June 2008 Notebook


Monday, June 30, 2008

Snack Notes

Made an impromptu bean salad today, just something to snack on. Didn't make measurements, but approximately:

  • 1 can (15.8 oz) great northern beans, drained
  • 2 tbs. red onion, diced fine
  • 1/2 tbs. sun-dried tomato, diced fine
  • 1 tbs. roasted red pepper, hacked up
  • 1/4 tsp. sumac
  • 1/4 tsp. aleppo pepper
  • 3/4 tsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 tsp. sherry vinegar

I thought it came out fabulous -- even better after refrigerated awhile. I vaguely recall throwing something else together last week that I really liked, but can't remember what it was now. So I thought I'd at least write this down.

One I do remember from last week was making the classic family fried chicken dinner. We just dust the chicken in flour, then pan fry it, with the lid on loose until it's time to turn the chicken -- cooks deeper and keeps the chicken moist. Used a little oil and some spare bacon fat. Poured most of the fat off, stirred in flour and milk for gravy, salt and pepper. Green beans on the side: snap and boil 15 minutes, drain and keep aside; chop up some bacon (3-4 slices), fry that, drain excess fat, chop up half a onion, cook with bacon until slightly brown; return beans and toss to heat through. Diced and pan-browned some red potatoes I had laying around -- don't like the more traditional mashed potatoes. Also made scratch biscuits, which doubled for strawberry shortcake. Haven't fried chicken in years, but it came out perfect.

Last night I cleaned out a container of leftover rogan josh, about two weeks old, mostly gravy with a couple small bits of lamb. Heated it up. Took a frozen paratha (store-bought), grilled it, cut it into inch-square pieces, and served the hot rogan josh over it. Delicious. Better, in fact, than the dish originally was.

Recycled Goods (54): June 2008

Recycled Goods is still in semi-retirement. I'm not going very far out of my way, but when I stumble across something that fits, I jot it down and post it end of each month. Back when I was working on it the columns ran 40-60 records per month. In April when I resumed this I had 10; this month it's up to 17, mostly redundant jazz.

Permanent link.

Music Week

Music: Current count 14560 [14526] rated (+34), 791 [814] unrated (-23). Did a lot of jazz prospecting this week. Worked on book posts for the blog. Read a bit. Not much else to report. Sore throat and cough persists. No real idea what that means. Laura in Detroit. This has been something of a grind.

  • Madonna: Hard Candy (2008, Warner Brothers): Reportedly a return to her hard dance niche. She remains adept at shopping for the latest beats, but she comes up a bit short on message. Even when she was wrong she used to spend some time and thought on message. B+(**)

Jazz Prospecting (CG #17, Part 10)

I feel like I paid my dues this week. Didn't get to everything I wanted to, but took a big chunk out of the incoming pile. There's still a bunch left, but I have more than I need to fill out a Jazz CG column. The new William Parker record gives me one pick hit. I could take either the Ron Brown or the Roy Campbell for a second Vision Festival (AUM Fidelity) pick hit and actually come up with a nice title for once: "Festival Visions." Or I could go with the Vandermark 5 and celebrate the two most fruitful players of the now-closing decade. The duds front is less clear, but I haven't been going out of my way to chase them down.

The main thing that keeps me from closing out this column is that I've been trying to get the book reports squared away. I posted a dozen in the last week, and will probably post another dozen this coming week. Takes a lot of time. While I do manage to skip back and forth, that's easier to do with these crude notes than with trying to write real Jazz CG capsules. So I figure I'm two weeks away from finishing. Should start getting into the replays this coming week, then nail down what I can the following. Unless something tragic happens.

The Amazing World of Arthur Brown: The Voice of Love (2007 [2008], Zoho Roots): One of the few causes celębres I flat out missed in the 1960s -- AMG's "similar artists" list includes Jimi Hendrix, HP Lovecraft, Syd Barrett, and Carl Palmer; I had sort of been under the impression he was the English Dr. John, but maybe I'm confusing him with Jethro Dull. Anyway, he's hardly Amazing any more -- sort of a blues rocker with a little folkie twang in the guitar. One hoedown song had enough mustard on it I thought I might not be able to dismiss him out of hand. But then the next song came on. B

The Malchicks: To Kill a Mockingbird (2007 [2008], Zoho Roots): English blues-rock group, duo actually, with vocalist Scarlett Wrench and George Perez on guitars, banjo, bass, with some extra studio help -- drums, anyway, plus Phil May (Pretty Things) and Arthur Brown add some backup vocals. Songs are as stout as "Boom Boom," "House of the Rising Sun," "I Got My Mojo Working," "Baby, Please Don't Go." The female voice provides a slight twist on a genre firmly rooted in Eric Bourdon's testes. Finishes with a Leonard Cohen song, proving that history ambled on past the 1960s. B+(**)

The Pretty Things: Balboa Island (2007, Zoho Roots): British invasion reject from the 1960s, had a reputation as too hard, too low down, too dirty for Hullabaloo and Shindig, which was probably true but less than a crowning achievement. Went prog around 1970 with a Who-ish rock opera, no more successfully than their first phase. Staged another unsuccessful comeback in the late 1970s, aided by pub rock, punk rock, and Led Zeppelin, none of which helped. They're still around, still sounding pretty much like they always did, which with 40 years of perspective now looks a lot like the Aynsley Dunbar Retalliation, the real roots band for these inveterate punters. On the other hand, this is about as strong and a good deal more solid than any album they've turned in. They've never been much good at timing. B+(*)

Bobby Broom: The Way I Play: Live in Chicago (2007 [2008], Origin): Chicago guitarist, b. 1961, sixth album since 1995 (the first of two on Criss Cross), plus more records with Deep Blue Organ Trio. Trio, with Dennis Carroll on bass, Kobie Watkins on drums. Front cover photo is tightly cropped around guitar, and that sums up the album. Plays within Wes Montgomery's framework, but more tightly wound. Set is a mix of standards and bop tunes, most of the former well known from the latter, but none played to type. He meant this as a showcase, and that's what he got. B+(*)

Bridge Quartet: Day (2007 [2008], Origin): First album by group: Alan Jones (drums), Tom Wakeling (bass), Darrell Grant (piano), Phil Dwyer (tenor sax). Jones (from Portland, OR), seems to be the leader, but the group is built to showcase Dwyer (from British Columbia) -- "Bridge" is a Sonny Rollins reference, and Dwyer's likely to be happy with all the Rollins comparisons he can gather. Grant is by far the better known player; he has a relatively small role here, expertly done. Mainstream, but brash, loud, wide open, a mother lode of tenor sax. B+(**)

Doug Miller: Regeneration (2005-06 [2008], Origin): Bassist, originally from Bloomington, IN; studied under John Clayton, a connection to Ray Brown; moved to Indianapolis, then to New York, then to Seattle in 1987. First album under his own name, although he co-founded a big band called Big Neighborhood which has a couple of records, and has 25-30 side-credits since 1990. Miller wrote all of these pieces, which seems to be the point here. I find it hard to judge new mainstream jazz compositions -- they're so tightly bound within convention they hardly ever sound new. The odd thing here is how they vary the lead instrument -- sometimes trumpet or flugelhorn, tenor or soprano sax, or even flute, all wielded by the same Jay Thomas. Dave Peterson also does double duty on guitar and keyboard, with Phil Parisot's drums limited to four cuts. I suppose that's one way to make the bass the focal center, but it's still not clear enough for me. Still, some interesting stuff here. B

Hiromi's Sonicbloom: Beyond Standard (2008, Telarc): Japanese pianist, full name Hiromi Uehara, b. 1979, came to Berklee 1999, has five US albums since 2003, all on Telarc, where she's angling for a big audience with some fancy fusion footwork. It's been hit and miss so far, but she gets some mileage out of these standards, most impressively an uproarious take on "Caravan." The band includes Dave Fiuczynski on guitar, Tony Grey on bass, Martin Valihora on drums. Some things lost me along the way, but at best the guitar can be spectacular. Ends with the fastest "I Got Rhythm" I've ever heard. [B+(**)]

Tony Grey: Chasing Shadows (2008, Abstract Logix): English bassist, also plays keyboards, b. 1975 Newcastle, graduated from Berklee in 2001, something of a protégé of John McLaughlin, plays with Hiromi's Sonicbloom. Fusion album, long groove pieces variously decorated -- Dan Brantigan trumpet, Elliot Mason bass trumpet/trombone, Bob Reynolds soprano/tenor sax, Gregoire Maret harmonica, Lionel Loueke guitar -- none setting a dominant tone, although Maret is the most distinctive. Hiromi plays pianon on one cut, but most of the keyboard work goes to Oli Rockberger. B+(*)

Saxophone Summit: Seraphic Light: Dedicated to Michael Brecker (2007 [2008], Telarc): The last such summit was so dominated by Michael Brecker that I filed it under his name, although the reason could just as well have been that I hated the record, had never cared for Brecker's records, and therefore figured they belonged together. The other pillars were Joe Lovano and Dave Liebman: the former an unimpeachable giant of the era, the latter a fine tenor saxophonist who spends most of his time these days annoying people with his soprano sax. But Brecker's gone now, so I filed this one under Liebman, figuring he'd be the squeak wheel. In any case, the dedication to Brecker here is pro forma. His shoes were easily filled by Ravi Coltrane, especially given that the songbook focuses on his old man. Booklet has no credits beyond the horns, but a group photo hints that the piano is Phil Markowitz, bass Cecil McBee, and drums Billy Hart. Randy Brecker adds his trumpet to the finale. Not much to say about this exercise. It never gets embarrassing like its predecessor, even when the flutes arrive (Coltrane is a saving grace here, with one soprano cut, the rest on tenor). While mostly competent, there are occasional strong moments, including a strong finish on three John Coltrane space elegies, which even Liebman takes on tenor. B

Andy Middleton: The European Quartet Live (2005 [2007], Q-rious Music): OK, this is weird: next up after Saxophone Summit, I pick a CD almost at random -- well, I discarded two singers first -- and get a saxophonist whose website starts off with praise from Joe Lovano, Michael Brecker, and David Liebman (also John Abercrombie). Biography is patchy. Plays tenor sax, maybe a little soprano. Based in New York City, maybe also in Austria (although the record label is in Germany). Has an American Quartet as well as this European Quartet, but the latter includes drummer Alan Jones, who hails from Portland. Has two previous albums on Intuition (2000-02), one earlier one from 1995; played in a group called the Fensters back in 1991. Figure him for postbop: he's not very far out of the mainstream, but he has an arresting sound and some fancy moves. Pianist Tino Derado helps out. Will give it another shot. [B+(***)]

Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. III: The Croydon Concert, May 14, 1981 (1981 [2008], Widow's Taste, 2CD): A hot set with a group -- Milcho Leviev on piano, Bob Magnuson on bass, Carl Burnett on drums -- Pepper toured often but recorded rarely with. He calls them his favorite group, and they repay the compliment -- there seems to be no end to wondrous tapes from his last years. A-

Sheila Cooper: Tales of Love and Longing (2006 [2007], Panorama): Singer/alto saxophonist, originally from Canada, now based in New York, working in a cozy little duo with Austrian pianist Fritz Pauer. Third album. My "pre-release copy" only identifies Panorama as the label, but it looks like this has been picked up and reissued (or will be -- don't have date) by Candid. Songs, including one original, tend to be slow and torchy, her voice capable and assured but not all that remarkable. I do, however, love the sound of her saxophone in these tight settings. B+(*)

Michael Dessen Trio: Between Shadow and Space (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): Nice new packaging for this batch of Clean Feed releases: a thin cardboard fold-out sleeve with a clear plastic liner for the disc. Dessen plays trombone and computer. Studied at Eastman School of Music, University of Massachusetts, UC San Diego; teaches at UC, Irvine. Has several academic papers, including two on Yusef Lateef. Second album, not counting four with group Cosmologic. Trio includes Christopher Tordini on bass, Tyshawn Sorey on percussion. Free trombone over a dense and intriguing brew of bass, percussion, and whatever. B+(**)

Fight the Big Bull: Dying Will Be Easy (2006 [2008], Clean Feed): Richmond, VA big band (well, nonet), led by guitarist Matt White, who writes the songs but tends to get drowned out by the six horns, especially the dual trombones. Rough and tumble, not quite free, but loud and noisy. On a lark, I checked out a couple of YouTube videos, which are badly shot and even more roughly played, although the recognizable line to "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down" is amusing. Album with Ken Vandermark is reportedly in the works. B+(*)

Luis Lopes: Humanization 4Tet (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): Don't know much about Lopes -- a couple of google matches appear to be false positives. This one plays guitar, is probably Portuguese, wrote all the pieces on his first album. The other players are slightly more well known: Aaron Gonzalez (double bass) and Stefan Gonzalez (drums) are sons of trumpeter Dennis Gonzalez. Rodrigo Amado is a Portuguese tenor saxophonist who's put together a number of solid albums, both under his own name and with Lisbon Improvisation Players (which has been known to include Gonzalez pčre). Amado's full-voiced honking dominates here, but a section where the guitar leads takes on much the same melodic shape, so I figure the guitarist is always pushing this music along even when he's not conspicuous. Another clue is that this is probably Amado's strongest outing yet, mostly because he rarely gets a chance to let up. B+(***)

Kirk Knuffke Quartet: Bigwig (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): Trumpet player, originally from Denver, now in New York. First album, with Brian Drye doubling the brass on trombone, Reuben Radding on bass, Jeff Davis on drums. Fairly free. I like the brass dynamics. B+(*)

Carlos "Zingaro"/Dominique Regef/Wilbert DeJoode String Trio: Spectrum (2004 [2008], Clean Feed): A bit from the liner notes (Rui Eduardo Paes): "Violins were forbidden in the 'Machine Gun' years, when 'classical instruments' were seen as symbols of a closed, authoritarian, and hierarchic music system. Even today, there's suspicion. European musicians in the new 'free' music came out of both the classical and jazz traditions but, influenced by the turbulent political climate, rejected their origins." Maybe that's an avant-garde thing, although my impression has long been that the line between avant-jazz and avant-classical has never been clearly drawn in Europe -- e.g., the relationship between Cornelius Cardew and AMM. While there are plenty of bad examples of small and large string groups backing jazz musicians, violin soloists in jazz are more likely to draw on folk fiddle or on the raw noisiness of the instrument -- the Velvet Underground's viola was as ear-opening as anything specifically within a jazz context. I suppose the reason this comes up with Zingaro is that he does have the Euroclassical background and tends to get slotted in avant-classical as much as jazz. Still, this is in no sense a polite piece of chamber music. DeJoode plays bass, but Regef fills the middle ranges with hurdy gurdy, providing buzzes and drones that suggest electronics. Three long pieces, complexly varied textures, with an uncomfortable bite to the sound that never really gets monotonous. Most sources skip the quotes around Zingaro, which may be a nickname or stage name -- Carlos Alves seems to be the given name, although sometimes this just appears as Carlos Zingaro Alves (with or without quotes). He has at least 16 albums since 1989; haven't heard any others, but I've run across him in side roles. This gained enough traction the second play I'm holding it back for a third. [B+(***)]

Elliott Sharp/Scott Fields: Sharfefelder (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): From Fields' notes: "This is what happens when you kid around." Two avant guitarists, both with long discographies, including some together. Chemistry can do amazing things. It can also leave you with nothing but an incoherent mess. More of the latter here. B-

Sten Sandell/Mattias Stĺhl: Grann Musik (Neighbour Music) (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): Sandell plays piano, sometimes prepared. He tends to be abstract, sometimes turning out long, dramatic lines that strike me as grandstanding. Stĺhl plays vibraphone, marimba, glockenspiel -- instruments that produce tones that fit neatly within the crevices of the piano. They almost fit as one, which is an accomplishemt but not necessarily a plus. B

Todd Sickafoose: Tiny Resistors (2007 [2008], Cryptogramophone): Bassist, probably more electric than acoustic but plays both; originally from San Francisco, now based in New York. Third album. Has a substantial number of side credits since 1998, including Jenny Scheinman, Tin Hat, Ani DiFranco. I figure this as a fusion album, one of those big, sweeping prog things, loud, powerful, always listenable, sometimes interesting. Alan Ferber's trombone stands out among the horns. DiFranco plays some electric ukelele. B+(*)

The Jeff Gauthier Goatette: House of Return (2008, Cryptogramophone): Violinist, b. 1954, based in Los Angeles, had a couple of records on 9 Winds before he founded Cryptogramophone in 2000. This is his third record since. Quintet, with Nels Cline on guitar, David Witham on piano, Joel Hamilton on bass, Alex Cline on drums. Sort of avant-fusion, basically prog rock tweaked into funny shapes -- similar to the Todd Sickafoose record (trading the horns for violin), or various records by the Cline brothers. B+(*)

Freddie Hubbard & the New Jazz Composers Octet: On the Real Side (2007 [2008], 4Q/Times Square): Hubbard's early 1960s, both as a leader and especially as a sideman, made up one of the great individual stretches in jazz history -- hard bop, postbop, avant-garde, he could and did do it all. But after about 1965 he started to thin out, with a couple of superb fusion albums in 1970 (Red Clay, Straight Life), even less after 1980, a rare comeback in 1991 (Bolivia), then he literally blew his lip out in 1992 and that was that. This is his first album since then, produced and carefully shepherded by David Weiss. Not clear how much Hubbard plays. He's credited with flugelhorn, with Weiss on trumpet and a lot of firepower in the group -- three saxes plus guest Craig Handy on three cuts, Steve Davis on trombone, guest Russell Malone on one cut, piano, bass, and drums. Compositions are all by Hubbard. Haven't checked to see if any are new, but they all have arranger credits -- mostly Weiss, Davis on one, bassist Dwayne Burno on two. Weiss is a crack arranger, and if you're into that sort of thing, these pieces are crisp and snappy. I find that it leaves me wondering about the leader. B

Roswell Rudd Quartet: Keep Your Heart Right (2007 [2008], Sunnyside): This reproduces the lineup and two songs from one of my all-time favorite albums, Rudd's Flexible Flyer (1974). That album included Hod O'Brien on piano, Arild Andersen on bass, and Sheila Jordan singing -- Rudd seems to have an aversion to drummers, even when he's playing African music. This time it's Lafayette Harris on piano, Bradley Jones on bass, and Sunny Kim singing -- not a fair comparison, especially pitching any singer up against the incomparable Jordan. More songs this time -- close to all the songs Rudd ever wrote lyrics to. Terrific trombone -- making me wish that was more the focus. Even here, the two repeats stand out. Maybe the others will kick in. [B+(**)]

Scott DuBois: Banshees (2007 [2008], Sunnyside): Guitarist, b. 1978, based in New York. Recorded two previous albums with Dave Liebman on Soul Note. This group consists of Kresten Osgood on drums, Thomas Morgan on bass, and Gebhard Ullman on tenor/soprano sax and bass clarinet. One thing I've noticed lately is that some saxophonists seem to get much sharper with a guitar guding them along. I've heard half-dozen or so albums by Ullman, respect his ambitions as a free player, but until now I've never really seen him hold it all together before. The Luis Lopes is another like this, but DuBois is much more out front -- his solos tend to be short but they strongly reinforce the pieces. Played this half-dozen times and it keeps gaining on me. A-

Guillermo Klein/Los Gauchos: Filtros (2007 [2008], Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1970 in Argentina, attended Berklee 1990-94, moved on to New York. Los Gauchos is his big band, a mix of Latin players and other New York talents, including some players with substantial discographies of their own: Miguel Zenon, Chris Cheek, Bill McHenry, Ben Monder. Over a half-dozen albums, he's developed into an expansive and inventive arranger -- I'm tempted to compare him to Maria Schneider, but not being a big fan of either that may be too tongue-in-cheek. Still, the Monkish "Vaca" here is pretty irresistible, a good track to check out. Wish he wouldn't sing. B+(**)

Kris Davis: Rye Eclipse (2007 [2008], Fresh Sound New Talent): Canadian pianist, based in New York since 2002, has three albums now with this superb quartet, each showing advance. Group includes Jeff Davis (drums; from Colorado, presumably not related), Eivind Opsvik (bass), and Tony Malaby (tenor sax). The early albums immediately appealed for Malaby's distinctive edge. The pianist is developing a similarly rugged approach -- not just offsetting block chords, but in a piece like "Wayne Oskar" she leads off with intriguing abstractions then backs off as Malaby slips in to finish off her thoughts. A-

Jon Irabagon's Outright! (2007 [2008], Innova): Alto saxophonist, has done some good work lately, appearing on a pick hit (Mostly Other People Do the Killing) and another featured disc (Jostein Gulbrandsen) from the latest Jazz Consumer Guide. This one goes for overkill, starting with cover pics of masses of arm-waving fans -- I could see him moving the people but drawing them is another matter. A lot of talent here: three-fourths of Kris Davis' quartet -- Davis on piano/organ, Eivind Opsvik on acoustic bass, Jeff Davis on drums -- plus Russ Johnson on trumpet and Irabagon. Two cuts expand the group up toward big band mass. I don't much care for the horn duet at the beginning, but there are interesting bits throughout, including a MOPDTK-style assault on "Groovin' High." B+(*)

William Parker: Double Sunrise Over Neptune (2007 [2008], AUM Fidelilty): Recorded live at Vision Festival XII, three long pieces built around repeated bass riffs that the conductor farmed out to Shayna Dulberger, and a short bridge. With sixteen musicians, favoring strings (two violins, viola, cello, bass, guitar or banjo, oud, the leader's doson'ngoni) which elaborate the themes over horns (trumpet, three saxes, whatever "double reeds" Bill Cole plays), with vocalist Sangeeta Bandyopadhyay trading off against the latter. Oh, also two drummers, Gerald Cleaver and Hamid Drake. Whereas Parker's large groups in the past, like his Little Huey Orchestra, tended to go unhinged, this all flows together marvelously. Even a bit of wildness near the end of the second piece, which seems inevitable once you unleash saxophonists Rob Brown and Sabir Mateen, holds tight. The singer runs close to the edge of the high-pitched squeak that east (or southeast) Asian opera is prone to, but never slips over. A remarkable piece of work. A

David Murray/Mal Waldron: Silence (2001 [2008], Justin Time): Duo, recorded in October 2001, a little more than a year before Waldron passed on Dec. 2, 2002. Three Waldron songs, the title cut from Murray, three more (Sammy Cahn, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington). Not sure how to rate Waldron's performance here; Murray runs rings around him, but that's just Murray -- expansive, bracing, sometimes gorgeous (especially on bass clarinet). Both artists have excelled in duos before: Waldron with Marion Brown; Murray on several occasions, my favorite being the ballad set Tea for Two with George Arvanitas on Fresh Sound -- more of an Oscar Peterson-type player. This is much more dry. [B+(***)]

Gerald Cleaver: Gerald Cleaver's Detroit (2006 [2008], Fresh Sound New Talent): Drummer, from Detroit, based in Brooklyn (where this, despite its title, was recorded). Second album, plus 50-60 side credits. I mostly associate him with the avant-garde, since I've often run into him on records by Matthew Shipp, Roscoe Mitchell, Charles Gayle, Joe Morris, Mat Maneri, and Rob Brown. But he also shows up on more conventional postbop fare, including records by his group here: Jeremy Pelt (trumpet), JD Allen (tenor sax), Andrew Bishop (soprano/tenor sax, bass clarinet), Ben Waltzer (piano), Chris Lightcap (bass). (Actually, I don't see Pelt in his credits list.) Some flashy hornwork here, strong moments, although it's a little de trop for my taste. (Too bad he couldn't get his mentor, Detroit's patron saint Marcus Belgrave, instead of Pelt.) B+(*)

Pete Robbins: Do the Hate Laugh Shimmy (2007 [2008], Fresh Sound New Talent): Alto saxophonist. Website describes what he does as "brooklyn prog-modern (post)jazz." B. 1978, moved to New York 2002. MySpace page lists Tim Berne and Lee Konitz at top of list of influences. Two previous albums, the one I'm familiar with on Playscape (Waits & Measures) comes closer to bearing that out. This one doesn't. The keyboards and guitar are soft and moody, and the horns (including Jesse Neuman on trumpet and Sam Sadigursky on tenor sax, clarinet, and bass clarinet) rarely rise above that. Must be that "prog-modern (post)jazz" thing he's looking for. B

Ramón Díaz: Unblocking (2007 [2008], Fresh Sound New Talent): Drummer, originally from the Canary Islands, based in Barcelona, runs a hard bop quintet that last time out (Diŕleg) I compared favorably to Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. Same group, a little more varied, with one "trad." piece, a slow bit, and some Fender Rhodes separating this from the 1960s. Blakey would have loved to have worked with the front line here -- saxophonist Jeppe Rasmussen, trumpeter Idafe Pérez -- and also with pianist José Alberto Medina (who has good records on his own). But he would think that the drummer should be a bit louder. B+(***)

The Alon Farber Hagiga Sextet: Optimistic View (2006 [2008], Fresh Sound New Talent): Israeli band, led by soprano saxophonist Farber; hagiga means celebration. Has a previous FSNT album by the Hagiga Quintet: nice record, as is this one. Loose rhythm with middle eastern (and possibly Latin) touches, a second horn in Hagai Amir's alto sax; piano and guitar aiding the flow. B+(**)

Norma Winstone: Distances (2007 [2008], ECM): English vocalist, b. 1941, cut a well-regarded record in 1971 (Edge of Time), but more often worked with others: Michael Garrick; Mike Westbrook; John Taylor and Kenny Wheeler in the group Azimuth. AMG counts nine records under her name. This one, like her 2002 Chamber Music (Universal) puts her in front of Glauco Venier (piano) and Klaus Gesing (soprano sax, bass clarinet). Hard to characterize her as a singer: she has a calm, stately voice, seemingly unaffected by the vogue of jazz singers emulating horn players. Gesing is consistently a plus here, especially when he lifts up one of the many slow pieces. Cole Porter's "Every Time We Say Goodbye" is a choice cut, but maybe that's just because it's easiest to relate to. B+(**)

Gary Morgan & PanAmericana!: Felicidade (Happiness) (2007 [2008], CAP): Twenty-piece big band, plays Brazilian music, with pieces by Jobim, Pascoal, Jovino Santos Neto, and others, including five by Morgan. Morgan was born in Chile, moved to Canada very young, played saxophone, later switched to bass. Studied at Berklee in 1980, but he seems already to have immersed himself in Brazilian music. Moved on to New York, where PanAmericana is based, although he also leads another orchestra based in Toronto. He's not in the personnel list here. For that matter, few (if any) of the musicians here are Brazilian. I don't have much feel for bands like this: when they're cruising they make for pleasant but uninteresting background music, when they slow down they get clumsy. Second album for the group. B-

The Joe Ascione Quartet: Movin' Up (2007 [2008], Arbors): Drummer, b. 1961, third album as leader (first was a tribute to Buddy Rich), plus 60 or more side credits, including membership in Frank Vignola projects Travelin' Light and the Frank and Joe Show (he's Joe). Quartet includes Frank Tate on bass, John Cocuzzi on piano and vibes, and Allan Vaché on clarinet, an interesting and somewhat whimsical lineup, especially when the vibes are in play. Mostly tunes from Gershwin and Porter, with some oddities thrown in -- "The Aba Daba Honeymoon," "Zip-A-Dee-Doo-Dah's Got Rhythm." "Norwegian Wood" usually makes me gag, but he almost gets away with it. B+(*)

Larry Ham: Just Me, Just You (2007 [2008], Arbors): Subtitle: Arbors Piano Series, Volume 17. Pianist, b. 1954, played with Lionel Hampton (1986-87) and Illinois Jacquet (1990-95); more recently appeared on several Scott Robinson records. Second album, after debuting in 2007. This one's solo. Mostlys tandards, a couple of originals, a calypso, one from Bud Powell. No complaints -- just doesn't quite break the ice. B

Chris Flory: For You (2007 [2008], Arbors): Guitarist, b. 1953, played with Benny Goodman 1978-83, with Scott Hamilton from 1978 to at least 1989. Has half-dozen albums since 1993, one of many players who started on Concord and wound up on Arbors. Quintet with Dan Block (tenor sax), Jon-Erik Kellso (trumpet), Mike LeDonne (organ), and Chuck Riggs (drums). Like many swing-oriented guitarists, he tends to drop into rhythm when someone else is playing, which is kind of a waste behind the predictable LeDonne. The album fares best when Flory gets a clean lead. The horns aren't very pushy either, but are usually a plus. B+(**)

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

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


  • Bryan Beninghove: Organ Trio (no label)
  • David Berger Octet: I Had the Craziest Dream: The Music of Harry Warren (Such Sweet Thunder)
  • Paul Bley: About Time (Justin Time)
  • Georg Breinschmid & Friends: Wien Bleibt Krk (Zappel Music)
  • Frank Catalano: Bang! (Savoy Jazz)
  • Fight the Big Bull: Dying Will Be Easy (Clean Feed)
  • Al Foster Quartet: Love, Peace and Jazz! (Jazz Eyes)
  • Warren Hill: La Dolce Vita (Koch)
  • Rebecca Martin: The Growing Season (Sunnyside)
  • Jason Miles: 2 Grover With Love (Koch): advance, Aug. 19
  • David Murray/Mal Waldron: Silence (Justin Time)
  • Anne Phillips: Ballet Time (Conawago)

Sunday, June 29, 2008


Continued posting book reports all week:

Monday, June 23, 2008

Browse Alert: Tankers

Salon War Room: Did lobbyists influence McCain's "straight talk" on Boeing?. The underlying question is: do senators ever do anything without the interest of some lobbyist? Not a big surprise -- not even news -- that McCain had/has connections to EADS lobbyists. Still, his efforts at derailing Boeing's original tanker lease deal qualify as being in the public interest, and his $6B estimate of how much he saved taxpayers is credible. A couple of people wound up in jail over this scam, and you can't just chalk that down to political influence. The first thing to understand about the tanker deal was that it was concocted wholly inside Boeing: it wasn't something the Air Force cared much about one way or another -- the AF would much rather go for something cutting edge, and there's no real sex appeal in tankers. The reasons are easy enough to grasp: Boeing's 767 was obsolete, due to be replaced by the 787 ("Dreamliner"), but converting it to a tanker would stretch out a little more ROI on the tooling and assembly line; the lease deal was a way of fudging the lack of any budget for tankers, and by the time you added it all up more than doubled Boeing's return (that alone is good for McCain's $6B); and the obsolescence of the old KC-135 fleet should have been an easy sell (they're based on Boeing's original 707). So Boeing's first task was to get the AF to buy into the scam, which was the source of the first round of convictions. Once the AF was on record as wanting $35B of tankers, EADS figured they had their own line of airliners that would work just as well, and somehow they managed to get the bid specs tweaked in their favor -- whether that means we'll be seeing more parties in court remains to be seen. Once the contract was awarded to Northrup Grumman (fronting for EADS), Boeing's political division -- Wichita congressman Todd Tiahrt is so obsessed with the issue Bush nicknamed him Tanker Todd -- went apeshit, putting a full court press on everyone from McCain to the GAO, which signed off on Boeing's talking points last week. The one thing everyone seems to agree on is that the only thing that matters is political clout, so we're constantly bombarded with arguments about how many jobs the program will create and where will those jobs go? (The EADS jobs obviously go to France and the UK, but a big chunk of the mod work goes to Alabama. The Boeing jobs are promised to Kansas and Washington, but less obviously also include Japan and China.) Boeing (headquarters Chicago) can even get someone like Obama to opine that those government-paid jobs should be American jobs, without giving any thought to how inefficient a jobs program this is, let alone the more basicquestion of what we need tankers for. The core mission of the USAF tanker fleet is to make it possible to rapidly deploy US forces, especially tactical bombers, anywhere in the world. After eight years of Bush Doctrine, you'd think we'd start to have second thoughts about being the world's block bully. But rather than ask such philosophical questions, the next best thing may be to follow the money and unravel the corruption. If we're lucky they'll all wind up in jail, and we'll never get around to rebuilding a fleet we don't need and shouldn't want.

