installments each
Monday on my blog. The prospecting notes are then archived per
cycle. Other lists and tables are used to keep track of things:
what comes in, what gets rated, what's under consideration, and
what's not. And, of course, some stuff gets shunted off to my
Recycled Goods column -- especially old music and world stuff.
It all winds up in a database which sometime in the next week
or two should number more than 13,000 albums.

For more info, see:


The following are the notes from bk-print for Jazz CG #12:

  • Omer Avital: The Ancient Art of Giving (2006, Smalls): After Frank Hewitt, Israeli bassist Avital is the second little-known Smalls regular Luke Kaven has set out to document. Volume 1 was compiled from 1996 tapes and released earlier this year as Asking No Permission. It featured a long list of post-Branford saxophonists -- the best known being Mark Turner. I found it hard to sort the compositions out from the clutter, but a decade later he's got it nailed down. The quintet features Turner on tenor sax, Avishai Cohen on trumpet, Aaron Goldberg on piano, and Ali Jackson on drums. Avital's pieces set the horns free -- neither Turner nor Cohen have pronounced avant leanings, but they enjoy the freedom. Jackson avoids the hard bop clichés, playing light and letting the rhythm slosh around a bit. Piano gets a few nice runs too. Recorded live on two nights at Fat Cat. Seems like I've been complaining about applause a lot recently, so I should note that there is some here, but unlike the Jarrett record, it's proportional, often coming at opportune moments -- always a good sign when the audience swings with the band. A-
  • Sathima Bea Benjamin: Song Spirit (1963-2002 [2006], Ekapa): Forty years and an extraordinary run of pianists for the South African singer, more at home in the jazz tradition -- "Lush Life" and "Careless Love" are choice cuts -- than in her Africa-themed originals, which tend to be anthemic. Anyone tempted by Madeleine Peyroux should give her a chance. B+(***)
  • Cheryl Bentyne: The Book of Love (2006, Telarc): She's enough of a pro that she delivers a perfectly good rendition of perfectly good songs -- a "You Don't Know Me," a "Cry Me a River," anything by Cole Porter. But she's not great enough to get anything out of a song that isn't already there, and the musicians aren't any help at all -- least of all the City of Prague Symphony Orchestra Strings, who might as well serenade Brezhnev. And the title cut gets turned to ethereal fluff by Take 6. Twice. Concepts aren't a strong suit either. C-
  • Ignacio Berroa: Codes (2005 [2006], Blue Note): Following in Chano Pozo's footsteps, Berroa moved to New York in 1980 and found a job in Dizzy Gillespie's band. But his Afro-Cuban roots were attenuated -- he blames Castro for suppressing Yoruba religion and restricting his schooling to the Euroclassics. Even here, the most characteristic Cuban rhythms come not from trad percussion but from Gonzalo Rubalcaba's piano and Felipe LaMoglia's saxophones. He plays traps, but has mastered the coding to produce an effective pan-American synthesis. A-
  • Regina Carter: I'll Be Seeing You: A Sentimental Journey (2006, Verve): She describes this project as "a life saver for me. After my mother made her transition last year, it was the darkest period of my life." The songs Carter opts for here point back to the '40s, affections presumably handed down to her through her mother. The Grieg piece leading off comes from a John Kirby arrangement. Afterwards, the pieces range from "St. Louis Blues" to "A-Tisket, A-Tasket" to "Bei Mir Bist Du Schön" to "I'll Be Seeing You," with one original called "How Ruth Felt." Five songs have vocals -- three by Carla Cook, two by Dee Dee Bridgewater, the latter choice cuts. Paquito D'Rivera plays clarinet on five; Gil Goodstein accordion on three of those plus two others. The swing era songs bring out the Grappelli in Carter's violin -- a big improvement after that awful Paganini album. No doubt her mother would have loved this. Come to think of it, mine would have, too. B+(***)
  • Maurice El Médioni Meets Roberto Rodriguez: Descarga Oriental: The New York Sessions (2005 [2006], Piranha): Superficially, this is Cuban music sung in French and maybe a little Arabic, the meeting of an Algerian pianist (Jewish, based in France, a figure of some importance in the development of raï) and a Cuban percussionist (Judeophile, passed through Miami to New York, where he records for Tzadik's Radical Jewish Culture series). El Médioni traces his family tree back to al-Andalus, where Jews and Arabs created Spanish music, roots that not even Torquemada could stamp out. That Arab-Sephardic music lay at the base of Cuban music, augmented by much from Africa, waiting to be unpacked in meetings such as this inspired jam session. A-
  • Ellery Eskelin: Quiet Music (2006, Prime Source, 2CD): Still working on him. I've played five background records several times each without writing prospecting notes. Two are likely to wind up A-, with the others high B+, the preference going to the ones most wholly dependent on his sax. This new one is relatively more varied, both in his efforts at containing the title's irony and in the addition of vocalist Jessica Constable to his long-term trio -- Andrea Parkins on piano (or organ or accordion) and Jim Black on drums. The voice can be dramatic, obscure, merely instrumental, or absent, adding complication that is not always unwelcome but something of a distraction. But the sprawling music keeps growing on me. B+(***)
  • Kali Z. Fasteau/Kidd Jordan: People of the Ninth: New Orleans and the Hurricane 2005 (2005 [2006], Flying Note): Presumably Jordan makes his living trad jazz back home in New Orleans, but driven away by the flood, he's become the Crescent City's unofficial ambassador to New York's jazz underground. A good record with familiar faces William Parker and Hamid Drake resulted -- the Kidd was on his best behavior and the tag team was typically brilliant. Here Jordan helps to steady Kali Z's inveterate eclecticism, providing a consistent sonic center for her piano, cello, and soprano sax. Drummer Michael T.A. Thompson's name didn't fit the spine, but he referees here, and switches to balafon for a duet with Kali's nai flute -- the most attractive cut here. B+(**)
  • Von Freeman: Good Forever (2006, Premonition): He's always had a distinctively thin, fragile sound, so the surprise here is how well he keeps it hidden. At 84, he may have slowed down, but that's possibly because this mainstream quartet never pushes him. Even so, sometimes he does reach for notes that aren't there, slipping into a muffled screech. Only then does his sax balladry reverts to form. B+(***)
  • Dennis González Boston Project: No Photograph Available (2003 [2006], Clean Feed): Recorded live in Boston on a sidetrip with a quickly assembled group of locals: Either/Or Orchestra saxophonist Charlie Kohlhase, bassists Nate McBride and Joe Morris, and a teenaged Morris student named Croix Galipault on drums. The basses are central, slipping into scratchy duets when the horns back off, or more often setting up a pulse which the horns mimic and amplify. González had largely slipped off the radar playing with his Dallas band Yells at Eels, but this started an outreach that led to a remarkable series of albums: NY Midnight Suite, Nile River Suite, and especially Idle Wild. Compared to them, this is rough and a bit tentative. B+(**)
  • Scott Hamilton: Nocturnes & Serenades (2005 [2006], Concord): A set of slow standards, with "Autumn Nocturne" and "Serenade in Blue" tying into the title, "You Go to My Head" and "Chelsea Bridge" more instantly recognizable, and "Man With a Horn" his definitive statement. In other words, pretty much his typical record. The English quartet doesn't have the snap of Back in New York, but sometimes sax is best when you take it nice and easy. A-
  • Hat: Hi Ha (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Sergi Sirvent is an up and coming Spanish jazz pianist with a handful of impressive records over the last few years. Here he adds guitarist Jordi Matas to his trio and finds the perfect balance. At first it sounds like a mistake when he tries to sing one, but even that he puts over on pure emotion. A-
  • 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-
  • Mark Helias' Open Loose: Atomic Clock (2004 [2006], Radio Legs Music): Bassist-led sax trio, with Tony Malaby taking charge, and Tom Rainey on the drums. Not sure how much to credit the composition here, since the hard chargers are the ones that work best. B+(***)
  • Frank Hewitt: Fresh From the Cooler (1996 [2006], Smalls): Hewitt was a bebop pianist who almost slipped through 66 years of life without leaving a trace. But he built a cult during an eight year residency at Smalls jazz club, inspiring a label to no small degree dedicated to his legacy. This makes four posthumous albums, with more on the shelf -- at least one more from this date, a trio with Ari Roland and Jimmy Lovelace. The songs are jazz standards, but there's nothing overly familiar about them -- even "Cherokee" and "Monk's Mood" skirt the melodies for hidden nuances. A-
  • John Hicks: Sweet Love of Mine (2006, High Note): Table scraps, including snatches of Ray Mantilla percussion, Elise Wood flutes, Javon Jackson sax, and three pieces of solo piano, as if no one had the slightest idea what they were doing or what the future might hold. As it was, Hicks died a month later, so take this cockeyed mess as a memorial, note that his improbable helpers looked up to him -- and like he's done throughout his career, he makes them better -- and enjoy the piano, poignant alone, playful together. B+(**)
  • Andrew Hill: Pax (1965 [2006], Blue Note): Now that Hill's lived long enough to have become a legend, his old (and now new) label is finally bringing his old catalog back in print. This session has always had problems seeing the light of day: the original was shelved until 1975 when it finally came out as part of a garbage collection project. It isn't garbage. It should have sold fine just on names -- Joe Henderson, Freddie Hubbard, Richard Davis, Joe Chambers -- but it's actually better than that. Hill's piano is always into something surprising, and the horns take the hint and play much further out than expected. A-
  • Maurice Hines: To Nat "King" Cole With Love (2005 [2006], Arbors): Gregory's big brother comes close enough to the mark to beg the question, why pick this over originals that still sound as great as ever. Hines is a smooth, agile singer, but can't touch Cole's voice. But the band consistently spans Cole's career, with more muscle than the Trio and none of the dross of Cole's orchestras. And the songs live on: Cole was the hippest of the pre-rock pop stars, by a margin that has only grown since. A-
  • Wayne Horvitz Gravitas Quartet: Way Out East (2005 [2006], Songlines): Horvitz has been gravitating toward classical music for a while now, and this comes close without going over the deep end line his string quartets. The pieces exhibit swingless chamber music, often with sudden shifts of time -- "Ladies and Gentleman" is an extreme example -- or with simple rhythmic motifs that provide a backdrop for shmears of sound -- see "Berlin 1914," which is the piece that ultimately won me over. The instrumentation is unusual: bassoon for the bottom, trumpet for the top, cello for the meat, piano for the dressing, electronics for the hell of it. It's not the sort of thing I normally like, which may mean it's even better than I think. B+(***)
  • Kidd Jordan/Hamid Drake/William Parker: Palm of Soul (2005 [2006], AUM Fidelity): Homeless after Katrina, Jordan fled to Brooklyn and networked with his old chums. Drake and Parker do their usual thing, and then some: not content to be the world's best at bass and drums, they drag out the tablas, guimbri, and miscellaneous percussion exotica. Drake even chants, reducing Jordan to comping. I'm not sure whether Jordan is mellowing, as septuagenerians often do, or is just delighted to be there. A-
  • Diana Krall: From This Moment On (2006, Verve): The Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra doesn't split the difference between Billy May and Nelson Riddle so much as they aggregate the virtues of each. That wouldn't mean a thing without a commanding singer, but Krall fills that bill. She sings the title song, "It Could Happen to You," "Come Dance With Me," even the often hoary "Willow Weep for Me" as authoritatively as they've ever been sung, and each come with long, illustrious histories. And while the Orchestra is capable of overkill, it's remarkable how seamlessly she slips in four songs without them. A-
  • Nils Petter Molvaer: ER (2005 [2006], Thirsty Ear): Molvaer matches Miles Davis's fusion breakthrough in two respects: he's a master at getting the rhythm tight, and his trumpet adds a bare minimum of human voice without detracting from the machines. His programmed beats grow more complex and varied each time out, opening up new paths ranging from chill out to a striking Sidsel Endresen vocal. This was originally released by Universal as Europe-only, like its predecessor the still hard-to-find NP3. When Thirsty Ear noticed the market gap and the affinity between Molvaer's jazztronica and their homegrown Blue Series, they licensed this and the Live: Streamer from Molvaer's own Sula label, then mixed some of those, a little NP3, and some remix bait into An American Compilation. So three cuts here are redundant. Consumers will have to judge the redundancies and bait, but this is where the others were heading. A
  • Frank Morgan: Reflections (2005 [2006], High Note): I suppose if I was real conscientious about this, I'd revisit his discography and try to ascertain whether this is an exceptionally good record for him or a merely typically good one. But I don't have either the records or the time for that. In the pecking order of Bird's children, Morgan ranks somewhere above Lou Donaldson but way below Jackie McLean, and very likely below Phil Woods as well. Where that puts him viz. Gigi Gryce is a question that requires more precision than I can muster. But on its own terms, this is an exceptionally elegant and mature slice of the bop -- not frantic like in the '50s, but Morgan's past 70 now, more than entitled to slow down and smell them roses. Nice, brisk start on "Walkin'"; two Monk songs that he wouldn't have tackled in the old days; gorgeous closer on "Out of Nowhere." Quartet with Ronnie Mathews on piano, Essiet Essiet on bass, and Billy Hart on drums. Lovely tone throughout. B+(***)
  • David 'Fathead' Newman: Life (2006 [2007], High Note): Dedicated to the late John Hicks, who write the title song. Fathead's feeling light-headed here, his tenor sax so mellowed out as to render Doug Ramsey's Texas Tenor-themed liner notes nonsensical; his alto is even creamier, while his flute, sugared up with Steve Nelson vibes and Peter Bernstein guitar, floats aimlessly into space. Which is where his "What a Beautiful World" belongs -- I'd rather hear Kenny G's, with or without the Armstrong sample. Closes with a nice "Naima." C+
  • Bucky Pizzarelli: 5 for Freddie: Bucky's Tribute to Freddie Green (2006 [2007], Arbors): Check out this "cast of characters": Pizzarelli as Green, John Bunch as Count Basie, Warren Vaché as Sweets Edison, Jay Leonhart as Walter Page, Mickey Roker as Jo Jones. Green was famous for never taking a solo, which doesn't open up a lot of space for Pizzarelli to show off, but Basie's rhythm section redefined swing, and these understudies are competent revivalists. Still, the guy who lifts this above the normal run of tributes is Vaché, whose cornet is a spare, tart reminder of Sweets' trumpet and a whole lot more. A-
  • Samo Salamon Quartet: Two Hours (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Easily the best of a fairly sizable crop of guitarist-sax quartets this year, and it's easy to explain why: the other three players work regularly as Mark Helias' Open Loose trio. They're more avant than the norm for this label -- rougher, more muscular, but then so is the Slovenian guitarist, who has an edge here he couldn't have learned from mentors John Scofield or Bill Frisell. B+(***)
  • Sonny Simmons: I'll See You When You Get There (2004-05 [2006], Jazzaway): Minimal Sonny, not solo but in duets that only marginally frame his solos -- six with bassist Mats Eilertsen, two with pianist Anders Aarum, two with drummer Ole Thomas Kolberg. The drums hold up best because they clearly add something, whereas the bass and piano are more like admiring reflections. Solo sax tends to slow down because nothing else pushes it along. That can be a plus for an ex-Firebird. B+(**)
  • Sergi Sirvent & Xavi Maureta: Lines Over Rhythm (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Piano-drums duets, starting with a run of six Charlie Parker tunes, then originals along similar lines, although these guys don't steal melody lines the way Parker did. Not familiar with Maureta, but his deconstruction of "My Little Suede Shoes" is irresistible. Sirvent continues to impress. B+(***)
  • Tomasz Stanko Quartet: Lontano (2005 [2006], ECM): I'm not if I've ever seen an ECM album cover look so bleak and featureless, even though such landscapes seem to be the art director's default. The music is neither bleak nor featureless, but it is slow and subtly arranged -- haunting and lovely, but it does take its toll in attention. Pianist Marcin Wasilewski is a master of understatement, one more trait he's picked up from the leader. B+(***)
  • Billy Stein Trio: Hybrids (2005 [2006], Barking Hoop): He's a guitarist no one would have ever heard of had Kevin Norton not urged him into the studio. He played with Norton and Sam Furnace back in the '70s, but with endless refinement this is his debut. He works in subtle harmonic shadings rather than the melodic lines that dominate the craft, so this tends to vanish in its subtleties. But he gets exceptionally sympathetic support from drummer Rashid Bakr and bassist Reuben Radding -- the latter a near-perfect match. B+(***)
  • Charles Tolliver Big Band: With Love (2006 [2007], Blue Note/Mosaic): I reckon that Tolliver's reemergence is a dividend of Andrew Hill's accession to living legend status, given the trumpeter's prominence on Hill records old and new. Tolliver appeared on numerous avant-leaning Blue Note recordings in the late '60s, but his own work was limited to his own very limited Strata East label -- The Ringer (1969) is a personal favorite, but it's about the only one I know. (I haven't heard the recent 3-CD Mosaic Select box, which picks up live tracks from 1970 and 1973.) Tolliver's discography shows little after 1975, at least until he reappeared on Hill's Time Lines. Unfortunately, his new record is a loud and brassy big band thang. I don't much care for it: the high energy parts don't move me even when they're bruising, the solos lack finesse, and there's no groove to hang things on. It will be interesting to see how this is received. B
  • Warren Vaché and the Scottish Ensemble: Don't Look Back (2005 [2006], Arbors): The Scottish Ensemble is a string group, 12 in number. Three arrangements were by 87-year-old Bill Finegan, "the dean of arranging" -- means nothing to me. The others were by James Chirillo, who conducted and plays a little guitar. Vaché's cornet is frequently lovely, but the strings turn me off. Could be a dud, especially if I wanted to do something on the deadly seduction strings hold for horn players. The last two Vaché records I've heard were A-listed, so this is no more personal than Waltz Again was for David Murray. B-
  • The Vandermark 5: Free Jazz Classics Vols. 3 & 4 (2003-04 [2006], Atavistic, 2CD): All the maybes at the end of Ken Vandermark's liner notes might make you think he's giving up on this series of explorations into the free jazz tradition, which would be a shame. Originally released as bonus discs in early runs of four Vandermark 5 albums from Acoustic Machine to Elements of Style, Vols. 1 & 2 (2000-01 [2002], Atavistic, 2CD) essayed pioneer pieces from Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry to Joe McPhee and Julius Hemphill, while Vols. 3 & 4 focus on two saxophonist-composers not of the movement but so creative they couldn't help but parallel it: Sonny Rollins and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. The recognizable themes give you a more accessible framework than usual -- with free jazz every clue helps -- but in the end the band makes all the difference. With two great saxophonists and a trombonist who loves to get down and dirty, they can spin on a dime, punch the chords up, or blow them apart. A

The following are the notes from bk-flush for Jazz CG #12:

