August 2009 Notebook


Monday, August 31, 2009

Music Week

Music: Current count 15687 [15658] rated (+29), 745 [744] unrated (+1). Another wasted week. Have to admit the weather has been more tolerable than any August in Kansas I can recall.

  • Chick Corea: Tones for Joan's Bones (1966 [2005], Rhino/Atlantic): Before Scientology, before fusion even, a first album buried deep in the times: a standard issue hard bop quintet, with Woody Shaw's trumpet and Joe Farrell's tenor sax ricocheting over the rhythm, the pianist filling in gaps and flashing speed, showing a bit of grace when he carves some solo space on the title track. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Jazz Prospecting (CG #21, Part 6)

Having a lot of trouble taking a much needed break here. Looks like I have enough prospecting to post, especially with all the stragglers I've picked up from Rhapsody. The section is (and will be) introduced by a standard bit of boilerplate, but the key thing to reiterate is that the "final" grades are wild-ass guesses based on one or two consecutive plays. In the real world some records hit you fast but many take some time to adjust to. I normally pay some heed to that by holding back some records I don't quite get and think I should play again later. The Hollenbeck is the only example below -- I'm probably forcing more grades these days to manage the triage. Just to pick a couple of examples, the final McLaughlin/Corea album might wind up doing better, especially if I can take it one disc at a time without the glitches Rhapsody often sticks in. (On the other hand, I may have been too generous to the Corea/Burton.) The arbitrary cutoff here helps manage my time, as does the decision not to CG albums I only hear this way. If I had more space than records I might do this differently, but I have so little space and so many records the Rhapsody streams are an easy place to cut. Still, I have enjoyed hearing them -- gives me some broader context, and a little bit of a break.

Isotope: Golden Section (1974-75 [2008], Cuneiform): British fusion band led by guitarist Gary Boyle, recorded three albums from 1974-76 with various lineups. These tracks -- 6 from Radio Bremen, plus earlier tracks from London (5) and New York (2) -- feature the group's second lineup: Hugh Hopper (Soft Machine) on bass, Laurence Scott on keyboards, and Nigel Morris on drums, plus Aureo de Souza on percussion for the Bremen shots. Morris and Hopper always find an interesting groove, allowing Boyle to send out Montgomery-sized note strings with McLaughlin-inspired steeliness. No vocals to spoil the mood. Some redundancies but they just add up to more. A-

Van Morrison: Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl (2008 [2009], Listen to the Lion): Live concert revisit of Morrison's foundational album -- some singles preceded it, including his still greatest single song ("Brown Eyed Girl"), variously reissued as T.B. Sheets and Bang Masters, and Them came even earlier, but this is where he traded in his pop-rock attack for a career of Celtic mystique, blue-eyed soul, and jazz riffs. Fans are divided between those, like Lester Bangs, who couldn't get enough of the introspection and others, like Robert Christgau, who preferred the elegant popcraft of Morrison's next album, Moondance. I lean toward the latter group, but never doubted the revelation here. The concert reorders some songs, loosening them up, and he's matured into his voice -- a wonder of the world forty years ago and even more so now. It's not reinvention on the level of Leonard Cohen's Live in London, so it could be docked for redundancy. Still, if he wants to keep doing this sort of thing, I'm not going to complain till he gets to Hard Nose the Highway. A-

Örjan Sandred: Cracks and Corrosion (2001-09 [2009], Navrona): Swedish composer, teaches at University of Manitoba where he founded Studio FLAT for computer music. Not listed as playing here, which doesn't preclude programming. One piece from 2001, the rest from 2008-09; mostly strings, sometimes guitar or harp, with the occasional flute or clarinet. Rather bare and abstract, not very jazzlike, but interesting in small doses. B+(*)

James Moody: 4A (2008 [2009], IPO): Tenor saxophonist, made his name in early 1950s both in Dizzy Gilllespie's bands and on his own. Has a checkered discography that I've sampled only lightly, but into his 80s a venerable figure. About as good a deal as one can hope for: a straightforward quartet with Kenny Barron (piano), Todd Coolman (bass), and Lewis Nash (drums); nothing on flute; a set of standards -- I'm always a sucker for "Bye Bye Blackbird." B+(**)