I went ahead and posted the above paragraph as a comment at Salon, where it will be quickly forgotten. None of the other comments came anywhere close to my points. I am surprised that the story gets next to no attention outside of Wichita. The jobs actually won't make much of a difference even here. Net, even if Boeing wins the contract, we may wind up losing jobs -- the old KC-135 fleet depends on Wichita stay in the air, but the new tankers could just as well be moved to some other tax haven. But it's such an extraordinary example of how corruptly politicized defense spending has become in the US. At the same time, Boeing has transformed itself from America's top export company to a den of scam artists who do nothing but exploit their political graft, willing to do anything for government bucks, no matter how badly -- check out their Mexican border fence, or their latest anti-missile technology. There are many ways you can look at what's wrong with America, and a lot of them show up here.

Music: Current count 14526 [14502] rated (+24), 814 [803] unrated (+11). Hanging in here, slogging through.

  • Classic Piano Blues From Smithsonian Folkways (1944-76 [2008], Smithsonian/Folkways): The small print limits the selection to Moe Asch's folkie-ethnomusicological label, which recorded some 3000 LPs with its eyes and ears fixed on the past -- one result is that real classics like Leroy Carr are too old, and contemporaries like Otis Spann are too modern. Sampled instead are such uncommercial fogeys as Memphis Slim, Speckled Red, Roosevelt Sykes, Champion Jack Dupree, and Little Brother Montgomery, with James P. Johnson a surprise appearance. The booklet often omits recording dates -- 1944-76 covers about half of the songs, but others could be earlier or later -- but otherwise provides a lot of information, often referencing more classic versions of these same songs. B+(**)
  • The Roots: Rising Down (2008, Def Jam): Skits at the beginning and end drag. A couple of plays in the car had me thinking they were doing a Public Enemy thing, not quite as hard or sharp. At home, however, the pop layer started to emerge, which drives the hard edged raps along. Not sure if this is really over the line. I haven't called a full-A record all year -- maybe I'm just too gunshy? A

Jazz Prospecting (CG #17, Part 9)

Still foundering, killing time like I'm hoping it'll just slip by without noticing me. More or less recovered from that bout of whatever a week or two ago, but still going through the motions. Started with some easy oldies. Moved on with no particular rhyme or logic. At one point started to put a Ab Baars/Ken Vandermark record on, then decided to hold off on that. Next week I promise I'll get to the Clean Feeds and Evil Rabbits and the latest batch from Satoko Fujii. Also have the collected works of Nik Bärtsch on tap -- most of the feedback I got from the last Jazz CG included praise for Holon. I had thought about holding Holon back for a pick hit, but chose instead to get the word out before it got dated. It's been at the top of my 2008-in-progress list until this week, when the Roots' Rising Down bumped it. Still need pick hits for next time. The list reminds me that Rob Brown's Crown Trunk Root Funk and Vandermark 5's Beat Reader are the obvious choices, with Scott Fields' Bitter Love Songs rising on the outside.

Wes Montgomery: Incredible Jazz Guitar (1960 [2008], Riverside/Keepnews Collection): Not really -- despite his overwhelming influence on two-thirds of the jazz guitarists who followed in his wake, at best he was a subtle craftsman with natural swing on basic blues; nowhere is that more clear than on this elegant quartet with Tommy Flanagan's piano as delectable as the guitar. A-

Sonny Rollins: Freedom Suite (1958 [2008], Riverside/Keepnews Collection): A trio with Oscar Pettiford and Max Roach -- the latter credited with trumpet on a back cover typo. The 19:37 title cut seems a little subdued, tentative as if freedom is still uncertain. Same could be said for the side of standards, expanded with redundant bonus cuts, but they're just tapping into his sentimental side, and it's easy to feel sentimental about him. B+(***)

Coleman Hawkins: The Hawk Flies High (1957 [2008], Riverside/Keepnews Collection): Makes it look easy, too, lifted by warm brass from Idrees Suleiman and J.J. Johnson, soaring over a rhythm section that layers Hank Jones bebop on Jo Jones swing, swooping and diving and snatching the listener's attention with surprisingly effortless grace; only complaint is sometimes Hawk makes it look too easy. A-

Nat Adderley: Work Song (1960 [2008], Riverside/Keepnews Collection): Cannonball's little brother plays a lean, unpolished cornet, backed by a group that straddles Bobby Timmons' funk-groove piano and Wes Montgomery's slickened blues guitar. The irresistibly catchy title cut makes this a minor hard bop classic. A-

McCoy Tyner: Fly With the Wind (1976 [2008], Milestone/Keepnews Collection): A symphony of sorts, tempestuous but wildly scattered including some of those dull atmospheric spots, performed by a massive string orchestra plus harp, wind instruments limited to oboe and flutes, a rhythm section with Ron Carter and Billy Cobham frantically struggling to keep up with the pianist. B

The Peter Brötzmann Octet: The Complete Machine Gun Sessions (1968 [2007], Atavistic): Roughly speaking, this is where Europe's jazz avant-garde takes off, building a tradition rooted in brutal cacophony, disjointed rhythm, and cartoonish irreverance. The three saxophonists went on to major careers: Evan Parker, Willem Breuker, and Brötzmann. They turn these long pieces into free fire zones, blaring in unison siren wails, splitting off to scratch through the dirt and the rubble. Two bassists: Peter Kowald and Buschi Niebergall. Two drummers: Han Bennink and Sven-Ake Johansson. One pianist: Fred Van Hove. Each has his own mind, but the piano is especially worth tracking. Original LP ran 37:08. CD reissue added two alternate takes, and now this edition adds a third take of the title piece, done live with extra saxophonist Gerd Dudek. Still fits on one CD, but it's an awful lot to sit through. B+(**)

Gabi Lunca: Sounds From a Bygone Age, Vol. 5 (1956-78 [2008], Asphalt Tango): Even now, nobody would go so far as to claim that Ceausescu's Romania harbored a golden age of pop music, but the German label Asphalt Tango has compiled five volumes without a slip, music no one else seems to have had a clue about. (Buda Musique's Éthiopiques series has done something comparable, but is more hit and miss.) Gypsy lautari music, with accordion and violin and cimbalom, mostly consumed at weddings, only rarely recorded. Lunca was the more refined of two major female singers -- the earthier Romica Puceanu got her props back on Vol. 2. A-

Ornette Coleman: Town Hall, 1962 (1962 [2008], ESP-Disk): Three cuts with the trio -- David Izenzon on bass, Charles Moffett on percussion -- that in 1965 cut At the Golden Circle, Stockholm, both volumes highly recommended. This is less essential but unmistakable, more for folks who can never get enough. Sandwiched in the middle is a 9:17 string quartet, Coleman's first recorded glimpse of his harmolodic chamber music. It is something else again, classical music in form, but not in smell. B+(***)

Albert Ayler/Don Cherry/John Tchicai/Roswell Rudd/Gary Peacock/Sunny Murray: New York Eye and Ear Control (1964 [2008], ESP-Disk): Ayler's record, but all names are on the cover (Murray's misspelled) and all are notable: the four horns churning tumultuously, with Ayler's tenor sax reaching for the sacred, and Rudd's trombone plumbing the profane. B+(*)

Frank Lowe: Black Beings (1973 [2008], ESP-Disk): The short middle piece is solo tenor sax, thoughtful and intriguing. The two long pieces sandwiched around the solo are screamers, with Joseph Jarman on second noisemaker, wailing and shrieking spastically around Lowe's meatier riffs. I've found myself upgrading several of these reissues, not least because I've gotten better at handling the sheer noisiness of the 1960s-1970s avant-garde (the Brötzmann and Ayler reissues are two cases in point, up from B/B-). I'm a big fan of Lowe's, so I expected the same here, and indeed I find my reaction is more nuanced. Still, I don't see any reason to nudge my grade this time. There's some interesting stuff here, but I find Jarman downright oppressive. The two long tracks had been edited to fit on LP sides, and restored to original length here. The violinist, originally credited as The Wizard, is identified as Raymond Lee Cheng. Lowe started playing with Billy Bang a year later, so it's reasonable to wonder if they're the same, but they don't sound anywhere close. The bassist is young William Parker, who went on to corner the market for this type of thing, playing with Charles Gayle and David S. Ware. He's hard to follow, but seems to do the job. I've never heard of drummer Rashid Sinan, but he has some good spots. B-

James Zitro: Zitro (1967 [2008], ESP-Disk): Percussionist, worked with Sonny Simmons, got a free shot on the label that bragged "the artist alone decide" and turned out an energetic but unexceptional free jazz blast, a sextet with Alan Praskin and Bert Wilson on noisy saxes and Warren Gale riffing high on trumpet. B

Don Cherry: Life at Café Montmartre 1966: Volume Two (1966 [2008], ESP-Disk): Sloppy seconds in Copenhagen, with Gato Barbieri's tenor sax sparring with the leader's trumpet over the fractured field of Karl Berger vibes, playing such complex Cherry compositions as "Complete Communion" loose and short-handed. Doc is better this time, confirming that this set was recorded Mar. 31, 1966, and that Volume One came from Mar. 17, 1966 -- dates that line up with previous LP releases on Magnetic. Berger's vibes here are so scattered they're comic. Bo Stief plays bass, Aldo Romano drums. B

Droppin' Science: Greatest Samples From the Blue Note Lab (1966-74 [2008], Blue Note): With Alfred Lion and Francis Wolf departing, the legendary label foundered, adrift in quasi-commercial soul jazz with languid beats that I suppose have been sampled from time to time -- no details here, just another attempt to turn sows' ears into silk purses. C+

Dominique Cravic et les Primitifs du Futur: Tribal Musette (2007-08 [2008], Sunnyside): It's tempting to view this French cabaret group through the prism of their famous cover illustrator and sometime mandoline player, R. Crumb. Like the Cheap Suit Serenaders, guitarist Cravic's band is firmly planted in the past, its embrace of primtivism rooted in the romantic view of anthropology, with a little sci-fi for the future. For me it works not for its longing for other times so much as how disarmingly and charmingly French it all sounds: the accordions, marimba, clarinets, "musicale saw," "finger snapping," rhythm guitar, voices ranging from cigarette-stained poetasting to sweet chorales. Where we tend to think of world music as anything-but-ours, in France the view seems to be everything-including-ours. A-

Mary Lou Williams: A Grand Night for Swinging (1976 [2008], High Note): Got her start playing church organ on her mama's lap. Turned pro at age 6, and hit the road at 12. Cut her first records at 17 in 1927, really making her mark in the 1930s as pianist-arranger for Andy Kirk's Kansas City big band, going on to write extended works like The Zodiac Suite. Picked up bebop almost as naturally as she took to swing, and after a long hiatus reappeared in the 1970s as the hippest old lady in the business. This is just a live set caught in Buffalo, her trio mostly playing covers, a nice showoff spot for drummer Roy Haynes, the title cut reprised. It's all dazzlingly alive, spirit-lifting -- maybe all that praying paid off. Ends with a bit of interview, you won't mind hearing more than once. A-

Eric Alexander Quartet: Prime Time: In Concert (2007 [2008], High Note, CD+DVD): Straight-laced tenor saxophonist, the very model of a modern mainstream player, with a broad tone and plenty of energy. I've long admired his work, citing his Dead Center in an early Jazz CG, but he's slipped up quite a bit the last couple of years -- Temple of Olympic Zeus also made JCG, but as a dud. This one is a return to form, probably because the parameters are so straightforward, and the rhythm section -- David Hazeltine on piano, John Webber on bass, Joe Farnsworth on drums -- is perfectly suited to the task. Haven't watched the DVD, which looks to be the same session, in different order, with two extra songs and a longer version of "Nemesis." [B+(**)]

Bill O'Connell: Triple Play (2007 [2008], Savant): Pianist, b. 1953, from New York, teaches at Rutgers, specializes in Latin jazz, having broke in with Mongo Santamaria, although he probably comes out of a more conventional bop background. This is a trio with Dave Valentin on flute and Richie Flores on congas, both adding something distinctive to the idiosyncratic piano in the center. B+(*)

Sălongo (2007, DBCD): Group name "is an expression from Zaire meaning: We come together to create something beautiful out of love." Diacritical mark over 'a' varies by typographer -- a macron on cover, a tilde in website text. Group is from New York, a septet (plus guest keyboardist Uli Geissendoerfer) described as Afro-Cuban/Brasilian. The rhythm section fits that description; the saxes are hard boppers Teodross Avery (tenor) and Bruce Williams (alto, flute), with leader Eddie Allen on trumpet. Allen has a little bit of everything in his discography: Mongo Santamaria, conservatives like Houston Person and Cyrus Chestnut, AACM types like Muhal Richard Abrams and Lester Bowie, odds and ends like Bobby Previte and Rabih Abou-Khalil. Haven't heard any of the four records under Allen's name, which look to be mainstream (Anthony Wonsey is on a couple). This sets out a very likable Latin groove, with slick but not overly brassy horn work, and nice piano breaks from Hector Martignon. B+(**)

Antonio Ciacca Quintet: Rush Life (2008, Motéma): Italian pianist; b. 1969, Wuppertal, Germany; graduated G.B. Martini Conservatory of Contemporary Music in Bologna; moved to Detroit, and is currently based in New York. Fifth record since 1996. Hard bop quintet lineup, with Joe Magnarelli on trumpet and Stacy Dillard on tenor sax, both players who can command a solo. The pianist is less distinctive, but steers the group capably. B+(*)

Kenny Wheeler: Other People (2005 [2008], CAM Jazz): Plays trumpet/flugelhorn, from Canada, a significant figure in the English avant-garde from c. 1970 although never known for his fire, recorded an impressive series of mild-mannered composer-centric albums for ECM, has been quite prolific on CAM Jazz over the last 4-5 years. This, like most of his albums, pairs him with pianist John Taylor, a collaborator and kindred spirit from way back. The other musicians here are the four members of the Hugo Wolf String Quartet, none named Hugo Wolf. So this is another horn-with-strings thing, a genre that has rarely failed to disgust -- Warren Vaché's Don't Look Back was the latest one I've flagged down. This one is, well, not so bad. The strings hew closely to Wheeler's compositional concept, which often turns them into a fairly neutral backdrop. Taylor is splendid at stitching it all together, while Wheeler is often eloquent and/or poignant, if not very dynamic. B+(*)

Martial Solal Trio: Longitude (2007 [2008], CAM Jazz): French pianist, born in Algeria in 1927, has recorded regularly since the early 1950s, giving him a discography that rivals contemporaries like George Shearing, Marian McPartland, and André Previn, maybe even Dave Brubeck and Hank Jones -- I'm way behind the learning curve on him, and piano isn't a particularly strong suit, but he certainly ranks with the major jazz figures of his lifetime. Nearing his 80th birthday, he remains dazzling on this record, with François Moutin on bass, Louis Moutin on drums. [B+(***)]

Larry Vuckovich Trio: High Wall (2007 [2008], Tetrachord Music): Pianist, b. 1936 in Yugoslavia, came to San Francisco in 1951, studied with Vince Guaraldi, settled into the local jazz scene. Reminds me of the second generation of bebop pianists, with long, expansive lines, bright, bouncy undertow. Several bass/drums combinations, some with extra percussion. B+(**)

Nicholas Payton: Into the Blue (2007 [2008], Nonesuch): Very mild-mannered funk album. Kevin Hays barely registers a pulse on Fender Rhodes. Bass, drums, and percussion are barely on board for the ride. Payton's trumpet has never been so subdued. I can't imagine they're not doing it on some purpose, but can't imagine what the purpose might be. Some kind of quiet storm for ascetics? Payton croons a tune, too. It's like he's been hypnotized into thinking he's Chet Baker. Maybe that's the idea, but he's even more indirect. [B-]

Gene Bertoncini: Concerti (2005 [2008], Ambient): Veteran guitarist, one of the better players from a generation where swing was the highest compliment -- Bucky Pizzarelli is comparable, a little better known. However, he bit off too much of the wrong stuff this time. One problem is that the sound drowns in strings, with his guitar and David Finck's bass wrapped around a traditional string quartet. The other problem is the song selection: a medley of Chopin and Jobim, another of Rodrigo and Chick Corea, a couple of Cole Porter chestnuts, and the always dreadful "Eleanor Rigby." C+

Jessica Jones Quartet: Word (2005 [2008], New Artists): Family act -- husband Tony Jones plays tenor sax, as does his better half, who also plays piano and writes most of the songs. With bass and drums, they can be moderately edgy. But most of the record is turned over to daughter Candace Jones, who alternates between dry torch songs and reciting poetry from Arisa White and Abe Maneri. The album has an appealing home-crafted feel, but makes you wonder how far they could stretch if they tried. B+(**)

Jason Ajemian: The Art of Dying (2007 [2008], Delmark): Bassist, from Chicago, part of the Chicago Underground consortium. Has a trio called Smokeless Heat with Tim Haldeman on tenor sax and Noritaka Tanaka on drums, but for most of the album this group is expanded to include Jamie Branch on trumpet, Matt Schneider on guitar, and/or Jason Adasiewicz on marimba. Mostly short, intimate free exchanges -- 14 such cuts, only 2 over 5:00 -- followed by a 23:54 radio shot. [B+(**)]

Alison Ruble: This Is a Bird (2008, Origin): Singer, based in Chicago, first album. Voice seems to trail the band and the songs; nothing wrong with it, but she doesn't grab you, nor leave you with a strange aftertaste. Band has some strong points: Jim Gailloreto takes interesting solos on soprano sax, and John McLean is a pretty supportive guitarist. Songs by Bacharach/David and James Taylor rub me both ways; ones by Rodgers/Hammerstein do neither. B

Ed Reed: The Song Is You (2007 [2008], Blue Shorts): Age 78, second album, had a life that included four stretches in San Quentin and Folsom, the sort of places you could pick up a band in with someone like Art Pepper on alto sax. The band here is the Peck Allmond Sextet, with the leader playing trumpet, tenor sax, flute, cornet, and clarinet. The songs throw back to the 1950s -- could be the Sinatra songbook, but somewhat more biased toward Ellington. Reed fits the Sinatra model well enough -- mellower than the brash young Sinatra, smoother and more elegant than the older one. B+(**)

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


  • Nat Adderley: Work Song (1960, Riverside/Keepnews Collection)
  • Patricia Barber: The Cole Porter Mix (Blue Note): advance, Sept. 16
  • Cephas & Wiggins: Richmond Blues (Smithsonian/Folkways)
  • Tim Collins: Fade (Ropeadope): October 7
  • Chris Flory: For You (Arbors)
  • Fulminate Trio (Generate)
  • The Joel Futterman/Alvin Fielder/Ike Levin Trio: Traveling Through Now (Charles Lester Music)
  • Larry Ham: Just Me, Just You (Arbors)
  • Long Ago and Far Away: Kelly Harland Sings Jerome Kern (Origin)
  • Coleman Hawkins: The Hawk Flies High (1957, Riverside/Keepnews Collection)
  • Todd Herbert: The Tree of Life (Metropolitan): Aug. 19
  • Freddie Hubbard & the New Jazz Composers Octet: On the Real Side (4Q/Times Square): June 24
  • Guus Janssen: Out of Frame (Geestgronden)
  • Grace Kelly/Lee Konitz: GraceFulLee (Pazz Productions)
  • Katie King: Harry's Fight (OA2)
  • Kopacoustic: Music From the KopaFestival 2006 Volume 1 (2006, Kopasetic)
  • Kopalectric: Music From the KopaFestival 2006 Volume 2 (2006, Kopasetic)
  • Tom Lellis/Toninho Horta: Tonight (Adventure Music)
  • Kate McGarry: If Less Is More (Palmetto): advance, Aug. 19
  • Robin McKelle: Modern Antique (Cheap Lullaby)
  • Wes Montgomery: Incredible Jazz Guitar (1960, Riverside/Keepnews Collection)
  • Moonbound: Confession and Release (Unsung)
  • New Guitar Summit: Shivers (Stony Plain)
  • William Parker: Double Sunrise Over Neptune (AUM Fidelity)
  • John Patton: Soul Connection (1983, Just a Memory)
  • Alvin Queen: Jammin' Uptown (1985, Just a Memory)
  • Sonny Rollins: Freedom Suite (1958, Riverside/Keepnews Collection)
  • Curtis Salgado: Clean Getaway (Shanachie)
  • Paul Shapiro: Essen (Tzadik)
  • Willie "The Lion" Smith & Don Ewell: Stride Piano Duets: Live in Toronto, 1966 (1966, Delmark)
  • Cy Touff & Sandy Mosse: Tickle Toe (1981, Delmark)
  • McCoy Tyner: Fly With the Wind (1976, Milestone/Keepnews Collection)
  • Tuner: Totem (2005, Unsung)
  • Von Garcia: I Think a Think (Sluggo's Goon Music)
  • Corey Wilkes: Drop It (Delmark)

Saturday, June 21, 2008


I'm working rather frantically trying to catch up with notes on the many books I've read more/less recently. The main chunk of work is to type up various quotes that I flagged. Sometimes I introduce them and/or comment on them. The more of either I do the slower the process gets, so while I'm trying to play catch up I'm inclined to do as little of that as possible. The resulting pages are less like reviews, but as much as anything else they are intended to bolster my own flagging memory, and for that they are functional.

In some cases, the book notes are based on secondhand reviews rather than on the original books. Either the book or the review seemed to be worth noting, and it helps broaden my coverage. The following one is like that. The book notes are also collected in the Books section, which despite my tardiness is growing into a substantial section of this website.

Pages posted during this burst (no need to copy them here):

Friday, June 20, 2008

Browse Alert

Just some scattered links below. The presidential campaign has entered a period of doldrums, reflected in Salon's numerous speculative articles on VP candidates: pro and con for Obama/Hillary, McCain/Lieberman, Obama/Hagel, and other such nonsense -- Camile Paglia likes Kathleen Sebelius as Obama's VP, which makes more sense than any of the above, although I'm ambivalent at best. Also read some talk about how Obama should retain Gates as Secretary of Defense -- no doubt he could do worse, as Clinton did in replacing Gates with Woolsey at CIA, but at this point we should still hope for better. Obama has made some noise about bringing Republicans into his administration, but this doesn't look like a year where he has to double cross the Democratic base to inch over the finish line.

Meanwhile, I have been having a good time looking at FiveThirtyEight -- subtitle is "Electoral Projections Done Right," and they look pretty right to me.

Big news here in Wichita is the GAO report which apparently puts Boeing back in running for the Great Tanker Scam. Goes to show that intense lobbying still works in Washington.

Tony Karon: America's great mistake was to make too much of al Qa'eda. Certainly true. As Gilles Kepel has shown, before 9/11 Al Qaeda had lost its battle for a political constituency in the Muslim world. The 9/11 attacks might have faded into a brief Warhol moment of notoriety (and most likely self-destruction, like the Luxor tourist attacks in Egypt had backfired against Zawahiri's group) had Bush not chosen to open up Afghanistan and Iraq in his war of retribution and conquest. Even so, Al Qaeda remains marginal, an irritant exaggerated into a menace by our own incomprehension, a mirroring of Bush and Bin Laden egos. Alternate version of essay here.

Andrew Leonard: Gas prices and offshore drilling. Steps through the basic logic of the offshore/arctic drilling proposal Bush and McCain pushed out today, finding the real nub of contention over the question whether we recognize or still deny that we face a finite resources crunch over oil supplies. Until we recognize the need to fundamentally change our energy economy, adding marginal capacity is little more than a stall tactic. I full well expect that sooner or later we'll wind up sucking every recoverable drop from those sources (at more or less cost to the environment). Maybe it would make sense to start planning how to do that, but not if it's just going to be burned up willy nilly, which is what would happen under the current regime.

Phillipe Sands: It Was Top Down, Stupid. A lot of pieces lately on the torture chambers and their prisons from Guantanamo to Bagram and points unspecified. Sands, a stickler for points of international law, points to the top of the order chain.

Chris Floyd: Torturegate: Truth but No Consequences. Another useful review of the torture testimony, with more on where it's going, or not. Doesn't include today's FISA vote, where House Democrats caved in (or to use their preferred technical term, "compromised").

Andrew J Bacevich: Fault Lines: Inside Rumsfeld's Pentagon. A review of two recent books on how other people screwed up the Iraq War -- Douglas Feith, the Pentagon's Special Plans guy, and Ricardo Sanchez, the first military commander of the occupation forces:

Apart from the finger-pointing and score-settling, these two accounts do agree at least implicitly on a single issue: taken as a whole, the national security apparatus is irredeemably broken. [ . . . ] From quite different vantage points, Feith and Sanchez affirm that the principal product generated by the interagency process is disharmony, dishonesty, and dysfunction.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

The Rot of Conservatism

George Packer: The Fall of Conservatism. Subtitle: "Have the Republicans run out of ideas?" Don't know if this is part of a longer project, or if it's just meant to touch on such recent books as Rick Perlstein's Nixonland and Sean Wilentz's The Age of Reagan, but Packer's May 26, 2008 New Yorker article digs up some revealing dirt on the making and breaking of the new right. He starts by interviewing Pat Buchanan:

"From Day One, Nixon and I talked about creating a new majority," Buchanan told me recently, sitting in the library of his Greek-revival house in McLean, Virginia, on a secluded lane bordering the fenced grounds of the Central Intelligence Agency. "What we talked about, basically, was shearing off huge segments of F.D.R.'s New Deal coalition, which L.B.J. had held together: Northern Catholic ethnics and Southern Protestant conservatives -- what we called the Daley-Rizzo Democrats in the North and, frankly, the Wallace Democrats in the South." Buchanan grew up in Washington, D.C., among the first group -- men like his father, an accountant and a father of nine, who had supported Roosevelt but also revered Joseph McCarthy. The Southerners were the kind of men whom Nixon whipped into a frenzy one night in the fall of 1966, at the Wade Hampton Hotel, in Columbia, South Carolina. Nixon, who was then a partner in a New York law firm, had travelled there with Buchanan on behalf of Republican congressional candidates. Buchanan recalls that the room was full of sweat, cigar smoke, and rage; the rhetoric, which was about patriotism and law and order, "burned the paint off the walls." As they left the hotel, Nixon said, "This is the future of this Party, right here in the South."

Note that Nixon's interest wasn't ideological: he was looking for a sizable block of votes he could get out in front of. Nixon's 1968 campaign was one of finnesse, attempting to scrape by a divided and disheartened Democratic Party without disclosing how much he too would become a source of division and disarray. But no sooner than Nixon won, he started working on his majority for 1972:

This strategy was put into action near the end of Nixon's first year in office, when antiwar demonstrators were becoming a disruptive presence in Washington. Buchanan recalls urging Nixon, "We've got to use the siege gun of the Presidency, and go right after these guys." On November 3, 1969, Nixon went on national television to speak about the need to avoid a shameful defeat in Vietnam. Looking benignly into the camera, he concluded, "And so tonight -- to you, the great silent majority of Americans -- I ask for your support." It was the most successful speech of his Presidency. Newscasters criticized him for being divisive and for offering no new vision on Vietnam, but tens of thousands of telegrams and letters expressing approval poured into the White House. It was Nixon's particular political genius to rouse simultaneously the contempt of the bien-pensants and the admiration of those who felt the sting of that contempt in their own lives.

This was when Nixon unleashed Spiro Agnew to practice what Kevin Phillips, the political demographer and author of The Emerging Republican Majority working for Nixon, had called "positive polarization."

Nixon was coldly mixing and pouring volatile passions. Although he was careful to renounce the extreme fringe of Birchites and racists, his means to power eventually became the end. Buchanan gave me a copy of a seven-page confidential memorandum -- "A little raw for today," he warned -- that he had written for Nixon in 1971, under the heading "Dividing the Democrats." Drawn up with an acute understanding of the fragilities and fault lines in "the Old Roosevelt Coalition," it recommended that the White House "exacerbate the ideological division" between the Old and New Left by praising Democrats who supported any of Nixon's policies; highlight "the elitism and quasi-anti-Americanism of the National Democratic Party"; nominate for the Supreme Court a Southern strict constructionist who would divide Democrats regionally; use abortion and parochial-school aid to deepen the split between Catholics and social liberals; elicit white working-class support with tax relief and denunciations of welfare. Finally, the memo recommended exploiting racial tensions among Democrats. "Bumper stickers calling for black Presidential and especially Vice-Presidential candidates should be spread out in the ghettoes of the country," Buchanan wrote. "We should do what is within our power to have a black nominated for Number Two, at least at the Democratic National Convention." Such gambits, he added, could "cut the Democratic Party and country in half; my view is that we would have far the larger half."

Packer asserts that the "Nixon White House didn't enact all of these recommendations," but Perlstein's book provides a pretty comprehensive listing of how they tried, with a few further dirty tricks added as occasions arose. Note that the emphasis here is on undermining the opposition party than it is to achieve any political ideals.

Packer also argues that the 2006 and 2008 elections mark a turning point:

This will be true whether or not John McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee, wins in November. He and his likely Democratic opponent, Barack Obama, "both embody a post-polarized, or anti-polarized, style of politics," the Times columnist David Brooks told me. "McCain, crucially, missed the sixties, and in some ways he's a pre-sixties figure. He and Obama don't resonate with the sixties at all." The fact that the least conservative, least divisive Republican in the 2008 race is the last one standing -- despite being despised by significant voices on the right -- shows how little life is left in the movement that Goldwater began, Nixon brought into power, Ronald Reagan gave mass appeal, Newt Gingrich radicalized, Tom DeLay criminalized, and Bush allowed to break into pieces. "The fact that there was no conventional, establishment, old-style conservative candidate was not an accident," Brooks said. "Mitt Romney pretended to be one for a while, but he wasn't. Rudy Giuliani sort of pretended, but he wasn't. McCain is certainly not. It's not only a lack of political talent -- there's just no driving force, and it will soften up normal Republicans for change."

It's not clear to me in what sense McCain isn't a conservative, and in particular isn't in thrall to the movers and shakers of the movement. In at least one critical area -- the neoconservative plot to militarily crush any conceivable opposition -- he's out in front of the movement. (It doesn't help here that Packer has his own imperialist blind spot.) Packer quotes Newt Gingrich: "The Republian brand has been so badly damaged that if Republicans try to run an anti-Obama, anti-Reverend Wright, or (if Senator Clinton wins) anti-Clinton campaign, they are simply going to fail."

Yuval Levin, a former Bush White House official, who is now a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, agrees with Gingrich's diagnosis. "There's an intellectual fatigue, even if it hasn't yet been made clear by defeat at the polls," he said. "The conservative idea factory is not producing as it did. You hear it from everybody, but nobody agrees what to do about it."

Pat Buchanan was less polite, paraphrasing the social critic Eric Hoffer: "Every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business, and eventually degenerates into a racket."

Of course, that whole bit about the Republicans being the "party of ideas" was one of their most blatantly cynical ideas. Their real achievement had less to do with constructing ideas than with selling them, with cajoling or coercing the media into carrying their water, giving them credibility where none was deserved. Great Communicator Ronald Reagan was particularly effective at this:

The Princeton historian Sean Wilentz, in his new book, The Age of Reagan: A History, 1974-2008 (Harper), argues that Reagan "learned how to seize and keep control of the terms of public debate." On taxes, race, government spending, national security, crime, welfare, and "traditional values," he made mainstream what had been the positions of the right-wing fringe, and he kept Democrats on the defensive. He also brought a generation of doctrinaire conservatives into the bureaucracy and the courts, making appointments based on ideological tests that only a genuine movement leader would impose. The rightward turn of the judiciary will probably be the most lasting achievement of Reagan and his movement.

Wilentz sees Reagan as the movement's high-point. While Reagan achieved much of what he had intended, he also planted the seeds of the movement's decay:

In retrospect, the Reagan Presidency was the high-water mark of conservatism. "In some respects, the conservative movement was a victim of success," Wilentz concludes. "With the Soviet Union dissolved, inflation reduced to virtually negligible levels, and the top tax rate cut to nearly half of what it was in 1980, all of Ronald Reagan's major stated goals when he took office had been achieved, leaving perplexed and fractious conservatives to fight over where they might now lead the country." Wilentz omits one important failure. According to Buchanan, who was the White House communications director in Reagan's second term, the President once told his barber, Milton Pitts, "You know, Milt, I came here to do five things, and four out of five ain't bad." He had succeeded in lowering taxes, raising morale, increasing defense spending, and facing down the Soviet Union; but he had failed to limit the size of government, which, besides anti-Communism, was the abiding passion of Reagan's political career and of the conservative movement. He didn't come close to achieving it and didn't try very hard, recognizing early that the public would be happy to have its taxes cut as long as its programs weren't touched. And Reagan was a poor steward of the unglamorous but necessary operations of the state. Wilentz notes that he presided over a period of corruption and favoritism, encouraging hostility toward government agencies and "a general disregard for oversight safeguards as among the evils of 'big government.'" In this, and in a notorious attempt to expand executive power outside the Constitution -- the Iran-Contra affair -- Reagan's Presidency presaged that of George W. Bush.