  • Muhal Richard Abrams/George Lewis/Roscoe Mitchell: Streaming (2005 [2006], Pi): This starts to pay dividends in the end, but it takes time getting there, with much of the early going shuffling seemingly random sounds about. The latter most likely come from Lewis's laptop, but he plays a fair amount of trombone as well. Wish I had the patience to sort this out, but everyone involved has made records in the past that make sense sooner, so maybe it's just not meant to be. B+(*)
  • Cannonball Adderley: Riverside Profiles (1958-62 [2006], Riverside): A useful, typically breezy selection of cuts from a series of uneventful albums, distinguished by the warm tone and ingratiating dynamics of the leader's alto sax. Also by guests like Milt Jackson, and songs like "This Here" and "Work Song" by band members -- the latter by brother Nat, who often stands out. Bonus sampler is the same for all records in this series, so I'll be charitable, ignore it, and won't mention it again. B+(**)
  • Mario Adnet: Jobim Jazz (2006 [2007], Adventure Music): A Brazilian guitarist, most notable for his large and intricate arrangements, e.g. of Moacir Santos's works. On the 80th anniversary of Jobim's birth, here he takes on Brazil's most famous composer. A bit ornate for my taste, but I find this growing on me as little details come to attention, not to mention the seductive melodies. B+(*)
  • All Ones: Bloom (2006, Number): I suppose you could call this an organ trio, but the sound is less consistent -- Matt Cunitz employs a wide range of electronic keyboards -- and there's no real trace of soul jazz formula. Partly this is because the trio lacks a real lead instrument -- the keyboards comp and doodle, the others are electric bass and drums. Partly it's all improv. But it's also the case that the musicians work more frequently on the rock side, so this draws from lines going back to Kraut rock. All of which make it interesting, but none all that compelling. B+(*)
  • Among 3 (2004-06 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Barcelona-based piano trio, with Roger Mas [Giménez] on piano, Bori Albero on bass, Juanma Mielo, plus guests on two tracks. Never heard of these guys, and found out very little. (A Spanish singer-songwriter named Roger Mas is evidently someone else.) The piano trio is fine, although not especially inspiring. The extras add little. B
  • Fred Anderson: Timeless: Live at the Velvet Lounge (2005 [2006], Delmark): The weak spot here is Hamid Drake's vocal, but that's just something you put up with to hear his drumming. I can't say as I ever got into Anderson before Back at the Velvet Lounge (2002 [2003], Delmark), but he's been on a streak ever since then: Back Together Again, a duo with Hamid Drake; Blue Winter, a trio with Drake and William Parker; and now this trio with Drake and Harrison Bankhead. I resisted at first, figuring the records have little differentiation, and I shouldn't keep pushing the same thing over and over. But critical consensus seems to be that this is the winner, and I can hear that. Bankhead helps fill things out like a good bassist should but isn't tempted to crowd in like Parker. Also this one is a single. A-
  • Bill Anschell: More to the Ear Than Meets the Eye (2006, Origin): Seattle-based pianist, worked with Nnenna Freelon for several years, has several albums under his own name, dating back to 1994. This one, a mix of five standards and six originals, is built around two trios, with sax or trumpet added on half. Elegant postbop, flowing piano, horns a mixed blessing. B+(*)
  • Bruce Arkin Quartet: Wake Up! (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Arkin plays tenor and soprano sax. Don't know anything more about him. Record was recorded in Barcelona with Albert Bover on piano, Chris Higgins bass, Jorge Rossy drums. Mostly indifferent postbop, but he does pick up some steam on a "bittersweet love song" called "All I Wanted Was You (Bitch)," so maybe he just needs to be slapped around a bit. A meditation on Tookie Williams, executed in California recently, is also worthwhile. B
  • Nanny Assis: Double Rainbow (2006, Blue Toucan): Brazilian percussionist from Bahia; sings a couple of originals, a range of soft sambas and such like -- one from Carlhinos Brown is described as "Brazilian rap," but you could have fooled me -- and one piece by Seal. The cover and most of the booklet photos feature him with guitar, but the credits only list him once on acoustic guitar. Hard for me to pin down whatever it is that may separate this from the norm. B
  • Omer Avital Group: Room to Grow (1997 [2007], Smalls): Israeli bassist, evidently a fixture at Smalls in the late '90s. A 1996 tape released last year as Asking No Permission was subtitled The Smalls Years: Volume One. That suggests more volumes to come, and this, recorded live a year later, certainly fits the bill, but there's no indication on the cover or booklet here. Same basic lineup, with bass, drums, and four saxes, but a couple of personnel changes: Mark Turner and Ali Jackson have left, replaced by Grant Stewart and Joe Strasser. None of the remaining saxophonists are a match for Turner, which is just as well: their scrawny tones and free dynamics keep anyone from dominating, leaving even the bass some space. B+(***)
  • Chet Baker: Riverside Profiles (1958-59 [2006], Riverside): A narrow slice of Baker's discography, transitional between his important Pacific Jazz 1952-57 recordings, where is made his name as a cool trumpeter and wan vocalist, and his long exile in Europe -- one cut here stands him up against "fifty Italian strings," and another features a pick-up band in Milan. Only two easy-going vocals, lots of lovely trumpet. I like this mix better than Riverside's previous The Best of Chet Baker, which shares five songs. A-
  • Jeff Baker: Shopping for Your Heart (2006 [2007], OA2): Jazz singer. Third album, starting with Baker Sings Chet in 2003. He works the gamut of olde standards and bebop sprints. I tend to enjoy the former and chafe at the latter, and that's pretty much how this breaks. The band could call themselves the Origin All-Stars: Bill Anschell, Jeff Johnson, John Bishop, and especially Brent Jensen, whose sax especially warms up attractive moderate fare like "Time After Time." B
  • David Berger and the Sultans of Swing: The Harlem Nutcracker (1996 [1999], Such Sweet Thunder): Don't know why this decade-old item popped up in my mailbox. Certainly not because I've shown much enthusiasm about Berger's later records. On the other hand, I find little to complain about here. I'm not overly familiar either with the Ellington-Strayhorn score or the Tchaikovsky model, so I find this concise and lively version useful. Enjoyable, too. B+(*)
  • The Benevento Russo Duo: Play Pause Stop (2006, Butter Problems/Reincarnate Music): Just have an advance and a hype sheet, but this has been sitting around a while -- albeit not as long as the advance to their previous album. I dislike advances, especially when they don't grow up to be real records -- although if they're not very good that's just as well. As far as I've been able to figure out, the names are Marco Benevento and Joe Russo. Don't know what they do, but it sounds like keyboards and drums. They keep a beat, add some texture, but it all seems skeletal, undeveloped, not all that danceable, let alone jazzworthy. I don't dislike it, but they don't offer much, and when they try to muscle up toward the end, they just get messy. B-
  • Gorka Benítez: Bilbao (2003 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Spanish tenor saxophonist, born in Bilbao, based in Barcelona. I've been impressed by him every time out so far, and this has some strong moments, especially the soaring "Y dale!," but it does stumble along early on. Quartet, with Dani Pérez on guitar, mostly keeping pace to shimmering harmonic effect. B+(*)
  • Jordi Berni Trio/Santi de la Rubia: Afinke (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Berni's a young pianist based in Barcelona. His trio plays above average but unexceptional postbop, securely in the middle of the mainstream. De La Rubia plays tenor sax in the same vein, although he doesn't have an especially distinctive sound. The record develops nicely, expertly even. Too good to complain about, but I'm not sure what else to do with it. B+(*)
  • Steven Bernstein's Millennial Territory Orchestra: MTO Volume 1 (2005 [2006], Sunnyside): Robert Altman's film Kansas City made you want to know more about the city's jazz and less about its mobsters. The featured music stars got a package tour out of the deal before returning to contemporary postbop, but lowly associate music producer Bernstein actually put his research to work. He takes the idea of barnstorming territory bands and time travels to and from his home base in downtown New York, treating Prince and Stevie Wonder songs to 1928-style arrangements, while adding postmodern quirks to Count Basie staples. It works not because the transformations are clever, but because he's one of the few who believe that jazz can become popular again by making it fun rather without dumbing it down. The first album by a group that has been playing regularly since 1999, an incubation period that roughly matches Basie in Kansas City. A-
  • Tyrone Birkett: In the Fullness of Time (2006 [2007], Convergence): This takes off like a rocket but soon comes crashing back to earth with an overload of holy spirit. He's a PK with a rafters-raising alto saxophone, fronting a bunch of anonymous keyb-guitar-bass-drums players. She sings every other song, and she can air them out too. Both are talented, but their material is pretty dreadful. It seems that someone with more stomach for the stuff than I have could do a study on the dumbing down of Christian music, which presumably correlates with the dumbing down of Christians. I can still handle the gospel, and for that matter the Christians, I grew up with, but whenever I tune in to the words here, they scare me. C+
  • The Andy Biskin Quartet: Early American: The Melodies of Stephen Foster (2000 [2006], Strudelmedia): The old melodies benefit from oldish instrumentation -- despite its recent comeback, Biskin's clarinet still sounds like a refugee from the depression, especially when paired with trombone or tuba; guitarist Pete McCann resorts to banjo on occasion, and drummer John Hollenbeck takes the most diehard Foster melody on jingly bells. Still, everything here is more than a little bent. No point making a jazz record unless you take some liberties. B+(***)
  • Janice Borla: From Every Angle (2006, Blujazz): Jazz singer from Chicago. Her website lists three albums over the last ten years, but also mentions a first album (Whatever We Imagine) that dates back at least 20, as does her "leading role in vocal jazz education." She's not a cabaret singer -- the songs here come from the bop era with assists from Jon Hendricks and Bobby McFerrin. She can scat. She gets respectful, tasteful backup. In fact, this is expert enough that I feel kind of bad that I don't respond to it more. Professionalism doesn't come easy. Nor does reviewing it. B
  • Bridge 61: Journal (2005 [2006], Atavistic): You know about Ken Vandermark, Nate McBride, and Tim Daisy by now. The fourth wheel here is Jason Stein on bass clarinet -- Vandermark plays tenor sax, baritone sax, and clarinet. He was born 1976, grew up on Long Island, bounced around through Central America and Montana and Vermont and Michigan and wound up in Chicago. I'm not so sure what he's doing here. This is advertised as an evenly balanced cooperative, but the distribution of compositions is: Vandermark 4, McBride 2, Daisy 2, Stein 0. I don't hear much that sounds like bass clarinet either -- a couple of muffled solos, a fair amount of comping. As for the others, Daisy and McBride continue to develop, and Vandermark closes with a very strong piece for Sonny Sharrock. B+(*)
  • Peter Brötzmann/Albert Mangelsdorff/Günter Sommer: Pica Pica (1982 [2006], Atavistic): A meeting of two major figures of the German avant-garde -- almost two generations, as trombonist Mangelsdorff was 13 years older than saxophonist Brötzmann. Sommer plays drums and "horns," whatever that is, and is basically a substitute for Han Bennink -- an inferior one, if you accept the authority of the Penguin Guide (first edition, back when the LP was available). I find the encounter generally gratifying all around. B+(*)
  • John Bunch: At the Nola Penthouse: Salutes Jimmy Van Heusen (2006, Arbors): The label likes to do these double titles. I'm following the spine, except for adding a colon. Doesn't read right to me, but don't know what else to do. The subject for both clauses is pianist Bunch, who will turn 85 later this year. He's been a dependable name for a long time now. Follows in Teddy Wilson's footsteps, and doesn't wander far from there. Dave Green and Steve Brown complete the trio, neither making much of an impression. Nor does Bunch, really -- this is quiet and respectful, lovely when you focus, but a bit too modest to listen to. B
  • John Butcher/Paal Nilssen-Love: Concentric (2001 [2006], Clean Feed): Another improv duo, this one sax (tenor or soprano) and drums. Butcher is highly touted in the Penguin Guide, but I have little experience with him, and no firm picture. The drummer I know much better, and not just from his work with Ken Vandermark in groups like School Days, FME, Free Fall, and the Territory Band. This is intense, rough going, hard to grab hold of. Butcher starts to make more sense only toward the end, first with a splotch of soprano. Nilssen-Love seems to get his best shots in early. Not inconceivable that the pleasures might make up for the pain, but it's bound to be tough. B
  • The Paul Carlon Octet: Other Tongues (2005-06 [2006], Deep Tone): Carlon's a New York-based saxophonist -- also plays flute and mbira here -- with a substantial interest in Latin jazz. His group is largish, with a couple of uncounted guests -- Ileana Santamaria sings on three songs, Max Pollak's "rumbatap" (presumably tap dancing to rumba rhythms) surfaces on two. Some fancy stuff, consistently listenable, sometimes interesting. B+(*)
  • The Serge Chaloff Sextet: Boston Blow-Up! (1955 [2006], Capitol Jazz): A hard swinging baritone saxophonist with a bop edge, Chaloff cut his teeth in Woody Herman's Second Herd, then moved on -- actually, was thrown out, for following Charlie Parker's habits too literally -- to cut a handful of memorable albums before he succumbed to a spinal tumor and died at age 33. Blue Serge (1956) is his masterpiece, a tight, elegant quartet where everything goes right, in part because the other three players -- Sonny Clark, Leroy Vinnegar, Philly Joe Jones -- are so dependable. This album is much sloppier but nearly as impressive. Produced by Stan Kenton, this is a sextet with three horns storming -- at its best the balance of raw power and feather light touch Kenton often aimed for and rarely achieved. A-
  • Thomas Chapin Trio: Ride (1995 [2006], Playscape): Wish he had kept to the alto sax, as the warbly stuff -- flute and sopranino sax -- tones down what otherwise is a vigorous live set, from the North Sea Jazz Festival. Chapin died young in 1998, and is so revered that his live scraps have become a cottage industry. More often than not, this one shows you why. Title comes from a Beatles song, and he's definitely got the ticket there -- a choice cut. B+(***)
  • Christmas Break: Relaxing Jazz for the Holidays (1992-98 [2006], Telarc): Selected from the label's Christmases past, avoiding any hint of merriment, joy, or, heaven forbid, excitement. Nonetheless, this order is mostly filled by thoughtful solo piano (Oscar Peterson, Dave Brubeck, George Shearing) and guitar (Jim Hall, Al Di Meola -- the latter is unexpectedly lovely on "Ave Maria"), all of whom have something to add to the melody. Better still is Jeanie Bryson cooing "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" over Kenny Barron's piano. Still doesn't break my tinsel ceiling, but comes close. B
  • Fay Claassen: Sings Two Portraits of Chet Baker (2005 [2006], Jazz 'N Pulz, 2CD): First disc is a look back at the music of the Gerry Mulligan-Chet Baker Quartet, with Claassen's scat vocals adding little to a set where Jan Menu's baritone sax dominates Jan Wessels' trumpet. Second disc has Claassen singing the songs that Baker sung -- "My Funny Valentine," "Let's Get Lost," "Blame It on My Youth," etc., with a samba and a piece of bebop vocalese the odd songs out. I'm tempted to say she sings them better, but Baker's fragility has only rarely touched me, so that may not be fair. Given how she approaches the songs, it may not even be appropriate. B+(*)
  • Billy Cobham's Glassmenagerie: Stratus (1981 [2006], Inak): Fusion group, with electric keyboards, bass and guitar. Mike Stern plays the latter, but the tone that really dominates is Michal Urbaniak's violin -- electric too, natch. B
  • George Colligan Trio: Blood Pressure (2006, Ultimatum): Trio suggests a group with a fixed lineup, which isn't the case here. Josh Ginsberg is replaced or joined on bass by Boris Kozlov. Jonathan Blake yields the drumset to EJ Strickland and Vanderlai Pereira. Two more cuts have extras: Jamie Baum's flute on one, Meg Okura's violin on the other. Colligan plays synths as well as piano, so there are various electronic blips as well as the usual soft tones. I find it all very confusing, although the straight acoustic piano trio is superb, as usual, and the other stuff is interesting. One thing that is clear is the message to "Mr. Cheney" in the tray photo. B+(*)
  • Conjure: Bad Mouth (2005 [2006], American Clavé, 2CD): Long after two '80s albums, this is a third installment of Ishmael Reed texts channeled through Kip Hanrahan's music played by an impressive roster of musicians. The first, Music for the Texts of Ishmael Reed is highly recommended; the second, Cab Calloway Stands in the for Moon much less so. This one comes in between. Reed's spoken pieces hold your interest more than the more song-like ones, which suggests that the music isn't quite up to snuff. What should be an all-star set of Latino percussionists -- Robby Ameen, Horacio El Negro Hernandez, Dafnis Prieto, Richie Flores, Pedro Martinez -- don't kick up much of a fuss, and I'm still not sure what Billy Bang does here. But the only holdover from the '80s group does loom large, and when he breaks David Murray steals the album. B+(**)
  • Corbett Vs. Dempsey: Eye & Ear (1943-2004 [2006], Atavistic): Corbett vs. Dempsey is actually an art gallery in Chicago, named for principals Jon Corbett and Jim Dempsey. The record is Corbett's arrangement of old jazz, avant jazz, and divers sound effects for a show dubbed "Artist <-> Musician." The soundtrack was originally released for sale at the show, and has been picked up by Atavistic -- Corbett produces their invaluable Unheard Music Series. Interesting scholarship, as always, but it's less clear what we're listening to, let alone why. Pee Wee Russell and Dave Coleman are old meant to sound older; Sun Ra offers a pathetic little vocal; Han Bennink adds silence as much as divers percussion; Hal Rommel's random noise tape weaves and dazes, as advertised. B
  • François Couturier: Nostalgia: Song for Tarkovsky (2005 [2006], ECM): Released in October. I only got an advance with a photocopy of the booklet, which is good enough for current purposes, although it took me a while to recognize as much. Dedicated to filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky, which doesn't mean much to me, although the booklet has some striking stills. Don't know how the music relates to the films, but the credits are to group members -- cellist Anja Lechner has two, soprano saxophonist Jean-Marc Larché one, Couturier the rest. Also in the group is Jean-Louis Matinier on accordion. The instrumentation can lean folk or classical, with moods shifting between light and dark. B+(*)
  • Greg Davis/Steven Hess: Decisions (2003 [2005], Longbox): Davis does laptop improvs. Hess adds drums/percussion. Mostly minor electronica, noises rather than beats, although thump is an important part of the mix. I like it more so than most similar things I've heard, but I have doubts about its universal appeal. B+(*)
  • Mel Davis: It's About Time! (2006 [2007], TomTom): Davis plays Hammond B3, runs through a mess of shoogity boogity pieces, with guitar, drums, sometimes a little extra percussion and/or horns. Davis also sings four pieces, improving none of them. C+
  • Eli Degibri: Emotionally Available (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Israeli tenor saxophonist, "with Bulgarian and Persian roots," as his fancy website puts it, in a quartet with New Yorkers Aaron Goldberg, Ben Street, and Jeff Ballard. This has some good spots, particularly the cut with guest Ze Mauricio on pandeiro, although that's mostly because the sax perks up there. But more often his tone is a bit dull, and his play indistinct. B
  • Diane Delin: Offerings for a Peaceable Season (2005 [2006], Blujazz): Violinist with five albums going back to 1997. Don't know anything more, but clearly she's fond of Grappelli. Starts off with "My Favorite Things" and "Baby It's Cold Outside" before toppling into unavoidable Xmas songs, recasting the meaning of those not normally so tainted. By the end of the year this rant is likely to get old, but I have no interest whatsoever in holiday music. Didn't even like it before I read the factoid that it outsells jazz. This one snuck in on the peace train, so I'll let it off with a mild reprimand. The others I'm saving for a real bah humbug day. B-
  • Whit Dickey: Sacred Ground (2004 [2006], Clean Feed): Best known as one of the series of drummers in the David S. Ware Quartet, Dickey has emerged as an interesting free jazz leader. But regardless of what he writes, or how he centers his drums, the fireworks come from the horns, with Rob Brown's alto sax fleet and rough, and Roy Campbell's trumpet his perfect foil. The fourth member of the quartet is Joe Morris, playing double bass instead of his usual guitar -- although there's at least one spot where he sure fooled me. B+(***)
  • Al Di Meola: Consequence of Chaos (2006, Telarc): Fusion guitarist from New Jersey. Made his reputation in Chick Corea's Return to Forever, with Corea returning the favor here. Some of this is pleasantly grooveful. Some is sparely elegant. Some of it is Corea-style fusion. B
  • Kenny Dorham: Trompeta Toccata (1964 [2006], Blue Note): A hard bop trumpeter very fond of Latin rhythms, something he explored in 1955's Afro-Cuban (Blue Note) and returned to frequently, including this his last album; Joe Henderson is a tower of strength on tenor sax, and Tootie Heath's cymbals suffice for the clave. B+(*)
  • Dominique Eade/Jed Wilson: Open (2004-05 [2006], Jazz Project): Jazz singer, teamed here in minimal duets with pianist Wilson. She has a USAF father, Swiss mother, born London, grew up mostly in Germany; attended Vassar, Berklee, New England Conservatory, the latter keeping her on to teach. Five albums, including a tribute to June Christy and Chris Connor. Writes most of the songs here, although Leonard Cohen's "In My Secret Life" is the one that stands out. Way too spartan for my taste, but striking nonetheless. B+(*)
  • Ellery Eskelin/Andrea Parkins/Jim Black: One Great Day (1996 [1997], Hatology): I've made extended discography lists of some musicians whose import extends far beyond their own records -- like Paul Motian, Dave Holland, and William Parker. I haven't gotten around to Jim Black yet, but I wouldn't be surprised to find him on the same track, if not quite yet in the same league. Parkins is the odd one out here: she's credited with accordion and sampler. Seems to me there's a small bit of piano here, so maybe that was sampled? The accordion functions like an organ -- Eskelin's mother played organ, so that may have something to do with his thinking here -- similar in tone, a bit slower dynamics, harmonizes better with the sax, while covering the hole left by no bassist. None of which matters all that much: above all else, this is a great tenor sax album, with a singular voice working difficult material. A-
  • Ellery Eskelin: Five Other Pieces (+2) (1998 [1998], Hatology): Same trio with Andrea Parkins and Jim Black. The five pieces by others come from John McLaughlin, Lennie Tristano, John Coltrane, Charlie Haden, and George Gershwin. The "+2" are Eskelin originals. The most immediate effect of working with "other folks' music" -- a Roland Kirk phrase Eseklin quotes in his remarkably useful liner notes -- is to bring Parkins' accordion much to the fore. As usual, covers mean stronger themes -- why else bother with them? -- and in the case of Coltrane's "India" set up an unusual degree of repetition, which underscores the group's sound. The "(+2)" are two Eseklin originals. B+(***)
  • Ellery Eskelin: Ramifications (1999 [2000], Hatology): Eskelin expands his trio to quintet here, making unorthodox choices. Is Joe Daley's tuba the brass alongside Eskelin's tenor sax, or is it the missing bass? Or is Erik Friedlander's cello the missing bass, or the second lead instrument. Actually, there is no second lead -- the group mostly provides a somber backdrop for Eskelin's pained, powerful sax maneuvers. This is especially true on the title cut, which is dirgelike except for the sax's mighty struggles. B+(***)
  • Ellery Eskelin: Vanishing Point (2000 [2001], Hatology): One of the more interesting sax-with-strings records, but not a surprise given that the strings are Mat Maneri on viola, Erik Friedlander on cello, and Mark Dresser on bass. You could think of it as a string quartet with tenor sax subbing for violin, but it is an exceptionally unruly one. The classical string sound that so often turns my stomach comes from the sonic seasickness of the section playing in unison, but that can't happen in unscripted improv like this, where each player responds to the others. Fifth wheel is Matt Moran on vibes, an occasional tinkle of percussion that pops out orthogonally to the sonic mix. The pieces have an odd, ambling quality. I've played this a number of times, and it remains obscure, a puzzle with no obvious solution. B+(**)
  • Ellery Eskelin/Andrea Parkins/Jim Black: 12 (+1) Imaginary Views (2001 [2002], Hatology): I got a note from Eskelin back in October offering to send me a copy of his latest, Quiet Music. I wrote back and mentioned that I had heard very little of his music -- mostly an early record, Figure of Speech (1991, Soul Note), that I admired greatly. He then offered to send a batch of his Hatology records, saying "If you haven't heard those you really haven't heard my music." So that's where this batch of catchup notes comes from. The new record is a high HM, and might have gone higher had I more appreciation or tolerance for voice. Eskelin's point is certainly well taken. I don't really have the skills to explain how his music works in any technical sense, but at least I've heard it. This album returns to the trio that made One Great Day five years earlier and has been his core working group all along. Parkins has developed into a more imposing force on accordion, and finally plays some piano as well. The "12" are rough ideas developed through improvisation into dense patterns that build on the previous records. The "+1" is an obscure Monk piece at the end. A-
  • Bill Evans: Riverside Profiles (1958-63 [2006], Riverside): Like Thelonious Monk, Evans did his major work for Riverside, his Complete Riverside Recordings amassing 12 discs, just shy of Monk's 15. Monk was by far the more radical player, which in retrospect makes him much easier to grasp. He had a knack for putting notes in wrong places, arguing his case obstreperously, eventually winning. Evans, on the other hand, seemed to always work within the lines, finding right notes no one could doubt. So while I recommend going straight to the original albums for Monk, this survey strikes me as a useful primer. The first eight cuts are trios, so they flow evenly even though Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian -- already the sneakiest drummer in jazz -- stand out. The last two cuts are a group with Freddie Hubbard and Jim Hall and a solo piece -- a good one-two punch to close this out. A
  • Explorations: Classic Picante Regrooved, Vol. 1 (2006, Concord Picante): Better than the usual back catalog remix project, probably because most of the originals are so awash in beats they hardly need remixing. Surprising because Picante had turned into something of a retirement home for salseros, so maybe we should hand it to the A-list remixers, who evidently know how to juice up the clave. B+(**)
  • Miguel Fdez-Vallejo Meets Miguel Villar: El Perro (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Two Spanish tenor saxophonists, names I've run across in the past but don't know much about -- nor do they have the web presence that helps make up for obscurity. Formally, this promises to be a joust, but is pretty subtle, the two sax lines tracking each other closely over bass and drums. One cut adds guests: vibes by Marc Miralta, with Gorka Benítez taking the lead on flute. I've played this several times, and like it as haunting, poignant background music, but don't have much more to say. B+(**)
  • Michael Felberbaum: Sweetsalt (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist, based in Paris since 1991, before that in US from 1985, before that not sure -- website says he played in "Roman clubs" when he was 15. Has a previous album. This one is a quartet with piano-bass-drums. Another solid postbop exercise, with some urgency which can either be driven by the guitarist or Pierre de Ethmann on piano or Fender Rhodes. B+(*)
  • Frank Foster: Well Water (1977 [2007], Piadrum): Big band. Huge. Monstrous. Foster calls this 20-member aggregate the Loud Minority Band: five trumpets, four trombones, seven reeds, most of the latter with flutes in their kits. This previously unreleased tape is a good deal more unruly than Foster's Basie work, but I don't find the overkill invigorating or interesting. On the other hand, the "bonus track" breaks down to a Mickey Tucker piano trio that rocks and rolls, then further dissolves into a drum solo, which is pure Elvin Jones. B
  • The Frankenstein Consort: Classical A-Go-Go (2006, Sfz): Subtitled "invigorating musical novelties for woodwinds, piano, and percussion." Featuring Erik Lindgren, the piano player, who is best known from one of the first landmark experimental rock groups, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic. Don't really know what to make of this one, which seems neither classical not go-go, but rather something that works within a closed system of humor I'm not really privy to. Includes pieces from usual suspects Erik Satie and Raymond Scott, a gloss on Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein," and originals, including one close to "Tomorrow Never Comes." Not without interesting bits, but too clever by some factor beyond my powers of calculation. B
  • The Free Zen Society (2003 [2007], Thirsty Ear): This started as a session with Matthew Shipp, William Parker, and harpist Zeena Parkins. Musically it's dominated by Shipp's piano, and is typical of his slower improv work, forceful chords wrapped in bass-harp-electronics gossamer. The latter, indeed the whole project, is largely the work of Thirsty Ear head honcho Peter Gordon, who took the shelved tape and doctored it into present form. I find it rather new agey, although it clearly has more muscle under the soft skin. B
  • Janice Friedman Trio: Swingin' for the Ride (2006, Janika Music): Pianist-singer, hasn't recorded a lot, but judging from her website keeps busy and upbeat, including a teaching job at Rutgers. I appreciate the info, including birth date and her characterization of growing up in "lily white" Livingston NJ, as well as the schedule that puts her in my old stomping grounds out in Bernardsville for a couple of nights this month. Record has five originals vs. seven standards. Trio has a guest percussionist, which comes in handy on the Brazilian fare. Aside from a "Summertime" she rides too hard, it's hard to fault anything here. B+(*)
  • Tia Fuller: Healing Space (2006 [2007], Mack Avenue): It seems likely that sooner or later she'll be lured to the smooth side -- indeed, two tracks with guest vocalists point that way, and her resumé-topping tour with Beyoncé gives her a taste of the star life -- but for how she has too much chops and spunk not to enjoy herself. Good tone and plenty of grit on alto sax. Also plays soprano and flute, but why bother? Very mainstream, with two pieces inspired by Katrina. Sean Jones plays trumpet on four, a good match. Ron Blake plays tenor on one, no big deal. B+(*)
  • Christoph Gallio/Urs Voerkel/Peter K Frey: Tiegel (1981 [2006], Atavistic): Soprano sax, piano, bass, respectively, although there are bits of drums (Voerkel) and trombone (Frey). Recorded in Zurich. Seems to be a previously unreleased work tape, with thirteen compositions each called "Improvisation" followed by a number. Gallio went on to form a group named Day & Taxi, where he has a substantial body of work I'm unfamiliar with. AMG only lists one album for Voerkel, but a web search reveals a half dozen or so. Voerkel and Frey reportedly lived in a house with Irène Schweizer and other luminaries -- Mal Waldron was another on the list. The music is delicate, articulate, sharply drawn, with each member contributing memorable moments. B+(**)
  • Charles Gayle Trio: Consider the Lilies . . . (2005 [2006], Clean Feed): Gayle sounds like no one else. But he sounds so much like himself that his albums melt together into an indistinguishable mass. It makes little difference whether he plays alto sax, as he does here and on Live at Glenn Miller Café (Ayler; released earlier but recorded later), or tenor, as on Shout! (his previous Clean Feed release). Only his solo piano album Time Zones is off in a different world -- he's a distinctive and rather remarkable pianist, but not even Cecil Taylor can pound a piano with the fury and urgency of Gayle blowing sax. As his trio albums go, this one strikes me as better than average: more in control, perhaps because the alto is easier to handle; his one cut piano break fits in nicely, without losing much of the energy level; and Jay Rosen makes a heroic contribution on drums. B+(**)
  • Charles Gayle Trio: Live at Glenn Miller Café (2006, Ayler): After all his attempts at diversification -- piano, violin, solo piano album, can Gayle with strings be far behind? -- it's a pleasure just to hear him blow and his trio-mates, Gerald Benson and Michael Wimberly, bang. Doesn't hurt that he sticks with his more moderate alto instead of unleashing his full fury tenor. Helps that he mostly goes with standards -- gives you an easy frame of reference, even if his "Cherokee" is pretty far afield. B+(***)
  • Ned Goold: March of the Malcontents (2005 [2007], Smalls): Tenor saxophonist, has a rather muted sound that seems to belong in dark, smoky clubs, where his modest, MOR postbop sounds like you figure jazz should sound these days. This is a quartet with pianist Sacha Perry, who fits in unobtrusively. B+(*)
  • J.A. Granelli and Mr. Lucky: Homing (2005 [2006], Love Slave): AMG lists him as J. Anthony Granelli. Son of drummer Jerry Granelli. Plays electric and acoustic bass. Calls his group Mr. Lucky. This is their third album, but the personnel has turned over, with Brad Shepik on guitar (replacing David Tronzo), Nate Shaw on organ (Jamie Saft), Mike Sarin on drums (Kenny Wolleson or Diego Voglino), and Gerald Menke joining on steel guitar. So this bears some resemblance to organ-based soul jazz, but it's subtler and slinkier than that, with Shepik most frequently taking the lead, and the steel guitar adding lustre. B+(**)
  • Lou Grassi's PoBand: Infinite POtential (2005 [2006], CIMP): Perry Robinson's clarinet loses out in the three-horn attack here, pummelled to a pulp by Herb Robertson's trumpet and David Taylor's bass trombone. Would like to have heard more from him after the Anat Fort album, but this is, after all, the drummer's album. His play is central, setting the standard for the roughness all around him. Not that Taylor, Robertson, and bassist Adam Lane don't have their moments, but this doesn't strike me as wise use of such resources. B+(*)
  • Johnny Griffin: The Congregation (1957 [2006], Blue Note): A bebop tenor saxophonist given to heavy blowing sessions, this quartet layers his big bold sound over Sonny Clark's free-flowing piano, a simple formula that pays off handsomely. A-
  • Brian Groder: Torque (2006, Latham): An attractive, vigorous brass-reeds-bass-drums quartet, with the leader on trumpet and flugelhorn, Sam Rivers on flute and saxophones. Groder gets more play and makes more of an impression, with Rivers tending to slip into the background. B+(**)
  • Groundtruther: Longitude (2004 [2005], Thirsty Ear). Still not as consistent as I'd like, but this is a pretty impressive showcase for Charlie Hunter's guitar fusion. Bobby Previte is the other hand of Groundtruther, a fine drummer well suited for this kind of music. As with their previous album, this one has a guest star. DJ Logic inserts some turntable twists, but they complement rather than compete with the lead. B+(***)
  • Russell Gunn: Plays Miles (2006 [2007], High Note): Cover shows a trumpet, an electric power line plug, and a butterfly, signifying the Elektrik Butterfly Band and pointing towards Miles Davis's fusion period. Keyboards, bass, drums, percussion, but no guitar or sax. Not all that interesting, at least compared to Yo Miles!, but fun in its own right. B+(*)
  • Gypsy Schaeffer: Portamental (2005 [2006], PeaceTime): Second album by a Boston quartet -- Andy Voelker on saxophones, Joel Yennior trombone, Jef Charland bass, Chris Punis drums -- with a Dixieland-associated name but variously characterized as modern jazz, post-bop, and/or "mildly avant-garde." I can more or less hear all that, but I can't figure out why I should be impressed. Or maybe I'm just suspicious when the avant-garde goes mild? B
  • Lafayette Harris Jr.: In the Middle of the Night (2003-04 [2007], Airmen): Likable, albeit lightweight, smooth jazz outing from a pianist who started out on Muse and could have stuck in out in soul jazz territory. Which means that for all the soft, slinky, synthy slickness, there are occasional moments of class: a workmanlike "Work Song," guest spots from Donald Harrison and Terrell Stafford, flashes of Ben Butler guitar, and a closer ("A Little Feel Thing") that slips over the Afro-Cuban line. The guest vocalists don't fare so well. B
  • 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+(**)
  • Mike Holober: Wish List (2004-05 [2006], Sons of Sound): I don't get the sense that Holober is an exceptional pianist, but I have noticed that he often shows up in good places, and that he is one of the main factors in that success. That may mean he's a better follower than leader. That this record makes such a soft impression may be that his lead players never take charge. Tim Rees adds little more than color with his saxophones; Wolfgang Muthspiel is even more evanescent on guitar. B
  • Honolulu Jazz Quartet: Tenacity (2006 [2007], HJQ): I dunno. A squall line just blew through in the middle of playing this, so I assume that the thunder and crashing trees and such were unscripted. Was trying to read Nat Hentoff's purple-on-black liner notes -- name-dropping about shit told to him back in the day by Coleman Hawkins and Duke Ellington -- and was having trouble with that, too. Group is a quartet, based in Honolulu. Leader is bassist John Kolivas. Tim Tsukiyama plays tenor and soprano sax, mostly tenor; Dan Del Negro piano; Adam Baron drums. Very mainstream stuff, with the only non-original from local legend, slack key guitarist Keola Beamer, not that it stands out. Actually, the distractions don't matter much. Either this is exemplary competency or it's a work of marginal distinction. Think I'll give it a pass and go with the latter, since for my triage purposes it doesn't much matter. B+(*)