McCoy Tyner: Solo: Live From San Francisco (2007 [2009], Half Note/McCoy Tyner Music): I don't have any way of easily checking how many solo piano albums Tyner has recorded. Several, certainly -- not as many as Paul Bley or Cecil Taylor or Keith Jarrett, but a few. Not sure how this stacks up, but offhand the piano doesn't sound very clear, and his speed, which is usually in the breathless range, is a bit off. B

James Carter/John Medeski/Christian McBride/Adam Rogers/Joey Baron: Heaven on Earth (2009, Half Note): The liner notes start by comparing Carter to LeBron James, presumably because it's obvious he's a spectacular talent even on a losing team. The team actually isn't that bad, but only Rogers adds much of note, with Medeski unable to get any traction until they slow down and throw him a blues. McBride and Baron could be anyone, even though we know they're not. No new ground for Carter here: starts with one from Django Reinhardt, recaps Don Byas and Lucky Thompson, pulls a blues attributed to Leo Parker and Ike Quebec, winds up with Larry Young's title cut. Carter plays soprano, tenor, and quite a bit of baritone. I've complained about his poll winning on the latter, but he makes a good case here. A-

Ab Baars/Ig Henneman/Misha Mengelberg: Sliptong (2008 [2009], Wig): Dutch trio. Baars plays tenor sax, clarinet, and shakuhachi; Henneman viola; Mengelberg piano, although at first I was tempted to say percussion. All three play abstractly, leaving a lot of space between the instruments. As such, it takes considerable effort to latch on to what they're doing. I played this twice, and pretty much failed, although I have no doubt that Mengelberg is one of the great pianists of our era. B

Rodrigo Amado/Kent Kessler/Paal Nilssen-Love: The Abstract Truth (2008 [2009], European Echoes): Portugese saxophonist, in a trio with two frequent Kent Vandermark associates -- same group recorded Teatro in 2004. Also leads the Lisbon Improvisation Players and shows up on some side projects where he is invariably a plus -- roughly analogous to someone like Tony Malaby. Abstract free jazz, ably supported, not too rough, but doesn't quite ignite -- it's easy enough to imagine Vandermark in the same company pushing the envelope harder. Best stretch is one on baritone. Dedicates the album to Giorgio De Chirico. Also does photo work, worth checking out on his website. B+(**)

Jon Alberts/Jeff Johnson/Tad Britton: Apothecary (2007-08 [2009], Origin): Piano trio, first album by Alberts, who evidently owns the Fu Kun Wu Lounge in Seattle where most of this was recorded. "Green Dolphin Street," "Nardis," "Footprints," a couple of Monk tunes. Didn't sound like much at first, but sort of snook up on me -- the Monks most idiosyncratically straightened out. B+(**)

Freddy Cole: The Dreamer in Me (2008 [2009], High Note): Played this in the car and Laura was trying to figure out who it was: "it isn't Nat King Cole." I had to laugh. She wasn't aware of Nat's baby brother, who has the genes, the speakeasy pipes, even a bit of the piano. Last album I thought he was finally growing out of big brother's legacy, now that he's gotten to be a good deal older than Nat ever was. But he's straddling here, on the one hand sounding more like Nat than ever, on the other feeling exceptionally confident on his own. A live set at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola. Plays piano on four cuts, giving way to John di Martino on the other seven. Namechecks Von Freeman on "The South Side of Chicago," but the sax man is Jerry Weldon -- sounding momentarily a lot like Freeman. With Randy Napoleon on guitar, Elias Bailey on bass, Curtis Boyd on drums. A-

Count Basie Orchestra: Swinging, Singing, Playing (2009, Mack Avenue): The massed horn attack still sends a tingle up your spine. The solos are less impressive, with the recognizable names down to trumpeters Scotty Barnhart and James Zollar, so the guests help there, but only Curtis Fuller shows up with a horn -- well, Frank Wess brought his flute -- and only Hank Jones adds much of note. Then there are the singers: Nnenna Freelon and Janis Siegel better than expected; Jamie Cullum even worse, and Jon Hendricks on some other planet. B

John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble: Eternal Interlude (2009, Sunnyside): Downbeat's rising star composer/arranger, next in line to challenge Maria Schneider in those slots. Rather dazzling for the most part, although I get lost in a couple of spots -- when the pace slows, so does my consciousness. (Cf. "The Cloud," ending with unintelligible words from Theo Bleckmann.) I'm not a doubter; I'm just not sure yet what I believe in. [B+(**)]

These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.