I'm tempted to argue that Reagan offered at most the illusion of success -- that his unique sunny optimism encouraged people to look beyond numerous questionable facts. Just as important, the optimism kept the movement's primordial hate under wraps -- temporarily, with Gingrich's 1994 triumph the signal event:

Instead of governing, the Republican majority in Congress -- along with right-wing authors, journalists, talk-radio personalities, think tanks, and foundations -- surrendered to the negative strain of modern conservatism. As political strategy, this strain went back to the Nixon era, but its philosophical roots were older and deeper. It extended back to William F. Buckley, Jr.'s mission statement, in the inaugural issue of National Review, in 1955, that the new magazine "stands athwart history, yelling Stop"; and to Goldwater's seminal 1960 book, The Conscience of a Conservative, in which he wrote, "I have little interest in streamlining government or in making it more efficient, for I mean to reduce its size. I do not undertake to promote welfare, for I propose to extend freedom. My aim is not to pass laws, but to repeal them. It is not to inaugurate new programs, but to cancel old ones." By the end of the century, a movement inspired by sophisticated works such as Russell Kirk's 1953 The Conservative Mind: From Burke to Eliot churned out degenerate descendants with titles like How to Talk to a Liberal (If You Must). Shortly after engineering President Bill Clinton's impeachment on a narrow party-line basis, Gingrich was gone.

Though conservatives were not much interested in governing, they understood the art of politics. They hadn't made much of a dent in the bureaucracy, and they had done nothing to provide universal health-care coverage or arrest growing economic inequality, but they had created a political culture that was inhospitable to welfare, to an indulgent view of criminals, to high rates of taxation. They had controlled the language and moved the political parameters to the right. Back in November, 1967, Buckley wrote in an essay on Ronald Reagan, "They say that his accomplishments are few, that it is only the rhetoric that is conservative. But the rhetoric is the principal thing. It precedes all action. All thoughtful action."

Then came George W. Bush:

According to [David] Frum, who worked as a White House speechwriter during Bush's first two years, Bush couldn't have won if he'd run as a real conservative, because the country was already moving in a new direction. Bush's goals, like Nixon's, were political. Nixon had set out to expand the Republican vote; Bush wanted to keep it from contracting. At his first meeting with Frum and other speechwriters, Bush declared, "I want to change the Party" -- to soften its hard edge, and make the Party more hospitable to Hispanics. "It was all about positioning," Frum said, "not about confronting a new generation of problems." Frum wasn't happy; although he suspected that Bush might be right, he wanted him to govern along hard-line conservative principles.

The phrase that signalled Bush's approach was "compassionate conservatism," but it never amounted to a policy program. Within hours of the Supreme Court decision that ended the disputed Florida recount, Dick Cheney met with a group of moderate Republican senators, including Lincoln Chafee, of Rhode Island. According to Chafee's new book, Against the Tide: How a Compliant Congress Empowered a Reckless President (Thomas Dunne), the Vice-President-elect gave the new order of battle: "We would seek confrontation on every front. . . . The new Administration would divide Americans into red and blue, and divide nations into those who stand with us or against us." Cheney's combative instincts and belief in an unfettered and secretive executive proved far more influential at the White House than Bush's campaign promise to be "a uniter, not a divider." Cheney behaved as if, notwithstanding the loss of the popular vote, conservative Republican domination could continue by sheer force of will. On domestic policy, the Administration made tax cuts and privatization its highest priority; and its conduct of the war on terror broke with sixty years of relatively bipartisan and multilateralist foreign policy.

The Administration's political operatives were moving in the same direction. The Republican strategist Matthew Dowd studied the 2000 results and concluded that the proportion of swing voters in America had declined from twenty-two to seven per cent over the previous two decades, which meant that mobilizing the Party's base would be more important in 2004 than attracting independents. The strategist Karl Rove's polarizing political tactics (which brought a new level of demographic sophistication to the old formula) buried any hope of a centrist Presidency before Bush's first term was half finished.

Ed Rollins said, "Rove knew his voters, he stuck to the message with consistency, he drove that base hard -- and there's nothing left of it. Today, if you're not rich or Southern or born again, the chances of your being a Republican are not great." As long as Bush and his party kept winning elections, however slim the margins, Rove's declared ambition to create a "permanent majority" seemed like the vision of a tactical genius. But it was built on two illusions: that the conservative era would stretch on indefinitely, and that politics matters more than governing. The first illusion defied history; the second was blown up in Iraq and drowned in New Orleans.

Packer interviews various people who argue that conservatism is still the principal political belief in the country today, but that conservatives need to find a more functional way of governing with their beliefs.

"If Republican politicians quote Reagan, their political operatives study Nixon," Frum writes. "Republicans have been reprising Nixon's 1972 campaign against McGovern for a third of a century. As the excesses of the 1960s have dwindled into history, however, the 1972 campaign has worked less and less well." He adds, "How many more elections can conservatives win by campaigning against Abbie Hoffman and Bobby Seale? Voters want solutions to the problems of today." Polls reveal that Americans favor the Democratic side on nearly every domestic issue, from Social Security and health care to education and the environment. The all-purpose Republican solution of cutting taxes has run its course. Frum writes, "There are things only government can do, and if we conservatives wish to be entrusted with the management of government, we must prove that we care enough about government to manage it well."

David Brooks "was even more scathing than Frum."

Brooks called the conservative think tanks "sclerotic," but much conservative journalism has become just as calcified and ingrown. Last year, writing in The New Republic, Sam Tanenhaus revealed a 1997 memo in which Buckley -- who had originally hired Brooks at National Review on the strength of a brilliant undergraduate parody that he had written of Buckley -- refused to anoint him as his heir because Brooks, a Jew, is not a "believing Christian." At Commentary, the neoconservative counterpart to National Review, the editorship was bequeathed by Norman Podhoretz, its longtime editor, to his son John, whose crude op-eds for the New York Post didn't measure up to Commentary's intellectual past. A conservative journalist familiar with both publications said that what mattered most at the Christian National Review was doctrinal purity, whereas at the Jewish Commentary it was blood relations: "It's a question of who can you trust, and it comes down to religious fundamentals."

Packer ends with some pap on Obama and McCain, including riffs on Obama as McGovern ("Goldwater was to Reagan as McGovern is to Obama") and McCain retracing LBJ's footsteps as the latter launched his Great Society War on Poverty.

While reading Perlstein's Nixonland, I noted a number of analogies between Obama's campaign and McGovern's -- most pointedly, the pivotal role Pennsylvania played in backing the party machine candidates. Other potential similarities have been narrowly avoided this time, like taking credentials disputes to the convention. The Democratic Party was in disarray at the time, split on two axes: over the still-raging Vietnam War, and between the old party bosses and reformers, mostly motivated by their opposition to the Vietnam War. The Iraq War divides today's Democrats, but less so, and the party bosses are long gone. But also looking back, we have 1972 as a lesson: the Party's desertion of McGovern may have seemed like a small thing at the time, but now it looms large, a turning point in the nation's history that we would have been better off not taking. The starkest example was George Meany's refusal to back McGovern: you can date the AFL-CIO's decline from that point -- if the unions weren't smart enough to realize that the escalating cold war was a form of class struggle aimed straight at their throats, you could even say they deserved what they got.

The Democrats are unlikely to be as divided this time, in large part because they've been so irrelevant they have nothing left to get defensive about. McGovern's change was directed as much against his own party as against Nixon, who seemed less a partisan threat than a peculiarly chameleonic form of slime. The Democrats still dominated Congress, most state and local governments, including almost every major city. They still thought of themselves as the establishment, and they still owned a lot of responsibility for the Vietnam War. McGovern couldn't change America until he cleaned up the mess in his own backyard, and that's where he got ambushed. Obama has had similar problems from Democrats who think that the way to win is to follow the Republican lead while feigning slightly more sanity. But those Democrats haven't had much of a winning record, especially now it's clear now how Clinton's two terms wound up playing into Bush's hand. (Not that Obama would ever define change so sharply.)

Then there's the Nixon role, which McCain doesn't seem to be up to (even if he wanted, which I wouldn't put past him). He's neither the incumbent of 1972 nor the disengaged statesman of 1968; rather, he's more like Humphrey in 1968, a lame substitute for a lamer duck, remembered somewhat fondly for integrity he has long since abandoned.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


I used to follow sports more closely than political news. Back when I lived in New York, I favored the Daily News over the Times, mostly because of better sports coverage (also comics). Over the years, my interest waned: can't say as I ever had any interest in hockey or soccer, so football was the first sport I gave up on (by 1990, most likely sooner), then I lost my taste for baseball during one of the lockouts. So basketball is about all I have left. Don't have time for watching TV, but I occasionally scan the boxes -- not like I used to with baseball, but enough that I have some sense of at least half of the NBA rosters. Watched some of the Boston-Detroit series this year, and maybe half of the Boston-Los Angeles finals, including last night's finale blowout.

I've never been a fan of either team. When I first moved to Boston back in 1984-85, I tried watching Celtics games on TV. The Celtics were supposedly a great team back then, but they only televised road games, and they sucked in the 20 or so games I actually saw. This was a team with Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Danny Ainge -- the only NBA team of the era that was mostly white and still pretty good, a formula that Bostonians favored as long as they could get away with it. (The Red Sox were the last MLB team integrated, and even in the 1980s treated a player like Jim Rice coldly. Even later, the Patriots went out of their way to build losing teams around white QB Doug Flutie.) I might have been open-minded about the Celtics, but I wasn't much impressed by the games I saw, and I soon grew annoyed by the local press. Once the Detroit Pistons emerged as rivals, the press turned rabid, and I found a team I could really root for.

I was still rooting for Detroit this year, but the Celtics played so strong they became much more than just anyone-but-the-Lakers -- a team I've disdained ever since they left Minneapolis, another case of perpetual hype rubbing me the wrong way. That story goes back a long ways, probably picking up some guilt-by-association with the Dodgers (my first allegiance was to the NY Yankees) and maybe even UCLA (gimme KU, or practically anyone else). Still, I had noticed Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol in the box scores, and thought they might make for an interesting team, especially when they so easily dusted off the Spurs. They do, but there's still the matter of Kobe Bryant. He's always struck me as a whiney, self-important potentate, but this year he gets the MVP and I've even heard Barack Obama tout Bryant as the best player in the game.

Last night's game should put an end to such foolishness. I knew the game was going to be a blowout about midway through the first quarter, when the score was still close and the announcers were all agog over Bryant hitting three straight 3-pointers. By that point, Garnett had established his shot and was clearly going to be a big factor, which he hadn't really done before. But I also figured that Bryant would take his hot streak for granted, shooting everything he touches until he's back to his usual .350. (He wound up 7-22; he was .405 for the series, 53-131 -- how impressed should we be that a guy who takes 22 shots per game can score 25 points?) From the very beginning the whole Boston team outhustled and outmuscled LA. Once Boston's shots started dropping it turned into a rout.

One more peeve. Several times the announcers remarked on Boston's one-year shift from 24 wins to the championship, as if that sort of transition was something any team could do with the right leadership, coaching, and chemistry. Actually, it was a very Boston kind of deal, which is to say it's a rich team's fancy. Garnett and Allen are both maximum earners past their prime. Any team looking to build over 2-4 years can expect them to slip, very expensively, by the time they're ready. With Pierce already on board and near his peak, those deals gave them 3/5 of an all-star team if they're lucky and no one slips too hard or fast. Boston then added veterans like PJ Brown and Sam Cassell who have no long-term future but can fill in for now. It all worked to plan: they started the year unbeatable, and rarely slipped. But they're not posed to get better next year, and they're going to pay a lot both now and for retooling. Unlike their teams from Bob Cousy through Larry Bird, this isn't going to be a dynasty. Still, they're more fun to watch than the others I can remember.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Music: Current count 14502 [14486] rated (+16), 803 [813] unrated (-10). Got sick midweek, and did virtually nothing after that. Unpacking is no where near up to date.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #17, Part 8)

Came up with a dry, scratchy throat midweek, followed a day later by a low-grade fever. Not much as I recall these things, but this time they wiped out the rest of the week, and I don't feel all that spiffy even now. Oddest for me was that I didn't feel like listening to music at all -- played a little Louis Jordan, Bo Diddley, Coasters, Al Green, Coleman Hawkins. Finally tried streaming some stuff from Rhapsody -- concur with Christgau on No Age and Tokyo Police Club, have some reservations about Santogold. Still, even when my critical facilities assent I'm still not responding with any enthusiasm. Wish I could promise I'll snap out of it soon, but looks like another long, even drearier trip to Detroit is imminent.

Chris McGregor's Brotherhood of Breath: Eclipse at Dawn (1971 [2008], Cunneiform): As Ronnie Scott observes in his band intro, South Africa is a good place to be from. McGregor's exiles with their township jive melodies are joined by an equal number of English avant-gardists, the sounds repressed by apartheid amplified into the cacophonous noise of freedom. A live set from Berlin, not the clearest or the most exhilarating of performances -- the 1973 Travelling Somewhere was justly Cuneiform's first choice in bringing this remakable band back to our attention. B+(*)

Rave Tesar Trio: You Decide (2006 [2008], Tesar Music): Piano trio, with Kermit Driscoll on bass, Bill Tesar on drums. Pianist is based in New Jersey. First album, although he has side credits and production work going back to 1988, mostly prog rock -- Tirez Tirez, Annie Haslam. First impression was how bright and chirpy the piano sounds, especially when he picks up some speed and swings a little. B+(**)

Sumi Tonooka Trio: Long Ago Today (2004 [2008], ARC): Piano trio, with Rufus Reid on bass, Bob Braye on drums. Pianist was born 1956 in Philadelphia, father African-American, mother Japanese (from Washington state, interned during WWII), works using mother's name. Fifth album since 1990, or earlier -- Francis Davis wrote about her in In the Moment, describing a session with Reid and Akira Tana she recorded in 1984 but couldn't find a label for. All originals, except for one Cole Porter tune. State of the art postbop, hard for me to nail down, but I'm impressed with how the pieces build and move. B+(***)

Bryan Doherty Band: Rigamarole (2007 [2008], Origin): Bassist (electric, I think), based in Chicago, can't find any bio info, but he lists Jaco Pastorius first on his MySpace influences list. First album, sextet, with guitar (John McLean), Fender Rhodes (Marcin Fahmy), drums (Michael Raynor), percussion (Javier Saume), and tenor sax (Louis Stockwell). Basically a fusion joint, with clean lines and some grit in the sax. B+(*)

Matt Jorgensen + 451: Another Morning (2007 [2008], Origin): Seattle drummer, b. 1972. Fifth album since 2001, fairly even mix of originals, band contributions (saxophonist Mark Taylor, keyboardist Ryan Burns; nothing from bassist Phil Sparks), and covers (Joe Henderson, Lennon/McCartney, Neil Young). Burns plays Fender Rhodes, organ, and Moog -- various slices of fusion and soul jazz. Taylor mostly plays alto, with a sweet, skinny sound that I'm ambivalent about. Album sort of lies back, waiting for you to come to it. Can't say as I've given it a fair shot. B

Carmen Lundy: Come Home (2007 [2008], Afrasia): Vocalist, b. 1954, 10th album. Writes most of her songs. (Liner notes attribute several collaborations to "C Lundy" -- presumably her, but could be her well-known bassist brother Curtis Lundy, who plays here.) Has a distinctive voice, on the deep side, with a precise, studied manner reminiscent of Carmen McRae -- her take on "Nature Boy" is a good example. Strong piano help from Anthony Wonsey and Geri Allen. B+(*)

Ricardo Gallo Cuarteto: Urdimbres y Maranas (2007 [2008], Ladistrito): Colombia pianist, b. 1978 in Bogotá, attended University of North Texas from 1999, later moving to Stony Brook. Second album. The quartet is a piano trio plus extra percussion -- a Colombian group, recording in Bogotá. Combines some chamberish semiclassical stretches -- I'm reminded of Michel Camilo -- with trickier Afro-Cuban rhythmic feats, where the rest of the group makes their strongest impression. B+(*)

Lindha Kallerdahl: Gold (2006 [2008], ESP-Disk): Swedish vocalist. Album spells first name Lindah in two prominent locations, including the spine, and Google prefers Lindah, but her website and MySpace page both prefer Lindha. (I've also seen Linda several places.) Born 1972, studied in Stockholm, has mostly worked with avant-gardists: Mats Gustafsson, Fredrik Ljungkvist, Jaap Blonk, Ikue Mori. Plays some piano, but most of this is solo voice: sharp, shrill, jumps around an astounding range, sometimes with remarkable control, more often with wild abandon. I find it rather hideous, although "All of Me" made me smile, and "Body & Soul" might have had I figured it out earlier. C+

Brian Blade & the Fellowship Band: Season of Changes (2008, Verve): Drummer, from Shreveport, LA, has two previous Brian Blade Fellowship albums on Blue Note (1998-2000), which is how this advance was listed. Blade has a long and prominent side credit list since 1994 -- Brad Mehldau, Kenny Garrett, Joshua Redman, Mark Turner, Ryan Kisor, David Berkman, Wayne Shorter, Norah Jones, Joni Mitchell, Wolfgang Muthspiel (a duo I like a lot, Friendly Travelers). This has a slick postbop sound, mostly running on Jon Cowherd's keyboards -- Cowherd wrote 3 of 9 songs and co-produced -- thickly coated with Kurt Rosenwinkel guitar. Saxophonists Myron Walden and Chris Thomas show up intermittently, adding some more conventional jazz moves, even a little bite. B+(**) [advance]

Stanton Moore Trio: Emphasis on Parenthesis (2007 [2008], Telarc): Fusion drummer, has done some good stuff, notably Garage A Trois, Outre Mer (2005, with Skerik and Charlie Hunter). Trio mates Will Bernard (guitar) and Robert Walter (organ, keyboards) have also put out consistently solid work, but this time they all sort of melt down together, with ordinary grooves and little sonic range or variety. B-

George Cables: Morning Song (1980 [2008], High Note): Archive tape, recorded at Keystone Korner in San Francisco, only the year specified, but probably two separate dates. Four songs are done by a quartet, with Eddie Henderson (trumpet), Cables (piano), John Heard (bass), and Sherman Ferguson (drums). The other six cuts are solo piano. The latter are densely figured, intense. I've only heard a couple of Cables' albums, don't have much of a feel for him as a leader or soloist, don't have an opinion how well they stack up. I'm much more familiar with him as an accompanist, especially with Art Pepper, which was his main gig at the time. Pepper's albums with Cables are among his greatest. Henderson has rather limited range on trumpet, but opens up delightfully with Cables' ebullient swing. B+(*)

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

Unpacking: Got quite a bit of new material, but didn't get any of it catalogued. Try again next week.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Browse Alert

Michael Lind: Relax, Liberals. You've Already Won. Subtitle isn't very relaxing: "No matter who prevails at the ballot box in November, John McCain or Barack Obama, the four-decade-long counterrevolution is over." The text doesn't assume that McCain is making a break from the conservative movement. Rather, Lind argues that conservative political ideas are so widely viewed as bankrupt that even if McCain were elected he could do little damage with them. That's more optimism than I think is warranted. (He goes so far as to argue that a couple of McCain Supreme Court appointments still wouldn't be able to revoke Roe v Wade.) At least in my part of the country, the credulity for conservative rhetoric seems bottomless, even if many people are cautiously inching away from the thing. Some conservative shibboleths have no traction at all, but other memes are still very much with us, especially on the most critical matters of war and terrorism. And there's another thing to worry about: knee-jerk anger. We're in for a whole lot of it no matter who wins in November, and the right is built on the right to throw bloody tantrums.

Lind's status as an ex-conservative gives the article an appealing distance from the liberals he addresses. He styles himself as some kind of radical centrist -- his main specialty is foreign relations, where he tries to combine pragmatic nationalism with liberal ideals (still defending the US in Vietnam, but not in Iraq). I don't regard him as very trustworthy, although his 2004 book on GW Bush, Made in Texas, was one of the best on the subject, and his 1996 book, Up From Conservatism, looks to have been ahead of the learning curve.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Browse Alert: Peak Oil

Andrew Leonard: Oil Price Conspiracy Theorists: Rev Your Engines. More details on how speculation has driven up the price of oil (somewhat). Main thing to note here is that Asian countries like India have started to cut back on energy subsidies, which will sooner or later work to reduce demand, which will at least temporarily bring prices down (a bit). When prices drop, it will be similar to our recent experiences with asset bubbles collapsing, leading to the conclusion that the price rise was just a bad case of irrational exuberance (if not downright fraud). People who have a hard time learning will continue to have a hard time learning. The price of oil is still mostly a function of demand exceeding supply.

Euan Mearns: Why oil costs over $130 per barrel: the decline of North Sea Oil. This is a good case example on how peak oil works. The North Sea oil fields started development in the mid-1970s when Europe and the US were being rocked by price spikes from the Middle East. They are expensive offshore developments. The companies naturally wanted to get their money back as quickly as possible, so they built and pumped as fast as they could. The countries never joined OPEC, never trying to limit production. The find were big enough they had a significant negative impact on world prices in the mid-late 1980s. It's clear now that they peaked in 1999-2001 and have declined ever since. Whereas large fields were discovered in quick succession in the 1970s, new finds have been scarce and smaller ever since -- a pattern that holds true anywhere else you care to look. The UK has already returned to its previous status as a net oil importer.

It's easy to get confused trying to look at worldwide oil figures, but when you look at individual fields and regions this same pattern recurrs consistently. Matthew Simmons' Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy provides just this sort of detailed analysis for Saudi Arabia -- although the Saudi case remains a bit muddier because the government restricts so much detailed information on its oil resources. As someone points out in one of the numerous useful comments here, the big West Texas oil fields fit the North Sea case even closer, in large part because in both cases private interests were able to maximize exhaustion of the fields.

Saw a piece in the Wichita Eagle this morning with all sorts of current arguments about how to fix the high price of gasoline: open the Alaskan arctic up to drilling, drain the strategic oil reserve, regulate commodity futures markets, raise interest rates to boost the dollar, not sure what else. They all strike me as marginal, or worse. If supply can't increase, demand will have to reduce, and the most efficient way to do that is to let high prices damper our enthusiasm for the product. Obama has proposed a windfall profits tax, and that makes sense: while high prices are the right thing now, the decision who gets those profits is political, and there's plenty of reason to think the oil industry should be cut out of as much as possible. (Just take a look at where the oil barons have made their political investments.)

PS: My own pet tax scheme is to make corporate income taxes progressive, so that big companies with big profits pay more. The oil companies are the obvious cases right now, with patent-monopoly pharmaceuticals close behind -- both of those cases involve politically secured windfalls. But progressive corporate taxes would also provide a damper against excessive aggregation, and would help smaller companies compete against larger companies' scale advantages (e.g., WalMart). It might even help break up large companies into more competitive units, as well as inspire new competitive enterprises.

PPS: Initially posted this without the Leonard piece. Put it up front in the update because it makes more sense there.

Monday, June 09, 2008

Browse Alert: Obama

Was so stuck in my book browsing last week-plus that I wasn't able to write about anything else. Obama clinched the Democratic presidential nomination. Clinton dithered menacingly for a few days, then made what most people seem to regard as a graceful concession and endorsement speech. (McCain, however, vowed to continue Clinton's struggle.) All three showed up to kiss the feet of AIPAC -- they were so supplicant that it'll be real hard to deny the Israel lobby's power. Not a big surprise, but Obama gave us a real quick taste of buyer's remorse -- he's since backpedalled a bit on points like the indivisibility of Jerusalem as the Jewish State's capital, a point that many Israelis no longer insist on, and that only became US policy under Bush. It's easy to hand wave some of the things politicians have to say to play the game, but eventually they have to act in the real world. It is very important, for the long-term interests of Americans as well as for those more directly involved, that the US work to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a way that provides all sides with full and equal rights, and that will not happen if AIPAC has anything to do with it. Obama previously talked about wanting to change the mindset that got us into war. He still has a ways to go within his own mind.

Helena Cobban: Obama and Israel. Straightforward reporting on Obama's AIPAC speech, from an Obama supporter who knows better but hopes for the best.

WarInContext: Obama Pays Homage to AIPAC. Extracts from three articles, starting with Al Jazeera's report (quotes PLO negotiator Saeb Erekat saying, "This is the worst thing to happen to us since 1967 . . . he has given ammunition to extremists across the region"). Paul Woodward comments: "Yesterday was the day the 'change' bubble burst. Obama's performance at AIPAC shows that his grasp of Middle East politics has yet to rise to the level of George Bush's!" That's a low blow given that there's never been any proof that Bush's various statements in support of a Palestinian state will ever amount to anything. The last article in the group was about McCain's AIPAC speech, which left a lot of leeway for lesser evilism.

WarInContext: "Undivided" Means Open Access. Further qualifications on Obama's AIPAC speech.

Fred Kaplan: Is Barack Obama Too Naive to Be President? Obama's gotten a lot of flack over saying he's willing to talk with Iran, both from Clinton and from McCain, and that's the source of this "too naive" charge. Kaplan defends Obama, partly because he sees it as the only way the US can recover prestige and influence wasted away under Bush.

David Warsh: Voices in the Air. On Obama's economics advisers, like Austan Goolsbee, treading lightly on whether Obama will actually take their advice. Examines one key Goolsbee paper, arguing against even the most technically limited form of the Laffer Curve (the rationale behind Reagan's "supply side" tax cuts; Bush's tax cuts were too dishonest to support a rationale, not that anyone still believed Laffer). Recommends a 1994 book as framing most of this year's key political-economic issues: Victor Fuchs, ed: Individual and Social Responsibility: Child Care, Education, Medical Care and Long Term Care. (Looks like the book is out of print.)

John Cassidy: Economics: Which Way for Obama? A book review of Richard H Thaler/Cass R Sunstein: Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness (2008, Yale University Press), associated with Obama by virtue of various Chicago connections, including adviser Austan Goolsbee. Thaler and Sunstein argue for what they call "libertarian paternalism" -- policies that manipulate people in favored directions while leaving the impression that they're making free choices. For a politician, that offers the best of several worlds, but it wouldn't take much corruption to steer the process awry. One thing Obama does get out of this approach is that it frees him from most of the other orthodoxies with all their problems.

It's getting harder for me to retain my ignorance of Obama's policy agenda. Still, one thing that contributes to this is his own studied ambiguities. Presumably, he does this not just because the campaign season is a minefield -- often an irrational, downright stupid one. It may also be because he suspects that he'll need more than answers once he wins: he'll need options. There's no evidence that he knows that about Israel/Palestine, but it does seem to be his general modus operandi. He sells hope, asking us to trust his instincts and his inclusive sense of community. It's not much to go on, but when is it ever?

Music: Current count 14486 [14455] rated (+31), 813 [836] unrated (-23). Spent the past week home in Wichita, with Laura away in Detroit. Figured I'd finally get some Jazz Prospecting done, and I did, although mostly I picked from the old stuff rather than the newer mail. Any time the rated count tops 30 I figure I've had a big week. So I'll count this one, even though it barely feels like it.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #17, Part 7)

Got about as much Jazz Prospecting done this past week as I can handle. Just didn't get much into the recent incoming. Instead, I cleaned out much of the material from my travel case and from the shelf that I had left behind. Accordingly, a lot of so-so records this time, making little progress towards finding the pick hits I need to fill out the next Jazz CG.