  • Freddie Hubbard: Here to Stay (1962 [2006], Blue Note): The younger generation of hard boppers hard at work, with Wayne Shorter, Cedar Walton and Reggie Workman, with Philly Joe Jones the only over-30, offering a sleekly modern take, even of standard fare like "Body and Soul." Cut between Impulse albums at a time when it seemed he could do no wrong, this sat on the shelf until 1976. B+(***)
  • Bruno Hubert Trio/B3 Kings: A Cellar Live Christmas (2005 [2006], Cellar Live): Hubert plays piano. The B3 Kings have Cory Weeds on alto sax, Bill Coon on guitar, Chris Gestrin on the famous organ, and Denzal Sinclaire on drums. My impression is that the two groups alternate rather than play together, excepting that Sinclaire sings one song with each. There's some good news here. One is that they're serious enough about jazz that sometimes they deconstruct these songs until you forget what they're playing. Another is Coon's guitar, although the others, notably Hubert, strike me favorably. Still useless. B-
  • Bobby Hutcherson: Happenings (1966 [2006], Blue Note): A quartet matching the leader's vibes with Herbie Hancock's piano, the latter taking the lead on a pair of lovely slow pieces, while the vibes run off with the fast ones; Hancock's "Maiden Voyage" gets an especially sensitive reading. A-
  • Incognito: Beer + Things + Flowers (2006, Narada Jazz): Niche marketing, but what can you do with a rather old-fashioned straight soul group these days? In their natural classification they'd be second rate, but smooth jazz is so lame they come off as consummate pros. Still, they should be advised to disguise their limits a bit. The two best sounding things here are "Tin Man" (which should belong to the Isley Brothers) and "That's the Way of the World" (which does belong to Earth Wind & Fire). C+
  • Jazz Yule Love II (2006, Mack Avenue): If Christmas music really outsells jazz, as I've seen reports claiming, I guess this is one way to help pay the bills. Seems useless to me, but I've heard far worse down at the local mall. The roster includes familiar names from the label's recent releases, plus two I hadn't noticed: Oscar Brown Jr. and Bud Shank. No dates provided. Brown died in 2005, with his last album in 1998. Shank is 80 now, still active, with a good live record last year joined by Phil Woods. Here he makes the best case I've heard in years for letting it snow. B-
  • JC and the Jazz Hoppers: Chillin' at Home (2004 [2006], Jazz-Hop): JC is Jason Campbell, guitarist. The Jazz Hoppers are Colin Nolan and Andrew Dickeson, who play organ and drums, respectively. Don't know anything about Campbell -- his website has Flash but no substance -- but the record was recorded in Australia, which isn't what you'd call an international jazz destination. So, guitar-organ-drums: been done. Chillin'? That too. Sounds like Grant Green? Sort of, in which case: not enough. B-
  • Kayhan Kalhor/Erdal Erzincan: The Wind (2004 [2006], ECM): Kalhor plays kamancheh, a four-string spiked fiddle or bowed lute from Iran: a violin sound, although pitched a bit lower. Erzincan plays baglama, a long-necked oud from Turkey. Unlisted on the cover is a third musician, Ulas Ozdemir, on divan (bass) bagalama. One long improv based on Iranian and Turkish traditional music, indexed for twelve parts. Fascinating, but a bit thin at this considerable length. B+(*)
  • Phil Kelly & the SW Santa Ana Winds: My Museum (2006, Origin): Los Angeles-based big band, including a bank of strings and some featured soloists of note -- Wayne Begeron, Pete Christlieb, Bill Cunliffe, Grant Geissman, Jay Thomas are names I recognize. Kelly wrote five of nine pieces and arranged the rest, including "Body & Soul" and "Daydream." Kelly has also worked with a Seattle-based group called the Northwest Prevailing Winds. Nicely done, with some inspired moments, but sometimes I wonder why anyone puts so much effort into projects of such limited potential. B
  • Nancy King: Live at Jazz Standard With Fred Hersch (2004 [2006], MaxJazz): This won the Voice Critics' jazz poll as best vocal album of 2006, so I figured I should check it out. Vocal jazz is many things, and this is one of them: a standards singer with a lone pianist for support. Hersch is in pure support mode here -- if he takes a single solo it slipped past me. His patterns have little interest in themselves; they merely serve as foils for King. She too keeps this low key: it took a while before I noticed her subtleties rising to the surface -- the emergence of "Day by Day," the details to "Everything Happens to Me," little bits of inconspicuous scat. Didn't have this when the poll closed, not that it would have made any difference to me. It's the sort of thing that could slowly grow on you, but Diana Krall blew me away from the start, as did Maurice Hines, and there's maybe a dozen more jazz vocal albums higher on my 2006 list. But that's just my take: of the many things comprising vocal jazz, each has its own distinct appeal, defying easy comparison. B+(*)
  • Norm Kubrin: I Thought About You (2006, Arbors): About what you'd expect from the backgrounder: "Since 1993 Kubrin has resided in Palm Beach and has been the resident artist at the Leopard Room in the Chesterfield Hotel, the music director of the Colony Hotel, and the resident pianist-singer at Donald Trump's Mar-A-Lago Club. For the last few years he has been the resident artist at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Palm Beach and performs regularly on the Florida concert scene." In other words, Shmoozy piano balladry, in a trio with bass and guitar, singing ye Great American Songbook. Good as far as that goes. I was particularly touched by "Where Do You Start," the breakup song closing the set. B
  • Pete Levin: Deacon Blues (2007, Motema): Veteran keyboard player, mostly synths in the past, but organ here. Worked with Gil Evans from 1973, Jimmy Giuffre from 1983, plus a long list of pop, jazz, and in-between session work. With guitar (Joe Beck or Mike DeMicco), bass (his brother, Tony Levin), drums/percussion (Danny Gottlieb, Ken Lovelett, Carlos Valdez, in various combos). Steers clear of soul jazz clichés -- maybe having a bassist on board keeps him out of the grits range. Steely Dan title cut and Beach Boys' "Sail on Sailor" are tastefully underplayed. B+(*)
  • Jacques Loussier Trio: Bach: The Brandenburgs (2006, Telarc): I have him rather stuffily filed under classical, since that's what a quick glance at discography, at least since 1987's Reflections on Bach, reads like. Bach represents about half the list, but I also note Handel, Mozart, Chopin, Satie, and Ravel. But there's nothing stuffy about this record. I don't know the classical readings, so it's hard for me to tell where the texts end and the jazz begins, but surely the walking bass wasn't in the original. B+(*)
  • Joe Lovano Ensemble: Streams of Expression (2005 [2006], Blue Note): Gunther Schuller is only credited with the three-piece-long "Birth of the Cool Suite," but the big band assembled there carries on for two chunks of Lovano's own "Streams of Expression" and a Tim Hagans piece "Buckeyes." As such, this resembles the widely admired (albeit not by me) Schuller-arranged Rush Hour. Lovano cut his teeth in big bands, and he's comfortable here. But I get squirmish, admiring one section for its slick intensity, getting annoyed by others, and eventually not caring which is which. B+(*)
  • Mike Marshall/Hamilton de Holanda: New Worlds/Novas Palavras (2005 [2006], Adventure Music): Mandolins aren't exactly choice dueling instruments, but the point here is more likely to see what can come together than how American and Brazilian mandolinists stack up. The match isn't exactly equal: de Holanda plays 10-string bandolim and Irish bouzouki, both close matches to Marshall's mandolin. Marshall also drops down a bit with mandocello and tenor guitar. This struck me as the label owner's indulgence at first, but it works better than expected. Sounds to my ears somewhat like one of those plucky mediaeval dance things, but more tightly wound -- a plus. DVD has three songs: that's the owner's indulgence, but he wants you to see how happy he is. B+(*)
  • Martirio & Chano Domínguez: Acoplados (2004 [2006], Sunnyside): Martirio sings Spanish copla, a traditional pop song laced with flamenco and dolled up here for dramatic effect. Domínguez supports her with a tight little piano trio, but the RTVE big band and orchestra bathe the proceedings in strings and horns. It's hard to know what's traditional and what's progressive here, which limits are prodded and which are dutifully adhered to. B
  • Jackie McLean: Demon's Dance (1967 [2006], Blue Note): The last of McLean's Blue Notes is a bright, breezy, bop quintet with newcomers Woody Shaw and Jack DeJohnette standing out -- the sort of quickie he made routinely a decade earlier at Prestige, but with his mastery all the more evident. B+(***)
  • Jay McShann: Hootie Blues (2006, Stony Plain). A live set from the Montréal Bistro, in Toronto, and a plain delight. McShann was never a great singer, but at 85 his throwaway lines have developed a beguiling slyness. But his piano still has more than a hint of boogie woogie, which loosens up this set of blues-tinged standards. With sax, bass and drums. I haven't listened to much of his post-Parker output, which I imagine is much in this vein. Ends with a 24-minute interview; worth hearing. Among other things, he remembers when Wichita had its big jazz scene. B+(**)
  • Nando Michelin Trio: Duende (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Pianist. Don't know any biographical details, but AMG lists six albums going back to 1996, and that doesn't include this one. Only two side-credits. This one was recorded in Boston. Richie Barshay plays drums and percussion. Esperanza Spalding plays bass and contributes scat vocals to most songs. I'm fairly neutral about the latter, which is to say they're unannoying and less disruptive than I'd expect. Piano is attractive, and bass and drums provide solid support. B+(*)
  • Harry Miller's Isipingo: Which Way Now (1975 [2006], Cuneiform): A sextet, half South African exiles including the leader-bassist, half English avant-gardists, with neither half playing to type on this 75-minute Radio Bremen air shot. Rather, they play like a more mainstream jazz band, but uncommonly full of fire and spirit as they stretch out on four long tracks. Trombinist Nick Evans is especially noteworthy: he comes first in the alphabetical credits, but earns top billing throughout, frequently battling number two man, trumpeter Mongezi Feza. Keith Tippett's piano also gets a good hearing. But most of the interest here will be focused on Miller and Feza -- both died tragically young, leaving only a few intriguing recordings. This is a significant discovery for both. A-
  • Bob Mintzer Quartet: In the Moment (2004 [2007], Art of Life): Yellowjackets tenor saxophonist in a straight acoustic piano-bass-drums quartet. Plays bass clarinet too. Away from the big bands, pop groups, and fusioneers, he's a solid, respectable mainstreamer. B+(*)
  • Nils Petter Molvaer: Live: Streamer (2002 [2006], Thirsty Ear): Originally released on Molvaer's own Sula label, I gave the original an Honorable Mention without giving it much thought, figuring it to be a second helping of the fine studio albums that preceded it. Same record, I think, in a shinier box. A-
  • Thelonious Monk: Riverside Profiles (1955-59 [2006], Riverside): From Brilliant Corners to Town Hall, Monk's Riversides were his growth period, in many cases taking early songs and finding new ways of orchestrating them -- most notably aided by saxophonists named Hawkins, Coltrane, Rollins, Griffin, and Rouse. Ten cuts from ten albums, most deserving to be heard at far greater length. Come with a generic Riverside bonus disc, including "Bemsha Swing" -- which I would have preferred here to the solo pieces, or the Ellington. A-
  • Wes Montgomery: Riverside Profiles (1959-63 [2006], Riverside): His soft metallic tone, intricate lines, and irrepressible groove made him the premier jazz guitarist of his times and immensely influential ever since. His Complete Riverside Recordings box totals 12 discs at the peak of a shortened career -- he died in 1968 at age 43 -- so this should be prime, but it's also rather spotty, with organ grinds and strings, and others frequently stealing the spotlight. B+(***)
  • Stanton Moore: III (2006, Telarc): Not sure what you'd call Moore's strain of jazz-funk fusion. It shares some ground with MM&W, looking back to soul jazz organ (Robert Walter is the guy here), guitar (Will Bernard), and sax (Skerik). Garage A Trois's Outre Mer, which Moore had a big hand in, is my favorite example -- it just seems to click together right. This is spottier, especially on the more straightforward funk toons. Two slower pieces toward the end -- Abdullah Ibrahim's "Water From an Ancient Well" and trad.'s "I Shall Not Be Moved" -- are exceptional, curiously sandwiched around a Led Zep blues, "When the Levee Breaks." Outre Mer ranks as my favorite pop-jazz-fusion album of the Jazz CG era - not that it has a lot of competition. The key there was that they kept the mix lean and the groove sharp. This is even leaner, a bare bones organ trio, at least when the two guests - Skerik on tenor sax, Mark Mullins on trombone - don't weigh in. It no doubt helps that Moore's two bandmates have produced memorable albums on their own - specifically, ones that impressed me more for their instrumental prowess than their overall achievement. The Hammond guy is Robert Walter. The guitarist is Will Bernard. First cut is just the three of them, something called "Poison Pushy," and it clicks. Beyond that I'm less certain, but for now it's worth noting that Skerik earns his keep. He's carved out a niche for himself as a postmodern honker - a Joe Houston for Coltrane's kiddies. Personnel: Robert Walter: hammond b3 organ Will Bernard: guitar Stanton Moore: drums * Guests: Skerik: tenor sax Mark Mullins: trombone Songs: 1. "Poison Pushy" 2. "Licorice" 3. "Big 'Uns Get the Ball Rolling" 4. "Chilcock" 5. "(Don't Be Comin' With No) Weak Sauce" 6. "Dunkin' in the Deep" 7. "Maple Plank" 8. "Water From an Ancient Well" 9. "When the Levee Breaks" 10. "I Shall Not Be Moved" --> B+(*)
  • Nick Moran Trio: The Messenger (2006, CAP): Guitarist-led organ trio, with clean lines, gentle swing, and Ed Withrington's light touch on the organ. First album, quite likable. Credits George Benson as an influence. B+(*)
  • Lee Morgan: The Cooker (1957 [2006], Blue Note): Relatively early, in fact still in his teens, but Morgan's trumpet sound is loud and clear, contrasting brilliantly with Pepper Adams' baritone sax, with a young Bobby Timmons on piano. B+(**)
  • Andy Narell: Tatoom (2007, Heads Up): Subtitled Music for Steel Orchestra, the steel drums are Narell's expansive kit, photographed in the booklet. The "orchestra" adds drums, percussion (congas, timbales), and guests on three cuts: two with guitarist Mike Stern, one with tenor saxophonist David Sanchez. The latter cut is worthwhile. The rest leaves me slightly queasy, even though it sounds like one of the most straightforward jazz albums he's made. Not sure just why, nor all that interested in figuring it out. B
  • New Ghost: Live Upstairs at Nick's (1998 [2006], ESP-Disk): After some digging, I filed this one-shot group under Philadelphia saxophonist Elliott Levin. His resume ranges from Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes to Cecil Taylor. This particular group, as you could probably figure out, is dedicated to Albert Ayler. Both Levin and guitarist Rick Iannacone are credited with vocals, which gravitate toward Beefheart, but mostly they haunt and squawk, sometimes to hair-raising effect. B+(*)
  • Odyssey the Band: Back in Time (2005 [2006], Pi). I would have been happier without the two vocals here, which break the flow of the music -- a vibrant tension between James Blood Ulmer's guitar, Charles Burnham's violin, and Warren Benbow's drums which somehow flows with the improbability of harmolodics. On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with the vocals per sé -- how they would have fit into Ulmer's Hyena albums is hard to say, but that's because the music is so much looser here. Francis Davis has already plugged this in the Voice as the first A-plus record of the year. I'm inclined to be a bit more cautious, and for now doubt that I have two more cents worth the Jazz CG space. Unless I find myself shy a Pick Hit when the next deadline comes around. This could fill that bill. A-
  • Steve Oliver: Snowfall (2006, Koch): First snow of the season here in Cowtown, so I figured that must be what I've been saving this for. Oliver plays guitar and synths, and he makes tolerable background music out of trifles like "Carol of the Bells" and his own "Crystals in the Snow." Unfortunately, he also sings, or in one case is credited with "vocal sounds." It's not that he's awful (although he is), but these songs don't deserve the sort of attention that voice commands. C
  • Oscar Peñas Group: The Return of Astronautus (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Don't know much about Peñas, and never heard of anyone in his group except perhaps -- rings a bell, anyway -- keyboardist José A. Medina. Barcelona group, Peñas plays guitar. Evidently Javier Vercher played sax in an earlier edition of the group, but the current saxophonist goes by the name Guim G. Balasch. The other band members are D-Beat Gonzalez on bass and Mariano Steimberg on drums. Peñas has a thick, metallic tone, which melts into the fender rhodes and electric bass. Postbop, more or less. The ballads are lovely. The faster pieces don't make much of an impression. B
  • Alain Pérez: En El Aire (2005 [2007], AYVA): Cuban bassist, lives in Madrid, has worked with Chucho Valdés, Paco de Lucia, Jerry Gonzalez. Busts some interesting rhythmic moves, shuffles his musicians around for variety, and reaches a bit too high on occasion, especially when he tries to sing. In a better world I'd give this more than two plays and try to sort out what I do and don't like about it -- there's no shortage of both. It's even possible that he'll come back with something that encourages me to do so. But until then: B
  • Houston Person/Bill Charlap: You Taught My Heart to Sing (2004 [2006], High Note): Lovely, of course, with scant room for nitpicking, but perhaps a bit too much of a mutual admiration society, especially where the saxophonist makes way for the pianist. I keep wishing a bass would enter and scurry them along a bit. B+(***)
  • Oscar Peterson, Ray Brown and Milt Jackson: What's Up? The Very Tall Band (1998 [2007], Telarc): Leftovers from the three day stand that produced The Very Tall Band Live at the Blue Note (Telarc). Nothing all that special at the time, but it's great to hear Bags again. One of the first things I ever read about Jackson described him as "always swinging"; Peterson and Brown aren't the sort who'd moderate that tendency. B+(**)
  • John Pisano's Guitar Night (1997-2006 [2007], Mel Bay, 2CD): Guitar Night is every Tuesday at Spazio's in Sherman Oaks CA -- at least that's where all the recordings from 2001 on come from. Pisano hosts one or more guest guitarists, usually with a revolving set of bassists and drummers. Pisano's first Guitar Night was in 1997 at Papashon, with George Van Eps and Herb Ellis early guests. Picking 16 cuts from a decade, Guitar Night features 12 guitarists plus Pisano on roughly half of the cuts. Pisano's own credits include work with Chico Hamilton in 1956-58 and a current duo with vocalist-wife Jeanne dba the Flying Pisanos. I'm not familiar with most of the guitarists here -- Peter Bernstein, Joe Diorio, and Larry Koonse are the exceptions, aside from Ellis and Van Eps -- and they sort of flow together. A good thing, I'd say, a delight for anyone into the intricate inner workings of postbop jazz guitar. B+(*)
  • Jonathan Poretz: A Lot of Livin' to Do (2006 [2007], Pacific Coast Jazz): Actually, not sure of the recording date, but clearly it can't be the same year as the official release date. Poretz is an unabashed admirer of the cardinal male vocal lineage. Down in the "Special Thanks" he says, "Thanks to Frank, Tony, Mel and Bobby for showing me the way." If you have to ask for surnames, this record isn't for you. In my case, "Bobby" gave me pause -- I always thought of Darin as a rocker until I started listening to him lately. Anyhow, we're not talking McFerrin. Of the four, the closest match is Bennett. Actually, I like Poretz better, but I can't claim he adds anything new. Probably wouldn't want to, even if he could. B+(**)
  • Peter Primamore: Grancia (2006 [2007], Blue Apples Music): Pianist from New Jersey, probably in his 40s, first record, background includes: Neil Young tribute band on Jersey shore, a gamelan ensemble at Cornell, lounge piano in Atlantic City. AMG classified this as easy listening. On listening to it, I shuttled it off to my new age file. In fairness, he does rock a bit, on a piece called "Free Western." This is composed and neatly layered instrumental music -- mostly strings (including Chieli Minucci's guitars, a quartet, and harp), soft reeds (clarinets, flutes, oboe), percussion -- with no jazz feel. Often pleasant, at times lovely. B-
  • Puttanesca (2006, Catasonic): Sauce, usually served with spaghetti. Brown 4 halved cloves garlic in 3 tbs. olive oil. Add 4-5 anchovy fillets, crush with fork. Add 28 oz. crushed tomatoes, 10-12 coarsely chopped black olives, 2 tbs. capers, 2 tbs. flat parsley, a small red chili or equivalent. Stirring occasionally, cook over medium heat until reduced to sauce (about 10 minutes). Pasta alla puttanesca translates as whore's pasta. It has a loud, noisy taste, one that grabs your buds and beats them around. Group tries to do the same thing, but less successfully. Their obligatory inspirational cover is Beefheart's "Lick My Decals Off, Baby," and throughout the guitar-bass-drums exhibit a similar skew. The vocalist is Weba Garretson, who's also done business as Weba World. Given that nobody knows what a jazz vocal is these days, she's probably close enough -- certainly too kinky for alt-rock. B+(*)
  • Ike Quebec: It Might as Well Be Spring (1961 [2006], Blue Note): Great name, but a spotty career, cutting r&b 78s for Blue Note and Savoy in the late '40s, then reappearing from 1958-62, specializing in soul jazz 45s, before dying of lung cancer in 1963, age 44. All along he may have been more notable as Blue Note's a&r guy, recruiting Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Dexter Gordon, and many more. He played on Monk's early "genius" recordings, sounding confused. But by 1960 he developed a rich, lustrous tone to his tenor sax, and his blues and ballads bring out the joyous warmth of the instrument. This quartet with Freddie Roach on organ and Milt Hinton on bass has two originals that go down easy, but it's the well-worn standards that shine: "Lover Man," "Ol' Man River," "Willow Weep for Me," and the title track. A-
  • Tad Robinson: A New Point of View (2006 [2007], Severn): White blues singer, also plays harmonica, although I wouldn't swear to the race without a photo. Actually, the notes refer to him as a "soul-blues singer," but I find this so firmly locked into the modern blues paradigm that his hard-earned soulfulness is secondary. B
  • Luis Rodríguez: U-Turn (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Young tenor saxophonist (owns a soprano too) from Puerto Rico. Got a scholarship to Berklee 1998; moved back to Puerto Rico in 2003. First album, mostly a quartet with bass, drums, and Luis Perdomo on piano, but Miguel Zenón joins in on two tracks, and really heats things up on "On the Road." Music does not have a pronounced Latin influence, although the possibility that Perdomo, in particular, is slipping in something over my head is very real; rather, it's postbop of a high order, easy to enjoy, hard to fault. B+(**)
  • Saborit: Que Linda Es Mi Cuba (2006, Tumi): I suppose it's pure coincidence that the guitars in this East Cuban group remind me of nothing so much as Guitar Paradise of East Africa. Cuba's Oriente is typically less Afro and more Spanish than the urban jungle of Havana, but for country music this builds on pretty complex riddims. Modestly named for guaracha legend Eduardo Saborit, they've played together for twenty-plus years before piling onto a tractor and heading cross-country for their first studio date. That may make them hicks, but they were right to take the chance. A-
  • Hironobu Saito: The Sea (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Japanese guitarist, won a scholarship to Berklee, seems to be based in Kyoto now, but he does get around. Second album, more ambitious than The Remaining 2%. Most of it oscillates in big waves of groove, with Walter Smith's sax keeping him company, and Eric Harland accentuating the beat. In this mode he reminds me of John Scofield or maybe Pat Metheny -- guitar's never been my strong suit, and anyway the reaction he evokes is that I've always distrusted those guys. Aside from Harland's drums, I find that part of the album devoid of interest. Some bits fare better. The title track is a simple thing with ocean sounds fading into a recitation by Gretchen Parlato that's both atmospheric and sultry. B-
  • The Source (2005 [2006], ECM): Norwegian quartet, led by saxophonist Trygve Seim, with Øyvind Braekke's trombone as the second horn. I'm reminded of an argument that Ken Vandermark made in introducing Mats Gustafsson's Blues record: that American and European players have a fundamental disconnect in their sense of what blues is, the Americans tuned to the sonic signatures, the Europeans more formal, more abstract. Same sort of thing happens here, only viz. swing. This doesn't swing, but it does everything else you expect of a swing record -- while staying what seems to me at least unnaturally upright. Francis Davis wrote about this in the Voice already, which sort of gets me off the hook. A fascinating record I haven't managed to figure out. I do think that Seim will wind up regarded as important, and this won't be the last time I revisit this. B+(***)
  • Kendra Shank: A Spirit Free: Abbey Lincoln Songbook (2005 [2007], Challenge): Jazz singer, fourth album, plays guitar elsewhere but not here. Not sure what the relationship to Abbey Lincoln is, other than mutual admiration, but she does 11 Lincoln songs here. Lincoln may be my least favorite female jazz singer ever, so I'm not at all sure where to start here. Maybe that the music has a distinctly modern jazz flair to it, and that Shank's relatively moderate voice -- that is, compared to Lincoln's; it's still arch compared to most cabaret singers, but that may be a function of the music -- never trips up or grates. I should give this more time, but after three plays I doubt that will be cost-effective. I should give Lincoln another chance at some point, which this makes me dread a bit less. Gary Giddins wrote the liner notes. B+(*)
  • Elliott Sharp's Terraplane: Secret Life (2005, Intuition): Not sure why this showed up at this late date. New York guitarist, with many records since 1977: AMG lists 50 under his own name, 175 under credits. Still, this is only the second I have filed under his name, although I've surely heard more of his work with others. AMG lists him under "Avant-Garde Music" -- most likely they mean eclectic + obscure. His website divides his recordings into: the beginning; orchestral; strings; carbon; guitar; blues; electro-acoustic; soundtracks; duos; groups; producer; guest. Terraplane would mean blues: it was the title of a 1994 album with David Hofstra and Joseph Trump and group name for at least four more albums. The group here is a quintet with Hofstra on bass, Lance Carter on drums, Curtis Fowlkes on trombone, and Alex Harding on baritone sax. Eric Mingus sings or shouts four songs, and Tracie Morris walks one more. Oh yeah, Hubert Sumlin guests on two cuts. I'm finding the instrumentals powerful and bent in interesting ways, but the vocals (Mingus, anyway) much less so. B+(*)
  • Brad Shepik Trio: Places You Go (2005-06 [2007], Songlines): Guitarist-led organ trio, with Gary Versace on the B-3 and Tom Rainey on drums. As such, the group leans more avant and more exotic than most such, but inevitably the organ takes center stage, which brings out its limited range but deep well of church and funk. The result is awkward and rather unsatisfying, although it's hard to pin this on the guitar or drums, or for that matter even the tastefully restrained organ. B
  • Daryl Sherman: Guess Who's in Town (2006, Arbors): Plays piano, sings standards, has ten albums now. Her voice is similar to Mildred Bailey -- perhaps a bit lighter, but she can surprise you with nuance. The rhythm section, including Jon Wheatley's guitar but no drums, swings nicely, which helps most on the fast ones. Harry Allen and Vince Giordano add sax on three cuts each -- one in common, so five total. B+(*)
  • Liam Sillery With the David Sills Quartet: On the Fly (2005 [2006], OA2): Sills is a mainstream tenor saxophonist, who did an album earlier this year that I rather liked (Down the Line). His quartet includes organ and guitar, so it takes off from soul jazz mainstream. Sillery plays trumpet and flugelhorn. Sax-trumpet quintets normally spell hard bop, but the bottom is weak here, and the top is rather flighty, the horns harmonizing more than dicing. The result is a sort of elegant postbop I find almost totally uninteresting. B-
  • Grant Stewart: In the Still of the Night (2006 [2007], Sharp Nine): Tenor saxophonist; big, broad sound, straight down main street, with a handful of albums since 1992, including a group with Eric Alexander called Reeds and Deeds that's released titles like Cookin' and Wailin'. Standards, with "Autumn in New York" and "Lush Life" most memorable. First-rate quartet, with Tardo Hammer, Peter Washington, and Joe Farnsworth. Marc Edelman gets his usual brilliant sound. B+(*)
  • Sonny Stitt: Stitt's Bits: The Bebop Recordings (1949-52 [2006], Prestige, 3CD): Stitt always claimed that he developed his style independently of Charlie Parker, sort of like Alfred Russel Wallace's discovery of Charles Darwin's theory of natural selection. But Parker was four years older, got his records out first, and established his case more persuasively. Stitt's early records on Prestige came out when bebop was in full swing -- indeed, Jay Jay Johnson headlined the first set here, and Bud Powell co-led the second. And as he moved from tenor sax to alto, he almost begged comparison to Bird. More than anything else, Stitt was a working musician -- a guy who cranked out hundreds of albums, often on the flimsiest of premises. Most of the sessions here were jousts with Gene Ammons, and the best are when they're both flying high. But including everything drags their faint r&b vocal sides in. B+(**)
  • Melissa Stylianou: Sliding Down (2006, Festival): Canadian jazz singer, based in Brooklyn. Third album, although this one is listed as Canada-only. Makes nice work of a couple of old standards ("Them There Eyes," "All of You") and offers a refreshing take on the Beatles' "Blackbird." The early going benefits from light latin percussion, but she doesn't hold our interest when she slows down, and the originals don't give her a lot to work with. B
  • Yma Sumac: Recital (1961 [2006], ESP-Disk): The Incan diva, famed for her crystalline voice, was an exotic novelty in the '50s, but here takes her folklore on the road, recording this in Bucharest with an orchestra that frequently mistakes her for an opera star. Not knowing her earlier work I'm not sure how this fits in, or what it might be good for. B-
  • Steve Swallow With Robert Creeley: So There (2001-05 [2006], ECM/XtraWatt): Only got the advance here -- same for a bunch of ECM releases, which have been languishing on my pile in the hopes that the real thing might come along, but the release date here is Nov. 7, 2006, so I guess I have to make do. I went through a poetry phase in the late '60s before getting to a point after which I found the stuff unreadable. Creeley was a name I recall from then, but not a particular interest. He has been a favorite of jazz musicians: Steve Lacy tried adapting his poems to song, and Swallow did the same on a much earlier album. But here he just speaks, which works much better, providing the skeleton and cadence for Swallow's music. The latter is mostly the work of pianist Steve Kuhn and the Cikada String Quartet. Kuhn's work is very attractive here: light and uplifting without turning to fluff. The strings are more of a down, tearful even, but they don't spoil the experience. Interesting combination of effects. (Francis Davis wrote about this in the Voice.) B+(***)
  • Natsuki Tamura Quartet: Exit (2003 [2004], Libra): I've had this for a couple of years, but misplaced it. Noticed it was in my unrated list, and looked around furiously for it, finding it only after giving up. The packaging is like an LP jacket, but CD-size, with a nice little soft paper inner sleeve for the disc. The music has an industrial fusion feel to it, with Satoko Fujii playing synth, Takayuki Kato guitar, and Ryojiro Furusawa drums. Some of the noises resemble vocals, but could be coming from anywhere, and don't resolve into much. In fact, only the drums are particularly recognizable as themselves. B
  • David Taylor-Steve Swell Quintet: Not Just . . . (2005 [2006], CIMP): Looks interesting on paper. The leaders play trombone, with Taylor on the bass version. The rest of the quintet is a string trio, with Billy Bang, Thomas Ulrich, and Ken Filiano from top to bottom. The problem may just be the sound, which they expect you to play louder than is my norm, on more expensive stereo gear, and with rapt attention. Failing that, there are dull spots where nothing much seems to be happening. In any case, Bang never really catches fire, although the trombone interplay is worthwhile. B
  • Ximo Tebar & Fourlights: Eclipse (2005 [2006], Omix/Sunnyside): Fast, slick bebop guitar, coming out of the Wes Montgomery school, with a tribute to Pat Martino tossed in. The fleet lightness is accented by Dave Samuels on vibes and marimba, a nice touch, which at best sweeps you away. Less effective are Tebar's scat vocals. B+(*)
  • Thirsty Ear Blue Series Sampler (2002-06 [2006], Thirsty Ear): The website lists this as The Blue Series Sampler: The 30th Year, but I find no evidence of that title here. The 30th anniversary shtick is a stretch. They did some publicity in the late '70s, but didn't release any records until 1990, and mostly picked up others' productions until they hired Matthew Shipp and launched the Blue Series in 2000. Even then, they had no idea they were going to found a whole school of avant-jazztronica, let alone open their tent wide enough to make a home for DJ Spooky, Charlie Hunter, Nils Petter Molvaer, Carl Hancock Rux, Mike Ladd, and numerous others. This is the third, and least satisfying, of their samplers -- all that tent-opening has led to some sprawl. Still, at $2.98 list, it is a bargain, not just to explore but because it actually flows. B+(**)
  • Steve Turre: Keep Searchin' (2006, High Note): After tributes to JJ Johnson and Roland Kirk, this has been viewed as a re-exploration of Turre's own work. He is one of the more remarkable trombonists of the last two decades, so he has plenty to work with. The other main figure here is vibraphonist Stefon Harris. I've never been much of a fan, but his light rhythmic tap dance makes a nice contrast to Turre and Akua Dixon's baritone violin (featured on three tracks), so I can't fault him here. B+(**)
  • Dave Valentin: Come Fly With Me (2006, High Note): Plays flute, with 20 or so albums, mostly on pop-oriented GRP from 1980-93. Since then, one on RMM, one on Concord, two on High Note. This is the first I've heard. It's mostly Latin, with Robby Ameen on drums, Milton Cardona and Richie Flores on percussion -- Latin jazz has always been a niche for flute players. I don't have much feel for this sort of thing, but my impression is that Latin jazz helps the flute more than the other way around. Choice cut here is "Tu Pañuelo," where the rhythm gets so chopped up flow is impossible, and the flute is mostly out of the picture, or panting hoarsely on the sidelines. B-
  • Wayne Wallace: Dedication (2006 [2007], Patois): San Francisco trombonist, born 1952, teaches, mostly plays Latin, although some of this is in a straighter jazz vein. Actually, he provides a thumbnail breakdown: jazz (4), latin (2), ballad (1), tone poem (1, a Coltrane piece Wallace doesn't play on; it's done with Asian flutes), bossa nova (1), afro/jazz (1). The groups run large, often with trumpet, two trombones (Jeff Cressman is the other), flute, three saxes, bass, piano, drums, congas, timbales, and/or other percussion. I find all this layered complexity often just cancels itself out, although I do enjoy the trombone when I can make it out. B
  • Wayne Wallace: The Reckless Search for Beauty (2006 [2007], Patois): Trombonist-led Latin jazz record. Hard to argue with the flow or spirit, but there's nothing much out of the ordinary either. Lots of percussion. Six songs with vocals by Alexa Weber-Morales, including a memorable version of Bill Withers' "Use Me." B+(**)
  • The David S. Ware Quartet: BalladWare (1999 [2006], Thirsty Ear): Not exactly a standards album, given that four of seven songs come from Ware's own songbook. The others are "Yesterdays," "Autumn Leaves," and "Tenderly" -- they qualify, and the other pieces fit nicely around them. This reminds Francis Davis of Coltrane's Ballads, but it isn't nearly as conventional, nor as pretty. For one thing, Matthew Shipp does some tricky work on the chassis -- not raw, but nothing expected either. And while Ware holds back from getting rough, he does work the pieces around quite a bit. A-
  • Weather Report: Forecast: Tomorrow (1969-85 [2006], Columbia/Legacy, 3CD+DVD): The jazz-rock fusion of the early '70s was less a movement than a family franchise. It started with Miles Davis, then spread with his departing employees: most importantly, John McLaughlin, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and this Wayne Shorter-Joe Zawinul joint venture. Hardly anyone without a connection to Davis mattered, but the preponderance of keyboards set the music adrift -- the rhythms and textures thickening, the atmosphere clouding up. At least that's what I always thought, but this box had me wondering for a while. The first disc gets a running start by including three pre-group cuts, starting with the Davis take of Zawinul's "In a Silent Way." Then it leans heavily on the first album and live cuts where the jazz whiskers come out. But it gets spottier as they go on, especially when Shorter tries to fit in rather than stand out. The DVD offers a 1978 concert at the band's popular peak with Jaco Pastorius and Peter Erskine going shirtless in what must be a Cheap Trick homage. B+(**)
  • Larry Willis: Blue Fable (2006 [2007], High Note): Four cuts feature alto sax and trombone. The others are just piano trio. All are sharp, thoughtful, engaged. None are spectacular. In short, this is an even match for his previous album (The Big Push, also High Note), and for that matter, almost everything else he's done. B+(**)