Carl Maguire's Floriculture: Sided Silver Solid (2009, Firehouse 12): Pianist, called his first album Floriculture (2005, Between the Lines) and kept he name for his group, even though only Dan Weiss (drums) returns here: John Hebert takes over the bass slot, Oscar Noriega alto sax (although clarinet and bass clarinet are more prominent), and most importantly Stephanie Griffin expands the quartet to quintet with her viola -- the dominant sound, giving the whole an abstract, fractured chamber music feel, punctuated by the occasional Sturm und Drang. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Darcy James Argue's Secret Society: Infernal Machines (2008 [2009], New Amsterdam): Cover looks familiar, but I don't have any note of this in my records. Argue is from Vancouver, arrived in New York in 2003, studied with Bob Brookmeyer. Big band arranger, with a big band that probably intersects quite a bit with Mike Holober's group(s). Name comes from a John Philip Sousa line, the residue of an era when machines could appear monstrous. Argue's band, however, is nothing like that. This one is clean and functional verging on slick and powerful. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Jeff "Tain" Watts: Watts (2008 [2009], Dark Key): Drummer, broke in at age 21 on the first Wynton Marsalis album (back when Wynton was 20 and Branford 21). Has six albums under his own name -- one cut in 1991, a second (first released) in 1999, picked up the pace after that. Quartet with Terence Blanchard, Branford Marsalis, and Christian McBride, high octane mainstreamers who can run with a fast one. "The Devil's Ring Tone: The Movie" adds some noise, something about "W" and the Devil. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Christian McBride & Inside Straight: Kind of Brown (2009, Mack Avenue): Bassist, wound up on the cover of Downbeat's critics poll issue, winning acoustic bassist over perennial Dave Holland, coming in second on electric bass. He has nine or so albums since an impressive major label deubt in 1994 and a huge number of side credits (AMG's list runs to four pages, but there looks to be a lot of chaff in there). This is basically a Holland-style group, with high saxophone (Steve Wilson on alto and soprano) and vibes (Warren Wolf Jr.) to steer clear of the bass, although McBride goes one step further, omitting the trombone in favor of pianist Eric Reed. McBride swings harder and has a fondness for funk, but he doesn't exert enough gravity to keep the lighter elements from floating away. B [Rhapsody]

Rob Burger: City of Strangers (2009, Tzadik): Tin Hat founder, plays piano but also lots of other instruments, like accordion, guitars, lap steel, banjo, ukulele, harmonica, marimba, vibes, jew's harp. Short pieces, 31 in all, many just soundtrack fragments, most augmented with viola and violin, one with Marc Ribot guitar. Nice enough, but doesn't flow all that well, and is far from substantial. B [Rhapsody]