Bill Stewart: Incandescence (2006 [2008], Pirouet): One of the top mainstream drummers of his generation. Also claims credit for all of the compositions here, which is lays out in an unusual trio: with Kevin Hays on piano, Larry Goldings on organ and accordion. Soul jazz groups generally let the organ double as piano and bass, so you can think of Goldings holding down the bass role when Hays is in the lead, but you won't recognize him. Only on his lead cuts, like the opening "Knock on My Door," does he sound like his exuberant old self. Hays is sharp as a razor, of course. But in the end I tried to just focus on the drummer. Can't say as I got much that way, but it didn't lower my estimation of him either. B

Derrick Gardner and the Jazz Prophets: A Ride to the Other Side . . . of Infinity (2007 [2008], Owl Studios): Plays trumpet and flugelhorn, b. 1965 in Chicago. Spent 1991-96 in the Basie ghost band, but basically he's a hard bopper -- AMG's similar artists list is {Blanchard, Marsalis} and "influenced by" runs from Fats Navarro to Nat Adderley, missing no one, with Kenny Dorham at the top of the list -- I'd be tempted to lead with Blue Mitchell. His Jazz Prophets sextet includes brother Vincent Gardner on trombone, Rob Dixon on tenor sax, Anthony Wonsey on piano, Rodney Whitaker on bass, Donald Edwards and Kevin Kaiser on drums and percussion -- a hot group with a rich, classic sound. Second album. I'm impressed, but don't see where this goes beyond where it's already been. B+(**)

Torben Waldorff: Afterburn (2008, ArtistShare): Danish guitarist, attended Berklee 1984-88, seems to be based in New York now, but bio isn't very clear. Cut two records 1999-2004 for Swedish label LJ, and two since then with ArtistShare. Don't have a good sense of his guitar, but that's mostly because his band is so obtrusive -- or maybe I just mean tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin. I've never cared much for McCaslin's records, but he's always been a technically astounding player. He's all over this record. The rest of the band aren't shy, either. Cover has several pictures of Waldorff's grandmother, née Lore Woger -- dancing on the front, playing alto sax on the back. [B+(***)]

Thom Rotella 4tet: Out of the Blues (2007 [2008], Four Bar Music): Guitarist, b. 1951 in Niagara Falls, NY; went to Ithaca College, then Berklee 1970-72, and on to Los Angeles. Has 10-12 albums -- his early (1987-96) ones on DMP seem to count as smooth jazz. This is respectably postbop, with Montgomery-influenced lines, piano (Llew Matthews or Rich Eames), bass (Luther Hughes), drums (Roy McCurdy). Nice. B+(*)

Industrial Jazz Group: Leef (2008, Evander Music): Cheap cardstock wallet packaging, back cover printed white on yellow (glad I was able to lift the credits and track list elsewhere), full liner notes promised on website but not available yet. Started this while driving around Detroit, but popped it out after a few "what is this shit?" minutes. I've played and enjoyed a couple of Andrew Durkin's group's records in the past, but wasn't prepared for this sharp swerve into Zappa-land. (Actually, I flashed on Brecht/Weill cabaret first, which may have been the initial idea -- but Zappa does get a name check.) I've avoided it ever since, only putting it on when there was nothing else left to unpack from the travel case. Played it twice. First, if you bracket the vocal stuff, the musical performance is stellar. Industrial Jazz has always been a catchphrase in search of a concept -- e.g., the analogy to Industrial Rock never fit -- but Durkin has finally managed to squeeze all individuality out of the big band without sacrificing idiosyncrasy. Hard to imagine anything but a machine managing that, or exhibiting such spurious complexity just because it's possible to gear it that way. Clearest case is "Bongo Non Troppo," working off a relatively simple Latin riff, but there's more in "Howl" and "Fuck the Muck" (at least until the voices appear). The vocal stuff is more scattered -- skit and shtick, a bit of "Fuck the Muck" choir, and two legit songs (both optimistically reprised in radio edits at the end): "The Job Song" (on the Brechtian end) and "Big Ass Truck" (more Zappaesque). In Christgau's CG scheme a couple of these named pieces would be Choice Cuts. I don't do that because I'm still stuck in the old-fashioned rut of trying to swallow records whole. B+(*)

Ocote Soul Sounds and Adrian Quesada: The Alchemist Manifesto (2008, ESL Music): I gather that Ocote Soul Sounds is an alias for Martín Perna, also involved in Antibalas and, more peripherally, TV on the Radio. Perna mostly plays flutes, although his credits include baritone sax, guitar, bass, keyboard, percussion, vocals. Quesada comes from Grupo Fantasma, which I have another CD from somewhere in the queue. He plays guitar, bass, keyboards, drums percussion, etc. Various guests: horns on the opener, "The Great Elixir"; bata drums, bongos, keyboards, coros. More techno than jazz, more rockish than Latin, too marginal to spend more time with. B+(*)

Empty Cage Quartet: Stratostrophic (2006 [2008], Clean Feed): California-based free jazz quartet, led by Jason Mears (alto sax, clarinet) and Kris Tiner (trumpet, flugelhorn) -- composition count slightly favors Mears -- backed by Ivan Johnson (double bass) and Paul Kikuchi (drums, percussion, electronics). Tiner claims half a dozen albums as leader, but most are in groups like this one, or at least have other name on the marquee. He also has a longer list of side credits, including Industrial Jazz Band. Mears has a namespace clash with an English metal guitarist and an Australian brass band conductor. As near as I can tell, this Jason Mears was born in Alaska, studied at Boston University and California Institute for the Arts, has side credits with Vinny Golia and Harris Eisenstadt. Also looks like same group has recorded as MTKJ. The horns have scattered moments here but don't leave a coherent impression. I suspect they're being tied down by the compositions, especially when the pieces go slow. B+(*)

Elliott Sharp: Octal Book One (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): Guitarist, lots of obscure albums. AMG considers him avant-garde rather than jazz, evidence that he fits nowhere. This is solo, played on something called a "Koll 8-string electroacoustic guitarbass": has a stinging acoustic sound with occasional effects. Interesting sounds, short bursts, odd twists. Not much more. B+(*)

Benjamin Lapidus: Herencia Judía (2007 [2008], Tresero): Born 1972 in Hershey, PA; moved to New York in 1980s, got into Latin music, playing Cuban tres and Puerto Rican cuatro, eventually forming an interesting Latin band, Sonido Isleńo. This record explores traditional sephardic music as it spread surrepetitiously through the Spanish Caribbean. This has a folkie feel that seems more proper and more dated than klezmer, while the Latin accents are similarly muted. B+(**)

Perez: It's Happenin' (2007 [2008], Zoho): Name seems to be Diana Perez, although the first name is hard to come by. Born New York, moved to Los Angeles at 17, spent 10 years in Europe, wound up in New York. Third album. Despite her heritage (Cuban-Irish mother, Puerto Rican father) there's nothing Latin here, not even the obligatory Jobim or the optional "Perdido." Voice is plain, unaccented, with a depth and lustre that emerges after the fact. Songbook is a mix of standards ("Blame It on My Youth," "In the Wee Small Hours," "Detour Ahead") and vocalese (Annie Ross on "Farmers Market," Giacomo Gates on "Milestones"). Band is about as straight as they come: Jed Levy (tenor sax, flute), Ron Horton (trumpet), Steve Davis (trombone), David Hazeltine (piano), Nat Reeves (bass), Joe Farnsworth (drums). They're strong enough to lift this out of the ordinary. B+(**)

Shea Breaux Wells: A Blind Date (2007 [2008], Ultimate): Singer, from Sonoma County, CA, second album, mixes standards with vocalese, plus one original. I often pull series of stylistically related records off the shelf, but coming after Perez this one is pretty uncanny. What was I saying about Jobim being obligatory? Here's "Corcovado" again. Almost as eery is the closer: Ellington-Tizol's "Caravan" here, Ellington-Tizol's "Perdido" there. The Miles Davis cut here is "All Blues" here vs. "Milestones" there. For vocalese, Wells picks Jon Hendricks lyrics to "Night in Tunisia" and "I Remember Clifford." Wells is making somewhat more obvious choices, especially when you factor "Blue Skies" in. Her band is equally stellar: the rhythm section hails from the generation Perez's mainstreamers grew up emulating: George Cables, Billy Hart, Cecil McBee. The horns are a cut more aggressive: David Weiss on trumpet and (especially) Craig Handy on sax/flute. Neither singer offers her age, but I figure Wells is younger and feistier, with more up front in her voice, but less aftertaste. Pretty close to a wash. B+(**)

Chris Byars: Jazz Pictures at an Exhibition of Himalayan Art (2007 [2008], Smalls): Booklet folds out into a small poster with said artwork, including a Buddha sculpture and a pair of masks, evidently on display at the Rubin Museum of Art (on Oct. 26, 2007, anyway). Byars is one of the best of the Smalls neo-boppers, at least when he sticks to tenor sax in his quartet with pianist Sacha Perry. This moves a bit out of his comfort zone, with no piano and two extra horns: John Mosca on trombone, James Byars on oboe and english horn. (From the photo, I'd guess James Byars is his father -- something in the bio about coming from a family of unnamed Juilliard-trained musicians.) The extra horns add a lot of harmonic filigree which I found off-putting at first -- a typical postbop move. Byars' own solos remain deep in the bebop tradition, and they hold the extras in check. B+(**)

Dapp Theory: Layers of Chance (2008, Contrology/ObliqSound): Quintet, led by pianist Andy Milne, with Loren Stillman (alto sax, soprano sax, flute, clarinet), Christopher Tordini (electric and acoustic bass), Sean Rickman (drums, percussion), and John Moon (vocals, aka percussive poetry). Second album. A couple of guests, including a Becca Stevens vocal that doesn't help. Moon's poesy is another matter, giving the rhythm section something firm to get under. Stillman is quite impressive in this context, both leading on alto sax and coloring in with his other instruments. B+(**) [advance]

Ralph Carney/Robert Creeley: Really!! (2007, Paris): Cover lists the poet Creeley in big print on top, adding "with music by Ralph Carney" in small print at the bottom. The words don't leave a lot of space for music, which Carney generally keeps discreet, on occasion slipping in a little countryish string music. B+(**) [advance]

Ralph Carney/Ira Cohen: The Stauffenberg Cycle (2007, Paris): Cohen is another poet, b. 1935, spent the early 1960s in Morocco, publishing the "exorcism magazine" Gnaoua, hanging with Paul Bowles, writing The Hashish Cookbook. He has a voice with a big, friendly grin built in. Carney's main instrument is sax, and he plays it more than on the Creely disc. Also some clarinet, and more stringish country stuff. B+(***) [advance]

Bobby Watson: From the Heart (2007 [2008], Palmetto): Alto saxophonist, from Kansas, b. 1953, has a long list of notable recordings, including several postbop classics for the Red label in Italy in the mid-1980s, followed by a scattering of albums for majors Blue Note and Columbia. I tend to think of him as underrated, but by now he's pretty well known -- reminds me of a baseball player named Bob Watson who put together a long, very consistent career where he was the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th best first baseman in the league but hardly ever got invited to the all-star game. Sextet album, something he likes to do, with trumpet, piano, vibes, bass, and drums. The way trumpeter Leron Thomas shadows Watson turns me off -- the two tones mesh into one excessively brassy sound. Piano-vibes has a similar effect, but the sound isn't so annoying, and Warren Wolf (vibes) puts on a pretty good show. Upbeat, expansive stuff -- hard to hate, although that was my first instinct. B

Boston Horns: Shibuyu Gumbo (2008, Boston Horns): I only count two horns -- tenor/baritone saxophonist Henley Douglas Jr. and trumpeter Garret Savluk -- occasionally reinforced by guest trombone: hardly a Tower of Power, although the rhythm section -- Jeff Buckridge (guitar), Ben Zecker (keyboards), Craig Weiman (bass), Peter MacLean (drums) -- are up to snuff. The other guest of note is local Boston bluesman Barrence Whitfield on four tracks, like "Givin' Up Food for Funk" and "A Real Mother for Ya." The funk starts thick but wears thin; the vocal help but not enough. B

Caribbean Jazz Propect: Afro Bop Alliance (2008, Heads Up): Cover adds: featuring Dave Samuels. Plays vibes and marimba; also wrote 5 of 9 songs, all of the originals. Group has horns at full big band strength, with -- how unusual these days -- none of the sax players doubling on flute. The Latin rhythm is omnipresent but indistinctive, a layered foundation, perhaps to set up the vibes that often vanish in the mix. B-

Jamie Baum Septet: Solace (2007 [2008], Sunnyside): Flautist, originally from Connecticut, studied at New England Conservatory and Manhattan School of Music, now based in New York. Fourth album since 1992. Composed everything, with her flute often taking a back seat to the group. Didn't expect much, but two performances struck me before I had any idea who was in the band: the opening trumpet (Ralph Alessi) and piano throughout (George Colligan -- also plays some razzling Fender Rhodes). Alto/baritone saxophonist Douglas Yates also plays notably. Four-part "Ives Suite" sit in the middle, with an RFK speech sample kicking off the "Questions Unanswered" movement. Too many classical moves for my taste, but so many surprising turns I may be selling it short. B+(*)

Enrico Granafei: In the Search of the Third Dimension (2008, Miles High): One man band, plays hands-free chromatic harmonica, acoustic guitar, and sings a little -- album cover makes a big point: "this was recorded with absolutely no overdubbing." I suppose that's meant to be impressive as performance, but it's not much of a virtue in the world of recorded music. The harmonica is his strong suit, but it is rather limited as a lead instrument, the hands-free technique possibly limiting speed and range. His guitar is accompaniment, good for adding a bit of rhythm, but not much more. His voice is even more limited. B

Jorge Albuquerque/Marcos Amorim/Rafael Barata: Revolging Landscapes (2005 [2008], Adventure Music): Bass, guitar, drums, respectively, from Brazil, recorded in Rio de Janeiro. Soft mood music, tightly strung. Writing credits are divided between Albuquerque and Amorim. I've run across Amorim before, and he's always impressed. This seems more subdued, with the more prominent bass slowing down and flattening out the guitar. Not that that's a complaint. B+(**)

The Roger Davidson Trio: Bom Dia (2007 [2008], Soundbrush): Pianist, cashed in his classical training to specialize in Latin music, or more specifically here in Brazilian. Trio is augmented by guest percussionist Marivado dos Santos. Bright and bouncy. B+(**)

Ellis Marsallis Quartet: An Open Letter to Thelonious (2007 [2008], ELM): In the early days Monk was notoriously difficult to play -- I'm tempted to argue that on his first records even he had trouble playing himself. Now everyone can play him just fine. QED. B

The Michael Thomas Quintet: It Is What It Is (2006, JazHead Entertainment): Trumpeter, b. Las Vegas, attended Grambling (inspired by the marching band, caught the jazz bug there), spent some time in upstate New York, moving to DC in 1993. Third album from group. Quintet is conventional trumpet, tenor sax (Zach Graddy), piano (Darius Scott), bass (Kent Miller), drums (Frank Williams IV), with Buck Hill guesting for a second saxophone. Hard bop with a gooey soul jazz center -- includes two takes of "Candy" in case that wasn't abundantly clear. Trumpet has a nice, soulful sound. Neither saxophonist does much. B

James Carter: Present Tense (2007 [2008], Emarcy): Prodigiously talented saxophonist, playing soprano, tenor, and baritone here, plus bass clarinet and flute; made a huge impact when he first appeared, but has recorded infrequently since 2000, with two pretty good live albums and two pretty bad studio ones. This is another studio one, another more/less major label, with no obvious big concept, just a mix of swing/bop pieces (Django Reinhart, Gigi Gryce, Dodo Marmarosa) and originals, big gestures that don't seem to fit very well. I've often thought that he should record more frequently for smaller labels, and this is just more evidence. E.g., I'd love to hear him do a whole album on baritone, or for that matter on bass clarinet; if he wants to play goddamn flute, what the hell, do a whole flute album. Do that Don Byas tribute he's been hinting at for years, or for that matter a Gigi Gryce tribute. And give some thought to his old mentors, Julius Hemphill and Frank Lowe -- he's totally lost his avant edge, at a time when the other 3/4 of his old Detroit quartet are busy playing with Sam Rivers. I haven't given up on this one yet, but after 3-4 plays it has its limits. He's not the sort of guy who sneaks up on you; he's a heavyweight, gotten used to pulling his punches. [B+(**)]

Wayne Escoffery and Veneration: Hopes and Dreams (2007 [2008], Savant): Title cut, with Joe Locke's marimba trailing a huge, sweeping tenor sax lead by Escoffery, is choice, the sort of thing that doesn't compare too shabily to Sonny Rollins. Second song backs off a lot, a slot postbop tone thing with Tom Harrell added. The infrequent barnburners are far more appealing, although Locke has interesting takes either way. B+(*)

Tobias Gebb & Trio West: An Upper West Side Story (2008, Yummy House): Drummer-led piano trio, with Neal Miner on bass, Eldad Zvulun on piano. Drummer Gebb wrote the 4 originals, arranged the rest. He keeps a slightly metallic beat going through most of the record, lifting it a bit above the piano. Two guests expand the music: tenor saxophonist Joel Frahm appears on four cuts, vocalist Champian Fulton on two (one in common). Both are pluses. [B+(***)]

DJ Logic/Jason Miles: Global Noize (2008, Shanachie): Keyboardist Miles is a smooth jazz studio hack who has lately taken to attaching himself to respectable bodies of work -- Ivan Lins, Miles Davis, Marvin Gaye -- to little or no gain, but his networking on Soul Summit: Live at the Berks Jazz Fest! paid off with a pleasurable set of retro soul, and this collaboration with turntablist DJ Logic, aka Jason Kibler, folds a wide range of guests into a mix of exotica that is subtly shifting rather than garish. Advance listed Miles first; final copy moves Logic up front. Billy Martin and Cyro Baptista help with the beats, which are hard to pin down to any locale smallerthan global. Karl Denson, MeShell Ndegeocello, Herb Alpert, Vernon Reid, John Popper, Bernie Worrell, Christian Scott, get props on the front cover, as well as "and others" -- Brazilian guitarist Romero Lubambo, bassist James Genus, and tabla whiz Suphala are other names I recognize, but the vocalists are beneath my radar. B+(*)

Brownout: Homenaje (2005-07 [2008], Freestyle): Austin, TX group, with Adrian Quesada and Beto Martinez (guitars), Greg Gonzalez (bass), Gilbert Elorreaga (trumpet), Josh Levy (baritone sax), Len Gauna (trombone), Johnny Lopez III (drums), Matthew "Sweet Lou" Holmes (congas), some guest timbales and shekere. Horns and percussion signify Latin, but the beat is straightforward, more funk than anything else. Quesada has moved on to form Grupo Fantasma and work with Ocote Soul Sounds. B

Esperanza Spalding: Esperanza (2008, Heads Up): Born 1984, grew up in Portland OR, schooled at Berklee, based in New York, plays double bass and sings. Second album, moving up to a bigger label and out toward pop, her vocals more prominent. She's getting attention with this move -- AllAboutJazz points out her "talent, youth, training and outrageously good looks" -- but from where I sit it's more like she's running away. There is some solid jazz here: the band is built around pianist Leo Genovese and drummer Otis Brown, with occasional guets adding things -- Donald Harrison's two alto sax spots make a big impression, Ambrose Akinmusire's trumpet only slightly less so. Her Brazilian twist on "Body and Soul" is a choice cut, but her scat is neither here nor there, and her voice isn't all that notable -- this could be edited down to a pretty bland nu-jazz album. She does help herself out on bass. B+(*)

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

Ben Allison & Man Size Safe: Little Things Run the World (2007 [2008], Palmetto): The liner notes show a broad thinker -- the title piece a tribute to Gaia hypothesis bacteria, the group name more immediately concerned with Dick Cheney. A-

Grupa Janke Randalu: Live (2007 [2008], Jazz 'n' Arts): Polish percussionist Bodek Janke plus Estonian pianist Kristjan Randalu, based these days in New York and/or Germany, in a duo that runs on rhythm, in a set ending with enthuasiastic applause. B+(*)

Paolo Fresu/Richard Galliano/Jan Lundgren: Mare Nostrum (2007 [2008], ACT): Trumpet, accordion, bass. Fresu finally got some attention when Carla Bley's group tracked him down. Otherwise, he's mostly been buried on small Italian labels. He provides intricate decorations on top of Galliano's eurofolk accordion, which determines how far and how fast this record goes. B+(**)

Dave Douglas & Keystone: Moonshine (2007 [2008], Greenleaf Music): Still can't say all the results are in, but I've been dazzled enough to make the call. The new saxophonist, Marcus Strickland, lives up to his illustrious predecessors -- Chris Potter and Donny McCaslin. Still, the hottest horn on the record is the leader's trumpet, reminding everyone why he wins all those polls. You can chalk the front line up to sheer virtuosity, but interesting stuff is happening in the engine room as well. Douglas has dabbled with electronica for several years, but DJ Olive's scratching and Adam Benjamin's Fender Rhodes have finally clicked. A-


  • CRAM: For a Dog (Broken)
  • Adrian Iaies Trio + Michael Zisman: Vals de la 81st & Columbus (Sunnyside): July 15
  • Pete Levin: Certified Organic (P Lev)
  • Joe Lovano: Symphonica (Blue Note): advance, Sept. 2
  • Phil Markowitz: Catalysis (Sunnyside): July 15
  • Jon Mueller: Sampler CD of Recent and Upcoming Releases (Table of the Elements): advance, promo only
  • Roedelius/Story: Inlandish (Gronland): advance, July 29
  • Mark Sherman Quartet: Live @ the Bird's Eye (Miles High, 2CD)
  • Cassandra Wilson: Loverly (Blue Note)

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Book Browsing: Part 6

Sixth, and final, batch. To reprise, I started scratching down names of books in a little notebook during my Detroit trip. I wound up spending a lot of time in bookstores: good place to find out what's going on, and a psychic balm to boot. Kept adding more when I got back to Wichita, and added some more on a trip to the library. Then I looked the books up, mostly on Amazon, correcting my scribbles and a little more info, which led to writing these brief notes. In many cases, I followed the related books links, adding to the list. Cut the resulting notes file into six batches of about 50 titles each, so figure 300 total. Not all are new, but the overwhelming majority were published (or reprinted) since 2006. To try to keep from repeating myself, I collected my old book browsing notes in a reference file, to which I've added the new notes. In some cases I wound up repeating myself anyway -- where the old note didn't say anything, or sometimes just by accident.

This has turned out to be a tedious, time consuming exercise, keeping me from doing much of anything else in the last week. At this point my eyes are kind of glazing over, but I got a pretty good idea of what's out there and what people are thinking about.

Michael Ashby/Hugh Shercliff/David Cebon: Materials: Engineering, Science, Processing and Design (2007, Butterworth-Heinemann): Textbook on materials science. I used to buy things like this just for occasional reference. This is a subject that still fascinated me, and looks like a good one.

Charles Barber: Comfortably Numb : How Psychiatry Is Medicating a Nation (2008, Knopf): Author worked for 10 years in NYC shelters for the homeless mentally ill, so he may have some axes to grind: we spend less and less on mental health therapy, but more and more on drugs: the US accounts for 66% of the world market for antidepressants.

Bruce Bartlett: Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party's Buried Past (2008, Palgrave Macmillan): A brief on why blacks should never trust the Democratic Party, built around a long list of racist misdeeds by prominent Democrats (mostly but not exclusively Southerners). Much of this history is worth recounting -- Woodrow Wilson's extension of segregation is a case in point -- although Bartlett never knows when to let up (e.g., the KKK member FDR appointed to the Supreme Court was Hugo Black, one of the staunchest supporters of civil rights ever). Then there's the Republican Party's past, some of which isn't buried at all. Bartlett got in trouble a couple of years back over his attempt to attack Bush from the right: Impostor: How George W Bush Bankrupted America and Betrayed the Reagan Legacy. Maybe this is his penance?

Wendell Berry: The Way of Ignorance: And Other Essays (2005, Shoemaker & Hoard): The latest (I believe) of many short essay collections, some profound, some just cranky and contrary. His essay about the first Gulf War (see Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community: Eight Essays) did as much as anything to convince me of the rightness of pacifism. There's also a recent biography by Jason Peters: Wendell Berry: Life and Work.

Arthur C Brooks: Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America -- and How We Can Get More of It (2008, Basic Books): One of the few right-wingers who still seems to be trying to come up with new ideas, although it's certainly possible that this reduces to some syllogism like having money makes people happy and only the rich have money so the way to make the whole nation happier is to give the rich more money.

Elisabeth Bumiller: Condoleezza Rice: An American Life: A Biography (2007, Random House): Winner of the 2004 Wimblehack sweepstakes for the most inane and obsequious reporting on the 2004 presidential campaign moves on to a subject worthy of her talents. I like the line about how Rice "has until now remained a mystery behind an elegant, cool veneer" -- shows you what a pro like Bumiller can do, whereas I'd just settle for describing Rice as a deceitful, shallow-brained psychopath.

Thomas J Campanella: The Concrete Dragon: China's Urban Revolution and What it Means for the World (2008, Princeton University Press): Urban planning professor looks at China's building boom over the last 20-30 years, creating a substantially new and often precarious urban landscape.

Lou Cannon/Carl M Cannon: Reagan's Disciple: George W Bush's Troubled Quest for a Presidential Legacy (2008, Perseus): Unfair, I'd say. Both authors have their reasons to belittle Bush (cf. cover for graphic illustration). Lou has built his career as Reagan's consummate biographer. Carl already co-wrote another book giving Bush's credits away: Boy Genius: Karl Rove, the Architect of George W Bush's Remarkable Political Triumphs. Personally, I don't see Reagan as much of a guru, nor Bush as modest enough to be anyone's disciple. Bush had help but mostly he managed to screw up on his own, for reasons as intrinsic as his sick character. As for Reagan, people have been covering up his messes for nearly 30 years now. This book is another way of denying them.

Richard A Clarke: Your Government Failed You: Breaking the Cycle of National Security Disasters (2008, Harper Collins): Reportedly "goes far beyond terrorism, to examine the inexcusable chain of recurring US government disasters" -- the examples range from Vietnam to Katrina. Question is how far.

Helena Cobban: Re-Engage! American and the World After Bush: An Informed Citizen's Guide (paperback, 2008, Paradigm): Journalist, especially expert on Middle East in general, Lebanese Shiites in particular; one of my favorite bloggers, not least because her pacifism is so firm. Recently wrote Amnesty after Atrocity?: Healing Nations after Genocide and War Crimes.

Jonathan Cohn: Sick: The Untold Story of America's Health Care Crisis -- and the People Who Pay the Price (2007; paperback, 2008, Harper Perennial): Out in paperback now. This strikes me as the breaker in the glut of health care books -- the one to give someone non-wonkish who needs convincing. Meant myself to pick it up when it came out in paperback, but right now I figure I don't need convincing.

Gwyneth Cravens: Power to Save the World: The Truth About Nuclear Energy (2007, Knopf). Good rule of thumb is never trust a book that purports to tell you the truth. I am impressed that Richard Rhodes likes the book, but the author's numerous tours of nuclear power plants give off the whiff of Stockholm syndrome. It bothers me, for instance, when I read specious claims like: "A person living within 50 miles of a nuclear plant receives less radiation from it in a year than you get from eating one banana." Maybe true if the plant is functioning properly with no leaks and no waste moving toward your backyard, but factor in Chernobyl. Author starts with a Marie Curie quote: "Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood." I doubt that Cravens adds that Curie died of cancer no doubt due to her experiments. (Her husband died much earlier, unequivocally due to radiation poisoning.)

EJ Dionne, Jr: Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics After the Religious Right (2008, Princeton University Press): Part of the backlash against the equation of religion with the far right -- a matter of much concern to Christians with a sense of social and political justice, and utter irrelevance to the rest of us. Dionne has written some promising books in the past -- Why Americans Hate Politics; They Only Look Dead: Why Progressives Will Dominate the Next Political Era; Stand Up Fight Back: Republican Toughs, Democratic Wimps, and the Politics of Revenge.

Mark Engler: How to Rule the World: The Coming Battle Over the Global Economy (paperback, 2008, Nation Books): Looks at the future of capitalism in a world where US leadership under Bush has been discredited. Read an excerpt in TomDispatch that didn't go very deep.

John L Esposito/Dalia Mogahed: Who Speaks For Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think (2008, Gallup Press): Results from a six-year study by Gallup's pollsters, some 50000 interviews, sampling the opinions of 1.3 billion muslims. Big surprise is that muslims are pretty much like everyone else. Who would have thought that?

Scot M Faulkner: Naked Emperors: The Failure of the Republican Revolution (2008, Rowman & Littlefield): Looks first at the 1994 "Contract for America" and the failure of the Gingrich Republicans to deliver on those promises, followed by the corrupt K Street racket.

Noah Feldman: The Fall and Rise of the Islamic State (2008, Princeton University Press): One of the more dangerously misguided liberals around, probably because he can't distinguish between moral imperatives for individuals and political programs for nation states. Supported Iraq war. After it went sour he tried to guilt-trip us with What We Owe Iraq: War and the Ethics of Nation Building. He followed up with After Jihad: America and the Struggle for Islamic Democracy and now this book, with a break in between to consider our own jihadis in Divided by God: America's Church-State Problem -- and What We Should Do About It. Not sure whether he's profoundly wrong, or just a fool.

Bruno S Frey: Happiness: A Revolution in Economics (2008, MIT Press): Economist, has written a couple of books on psychological factors in motivation, sums his research up here. Happiness seems to be the pivotal concept for consolidating work on non-material motivations, regardless of the second thoughts the more philosophically or sociologically inclined are having on the subject.

Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore: Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950 (2008, WW Norton): Later on civil rights came to be seen as a liberal movement, but before WWII only radicals (principally Communists) stuck their necks out (at least among whites). That history needs to be told, because like the so-called "premature antifascists" who opposed Franco, they were right.

Mark Halperin/John F Harris: The Way to Win: Taking the White House in 2008 (2008, Random House): A couple of insider political hacks playing up their insider grasp of the usual mechanics of prseidential elections. Probably the most instantly disposable book of the season.

Haider Ala Hamoudi: Howling in Mesopotamia: An Iraqi-American Memoir (2008, Beaufort Books): A cousin of Ahmed Chalabi, not quite an insider but something like that, making him a journalist with an unusual perspective on the US occupation of Iraq.

Chris Harman: A People's History of the World: From the Stone Age to the New Millennium (new edition, paperback, 2008, Verso): Brief for its subject (760 pages), tends in classic Marxist fashion to view everything as class struggle.

Jennifer Michael Hecht: The Happiness Myth: The Historical Antidote to What Isn't Working Today (2007; paperback, 2008, Harper One). Original subtitle: Why What We Think Is Right Is Wrong. History part digs into past/present ideas of happiness. Focuses on drugs, money, bodies, celebration. Not sure what she makes of them. My own view is that happiness is overrated as a pursuit, but nice when it comes along, especially if it doesn't take too much trouble. Author also wrote: Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas Jefferson and Emily Dickinson.

Eric Hobsbawm: On Empire: America, War, and Global Supremacy (2008, Knopf): Essay collection, plenty to write about, one of the major historians of the 20th century.

Thomas Homer-Dixon: The Upside of Down: Catastrophe, Creativity, and the Renewal of Civilization (paperback, 2008, Island Press): Big thinker, able to draw on a vast range of knowledge, but his skills at manipulating possible world scenarios ultimately reduces the world to simplistic models. Finding an upside to a downside is one such model, but not the only one. Previously wrote The Ingenuity Gap: Facing the Economic, Environmental, and Other Challenges of an Increasingly Complex and Unpredictable Future, which I was impressed with but didn't manage to slog through.

Mark Jaccard: Sustainable Fossil Fuels: The Unusual Suspect in the Quest for Clean and Enduring Energy (2006, Cambridge University Press): Tries to clean up the reputation of fossil fuels by pushing for clean, zero-emissions technology -- not really sustainable, at least beyond a few centuries, and probably not all that clean either. Cover shows a dinosaur riding a bicycle -- the sort of image you can endlessly pick apart.

Joe Jackson: The Thief at the End of the World: Rubber, Power, and the Seeds of Empire (2008, Penguin): The story of Henry Wickham, who stole the seeds to Brazilian rubber trees on which the British rubber industry was based.

Steven Johnson: The Ghost Map: The Story of London's Most Terrifying Epidemic -- and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World (2006, Penguin): The 1854 cholera epidemic, which led to a breakthrough in understanding how the disease is transmitted and what needed to be done to control it. Johnson has written a scattered range of books, including Everything Bad Is Good for You, which among other things claims that TV and video games make people smarter.

Don Jordan/Michael Walsh: White Cargo: The Forgotten History of Britain's White Slaves in America (paperback, 2008, New York University Press): Authors claim more than 300,000 white English were sent to America as slaves over a 170 year period. This details how they were procured and treated, not much different than African slaves. I've always heard of such people as "indentured servants" implying that the servitude is limited to a fixed term, usually incurred due to debt.

Lieve Joris: The Rebel's Hour (2008, Grove Press): Belgian travel writer, in the Congo where the well-known Rwandan genocide spawned a secondary, in some ways even more horrific, war.

Rosabeth Moss Kanter: America the Principled: 6 Opportunities for Becoming a Can-Do Nation Once Again (2007, Crown): Harvard Business School professor, wrote a famous management book I read back in the 1980s when I was into that sort of thing: The Change Masters: Innovation and Entrepreneurship in the American Corporation. New book tries to apply some common business sense to rebranding America -- successful enough to lure blurb praise from Bill Clinton, David Gergen, Warren Bennis, Arianna Huffington, Donna Shalala, Alan Dershowitz. Gag if you want (#6: citizens should cooperate with government to do more for our communities; #3: companies should be more honest and transparent). Actually, all of the points are true, even if they fall far short of what's needed.

Markos Kounalakis/Peter Laufer: Hope Is a Tattered Flag: Voices of Reason and Change for the Post-Bush Era (2008, Polipoint Press): Two radio anchors associated with Washington Monthly interview various people -- don't have the list, other than: Ahmed Ahmed, Chris Anderson, Pat Buchanan, Joe Klein, Bill McKibben, Drew Westin. Title from a Sandburg poem. Hope springs eternal.

Mark Kurlansky: The Last Fish Tale: The Fate of the Atlantic and Survival in Gloucester, America's Oldest Fishing Port and Most Original Town (2008, Random House): Another fish tale from a historian who's recently been extremely prolific lately -- Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World; Salt: A World History; The Basque History of the World: The Story of a Nation; 1968: The Year That Rocked the World; The Big Oyster: History on the Half Shell; and my off-topic fave, Nonviolence: Twenty Five Lessons From the History of a Dangerous Idea.

George Lakoff: The Political Mind: Why You Can't Understand 21st-Century American Politics With an 18th-Century Brain (2008, Viking): Linguistics professor, has written a number of books on how the right frames its issues to sell them, and how progressives should do the same -- Don't Think of an Elephant!: Know Your Values and Frame the Debate is the short version; Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think and Whose Freedom? The Battle Over America's Most Important Idea are the long ones. The new book continues in that vein, although why he thinks we have 18th-century brains isn't obvious -- I'd say they're a good deal more ancient, which is why we're willing to follow frauds who look tough even in cases where tough isn't what we need (much less fraud).

Ervin Laszlo: The Chaos Point: The World at the Crossroads (new edition, paperback, 2006, Hampton Roads): Entire editorial review in Amazon: "We are at a critical juncture in history where we face global collapse or creation of a new world." The readers' reviews are wordier but basically say the same thing, emphasizing that Laszlo would prefer to create that new world. Laszlo has a bunch of fuzzy science books -- The Consciousness Revolution is a relatively straightforward title.

William A Link: Righteous Warrior: Jesse Helms and the Rise of Modern Conservatism (2008, St Martin's Press): Helms was the most extreme of the Republian Dixiecrats, the most unapologetic, the one guy who never tried to hide his racism or his viciousness. He rose with the right, and was lucky to do so, an embarrassment to his associates as well as his constituents.

Bjorn Lomborg: Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist's Guide to Global Warming (2007, Knopf): Lomborg's pushed his skeptical line on environmental issues long and hard, with this just the latest of a series of books. Admits global warming is real, but plays down its probable effects, while arguing that what effects that do exist can be compensated for more cheaply than it would cost to fix the root carbon problem. While I tend to be skeptical myself, I've never found his arguments all that convincing. Indeed, while it's fairly easy to cast doubts on the global warming climate models, most critics overshoot, winding up with arguments that are less credible still. One critic that looks somewhat plausible is Roy Spencer: Climate Confusion: How Global Warming Hysteria Leads to Bad Science, Pandering Politicians and Misguided Policies that Hurt the Poor. A pro-Lomborg book is Nigel Lawson: An Appeal to Reason: A Cool Look at Global Warming.