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Music: Current count 12975 [12958] rated (+17), 834 [835] unrated (-1). Not much to report. Spent most of the week playing new jazz, then picked up some old jazz at the end since the rated count seemed a little low. Still waiting for Jazz CG to come out. Should step over and work on Recycled Goods, since April is coming up. Possible that the rated count will top 13000 next week.

  • Harry "Sweets" Edison: For My Pals (1988, Pablo): Friendly little sessions, mostly with players I don't recognize: Curtis Peagler on tenor and alto sax, Buster Cooper on trombone, Art Hillery on piano and organ, Andy Simpkins on bass, Tootie Heath on drums -- well, sure, I know who Tootie is. Nothing special, once you compensate for Sweets, who is always special. B+
  • Giants of Small Band Swing: Volume 1 (1946 [1990], Riverside/OJC): Odds and ends recorded for 78, totalling twelve cuts in 36 minutes: two cuts from Billy Kyle's Big Eight, four from Russell Procope's Big Six, two from Sandy Williams' Big Eight, two from Dicky Wells' Big Seven, and two from Jimmy Jones' Big Four. All of these were thrown together on the spot, so it's not unusual to see Kyle playing in Procope's group, or Cecil Scott or Bud Johnson repeating. Nothing essential, although I'd never turn down the chance to hear Bud Johnson. B
  • Jerry Granelli and Badlands: Enter, a Dragon (1997 [1998], Songlines): Six of fifteen pieces are called "Haiku," with others pointing east, possibly including the title piece. Four horns, with Chris Speed, Peter Epstein, and Briggan Krauss on reeds, Curtis Hasselbring on trombone. Jamie Saft plays piano, clavinet, accordion, and slide guitar. Granelli plays drums, and his brother J. Anthony plays bass. Oddly paced, squeaky, hard to focus on, possibly of some interest if you're able to get over the degree of difficulty. B
  • Benny Green: Greens (1991, Blue Note): Piano trio, with Christian McBride and Carl Allen. Good sense of jazz tradition, blues, even a bit of gospel. B+
  • Lee Konitz/Paul Bley: Out of Nowhere (1997, Steeplechase): A quartet with Jay Anderson and Billy Drummond, but the headliners are clearly the show. Elegant, especially Konitz. B+
  • London Jazz Composers Orchestra: Three Pieces for Orchestra (1996, Intakt): Barry Guy's big group, huge favorites of the Penguin Guide folks. I've heard very little, and never made much sense out of the highly recommended Ode. Guests are Maggie Nicols (voice) and Marilyn Crispell (piano). Howard Riley is the regular pianist, so Crispell's contribution is less clear, but I figure her for the explosive stuff. Nicols, on the other hand, is prominent and way over the top -- so much so that I find her almost comic. Could very well be that this might benefit from more exposure, but I think with Guy in general that's a SFFR. B

Jazz Prospecting (CG #13, Part 2)

I don't have any new information on when the Jazz Consumer Guide will run in the Village Voice, so I'll be as surprised as you if it does (or does not) run this week. Should know in a day or two. Meanwhile, new stuff comes in, and I've been playing some of it, rather indecisively. Still need to do the post-JCG#12 purge, which may depend on the question of whether we can tighten the schedule a bit -- a two-month cycle would mean I should keep more candidates in play than the usual three-month cycle, let alone the four-plus months this one has consumed. On the other hand, I'm also feeling like some spring cleaning.

Still under a lot of personal stress. I'm working on antiquated equipment with annoying and somewhat ominous sounds, and I'm way behind in many projects both large and small. I did update the website last night to get the Crowson cartoon and a couple of new book images up, and most importantly to feature the Tanya Reinhart pages. I'm gradually pulling my book comments/quotes from the blog and organizing them in the books section. I have 15 such pages up now, and probably three times that many waiting to be unearthed. Eventually I hope to start pulling familiar books off the shelves. And in my wildest dreams I hope to get past the stench of politics and pull out some music guides and cookbooks.

MB3: Jazz Hits Volume 1 (2006, Mel Bay): MB presumably stands for Mel Bay, as in Records, a Missouri label with nothing but guitarists (classical as well as jazz). The "3" are guitarists Jimmy Bruno, Vic Juris, and Corey Christiansen -- three generations that hardly skip a beat. The "jazz hits" lean most heavily on Miles Davis, with Horace Silver, John Coltrane, Benny Golson, and Herbie Hancock also contributing. Jay Anderson plays bass; Danny Gottlieb drums. Easy going, relatively surefire material. Mel Bay's website has a news item about this topping some jazz airplay chart. You might not notice, but wouldn't mind. B+(*)

The Brooklyn Repertory Ensemble: Pragmatic Optimism (2006, 360 Degree): The label, with its bullseye logo around the number 360 and "from rag time to no time" slogan, reminds me of Beaver Harris, who had a group called 360 Degree Music Experience. Don't know that there's any link here, although the director here, Wade Barnes, is another drummer. Nothing avant here. Just a big band that goes for heavy brass -- James Zollar is the only trumpet, but he's complemented by French horn, mellophone, euphonium, bass trombone, and tuba. The horns tend to undulate with no one breaking loose or doing anything especially distinctive. The rhythm -- Bill Ware III on vibes as well as drummer Barnes -- have more going on. Don't much care for vocalist Tulivu-Donna Cumberbatch, who seems to have missed Rafters Raising 101 in Sunday School. B-

Jane Stuart: Beginning to See the Light (2006 [2007], Jane Stuart Music): Ellington, not Reed. She's a singer with a nice, moderate voice; first record, but she has a bunch of stage credits, including a turn as Joan Baez in Richard Farina's "Long Time Comin' A Long Time Gone." I like her quite a bit mid-tempo and faster, much less so on the ballads. The band supports her fine, but doesn't demand much attention on their own. B

Harry Connick Jr.: Chanson du Vieux Carré (2003 [2007], Marsalis Music/Rounder): Connick's deal with Columbia is that he can make non-vocal albums on the side. Until now these have concentrated on his serviceable-plus piano. Here he takes a hand at arranging for big band a mix of old New Orleans songs and three originals. The album doesn't forego vocals alltogether: Rodney Jones sings "Bourbon Street Parade" and Lucien Barbarin sings a Connick original called "Luscious." There's some indication that this was a rough experiment, cut in 2003 in a studio scheduled for Harry for the Holidays and Only You, and only pulled off the shelf as a complement to Connick's new, post-Katrina New Orleans tribute, Oh, My NOLA. Haven't heard the latter yet, so I'll hold back here -- in any case, won't mind hearing this again. [B+(*)]

Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake: From the River to the Ocean (2007, Thrill Jockey): With all due respect, the principal artist here is Drake. His steady, even-tempered drums are the central thread everything else connects to. He sets up such a comforting groove that he finally coaxes Anderson into a new level of his game -- I think the word, strange as it may sound, is serene. The artist credit reminds us that Anderson and Drake have recorded duets before, but these aren't duets. Jeff Parker plays guitar, taking solo space and setting a sonic level that Anderson tries to match. Harrison Bankhead and/or Josh Abrams play bass, with Bankhead switching to cello and piano for one cut each, Abrams playing guimbri on two. Drake doesn't get a credit for the last cut, but he's there anyway. Drake doesn't claim vocal credit either, but he's audible. No session info on this. For the record, this makes five straight A- records for Anderson. When he turned 70, I didn't expect we'd see even one. A-

Soweto Kinch: A Life in the Day of B19: Tales of the Tower Block (2006 [2007], Dune): Part one (of two) of a concept album about a normal day in the life of three blokes in a Birmingham (UK) housing project (B19) -- Adrian, Marcus, and S -- with the usual hopes and dreams and dreads and ennui. Probably means more if you've been there or at least can grok the accents -- I recall an English (err, Welsh) businessman I used to work with as describing Birmingham as "three million people with a common speech defect." I find it takes an awful lot of effort to follow what on paper appears as 15 skits in a matrix of 15 pieces -- even on paper the organization isn't that neat, with "Opening Theme" and "Everybody Raps" among the pieces. As hip-hop, I'm more impressed by its ambition than by the accomplishment. As jazz it isn't much clearer. Kinch has a plastic take on alto sax -- his tone playful, almost toyish, his lines bent in odd ways -- but he tends to fall back into soundtrack mode here, so only occasional patches suggest that he may be up to something interesting. I don't hate the idea of hip-hop-era jazz, but this one's a long way from sorting out the kinks. [B]

Abram Wilson: Ride! Ferris Wheel to the Modern Day Delta (2007, Dune): Another concept album, based on a character named Albert Jenkins who, like Wilson, plays trumpet. Works better, partly because the story line is confined to a few songs, which are straightforwardly blues-based. Like the other Dune artists, Wilson is based in London, but he was born in Fort Smith, Arkansas, and grew up in New Orleans. That explains his references to Delta blues and New Orleans polyphony, the yin and yang of his music. Fits him much, much better than the soul man moves on his previous Jazz Warrior. [B+(***)]

Bobby Broom: Song and Dance (2005 [2007], Origin): Guitar-bass-drums trio, with Broom the guitarist. Got off on the wrong foot (with me, at least) by starting with a Beatles song. Actually, it's very tasteful, not bad at all: "Little Rascals Theme" isn't too cute, and "Wichita Lineman" isn't too cloying. B

Beatle Jazz: All You Need (2006 [2007], Lightyear): Fifth album, with David Kikoski (piano, synthesizer) and Brian Melvin (drums, tabla) the mainstays. The Beatles' songs are so indelibly ingrained in my mind that I instinctively reject all variations -- I suppose if I really racked my brain I might be able to come up with a tolerable mix tape of exceptions, but I'm not optimistic. Bass duties are split between Larry Grenadier and Richard Bona; the latter sings one, a risky move that best comes off rather odd. Toots Thielemans (3 cuts) and Joe Lovano (2 cuts) also guest. The core group is smart enough I can't pan them severely. The two Lovano cuts ("The continuing Story of Bungalow Bill" and "Look at Me") are choice. B

Wally Shoup/Gust Burns/Reuben Radding/Greg Campbell: The Levitation Shuffle (2003 [2007], Clean Feed): Cover doesn't have first names, so this is probably not how I'll wind up attributing the album, but I might as well spell them out up front. They play alto sax, piano, bass, and drums, respectively. The pieces are all group improvs, free and open and more than a little scattershot. Shoup and Burns are based in Seattle, and they make an interesting pair: the former's saxophone seems about par for the style, but Burns makes a fascinating accompanist in repeatedly crashing his piano against the grain. B+(*)

Ethan Winogrand: Tangled Tango (2005 [2007], Clean Feed): Drummer, originally from New York, now based in Spain where his wife's family comes from, has one previous album. This is a quintet, more or less, with Gorka Benitez on tenor/soprano sax or flute and Steven Bernstein on trumpet for the horns, Ross Bonadonna on guitar, Carlos Barretto on bass (with help from Eric Mingus on two cuts). Straightforward stuff, lovely tone on the horns, not much tango, tangled or otherwise, to justify the title. B+(**)

Carlos Barretto Trio: Radio Song (2002 [2007], Clean Feed): Portuguese bassist; also works in Bernardo Sassetti's trio, and has shown up on several other Clean Feed albums. His own trio includes Mario Delgado on guitar and Jose Salgueiro on drums and percussion. Three cuts add guest Louis Sclavis (clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano sax), whose feel for European folk musics lines up nicely with Barretto's. Even without Sclavis, this ranges wide and moves smartly. [B+(***)]

Alvin Fielder Trio: A Measure of Vision (2005-06 [2007], Clean Feed): Drummer, first album under his own name, but he's been around a long time. Born in 1935 in Mississippi, passed through New Orleans on his way to Chicago, where he was a founder of the AACM in 1963. Played with Roscoe Mitchell on Sound in 1966, and has slogged his way through the back waters of the avant-garde ever since, most frequently in the company of Joel Futterman, Kidd Jordan, and/or Dennis González. This could easily be seen as the latter's album: González plays the lead instrument (trumpet), wrote a good chunk of it, recorded it on his home turf in Texas, brought in two sons for extra bass and vibes, and passed it on to his business associates in Lisbon. The other trio member is pianist Chris Parker, a bright contrast to the trumpet. Fielder himself doesn't make much of a splash. [B+(**)]

Scott Fields Ensemble: Beckett (2005 [2007], Clean Feed): Chicago guitarist, born 1957 (AMG says 1952) way out on the avant-garde, has recorded a lot since 1995, of which I've heard little. Eschews labels, but when pressed has described his work as post-free jazz, neo-revisionist improvisation, transparent music, exploratory music. Website includes a photo of him bowing guitar. This record includes a cellist, so not all the bowed sounds are guitar, but most likely some are. Aside from the dreamy arco sections, most of this is built from jerky little splotches, with cello and tenor sax following suit, while John Hollenbeck accents. B+(**)

Jerome Sabbagh: Pogo (2006 [2007], Sunnyside): Good young mainstream saxophonist, born in Paris, educated in Boston, lives in New York. Writes all his own material. Plays tenor and soprano, and is adept enough at the latter that it doesn't mess up his game -- unlike most of the post-Coltrane, post-Shorter generation who take the combination as de rigeur. This is a quartet with Ben Monder on guitar, Joe Martin on bass, Ted Poor on drums. Quiet spots are beguiling; louder stretches flow smoothly. A little more polished than North, cut by the same group on Fresh Sound New Talent a couple of years back. B+(**)

Billy Fox: The Uncle Wiggly Suite (2004 [2007], Clean Feed): Don't know much about percussionist-composer Fox other than that he was a student of Jane Ira Bloom and has a couple of credits as "drum technician" on Bobby Sanabria albums. These compositions come out of an assignment for Bloom, building on bits of "atonal music, Sixties modal jazz, New Orleans brass bands, Cuban rhythms, Pakistani ghazals, and much more" -- as the label catalogs it. It's also a big band record, utilizing 13 musicians, although there's little of the section bashing that expresses power in such groups. Rather, the pieces seem to grow organically into diversified details. [B+(**)]

Russ Lossing/Mat Maneri/Mark Dresser: Metal Rat (2006 [2007], Clean Feed): Pianist Lossing is the presumed leader here, but Maneri's viola dominates the sound and pushes this so far into abstract chamber music territory that the others can only tag along. Lossing in particular makes an interesting go of it. Dresser is harder to gauge because his bass contrasts less with the viola and tends to get drowned out, but I suspect closer focus will reveal more. Not what you'd call accessible. Nor something I'm inclined to readily dismiss. [B+(*)]

Didn't get to the replay shelves this week, so no final grades/notes on records tentatively graded the first time around.

The State of the Mission

Richard Crowson's editorial cartoon in the Wichita Eagle today pretty much sums up the current state of Bush's Iraq misadventure:

The Eagle today had a front page story on the 4th anniversary of the war today, starting with a conservative tally of the costs. They also ran a 4th page story on the antiwar march in Washington DC. The New York Times had no news on either. The only thing close there was a Frank Rich column recounting the days of March 2003 when the war was just emerging from fantasy. Of course, for its proponents the war is still shrouded in fantasy.

Tanya Reinhart

Tanya Reinhart died yesterday. She was a professor of linguistics -- her thesis supervisor was none other than Noam Chomsky -- but I know her mostly from two slim books that provide an indispensibly succinct record of Israel/Palestine since the breakdown of the Oslo process talks in 2000. The first is Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948 (2002, 2005 second edition, Seven Stories Press), and the follow-up is The Road Map to Nowhere: Israel/Palestine Since 2003 (2006, Verso). I've posted quotes from both. Her work is second-hand journalism, based on published sources, but pulled together with exceptional clarity. Over the last few years, she's the first person I'd check out to find out what was actually going on in Israel. That's going to be even tougher without her.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Hostages of War

Tom Engelhart has a long post on the way the Bush warriors use "support the troops" as a shield to promote their Iraq war policy. The payoff quote is:

This is hot-button blackmail. Little could be more painful than a parent, any parent, outliving a child, or believing that a child had his or her life cut off at a young age and in vain. To use such natural parental emotions, as well as those that come from having your children (or siblings or wife or husband) away at war and in constant danger of injury or death, is the last refuge of a political scoundrel. It amounts to mobilizing the prestige of anxious or grieving parents in a program of national emotional blackmail. It effectively musters support for the President's ongoing Iraq policy by separating the military from the war it is fighting and by declaring non-support for the war taboo, if you act on it.

It's not clear to me why or how the Bush flacks get away with this. The traditional view is that the troops are instruments of policy, not reasons for it. If the policy dictates sacrificing troops, then you sacrifice them -- at most you factor their lives into some sort of cost-benefit analysis that says the policy benefits are worth the costs. But nobody does this with Iraq, and by nobody I especially mean the people who promoted this war. To analyze the war policy you first have to specify what the benefits of success are: i.e., why did Bush et al. want to start this war in the first place? As I'm sure you'll recall, every reason they offered before launching the war has turned out to be invalid. Either it was based on misguided information (e.g., WMD) or was insincere (e.g., democratization) or was otherwise obscured (e.g., oil). Since the war bogged down, the only real reason for continuing it seems to be that it would look bad politically for the people who started it to pull out without some sort of credible measure of success.

But even if Bush has made that analysis and decided, according to his own peculiar value system, that the benefits -- not having to admit you screwed up -- outweigh the costs -- the yearly run is about 1000 dead Americans, 5000 maimed, $100 billion or more if you factor in debt and long-term effects -- it reveals a lot that he can't just come out and say so. For starters, it's a very selfish analysis: it equates the national interest with Bush's own political interests; while we're used to the idea that troops will sacrifice themselves for the national interest, the idea that they should do so for Bush's poll numbers is a tough sell.

But it also elevates the soldiers to some status well above being mere instruments of policy. That this seems plausible at all should be taken as evidence that we have grown to the point that we are no longer so willing to sacrifice lives for policy. We have seen just that trend historically, and we can measure it by our willingness to spend more and more money to protect and preserve the lives of American soldiers in combat. But the logical conclusion of those trends is that we should take even greater pains to avoid combat -- precisely the opposite of the Bush case. Curiously, this contradiction has kept the Busheviks ahead of the argument: they hide their policy behind the troops, daring the antiwar side to embrace the troops and give the policy a pass -- the result is a squabble over who speaks for the troops, an argument that naturally favors whoever's Commander in Chief.

Ultimately we have to get back to square one in the debate, which is what (if anything) can we reasonably hope to achieve in Iraq, how much will that cost (if indeed we can specify that to a reasonable degree of risk), and is that benefit worth the expected cost. Among other things, that debate would have to raise the major question of whether we as a people really want to act like the sort of empire the US has inadvertently become. To some extent even those who willingly argue about who loves the troops the most understand that to be a proxy debate. The problem is that by failing to have the right debate, we run the risk of further confusing ourselves. As indeed happened with the right's post-Vietnam revisionism -- one-sided forgetting and mythmaking that made a recurrence of past mistakes possible.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

How Everyday Scandals Sink in the News

News item in the Wichita Eagle today, written by Cain Burdeau of Associated Press, titled "New Orleans levee pumps at risk.":

The Army Corps of Engineers, rushing to meet President Bush's promise to protect New Orleans by the start of the 2006 hurricane season, installed defective flood-control pumps last year despite warnings from its own expert that the equipment would fail during a storm, according to documents obtained by the Associated Press.

The 2006 hurricane season turned out to be mild, and the new pumps were never pressed into action. But the Corps and the politically connected manufacturer of the equipment are still struggling to get the 34 heavy-duty pumps working properly.

This strikes me as one of your basic everyday Bush-era scandals, of which there must be hundreds or maybe even thousands by now. The causes are fundamental:

  • The job was passed out to a "politically connected manufacturer," making it part of the Bush patronage system. Even if the company had credibility to do the job, it wasn't held to any real standard of competency.
  • When it became evident that the company had failed to deliver, the Bush administration preferred creating a false appearance over holding the vendor responsible.

The Bush administration is very good at making announcements. They promise things on paper, and when possible they deliver them on paper. The only problem they have is reality. This particular scandal didn't turn into a major disaster because no storm like Katrina hit to show the full extent of their failure. As such, this scandal will probably fade before long. After all, there are so many more conspicuous scandals to keep things like this in the public focus.

Two such scandals dominated the news today. The thing about these scandals is not just that they are major but that their discovery was inevitable. The first is the Walter Reed veterans fiasco. The Bush hawks have been wrapping their Iraq war policy up in loud proclamations of "support the troops" for four years now, while it's been abundantly clear that those troops were suffering devastating injuries. Bush has enjoyed virtual carte blanche in military appropriations for the war, and even those opposed to the war would have had no objections whatsoever to providing extra appropriations to do whatever was needed to help out returning casualties. But Bush never asked for such help -- mostly because he's been privatizing Veterans services to feed his patronage (crony capitalism) system. Besides, providing real services to returning veterans would have smacked of the dreaded welfare state -- the very idea that government could actually be put to good use for folks who merely pay taxes as opposed to kickbacks.

The other scandal is the firing of DOJ prosecutors, especially the ones who prosecuted the scandals that contributed so much to the Republicans losing Congress in 2006. There's an element here of locking the barn door after the cows have escaped, unless you suspect that there may be more such prosecutions to come. Given the way the Republicans have run Congress from 1995-2007 and the way Bush has run the White House since 2001, it's pretty plausible that they have a lot more to be worried about. On the other hand, the act of purging potentially dangerous (i.e., honest) prosecutors sure looks like a desperate power grab. The Bush argument that the prosecutors can be dismissed "at the pleasure of the President" runs contrary to the fact that the President took an oath to uphold the constitution and the laws of the land, which he himself is subject to. This strikes me as more than a bad omen: it's precisely the sort of abuse of power that demands impeachment.

Curiously, Gonzalez appeared before the press today and "took responsibility for mistakes made" in this matter. It's not clear how he's doing so. Robert Mueller offered a similar mea culpa a few days ago for FBI abuses, again without consequence. It seems like responsibility doesn't mean much to Republicans after all. If it did, you'd think Mueller and Gonzalez would have resigned and made arrangements to spend the next few years in jail.

The Health Care Mess

Julius B. Richmond is a M.D. with vast government experience -- a founder of Head Start, the former Surgeon-General under President Jimmy Carter (who wrote the introduction here); currently Professor Emeritus of Health Policy at Harvard. Rashi Fein is Professor Emeritus of Medical Economics at Harvard Medical School. Their book is called The Health Care Mess: How We Got Into It and What It Will Take to Get Out (2005, Harvard University Press). I picked it up at the library along with David Mechanic's The Truth About Health Care. The main difference between the two books is that most of The Health Care Mess details the history behind the current state, whereas Mechanic's book is more of a current snapshot.

The final quarter of the book makes two proposals: a pitch for a single-payer national health system, which the authors prefer, and a series of piecemeal approaches mostly based on the Federal Employees Health Benefits (FEHB) program -- the latter is pretty much what Kerry ran on, or at least namechecked, in 2004. Neither proposal comes close to sizing up the whole problem described in the early parts of the book. For that matter, the "mess" of the title strikes me as a good deal tidier than reality.

On the development of modern medicine (p. 9):

Scientific advances taking place in the early twentieth century were destined to have a significant impact on diagnostic and therapeutic interventions available to physicians, the understanding of disease patterns, and the nature of medical education and physician preparation for the emerging modes of practice. Discoveries in the natural sciences and the increasing availability and applications of the compound microscope fostered the development of pathology, bacteriology, physiology, pharmacology, and biochemistry as sciences basic to the study of medicine. The development of x-ray examinations, electrocardiography, and laboratory examinations of body fluids, based on new knowledge in phsyics and chemistry, were beginning to change the nature of medical practice.

It has been said that, at the turn of the last century, if a randomly selected patient with a random illness met a randomly selected physician, the patient had only a fifty-fifty chance of benefiting from the encounter. Those odds increased remarkably over the century, and that increase began in the early decades.

On the accidental development of employment-based health insurance (pp. 37-39):

Because the most common group arrangement and linkage involved employment, this pattern had many administrative and enrollment advantages, especially so during the Second World War when America bounced back from the depths of the depression. Between 1939 and 1944 the unemployment rate dropped from 17.2 percent to 1.2 percent, and the Gross National Product grew by almost 75 percent in real (corrected for inflation) terms. In an effort to control inflationary pressures on the prices for consumer goods in short supply and on wages in a full-employment economy, the federal government instituted price and wage controls. Nevertheless, it did permit additions (within limits) to fringe benefits, including health insurance. Given the high levels of taxation on wartime increases in profits, employers were willing to augment their contribution for health care coverage (or to offer such coverage if they had not previously done so). The costs of insurance, after all, were being paid by dollars that in large measure would otherwise have been paid in taxes.

And there was more: the amount that the employer paid for health insurance was considered a "cost of doing business." It was a cost, akin to wages and other items that were legitimate expenses and deductions from what otherwise would have been profits. Yet at the same time the value to the individual of the premium dollars paid on his or her behalf was not considered as income on which the worker would have to pay income and (perhaps) Social Security taxes. The consequent decrease in government revenues provided a substantial subsidy toward the purchase of health insurance. It should be pointed out that the failure to tax the value of the premiums as income meant that the subsidy was greater and worth more the higher the individual's income and the greater the individual's marginal tax rate. The CEO received a larger tax benefit subsidy than did the secretary. [ . . . ]

At the entry of the United States into the war at the beginning of 1942, Blue Cross covered 6 million subscribers; by 1946 enrollment had exploded to 18.9 million. Commercial insurance covered some 3.7 million persons in 1941 and 10.5 million by 1946. Further rapid growth followed; from a 1946 total of 32 million persons covered by Blue Cross, commercial plans, PGPs, and independent plans, to 53 million in 1948, and to 77 million in 1951. As a consequence of changing patterns of medical care, in particular the utilization of hospital services, much of this increase in coverage was for hospital care, creating a not-so-subtle perverse incentive to hospitalize individuals. This was the case even for diagnostic tests that could have bene performed on a less costly outpatient basis. Over time the hospital thus became all the more important and central to the delivery of health care services, a phenomenon not unrelated to the expansion in the number of hospitals and of beds following the 1946 enactment of the Hospital Survey and Construction Act (the Hill-Burton Act). In a reciprocal manner, since medical care became more costly, insurance became more useful (indeed, necessary). In turn, the presence of insurance helped underwrite a buildup of resources and an upgrading of technology that added to costs and made insurance even more valuable.

It strikes me that we can file this as yet another unanticipated consequence of WWII -- a triumphal "victory culture" that validated and reinforced everything America did during the war, regardless of its merits.

On the growth of health care expenses (pp. 73-74):

The concern about rising costs and expenditures was a matter of top priority. After all, national health expenditures (NHE) constituted an increasingly larger proportion of the GDP, and there were no signs of a slowdown in their rate of growth. In 1960 NHE accounted for 5.1 percent of GDP; by 1965 (even before the implementation of Medicare and Medicaid) the share had risen to 5.7 percent. By 1970 the proportion had increased to 7.1 percent; by 1985 it had reached 10.3 percent.

Nor was this growth accounted for solely by increases in that part of national health expenditures that went to administration, research, and construction (matters that at least in theory were amenable to control through the appropriation process). Expenditures for personal health care services (roughly 90 percent of national health expenditures) were also growing rapidly, both in absdolute terms and as a share of GDP. In 1960 personal health care service costs totaled nearly $24 billion. By 1965 the total rose to $35 billion, and by 1985 to $376 billion (all in current dollars). Per-capita expenditures rose more than twelvefold, from $124 in 1960 to $1,523 in 1985. These increases affected all Americans and, not surprisingly, were accorded a higher priority than the issue of the uninsured and underinsured, which directly impacted a much smaller number (around 15 percent) of Americans. The uninsured were a minority. Furthermore, they were "others": the poor, black, Hispanic, the unemployed, low-wage earners, those too old to work and too young for Medicare.

Another quote on progress, i.e. forgetting where you came from (pp. 98-99):

Physicians and patients who have grown up in what some consider the golden age of medicine would most probably be shocked to discover that prior to World War II physicians had little by way of specific therapies for their patients. The general public and even today's younger health professionals would surely be astonished to learn that a review of medical textbooks of the 1930s, when one of us was a medical student, indicates that the only specific medical therapies then available were liver extract for pernicious anemia, insulin for diabetes, quinine for malaria, arsenicals and heavy metals for syphilis, and digitalis for heart failure. Today's sophisticated imaging and diagnostic techniques, pharmaceutical interventions, transplantation, and microsurgery techniques did not exist. The medical and surgical resources were extremely limited.

The availability of antimicrobial medications, initially that of sulfonamides, just prior to World War II, transformed the treatment of the infectious diseases. It also created a hopeful climate for intensifying and expanding medical research during and after the war. The time was ripe, therefore, for the rapid growth of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the creation of a remarkably inventive partnership between the federally funded NIH and the private and state universities and research institutions of the nation. As a consequence of the increased complexity of medical care and expansion in the flow of research funds, academic medical centers that could deal with that complexity and that were equipped to respond to the research opportunitites and to the availability of funds with which to undertake them, underwent rapid expansion.

A rather good definition of schizophrenia, by no means limited to the immediate subject here (p. 119):

The American dilemma, on the one hand, of wanting to rely on market forces yet nevertheless being skeptical about their efficacy, and on the other hand, wanting something akin to the results of rational planning while rejecting planners and planning mechanisms -- that is, the dilemma of wanting lower expenditures while rejecting control and budgeting mechanisms -- shaped how we dealt, and did not deal, with graduate medical education.

How the AMA's anti-government stance let doctors be blindsided by for-profit entrepreneurs (p. 130):

Concomitant with the growth of these for-profit sectors was the corporatization of much of medical practice. In retrospect it is surprising tha tthe medical profession did not offer significant resistance to this trend. Part of the explanation lay in the fact that the largest organization of physicians, the American Medical Assocation (AMA), had long opposed any systematic planning for the delivery of medical care services. Consequently, financial flows and organizational arrangements were left to the marketplace. Physicians were now reaping what AMA ideology had sown.

The irony was that organized medicine in the form of the AMA had focused its attention on government as the threat to physician independence, power, and control, and did not recognize that the marketplace and the behavior of employers who were large purchasers of insurance and of investors who were "medical care entrepreneurs" would represent an even larger threat. While organized medicine could lobby government, it could not identify a locus for exerting pressure against employers who were more actively questioning the costs of and expenditures for medical care. Nor could it identify a locus for resisting the forces of Wall Street that were seeking new opportunities to increase profits by constraining physician behavior and cutting costs.

It's worth noting that the AMA's line fit nicely with the general Cold War ideology, which is part of the reason why conservatives have locked themselves into a private-profit health care system even though it winds up being predatory on all other forms of business.

In the early '90s price increases temporarily abated (p. 142):

Nevertheless, cost increases appeared to ease. Much of the easing could be attributed to the lower utilization of expensive hospital days. Some of the relative stability was associated with a decline in the overall rate of inflation, and some was the result of HMO (temporary) "underpricing" policies designed to improve market share. Still, whatever the explanation, in the short run employers and employees benefited from the stabilization of premiums. Between 1991 and 1998 the annual rate of increase in health expenditures slowed to a low of 5 percent. Regrettably, it started to rsie again in 1998, reaching 9.3 percent in 2002. Basing the Consumer Price Index (CPI) at 100 for average prices in 1982-1984, the CPI for all nonmedical care items was 128.8 in 1990, while the CPI for medical care was 162.8, or 26.4 percent higher. By 1999 the CPI for nonmedical care items stood at 162.0, while that for medical care was 250.6, or 54.7 percent higher. The disparity continued to grow, and by 2002 the CPI for nonmedical items was 174.3, while medical care was 285.6, or 63.9 percent higher.

Of course, the other reason for holding the line on prices was that until Clinton's plan was killed the industry needed to prove that it could regulate and moderate its appetites without government intervention. Prices started rising again once the Clinton plan was dead and the Republicans took control of Congress. The rate increased further when Bush entered the White House, even though the high tech bubble had largely collapsed. As such, there is public value in the mere possible threat of political reform, even if it doesn't lead to legislation.

On health care economics (pp. 229-230):

None of this should have come as a surprise. The marke tis not a redistributive device, and many of the health problems required some, and in a number of cases much, redistribution. The market responds to disparities in income and allocates resources to meet market demand (the exercise of which requires income) rather than to meet needs (a concept with which economists, as economists, have difficulty). Yet health issues are about "need," not about the economic concept of "demand." The latter can be measured; the former is a matter of opinion. Nevertheless, that does not make "need" any less real. Although Americans seemed to agree that health care was a "right," and did not embrace the counter-formulation that health care is a "privilege," the laissez-faire market still repeated, "follow the money."

Furthermore, the delivery of health care services constituted a special market that did not meet the various criteria usually cited by economists for a fully competitive market. Resources could not be moved freely. New firms did not have the ease of entry that, through competition, would help constrain prices and profits. The symmetry between buyer and seller was absent since the patient (buyer) had much less knowledge than the physician (seller). Indeed, as already discussed, the real buyer often was not the consumer/patient but the employer; the managed care entity, not the physician/hospital, was the seller. In addition, there had to be many sellers, no single one large or powerful enough to influence market supply significantly, as well as many purchasers, no single one large or powerful enough to influence demand significantly. True, in the nation overall and in the various states individually there were many hospitals, many HMOs, and many insurers, all together presumably making for competititon. Nevertheless, the health care market that most of us faced and in which mnost health care was produced and delivered was in fact a local market. Many local markets had a very limitd number of health institutions and of organized delivery systems. Thus those who sought and received medical care in their localities (and that, of course, meant most of us most of the time) did not necessarily face conditions that rendered a competitive market possible.

On public control of reform (pp. 259-260):

We recognize that such debates are not only about what might be considered "technical" matters. Nevertheless, we believe that it would be useful to insulate, insofar as possible, the boards from the heavy dose of partisanship that could jeopardize their activities. To that end we would urge that the terms of office, selection, and approval of board members and regional administrators should follow procedures designed to maximize the nonpartisan character of their various supervisory and policy responsibilities. Furthermore, we believe that there must be significant representation and input from the general public, and therefore recommend that a substantial proportion of central and regional board members be nonprofessionals in the health field, tha tthey be selected as individuals who represent the public, and that mechanisms be developed to facilitate substantial public input.

The book includes a fair discussion of malpractice issues, but doesn't go very far with it. There is no real discussion of moving away from private patenting of pharmaceuticals and other innovations. The present system is not just costly -- it compromises quality by limiting transparency of information, distorts the market through massive advertising promotion, and limits research by allocating capital according to potential returns rather than need.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Truth About Health Care

This is the first of two posts on recent books on health care. The other, tomorrow, is The Health Care Mess by Julius B. Richmond and Rashi Fein. Neither book covers the subject all that well, and both come up short on solutions, but their partial views do help to illuminate some of the problems. I'll be looking for other views, and plan to develop my own ideas further -- one is to build on open source to extend transparency and promote science over business.

David Mechanic is director of the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy, and Aging Research and René Dubos University Professor of Behavioral Sciences at Rutgers University. I've been looking to get a better grasp on health care politics and economics, and his book The Truth About Health Care: Why Reform Is Not Working in America (2006, Rutgers University Press) caught my eye. It's relatively short (228 pages), but actually a rather slow, tedious read. He writes in cautious assertions like thin paint strokes, only gradually circling in on larger truths. I was surprised at the end of the book that I had marked so much of it as quotable.

(pp. 35-36):

Given the required trade-offs and the many uncertainties as we try to achieve a more coherent system of care, it is important to have credible spokespersons who can help the public understand its options. In earlier times the medical profession had the public's confidence, but it no longer speaks with one voice or has high credibility. Nor has government much credibility, and the public's respect for authority and expertise has generally very much eroded. This is a worldwide phenomenon across all sectors including medicine, which for much of the twentieth century was insulated from distrust because of the reverence that many had for their personal physicians. While trust in one's personal physician is still quite strong, distrust in medical leadership is now on par with distrust in other institutional leadership in government and the private sector. The majority of the public do not necessarily anticipate that their medical leaders will work in their interests.

The loss of confidence in leadership is characteristic of a mass society with many channels of information and communication. News reaches people immediately from all over the world, and the media focus on disagreement and conflict, betrayals of trust, and competing points of view. Thus, people gain the impression that the morals and trustworthiness of their leaders are less than in past times. More specifically, in the case of medical care, the media expose the population to disagreements about treatment and care, conflicts among specialists, the uncertainty of medical evidence, and stories about medical errors and poor-quality care. Thus, much of the public is skeptical about leaving health care decisiosn to medical leaders. They trust their chosen personal physicians, but that trust diminishes when they see their physicians constrained by larger institutional controls. Although it has been documented repeatedly that fee-for-service medicine contributes to overutilization, patients seem less concerned about unnecessary treatment than the possibility that something of value may be withheld. Patients are reluctant to accept that treatments they have learned about from direct-to-consumer advertising or from friends are unneeded, and physicians are faced by time pressures that make detailed explanations difficult. Unwilling to alienate their patients, doctors often give them what they wish. The media are an important part of this process and contribute to raising patients' insecurities and demands.

(p. 45):

When patients paid directly for their care the issue of who sought varying types of care was of limited social importance. In American society persons are free to spend their disposable income as they wish, and those who preferred more medical care to alternative expenditures did little harm. Under contemporary conditions, however, most people have health insurance coverage and excessive use affects everyone's premiums. Also, taxpayers in one way or another pay much of the bill, so frivolous and unnecessary uses have social relevance. Moreover, medical technologies can be harmful, so misuse of care, whether by patients' choices or physicians' decisions, has important consequences. It is no longer viable to support whatever patients demand and whatever physicians are willing to provide, if it ever was. We need more sophisticated ways of determining need and appropriate care. We probably would not want to be restrictive for less expensive visits that are important to patients in providing information, support, and reassurance, but we have to think carefully about the expensive and invasive technologies and treatments that some patients demand and that may involve serious risks.

(p. 80):

The criminalization of persons with mental illness is commonly noted, and we now have many more persons with mental illness in jails and prisons than in mental hospitals. These correctional institutions typically have poor mental health services, and persons with mental illness are commonly victimized by other inmates and sometimes staff. The large number of persons with mental illness in prisons is due to many factors, including poor community mental health services. But many patients are jailed for substance offenses that are by definition associated with DSM disorders. [ . . . ] It is also fair to say that these patients do not fall high on the average person's hierarchy of compassion or high on political agendas. But the criminalization of the mentally ill represents perhaps the greatest scandal of our health care system, and a situation that should embarrass all thoughtful citizens.

(pp. 81-82):

The pharmaceutical industry is a major player on the mental health scene. As it has expanded the markets for psychiatric drugs, the industry has an increased stake in framing how mental disorders are seen and how they are treated. Through its direct-to-consumer advertising, sponsorship of psychiatric meetings, research, publications, educational activities and other events, and sponsorship of mental health advocacy groups, it seeks to expand markets and definitiosn of treatable mental disorders. The industry forms coalitions with advocacy groups and supports activities to extend insurance coverage for new drugs, lobbies against formularies that restrict the availability of some drugs, and seeks to persuade physicians to use its drugs "off-label," that is, for uses not specifically approved by the Food and Drug Administration. It has encouraged treatment of more people, expanding and medicalizing the mental health arena for many ordinary problems of living. Increasingly, it is apparent that the published literature on the efficacy of many new drugs is biased, since drug-company-controlled studies with less positive results may not be published and disseminated. As evidence of this has become more apparent, the editors of major medical journals have made it clear that they will not publish papers from clinical trials that have not been publicly recorded prior to initiation, so it becomes possible to minotor biased reporting of the results of drug trials. The role of the pharmaceutical companies in the research process has raised troublesome questions, and this area now is receiving more attention as costs of pharmaceuticals grow much faster than other areas of medical and mental health care.

(pp. 89-90):

Consumerism takes place in an entrepreneurial context. Pharmaceutical companies, health plans, technology companies and hospitals among others seek to influence how consumers view disease and medical treatments. In the year 2001, for example, the pharmaceutical industry reported that it spent $19.1 billion dollars on marketing, most of it targeting physicians directly, but also including $2.7 billion for direct-to-consumer (DTC) advertising. Marcia Angell, former editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, has analyzed these data and argues that a more accurate estimate is $54 billion constituting 30 percent of members of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America's (PhRMA) $179 billion in revenues in 2001. Expenditures on DTC almost tripled between 1997 and 2001, with television ads accounting for almost two-thirds of such advertising. This vast DTC expenditure is relatively small compared with the massive funds spent on direct promotion to physicians by sales representatives, and through a variety of techniques from providing free drug samples and knickknacks to promoting drugs through sponsorship of continuing education. The Industry Profile reports that companies employ far more people for marketing (86,226) than for research and development (51,589).

The efforts to influence consumers and their physician agents is very big business. Pharmaceutical companies fund consumer groups and team up with them in efforts to lobby state Medicaid programs and others to add new expensive drugs that have not been shown to be superior to less expensive generic drugs to drug formularies. In its quest to gain brand allegiance and increased sales, the pharmaceutical industry is a major presence at meetings of almost every medical professional organization as a significant sponsor of their activities, happily providing gifts small and large, and lucrative consultancies for major figures. Thus it seeks to influence not only the drugs patients ask for but, even more, the inclinations of physicians to provide those drugs. Much is at stake in the choices physicians make under ordinary prescribing circumstances, which explains why so much marketing is directed at physicians. Drug expenditures are larger than necessary as physicians prescribe expensive new drugs that are often no better, and sometimes less effective and more dangerous, than inexpensive generic alternatives. There is some case to be made that DTC advertising may alert people to treatments from which they could benefit and make it less stigmatizing to seek assistance, but the overall influence of pharmaceutical industry advertising has added vast expense with little demonstrated advantage. As editors of major medical journals have learned, it is increasingly difficult to identify persons who have appropriate expertise to review pharmaceuticals who do not have significant potential conflicts of interest because of consultancies with the industry.