Phillip Longman: Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care Is Better Than Yours (2007, PoliPoint Press): The basic reason is that it's not a private sector institution with a lot of interests at cross purposes with its prime goal of providing quality health care to veterans. It helps that the vets are in the system for the long haul. Probably also helps that the VA is not part of the DOD, where graft is a way of life. That the VA fares so well in comparisons with private systems should put a quick end to all those anti-socialized medicine arguments.

Richard C Longworth: Caught in the Middle: America's Heartland in the Age of Globalism (2007, Bloomsbury): Looks at how free trade and capital flows effect the midwest. Not pretty, and doesn't seem to be very sympathetic.

Roger Lowenstein: While America Aged: How Pension Debts Ruined General Motors, Stopped the NYC Subways, Bankrupted San Diego, and Loom as the Next Financial Crisis (2008, Penguin): Former WSJ journalist looks into the pension mess. I'm reluctant to blame this either on too many people getting too old or on excessively liberal benefits, but it does show how changing economic dynamics catch up with people. One of Lowenstein's previous books is When Genius Failed: The Rise and Fall of Long-Term Capital Management.

Meizhu Lui/Barbara Robles/Betsy Leondar-Wright/Rose Brewer/Rebecca Adamson [United for a Fair Economy]: The Color of Wealth: The Story Behind the U.S. Racial Wealth Divide (paperback, 2006, New Press): Well, the color is white, especially compared to black, with the wealth split far more extreme than the income split. Also looks at Asians, Latinos, and Natives in the US. Also important here is Thomas M Shapiro: The Hidden Cost of Being African American: Now Wealth Perpetuates Inequality, which among other things points out the disadvantage blacks have in building home equity.

Mark Lynas: Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet (2008, National Geographic): Celsius, so 10.8 degrees Fahrenheit. Book plots changes projected with global warming one degree per chapter. Author has been around this block before, with High Tide: The Truth About Our Climate Crisis.

Timothy J Lynch/Robert S Singh: After Bush: The Case for Continuity in American Foreign Policy (2008, Cambridge University Press): Hard to believe this isn't a joke.

Sandra Mackey: Mirror of the Arab World: Lebanon in Conflict (2008, WW Norton): Journalist, author of quite a few books on the modern Middle East, including at least one previous one Lebanon. They've never quite struck me as all that promising, but I suppose they're better than nothing. At this point I can't point to a single really good general history of Lebanon -- Robert Fisk's Pity the Nation: The Abduction of Lebanon sets a high standard for 1982-89.

Farhad Manjoo: True Enough: Learning to Live in a Post-Fact Society (2008, Wiley): Explores the question of what passes for truth these days -- "truthiness" is the oft-cited Stephen Colbert term for it. Philosophers have long had a critique of the subjective construction of truth; now it looks like even sociologists and journalists can measure its subjectivity.

William Martin, ed: What Liberals Believe: Thousands of Quotes on Why America Needs to Be Rescued from Greedy Corporations, Homophobes, Racists, Imperialists, Xenophobes, and Religious Extremists (paperback, 2008, Skyhorse): Comes to 768 pages. Possibly useful as a reference, but sampling Amazon's page scans isn't all that inspirational. Only really good quote on abortion was by Barbara Ehrenreich, not what you'd call an MOR liberal. On the other hand, a look at the index shows that Ehrenreich is quoted on 35 pages -- more than Martin Luther King Jr (30), more than John F Kennedy (27); second only to Bill Moyers (52). Karl Marx got one quote, same as Groucho -- but then so did Trent Lott and Rush Limbaugh.

William McDonough/Michael Braungart: Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things (paperback, 2002, North Point Press): Book on design, aiming at "eco-effectiveness" -- whatever that is. There are a bunch of innovative high-tech save-the-world design books floating around, hard to gauge.

Bill McKibben: The Bill McKibben Reader: Pieces From an Active Life (paperback, 2008, Holt): A grabbag of 44 essays written over 25 years. The only McKibben I've read, at least in book form, is The End of Nature, which made some headway toward convincing me about global warming if not necessarily the title concept, but I have a couple more waiting for me on the shelf, like the recent Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, but not the activist Fight Global Warming Now: The Handbook for Taking Action in Your Community. McKibben has also recently edited the lengthy American Earth: Environmetal Writing Since Thoreau. He's turning into a reputable brand name.

Walter Benn Michaels: The Trouble With Diversity: How We Learned to Love Identity and Ignore Inequality (paperback, 2007, Holt Paperbacks): I gather that the argument here is that efforts to promote tolerance of diversity box everyone up into identity groups, dulling and distracting our sense of cross-group commonalities, especially class. Don't know where he goes with this -- reviews suggest nowhere -- but it strikes me as a critique of how aimless liberalism wound up trivializing itself even as fundamental problems, like inequality, were growing. One could also delve deeper into the whole focus on identity and what psychological needs it satisfies.

Bill Moyers: Moyers on Democracy (2008, Doubleday): One of the few prominent White House aides to have gone on to a more notable and more useful post-political career -- Scott McClellan should take note, especially given that Moyers had to disseminate plenty of official lies in his time.

Omar Nasiri: Inside the Global Jihad: My Life With Al Qaeda: A Spy's Story (2006; paperback, 2008, Perseus): European subtitle: How I Infiltrated Al Qaeda and Was Abandoned by Western Intelligence. Reportedly offers a good sense of Al Qaeda's culture and politics during the 1990s.

Susan Neiman: Moral Clarity: A Guide for Grown-Up Idealists (2008, Harcourt): Heavy philosophical tome, meant for the left (or just plain decency) despite the right's rhetoric. I sort of recall a Michael Walzer quote on the cover, which at this point would be a troubling sign. Author previously wrote Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy.

Mae M Ngai: Impossible Subjects: Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America (new edition, paperback, 2005, Princeton University Press): Background for the current debate, a broad study limited to the 1924-65 period when US immigration was limited by a national quota system, which created America's first class of illegal immigrants.

David Orrell: The Future of Everything: The Science of Prediction (2007, Basic Books): A fairly critical review and analysis of the methods and practice of scientific prediction. A similar, more specific book is Orrin H Pilkey/Linda Pilkey-Jarvis: Useless Arithmetic: Why Environmental Scientists Can't Predict the Future. Of course, even if you pile appropriate caveats onto scientific predictions, that goes nowhere toward establishing that any other event may happen.

Randal O'Toole: The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook and Your Future (2007, Cato Institute): No doubt one could write a book on how government planning goes awry, producing inadequate solutions with unintended consequences that in turn create new problems, and of course there's always corruption and stupidity and the like. Don't know if this book does any of that, but its solution -- "repeat of federal planning laws and closure of government planning offices" -- is no solution, just blind faith in the market's ability to heal every problem.

Ron Paul: The Revolution: A Manifesto (2008, Grand Central): Unlike most politicians' books, this one came out at the end of the campaign, like the campaign was advance publicity for the book rather than the other way around. He represents the return of the pre-Goldwater libertarians, the ones who (unlike Goldwater) had no hankering for apocalypse.

Fred Pearce: With Speed and Violence: Why Scientists Fear Tipping Points in Climate Change (2007; paperback, 2008, Beacon Press): Science writer, has a number of books on climate change, including: When the Rivers Run Dry: Water -- The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-First Century; Keepers of the Spring: Reclaiming Out Water in an Age of Globalization; The Last Generation: How Nature Will Take Her Revenge for Climate Change; and, forthcoming, Confessions of an Eco-Sinner: Tracking Down the Sources of My Stuff. Climate change writing veers wildly between complacency and catastrophe, and Pearce seems to be stuck on the latter. Hard to say whether he's wrong or right.

Charles Perrow: The Next Catastrophe: Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Natural, Industrial, & Terrorist Disasters (2007, Princeton University Press): Thinking about disaster preparedness, including a history of FEMA and why they're not thinking about such things. Argues for reducing risk by deconcentrating population and critical infrastructures. Previously wrote: Normal Accidents: Living With High-Risk Technologies.

Jason L Riley: Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders (2008, Gotham): There are both right- and left-wing pro-immigration views. Figure this one's from the right: the author is a former Wall Street Journal editorial page writer, and the favorable blurb reviews come from Max Boot, Arthur Laffer, and Bush economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey. One Amazon comment tags him as a "cheap labor cheerleader"; that isn't the best pro-immigration argument I can imagine.

Mary Roach: Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex (2008, WW Norton): Pop science writer, in a title rut after Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and Spook: Science Tackles the Afterlife. Reportedly a funny writer.

Alasdair Roberts: The Collapse of Fortress Bush: The Crisis of Authority in American Government (2008, New York University Press): An attempt at a balanced, nuanced view of the Bush disaster, focusing on institutional limits and how the political turmoil of the 1960s and later, including Reagan's low tax, small government mantra have circumscribed Bush's imperial aims.

Michael Rose: Washington's War: The American War of Independence to the Iraqi Insurgency (2008, Pegasus Books): I've found it more amusing that George W Bush is the third President George than that he's the second George Bush: the analogy to the imperious and daft George III seems most appropriate. However, Rose, a British general, goes one step further, writing a book comparing George III's blunders in the 1776 war with George III's blunders in 2003. He's not even the first to do so: cf. William Polk's Violent Politics: A History of Insurgency, Terrorism, and Guerrilla War, From the American Revolution to Iraq. Small world.

David Rothkopf: Superclass: The Global Power Elite and the World They Are Making (2008, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Seems like a potentially strong analysis: I'm tempted to argue that US foreign and economic policy is run not for most Americans but for the small handful of top capitalists worldwide -- more and more not Americans. Not sure that he gets down to brass tacks here. Previously wrote: Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power.

Peter H Schuck/James Q Wilson, eds: Understanding America: The Anatomy of an Exceptional Nation (2008, Public Affairs): Big (704 pages) collection of essays each encyclopedically focused on a big slice of the big pie -- e.g., Lawrence M Friedman on "The Legal System," Benjamin M Friedman on "The Economic System," Martha Bayles on "Popular Culture," Eliot Cohen on "The Military," Robert Wuthnow on "Religion," David Cutler and Patricia Keenan on "Health Care," etc. I figure most to be center-right, sometimes more right like Arthur C Brooks on "Philanthropy and the Non-Profit Sector."

James C Scott: Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed (paperback, 1999, Yale University Press): Picks on some easy cases like Mao and Stalin, but doesn't seem to be exclusively anti-communist. Certainly, one can build an effective critique of overreach in social engineering. Scott has written several books on resistance to power, including: The Moral Economy of the Peasant: Rebellion and Subsistence in Southeast Asia, Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance, and Domination and the Arts of Resistance: Hidden Transcripts.

Rick Shenkman: Just How Stupid Are We?: Facing the Truth About the American Voter (2008, Basic Books): Argues that the weak spot in American democracy is between the voters' ears. That's one way of looking at it, and I don't doubt that he's been able to find some evidence along those lines. A ridiculous amount of political discourse these days revolves around fear and flattery, both poor, anti-rational guides to action, one we are foolish to follow, even if they seem to be built into our brains -- which seems to be the argument of Drew Westin's The Political Brain: The Role of Emotion in Deciding the Fate of the Nation. Call that stupid if you want -- it certainly is once you realize you've been had, then let it happen again.

James Gustave Speth: Red Sky at Morning: America and the Crisis of the Global Environment (2nd edition, paperback, 2005, Yale University Press): Co-founder of Natural Resources Defense Council, founder of World Resources Institute, sometime presidential adviser (i.e., not for Bush), worried man, points to grave and gathering threats, fundamental forces like population and affluence, and political apathy or resistance, especially from the US.

James Gustave Speth: The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing From Crisis to Sustainability (2008, Yale University Press): An urgent brief for sustainability, willing even to dispense with such a political sacred cow as capitalism. I agree that trends that cannot be sustained will break sooner or later; also that it is better to change deliberately rather than when forced to by events. Our system, however, is geared otherwise, unlikely to move until it is moved. Speth probably understands this, which may be why his first target is the environmentalist movement itself. Could be a necessary book.

Kenneth R Timmerman: Shadow Warriors: The Untold Story of Traitors, Saboteurs, and the Party of Surrender (2007, Crown): Investigative journalist, right-wing nutcase section -- previous books include: Death Lobby: How the West Armed Iraq (1991); Preachers of Hate: Islam and the War on America; Shakedown: Exposing the Real Jesse Jackson; The French Betrayal of America; and Countdown to Crisis: The Coming Nuclear Showdown With Iran. On ther other hand, anyone who wants to attack the CIA (along with the State Dept., the traitors, saboteurs, and surrenderers in the title) can't be all wrong. (Or can he?)

Jim Webb: A Time to Fight: Reclaiming a Fair and Just America (2008, Broadway): The most attractive of this election year's politician promos, given a competent writer -- Webb previously wrote Born Fighting: How the Scots-Irish Shaped America, a competent pop history brief -- a timely message, and a rising political star. A fairly obvious short list candidate for Obama's running mate. If there really is a new political alignment coming, Virginia looks like it may be to the Democrats what Missouri was to the Republicans. (The most similar Republican analogue is Chuck Hagel's America: Our Next Chapter: Tough Questions, Straight Answers. It seems impossible that McCain would pick Hagel for VP given the blinding daylight between them on Iraq, but otherwise they are very compatible, they share that Vietnam Vet thing, and Hagel would do much to soften McCain's probably fatal warmonger image.)

David Weinberger: Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder (paperback, 2008, Holt): One of the Cluetrain Manifesto guys, a would-be theorist of the subversive power of the internet. Hard to predict whether these ideas and observations are insightful or useful without picking through them one by one.

Eric G Wilson: Against Happiness: In Praise of Melancholy (2008, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Philosophical rumination for a new, and possibly quite bitter, century. Concern that we try too hard to be happy is reinforced by widespread use of anti-depressants. Not sure what the case is for melancholy, which has something to do with going with the flow.

Morley Winograd/Michael D Hais: Millennial Makeover: MySpace, YouTube, and the Future of American Politics (2008, Rutgers University Press): Seems to be more concerned with periodic political realignments than with the highlighted technology -- specifically, they're expecting a "civic" realignment like in the 1930s as opposed to the "idealist" realignment that came out of 1968. Not sure what all these terms mean, but there is something in the air.

Robert Zubrin: Energy Victory: Winning the War on Terror by Breaking Free of Oil (2007, Prometheus): Argues that the US can end oil imports, and thereby end terrorist threats, by switching to alcohol fuels. Sounds nuts to me. Other books in a similar vein: David Sandalow: Freedom From Oil: How the Next President Can End the United States' Oil Addiction; S David Freeman: Winning Our Energy Independence: An Energy Insider Shows How; Jay Inslee/Bracken Hendricks: Apollo's Fire: Igniting America's Clean Energy Economy.

Saturday, June 07, 2008

Book Browsing: Part 5

Fifth batch. Finished going through my list, winding up with enough for two batches. I divided them by picking out the more historical titles, leaving whatever else was left. Will post the sixth batch tomorrow, than that will be the end of it for a while -- maybe I'll try this again in the fall, but the exercise has gotten rather tedious for me, so maybe not.

Kenneth Ackerman: Young J Edgar: Hoover, the Red Scare, and the Assault on Civil Liberties (2007, Da Capo): I suppose it shouldn't be surprising that Hoover cut his teeth working for the DOJ during the 1919-20 Palmer Raids. He made a lifetime career out of trampling on citizens' civil rights and liberties -- from the first great red scare through the Black Panthers, he almost singularly cornered the market. I remain very interested in Ann Hagedorn's big book on the period: Savage Peace: Hope and Fear in America, 1919.

Karen Armstrong: The Bible: A Biography (2007, Grove/Atlantic): About the only writer I trust when it comes to sorting out the historical roots of religions. I have a rough idea of how The Bible was put together over hundreds of years, especially the New Testament, but this should be the essential reference to settle, or at least frame, it all.

George BN Ayittey: Africa Unchained: The Blueprint for Africa's Future (paperback, 2006, Palgrave Macmillan): Relatively optimistic approach to Africa's future, positing a fresh restart from the chaos and depredations of the past. Author, an economist from Ghana, previously wrote Africa in Chaos: A Comparative History.

Jack Beatty, Age of Betrayal: The Triumph of Money in America, 1865-1900 (2007, Knopf; paperback, 2008, Vintage). Important history of the coming of the Gilded Age and its resultant subversion of American democracy.

Jeremy Bernstein: Plutonium: A History of the World's Most Dangerous Element (2007, Joseph Henry Press): One of the best physics writers working on the synthetic element that makes nuclear weapons possible. Also wrote Nuclear Weapons: What You Need to Know, which I've read, and Hitler's Uranium Club: The Secret Recordings at Farm Hall, which despite its marginal interest -- it collects transcripts of German nuclear scientists sequestered by the Allies after WWII -- I'm sure is fascinating.

Douglas A Blackmon: Slavery by Another Name: The Re-Enslavement of Black Americans from the Civil War to World War II (2008, Doubleday): Not just a general critique of the failure of reconstruction and the imposition of Jim Crow segregation, as if that wasn't enough. This book recounts how black convicts sentenced to "hard labor" were lent or sold to commercial interests, about as close to slavery as you can get. This practice continued "well into the twentieth century"

Tim Blanning: The Pursuit of Glory: The Five Revolutions That Made Modern Europe: 1648-1815 (2007; paperback, 2008, Penguin): Big book (736 pages), part of the "Penguin History of Europe" series, which evidently slices up history into time periods allotted to each author, covering a little bit of everything -- not just the five revolutions of the subtitle, a list that I haven't seen enumerated in any review (1648 marked the Treaty of Westphalia, ending the 30 Years War; 1815 ended the Napoleonic wars).

Giles Bolton: Africa Doesn't Matter: How the West Has Failed the Poorest Continent and What We Can Do About It (paperback, 2008, Arcade): Another book on the failure of aid to develop Africa. Don't know that he has any special insights, but he no doubt has stories.

Richard Bookstaber: A Demon of Our Own Design: Markets, Hedge Funds, and the Perils of Financial Innovation (2007, Wiley): Evidently the author was a pioneer in some of the novelties he now warns of. They basically seek to disguise risk, thereby inflating apparent value now and amplifying risk later. Should have been clear enough, but who believes they'll wind up holding the bag? -- especially in a world where profits are private but liabilities are easily sloughed off on the public.

Max Boot: War Made New: Technology, Warfare, and the Course of History, 1500 to Today (2006, Gotham): Boot's The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power offered useful history wrapped up in a profoundly dangerous bag of theorizing, in essence arguing that small wars always work out fine for America, regardless of how ill-conceived or half-assed. The book was written to argue against the Powell Doctrine, appearing before the Afghanistan and Iraq wars that were intended as small wars before they got out of hand. The new book looks to technology to solve the problems of the old book. Anything to keep the war romance going.

HW Brands: The Money Men: Capitalism, Democracy, and the Hundred Years' War over the American Dollar (paperback, 2007, WW Norton): Historian, has written books on Benjamin Franklin, Andrew Jackson, Theodore Roosevelt, the somewhat more intriguing The Reckless Decade: America in the 1890s (the decade of the worst depression in US history up to the 1929 crash), a book on Texas, one on the Cold War. This one has five faces on the cover: Alexander Hamilton, Nicholas Biddle, Jay Cooke, Jay Gould, and JP Morgan.

Tom Brokaw: Boom!: Voices of the Sixties Personal Reflections on the '60s and Today (2007, Random House): Broadcaster, author of The Greatest Generation tries to do it again. Not sure what "it" is, perhaps just to haphazardly reduce a slice of time to a set of clichés. Given how badly the decade has been abused in the popular media lately, it's unlikely that this will make things much worse. At best people will start to be disabused of the notion that the quest for justice by children of an affluent society was nothing but naked self-indulgence, drug-induced fantasy, and hypocrisy. It still seems to me like a nobel attempt to achieve the ideals we were brought up to think the country was always about. The backlash of sheer hatred took us aback, especially how it was exploited by political hacks who have done little since them except grind us into the ground. Compared to their legacy, any sense of normal human aspirations in the 1960s would be a blessing.

Caleb Carr: The Lessons of Terror: A History of Warfare Against Civilians: Why It Has Always Failed and Why It Will Fail Again (2002, Random House): Historical novelist comes up with a quick historical framework to 9/11, framed in the context of war against civilians going as far back as Rome, something the US is not unfamiliar with.

Dan T Carter: The Politics of Rage: George Wallace, the Origins of the New Conservatism, and the Transformation of American Politics (paperback, 2000, Louisiana State University Press): In reading several broad histories of the rise of the new right, one thing I've been struck by was how the current tone and temper of the movement -- what Jim Geraghty calls "voting to kill" -- only arrived with Wallace. Carter also wrote: From George Wallace to Newt Gingrich: Race in the Conservative Counterrevolution, 1963-1994.

Derek Chollet/James Goldgeier: America Between the Wars: From 11/9 to 9/11 (2008, Public Affairs): Washington think-tankers on the decade-plus from the collapse of the Berlin Wall to the fall of the World Trade Center -- something they describe as "a holiday from history," as if war really is the only thing that gives us (think-tankers) meaning.

Adam Clymer: Drawing the Line at the Big Ditch: The Panama Canal Treaties and the Rise of the Right (2008, University Press of Kansas): In his 1980 campaign, Ronald Reagan made a big stink about Jimmy Carter having signed away the Panama Canal -- a pretty successful campaign ploy, but Reagan never did anything to undo the treaty, nor did his VP Bush when the latter was president and invaded Panama and overthrew the government.

Lizabeth Cohen: A Consumers' Republic: The Politics of Mass Consumption in Postwar America (paperback, 2003, Vintage): That post-WWII America turned into a shopper's paradise is pretty much a given -- this goes into details like advertising, shopping malls, suburban sprawl, but perhaps more significantly relates them to growing inequality rooted earlier than most studies report. Previously wrote: Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919-1939.

Christopher Coyne: After War: The Political Economy of Exporting Democracy (paperback, 2007, Stanford Economics and Finance): Seems like a heavy read, but probes deeply into why the US is unable to rebuild any of those countries we're so good at destroying. Examples go back to Germany and Japan, which aren't translatable into places like Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Somalia.

Michael Eric Dyson: April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King Jr's Death and How It Changed America (2008, Basic Civitas): One way it changed America was that it moved King from being an active critic of injustice in America to an icon of America's glorious past. Dyson helps bring that voice back, where it's as needed as ever. Dyson also wrote: I May Not Get There with You: The True Martin Luther King, Jr. Also relevant: Clarence B Jones: What Would Martin Say?

M Stanton Evans: Blacklisted by History: The Untold Story of Senator Joe McCarthy and His Fight Against America's Enemies (2007, Crown Forum): Not just an attempt to resurrect McCarthy's soiled reputation -- the goal is show how this conservative saint was martyred by the insidious liberal media. In the old canonical view, McCarthy was sacrificed as a case where a right-winger went too far, like David Duke or Oliver North. But sooner or later the right's think tanks will rehabilitate all of them. Didn't Goldwater say "extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice"?

Anne Farrow/Joel Lang/Jenifer Frank: Complicity: How the North Promoted, Prolonged, and Profited From Slavery (paperback, 2006, Ballantine): Written by three Connecticut journalists, who shouldn't have had much trouble digging up the evidence, the sort of history that many would prefer to quietly forget. Some of this is well known; some, like gangs that kidnapped free blacks and sold them into slavery, isn't. I doubt there's enough here to quantify the title assertion -- e.g., certainly there are those who profited, but how much did this profit mean to the North as a whole?

Charles Ferguson: No End in Sight: Iraq's Descent Into Chaos (paperback, 2008, Public Affairs): The book behind a pretty good documentary about how Bush got us into Iraq and especially how his people screwed up the early occupation.

Daniel J Flynn: A Conservative History of the American Left (2008, Crown Forum): The title aims to preach to the choir, assuring them that it's safe to go there, kind of like A Puritan's Guide to the Sexual Revolution. Amazon's product description starts off in subtitle fashion: From Communes to Clinton. Probably not as nutso as Jonah Goldberg: Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left or Dinesh D'Souza: The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, but one can't be sure a priori: cf. Flynn's previous Why the Left Hates America: Exposing the Lies That Have Obscured Our Nation's Greatness.

Philip Gourevitch/Errol Morris: Standard Operating Procedure (2008, Penguin): Companion book to Morris's documentary, focusing on the Abu Ghraib scandal.

John Gray: Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia (2007, Farrar Straus and Giroux): British philosopher examines the history of utopian ideas and how the right, especially the religious right, has taken to them in recent years. Previously wrote: Al Qaeda and What It Means to Be Modern; Beyond the New Right: Markets, Government and the Common Environment.

Stephen Grey: Ghost Plane: The True Story of the CIA Torture Program (2006, St Martin's Press): I wouldn't be surprised if there is more to this story, but this is at least a start: how the CIA kidnapped terrorism suspects, whisking them away to countries where they could be tortured at leisure.

Roy Gutman: How We Missed the Story: Osama Bin Laden, the Taliban, and the Hijacking of Afghanistan (2008, Potomac Books): A journalist with extensive experience in the area digs into the question of how the media failed to grasp the significance of the relationship between Bin Laden and the Taliban. I doubt that this exonherates Condoleezza ("Who Knew?") Rice.

Adam Hochschild: Bury the Chains: Prophets and Rebels in the Fight to Free an Empire's Slaves (paperback, 2006, Houghton Mifflin): The story of the political movement that over a few decades turned Britain from its leading position in the slave trade to abolitionism, with the British navy working to suppress the slave trade.

Ayesha Jalal: Partisans of Allah: Jihad in South Asia (2008, Harvard University Press): Presumably South Asia means India (up through Kashmir) and Pakistan -- Jalal has previously written The Sole Spokesman: Jinnah, the Muslim League and the Demand for Pakistan. The Deobandis are at least one distinct fundamentalist strain in Islam in the area, and have been little written about -- the exception is Gilles Kepel's essential study: Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam.

Elliot Jaspin: Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America (2007, Basic Books): When I was in Arkansas a couple weeks ago, I was talking about the Civil War there, and was told that there were several cases where slaveholders killed all their slaves rather than let them go free. Don't know whether those specific stories are here, but this book details 12 of the most brutal racial purges.

Charles H Karelis: The Persistence of Poverty: Why the Economics of the Well-Off Can't Help the Poor (2007, Yale University Press): These things bear repeating, especially since the contrary positions are repeated so often, even when they have little or no empirical support. Recently read Ha-Joon Chang's book on the same basic subject: Bad Samaritans: The Myth of Free Trade and the Secret History of Capitalism.

Stephen Kinzer: A Thousand Hills: Rwanda's Rebirth and the Man Who Dreamed It (2008, Wiley): I've read Kinzer's good books on Iran and Turkey, as well as his valuable Overthrow: America's Century of Regime Change From Hawaii to Iraq. This one on Rwanda is a change of pace, a trusting (if not necessarily a puff piece) account of Paul Kagame's post-genocide Rwandan rule and its putative economic progress, following Asian Tigers like Singapore rather than the IMF.

Charles Lane: The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court, and the Betrayal of Reconstruction (2008, Henry Holt): Easter Sunday, 1873, in Colfax, LA, white vigilantes murdered at least 80 blacks. The Supreme Court decided that the states should handle such cases, effectively condoning lynching. Another new book covers the same story, more briefly: Lee Anna Keith: The Colfax Massacre: The Untold Story of Black Power, White Terror, and the Death of Reconstruction.

Nicholas Lemann: Redemption: The Last Battle of the Civil War (2006, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Short history of a key turning point in the white South's reconquest of Mississippi and rejection of Union reconstruction.

James W Loewen: Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism (2006, Touchstone): These are towns, mostly outside the South, that used various legal formalities (as well as extralegal acts) to remain all-white. Loewen also wrote Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong and Lies Across America: What American Historic Sites Get Wrong -- both useful pieces of remedial education.

Myra MacPherson: All Governments Lie: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist IF Stone (paperbck, 2008, Scribner): I grew up on Stone, subscribing to his weekly after devouring his collection, In a Time of Torment.

Laton McCartney: Teapot Dome Scandal: How Big Oil Bought the Harding White House and Tried to Steal the Country (2008, Random House): One of the all-time big scandals, perhaps relevant today for what it says about the oil industry's deep roots in politics and for the Republicans' laissez-faire take on greed, or maybe just because it's a juicy story. The early days of a boom cycle that went bust big time -- perhaps another lesson.

Michael McGerr: A Fierce Discontent: The Rise and Fall of the Progressive Movement in America, 1870-1920 (paperback, 2005, Oxford University Press): A broad history of progressive movements during the first gilded age.

Lisa McGirr: Suburban Warriors: The Origins of the New American Right (new edition, paperback, 2002, Princeton University Press): Orange County, CA, is the prototypical case, not just Republican or conservative but downright militant about it. One thing that clearly emerges from such places is the sense that each atomic household is on its own, distinct from and not responsible for any other. That's the intuition that the politics of responsibility thread is drawn from. Similarly, the isolation allows such thoughts to be developed with little risk of reality checking -- another trademark of the new American right.

JR McNeill: Something New Under the Sun: An Environmental History of the Twentieth-Century World (paperback, 2001, WW Norton): Fairly systematic overview of what we've done to the environment since 1900. I picked up a copy of this a couple of years back. Still haven't gotten to it; still want to.

Bryan Mealer: All Things Must Fight to Live: Stories of War and Deliverance in Congo (2008, Bloomsbury): Reporting from the Congo, a war nobody hears about, that quietly towers over just about every conflict of the last several decades, not nearly as recognized as Rwanda or Darfur. Other books (more or less): Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja: The Congo: From Leopold to Kabila: A People's History; Thomas Turner: The Congo Wars: Conflict, Myth and Reality; John F Clark, ed.: The African Stakes of the Congo War; Michela Wrong: In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in Mobutu's Congo; Jeffrey Tayler: Facing the Congo: A Modern-Day Journey Into the Heart of Darkness; Robert B Edgerton: The Troubled Heart of Africa: A History of the Congo.

Martin Meredith: Mugabe: Power, Plunder, and the Struggle for Zimbabwe's Future (paperback, 2007, Public Affairs): Basic political biography, from the author of the near-encyclopedic The Fate of Africa: A History of Fifty Years of Independence. Another book on Zimbabwe: Peter Godwin: When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: A Memoir of Africa.

Jim Powell: Wilson's War: How Woodrow Wilson's Great Blunder Led to Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and World War II (2005, Crown Forum): Cato Institute hack, on a one-man crusade to recast American history to his way of thinking, as in his earlier FDR's Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Depression and his later Bully Boy: The Truth About Theodore Roosevelt's Legacy. Powell's economics is crackpot -- in the TR book he argues that the FDA was unnecessary because market incentives would have prevailed to ensure safe food. But his anti-interventionist foreign policy predilections have some merit, even though he makes the least of them. Powell greatly exaggerates Wilson's culpability for WWI -- Wilson shamefully piled onto a war he had done nothing to start, and he lied and schemed to do so. But he was notably unsuccessful at imposing his postwar order, which set up the myth that had he been able to do so the tragic aftermath ("Hitler, Lenin, Stalin, and World War II," as Powell puts it) could have been avoided. The bigger problem with Wilson isn't what he did so much as how he has been used since WWII to justify the forceful imposition of American order on the world -- a process that more resembles Wilson's actual subjugation of the Carribbean than his high-minded but deceitful rhetoric.

Ahmed Rashid: Descent Into Chaos: The US and the Failure of Nation Building in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Central Asia (2008, Viking): Pakistani journalist, previously wrote two essential books: Taliban: Militant Islam, Oil and Fundamentalism in Central Asia and Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam in Central Asia. With the chaos he covers so well slopping over and threatening to envelop Pakistan, his reporting stands to be more crucial than ever.