(pp. 96-97):

Consider some of the issues already discussed. Consistent implementation is impossible when each health plan has its own preferences and guidlelines and no one can speak for the profession. In some locations, plans come together to agree on a common format, but this is more the exception than the norm. Pharmaceutical companies spend massive amounts to influence (they say educate) physicians about drugs and consumers about treatments. It would be sensible to tax all pharmaceuticals and have this informational function performed by an agency that reviews the evidence objectively and disseminates accurate information to doctors and patients. Such public "detailing" has been advocated for decades and has been proven to work successfully, but it is hard to imagine the politics that could make it a reality in the United States. Other health systems, like the English National Health Service, have agencies such as the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) whose role is to provide advice to the NHS and encourage doctors to use medications in a more evidence-based way, and the NHS uses its large buying power to bargain over price of pharmaceuticals. In contrast, the recent Medicare bill that extended pharmaceutical coverage explicitly forbade the government fromusing its purchasing power to keep drug prices down.

(p. 116):

The Institute of Medicine's (IOM) estimate that between forty-four thousand and ninety-eight thousand deaths and hundreds of thousands of injuries each year are dur to medical error has been widely disseminated. Some experts who work in the medical-error field believe this range to be an underestimate, while others see it as inflated. Nevertheless, there is no disagreement that we have a profound problem that requirse major interventions. Since the first IOM report in 2000, many corrective efforts have gone forward, but progress has been slow. It is difficult to change complex systems and the cultures and values they embody and get individuals to modify habitual work patterns. Improving quality of care is a multidimensional challenge that invovles technology, economic incentives, organizational coordination, and individual behavior-change strategies.

(p. 127):

As I repeatedly note, and it can't be overstated, the key to quality improvement is the implementation of an electronic medical record, the ability of systems to communicate, the capacity to identify high-risk situations and take preventive action, and the use of well-organized feedback to provide information about best practices, alerts, and opportunities to assess and correct performance. Many vendors offer a bewildering variety of informational systems and disease-management programs. Understanding and choosing wisely among them is challenging. CMS has a program to help physicians in small- to medium-sized practices adopt high-quality information technology, but it refuses, for understandable reasons, to endorse any particular vendor product or service, and this is often the kind of assistance doctors most need as they confront bewildering choices. Research on choice suggests that while people want choices, too many choices become bewildering, leading individuals to opt out.

(pp. 141-142):

We pay an extraordinarily high price for our reluctance to allocate care more thoughtfully and fairly. The inequities in access and provision of high-quality care contribute to our embarrassingly poor performance on morbidity and motality indicators compared with countries that are much less affluent. People lose not only by having too little care but also by receiving too much unneeded care, with the risk of injuries resulting from health care itself. Demand on government for more unrestricted health care provision and the rapid growth of health care expenditures compete with other important priorities and make it less likely that those priorities will be adequately financed. The need to pay more for health care requirse employers to limit wages and makes it difficult for individuals and families to balance their budgets. And despite the trade-offs between wages and salaries, total compensation packages, particularly in companies with aging workforces and many retirees receiving health benefits, make companies less competitive in global markets and more motivated to outsource work. Beyond the failure to get value for money, the willingness of our society to tolerate the health disenfranchisement of much of the population and the maldistribution of services in relation to need undermine a sense of community and furthers divisions between socioeconomic groups, races, age groups, and geographic areas.

From a section titled "Why Is Trust Important?" (pp. 145-146):

Life would be quite impossible if we couldn't trust that most people we deal with on a daily basis behave as we expect consistent with their roles, responsibilities, and relationships to us. Similarly, life would be very difficult if the less personal organizations and institutions we must deal with commonly failed to meet our expectations. We all understand that deviance and betrayal occasionally occur in personal relationships, and organizational malfeasance is not rare, but we hope and anticipate that these patterns are disruptions from normal states and not the usual state of affairs. In most activities -- whether driving in traffic, banking, purchasing stocks, filling prescriptions, or using public transportation -- where we have transactions with people we don't personally know, in order to get along reasonably we must assume that the norms and regulations in place to ensure order and responsible behavior will protect us from exploitation and harm. We know it is quite possible that another driver might disregard red lights and potentially threaten our lives, but we can't reasonably stop at every intersection to make sure that doesn't happen. We have to trust that the rules of the road are in place.

Trust involves expectations of how individuals and institutions will behave in their transactions with us, and it always involves risk, because there is no certainty. In many interactions the stakes are trivial and we can trust easily and not be much harmed if we are wrong. But the stakes also can be high and involve our fortunes, reputations, self-esteem, and even our lives. Being treated badly, and even lied to by an occasional storekeeper, may be no big deal; being lied to or betrayed by a lover, spouse, or dear friend is. Putting up with an incompetent and unresponsive telephone company, airline office, or automobile dealership may be frustrating and even a bit costly, but depending when one is seriously ill on an incompetent and unresponsive doctor or dysfunctional hospital involves bigger stakes.

Medical care is an aggregation of both small- and big-stake transactions, but trust is particularly important in patient-doctor relationships because of the intimate nature of aspects of taking medical history, physical examinations, and treatment; the effectiveness of the relationship may depend on the patient revealing intimate and privileged information. Also, successful treatment often depends on patients' cooperation and willingness to adhere to medical advice. Patients who distrust are less likely to share important information or follow the doctor's advice. Distrustful patients are also less likely to attain value such as encouragement, emotional support, and realistic optimism from the relationship. Misplaced trust can be costly, but to get the advantages of trust one has to assume some of the risks.

(pp. 147-148):

In the mid-1960s confidence in the federal government and most other institutions began to fall precipitously for many reasons; perhaps the most important was the war in Vietnam. It was in this period that public distrust of experts mounted and willingness to express dissent over government policy grew impressively. In the 1950s and early 1960s, approximately three-quarters of those surveyed said they trusted government, but by the mid-1970s it was approximately one-third. Among the attitudes associated with loss in confidence was the belief that government was run by big interests looking out for themselves, that public officials don't care what people like me think, and that quite a few people running government are crooked.

Many othe rinstitutions suffered a similar fate in loss of public confidence; by 2002, only about one-third of the public had confidence in major institutions such as government, business, labor, and the press. Confidence in medical leaders suffered a similar fate, falling sharply between 1966 and 1976 and continuing to fall, although more slowly, since then. Medicine retained some advantage over other institutions, since it had a larger distance to fall, but by the late 1990s medical leaders shared low standing with leaders of other major institutions. Social trust has much eroded in modern society, but personal trust in agents of at least some institutions has eroded much less. While most people have a low opinion of the American Congress, most people trust their specific member of Congress. Similarly, while people hold many negative beliefs about medical leaders and medicine as an institution, most trust their personal physicians. During the approximate period when trust in medical leaders was falling, surveys found little loss in patient faith in their doctors or in their satisfaction with care. Studies of patients noted increased questioning of doctors an dsome erosion of confidence in the doctor's authority, but the more significant pattern was the large gap between what people thought about medical leaders and doctors in the abstract and what they said about their own doctors and experiences.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Music: Current count 12958 [12930] rated (+28), 835 [846] unrated (-11). Started the week off with low-impact records, mostly jazz from the unrated shelves going back several years, when I still used to be able to find an occasional used record store. I found these records coming in invariably in the B+ range -- some I refined to stars, others I left vague, figuring that further listening might nudge them up or down a bit, but not out of the broad grade range. I wondered whether this was some atrophy of my critical sense, but the records were almost always highly rated by the Penguin Guide -- that's why they made my shopping list. Later in the week I turned to the new jazz piles, which slowed me down a bit.

  • Afro-Cuban All Stars: A Toda Cuba Le Gusta (1996 [1997], World Circuit/Nonesuch): Buena Vista Social Club spinoff, with the usual old guys and a little Ry Cooder on the side. Classic type stuff, suitable as an introduction. B+(***)
  • Azimuth: How It Was Then . . . Never Again (1994 [1995], ECM): Norma Winstone's vocals have a peculiarly European air, so far removed from swing and pop that one suspects classical interests. They are a minor part of the mix here, although the two musicians that complete the group seem dedicated to framing her even when she isn't singing. Those musicians are John Taylor on piano and Kenny Wheeler on trumpet/flugelhorn. They've worked together a great many times over the years, often converging in something like this elegant art music. B+
  • Don Braden: The Voice of the Saxophone (1997, RCA): "A collection of great songs of saxophonists" -- Mobley, Shorter, Coltrane, Golson, Rivers, Heath, three by Braden, someone named William Eaton, whose "Winelight" belongs to Grover Washington Jr. The group is an octet, with Vincent Herring and Hamiet Bluiett adding to the reeds, Randy Brecker and Frank Lacy on brass, Darrell Grant or George Colligan on piano. Kind of fancy for my taste, but well done. B+(*)
  • Eastern Rebellion: Simple Pleasures (1992 [1993], Musicmasters): Cedar Walton's sax quartet, made a great album (or two -- haven't heard the second) in 1975, then reappeared in the early '90s with Ralph Moore on sax for another run. Moore is one of those guys who makes you fall in love with tenor sax. The group is a bit prim, proper, and pristine, none of which are damning complaints. B+
  • The Flying Luttenbachers: Revenge of the Flying Luttenbachers (1996, Skin Graft): I see that AMG has finally moved this group from rock to jazz. Styles listed are: math rock, experimental rock, grindcore, death metal/black metal, avant-garde, avant-garde jazz. That roughly puts them on the noisy end of fusion. This group is basically a guitar, bass, drums trio, although they switch off to sax, clarinet, and violin on occasion. I don't normally have such a negative reaction to noise; maybe my nerves aren't in good condition, as I found it a bit much, although not devoid of redeeming spirit. They have some sort of connection to Hal Russell, and did at least one album with Ken Vandermark, but this is the only one I've heard. B
  • Ricky Ford: Hot Brass (1991 [1992], Candid): Two Ellington pieces and a bunch of originals that tilt towards bebop. The hot brass consists of Lew Soloff and Claudio Roditi on trumpet, Steve Turre on trombone. The rhythm section is Danilo Perez on piano, Christian McBride on bass, Carl Allen on drums. Ford's working temperatures are hot and hotter. The brass works as a section, particularly punchy on the Ellington, which no doubt came with better charts. B+
  • Von Freeman: Live at the Dakota (1996 [2001], Premonition): Chico's less famous father didn't record much in his first seventy years, but he came on strong from that point, with Never Let Me Go (1992, Steeplechase) a personal favorite. A unique, pinched, almost strangled sound on tenor sax. This is minor, but his sound is so unusual, as is his approach, that it's worth having. B+(*)
  • Paul Gonsalves: Tell It the Way It Is! (1963 [1999], Impulse): Two 1963 albums, packaged on a single disc with a 7-inch single cut added. The first is an Ellingtonian group with Johnny Hodges and Ray Nance, much in the way of Hodges' own albums. The second, originally released as Cleopatra -- Feelin' Jazzy, includes Kenny Burrell and Hank Jones, but no extra horns. Good chance to focus on the tenor saxman, a distinctive player who recorded little under his own name. [This based on a slightly damaged library copy.] B+
  • Paul Gonsalves: Ellingtonia Moods and Blues (1960 [1999], RCA Victor): One of many Ellington spinoffs, with Johnny Hodges and Ray Nance filling in, and Jimmy Jones on piano. Usual stuff -- not a great showcase for Gonsalves, but Hodges cannot be denied. B+(*)
  • Earl Hines: Plays George Gershwin (1973 [1993], Musidisc): Solo piano, something Hines had been doing a lot of at the time. He's long been my favorite pianist -- Tom Piazza once argued that 9 out of 10 jazz critics will tell you that Art Tatum was the greatest jazz pianist ever, and the other one's wrong, but I still say Hines is the guy. Still, this one strikes me as a shade rougher and less certain than his Ellingtons, let alone his aptly named Tour de Force. B+
  • Iron Butterfly: Metamorphosis (1970 [1993], Rhino): Dinosaur rock. Before metal consolidated into heavy it had a tendency to outgas. C+
  • Duke Jordan: Solo Masterpieces Vol. 1 (1979 [1992], Steeplechase): The title, of course, is reminiscent of Art Tatum -- seems like everything Tatum recorded was deemed a masterpiece, most of all his solo work. For the record, nothing here is Tatumesque. Most of it is so disarmingly simple I'm surprised I find it so fetching, but I do. A-
  • Eddy Louiss: Sentimental Feeling (1999, Dreyfus): Organ player, in a trio and with a big band called Fanfare. He keeps the latter in check, and powers the former. B+(*)
  • Frank Lowe Quintet: Live From Soundscape (1982 [1994], DIW): Sound is somewhat lacking here, but Butch Morris on cornet and Amina Claudia Myers on piano contribute strongly, and Lowe is a distinctive stylist who rises impressively from the murk. B+(**)
  • Luna: Pup Tent (1997, Elektra): Playing Best of Luna too many times, I notice that the best of Pup Tent is already there, making the rest look a bit rough. Surprisingly, some of it is even hard. B+(**)
  • Mulgrew Miller: Hand in Hand (1992 [1993], Novus): If Miller didn't look so much like McCoy Tyner it might have taken more than a moment to make the connection, but the sheer fluidity of their playing is uncanny. Miller graduated from Betty Carter's boot camp, then moved on to Art Blakey, who may have seemed like a soft touch only in comparison. This album puts him in the middle of an impressive mainstream lineup, offering too many options but handled expertly. The names: Eddie Henderson, Kenny Garrett, Joe Henderson, Steve Nelson, Christian McBride, Lewis Nash. B+

Jazz Prospecting (CG #13, Part 1)

I still don't know the Voice's schedule for Jazz Consumer Guide #12. It got cut at the last minute from last week's issue. Could be this week; more likely next. We'll see, and given how far I am out of town these days, you'll probably notice it before I do. Started off last week with some self-doubts about my critical instincts, so I started with a stack of pre-JCG jazz records that have been gathering dust for 3-5 years. They're items I picked up in used stores -- back when I could find such stores, not to mention had the time and money -- mostly based on favorable Penguin Guide ratings. Almost all came in as low B+: good records that didn't particularly excite me. Finally I inched into the new jazz section, so this is the first prospecting for next round. It was slow going at first -- I must have played Rubalcaba and Wallace 4-5 times for my "first pass" notes, but they got easier (or more obvious) after that.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Solo (2005 [2006], Blue Note): Inevitable, although you expect something more upbeat, with a more pronounced Afro-Cuban rhythm to it. This is pensive, detailed; just sort of eases its way along. B+(*)

Bennie Wallace: Disorder at the Border: The Music of Coleman Hawkins (2004 [2007], Enja/Justin Time): When I first heard about this, I was expecting something more intimate. At nine pieces (four reeds, two brass), the opportunity to compare and contrast Wallace to Hawkins is much diminished. But this was staged live on Hawkins' 100th anniversary, so you can imagine the clamor to get in on the act. Six pieces: two Hawkins originals, "Honeysuckle Rose," "Body and Soul," "La Rosita," and a 16:40 "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" to close. What it lacks in revelation it makes up for with good cheer. B+(**)

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Hot 'N' Heavy (2006 [2007], Delmark): The first EHE album dates from 1981 and was called Three Gentlemen From Chicago, the three being saxophonists Henry Huff and Edward Wilkerson and earth drummer/percussionist Kahil El'Zabar. The "earth drums" are homemade congas, hand drums with less snap and a rather hollow sound. El'Zabar has been the constant for 10 more EHE albums: with Wilkerson and trombonist Joseph Bowie up to 1997, when Ernest Dawkins replaced Wilkerson; percussionist Atu Harold Murray came and went; guitarist Fareed Haque appeared in 1999's Freedom Jazz Dance, left, and returned. On this album, trumpeter Corey Wilkes replaces Bowie, joining El'Zabar, Dawkins, and Haque. The present lineup is as satisfying as any: the drums provide a subtly shifty foundation, the guitar lays out sheets of sound mostly as a backdrop, the two horns free to move and lead. El'Zabar sings a bit toward the end -- never a plus, but not much of a minus this time. [B+(***)]

Thomas Marriott: Both Sides of the Fence (2006 [2007], Origin): Seattle-based trumpeter. Has a brother, David, who plays trombone in a joint group, the Marriott Brothers Quintet or Marriott Jazz Quintet, but is absent here. Background includes work with Maynard Ferguson, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Rosemary Clooney. Mainstream chops, exceptionally fine tone. The sort of album I have no special interest in, but so well done I hate to slough it off. Two cuts with Joe Locke on vibes are a plus. B

Michael Marcus/Ted Daniel: Duology (2006 [2007], Boxholder): One thing I look for in avant jazz is accessibility: the chance that a record might cross over and find some kind of receptive audience beyond those firmly committed to the genre. Actually, that's true of my approach to all genres; it's just that so many people have a strong gag reflex with avant jazz. This fails the test, perhaps inevitably. Free jazz duos on evenly weighted instruments -- Marcus on clarinet, Daniel on "brass" (trumpet, flugelhorn, Moroccan bugle, cornet) -- rarely flows and often clashes. That said, this comes off better than most such records. Marcus has paired off against other horns often, and few (if any) get more mileage out of it -- cf. his work with Sonny Simmons, albeit with the aid of a drummer. Daniel has a slim discography going back to 1973 -- credits with Dewey Redman, Andrew Cyrille, Henry Threadgill, Archie Shepp, Billy Bang. One piece is dedicated to Frank Lowe. A lot of history and art goes into something like this. Too bad it's so tough to grasp. B

Bernardo Sassetti: Unreal: Sidewalk Cartoon (2005-06 [2007], Clean Feed): Among my earliest musical experiences was an extreme distaste for Euroclassical music, which has attenuated only slightly over the years. This makes me suspicious of the classical backgrounds inevitable in the university programs that produce most young jazz musicians these days, not to mention all those "third stream" projects that first appeared when the academy discovered jazz back in the '50s. In bring this up because my first impression of this record was that it sounds like classical music only better. It even crossed my mind that this is what Mozart might sound like if he was really as good as everyone seems to think. Obviously, I need to listen some more. Sassetti's previous records have been small piano groups -- Ascent impressed me enough to make it a Pick Hit. This one has dozens of extra musicians, including a large percussion group, a saxophone quartet, something called Cromeleque Quinteto (clarinet, flute, oboe, bassoon, french horn), and so forth, all deployed with the precision and taste Sassetti exhibits in his piano. [B+(***)]

Orquestra Jazz de Matosinhos: Invites Chris Cheek (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Group aka OJM. Also on cover: Music by Carlos Azevedo and Pedro Guedes. Credits also cite Azevedo and Guedes for musical direction, piano, Fender Rhodes. The Orquestra is full scale: four trumpets, four trombones, five reeds (six counting Cheek), bass, drums. Strikes me as quite ordinary as big band productions go: lots of layer and polish on the brass, forgettable solos, not much going on in the rhythm. Cheek may be the star, but he doesn't stand out. C+

Nacho Arimany World-Flamenco Septet: Silence-Light (2006, Fresh Sound World Jazz): Most cuts have vocals, mostly from Antonio Campos, whose high-pressured melodrama fits the flamenco mold, without quite winning me over like Dieguito El Cigala did. Stretches without vocals are easier to handle and more interesting. Arimany sets the pace with his percussion, trying to bridge jazz and flamenco. Pianist Pablo Suárez and guitarist Lionel Loueke have some good moments, and saxophonist Javier Vercher tops them all. Harder to gauge Concha Jareño's contribution -- credits read "flamenco dance footsteps, clapping." Hard to gauge the flamenco, but minus vocals this makes for interesting jazz. B+(*)

Miles Okazaki: Mirror (2006 [2007], CDBaby): Guitarist, from Washington state, based in NYC now. Father taught photography; he studied math, literature, and visual arts, and provides four very attractive graphic panels in this package. Has an association with Jane Monheit, which has no discernible effect here. I'm tempted to group this under fusion, the main rationales being that electric guitar leans that way, he uses some electronics, and postbop isn't all that satisfactory an alternative. But arguing for the latter is the fact that most cuts feature two reeds. Christof Knoche is Okazaki's steady mate on bass clarinet, soprano sax, alto sax, and harmonica. The other spot is mostly held by David Binney (7 cuts on alto sax), but Miguel Zenon (3 cuts on alto) and Chris Potter (1 on tenor) also appear. Impressive, promising debut. [B+(**)]

John Fedchock New York Big Band: Up & Running (2006 [2007], Reservoir): Trombonist, well schooled in big band practice and theory by Woody Herman and Gerry Mulligan, debuting his own New York Big Band to much acclaim in 1992. This is the first I've heard of five albums -- four big band, a smaller group for Hit the Bricks (2000). One thing about the concentration of jazz musicians in New York is that an ambitious arranger can recruit a name band there -- e.g., anchoring the sax section, Rich Perry, Rick Margitza, Gary Smulyan. This has moments when the band sounds great, but it has many more when I don't care, and some of them are the same. May just be a funk I'm going through, but I always figured the proof of a great big band is that it snaps you out of any such thing. This doesn't, although I do dig the trombone solos. B

Allan Vaché: With Benny in Mind (2006 [2007], Arbors): They don't list roles here like they did on Bucky Pizzarelli's tribute to Freddie Green, but the casting is obvious: John Sheridan as Teddy Wilson, Vincent Corrao as Charlie Christian, and Christian Tamburr as Lionel Hampton. Phil Flanigan plays bass, Ed Metz Jr. drums, Vaché clarinet. The songs are as expected, as are the performances, which is the only possible critique. Goodman's sextet could surprise you now and then, even today. Tamburr strikes me as someone worth keeping an eye on. B+(*)

The Ray Kennedy Trio: Plays the Music of Arthur Schwartz (2006 [2007], Arbors): Quartet, actually, with guitarist Joe Cohn also listed as "special guest" on the front cover, although not on the spine. Kennedy is a pianist. Don't know much about him: his website proclaims "coming soon." This looks to be his second album -- the first is called The Sound of St. Louis -- but he has a bunch of credits going back to 1990, most frequently with John Pizzarelli. Schwartz (1900-84) composed for Broadway and film, mostly in the '30s and '40s, mostly with lyricists Howard Dietz, Dorothy Fields, and Frank Loesser -- at least those are the credits whose words don't actually appear here. The music is none too familiar, but never quite out of mind. Kennedy brings a light touch and easy swing to the pieces, and Cohn builds on that. B+(***)

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

Peter Brötzmann Group: Alarm (1981 [2006], Atavistic): A radio shot from an exceptional nine-piece band of troublemakers, cut short by a bomb threat. The two-part title piece is punctuated by siren blasts, clipped down so firmly they hardly rise above the saxophones (Brötzmann, Willem Breuker, Frank Wright) and brass (Toshinori Kondo, Hannes Bauer, Alan Tomlinson). While the noise level is about average -- i.e., a couple notches below Machine Gun -- the rhythm section stands out: South Africans Harry Miller and Louis Moholo keep it all moving, while Alexander Von Schlippenbach's piano crashes against the waves. Wright sings a bit at the end, giving the whole thing a revival flair. B+(***)

Duo Baars-Henneman: Stof (2006, Wig): All the usual caveats about avant-garde duos apply here: this takes a lot of patience, including a willingness to let not much happen for way too long. But I've come to enjoy Ig Henneman's viola scratches and Ab Baars splotches of clarinet, tenor sax, and Japanese flutes as discreet sounds and quaint dances. B+(*)

Building Red America

This is the latest of several books on the rise of conservative power in the US by Thomas B Edsall. Building Red America: The New Conservative Coalition and the Drive for Permanent Power (2006, Basic Books). Whereas Robert Brent Toplin's Radical Conservatism concentrates on ideology and propaganda, this one is more brass tacks politics, including some detailed research on demographics, economic strata, etc.

The arguments are summarized in the Preface (pp. ix-x):

Some of the major points that Building Red America explores and develops are:

  • More than in the past, the Republican Party has become a coalition of the dominant, while the Democratic Party has become, in large part, an alliance of the socially and economically subdominant and those who identify with them.

  • While there has been a growing recognition of the role of civil rights and of issues directly related to race in shaping partisan identity and voting behavior, much less thought has been given to the pivotal role in American politics of the sexual and women's rights revolutions and the effective use by the Republican Party of reaction to these insurgencies.

  • The conservative movement has successfully merged explicit and concealed biases against minorities, homosexuals, "illegal" immigrants, and "radical" feminists with ideological opposition to interventionist government and higher taxes.

  • Insufficient attention has been paid by supporters of the Democratic Party to the business and money revolutions of the past quarter century and to the impact on the American progressive movement of the failure of non-market economies in Europe and elsewhere.

  • The Democratic Party has substantial vulnerabilities. It is no longer a populist coalition but is now controlled by a well-educated, relatively affluent, socially liberal elite that sets much of the party's program. At the same time, the rank and file of the party -- the majority of its voters -- are women and men from the bottom half of the economic order. There is a wide gulf separating the culturally liberal agenda of the party's leadership elite and the pressing material needs of the party's disadvantaged, disproportionately African American and Hispanic constituents. This disconnect has led to short-lived and transient Democratic victories while seriously obstructing the ability of the party to forge and maintain a powerful, resilient biracial, multiethnic coalition.

  • Although the Republican Party has dominated American politics over the past forty years, it has not achieved a political realignment. Instead, the GOP has developed the capacity to eke out victory by slim margins in a majority of closely contested elections, losing intermittently but winning more than half the time. It is likely to continue this pattern for the forseeable future. Conservatives have, furthermore, created a political arena in which winning Democrats are likely to find themselves forced to move to the right.

  • When contemporary Republicans win office, their agenda is not moderate. Their effort has been to dismantle the welfare state, a structure built up over the last two-thirds of the twentieth century.

  • The GOP has succeeded in institutionalizing a powerful, well-funded, durable infrastructure protecting conservative legislation and regulatory policies to secure ground it has gained, even when Democrats intermittently wrest control of one or more of the branches of government. To quote directly from the first chapter of the book: "In victory and defeat, the conservative Republican Party is certain to continue to press its agenda of weaning individuals from 'dependency' on the state. When out of power, the conservative movement has the resources and the managerial expertise to protect and preserve its ideological and institutional edifice intact. When the movement regains a base of elected power, conservatism is primed and ready to capitalize on prior successes, its agenda ever more aggressive and far reaching."

The main structural weakness Edsall sees in the Democratic Party is the split between a mass majority of the poor and an elite minority of cultural liberals, who are effectively able to control the party platform despite lack of common interests and affinities with the majority poor. Edsall provides some interesting numbers, so much so that the liberal caricature appears to have some statistical significance (p. 18):

From 1960 to the present, the percentage of Democratic presidential voters employed in the professions has doubled. Democratic professionals include academics, artists, designers, editors, human relations managers, lawyers, librarians, mathematicians, nurses, personnel specialists, psychologists, scientists, social workers, teachers, and therapists. While this upscale group, according to Pew Research Center, makes up almost 40 percent of all Democratic voters, it makes up only 19 percent of all registered voters.