Corey Robin: Fear: The History of a Political Idea (paperback, 2006, Oxford University Press): Explores old political theory and modern spin, how fears are provoked and exploited for political means. Other books on this subject: Barry Glassner: The Culture of Fear: Why Americans Are Afraid of the Wrong Things; Frank Furedi: Politics of Fear: Beyond Left and Right; Marc Siegel: False Alarm: The Truth About the Epidemic of Fear; David L Altheide: Terrorism and the Politics of Fear, and Creating Fear: News and the Construction of Crisis; Joanna Bourke: Fear: A Cultural History.

Olivier Roy: The Politics of Chaos in the Middle East (2008, Columbia University Press): Short essay on current state from an important expert on political Islam, going back to his 1990s book The Failure of Political Islam.

Elizabeth Royte: Garbage Land: On the Secret Trail of Trash (paperback, 2006, Back Bay Books): Journalistic survey of trash and what comes of it -- one of those lowly subjects someone needs to deal with. Royte's next book is also out: Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought It. Not obviously as important a question, although there is probably something of interest there too.

Simon Schama: Rough Crossings: The Slaves, the British, and the American Revolution (paperback, 2007, Harper Collins): Question: if you were black in America at the start of the Revolutionary War, whom would you want to win? British offers of emancipation to slaves resulted in thousands of defections, a twisted legacy. Book goes on to follow the fate of those blacks who joined the British, most sent on another rough crossing to Sierra Leone.

James J Sheehan: Where Have All the Soldiers Gone?: The Transformation of Modern Europe (2008, Houghton Mifflin): Good question. Europe is the best case we have as to obsolescence of war and the inutility of the armed forces that used to plague it to an unparalleled degree. (Japan is another. South America hasn't had a significant war in over 100 years, aside from a few American invasions and coups.)

Amity Shlaes: The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression (2007, Harper Collins): The argument here is that Roosevelt's New Deal made the depression longer and deeper than it would have been otherwise, for instance under the steady hand of Herbert Hoover and Andrew Mellon. This sort of thing has been argued by right-wing economists off and on over the years, notably by Milton Friedman -- the same sort of people who'll tell you that the last 3-4 years under Bush have been boom times. The thing about the New Deal was that it wasn't an exercise to pump up profits and stock prices, like we have with Bush, or even GDP, like we had with Clinton. It was a political effort to restore democracy by equalizing economic stakes that had been upset in the 19th century gilded age. The big problem that revisionists like Shlaes has is that big majorities of US voters thought that the New Deal was in their interest, otherwise they wouldn't have followed Roosevelt like they did. One more bit of evidence that the New Deal was more politics than economics is that the first 5-star Amazon reader review is by someone named Newt Gingrich. Another book along these same lines is Jim Powell: FDR's Folly: How Roosevelt and His New Deal Prolonged the Depression.

Nicholas Shrady: The Last Day: Wrath, Ruin, and Reason in the Great Lisbon Earthquake of 1755 (2008, Penguin): Case study of one of the most famous natural disasters in historical times.

Peter Silver: Our Savage Neighbors: How Indian War Transformed Early America (2007, WW Norton): Indians remained a significant factor in the early American colonies, up until the forced transfer of many tribes in the early 19th century. War against Indians served both to push them back from colonial settlers and to unite those settlers, eventually into a force that threw off British rule. The 19th century period is better known, possibly because by that point the US had been firmly established and the Indians diminished to a small and relatively powerless minority. The earlier period was more precariously balanced, hence less inevitable, less secure.

Stephen Singular: When Men Become Goes: Polygamist Warren Jeffs, His Cult of Fear, and the Women Who Fought Back (2008, St Martin's Press): While I generally have no interest in ordinary crime stories, let alone gossip sensationalism, this is one such story that piques my interest -- but then I've long found Mormons to be a curious mix of respectable and incredible. Author is prone to exploit the sensational -- previous book was Unholy Messenger: The Life and Crimes of the BTK Serial Killer.

Ginger Strand: Inventing Niagara: Beauty, Power, and Lies (2008, Simon & Schuster): Inventing seems like the wrong word: the Falls predate the Army Corps of Engineers, even if they've been much altered. Plenty of history surrounds Niagara; enough for an interesting book.

Harriet A Washington: Medical Apartheid: The Dark History of Medical Experimentation on Black Americans From Colonial Times to the Present (paperback, 2008, Harlem Moon): The 40 year Tuskegee Syphilis Study, where blacks who could have been treated were allowed to die from syphilis just to see what the decay was like, is the relatively well known tip of the iceberg for the long history covered here. The sort of thing that winds Rev. Jeremiah Wright's clock, making him a political untouchable.

Steve Weinberg: Taking on the Trust: The Epic Battle of Ida Tarbell and John D Rockefeller (2008, WW Norton): This is the history of how Standard Oil got broken up into a dozen or so companies, some like Exxon and Mobil only recently reassembling themselves as the oil business is taking another predatory turn. I find the general lack of interest in antitrust these days especially disappointing.

Jules Witcover: Very Strange Bedfellows: The Short and Unhappy Marriage of Richard Nixon & Spiro Agnew (2007, Perseus): Don't they look cute on the cover? I'm just reading Rick Perlstein's account, which I'm sure for me will be more than enough.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Book Browsing: Part 4

Fourth batch. Mostly just picked books from topics not featured in the first three batches (history, economics, politics), providing a pretty scattered bag of nonfiction. Still more to come.

Gustavo Arellano: ˇAsk a Mexican! (paperback, 2008, Scribner): Orange County Weekly columnist, fields questions, sprays them to all fields. No idea how useful or informative or, for that matter, funny, this is, but what do I know?

Philip Ball: Critical Mass: How One Thing Leads to Another (paperback, 2006, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Lots of basics on physical laws with interesting tangents into the social sciences.

Russell Banks: Dreaming Up America (2008, Seven Stories Press): Historical novelist -- author of The Sweet Hereafter, Continental Drift, Cloudsplitter, most recently The Reserve -- writes a short essay on the self-conception of America over the years.

Jason Socrates Bardi: The Calculus Wars: Newton, Leibniz, and the Greatest Mathematical Clash of All Time (2007, Basic Books): It is well known that Newton and Leibniz independently discovered calculus. This goes into the history and the dispute over primacy, for whatever that's worth.

Jason Beaird: The Principles of Beautiful Web Design (paperback, 2007, SitePoint): Short, pricey primer, looks like it might be inspirational but somehow none of those web design books have ever nudged me into becoming a better web designer. Part of a series, including Jonathan Snook: The Art & Science of CSS and Cameron Adams: The Art & Science of JavaScript.

Allan M Brandt: The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product That Defined America (2007, Basic Books): Definitive, or at least long enough (640 pages) to be, with major sections on advertising and public health politics.

Bill Bryson: Shakespeare: The World as Stage (paperback, 2007, Eminent Lives): One of my favorite writers -- humorist, traveler, archeologist of the English language -- knocks off a short book on a subject obviously up his alley. I've read almost everything he's written, but lately fallen behind, barely conscious that his memoir, The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid is now out in paperback.

Frank Büchmann-Mřller: Someone to Watch Over Me: The Life and Music of Ben Webster (2006, University of Michigan Press): Career-spanning biography, one of the all-time tenor sax greats, started in Kansas City and wound up in Copenhagen.

Joan Didion: The Year of Magical Thinking (paperback, 2007, Vintage Books): Two deaths in the family, survived by one of the premier essayists of our times. One of those books to read just for the magic of it all. Also note that the rest of her nonfiction has been collected as We Tell Ourselves Stories in Order to Live: Collected Nonfiction, part of "Everyman's Library."

Timothy Egan: The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl (paperback, 2006, Mariner Books): In 1935 a single dust storm stretched from Amarillo TX into the Dakotas, one of the signature events of the Great Depression, a piece of ecological and economic disaster that rivals the worst of the Soviet Union. Egan has a number of books on the northwest, including a Seattle travel guide, The Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest, and Lasso the Wind: Away to the New West.

Gretchen Cassel Eick: Dissent in Wichita: The Civil Rights Movement in the Midwest, 1954-72 (2001; paperback, 2007, University of Illinois Press): Events I lived through -- not that I can claim to have paid sufficient attention at the time, but going back they ring true and the detail is recognizable. A good study of the civil rights movement in a medium-sized northern city that saw an influx of both white and black southerners, most to work in the WWII aircraft factories.

Steve Ettlinger: Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated Into What America Eats (2007, Hudson Street Press; paperback, 2008, Plume): Not sure if he goes beyond the Twinkie ingredients list, but that may well suffice for 304 pages.

Stuart Ewen/Elizabeth Ewen: Typecasting: On the Arts and Sciences of Human Inequality (Revised Edition, paperback, 2007, Seven Stories Press): Popular history/culture critique, pointing out the obvious once you see it. Stuart Ewen has written a bunch of books in this vein: Captains of Consciousness: Advertising and the Social Roots of the Consumer Culture; All Consuming Images: The Politics of Style in Contemporary Culture; PR! A Social History of Spin; and others. Elizabeth Ewen previously wrote Picture Windows: How the Suburbs Happened, and jointly they wrote Channels of Desire: Mass Images and the Shaping of American Consciousness.

Ian Frazier: Lamentations of the Father: Essays (2008, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Scattered short pieces, presumably humorous. Author has written some of the better nonfiction books of the past decade -- the three that I've read are Great Plains, Family, and On the Rez.

Misha Glenny: McMafia: A Journey Through the Global Criminal Underworld (2008, Knopf): Journalist, started covering the wars in Yugoslavia then backed up and wrote a very good history, The Balkans: Nationalism, War & the Great Powers, 1804-1999. Back to the present here, covering organized crime, especially in the former Soviet Union.

Jerome Groopman: The Anatomy of Hope: How People Prevail in the Face of Illness (paperback, 2005), Random House: Author of the more recent How Doctors Think, and several previous books along the same lines.

Andy Hamilton: Lee Konitz: Conversations on the Improviser's Art (paperback, 2007, University of Michigan Press): I find interview books fascinating, besides which Konitz has always been such a thinker's saxophonist, with 50+ years on the creative fringe. Foreword by Joe Lovano. Next related book I ran across is the next one you'd want to see: Jason Weiss, ed: Steve Lacy: Conversations.

Dorothy Hamilton/Patric Kuh: Chef's Story: 27 Chefs Talk About What Got Them into the Kitchen (paperback, 2008, Harper Perennial): Foodie book: wonder if it goes much beyond the usual "my first taste of paté was better than sex" yarns.

Robert L Harris: Information Graphics: A Comprehensive Illustrated Reference (paperback, 2000, Oxford University Press): An extensive catalog of ideas for presenting data graphically. Not splashy like Edward R Tufte's books, and pricey to boot.

Brian Hayes: Infrastructure: A Field Guide to the Industrial Landscape (paperback, 2006, WW Norton): Large format illustrated book, lots of pictures and explanations of the technology that ties us together, especially the electrical system. Author also wrote a recent volume of math essays: Group Theory in the Bedroom, and Other Mathematical Diversions.

Nick Hornby: The Polysyllabic Spree (paperback, 2004, McSweeney's): A short book about reading books, done on the cheap. I have a soft spot for meta-books, but this may be a little too soft to bother with.

Peter Kaminsky: Pig Perfect: Encounters with Remarkable Swine and Some Great Ways to Cook Them (2005, Hyperion): Essential reading for porkalicious fans.

Neal Karlen: The Story of Yiddish: How a Mish-Mosh of Languages Saved the Jews (2008, Morrow): Another book on Yiddish as language and culture -- Paul Kriwaczek: Yiddish Civilization: The Rise and Fall of a Forgotten Nation; Michael Wex: Born to Kvetch: Yiddish Language and Culture in All of Its Moods (and others); David Katz: Words on Fire: The Unfinished Story of Yiddish; Miriam Weinstein: Yiddish: A Nation of Words; as well as things like Yetta Emmes: Drek! The Real Yiddish Your Bubbe Never Taught You and Lita Epstein: If You Can't Say Anything Nice, Say It in Yiddish: The Book of Yiddish Insults and Curses.

Barbara Kingsolver: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (2007; paperback, 2008, Harper Perennial): Can't vouch for her well-regarded novels, but I've dabbled in her essay collections -- barely, evidently: I missed Small Wonder: Essays and High Tide in Tucscon: Essays From Now or Never, probably others. Another tantalizing food book from a year full of them. Some people (and I'm one of them) eat when faced with stress. Reading food books is almost as comforting.

Bakari Kitwana: Why White Kids Love Hip-Hop: Wankstas, Wiggers, Wannabes, and the New Reality of Race in America (paperback, 2006, Basic Civitas Books): Strikes me as true, at least to a significant extent, even if not majority true.

Steve Lake/Paul Griffiths, eds.: Horizons Touched: The Music of ECM (2007, Granta): Big coffee table book, with cover illustrations and miscellaneous info for some/most/all[?] of ECM's 2000 or so releases -- jazz with a pastoral or chamber bent/classical music for new agers. Important label, possibly the most important of the last 40 years.

Kimberly Lisagor/Heather Hansen: Disappearing Destinations: 37 Places in Peril and What Can Be Done to Help Save Them (paperback, 2008, Vintage): Travel guide to fascinating spots around the world, considered in peril for one reason or another. Similar, with more spots and more pictures but fewer words, is Alonzo C Addison: Disappearing World: 101 of the Earth's Most Extraordinary and Endangered Places.

Robert Matheu/Brian J Bowe, eds: Creem: America's Only Rock 'N' Roll Magazine (2007, Collins): Coffee-table book culled from the 1969-88 Detroit-based rock rag. My impression is that it's long on trashy features but short on criticism. I read it for the reviews, and would have written for it if Lester Bangs hadn't quit too soon. Afterwards it wasn't the same.

Donella H Meadows/Jorgen Randers/Dennis L Meadows: Limits to Growth: The 30-Year Update (paperback, 2004, Chelsea Green): 30th anniversary update of the 1972 Club of Rome report. Where the original report was a warning of finite limits ahead which would derail growth, this one argues that we've already overshot those limits. An important piece of model-building in trying to get a grasp on what we are doing to ourselves, never mind the planet or its nature.

Peter Menzel: Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (paperback, 2007, Ten Speed Press): A photojournalist -- Faith D'Aliuso looks to be the writer, although her credit gets buried -- romping around the planet, checking out what different people eat. Co-author of Material World: A Global Family Portrait, a picture book of households around the world, and Man Eating Bugs: The Art and Science of Eating Insects.

Lisa Jean Moore: Sperm Counts: Overcome by Man's Most Precious Fluid (2007, NYU Press): Everything you ever (or never) wanted to know.

Russ Parsons: How to Pick a Peach: The Search for Flavor from Farm to Table (paperback, 2008, Houghton-Mifflin): Author previously wrote a pretty good science-in-the-kitchen book: How to Read a French Fry: And Other Stories of Intriguing Kitchen Science. Here he delves into the search for flavor in produce, complicated and often frustrated by agribusiness.

Tim Pilcher: Erotic Comics: A Graphic History from Tijuana Bibles to Undergound Comix (2008, Abrams): With help from Gene Kannenberg Jr and foreword by Aline Kominsky-Crumb. Basic coffee-table art book. Pilcher seems to be a prolific sex and drugs kind of guy, but I can't say he's graduated to rock 'n' roll yet, co-author of A Hedonist's Guide to Life.

Gene Rizzo: The Fifty Greatest Jazz Piano Players of All Time: Ranking, Analysis and Photos (2005, Hal Leonard): I'm a sucker for list books, even though they're bound to be arbitrary (hence wrong). Key example here is the #5 ranking for Monty Alexander (after Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans, Bud Powell, Art Tatum). Amazon's readers preferred Robert L Doerschuk's 88: The Giants of Jazz Piano.

Pamela C Ronald/RW Adamchak: Tomorrow's Table: Organic Farming, Genetics, and the Future of Food (2008, Oxford University Press): Given that one focus of genetic modification of plants is pest-avoidance, the fit between GM plants and organic farming may be closer than generally recognized. That seems to be the drift here, promoting science and more industry as the fix that allows us to ignore population limits.

Jonathan Rosen: The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of Nature (2008, Farrar Straus and Giroux): A book about birdwatching grows into a meditation on diminished nature.

Michael Ruhlman: The Elements of Cooking: Translating the Chef's Craft for Every Kitchen (2007, Scribner): Intends to be the "Strunk & White" of cooking, a slim compendium of all the basic rules of the craft.

Mark Schapiro: Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power (2007, Chelsea Green): No big surprise that many toxic chemicals are in the environment and in our bodies -- book mentions 148 on a US CDC list, or that politics has something to do with it. Author co-wrote a previous book: Circle of Poison: Pesticides and People in a Hungry World.

Ben Shapiro: Project President: Bad Hair and Botox on the Road to the White House (2008, Thomas Nelson). Looks like an amusing ramble through presidential campaign history, including a scheme to rate candidates by trivial traits. Beware that the author is right-wing hack, having previously penned Brainwashed: How Universities Indoctrinate America's Youth and Porn Generation: How Social Liberalism Is Corrupting Our Youth. Ann Coulter has nominated Shapiro for the Supreme Court (at age 21 -- she's thinking long term for once).

Lynn Spencer: Touching History: The Untold Story of the Drama That Unfolded in the Skies Over America on 9/11 (2008, Free Press): Author is commercial airline pilot, taking a close look at how civil and military air forces responsed to the 9/11 hijackings.

Shelby Steele: A Bound Man: Why We Are Excited About Obama and Why He Can't Win (2007, Free Press): Maybe an afterword is in order now that he has won. Now that Obama has secured the Democratic Party nomination, the question has changed, becoming one of two individuals, Obama and McCain. The probability wave has collapsed.

Jeffrey Tayler: River of No Reprieve: Descending Siberia's Waterway of Exile, Death, and Destiny (paperback, 2007, Mariner Books): In your travel section, another book on somewhere you'd best only read about. The river is the Lena, 2400 miles from near Lake Baikal through Yakutsk to the Arctic Ocean, remembering the cossacks who've gone before him, accompanied by an Afghan War veteran who's not always the best company. Other Taylers: Facing the Congo: A Modern-Day Journey Into the Heart of Darkness ; Siberian Dawn: A Journey Across the New Russia; Valley of the Casbahs: A Journey Across the Moroccan Sahara; Angry Wind: Through Muslim Black Africa by Truck, Bus, Boat, and Camel; and Glory in a Camel's Eye: A Perilous Trek Through the Greatest African Desert.

Peter Thall: What They'll Never Tell You About the Music Business, Revised and Updated Edition: The Myths, the Secrets, the Lies (and a Few Truths) (2006, Billboard Books): Previous edition 2002. Many details on the business side of music, as if that matters. If I wanted to go there, and I might if I snagged a serious music blog gig, this would be one of my first investments.

John Thorne/Matt Lewis Thorne: Mouth Wide Open: A Cook and His Appetite (2007, North Point Press): More pieces from the author's "Simple Cooking" samizdat, probably as scattered, engaging, and delightful as his other collections -- Serious Pig: An American Cook in Search of His Roots is the one that first caught my eye.

Giles Tremlett: Ghosts of Spain: Travels Through Spain and Its Silent Past (2007; paperback, 2008, Walker): A travel-history, one way to dig under the skin of modern Spain to see what lurks beneath.

Edward R Tufte: Beautiful Evidence (2006, Graphics Press): Another book on information graphics design from the author who put it all together: The Visual Display of Quantitative Information; Envisioning Information; Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative.

Larry Ullman: PHP 5 Advanced: Visual QuickPro Guide (paperback, 2007, Peachpit Press): I use PHP for my websites, and while I can hack my way around it, I've never gotten to the point of feeling of really mastering the language (like I had with C and C++). Peachpit's Visual Quickpro guides seem to be generally well done, useful even when there's little obvious benefit to the graphics. Ullman has written a bunch of these, including PHP for the World Wide Web (2nd edition; 3rd edition later this year) and PHP 6 and MySQL 5 for Dynamic Web Sites. Can't swear they're the answer, but I'm always in the marke for one. Also in the series is Tom Negrino/Dori Smith: JavaScript & Ajax (sixth edition), which addresses an even bigger void in my skill set. (On the other hand, I have the big O'Reilly books and others on these subjects, so maybe the problem is me, something a new book won't help.)

Kurt Vonnegut: Armageddon in Retrospect (2008, Putnam): Twelve previously unpublished war pieces by the late, great novelist.

Sarah Vowell: Assassination Vacation (paperback, 20006, Simon & Schuster): American history through the prism of presidential assassinations, set up as a travelogue moving from artifact to artifact. Guess that's one way to do it. Author also wrote The Partly Cloudy Patriot and Take the Cannoli: Stories From the New World.

David Foster Wallace: Consider the Lobster: And Other Essays (paperback, 2007, Back Bay Books): Collection of essays from the well known novelist, McArthur genius, etc. -- certainly a fine prose craftsman. Most relevant here is a piece on John McCain campaigning in New Hampshire and South Carolina in 2000. Sympathetic piece -- I suspect Wallace got snowed, but a more skeptical reading might be useful.

Spencer Wells: The Journey of Man: A Genetic Odyssey (paperback, 2004, Random House): One of several books trying to track the spread of humans through their genes, this one hanging onto the Y chromosome (i.e., the boys). Concludes Adam came from Africa 31-79 thousand years ago.

Susan Wicklund: This Common Secret: My Journey as an Abortion Doctor (2007, Public Affairs): Book puts what she's infamous for into the context of what she does everyday, which is to provide vital health care services to people who need it.

Paula Wolfert: The Cooking of Southwest France: Recipes from France's Magnificent Rustic Cuisine (2005, Wiley): I have several of Wolfert's cookbooks, although nothing on France, which I recall was her original specialty before moving toward the east end of the Mediterranean.

Clifford A Wright: Little Foods of the Mediterranean: 500 Fabulous Recipes for Antipasti, Tapas, Hors d'Oeuvres, Meze, and More (paperback, 2003, Harvard Common Press): Wright previously wrote A Mediterranean Feast: The Story of the Birth of the Celebrated Cuisines of the Mediterranean from the Merchants of Venice to the Barbary Corsairs, with More than 500 Recipes, a history book with recipes, one that I was impressed enough with to buy but have never managed to cook from. One of my business ideas is to have a buffet restaurant with a wide range of cold tapas and meze from all over the Mediterranean, with hot dishes and main dishes optional. This seems like a basic resource, but I wonder how much of it isn't in cookbooks I already have.

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Book Browsing: Part 3

Third batch. Maybe it's time to start picking out the obvious, the bottomless pit of Bush league politics, plus a few books on Israel and the Middle East, since they have so much in common. This is about the half-way point -- still adding to the list, so it's hard to be certain.

SSG David Bellavia: House to House: An Epic Memoir of War (2007, Free Press): Reportedly a detailed, relentless, guilt-free assault on Fallujah, the author a "real American hero" with 5 confirmed kills and not the least bit of respect or sympathy for the other side. I suspect I'd find this book horrifying. But at least it has the ring of truth, unlike Michael Yon: Moment of Truth in Iraq: How a New "Greatest Generation" of American Soldiers Is Turning Defeat and Disaster Into Victory and Hope.

Sidney Blumenthal: The Strange Death of Republican America: Chronicles of a Collapsing Party (2008, Union Square Press): Essay collection, carrying on from his previous How Bush Rules: Chronicles of a Radical Regime. Author best known for defending Clinton from all corners, including when he had it coming. I rarely read him at Salon, so don't see much value in permanently binding him in hardcover. I am, however, more intrigued by the new reprint of his 1985 book: The Rise of the Counter-Establishment: The Conservative Ascent to Political Power. Only an establishment liberal like Blumenthal could see the neofascists half-way through the Reagan reign as a political counterculture.

David Brock/Paul Waldman: Free Ride: John McCain and the Media (paperback, 2008, Anchor): Following Matt Welch's McCain: The Myth of a Maverick, a quickie, with more on the way.

Rachel Bronson: Thicker Than Oil: America's Uneasy Partnership With Saudi Arabia (2007, Oxford University Press): Reportedly one of the more balanced histories of Saudi Arabia and its relationship with the US -- she contrasts it with Rober Baer's Sleeping With the Devil: How Washington Sold Our Soul for Saudi Crude and Craig Unger's House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties. The Saudis make for easy targets with their medieval theology, vast oil wealth, and nuanced pro-America/anti-Israel foreign policy.

Vincent Bugliosi: The Prosecution of George W Bush for Murder (2008, Vanguard Press): I'd be happy to nab Bush on this or any other charge, anything to drive him from power, but I'd think the clearer case would be for fraud, as Elizabeth de la Vega has shown.

Christopher Catherwood/Joe DiVanna: The Merchants of Fear: Why They Want Us to Be Afraid (2008, Lyons Press): Hint: Isn't that Bush and Cheney on the cover? The authors find a long history of fearmongering for political gains. Catherwood previously wrote: Churchill's Folly: How Winston Churchill Created Modern Iraq; A Brief History of the Middle East: From Abraham to Arafat; A God Divided: Understanding the Differences Betwen Islam, Christianity, and Judaism.

Christopher Cerf/Victor Navasky: Mission Accomplished! Or How We Won the War in Iraq: The Experts Speak (paperback, 2008, Simon & Schuster). Salon called this "an upper-middle-brow bathroom book," a couple hundred pages of direct quotes from the people who got us into this war -- Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Powell, and Rice are all on the cover -- and those who cheered them on -- looks like Ann Coulter and Bill O'Reilly too. The authors previously wrote the more generic: The Experts Speak: The Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation.

Lou Dubose/Jake Bernstein: Vice: Dick Cheney and the Hijacking of the American Presidency (2006, Random House): Dubose co-wrote two Molly Ivins books on Bush, here adding a laundry list of dirt on the VP. There must be a dozen or more similar books. One thing I'm struck by is the recurrent use of "hijacking" in books about the Bush regime. It's a graphic verb, but what actually happened was more like a big con job, which works to no small extent because the conned were willing to go along. Now that they realize they've been had, they can take some comfort in metaphors that emphasize their victimhood. But the more interesting question is what made them so gullible in the first place. Other examples, not all from the left: Jonathan Chait: The Big Con: The True Story of How Washington Got Hoodwinked and Hijacked by Crackpot Economics; Philip Gold: Take Back the Right: How the Neocons and the Religious Right Have Hijacked the Conservative Movement; Ariana Huffington: Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe; Peter Irons: War Powers: How the Imperial Presidency Hijacked the Constitution; Robert F Kennedy Jr: Crimes Against Nature: How George W Bush and His Corporate Pals Are Plundering the Country and Hijacking Our Democracy; Robert Scheer: The Pornography of Power: How Defense Hawks Hijacked 9/11 and Weakened America; Paul Sperry: Crude Politics: How Bush's Oil Cronies Hijacked the War on Terrorism; Richard Viguerie: Conservatives Betrayed: How George W Bush and Other Big Government Republicans Hijacked the Conservative Cause.

Mickey Edwards: Reclaiming Conservatism: How a Great American Political Movement Got Lost -- and How It Can Find Its Way Back (2008, Oxford University Press): Former Republican congressman, one of a growing growing crowd of conservatives trying to salvage something from the debacle -- cf. Andrew Sullivan's The Conservative Soul: Fundamentalism, Freedom, and the Future of the Right; David Frum's Comeback: Conservatism That Can Win; Newt Gingrich: Real Change: From the World That Fails to the World That Works; many more. One exceptional thing about Edwards' book is the unanimous praise he gets from Amazon reviewers -- mostly true believers, no doubt, but including a favorable blurb from the relatively sane Sean Wilentz.

Larry Everest: Oil, Power & Empire: Iraq and the US Global Agenda (2003, Common Courage Press): Writer for Revolutionary Worker rehearses the history of US/UK oil politics -- and, well, you only need one guess as to what Iraq was all about.

Justin Frank: Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President (2004; revised paperback, 2007, Harper): I'm very wary of anyone trying to reduce political decisionmaking to psychological factors, but the more the Bush regime's acts come to reflect the personality of the leader, the more clear it is that he has a few screws loose.

Brandon Friedman: The War I Always Wanted: The Illusion of Glory and the Reality of War (2007, Zenith Press): Lieutenant, 101st Airborne, in Afghanistan, having the time of his life. Spent some time in Iraq, too. Says: "Americans cannot comprehend what the Iraqi people have been through for the last five, 15 or 35 years." There are hundreds of war memoirs out by now -- I rarely give them a glance, and won't bother with a list.

Jonah Goldberg: Liberal Fascism: The Secret History of the American Left, From Mussolini to the Politics of Meaning (2008, Doubleday): Seems like it should be a joke, but this book has improbably wound up on top of bestseller lists. The title isn't very clear: is "liberal" an adjective here? or just an expletive? The argument seems to be transitive: that liberals are fascists, and vice versa. (Chapter titles include "Hitler: Man of the Left" and "Brave New Village: Hillary Clinton and the Meaning of Liberal Fascism"). The point may be to trivialize the word "fascist" as a political epithet. That obviously benefits conservatives like Goldberg more than anyone else.

Jeff Halper: An Israeli in Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel (paperback, 2008, Pluto Press): An activist, especially in opposing Israel's demolition of Palestinian houses, Halper wrote a remarkable essay on the Israeli occupation's "matrix of control" showing that it goes far beyond such models as South Africa's bantustans.

Russ Hoyle: Going to War: How Misinformation, Disinformation, and Arrogance Led America Into Iraq (2008, Thomas Dunne): Stop me if you've heard this one before. At 544 pages may even have something you don't know already.

Deal W Hudson: Onward, Christian Soldiers: The Growing Political Power of Catholics and Evangelicals in the United States (2008, Threshold Editions): On the political rise of the religious right.

Ariana Huffington: Right Is Wrong: How the Lunatic Fringe Hijacked America, Shredded the Constitution, and Made Us All Less Safe (and What You Need to Know to End the Madness) (2008, Knopf): At least she snagged a good title this time. I still find it hard to take her seriously, but the Amazon reviews are pretty evenly divided between 5 and 1 stars -- one of the latter called the book "a vile cesspool of hate."

Bryan D Jones/Walter Williams: The Politics of Bad Ideas: The Great Tax Cut Delusion and the Decline of Good Government in America (paperback, 2008, Longman): Fiscal responsibility lecture centering around ill-advised tax cuts.

Robert Kagan: Dangerous Nation: America's Foreign Policy from Its Earliest Days to the Dawn of the Twentieth Century (paperback, 2007, Vintage): Right-wing historian, scion of a family of public menaces, but his title is true enough. Argues that even at the time of the American Revolution we were headed for empire, a tack we've never strayed much from. While this is consistent with neoconservative ambitions, it also seems like a warning to the rest of the world. Ends in 1898 with the Spanish-American War, just when most studies of American imperialism are getting warmed up. A second volums is in the works, bound to be massive. Meanwhile, Kagan has also written: The Return of History and the End of Dreams. First three names to offer "advance praise": John McCain, Joseph Lieberman, Richard Holbrooke.

Gilles Kepel/Jean-Pierre Milelli, eds: Al Qaeda in Its Own Words (2008, Belknap Press): It's a dirty job, but Kepel has proven to be the most broadly learned and sensible of experts. Several competing editions, not worth mentioning.

David Kuo: Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction (2006; paperback, 2007, Free Press): Somewhere well down on my pending list of questions about the Bush regime is whether their "faith-based" initiatives were ever meant to be anything more than patronage favors for evangelical supporters (in other words, everyday graft). Of course, it helped to con a few believers, and Kuo was one of them.

Gregory Levey: Shut Up, I'm Talking: And Other Diplomacy Lessons I Learned From the Israeli Government -- A Memoir (2008, Free Press): Former speechwriter, first for the Israeli UN delegation, then for Ariel Sharon. Nice work if you can get it, but ultimately a little weird.

Paul Levy: The Madness of George W Bush: A Reflection of Our Collective Psychosis (2006, AuthorHouse): May just be more psychobabble, but the intriguing word here is "collective" with its suggestion that we are participants in Bush's madness. Book cover is unnervingly schizo.

Eric Lichtblau: Bush's Law: The Remaking of American Justice (2008, Pantheon): Probably good as far as it goes -- author received a Pulitzer for his reporting on NSA's wiretap program -- but an even bigger subtitle would be The Remaking of American Injustice (of course, then the title should be Bush's Crimes -- good idea for a sequel).