A solid 83 percent of these better-off Democratic voters are white. Upper-income Democratic voters have the highest education level of any Pew typology group -- Democrat or Republican. Females make up 54 percent, 41 percent are college graduates, and 26 percent have some postgraduate education. They stand apart from the rest of the population in that 43 percent seldom or never attend religious services. More than one-third have never married (36 percent), 42 percent reside in urban areas, 41 percent earn at least $75,000 a year, and 77 percent do not have a gun in the home. Only 6 percent watch FOX television, whereas 37 percent go online for news. A striking 92 percent believe homosexuality should be accepted as a way of life by society, and 80 percent support gay marriage. Only 7 percent believe peace is achieved through a strong military. Fully 88 percent are persuaded that it is not necessary to believe in God to have good values.

Although this well-educated, culturally libertarian, relatively affluent progressive elite forms a minority of the Democratic electorate and a substantially smaller minority of the national electorate, it is this activist stratum that sets the agenda for the Democratic Party and that provides the majority of delegates to the national Democratic conventions, where party platforms and party rules are written.

Edsall doesn't say this, but it's almost as if the Republican strategy was to split the opposition, driving a wedge between the poor and the liberal. Actually, that may have been instinctive, given that the New Deal coalition was built when liberal elites offered politically effective leadership for the poor, who in turn provided the numbers for a Democratic majority. The context for that coalition was the Great Depression, when enlightened leadership was seen as necessary to head off more radical change.

On the Republican attack (pp. 28-29):

The conservative attack on the core beliefs of the left has been paralleled by an assault on the institutions that underpin them. These associations include labor unions -- with a special emphasis on public employee and teachers' unions -- the plaintiffs' or trial lawyers' bar, the media, mainstream liberal churches and religious organizations -- especially those that permit the ordination of gay clergy -- the traditional philanthropic community -- notably foundations such as Rockefeller, Ford, Carnegie, and MacArthur that have underwritten much of the socially progressive agenda of the past half-century -- major research universities, and the rights movements, including organizations that uphold and protect women's rights, civil rights, criminal defendants' rights, and the rights of the deinstitutionalized mentally ill, and so on.

Leaders of the Republican Party used the 9/11 terrorist attack, for example, to justify an assault on public employee unions, weakening or eliminating bargained protections of government employees by arguing that, in times of danger, management requires the ability to exercise authority over a flexible workforce. Command of congressional majorities empowered Republicans to pass tort reform legislation in 2005, weakening the ability of trial lawyers to bring class action suits -- suits that, in their broadest form, have brought significant protection to consumers, patients, employees, investors, victims of discrimination, and others.

On the partnership between GOP, business, and cultural conservatives (p. 45):

The conservative movement has created a powerful, synergistic system that rewards supporters and expands the base of those whose futures are irrevocably tied to its agenda. Corporate America and the Republican Party, exercising the power of the state, have been fused in a mutually rewarding partnership. The corporate side of the partnership provides the money to win elections and receives the economic fruits of victory through lessened oversight, tax cuts, and other beneficial legislation and regulation. The political party is guaranteed a reliable source of campaign money, a powerful network of corporate-financed lobbyists and "grassroots" activists to produce legislative victories, and a supply of well-paid lobbying and trade association jobs after a politician's service as an elected official, a campaign operative, or a congressional aide has been completed.

For social conservatives, the rewards are far less lavish but not without significance. The Republican Party has expressed platform support for the drive to end abortion and has backed the effort to pass a constitutional amendment to ban same sex marriage. The GOP and the conservative movement have opposed race-based affirmative action, winning a number of key court cases. The Bush administration has put government money into abstinence education, has begun efforts, by increasing fines and threatening to impose FCC rules and "persuading" the entertainment industry, to regulate "indecent content" on cable television, and has opened the federal grant process to religious organizations. More broadly, the Republican Party has avidly recruited white, born-again Protestants and conservative Catholics into its ranks and into positions of policymaking authority, granting conservative Christian voters the recognition and legitimacy often denied them by liberal America.

Edsall cites a study by pollster Matt Dowd following the 2000 election as decisive in refocusing the Bush campaign from centrist votes to wedge issues (pp. 51-52):

While running for president in 1999-2000, Bush had explicitly reached out to the center-left, a strategy antithetical to that of his 2004 campaign. On September 29, 1999, for example, Bush had sharply criticized the Republican Congress for reducing tax credits for the working poor: "I'm concerned about the earned income-tax credit. I'm concerned for someone who is moving from near-poverty to middle class. I don't think they [House Republican leaders] ought to balance their budget on the backs of the poor." [ . . . ]

After examining the election results and survey data gathered in the immediate aftermath of the 2000 election, Dowd reached the conclusion that the center was literally disappearing and that strategies based on winning the center were no longer optimal. Self-described "independent" voters "are independent in name only," Dowd noted. "Seventy-five percent of independents vote straight ticket" for one party or the other. Once these "false" independents were correctly classified as Democratic or Republican, a very different trend emerged: in the twenty years from 1980 to 2000, the percentage of true swing voters -- those who were not virtually certain to vote Democratic or Republican -- had fallen from a very substantial 24 percent of the electorate to just 6 percent.

The Dowd memo allowed Republican leaders and strategists to return to the kinds of wedge issues and polarizing tactics that had worked so effectively in the decades following the 1960s, once again tapping the party's genius in developing themes that create coherence among angry constituencies on the right. "There are twice as many angry conservatives in this country as there are angry liberals," notes Democratic direct mail specialist Hal Malchow. "Liberals by their very nature don't get as angry as conservatives do."

It seems likely to me that Dowd's survey wasn't a new discovery in late 2000 -- that Bush's moderating tone in 2000 was just window dressing for the hard-right conservative agenda that became evident the day he took office. There are various strategic reasons for the tactic, but one thing that made it possible was that the right and the left were already cognitively isolated (p. 63):

Truth and falsehood, right and wrong, good and bad, are now judged differently depending on the partisanship of the person making the judgment and the credibility he or she is willing to grant to the source of information. This makes it much easier for a Republican, for example, to discount as purely partisan unfavorable news coming from the New York Times, NPR, or CBS. A Democrat can similarly discount a negative story from FOX News, members of the National Association of Religious Broadcasters, or Rush Limbaugh. Each side is prone to distort reality, rejecting information that is out of line with prior ideological commitments -- a development that makes the possibility of reaching agreement or consensus in a dispute highly unlikely.

On the Republican spoils of victory (p. 116):

The changing flow of money as power shifted was striking. In 1993-1994, the last session of Congress when Democrats were in control, defense industry PACs gave Democrats $2,937,459 and $2,138,388 to Republicans, a 57 percent to 43 percent split; as soon as the GOP took over in 1995-1996, the industry switched to a 72 percent to 28 percent margin favoring the Republicans, $4,051,907 to $1,564,640. The energy and natural resources industries went from a slight 53 to 47 tilt to the GOP, $6,604,225 to $5,637,728 prior to the GOP takeover, to an overwhelming 77 to 27 split favoring the GOP in 1995-1996, $10,207,407 to $3,065,220. The pattern was almost universal as business leapt on the opportunity to join forces with a party that explicitly supported its goals.

The shift of financial resources to House and Senate Republicans as the Democrats lost their half-century hold on the levers of power was the backdrop to what became known as the "K Street Project," a concerted and highly successful effort to convert basic political resources such as top-paying lobbying jobs, the money donated by business PACs, and the muscle of the Washington trade association and lobbying communities to the Republican cause. While presidential fundraising changed dramatically under Bush 43, at the congressional level what had been the shadowy underbelly of the money culture in Washington became its public face. The secretiveness and the element of shame that accompanied Washington special interest fundraising in the past have by now virtually disappeared.

On business spoils of victory (pp. 125-126):

For business interests, liability reform is all about money. That the issue in addition has recruited racial and cultural conservatives, opposed to the use of the courts to advance a liberal rights agenda by means of lawsuits, is profoundly advantageous. It allows corporate powers within the GOP coalition ever greater leeway in Washington while being solidly backed by loyal social-issue voting constituencies. The Republican battle for "tort reform" thus captures almost every aspect of the fundamental Republican partisan electoral strategy, simultaneously uniting, in a perceived common cause, the major wings of the GOP -- social and racial conservatives on the one hand and corporate America on the other.

Much of the book details how white males have shifted to the Republican Party, especially in reaction to advances by non-whites and women, although one could also point to the decline of unions and manufacturing jobs. Edsall argues that white male opposition to affirmative action represents rational self-interest. However, he also points out that males have problems assessing risk (pp. 205-206):

One of the most Republican demographic groups -- affluent white men -- is the demographic with the highest number of confident risk takers. Among academic researchers, this phenomenon is known as "the white male effect." A 1992 study reported in the journal Risk Analysis found that, in a survey of 1,512 people, men saw less risk than women from each of twenty-five potential health hazards including nuclear waste, pesticides, blood transfusions, radon, and X-rays: "Sizeable differences between risk perceptions of men and women have been documented in dozens of studies. Men tend to judge risks as smaller and less problematic than do women." [ . . . ]

This group of risk takers is made up of men included toward the Republican Party. Not only are conservative white men risk takers, but they are, on the whole, relatively successful risk managers, as shown by their high incomes and net worth.

There is another group of risk-tolerant males: criminals. These men are majority nonwhite -- 64 percent of prison inmates in 2001 were members of racial or ethnic minority groups -- and have failed to manage risk effectively, as evidenced by their high incarceration rates.

More on risk and self-perception (p. 207):

A strikingly high percentage of young people in the United States today, 63 percent, say there is a "good chance" they will be rich someday. In terms of voters judging their own capacity to manage risk, among all Americans fully 69 percent believe they are "above average" in their overall personality and character, and 86 percent say their intelligence is above average. And it can make such voters angry (tap their "anger points") to be told that the government they view as wasteful, spendthrift, and unwisely redistributive can do a better job of allocating their dollars than they can.

Wonder how this correlates with the subset that vacations in Las Vegas.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Radical Conservatism

Perhaps the ugliest piece of research in my book outline is to look into the evolution -- a term that properly understood entails mutation and selection -- of conservative political ideology in post-WWII America. This would then set up a following section on conservative practice: how things go terribly wrong when bad people get free reign to implement bad ideas. So I slogged through two recent books on the subject -- this one and Thomas Edsall's Building Red America, which I'll post my notes on tomorrow. At this point I have a fairly sizable stack of books that I've read and marked up. I'm working my way forwards and backwards to try to get them recorded, not just in the blog but in a more permanently accessible books section. Following these two books on the right are two recent books I've read on health care.

Robert Brent Toplin's Radical Conservatism: The Right's Political Religion (2006, University Press of Kansas) is a general survey of recent conservative political ideology in America. His perspective is what I'd call moderate: he spends a lot of time distinguishing between liberals and leftists, appreciating the former's willingness to entertain all sides of issues, and he would like to defend some strain of conservatism distinct from the fanatics and extremists who have taken over the movement. His is not an especially insightful book, but I expect to survey much of the same ground in my book, so I found this a fairly useful general survey.

For all his insistence that radcons (radical conservatives) have turned their politics into a form of religion -- at least that they pursue it with the conviction of true believers -- there isn't very much here on the religious phalanx of the Republican Party. Rather, he discerns three major strains, which he calls: stealth libertarians, culture warriors, and hawkish nationalists. The first group is the most problematical: he concentrates on a laissez-faire economics as it has developed to rationalize stripping government, especially of its ability to tax and regulate business. My own view is that right's relationship to business is far less ideological: they back business both to reduce government impositions (taxes, regulation, antitrust, torts) and to increase government support (procurement, subsidies). Basically, whatever business wants is OK with them, because they recognize that business puts the money in their pockets that lets them pursue their other ideological goals -- which do not include anything that real libertarians believe in other than laissez-faire when it's economically convenient.

The culture warriors are basically displaced bigots who believe in using government to coerce good behavior from unruly citizens. The hawkish nationalists are into coercion on even grander scales, and are rooted in a state-planned economy with no market values whatsoever. That these three factions form a coalition is itself somewhat improbable, but the military is a residual from WWII and the the culture warriors idealize the same period, both reinforced by the holy war against godless communism -- itself an issue that the rich actually did have a stake in.

I didn't mark many quotes. In a section called "Undisturbed by Doubts" Toplin cites David Brock on the true believers (pp. 61-62):

Conservatives behave as people in cults do, says Brock. They denounce nonbelievers as heretics (as they did emphatically in his case, when he broke from the movement and later published sharply critical revelations about its activities). Brock succinctly identified this mentality by citing a confession by a leading neoconservative, Bill Kristol (son of Irving Kristol): "There is a type of thinking on the right that if you don't agree with everything," said Kristol, "you're a traitor to the movement."

Authors who have analyzed the ideas of major conservative leaders have often identified these characteristics. They point to an attitude of intolerance for dissenting opinions and note that leaders on the right frequently express a desire to purge the movement of individuals whose thinking appears to be compromised. Journalist Nina J. Easton notes, for instance, that Grover Norquist, the hard-core champion of tax reduction and limitd government, scorns conservatives who compromise with liberals. He calls them "yellow-bellied conservatives" and "squishes" i.e. people who cave in to the enemy rather than standing up for their convictions. Norquist has worked relentlessly (and often successfully) to replace "squishes" in Congress with committed radcons. David Alan Crawford describes similar attitudes in Thunder on the Right: The 'New Right' and the Politics of Resentment (1980). He says many conservative leaders treat people who make deals with the liberal enemy as scoundrels who have lost their integrity. Those who compromise are soft. "The good guys are those individuals who are untainted by liberalism or moderation," says Crawford. Right-wingers applaud heroic figures who oppose the left "to the last corral, shooting it out like some Wild West sheriff, holding off the outlaws of liberalism."

On the usefulness of religion, particularly by neoconservatives (pp. 134-135):

Quite a few neoconservatives are agnostics in terms of their personal religious views yet express strong respect for religious values in their public statements, believing that support for spiritual teachings has helped greatly to promote social cohesion and moral behavior. Many Straussians among the neoconservatives have viewed religion in this manner. Some of these intellectuals, disciples of University of Chicago philosopher Leo Strauss, have not personally accepted organized religion's deistic and theocratic teachings, but they sense that people who believe in religion are likely to behave as virtuous citizens. Religious piety does not appear necessary for their individual perspective on life, these neocons conclude, but it provides a useful service to the masses. Religion offers a "noble myth."

Marx came to the same conclusion when he called religion the opiate of the masses. The virtue that the Straussians most treasure is the quiescent acceptance of the class hierarchy.

A particularly annoying quote is where Toplin chastises anyone who would criticize US history in the wake of 9/11 (pp. 212-213):

Politically savvy commentators on the 9/11 tragedy appreciate the Biblical message that suggests there is a proper time and a place for everything. They understand that the first days following the destruction in New York City, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania were less appropriate times for engaging in critical discourse about controversial aspects of U.S. foreign policy than later periods. The individuals who raised these complaints immediately after the tragedy seemed clueless about human psychology and American politics. Many Americans thought their critique of U.S. relations with the world in the aftermath of such heinous crimes sounded like attempts to diminish the guilt of the terrorists. Understandably, irate citizens and pundits lambasted the commentators for suggesting U.S. culpability.

Toplin is writing about William J. Bennett's Why We Fight, which took pains to single out anyone who said anything critical of US policy. The fact is that people like Bennett were using 9/11 to push us into war, and their exploitation of "human psychology" was part of that push. There was never a time when it was more important to stop and take a deep breath and examine how we got to be in that situation, before we let a few hot heads fly us off the cliff into the abyss of war -- events that in coming years we have increasingly come to regret. Critical self-examination failed in this case because very few people have any clue as to what the US has done in its foreign policy over the last 50-60 years, even in frequently troubled areas of the Middle East.

Then there are times when the right puts the shoe on the wrong foot (p. 229):

Interestingly, the Wall Street Journal's highly partisan approach to the Iraq issue led the editors to make some foolish statements that appeared badly mistaken with the passage of time. In mid-April 2003, for instance, at a moment when military victory over Iraq seemed secure, the editors spoke condescendingly about those who had questioned the propriety of President George W. Bush's war policy. They particularly targeted "liberals," a broad term that included, in their terms, the staff of CNN and the major television networks, most academic experts, and editors of the New York Times. The WSJ editors wrote, "Liberal elites continue to wallow in pessimism about this liberation." Liberals worried about the difficulty of achieving democracy and reconstruction in Iraq, the editors noted. Liberals also feared a national uprising against U.S. troops similar to America's Vietnam experience, and they expected that Arabs would become enraged against Americans because of the occupation. Furthermore, liberals thought the war would produce thousands of Iraqi civilian casualties and refugees, and they believed the occupation would arouse saboteurs to strike at Iraq's petroleum fields, causing global oil prices to rise. These anticipated disasters had not come true, the editors noted. Thus, liberals were wrong in making pessimistic judgments. "They are flummoxed if not embarrassed by America's Iraqi victory," the editors concluded. They failed to understand the situation in Iraq because it had become a "self-insulated elite convinced of its own virtue." Liberals thought of themselves as "the anointed," and they operated "in an echo chamber that listens to and rewards one another to the point that they refuse to admit contrary evidence."

Finally, the radcons have had trouble translating their ideas into viable practice (pp. 272-273):

Many of the problems that dragged down the popularity of President Bush and the GOP-led Congress were directly related to the application of conservative ideas rather than to departures from them. Large tax cuts (a favorite goal of the radcons) along with gigantic defense budgets (another favorite) and ambitious war-making in Iraq (defended through radcon jingoism) swelled the federal defecit and badly damaged the United States' global image. FEMA, a model of efficiency in the Clinton era, looked like a striking example of bureaucratic incompetence after radcons privatized some of its programs and filled its top ranks with right-wing cronies. The Medicare drug program promoted by the GOP delighted the pharmaceutical industry, because its costly arrangements promised large profits to corporations. The Republican plan did not allow the government to negotiate aggressively in order to reduce drug prices. In these programs and several other examples of conservative governance, the handling of public affairs was problematic.

A fundamental reason for this disappointing leadership was that key people in charge of federal programs were hostile toward the basic idea of activist government in America's nonmilitary affairs. Libertarian-minded politicians proved to be poor planners and agency heads in Washington. They were uncomfortable with their basic task of creating broadly effective public agencies of the national government. As devotees of the private sector, these Stealth Libertarians looked suspiciously on programs designed to give the state substantial influence in American society. "Conservatives cannot govern well for the same reason that vegetarians cannot prepare a world-class boeuf bourguignon," suggests Alan Wolfe. "If you believe that what you are called upon to do is wrong, you are not likely to do it very well."

Toplin then concludes with Ron Suskind's famous "reality-based community" quote.

Friday, March 09, 2007

River of Lost Notes

I've had the Dec. 11, 2006 isssue of the New Yorker sitting on my desk since sometime around the issue date, originally thinking that I wanted to keep a quote from a book review. The book is about the history of Burma/Myanmar, The River of Lost Footsteps, by Thant Myint-U, the grandson of UN Secretary U Thant. The review is by John Lanchester. Unfortunately, I didn't mark the quote I wanted to keep, so I'm floundering through a fascinating piece on a subject I know very little about. Something to do with the pernicious follies of imperialism, as I recall. Maybe this one, on how the British took over:

By the summer of 1885, [Burmese King] Thibaw was a famous ogre, Burma was a famous potential market, and [Lord Randolph, father of Winston] Churchill, running as the self-proclaimed advocate of "progressive conservatism," was contesting a parliamentary seat in the radical hotbed of Birmingham, a city with a large industrial vote. All that he needed was a strategic reason for an invasion, and this was soon provided by a rumor of French involvement in Burma. A casus belli was cooked up, over a fine that Burmese officials -- probably corrupt ones -- had imposed on a Scottish company. War was declared. General Sir Harry North Dalrymple Prendergast and his troops made short work of deposing Thibaw, and very hard work of suppressing the guerrilla resistance that followed. British officials had assumed, Thant says, that "a swift and simple change at the top would lead to quick submission and the rapid return of normal government." It didn't. In the end, the suppression of the rebellion took three times as many troops as the initial invasion, and succeeded partly because of the enervating effects of a brutal famine.

More than a century later, it's clear that the aftermath of this particular imperial adventure has been catastrophic. There are regimes that attract more negative attention than the Burmese dictatorship of today, but there are few that are as universally condemned, or that have shown such a consistent talent for immiserating their own people. [ . . . ] There is no liberty and no democracy in Burma, where the winner of a 1990 election, Aung San Suu Kyi, is still living under house arrest. The dictatorship has an almost unrivalled record of economic incompetence, at one point managing to make Burma, which is rich in natural resources, one of the ten poorest countries in the world. The "Burmese Way to Socialism," as the junta's official ideology is called, is a mixture of isolationism, nationalism, self-proclaimed Buddhism, and outright fantasy. [ . . . ] One of the subtlest things in The River of Lost Footsteps is the connection Thant charts between Burma's current predicament and its colonial past. A deep sense of humiliation gave rise to a curdled nationalism that eventually made the military dictatorship possible. The great British experiment in regime change created a Burma that was, in Thant's words, "entirely different from anything before, a break with the ideas and institutions that had underpinned society in the Irrawaddy valley since before medieval times" -- a Burma "adrift, suddenly pushed into the modern world without an anchor to the past."

Also worth noting is Thant's critique of the world's efforts to pressure or punish Burma/Myanmar:

But Thant thinks that Aung San Suu Kyi -- "the Lady," as she is generally known in Burma -- relies too much on her father's example. Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace PRize in 1991, has her father's intensity, courage, and charisma, and perhaps also his sense of destiny; but, for Thant, that is not all that needs to be said. To assume that the same single-mindedness that won Burma's independence in 1947 will gain its freedom now is to confuse the colonial past and the postcolonial present. "Britain's withdrawal from Burma was part of its withdrawal from India; the question was one of the nature and timing of the postcolonial transition," Thant observes. "Unlike the British, Burma's generals were never going to quit Burma." Aung San Suu Kyi's valiant opposition to the military regime has become much better known, he observes, than the reasons that the regime arose in the first place, and the result is policy that rests on an incurious, ahistorical simplicity. "The paradigm is one of regime change, and the assumption is that sanctions, boycotts, more isolation will somehow pressure those in charge ot mend their ways," he writes. "The assumption is that Burma's military government couldn't survive further isolation when precisely the opposite is true: Much more than any other part of Burmese society, the army will weather another forty years of isolation just fine. [ . . . ]

Instead of the current policy, Thant argues, what is needed is a policy of engagement with Burma, one of ethical trade and ethical tourism, coupled with a gradual process of economic reform, a rebuilding of institutions, "and a slow opening up of space for civil society." Given all these things, "perhaps the conditions for political change would emerge over the next decade or two." This is not a simple policy of regime change -- or not regime change as we have come to know it.

Of course, we've seen how grossly ineffective, and ultimately cruel, pressure by tough sanctions has repeatedly proven to be. Such strategies fall under the rubric of "war by other means," which means they wind up sharing the moral faults of war. In particular, they demonize the other, rendering the dispute ever more rigid and irresolvable. But they also tend to be significantly asymmetrical: US sanctions against relatively small nations like Cuba, North Korea, Myanmar, Iraq, or even Iran, cost us very little, while potentially doing much harm to the other. The fact that we see and feel so little pain makes it so easy to continue such strategies. It's only when they blow back that we notice them at all. (North Korea's nuclear weapons seem to have finally gotten attention by the Bush regime.)

It seems to me that even so vast a conflict as the Cold War might have been significantly ameliorated by appealing to the highest ideals of the Communists rather than attacking their worst practices, provoking their greatest fears. The same thing could be true for numerous other smaller scale conflicts.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Marriage and Values

The Wichita Eagle published an article Tuesday by Blaine Harden of the Washington Post. It was titled "Marriage a symbol of affluence" and is worth quoting whole:

Punctuating a fundamental change in American family life, married couples with children now occupy fewer than one in every four households -- a share that has been slashed in half since 1960 and is the lowest ever recorded by the census.

As marriage with children becomes an exception rather than the norm, social scientists say it is also becoming the self-selected province of the college-educated and the affluent. The working class and the poor, meanwhile, increasingly steer away from marriage while living together and bearing children.

"The culture is shifting, and marriage has almost become a luxury item, one that only the well educated and well paid are interested in," said Isabel Sawhill, an expert on marriage and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Marriage has declined across all income groups, but it has declined far less among couples who make the most money and have the best education. These couples are also less likely to divorce. Many demographers peg the rise of a class-based marriage gap to the erosion since 1970 of the broad-based economic prosperity that followed World War II.

"We seem to be reverting to a much older pattern, when elites marry and a great many others live together and have kids," said Peter Francese, a demographic trends analyst.

In recent years, the marrying kind have been empowered by college degrees and bankrolled by dual incomes. They are also older and choosier.

As cohabitation and out-of-wedlock births increase among the broader population, social scientists predict that marriage with children will continue its decades-long retreat into relatively high-income exclusivity.

One reason this article impressed me is that I recently read Thomas Edsall's Building Red America, where he makes a big point about how married couples are economically much better off than singles and unmarrieds, which gives them a view of economic dominance that fits so nicely into Republican Party strategizing. Most figures indicate that real wages have been stagnant or declining in the US since circa 1970, but those figures are based on individual wage earners. But married couples can buck that trend with a second paycheck, which increasingly is the case.

I guess what's surprising about the article is that it provides a surprising twist on the "family values" spiel that has been such a prominent piece of the Republican sales pitch. We don't readily think of marriage as an economic issue, even though it is easy to see that it is one. (E.g., would there be such a push by gays to be able to marry if doing so had no economic advantages?) And when we do connect it to economics we tend to assume that marriage is part of a cluster of virtues that incidentally net economic rewards. The idea that marriage is something the privileged do to cement their advantages isn't obvious, but it appears to hold up.

Especially interesting is the argument that the prevalence of marriage is a measure of economic equality. We know, for instance, that the 1950s, which we recall as a sort of family values golden age, was most significantly the period in US history when we came closest to economic equality. Not real close, of course, but much more so than in the robber baron era before the 1930s depression, and more so than the Reagan-Bush greed-for-all. One thing this suggests is that if you really wanted to promote marriage and family values, the way to do so would be to pursue egalitarian economic policies.