Allan J Lichtman: White Protestant Nation: The Rise of the American Conservative Movement (2008, Atlantic Monthly Press): Big history of the conservative movement, with two idiosyncrasies: goes back to WWI rather than WWII or later, and characterizes the movement as protestant.

Marc Lynch: Voices of the New Arab Public: Iraq, Al-Jazeera, and Middle East Politics Today (paperback, 2007, Columbia University Press): Author does a good job of covering Arabic media, blogging as Abu Aardvark.

Saree Makdisi: Palestine Inside Out: An Everyday Occupation (2008, WW Norton): Focuses on the little things of the occupation, the things that affect Palestinians every day.

Mike Marqusee: If I Am Not for Myself: Journey of an Anti-Zionist Jew (2008, Verso): American-born journalist, based in UK, has previously written on Bob Dylan, Muhammad Ali, and cricket. Traces his family history leading to his leftist turn against Zionism. This follows other notable anti-Zionist books: Michel Warschawski: Toward an Open Tomb: The Crisis of Israeli Society; Joel Kovel: Overcoming Zionism: Creating a Single Democratic State in Israel/Palestine.

Aaron David Miller: The Much Too Promised Land: America's Elusive Search for Arab-Israeli Peace (2008, Bantam): Miller has some sort of insider status allowing him to focus on America's role, which may or may not be useful in trying to sort out the many things that have gone wrong.

Gabriel Piterberg: The Returns of Zionism: Myths, Politics and Scholarship in Israel (paperback, 2008, Verso): History of early Zionist thought, placing it within the context of European nationalism and colonialism predominant at the time. Looking forward to Arno Mayer book on this same subject: Ploughshares Into Swords: From Zionism to Israel, scheduled for June 9.

Norman Podhoretz: World War IV: The Long Struggle Against Islamofascism (2007, Doubleday): When all the other neocons give up, Podhoretz is the one most likely to stick to the fight. Don't know whether that's because he's the purest of ideologists, or he's just stuck deepest in the rut of hatred. His conceptual coup here is to call the Cold War World War III, raising it to a level of intentionality it never enjoyed, one that can be safely indulged in now that it is over. The Cold War at least had some practical value legitimizing capital against labor in the class struggle. This new one, however, has no such side angles. Folks like Podhoretz promote it just because war is the only thing that gives their miserable lives meaning.

Bill Press: Trainwreck: The End of the Conservative Revolution (and Not a Moment Too Soon) (2008, Wiley): Author of How the Republicans Stole Religion: Why the Religious Right is Wrong about Faith & Politics and What We Can Do to Make it Right, with its "Last Supper" tableau on the cover; also Bush Must Go: The Top Ten Reasons Why George Bush Doesn't Deserve a Second Term, and Spin This!: All the Ways We Don't Tell the Truth. People who write books like that rarely have anything new to say, but the Republicans' painful collision with reality, and with their own mortality, is a subject worth digging deeper into. Otherwise we risk getting wrapped up in premature gloating.

Matthew Rothschild: You Have No Rights: Stories of America in an Age of Repression (paperback, 2007, New Press): Numerous examples of rights you think you have being trampled on by those in power.

Ryan Sager: The Elephant in the Room: Evangelicals, Libertarians, and the Battle to Control the Republican Party (2006, Wiley): Focuses on the two most extreme misfits in the big and increasingly tattered Republican coalition.

Lt. Gen. Ricardo S Sanchez: Wiser in Battle: A Soldier's Story (2008, Harper): One more for the war crimes tribunal, along with similar briefs by Tommy Franks, Paul Bremer, Douglas Feith, George Tenet, and so on down the line -- the great thing about American publishing is that sooner or later we'll be able to collect the full set, even from the functionally illiterate. Sanchez got some press for deviating from the party line. That'll come in handy at his trial.

Philippe Sands: Torture Team: Rumsfeld's Memo and the Betrayal of American Values (2008, Palgrave Macmillan): This is one area where my initial cynicism precludes me from getting interested enough to dig deeper, although I'm curious about the chapter on 24. Author of Lawless World: The Whistle-Blowing Account of How Bush and Blair Are Taking the Law Into Their Own Hands, a worthwhile book I bought but haven't gotten to.

Cliff Schechter: The Real McCain: Why Conservatives Don't Trust Him and Why Independents Shouldn't (2008, PoliPoint Press): Cover photo is the well-worn shot where McCain buries his face into Bush's bosom, with Bush raising his right hand like a country preacher welcoming the sinner back to the flock. Only 200 pages, just enough to scratch the dirt.

J Peter Scoblic: US Versus Them: How a Half-Century of Conservatism Has Undermined America's Security (2008, Viking): Starts with Reagan, establishing a mind set that has proven durably successful at finding new enemies whenever old ones wane.

Jeff Sharlet: The Family: The Secret Fundamentalism at the Heart of American Power (2008, Harper): Has something to do with religion and power in America, probably something unseemly.

David Sirota: The Uprising: An Unauthorized Tour of the Populist Revolt That's Scaring Wall Street and Washington (2008, Crown): Activist-oriented blogger. I bought his Hostile Takover: How Big Money and Corruption Conquered Our Government -- and How We Take It Back for the thoroughness of its laundry lists, but haven't done more than skim it.

Rupert Smith: The Utility of Force: The Art of War in the Modern World (paperback, 2008, Vintage Books): British General, background includes Northern Ireland, 1991 Gulf War, Bosnia. Turns out force doesn't work very well in struggles that are basically political. In his intro, he puts it thus: "war no longer exists" -- in effect, the idea that was war no longer has any utility. Does not deny that armed mobs wreaking destruction still exist -- just that they have no utility.

Michael Standaert: Skipping Towards Armageddon: The Politics and Propaganda of the Left Behind Novels and the LaHaye Empire (paperback, 2006, Soft Skull Press): LaHaye's 15 Left Behind novels have sold over 70 million copies. I think this stuff is too nuts to get involved with, but if you're so inclined, there's this; also Glenn Shuck: Marks of the Beast: The Left Behind Novels and the Struggle for Evangelical Identity. The novels also figure in Amy Johnson Frykholm: Rapture Culture: Left Behind in Evangelical America.

Craig Unger: The Fall of the House of Bush: The Untold Story of How a Band of True Believers Seized the Executive Branch, Started the Iraq War, and Still Imperils America's Future (2007, Scribner): Inevitable follow up to the author's House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties, the guilt-by-association exposé Michael Moore had some fun with in Fahrenheit 9/11. While Unger may have uncovered a new tidbit or two, the "Untold" in the new title is way over the top. That the Busheviks still imperil America is sadly true, but it's not for lack of documentation.

Martin Van Creveld: Defending Israel: A Strategic Plan for Peace and Security (paperback, 2005, St Martin's Griffin): Famous Israeli military theoretician approaches the task of defending Israel from the Palestinians. Basic approach is to withdraw settlements in order to separate the populations and establish defensible borders. In looking this up I also ran across John Hagee's In Defense of Israel, which is another kettle of fish, another of his armageddon epiphanies -- other titles include: Beginning of the End: The Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin and the Coming Antichrist; From Daniel to Doomsday: The Countdown Has Begun; Jerusalem Countdown: A Prelude to War; and Final Dawn Over Jerusalem: The World's Future Hangs in the Balance With the Battle for the Holy City. With Hagee's endorsement, McCain is likely to be the worst enemy of more than just Hamas.

Robert Vitalis: America's Kingdom: Mythmaking on the Saudi Oil Frontier (2006, Stanford University Press): Seems likely to be more critical than Rachel Bronson's Thicker Than Oil, especially regarding Saudi Aramco. Cover is kind of amusing, with an American flag design, the red stripes green, the stars replaced with a Saudi flag, facing from right to left.

Timothy P Weber: On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals Became Israel's Best Friend (2004, Baker Academic): I come from a long line of prairie intellectuals (farmers whose learning began with the Bible and ended in the Book of Revelations) so this isn't new to me (I remember my grandfather plumbing me for information on Israel to check whether the second coming was near), but it still strikes me as batty. It's easier for me to believe that what turns the evangelicals on about Israel is the gore, but then I think back to my grandfather, or for that matter to David Lloyd George, who explained his support for Zionism because he hoped it might expedite the second coming. This digs into Tim LaHaye and John Hagee, the whole ball of wax.

Mel White: Religion Gone Bad: The Hidden Dangers of the Christian Right (2006, Tarcher): Pastor, spent many years inside the movement, fell out over homosexuality, which he previously detailed in Stranger at the Gate: To Be Gay and Christian in America.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Book Browsing: Part 2

Second batch. Started by pulling out the economics books, including ones on the health care system. That was enough to make my 40-50 quota. Still have a lot more to go, and still adding to them.

Mark Anielski: The Economics of Happiness: Building Genuine Wealth (paperback, 2007, New Society): Asks why people aren't happier given the amount of economic growth that has occurred since the 1950s. Economists are good at promoting growth because they have some idea how to measure it. If they could only measure happiness, they might be able to promote it as well. This is an idea that's been floating around for a while, even showing up on the political right in Arthur C Brooks: Gross National Happiness: Why Happiness Matters for America -- and How We Can Get More of It. I'm not sure that happiness, even if you can somehow quantify it, is the right measure, but we need something more than money, because there is more to life than just money.

Dan Ariely: Predictably Irrational: The Hiden Forces That Shape Our Decisions (2008, Harper Collins): Book shows up in economics sections, where its critique of rational actors can do the most damage. Don't know how predictable they are, or what to make of it.

Dean Baker: The United States Since 1980 (2007, Cambridge University Press): Short survey of the economic fruits of the right-turn following Reagan's election. Baker has been a pretty sharp observer, especially of the housing bubble. He also wrote a short essay, The Conservative Nanny State: How the Wealthy Use the Government to Stay Rich and Get Richer. He also edited Getting Prices Right: The Debate Over the Accuracy of the Consumer Price Index, the set of statistical changes introduced in the 1990s that serve to understate inflation and thereby to underfund cost-of-living increases.

William J Baumol/Robert E Litan/Carl J Schramm: Good Capitalism, Bad Capitalism: And the Economics of Growth and Prosperity (2007, Yale University Press): Admits that capitalism exists both for good and bad, but doesn't seem to have realized that it may be both at the same time. Part of that may be due to seeing growth as good always.

Peter L Bernstein: Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk (paperback, 1998, Wiley): Big economic history of risk management; also available as part of a box set with Capital Ideas and The Power of Gold.

Peter W Bernstein/Annalyn Swan: All the Money in the World: How the Forbes 400 Make -- and Spend -- Their Fortunes (2007, Knopf): Seems to be a spinoff from Forbes, the magazine that cares about such things, with a lot of charts breaking the list down in various ways.

Sara Bongiomi: A Year Without "Made in China": One Family's True Life Adventure in the Global Economy (2007, Wiley): The story of the author's attempt to spend a whole year without buying anything made in China -- the difficulties testifying to just how much in our daily lives is imported from China.

Shannon Brownlee: Overtreated: Why Too Much Medicine Is Making Us Sicker and Poorer (2007, Bloomsbury): One of those books one mistrusts politically even though there is little doubt that its fundamental premise is true -- the big problem is that its opposite is also true, that despite all the oversell much of America is undertreated. You can spin these arguments any way you like politically, but if the author is honest we'll see overtreatment as one of many bad effects of a system that is fundamentally corrupted by business.

Diane Coyle: The Soulful Science: What Economists Really Do and Why It Matters (2007; paperback, 2008, Princeton University Press): A new attempt to dress up the dismal science. Not sure what the point is or why it matters, but often these meta-books turn out to be more interesting than the primary research. Author has written a bunch of books, such as Paradoxes of Prosperity: Why the New Capitalism Benefits All. Hadn't noticed that it did.

Elizabeth Currid: The Warhol Economy: How Fashion, Art, and Music Drive New York City (2007, Princeton University Press): Something on the arts business in NYC. Not sure how good on either arts or business.

David M Cutler: Your Money or Your Life: Strong Medicine for America's Health Care System (paperback, 2005, Oxford University Press): An economist on questions of choice in the health care system.

Devra Davis: The Secret History of the War on Cancer (2007, Basic Books): Epidemiologist, focuses on environmental causes of cancer, which often as not got a pass in the so-called war. Also wrote When Smoke Ran Like Water: Tales of Environmental Deception and the Battle Against Pollution.

Philip M Dine: State of the Unions: How Labor Can Strengthen the Middle Class, Improve Our Economy, and Regain Political Influence (2007, McGraw-Hill): The state of the unions is poor, which has in turn hurt the middle class, the economy, and political prospects for doing anything about it. Dine may make that case, but I'm skeptical that restrengthening unions is the way back. More likely, if unions benefit at all it will be as beneficiaries of a political left that remembers them fondly.

Ronald Findlay/Kevin H O'Rourke: Power and Plenty: Trade, War, and the World Economy in the Second Millennium (2007, Princeton University Press): 1000 years in 624 pages.

Charles Fishman: The Wal-Mart Effect: How the World's Most Powerful Company Really Works -- and How It's Transforming the American Economy (paperback, 2006, Penguin Books): Likely a balanced account, likely critical enough. Other critiques include: Greg Spotts, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price; Al Nonnan, The Case Against Wal-Mart; John Dicker, The United States of Wal-Mart; Anthony Bianco, The Bully of Bentonville: How the High Cost of Wal-Mart's Everyday Low Prices Is Hurting America; Bill Quinn, How Walmart Is Destroying America (and the World): And What You Can Do About It.

Duncan K Foley: Adam's Fallacy: A Guide to Economic Theology (paperback, 2008, Belknap Press): Adam as in Smith, the starting point for a critical survey of keystone economists Robert Heilbroner covered in The Worldly Philosophers. Foley also wrote Understanding Capital: Marx's Economic Theory.

Robert Frank: Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich (2007; paperback, 2008, Three Rivers Press): Wall Street Journal columnist, not economist Robert H Frank. A tour through the world of the ultrarich, long on how they differ and short on what it means.

Robert H Frank: The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas (paperback, 2008, Basic Books): Another scattered collection in the economics-as-oracle genre (cf. Freakonomics). Frank has several interesting credits: the recent Falling Behind: How Rising Inequality Harms the Middle Class; an older business book I read when it first came out, The Winner-Take-All Society: Why the Few at the Top Get So Much More Than the Rest of Us, co-written with Philip J Cook.

James K Galbraith: Unbearable Cost: Bush, Greenspan and the Economics of Empire (paperback, 2006, Palgrave Macmillan): An essay collection, written as the damage piled up under Bush and Greenspan. One of his main focuses has been growing inequality. He also has a new book coming out in August, tackling one of the sacred cows of economists: The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too.

Norton Garfinkle: The American Dream vs. The Gospel of Wealth: The Fight for a Productive Middle-Class Economy (paperback, 2007, Yale University Press): Why settle for middle class when you can have a slight chance of becoming rich? That's the question Americans have been gambling on the last few decades. Same years casino gambling has been spreading: good practice at losing.

Steven Greenhouse: The Big Squeeze: Tough Times for the American Worker (2008, Knopf): Mostly case studies -- NYT review claims they were largely selected from lawsuits, a quick way to identify corporate dirty tricks. Barbara Ehrenreich said "my blood boiled when I read [it]."

Ramachandra Guha: How Much Should a Person Consume?: Environmentalism in India and the United States (paperback, 2006, University of California Press): Interesting question for a point of comparison. Guha also wrote the recent 907 page India After Gandhi: The History of the Largest Democracy, and the briefer, earlier Environmentalism: A Global History.

Tim Harford: The Logic of Life: The Rational Economics of an Irrational World (2008, Random House): Another study of the fuzzy edges to economic rationality. Harford previously wrote a book I've read: The Undercover Economist: Exposing Why the Rich Are Rich, the Poor Are Poor -- and Why You Can Never Buy a Decent Used Car. He's most convincing about that car, not that he's right.

Alexandra Harney: The China Price: The True Cost of Chinese Competitive Advantage (2008, Penguin): Big subject, probably a lot of angles to it, with the low-price burden falling harshly on Chinese workers, and their competitiveness undermining workers here as well as elsewhere. One could even look at the waste side-effect of cheap goods, the psychological impact of consumerism, etc., but I'm not aware that Harney does so.

Michelle Kennedy: Without a Net: Middle Class and Homeless (with Kids) in America (paperback, 2006, Penguin Books): Memoir, one case study, fortunate enough to be able to write about it.

Tarun Khanna: Billions of Entrepreneurs: How China and India Are Reshaping Their Futures -- and Yours (2008, Harvard Business School Press): There are several books along this line, celebrating ubiquitous capitalism and taunting the west for slipping behind, not being pro-business enough. The reality is that China and India have a few entrepreneurs and a whole lot of cheap labor, and the latter are less likely to be suckered into dreams of becoming rich than Americans have been.

Maggie Mahar: Money-Driven Medicine: The Real Reason Health Care Costs So Much (2006, Collins): Well, that's my theory too, good for 480 pages here. Mahar is a financial journalist, author of Bull: A History of the Boom and Bust, 1982-2004.

Robert W McChesney: The Political Economy of Media: Enduring Issues, Emerging Dilemmas (paperback, 2008, Monthly Review Press): Author of many more books on political control of media -- e.g., Communication Revolution: Critical Junctures and the Future of Media; The Problem of the Media: US Communication Politics in the Twenty-First Century; Rich Media, Poor Democracy: Communication Politics in Dubious Times; Corporate Media and the Threat to Democracy; with John Nichols, Tragedy & Farce: How the American Media d Sell Wars, Spin Elections, and Destroy Democracy. Also related: Eric Klinenberg: Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America's Media.

Lawrence Mishel/Jared Bernstein/Sylvia Allegretto: The State of Working America, 2006/2007 (10th edition, paperback, 2006, ILR Press): From Economic Policy Institute, updated every other year since 1988. Basic data. Bernstein is an economist I have read.

Ray Moynihan/Alan Cassels: Selling Sickness: How the World's Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies Are Turning Us All Into Patients (paperback, 2006, Nation Books): Focuses on drugs in search of patients, advertising to sell people on sicknesses they didn't realize they had. Like most overtreating treatises, the truth is hard to determine with so much money on the table.

Loretta Napoleoni: Rogue Economics: Capitalism's New Reality (2008, Seven Stories Press): Economist/journalist, previously wrote Terror Incorporated: Tracing the Dollars Behind the Terror Networks, and seems to specialize in clandestine finance, money laundering, etc.

Katherine S Newman/Victor Tan Chen: The Missing Class: Portraits of the Near Poor in America (2007, Beacon Press): Drawn on interviews from 1995-2002, a short stretch in precarious times. Basically, what others call the working poor. Newman also wrote Chutes and Ladders: Navigating the Low-Wage Labor Market.

Paul Ormerod: Why Most Things Fail: Evolution, Extinction and Economics (2006, Pantheon): Economist, author of The Death of Economics and Butterfly Economics: A New General Theory of Social and Economic Behavior. Seems like an subject of some interest, but got a lot of negative reviews at Amazon.

Robert Paarlberg: Starved for Science: How Biotechnology Is Being Kept Out of Africa (2008, Harvard University Press): Actually, a book promoting GMO -- genetically modified organisms, especially plants, which are held to be the solution to Africa's food crises. I don't really buy that argument on several levels, but it presents an interesting problem.

Raj Patel: Stuffed and Starved: The Hidden Battle for the World Food System (paperback, 2008, Melville House): Looks like the place to start in investigating the global food crisis. Has an interesting blog and an activist stance -- claims to have been tear-gassed on four continents.

Melody Petersen: Our Daily Meds: How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs (2008, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Whether so many drugs are good for us or not (and which ones, when, and for whom) is less the issue than how the whole picture has been clouded by the singleminded pursuit of business. The effect is to poison the issue by making it turn on interest.

Paul Polak: Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail (2008, Berrett-Koehler): Attacks top-down approaches as having failed; promotes small plot farming, which the author has considerable experience with.

Juliet B Schor: Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture (paperback, 2005, Scribner): How marketing to children works, and what it has done to them. Schor has written a number of related books, including: The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure and The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don't Need. And with Betsy Taylor, she looks beyond, editing Sustainable Planet: Solutions for the Twenty-First Century.

Barry Schwartz: The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less (paperback, 2005, Harper Perennial): Psychology professor looks at the downside for consumers of having too many options (especially marginal ones). This notably runs against economic theory. I suspect this shows up a fundamental mismatch between humans and economic rationality.

Amartya Sen: The Argumentative Indian: Writings on Indian History, Culture, and Identity (paperback, 2006, Picador): Famous Indian economist, not coincidentally an interesting thinker on subjects political and philosophical. I've been meaning to read his book Development as Freedom, and am also curious about the recent Identity and Violence: The Illusion of Destiny.

Richard Sennett: The Craftsman (2008, Yale University Press): Sociologist, has written many significant books, including The Hidden Injuries of Class back in the 1970s and The Culture of the New Capitalism most recently. This one looks at the skills and practice of craftsmanship, how such have evolved over history, and what is happening to them now.

David K Shipler: The Working Poor: Invisible in America (paperback, 2005, Vintage Books): Of a number of books in this income bracket, this seems to be the basic one.

George Soros: The New Paradigm for Financial Markets: The Credit Crisis of 2008 and What It Means (2008, Public Affairs): Rich guy shows what he knows (or doesn't know) about the current financial markets mess. I've always suspected that when rich guys start writing books they've lost their touch and are cashing in on what little credibility they have left. But Soros is also known as a political shaker, so maybe he has a different angle.

Gabor Steingart: The War for Wealth: The True Story of Globalization, or Why the Flat World is Broken (2008, McGraw-Hill): I'm not sure what it would mean for the Europe and the US to form an "economic NATO" as a counterbalance or defense against emerging economic giants like China and India -- seems more likely than not that such geopolitical agenda have lost their place. Why should this be a war for wealth?

Nicholas Stern: The Economics of Climate Change: The Stern Review (paperback, 2007, Cambridge University Press): Major attempt to model and quantify economic effects caused by climate change (e.g., global warming). Seems to be the closest thing we have to a standard reference.

James Surowiecki: The Wisdom of Crowds: Why the Many Are Smarter Than the Few and How Collective Wisdom Shapes Business, Economies, Societies and Nations (paperback, 2005, Anchor): Writes an occasionally interesting economics column for The New Yorker, where at least some of this came from.

Nassim Nichols Taleb: The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable (2007, Random House): Highly improbable and unpredictable events still occur and can have massive impact. Given their impact, we tend to falsely ascribe more logic to them than is warranted. Taleb calls these events black swans. Taleb started this line of investigation in his previous Fooled by Randomness: The Hidden Role of Chance in Life and in Markets, which improbably attracted the attention of market speculators.

Louis Uchitelle: The Disposable American: Layoffs and Their Consequences (paperback, 2007, Vintage Books): Layoffs cut business costs, depress wages, push workers down the economic ladder. No surprises there. Just case histories. More all the time.

Vijay V Vaitheeswaran: Power to the People: How the Coming Energy Revolution will Transform an Industry, Change Our Lives, and Maybe Even Save the Planet (paperback, 2004, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Optimistic survey of new trends in energy development, at least some of which look pretty dubious to me. Writes for The Economist.

Stuart Vyse: Going Broke: Why Americans Can't Hold On to Their Money (2008, Oxford University Press): Credit card debt, lotteries, casino gambling, all kinds of money traps that leave most Americans with no savings and mouting debt. Goes into why this happens, what to do about it.

Michael D Yates: Cheap Motels and a Hot Plate: An Economist's Travelogue (paperback, 2007, Monthly Review Press): Retired economist as hobo, moving around America, picking up odd jobs, jotting down what he finds along the way. Yates has a fairly long list of books, including: Why Unions Matter; More Unequal: Aspects of Class in the United States; Naming the System: Inequality and Work in the Global Economy; Longer Hours, Fewer Jobs: Employment and Unemployment in the United States.

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Book Browsing: Part 1

I've written up several more/less annotated lists of books at various times in the past. To keep track of what I've already listed, I've collected those lists here. Over the last 4 weeks I've spent a lot of time scrounging through bookstores, making lists of more/less recent books that caught my eye for one reason or another. This list turned out to be longer and more scattered than past lists. It's taken at least as long to go through my notes, look up the actual authors and titles -- not easy to ready my scribbles -- and add a little commentary. Along the way, I've picked up even more titles. Then as I neared completion I realized the list had grown too long for a single post anyway. So this is the first of several installments, each 40-50 books long. This selection started by picking out history books, but I'm still working through my notes, so more may show up later. Not sure how many more there will be. I have at least enough left over for two more posts.

Jonathan Alter: The Defining Moment: FDR's Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope (paperback, 2007, Simon & Schuster): Something to bone up on: Paul Krugman has argued how important it is for a Democrat winning the 2008 election to push critical legislation through in the new administration's first 100 days. I suppose someone could do a comparative analysis for Democrats -- Clinton sure blew his first days, digging a hole that he never climbed out of. In any case, this year is the best prospect we've had in a long time for a Roosevelt-level tsunami. In any case, the history should be inspirational.

Alan Axelrod: The Real History of World War II: A New Look at the Past (2008, Sterling): Despite the title, this looks like a high school textbook, a nicely organized and illustated compendium of what everyone knows, with little or no additional insights. Author also wrote The Real History of the American Revolution: A New Look at the Past, just a year ago.

Andrew Bacevich: American Empire: The Realities and Consequences of US Diplomacy (paperback, 2004, Harvard University Press): Author of The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War, a conservative who has been one of the most effective critics of US militariam. This book singles out the post-Cold War period. Note that Bacevich has a new book coming out in August: The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism.

James Bacque: Crimes and Mercies: The Fate of German Civilians Under Allied Occupation, 1944-1950 (revised edition, paperback, 2007, Talonbooks): Canadian historian, looks into the underside of post-WWII occupation in Europe -- Giles MacDonogh's After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation is a newer and longer book on same subject. One reason these books are of current interest is that they suggest that all occupations are flawed -- I've seen reports of Young Republicans boning up on the US occupation of Germany and Japan during their flight to Baghdad. History could have served them better (not that they cared).

Dagmar Barnouw: The War in the Empty Air: Victims, Perpetrators, and Postwar Germans (2005, Indiana University Press): A study of German remembrance and opinion of WWII -- mostly a story of repressed memory and distancing. Don't know how well it addresses a couple of things I wonder about: 1) post-WWII Germany (and Japan) provide a sort of "best case" outcome for defeat and occupation in a modern war, so I wonder just how good that "best case" really is; 2) to the extent Germans (and Japanese) have adopted the American view of responsibility in the war (that they have is why they are best cases) has this allowed the US to take further advantage of them in ways that will ultimately be seen as unfair and self-damaging.

James Barr: Setting the Desert on Fire: T.E. Lawrence and Britain's Secret War in Arabia, 1916-1918 (2008, WW Norton): Although Britain had established effective control over Egypt and the Sudan earlier, their intervention in the Middle East starts here under the pretense of fomenting Arab nationalist revolt against the Ottomans, a schizophrenic mix of imperialism and liberation that they never understood much less mastered.

Jacques Barzun: From Dawn to Decadence: 500 Years of Western Cultural Life: 1500 to the Present (paperback, 2001, Harper Perennial): Big book, one I keep thinking I should pick up and read, not least because it appeared in Billmon's last reading list.

Antony Beevor: The Battle for Spain: The Spanish Civil War 1936-1938 (paperback, 2006, Penguin Books): The latest big book on a subject I wish I knew more about. Americans who fought for Republican Spain were subsequently diagnosed and disparaged as "premature anti-fascists" -- a rather bizarre ailment given what the fascists went on to do, all the more so given the way Neville Chamberlain is castigated for his appeasement of Hitler over the Czechoslovakian Sudetenland. The first great appeasement was over Spain, as the British, French, et al., failed to recognize what those "premature anti-fascists" knew damn well. Beevor has several war books, including previous ones on Stalingrad: The Fateful Siege 1942-1943 and The Fall of Berlin 1945.

Chris Bellamy: Absolute War: Soviet Russia in the Second World War (2007, Knopf): Big book on the side of the war that usually gets underrecognized here. Not sure how good it is.

Patrick J Buchanan: Churchill, Hitler, and the Unnecessary War: How Britain Lost Its Empire and the West Lost the World (2008, Crown): Looks more like how Buchanan lost his mind. The loss of the British empire was pretty much in the cards regardless of the world wars that nudged Britain along. But the wars themselves were part of the mindset that built the empire in the first place. Germany's will to war came from the same desire for empire, pumped up marginally by revenge fantasies. To say the world wars could have been avoided is to say that Britain and Germany should have been allies instead of rivals. Right-wingers have often noted the availability of a worthy common enemy in Stalin, but in order to get that far you have to reconcile yourself to Hitler and all he stood for. I doubt that even Buchanan really wants to go that far, so why is he entertaining the prospect?

Jim Cullen: The American Dream: A Short History of an Idea That Shaped a Nation (new edition, paperback, 2004, Oxford University Press): A brief history of the stereotypical ideal for all America (well, almost all America).

Alfred-Maurice De Zayas: A Terrible Revenge: The Ethnic Cleansing of the East European Germans (second edition, paperback, 2006, Palgrave Macmillan): This is an interesting story, and I think it has some relevance for establishing the historical context of the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine -- Arabs often ask why they and not the Germans should suffer for the Holocaust, so part of the answer is that some Germans did. On the other hand, I'm not convinced that the forced removal of Germans from east Europe was such a terrible revenge -- many were newly planted as part of the Nazi war effort, and the others were used as rationales for Nazi expansionism.

Saul Friedlander: The Years of Extermination: Nazi Germany and the Jews, 1939-1945 (paperback, 2008, Harper Perennial): The latest massive survey of the Holocaust -- actually, the second volume of a set, following Nazi Germany and the Jews: Volume 1: The Years of Persecution 1933-1939.

AC Grayling: Among the Dead Cities: The History and Moral Legacy of the WWII Bombing of Civilians in Germany and Japan (paperback, 2007, Walker & Co.): All of a sudden there are a bunch of books that raise serious questions about the Allied bombing campaigns in WWII -- more general ones like Nicholson Baker: Human Smoke and more specific ones like: Paul Addison/Jeremy A Grant, eds: Firestorm: The Bombing of Dresden, 1945; Frederick Taylor: Dresden: Tueday, February 13, 1945; Keith Lowe: Inferno: The Fiery Destruction of Hamburg, 1943; Hans Erich Nossack: The End: Hamburg 1943; Marshall De Bruhl, Firestorm: Allied Airpower and the Destruction of Dresden. In between: Herman Krell: To Destroy a City: Strategic Bombing and Its Human Consequences in World War II; and Jörg Friedrich, The Fire: The Bombing of Germany, 1940-1945.

David Halberstam: War in a Time of Peace: Bush, Clinton, and the Generals (paperback, 2002, Scribner): First Bush; had Halberstam lived longer he could have written a sequel, War in a Time of Madness. Never read him, and not sure how sharp he really is, but this covers a big subject: how the armed forces avoided shrinking by finding new enemies and new missions after the cold war ended. I noticed another Halberstam book that might be interesting: The Fifties.

Max Hastings: Retribution: The Battle for Japan, 1944-45 (2008, Knopf): Big book on the last year of the war against Japan, filled with atrocities on all sides. Author of a number of other WWII books, including the matching Armageddon: The Battle for Germany, 1944-1945, plus one on the Korean War.

Arthur Herman: Gandhi & Churchill: The Epic Rivalry That Destroyed an Empire and Forged Our Age (2008, Bantam): It rather trivializes matters to see this as a personal rivalry, don't you think? The side-by-side pictures on the cover are evocative, especially if you recognize the economic depredation India underwent at Britain's hands -- India's share of world GDP was reduced from 20% to something like 3% before they were able to throw off the British yoke. Herman previously wrote How the Scots Invented the Modern World: The True Story of How Western Europe's Poorest Nation Created Our World & Everything in It -- not what you'd call an India scholar.

Tony Horowitz: Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches From the Unfinished Civil War (paperback, 1999, Vintage Books): A journalistic survey of residual Confederate fans, sympathetic enough to be recommended by some, presumably rooted accurately enough in history to be useful.

Tony Horowitz: A Voyage Long and Strange: Rediscovering the New World (2008, Henry Holt): General history of the European discovery of America, possibly incorporating travelogue. First section on Discovery hits Vinland and Santo Domingo, but the rest, up through Plymouth, settles in the future continental US.

Harold James: The Roman Predicament: How the Rules of International Order Create the Politics of Empire (2006; paperback, 2008, Princeton University Press): Short book on comparative empireology, with Rome and Britain as the obvious counterpoints. Previously wrote: The End of Globalization: Lessons From the Great Depression, another exercise in historical analogizing.

Charles Kaiser: 1968 in America: Music, Politics, Chaos, Counterculture, and the Shaping of a Generation (paperback, 1997, Grove Press): Amazon reader: "this book gives great insight to the days of rage and the background leading up to the reign of terror in America." What? Mixed reports on the music part. Mark Kurlansky's 1968: The Year That Rocked the World covers the same ground plus more international.

Derek Leebaert: The Fifty-Year Wound: How America's Cold War Victory Has Shaped Our World (paperback, 2003, Back Bay Books): Finally, an examination of what it cost America to wage the cold war. I doubt that the accounting includes many factors that I would add in, such as how it undermined labor unions, shifting US politics to the right, exacerbating inequality, and so forth.

Margaret Macmillan: Paris 1919: Six Months That Changed the World (paperback, 2003, Random House): History of the post-WWI negotiations, six months that didn't change the world nearly enough. Interesting subject, although I've always felt Arno J Mayer was the historian to read on it. Macmillan also wrote Nixon and Mao: The Week That Changed the World (originally Nixon in China with same subtitle). The consistency in subtitles is striking.

J William Middendorf II: A Glorious Disaster: Barry Goldwater's Presidential Campaign and the Origins of the Conservative Movement (2006; paperback, 2008, Basic Books): A memoir by an insider.

David Milne: America's Rasputin: Walt Rostow and the Vietnam War (2008, Hill & Wang): Title's a low blow, but that's where you have to swing to connect. The more I read about the Vietnam War, the deeper it sinks in just how pervasive a force Rostow was. He was lurking everywhere. Any time anyone had a brief glance of sanity, he was there to rub it out.

Steven Mithen: After the Ice: A Global Human History 20,000-5,000 BC (paperback, 2006, Harvard University Press): Looks to be a fairly definitive book on archaeological sites from the period. Mithen has a number of books scratching out clues from scant archaeological evidence, most recently The Singing Neandethals: The Origins of Music, Language, Mind and Body.

Benny Morris: 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War (2008, Yale University Press): Morris did much of the first pass of serious research on the Palestinian refugee crisis coming out of Israel's 1948 War for Independence, and wrote a good general history, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999. He's also turned into a rabid racist, applauding the expulsions that tactful Israeli politicians have long tried to sweep under the rug.

Gary B Nash: The Unknown American Revolution: The Unruly Birth of Democracy and the Struggle to Create America (2005; paperback, 2006, Penguin Books): More of a bottom-up take on the American Revolution, covering Indians, slaves, anonymous mobs, and bystanders.

Gary B Nash/Graham Russell Geo Hodges: Friends of Liberty: A Tale of Three Patriots, Two Revolutions, and the Betrayal that Divided a Nation: Thomas Jefferson, Thaddeus Kosciuszko, and Agrippa Hull (2008, Basic Books): Freedom and slavery, seen from three views of the American revolution -- the betrayal, of course, was Jefferson's.

Robert O Paxton: The Anatomy of Fascism (paperback, 2005, Vintage): Author previously wrote a book about Vichy France, as well as a more general book on 20th century Europe. This one tries to extract common traits and variations of fascism, making it useful for the question of whether contemporary movements are effectively fascist -- of course, I'm thinking of the Republican fringe.

William R Polk: The Birth of America: From Before Columbus to the Revolution (paperback, 2007, Harper Perennial): Fairly basic big picture history of colonial America, background for his American Revolution chapter in Violent Politics. Also curious about his earlier book, Polk's Folly: An American Family History, where he kicks around stories of ancestors, including a president, a general, various others.

Clive Ponting: A New Green History of the World: The Environment and the Collapse of Great Civilizations (revised/updated edition, paperback, 2007, Penguin): Update of a book originally published in 1992. Looks back at effects of environmental degradation on various ancient civilizations, as well as projecting current environmental problems into the future. Seems to parallel Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed -- e.g., by starting with the Easter Island example.

Joachim Radkau: Nature and Power: A Global History of the Environment (2008, Cambridge University Press): Wide ranging survey, mostly organized by topic although many topics are historically specific -- e.g., the effects of colonialism. Epilogue on "How to Argue with Environmental History in Politics."

Alfred S Regnery: Upstream: The Ascendance of American Conservatism (2008, Threshold Editions): With Goldwater and Reagan on the cover, looking up and towards, well, their left. Book is reverential and celebratory -- among other things, the movement has bought a lot of books from the family publishing business.

James Reston Jr: Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition, and the Defeat of the Moors (2005; paperback, 2006, Anchor): The fateful year of 1492 is belatedly remembered for the coincidence of those three things. Reston has become a prolific historian of the middle ages -- The Last Apocalypse: Europe at the Year 1000 also looks interesting.

Sharon Rudahl: A Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography of Emma Goldman (paperback, 2007, New Press): At last in comics, a real superhero for you.

David Stafford: Endgame, 1945: The Missing Final Chapter of World War II (2007, Little Brown): Looks like this is limited to Europe, which leaves out the big picture (e.g., the collapse of colonialism, the origins of the cold war) in favor of a tighter, no doubt gory, narrative. At this point I'm more interested in what came next -- Giles MacDonogh's After the Reich: The Brutal History of the Allied Occupation picks up the story.

Sean Wilentz: The Age of Reagan: A History 1974-2008 (2008, Harper): Now that we can start to see how the train wrecks, it does make some sense to pin the conservative swing of the last 40 years on its sunny-minded, muddle-headed icon: the real bookends of Nixon and Bush are too cynical to define anything anyone could have believed in. Wilentz wrote a monumental book of early American history, The Rise of American Democracy -- something I'd like to relax with. This one seems likely to become a standard account of the era.

Simon Winchester: The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom (2008, Harper): That would be Joseph Needham, author of the multivolume Science and Civilisation in China. I recall reading once about how all American Russia scholars hated Russia (or at least the Soviet Union) but all China scholars loved (even Communist) China.

Gordon S Wood: The Purpose of the Past: Reflections on the Uses of History (2008, Penguin Books): Collection of essays, mostly book reviews from 1981 to 2007. I've always liked the utility of books about books -- not only do you get two views, you pick up a sense of how history is crafted, and how historians think. Wood is the preeminent political historian of the American Revolution/Consitution period.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Music: Current count 14455 [14439] rated (+16), 836 [752] unrated (+84). Finally got the incoming mail that had piled up during my trip sorted, as well as this week's relatively slow intake. The bump to the unrated count was bigger than I expected. The rated count for the week is lower. Don't even recall why, although we had company for a couple of days, and there were a few other distractions. Posted another Recycled Goods stub file.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #17, Part 6)

Jazz Prospecting is slowly returning to normal in what should be the middle of the cycle. Slowly is the operative word. I've finally unpacked and catalogued all the mail from my trip period, and the pending list has mushroomed to 222 records. While working on that, I've been unpacking the travel cases and processing those records for the notes below. So I have a few things to show for the week, but can't say as I'm feeling much progress. The good news is that I have so much of next column already written that all I need now are a couple of pick hits and a couple of duds. The pending file is so huge at this point it should be able to fill those needs.

Stebmo (2008, Mount Analog): Stebmo is Steve Moore, b. 1976, Seattle pianist/trombonist. The name more/less follows the pattern of bluesman Kevin Moore, aka Keb' Mo'. Album is produced by Tucker Martine, and many of Martine's regular clients make a showing: Matt Chamberlain (drums, loops), Todd Sickafoose (bass), Eyvind Kang (viola), Doug Wieselman (clarinets, guitar, banjo), Martine himself (percussion). Martine's circle, sometimes together as Mount Analog, offer an appealing take on fusion, and this is no exception. B+(*)

Fernando Huergo: Provinciano (2006 [2008], Sunnyside): Argentine bassist, from Cordoba, graduated from Berklee in 1992, teaches there and at Tufts. Website claims over 100 albums, 9 as leader -- most of the latter are in groups, like the Jinga Trio or Quintet, the Jazz Argentino Band, the Toucan Trio. Credits include multiple albums with Guillermo Klein and Nando Michelin. This strikes me as a cross-cultural mixed bag, the distinctively Argentinian twist on Latin jazz presumably extending beyond the occasional spots where tango threatens to break out. Otherwise, it rises and sinks on the strength of Andrew Rathbun's tenor sax and the weakness of Yulia Musayelyan's flute. Mike Pohjola has good stretches on piano. May be a sleeper. [B]

The Stein Brothers Quintet: Quixotic (2007 [2008], Jazzed Media): Two saxophonists, Asher Stein on alto, Alex Stein on tenor, with Mferghu on piano, Doug Largent on bass, and Joe Blaxx on drums, and a couple of guests adding trumpet/trombone on 3-4 cuts. Based in New Jersey. Both Steins studied at University of North Carolina. First album. Cite Barry Harris as an influence. Conventionally boppish, sounding most like those cool jazz groups trying to harmonize a pair of saxes. Not something I find very interesting, but well done. B+(*)

Robert Walter: Cure All (2007 [2008], Palmetto): Don't have recording date, but website has a 2007-10-03 news item saying: "Robert has just completed recording his next record it is scheduled to come out early next year." I figure that is this. Walter plays soul jazz/funk licks, mostly on Hammond B-3. He cut a record a couple years back called Super Heavy Organ which pretty much lived up to its title. For this trio, the organ isn't so heavy, and he switches to piano on occasion -- its percussive sound sharpens up those funk licks. Seventh album, first with a name label. B+(*) [advance: June 15]

Bobby Previte & the New Bump: Set the Alarm for Monday (2007 [2008], Palmetto): Drummer/composer, has 30 or so albums since 1985, recently including fusion experiments with Charlie Hunter as Groundtruther and Coalition of the Willing. New Bump's name may refer back to his 1985 album Bump the Renaissance, although the lineup isn't very similar. Original group: tenor sax, french horn, piano, bass, drums; new group: tenor sax (Ellery Eskelin), vibes (Bill Ware), bass (Brad Jones), drums (Previte), with guests on trumpet (Steve Bernstein) and percussion (Jim Pugliese). Piero Scaruffi describes Bump the Renaissance as "a bizarre compromise between ECM's baroque jazz and Frank Zappa's nonsensical rock." This sounds like anything but. Most pieces are notable for their flow, with the vibes and drums leaping over one another. Eskelin is an inspired choice, especially when unleashed to find his own path over the rhythm. [A-] [advance]

Arturo O'Farrill and the Afro-Latin Jazz Orchestra: Song for Chico (2006 [2008], Zoho): Chico, of course, is Chico O'Farrill, the pianist-leader's late father, an important big band arranger from the 1950s until his death in 2001. The son has never made much of an impression on me, and it doesn't help that family franchises are justly held in such low esteem these days. However, starting with "Caravan" (an easy mark) this goes through the paces and does everything it needs to do: the horns blare, the rhythm percolates; nothing new, but it's loud, fast, full of marvels. B+(**)

Enrico Pieranunzi: As Never Before (2004 [2008], CAM Jazz): Featuring Kenny Wheeler on trumpet, stealing the focus away from the all-star piano trio with Marc Johnson on bass and Joey Baron on drums. The pianist is more into lush fills than in setting the pace. Wheeler's trumpet is elegiac, but a bit dull. The rhythm section never gets a chance to break into a run. If I sound disappointed, it's because I expect a lot from players who have done so much in the past. B+(**)

Jessica Williams: Songs for a New Century (2008, Origin): Pianist, b. 1948 Baltimore, moved to San Francisco 1977, currently resides somewhere in Washington. I count 36 albums. No idea how many are solo piano like this one, but it's more than a few, maybe as many as a dozen. I've heard 7: my favorites are Jessica's Blues and In the Key of Monk, but that just be because they're the easiest to follow. I've never been disappointed, and regard her as one of the major mainstream jazz pianists of the last 30 years. If this one falls short in my pecking order, it's for lack of propulsion -- she's working in colors here, drawing out moods. From the booklet: "There is no doubt that, existentially at least, 9-11 was an orange, D minor event. It looked that way to me. It sounded that way to me. Its place in my heart is coded in that color. I had never before thought that orange could be a color of unimaginable sadness and grief. But it stayed that way for me until quite recently. I suppose I was grieving,and just just for the victims and heroes of 9-11. I was grieving for America, for the very idea of America." This album represents an optimistic turn for her. I can almost hear it. B+(**)

Liz McComb: The Spirit of New Orleans (2001 [2008], GVE/Sunnyside): Gospel singer, grew up in Cleveland, spent much of her early career in Europe, returning to the US in 2001. Her New Olreans album picks up some horns and fancy rhythm, not deploying them consistently. Helps when it's there, but doesn't matter much when it isn't: she powers her way through every song -- four she wrote, the rest as trad as "Old Man River" and "Just a Closer Walk With Thee" and "Happy Working for the Lord." Christian music's gotten so lame and dumb lately I've been avoiding it. I'd like to say this is the old time religion, but it's just the old time gospel music -- plus occasional horns and fancy rhythm. A-

Armen Donelian Trio: Oasis (2007 [2008], Sunnyside): Pianist. Born in Queens, of Armenian descent, father from Turkey, mother born in US with roots in Syria; graduated from Columbia in 1972. Has a dozen albums going back to 1980. This is a trio, with David Clark on bass, George Schuller on drums. Six originals, two covers -- "Sunrise, Sunset" appeals to me most because the regular up-and-down lines frame so much variation. Rest needs more time. [B+(**)]

Alon Yavnai: Travel Notes (2008, ObliqSound): Pianist, b. 1969 Israel, moved to Costa Rica in 1990, on to US in 1993, studying at Berklee and winding up in New York. Works in a duo with Paquito D'Rivera, as well as in this trio with Omer Avital (bass, oud) and Jamey Haddad (drums). Thoughtful, with a nice dynamic rhythm, the sort of thing that may grow on me. [B+(**)] [advance]

The Bennie Maupin Quartet: Early Reflections (2007 [2008], Cryptogramophone): Maupin plays bass clarinet, tenor sax, soprano sax, alto flute. Born 1940, made his mark with Miles Davis on Bitches Brew and in Herbie Hancock's 1970s fusion bands. Has a relatively short list of records under his own name, starting with 1974's ECM entry, The Jewel in the Lotus -- touted by many, but I'm not a big fan. He cut this one in Poland, presumably last year, with a local group I don't recognize. It's all over the place, with fractal spots intriguing in their minimalism, sometimes stretching out and soaring away, other times awash in schmaltz. Pianist Michal Tokaj is worth singling out. But two cuts with vocalist Hania Chowaniec-Rybka spoil it for me, but much else is of interest. B

Bill Dixon: 17 Musicians in Search of a Sound: Darfur (2007 [2008], AUM Fidelity): Recorded in concert at Vision Festival XII. No idea what Darfur has to do with it. Nor any idea what the big band was searching for, given that their sound is no surprise: an elaboration and variation on a dozen other notorious free jazz phalanxes. Seven brass (including tuba), six reeds (including bassoon, counted once), bass, cello, drums, vibes (or sometimes more drums). The slow stuff wavers menacingly; the ensemble work is unruly, with one piece ("Sinopia") hitting gale force. Impressive on its own non-negotiable terms. B+(***)

Duke Robillard: A Swingin' Session With Duke Robillard (2008, Stony Plain): Blues guitarist-singer, founder of Roomful of Blues, sustainer of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, has a couple dozen albums on his own. I've never figured him for anything more than a good natured journeyman, and ultimately I doubt this record breaks the mold. On the other hand, it hits my predisposed pleasure points so consistently I don't care how short the artistic stretch is. The bluesiest song ("Them That Got") is swung and sung with a wide grin and a light touch, while the more upbeat songs from "Deed I Do" to "Just Because" to "They Raided the Joint" dance on jazz springs with horns that give the whole room a richly burnished lustre. Will probably get slotted at a high HM to leave more space for the serious jazz -- this is just fun. A-

Amos Garrett: Get Way Back: A Tribute to Percy Mayfield (2008, Stony Plain): Blues guitarist-singer, born 1941 in US but moved to Canada at age 4, currently based in Alberta. Has a dozen or so albums since 1980, many side credits where he's valued for subtle, elegant guitar solos. Voice is deep and starchy white, not an obvious fit for a batch of Percy Mayfield songs. But the horn charts help, the guitar sly and subtle, and gradually the songs carry the singer along. B+(*)

Fieldwork: Door (2007 [2008], Pi): Trio, superstars in my book: Vijay Iyer on piano, Steve Lehman on alto sax, Tyshawn Sorey on drums. All write, with the prolific Sorey owning slightly over half. Each piece is then collaboratively developed. Most threaten to fly apart but somehow cohere -- the closer, "Rai," is one where every stray impulse reinforces the structure. The others, well, I'm having a tough time following them all. Group's previous record was a Pick Hit. I'm pretty sure this isn't, but not sure by how much it misses, or why (other than what they're doing is very difficult). [B+(***)]

Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog: Party Intellectuals (2008, Pi): Guitarist, has many projects including the Albert Ayler tribute band Spiritual Unity and the Cubanos Postizos (Prosthetic Cubans). This group, named for a French expression ("chien di faďence") for "frozen with emotion" ("like bristling dogs the moment before they fight, or lovers immobilized in one another's gaze"), is a postpunk power trio, with Shahzad Ismaily on bass and synths, Ches Smith on drums, with all vocals. Music is fierce enough. Not sure how well the songs hold up, or whether it matters. [B+(**)] [advance: June 24]

Public Record (2006-08 [2008], High Two): Group from Philadelphia, lists six members, including two guitarists (Gareth Duffield, Greg Pavlovcak), two drummers (Ted Johnson, Matthew Lyons), bass (Brent Bohan), and alto sax (Hilary Baker). Can't really classify them: the beat is rockish and they like dance tempos, but they're not that danceable nor do they push many pop buttons. Their Myspace page has a mosaic of influences which shows they're astute record collectors -- some covers that jump out at me: Aztec Camera, Lee Morgan, Talking Heads, Velvet Underground, Big Youth, Bohannon, James Brown, Au Pairs, Can, Clash, EPMD, Impressions, Bob Marley, Go-Betweens, Stereolab, Faces, Al Green, Slits, Fairport Convention, Fela, Public Enemy, Alton Ellis, Joy division, Otis Redding, Getachew Mekurya. My eyes aren't good enough to be sure of some others, and a couple don't ring any bells at all. List is notably short on jazz for a sax-led instrumental group. Also too electic to synthesize into a coherent artistic focus. B

Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra: Harriet Tubman (2007 [2008], Noir, 2CD): Bassist, b. 1966 Alabama, currently based in San Francisco. Sixth album since 1997, mostly with his MSJO big band. This one takes its inspiration from Harriet Tubman (1820-1913), a Maryland slave who escaped to Philadelphia in 1849. She worked guiding slaves north to freedom, served with the Union army as an armed scout and spy (liberating 700 slaves in one operation), and was later a women's suffrage activist. The music swings, the horns bright and rowdy, as impressive as any big band work I've heard in several years. I'm less sure of the words, which break the flow but advance the story. Need to focus more on them. [B+(***)]

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

Scott Fields Freetet: Bitter Love Songs (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): I've played this record a lot on the road the last month, and it's never let me down. The avant-guitarist has a tendency elsewhere to diddle in abstractions, but he plays with remarkable logic here -- bitterness must focus the mind. The Freetet adds bass and drums, bulking up the sound and punctuating the emotions. A-

The Michael Pedicin Quintet: Everything Starts Now . . . Scantly-recorded tenor saxophonist from Philadelphia, his father a Bill Haley-like rocker during the 1950s. Mainstream sax group, backed solidly and sumptuously by Johnnie Valentino on guitar, Mick Rossi on piano, Chris Colangelo on bass, and Michael Sarin on drums -- all players I recognize. A throwback to the sort of things Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster used to knock off in the 1950s. B+(***)

The Gust Spenos Quartet: Swing Theory (2007 [2008], Swing Theory): The Indianapolis neurologist has work up some math formulae I don't fathom, but his band, augmented with guest stars like Wycliffe Gordon, Eric Schneider, and vocalist Everett Greene 2 songs; Gordon takes 1) understand him perfectly. Note the cover, although it's more likely that the faces in the classroom taught the teacher -- even the one that looks like Einstein. A-


  • Jason Ajemian: The Art of Dying (Delmark)
  • Ambrose Akinmusire: Prelude (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Eric Alexander Quartet: Prime Time: In Concert (High Note, CD+DVD)
  • Steve Allee Trio: Dragonfly (Owl Studios)
  • The Stephen Anderson Trio: Forget Not (Summit)
  • The Joe Ascione Quartet: Movin' Up (Arbors)
  • Esmée Althuis/Albert Van Veenendaal: The Mystery of Guests (Evil Rabbit)
  • Ab Baars Trio & Ken Vandermark: Goofy June Bug (Wig)
  • Nik Bärtsch: Piano Solo (2002, Ronin Rhythm)
  • Nik Bärtsch's Mobile: Ritual Groove Music (2001, Ronin Rhythm)
  • Nik Bärtsch's Mobile: Aer (2004, Ronin Rhythm)
  • Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Randori (2002, Ronin Rhythm)
  • Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Live (2003, Ronin Rhythm)
  • Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Rea (2004, Ronin Rhythm)
  • Nicolas Bearde: Live at Yoshi's: A Salute to Lou (Right Groove)
  • Gene Bertoncini: Concerti (Concerti (Ambient)
  • Brazilian Trio: Forests (Zoho)
  • Bill Bruford: The DVD Sampler and Interview (Winterfold/Summerfold)
  • George Cables: Morning Song (1980, High Note)
  • James Carter: Present Tense (Emarcy)
  • Don Cherry: Live at Café Montmartre 1966: Volume Two (1966, ESP-Disk)
  • Yun Sun Choi/Jacob Sacks: Imagination (Yeah-Yeah)
  • Antonio Ciacca Quintet: (Motéma)
  • Classic Piano Blues (1944-76, Smithsonian/Folkways)
  • Gerald Cleaver: Gerald Cleaver's Detroit (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • CNY Jazz Orchestra: Then, Now & Again (CNY)
  • Ornette Coleman: Town Hall, 1962 (1962, ESP-Disk)
  • Nick Colionne: No LImits (Koch): advance, July 8
  • Sheila Cooper: Tales of Love and Longing (Panorama)
  • Marc Copland: Another Place (Pirouet)
  • Dominique Cravic & Les Primitifs du Futur: Tribal Musette (Sunnyside)
  • Kris Davis: Rye Eclipse (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Hamilton de Holanda & André Mehmari: Continuous Friendship (Adventure Music)
  • Michael Dessen Trio: Between Shadow and Space (Clean Feed)
  • Ramón Díaz: Unblocking (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Scott Dubois: Banshees (Sunnyside)
  • The Steve Elmer Trio: Fire Down Below (Steve Elmer)
  • Wayne Escoffery and Veneration: Hopes and Dreams (Savant)
  • The Alon Farber Hagiga Sextet: Optimistic View (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Satoko Fujii Trio: Trace a River (Libra)
  • Gato Libre: Kuro (Libra)
  • The Jeff Gauthier Goatette: House of Return (Cryptogramophone)
  • Tony Grey: Chasing Shadows (Abstract Logix)
  • Grupo Fantasma: Sonidos Gold (High Wire Music): advance
  • Tim Hagans: Alone Together (Pirouet)
  • Conrad Herwig: The Latin Side of Wayne Shorter (Half Note)
  • Warren Hill: La Dolce Vita (Koch): advance, June 24
  • Hiromi's Sonicbloom: Beyond Standard (Telarc)
  • Jon Irabagon's Outright! (Innova)
  • Jessica Jones Quartet: Word (New Artists)
  • Junk Box: Sunny Then Cloudy (Libra)
  • Oleg Kireyev/Feng Shui Jazz Project: Mandala (Jazzheads)
  • Guillermo Klein/Los Guachos: Filtros (Sunnyside)
  • Kirk Knuffke Quartet: Bigwig (Clean Feed)
  • The David Leonhardt Trio: Explorations (Big Bang)
  • Luis Lopes: Humanization 4Tet (Clean Feed)
  • Frank Lowe: Black Beings (1973, ESP-Disk)
  • Louis Mazetier: Tributes, Portraits and Other Stories (Arbors)
  • John McLaughlin: Floating Point (Abstract Logix)
  • Andy Middleton: The European Quartet Live (Q-rious Music)
  • Michael Moore Trio: Holocene (Ramboy)
  • Gary Morgan & PanAmericana!: Felicidade (Happiness) (CAP)
  • Motel: Lost and Found (MGM)
  • New York Eye and Ear Control (1964, ESP-Disk)
  • No-Man: Schoolyard Ghosts (K-Scope, CD+DVD)
  • Bill O'Connell: Triple Play (Savant)
  • Orchestra Baobab: Made in Dakar (Nonesuch)
  • Judith Owen: Mopping Up Karma (Courgette)
  • Ozric Tentacles: Sunrise Festival (Snapper, CD+DVD)
  • Paradigm: Melodies for Uncertain Robots (Ropeadope)
  • Aaron Parks: Invisible Cinema (Blue Note): advance: August 19
  • Joanna Pascale: Through My Eyes (Stiletto)
  • Rosa Passos: Romance (Telarc)
  • Bennett Paster & Gregory Ryan: Grupo Yanqui Rides Again (Miles High)
  • Nicholas Payton: Into the Blue (Nonesuch)
  • Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. III: The Croydon Concert, May 14, 1981 (1981, Widow's Taste, 2CD)
  • Bobby Previte & the New Bump: Set the Alarm for Monday (Palmetto)
  • Princes Amongst Men: Journeys With Gypsy Musicians (Asphalt Tango)
  • Pam Purvis: I Had a Ball! (Progressive Winds)
  • Putumayo Presents: Café Cubano (Putumayo World Music)
  • Putumayo Presents: Québec (Putumayo World Music)
  • Ed Reed: The Song Is You (Blue Shorts)
  • Rigop Me: Tone Dialing (Evil Rabbit)
  • Pete Robbins: Do the Hate Laugh Shimmy (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Wally Rose: Whippin' the Keys (1968-71, Delmark)
  • Jordi Rossy Trio: Wicca (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Alison Ruble: This Is a Bird (Origin)
  • Roswell Rudd Quartet: Keep Your Heart Right (Sunnyside)
  • Sálongo (DBCD)
  • Saxophone Summit: Seraphic Light: Dedicated to Michael Brecker (Telarc)
  • Sha's Banryu: Chessboxing Volume One (Ronin Rhythm)
  • Elliott Sharp/Scott Fields: Scharfefelder (Clean Feed)
  • Jim Shearer & Charlie Wood: The Memphis Hang (Summit)
  • Chip Shelton & Peacetime: Imbued With Memories (Summit)
  • Todd Sicakfoose: Tiny Resistors (Cryptogramophone)
  • Martial Solal Trio: Longitude (CAM Jazz)
  • Emilio Solla y Afines: Conversas (Al Lado del Agua) (Fresh Sound World Jazz)
  • Spoon 3: Seductive Sabotage (Evil Rabbit)
  • Jesse Stacken: That That (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Michael Jefry Stevens Quartet: For the Children (Cadence Jazz)
  • Wayman Tisdale: Rebound (Rendezvous)
  • Daby Touré: Stereo Spirit (Real World)
  • Larry Vuckovich Trio: High Wall (Tetrachord Music)
  • Marcin Wasilewski Trio: January (ECM)
  • Mark Weinstein: Straight No Chaser (Jazzheads)
  • Kenny Wheeler: Other People (CAM Jazz)
  • Mary Lou Williams: A Grand Night for Swinging (1976, High Note)
  • Norman Winstone: Distances (ECM)
  • Ben Wolfe: No Strangers Here (MaxJazz)
  • Yuganaut: This Musicship (ESP-Disk)
  • Carlos "Zingaro"/Dominique Regef/Wilbert DeJoode String Trio: Spectrum (Clean Feed)
  • James Zitro: Zitro (1967, ESP-Disk)


  • Hayes Carll: Trouble in Mind (Lost Highway)
  • Cymande: Promised Heights (1974, NHR)
  • Dominic Duval/Jason Kao Hwang: The Experiment (1999, Blue Jackel)
  • Herb Geller: Playing Jazz: The Musical Autobiography of Herb Geller (1997, Fresh Sound)
  • Macy Gray: The Very Best of Macy Gray (Epic)
  • Al Haig Trio: Al Haig Today! (Fresh Sound)
  • Erskine Hawkins and His Orchestra: The Original Tuxedo Junction (1938-45, RCA)
  • Khevrisa: European Klezmer Music (2000, Smithsonian/Folkways)
  • Madonna: Hard Candy (Warner Brothers)
  • Pharoahe Monch: Desire (2007, SRC)
  • Albert Nicholas: Albert's Back in Town (1959, Delmark)
  • Northern State: Can I Keep This Pen? (2007, Ipecac)
  • Other Dimensions in Music Special Quintet w/Matthew Shipp: Time Is of the Essence Is Beyond Time (1997, AUM Fidelity)
  • Oscar Peterson: Exclusively for My Friends (1963-68, Verve, 4CD)
  • Louis Prima/Ted Lewis/Joe Venuti/George Wettling: The John R T Davies Collection, Volume 1: Jazz Classics (JSP, 4CD)
  • The Replacements: All for Nothing/Nothing for All (Warner Brothers, 2CD)
  • The Roots: Rising Down (Def Jam)
  • 7L & Esoteric: Bars of Death (2004, Babygrande)

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Not Easy Being Less Rich

I've been expecting the rich to feel pinched regardless of how much they appreciate the Bush tax breaks. The New York Times published some anecdotal evidence Sunday, in a piece by Christine Haughney titled "It's Not So Easy Being Less Rich." Some scattered quotes:

One of her clients recently confessed that his net worth had decreased to $8 million from more than $20 million, and he thinks that his wife will leave him. He has hidden their fall in fortune by taking on debt to pay for her extravagant clothes and vacations. [ . . . ]

Interviews with the people who actually see the bank statements, like divorce lawyers and lenders, say their clients are definitely living on less than they did a year ago, regardless of how expansive the definition of "less" may be. Hair stylists and private jet rental companies say the wealthy are cutting back on luxuries like $350 highlights and $10,000-an-hour jet rentals. Even nutritionists and personal trainers notice a problem. The wealthy are eating more and gaining weight because of the stress. [ . . . ]

Other wealthy clients are cutting luxuries that they think their friends and relatives won't notice, according to Mr. Del Gatto of Circa. At Circa's midtown offices, he said, the seven consultation rooms have been busy with customers selling their precious gems. Some older couples, he said, are selling estate jewelry to help support their children who have lost Wall Street jobs. Bankers are paring down their collections of Patek Philippe watches. Wives from Greenwich and Scarsdale are selling 2-carat to 35-carat single-stone diamond rings. One recent client explained to Mr. Del Gatto that she was selling $2 million in diamonds she rarely wore, because her friends wouldn't notice that they were gone. [ . . . ]

The drop in wealth has also exposed other personal problems, like bad marriages. Money -- which bought jewelry or extravagang vacations -- helped smooth over many of these difficulties, said Kenneth Mueller, a psychotherapist in the East Village who works with many Wall Street bankers and real estate developers. Now, he said, his clients "catastrophize" smaller bonuses or shriveling stock portfolios. "You have to remind them that there's something that has always been there," he said. "All the money helped mask the anxiety."

Not sure which way this breaks politically. It seems to me that as long as the US economy was growing at a substantial clip, as it was up to around 1970, most of the rich were content with their split of the expanding pie. However, when things started to contract in the 1970s, the rich got more aggressive, taking their cut at the expense of everyone else. The sort of inequity that has ballooned so under the Republicans is proving hard to sustain, not least because so much of it turns out to have been smoke and mirrors. So one way the rich may react is to try to turn the screws on everyone else even harder. Problem is, those screws are getting pretty tight, and we're going to see more and more pushback. Won't be pretty.

May 2008