On the other hand, the Republicans' harping on values isolated from economics works nicely as a piece of class bigotry, providing a self-flattering rationale for well-to-do marrieds to look down on the less fortunate, and to blame the latter for their fate.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Jazz CG Status

I expected my Jazz Consumer Guide to appear in this week's (March 7) issue of the Village Voice. I've received reports that it didn't appear. Voice music editor Rob Harvilla confirms that "late into the night a bunch of space was cut and they had to pull it from the 3-7 issue." He also reports that "this next issue i think is also mashed with other stuff, so my plan was to run it 3-21." So that means week after next, a two-week delay, and doesn't sounds like even that is locked in.

The Voice has long had trouble slotting full-page pieces, and I've often come out on the short end of that stick. The first real date we talked about this time was Mar. 14, which then got moved up to Mar. 7 in a last-minute crush which I managed to pull off with some much appreciated help on the editing end. So this is disappointing, but I still feel good that it is done and will be published in the not-too-distant future.

I also still don't know the exact layout -- what fit and what got held back, although presumably the latter all come from my prioritized lists. Meanwhile, you can get a rough idea by sifting through the prospecting file. I've started to set up the framework for next round. I guess the good news is that I have a bit of breathing room to go over the usual clean up and compaction.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Recycled Goods #41: March 2007

Given the circumstances, I couldn't quite pull myself together to wrap up the planned Recycled Goods for March. But I didn't want to disappear for a month either. Then it occurred to me that an easy way to hold my place would be to do some recycling myself. I first thought of pulling one review from each of the 40 columns, starting in February 2003. Then I figured full main-section reviews would be too long-winded, so I should pick from Briefly Noted as well. Since those only started four columns into 2003, I rather arbitrarily decided to limit the main reviews to 2003 and run Brief Notes from 2004 to last month. Nabbed one per column, then threw in a few more for good measure: two up top, four down below. Didn't necessarily take the best records per column, but stuck with good ones, things worth knowing about. Got a James Brown Pick Hit out of it too.

I flagged each one by date. My original thought was to link them back to my archives, but I skipped that for the version posted at Static Multimedia. I actually had almost a full column written, but it had run late, and I wasn't in the mood to clean up the rough edges. Some of this is long-term fatigue. While the record counts haven't dropped much over the past year, I've put less effort into chasing down interesting records. Not sure how that will play out in the months to come, but I didn't want to dig too deep a hole for myself.

By the way, I want to thank all my readers who wrote to me recently, especially those -- probably most -- who I won't manage to respond to personally. Especially when bad things happen, it's reassuring to see some evidence that better reactions are possible, and that my work has not been in vain. Thank you.

Here's the publicists letter:

Recycled Goods #41, March 2007, is up at Static Multimedia:


I got ambushed this month -- unfortunately not figuratively,
but fortunately something that I might recover from. One result
was that my March 2007 Recycled Goods column missed its deadline.
So I did some last-minute recycling of my own to fill the gap.
I picked 46 reviews from my 40 previous columns, using the 2003
columns for the top section and the later columns for Briefly
Noted. Good records, all worth further consideration, even a
bit of nagging. Next month should be back to normal.

Index by label:

  Archeophone: Stomp and Swerve
  Atavistic: Vandermark 5, Per Henrik Wallin
  Buda Musique: Mahmoud Ahmed
  Collector's Choice: John Fahey
  ECM: Jan Garbarek
  EMI (Capitol, Blue Note): Finger Poppin' and Stompin' Feet, Tina Brooks,
    Cabaret Voltaire, Don Cherry, Bobby Darin, Andrew Hill, John Lee
    Hooker, Thelonious Monk, Les Paul & Mary Ford, Bud Powell
  Heartbeat: Freddie McGregor
  HighNote: Sheila Jordan
  Koch: Amy Rigby
  New West: Sir Douglas Quintet
  Reboot Stereophonic: Irving Fields
  RetroAfric: Gaby Lita Bembo
  Sanctuary (Trojan, Castle): Niney and Friends, X-Ray Spex
  Shanachie: Augustus Pablo
  Smalls: Frank Hewitt
  Sony/BMG: Poor Man's Heaven, Gato Barbieri, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington,
    Flatt & Scruggs, Dizzy Gillespie, Merle Haggard, Perez Prado, Rockpile,
  Stern's: Guitar and Gun
  Stones Throw: Funky 16 Corners
  Timber: Perfect Beats
  Universal: James Brown, Ernest Tubb
  WEA (Rhino): Buck 65, Buck Owens, Warren Zevon
  World Music Network: Rough Guide to Boogaloo
  ZE: Cristina

One thing I noticed in compiling this index is how many of these
are from labels I've lost track of. I started the column in 2003,
partly in response to Michael Tatum's nagging, and partly because
I saw a need to cover more reissues and compilations than Robert
Christgau could or would in his year-end Consumer Guide. At first
I scrounged around for releases, but after a few months I came up
with Briefly Noted to keep up with everything. Soon I found I
wasn't getting as much world music as I wanted, so I loosened up
the requirements to allow for new releases. We decided to do a
year-end new music summary for January 2006, and repeated that in
2007. For a while I juggled Recycled Goods and a spin-off column
in Seattle Weekly called Rearview Mirror. Static Multimedia was
having its own problems then, and the combination resulted in
skipping several months, but everything settled down in 2005.
Until this blip, I've published columns with 40-60 records for
26 straight months. That adds up to 40 columns and a total of
1733 records. The complete archives are available at:

I still mean to eventually put them into a reference like the one
I built for Robert Christgau. I send notices like this out each
month, usually just to the publicists immediately covered. But
this unusual one may serve as a reminder of who I am and what
I've been doing. Maybe we'll renew some acquaintances. The fact
is that I haven't been as proactive lately as I was early on --
the column would be better if I looked harder and dug deeper.
But I have been gratified by the widespread interest in it, and
that helps keep me going. As, of course, does your continued
support. Thanks.

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Music: Current count 12930 [12917] rated (+13), 846 [841] unrated (+5). This has been the week from hell. Should have finished Recycled Goods, but haven't done much of anything.

  • The Life Pursuit by Belle and Sebastian (2006, Matador): Maybe the title should be spun around the other way. Quaint little songs, although "For the Price of a Cup of Tea" has a hook. B+(**)
  • Tony Bennett: Duets: An American Classic (2006, RPM/Columbia): Phil Ramone produced, with an average mediocre orchestra, so don't expect anything there other than competence. The songbook is firmly planted on home turf -- Stevie Wonder brings "For Once in My Life," but Bennett's made that a staple, and controls the pace. Duets albums have become a ritual for aging crooners, offering nothing new from the principal party, rising and falling on the guests. Any surprise that Diana Krall is great, that James Taylor isn't, and that George Michael sucks? B
  • Bob Seger: Face the Promise (2006, Capitol): First new album in eleven years. Complex feelings may have their place, as one song concedes, but complex chords are someone else's aesthetic. For Seger simplicity is everything, and he picks up his career with the same sledgehammer he wielded in the '70s. His philosophizing hasn't changed much either, and songs like "No Matter Who You Are" ring true. And his political manifesto isn't far off the mark: "It's time to join with the iving, time to understand/We're all in this together, we've got to have a plan/We're facing an extinction every other day/There's got to be an answer, we've got to find a way/Between what is dead and what is green/We learn what to keep and what to burn/Between what is fair and what's obscene." Patty Loveless drops in for a duet. B+(***)
  • Tropicália (1968-73 [2006], Soul Jazz): Mark Kurlansky's otherwise remarkable book 1968: The Year That Rocked the World offers only one sentence on Brazil: "In Brazil, armed violence that killed three protesters in the opening months of 1968 failed to keep students from protesting the four-year-old military dictatorship." The unreported revolt in Brazil included the tropicálistas, whose "Brazilian revolution in sound" is rooted more in late-'60s psychedelic rock than in the bossa nova and samba that seduced us in the early '60s. The movement involved more than music, but is best known through founders Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso, who survived arrest and exile to achieve international fame, and Tom Zé, who remained obscure until David Byrne's Luaka Bop label gave him some exposure. Odd, messy, unexpected -- revolutions are like that -- but his compilation for once is select and documented extensively. A-
  • Thom Yorke: The Eraser (2006, XL): Solo album by Radiohead's singer. Don't know whether that means they're done -- not surprising given how little attention I paid them when they were. Attractive album, especially in the rhythm which runs soft and synthy. Don't ask me about lyrics. B+(**)

Jazz Prospecting (CG #12, Part 14)

A week later my life is still pretty disrupted, but the afterlife bears some continuity and occasional resemblance to the ordinary life that preceded it. I'm trying to get back to some sort of normalcy, of which this post is a first step -- something that I do damn near every Monday. This week's post provides closure for Jazz Consumer Guide #12, which is scheduled to appear in the Village Voice later this week. More when that happens.

This has been the longest Jazz CG cycle ever. Not sure why. It may just be that under the new regime we just haven't worked very hard to overcome the distance and distraction. Next one should be much quicker, unless fatigue really weighs me down. I really haven't felt like rating anything in the last week -- the week's tally in the notebook is 13, about half a normal week's work, so that's not a complete washout. In the past I've tried to push for two-month frequency. Not sure now, but the case is pretty straightforward. I've prospected 247 albums in this cycle, while carrying 83 over from the previous cycle. At this point I still don't know the final cuts from the column, but a 10% selection (33 out of 330) is quite possible, with less more likely than more.

One probable casualty of the events is March's Recycled Goods. I have enough stuff written, but haven't felt up to cleaning it up and editing it, while the calendar keeps turning. Probably best to skip a month and return in April, but that's still not official. I hope to get back to "normal" blogging by the end of the week. Have some book quotes backed up. Beyond that, we'll see.

Juan Carlos Quintero: Las Cumbias . . . Las Guitarras (1997-2006 [2006], Inner Knot): Colombian guitarist, from Medellin, although he's been in the US since studying at Berklee and New England Conservatory in the early '80s. Selected from a decade's work, the pieces offer a remarkably uniform flow -- all instrumental, most with bass, accordion, and drums/percussion, a couple with piano. Just a slightly folkie groove that never lets up. B+(**)

Puttanesca (2006, Catasonic): Sauce, usually served with spaghetti. Brown 4 halved cloves garlic in 3 tbs. olive oil. Add 4-5 anchovy fillets, crush with fork. Add 28 oz. crushed tomatoes, 10-12 coarsely chopped black olives, 2 tbs. capers, 2 tbs. flat parsley, a small red chili or equivalent. Stirring occasionally, cook over medium heat until reduced to sauce (about 10 minutes). Pasta alla puttanesca translates as whore's pasta. It has a loud, noisy taste, one that grabs your buds and beats them around. Group tries to do the same thing, but less successfully. Their obligatory inspirational cover is Beefheart's "Lick My Decals Off, Baby," and throughout the guitar-bass-drums exhibit a similar skew. The vocalist is Weba Garretson, who's also done business as Weba World. Given that nobody knows what a jazz vocal is these days, she's probably close enough -- certainly too kinky for alt-rock. B+(*)

Logan Richardson: Cerebral Flow (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Young (b. 1980) alto/soprano saxophonist from Kansas City, educated at Berklee and the New School, based in NYC. Runs a quintet here with vibes-guitar-bass-drums. Runs on the wild side, with fast, complex runs, leaps, and the occasional squawk, against mostly free rhythm. Not inconceivable he has Charlie Parker in mind, but he's a completely contemporary player. Mike Pinto's vibes make interesting contrast here. Also impressed with bassist Matt Brewer, even younger, who's worked with Greg Osby -- who, by the way, offers praise in the booklet. Could go higher; impressive debut. [B+(***)]

Michael Felberbaum: SweetSalt (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist, based in Paris since 1991, before that in US from 1985, before that not sure -- website says he played in "Roman clubs" when he was 15. Has a previous album. This one is a quartet with piano-bass-drums. Another solid postbop exercise, with some urgency which can either be driven by the guitarist or Pierre de Ethmann on piano or Fender Rhodes. B+(*)

Miguel Fdez-Vallejo Meets Miguel Villar: El Perro (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Two Spanish tenor saxophonists, names I've run across in the past but don't know much about -- nor do they have the web presence that helps make up for obscurity. Formally, this promises to be a joust, but is pretty subtle, the two sax lines tracking each other closely over bass and drums. One cut adds guests: vibes by Marc Miralta, with Gorka Benítez taking the lead on flute. I've played this several times, and like it as haunting, poignant background music, but don't have much more to say. B+(**)

Nando Michelin Trio: Duende (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Pianist. Don't know any biographical details, but AMG lists six albums going back to 1996, and that doesn't include this one. Only two side-credits. This one was recorded in Boston. Richie Barshay plays drums and percussion. Esperanza Spalding plays bass and contributes scat vocals to most songs. I'm fairly neutral about the latter, which is to say they're unannoying and less disruptive than I'd expect. Piano is attractive, and bass and drums provide solid support. B+(*)

Among 3 (2004-06 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Barcelona-based piano trio, with Roger Mas [Giménez] on piano, Bori Albero on bass, Juanma Mielo, plus guests on two tracks. Never heard of these guys, and found out very little. (A Spanish singer-songwriter named Roger Mas is evidently someone else.) The piano trio is fine, although not especially inspiring. The extras add little. B

Robert Glasper: In My Element (2006 [2007], Blue Note): Obviously the jump from his debut on Fresh Sound New Talent to a second album on Blue Note was considered a big deal: it put the young pianist squarely in the footsteps of Jason Moran and Bill Charlap, who are big deals. Glasper got a lot of plaudits come year-end, but I didn't think much of the album, and not just because his hip-hop connection (Bilal, Mos Def) didn't register. In fact, I toyed with the idea of listing it as a dud, but let it slip quietly by instead. I doubt this one will pan out either. Very mild-mannered acoustic stuff at first, including a soft gospel medley, then he feels a strange need to break out of his rut. So he starts with a Radiohead/Herbie Hancock mashup, then channels some J Dilla samples, both of which are better on paper than in sound. Then he tosses off a pretty good free piece called "Silly Rabbit," but chops it up at the end with a sample and some junk. Then he reverts to form with a tribute to Mulgrew Miller. Finally, a piece called "Tribute" with excerpts from a eulogy. [B] [Mar 20]

Honolulu Jazz Quartet: Tenacity (2006 [2007], HJQ): I dunno. A squall line just blew through in the middle of playing this, so I assume that the thunder and crashing trees and such were unscripted. Was trying to read Nat Hentoff's purple-on-black liner notes -- name-dropping about shit told to him back in the day by Coleman Hawkins and Duke Ellington -- and was having trouble with that, too. Group is a quartet, based in Honolulu. Leader is bassist John Kolivas. Tim Tsukiyama plays tenor and soprano sax, mostly tenor; Dan Del Negro piano; Adam Baron drums. Very mainstream stuff, with the only non-original from local legend, slack key guitarist Keola Beamer, not that it stands out. Actually, the distractions don't matter much. Either this is exemplary competency or it's a work of marginal distinction. Think I'll give it a pass and go with the latter, since for my triage purposes it doesn't much matter. B+(*) [Mar 20]

Tad Robinson: A New Point of View (2007, Severn): White blues singer, also plays harmonica, although I wouldn't swear to the race without a photo. Actually, the notes refer to him as a "soul-blues singer," but I find this so firmly locked into the modern blues paradigm that his hard-earned soulfulness is secondary. B

Jeff Baker: Shopping for Your Heart (2006 [2007], OA2): Jazz singer. Third album, starting with Baker Sings Chet in 2003. He works the gamut of olde standards and bebop sprints. I tend to enjoy the former and chafe at the latter, and that's pretty much how this breaks. The band could call themselves the Origin All-Stars: Bill Anschell, Jeff Johnson, John Bishop, and especially Brent Jensen, whose sax especially warms up attractive moderate fare like "Time After Time." B

Dean Schmidt: I Know Nothing (2006 [2007], OA2): Bassist, from Seattle or thereabouts, first album, composed 10 of 13 cuts -- the others from his pianists Julio Jauregui and Steve Rice. Eclectic, but leans toward Latin things, starting off with a piece including steel pans and guiro. I find the simplest pieces most attractive, like "Harry Whodeanie's Magic Impromptu Blues" -- just bass and bongos. Good title: "The Days of Guns and Roses." B

Ellery Eskelin/Andrea Parkins/Jim Black: One Great Day (1996 [1997], Hatology): I've made extended discography lists of some musicians whose import extends far beyond their own records -- like Paul Motian, Dave Holland, and William Parker. I haven't gotten around to Jim Black yet, but I wouldn't be surprised to find him on the same track, if not quite yet in the same league. Parkins is the odd one out here: she's credited with accordion and sampler. Seems to me there's a small bit of piano here, so maybe that was sampled? The accordion functions like an organ -- Eskelin's mother played organ, so that may have something to do with his thinking here -- similar in tone, a bit slower dynamics, harmonizes better with the sax, while covering the hole left by no bassist. None of which matters all that much: above all else, this is a great tenor sax album, with a singular voice working difficult material. A-

Ellery Eskelin: Five Other Pieces (+2) (1998, Hatology): Same trio with Andrea Parkins and Jim Black. The five pieces by others come from John McLaughlin, Lennie Tristano, John Coltrane, Charlie Haden, and George Gershwin. The "+2" are Eskelin originals. The most immediate effect of working with "other folks' music" -- a Roland Kirk phrase Eseklin quotes in his remarkably useful liner notes -- is to bring Parkins' accordion much to the fore. As usual, covers mean stronger themes -- why else bother with them? -- and in the case of Coltrane's "India" set up an unusual degree of repetition, which underscores the group's sound. The "(+2)" are two Eseklin originals. B+(***)

Ellery Eskelin: Ramifications (1999 [2000], Hatology): Eskelin expands his trio to quintet here, making unorthodox choices. Is Joe Daley's tuba the brass alongside Eskelin's tenor sax, or is it the missing bass? Or is Erik Friedlander's cello the missing bass, or the second lead instrument. Actually, there is no second lead -- the group mostly provides a somber backdrop for Eskelin's pained, powerful sax maneuvers. This is especially true on the title cut, which is dirgelike except for the sax's mighty struggles. B+(***)

Ellery Eskelin: Vanishing Point (2000 [2001], Hatology): One of the more interesting sax-with-strings records, but not a surprise given that the strings are Mat Maneri on viola, Erik Friedlander on cello, and Mark Dresser on bass. You could think of it as a string quartet with tenor sax subbing for violin, but it is an exceptionally unruly one. The classical string sound that so often turns my stomach comes from the sonic seasickness of the section playing in unison, but that can't happen in unscripted improv like this, where each player responds to the others. Fifth wheel is Matt Moran on vibes, an occasional tinkle of percussion that pops out orthogonally to the sonic mix. The pieces have an odd, ambling quality. I've played this a number of times, and it remains obscure, a puzzle with no obvious solution. B+(**)

Ellery Eskelin/Andrea Parkins/Jim Black: 12 (+1) Imaginary Views (2001 [2002], Hatology): I got a note from Eskelin back in October offering to send me a copy of his latest, Quiet Music. I wrote back and mentioned that I had heard very little of his music -- mostly an early record, Figure of Speech (1991, Soul Note), that I admired greatly. He then offered to send a batch of his Hatology records, saying "If you haven't heard those you really haven't heard my music." So that's where this batch of catchup notes comes from. The new record is a high HM, and might have gone higher had I more appreciation or tolerance for voice. Eskelin's point is certainly well taken. I don't really have the skills to explain how his music works in any technical sense, but at least I've heard it. This album returns to the trio that made One Great Day five years earlier and has been his core working group all along. Parkins has developed into a more imposing force on accordion, and finally plays some piano as well. The "12" are rough ideas developed through improvisation into dense patterns that build on the previous records. The "+1" is an obscure Monk piece at the end. A-

John Lindberg/Karl Berger: Duets 1 (2004 [2007], Between the Lines): Bassist Lindberg first met Berger in 1975 when the latter was director and the former student at Creative Music Studio in Woodstock NY. Berger was 40 then, originally from Germany, strongly influenced by Ornette Coleman. He plays piano and vibes, the latter more often, and more distinctively, with both contrasting well with Lindberg's bass. B+(**)

Ralph Alessi & This Against That: Look (2005 [2007], Between the Lines): Trumpet player, based in NYC since 1991. Only three previous albums, including one called This Against That, but his is a name that pops up frequently on other folks' albums -- Carola Grey, Steve Coleman, Sam Rivers, Ravi Coltrane, Uri Caine, Michael Cain, Fred Hersch, Don Byron, Bobby Previte, Drew Gress, Jason Moran, Scott Colley -- and he always makes a strong impression. This one is a quartet with Andy Milne on piano, Drew Gress on bass, and Mark Ferber on drums, with Ravi Coltrane guesting on four cuts. Don't have much to say at this point -- I've been on a critical hiatus the last several days, during which few if any albums have pleased me this much. [A-]

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

Dave Liebman/Anthony Jackson/Mike Stern/Tony Marino/Marko Marcinko/Vic Juris: Back on the Corner (2006 [2007], Tone Center): How this stacks up against the oft-maligned On the Corner remains to be seen, but with no trumpet weighing in the saxophonist works all that much harder, which is good for him, and with no keyboards, the rhythm people focus on their mission. I have this slotted as HM, but will list it only under Liebman's name. He makes it work, and after half a dozen or more disappointments during the span of Jazz CG, it's good to be able to give him some credit. B+(***)

Mimi Fox: Perpetually Hip (2005 [2006], Favored Nations, 2CD): One disc with a small group, the other solo. $15.98 list, so you can figure the solo disc as some sort of bonus, maybe for educational purposes. The group, with Xavier Davis on piano, Harvie S on bass, and Billy Hart on drums, and a little extra percusion on two tracks, moves right along. While the solo doesn't have the same zip, it is thoughtful and well crafted. If I wasn't already up to my ears in guitarists, I'd be tempted to give her extra attention. As it is, a solid mainstream album. B+(**)

Russell Malone: Live at the Jazz Standard: Volume One (2005 [2006], MaxJazz): I've noticed myself complaining about Wes Montgomery a lot lately, and indeed I don't see much value in his school, or even in much of his own work. Still, when he was on, he did amaze, as on Smokin' at the Half Note -- which I first heard embedded in Impressions: The Verve Jazz Sides along with a lot of Jimmy Smith. Malone is so squarely in Montgomery's wake that until now he's always struck me as redundant or worse. Score this one as redundant at best, in part because he pulls more than sweetness out of the blues. Also because pianist Martin Bejerano had me thinking of Wynton Kelly for a while. In a different venue, this could be called Smolderin' at the Half Note. B+(***)

Ellery Eskelin: Quiet Music (2006, Prime Source, 2CD): Still working on him. I've played five background records several times each without writing prospecting notes. Two are likely to wind up A-, with the others high B+, the preference going to the ones most wholly dependent on his sax. This new one is relatively more varied, both in his efforts at containing the title's irony and in the addition of vocalist Jessica Constable to his long-term trio -- Andrea Parkins on piano (or organ or accordion) and Jim Black on drums. The voice can be dramatic, obscure, merely instrumental, or absent, adding complication that is not always unwelcome but something of a distraction. But the sprawling music keeps growing on me. B+(***)

Mikkel Ploug Group (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): Danish guitarist, aka Mikkel Ploug Petersen, born 1978. Wrote all the pieces here. Postbop, nice movement. Seems like a decent enough guitarist, but he's overshadowed in this quartet by tenor saxophonist Mark Turner. Not sure whether this is near the top of Turner's game, but anyone with a serious interest in him should like this. Ploug's website sucks. When I accessed it with the browser he insists on, I got a bit further, but with further aggravation. B+(**)

Wayne Wallace: The Reckless Search for Beauty (2006 [2007], Patois): Trombonist-led Latin jazz record. Hard to argue with the flow or spirit, but there's nothing much out of the ordinary either. Lots of percussion. Six songs with vocals by Alexa Weber-Morales, including a memorable version of Bill Withers' "Use Me." B+(**)

Steve Turre: Keep Searchin' (2006, High Note): After tributes to JJ Johnson and Roland Kirk, this has been viewed as a re-exploration of Turre's own work. He is one of the more remarkable trombonists of the last two decades, so he has plenty to work with. The other main figure here is vibraphonist Stefon Harris. I've never been much of a fan, but his light rhythmic tap dance makes a nice contrast to Turre and Akua Dixon's baritone violin (featured on three tracks), so I can't fault him here. B+(**)

Russell Gunn: Plays Miles (2006 [2007], High Note): Cover shows a trumpet, an electric power line plug, and a butterfly, signifying the Elektrik Butterfly Band and pointing towards Miles Davis's fusion period. Keyboards, bass, drums, percussion, but no guitar or sax. Not all that interesting, at least compared to Yo Miles!, but fun in its own right. B+(*)

Florian Ross Trio: Big Fish & Small Pond (2005 [2006], Intuition): In a period when I haven't been able to do much critical listening, I've played this piano trio a lot and found it always pleasurable although rarely demanding. But I do need to move on. B+(**)

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Hidden Heat

Saw this letter in the Wichita Eagle Saturday, written by Gary Temple from Valley Center:

So you want to carry a concealed weapon? Well, I'm 65 years old, and except for when I was in Vietnam, I've never had to pack heat. I flew around South Vietnam in a little Cessna 337 airplane. At first, the Air Force had us carrying an M-16 rifle in the airplane just in case we went down in an unfriendly area. After some serious thinking, the decision makers realized that an M-16 very probably would have gotten us killed. They took away our Rambo guns and issued us pistols -- with holsters permanently attached in the back of our survival vests so we would have to just about dislocate a shoulder to get the gun out. The point was that if a gun were readily available, some fool just might haul off and try to use it against some Viet Cong who were accustomed to using their weapons against well-trained soldiers.

You probably imagine yourself being the hero by going against some bank robber with your little concealed weapon, right? You'll be in all the papers and maybe even have a parade in your honor. More realistically, you'll be in the obituary section of the papers and your place in the parade will be in the hearse. You don't stand a chance. If a thug in the street ever confronts you and you try to pull your hidden gun on him, you are more than likely going to get your gun taken away and used on you. Even if you do get the drop on him, you're not going to pull the trigger.

Do you know what's better than that concealed gun? That little sissy-looking cell phone in your pocket. Call in the well-trained pros. The number's 911. Do your family a favor and leave your gun at home.

I've talked to several people in the last few days who are quite certain that had they been in my shoes they would have shot and killed our assailants. I'm pretty skeptical. I've seen enough on big and small screens that I can mentally run through all sorts of scenarios, but realistically I couldn't see any of them working in my case. And in the end, what got us through this ordeal wasn't heroics. It was a well reasoned assessment of the risks, and some skill in keeping the situation from getting even more out of hand. Luck too, of course.

Feb 2007