Grant Stewart: Plays the Music of Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn (2009, Sharp Nine): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1971, basically a generation but little else removed from one-time young fogeys like Scott Hamilton and Ken Peplowski. Last time I reviewed a record by Stewart the label owner/producer wrote in to register his dismay and hope that I would listen to the record again. I don't mind letters like that. I might even learn something some day. But I didn't change my mind, and he never sent me another record. This is Stewart's second since then: a quartet with Tardo Hammer (piano), Paul Gill (bass), and Joe Farnsworth (drums). Eight Ellington and/or Strayhorn songs, "It Don't Mean a Thing" the only one I can instantly ID. Reminds me that my main problem with Stewart is that his tone strikes me as rather dull, at least compared to a dozen similar sax players. On the other hand, there's something here that resists the young fogey caricature. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Grant Stewart: Young at Heart (2007 [2008], Sharp Nine): One album back. Another quartet, with Tardo Hammer (piano) and Joe Farnsworth (drums) constants, but with Peter Washington in the bass slot (big improvement, not a surprise). Starts with the luscious title song, followed by a slow burn on "You're My Thrill." Turns a bit boppy on the one original, "Shades of Jackie Mac," for Jackie McLean, and stays more or less in that mode through Ellington and Jobim. Album cover has a brunette draped over his shoulders, his best Bennie Wallace move to date. Doesn't have the ballad tone, but he seems more comfortable here. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Joe Locke/David Hazeltine Quartet: Mutual Admiration Society 2 (2009, Sharp Nine): Vibes-piano duet, reinforced by Essiet Essiet on bass and Billy Drummond on drums. As the title suggests, Locke and Hazeltine have done this before, with their 1999 album Mutual Admiration Society. Vibes-piano is one a combination that tends to work, as Milt Jackson/John Lewis showed many times. Locke first came to my attention in a duo with Kenny Barron, But Beautiful. Hazeltine is one of the best mainstream pianists working, notable both as a trio leader and accompanist. Nice enough, but still this scoots by without leaving much of an impression, like all the mutual admiration doesn't produce any tension to spark our interest. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Cyro Baptista & Banquet of the Spirits: Infinito (2009, Tzadik): Brazilian percussionist, has half dozen albums since 1997, including last year's group-giving Banquet of the Spirits. Not really sure who all plays on this, as the three or four sources I've found disagree. Core band is evidently Baptista on all sorts of percussion and exotica; Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz on bass, oud, gimbri; Brian Marsella on keyboards and maybe melodica; Tim Keiper on drums. Add to that a list of guests that may or may not include Anat Cohen, John Zorn, Erik Friedlander, Zé Mauricio, Romero Lubambo, Ikue Mori, Peter Scherer, and a lot of people I don't recoginze (Tom-E-Tabla?). Some vocals. Traces of Brazilian and Middle Eastern musics, but no clear fusion or synthesis. Some of it's intriguing, but most I don't get. B [Rhapsody]

Tortoise: Beacons of Ancestorship (2009, Thrill Jockey): Instrumental rock group, been around since the early 1990s, with Jeff Parker, who has some jazz cred, on guitar, but more often than not he's buried under the keyboards -- presumably John McEntire and John Herndon, although both are also credited with drums. The pieces have some structure and sometimes get edgy if not quite noisy. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Marcus Strickland: Of Song (2008 [2009], Criss Cross): After several self-released albums, Downbeat's rising star (#2 at tenor sax, #1 at soprano sax) sloughs an album off on the premier Dutch mainstream label. Quartet, with David Bryant on piano added to his trio of Ben Williams on bass and brother E.J. Strickland on drums. Seems a little slow to me, starting with "Ne Me Quitte Pas" and a harp-enhanced Oumou Sangare song. "It's a Man's Man's World" is barely recognizable only from the bass, and I don't think the piano adds a thing. A good saxophonist with better albums. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Adam Rogers: Sight (2008 [2009], Criss Cross): A guitarist with a light touch on long and elegant lines, backed by John Patitucci on bass and Clarence Penn on drums. Four originals, covers of bebop and standards; stays within a fairly narrow sonic band, requiring more attention than I like but often rewarding it. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Profound Sound Trio: Opus de Life (2008 [2009], Porter): Andrew Cyrille on drums, Paul Dunmall on tenor sax and bagpipes, Henry Grimes on bass. Live set, all group improvs, raw both in sound and substance. Grimes sounds especially primitive here, Ayleresque even. Dunmall has always been hit-and-miss, but he's pretty much always on here. He even squeezes out a couple of minutes of rather sublime music on his bagpipes, elsewhere more often than not an implement of torture. Cyrille may get first billing alphabetically, but he does a remarkable job of holding it all together, and gets to end the set on a rapturous crash. They didn't try to tone down the applause, and for once it's deserved. A- [Rhapsody]

The Nu Band: Lower East Side Blues (2008 [2009], Porter): Quartet, label describes them as free bop. Veterans: the horns are Roy Campbell (trumpet, pocket trumpet, flugelhorn) and Mark Whitecage (alto sax, clarinet); the rhythm section is Joe Fonda (bass) and Lou Grassi (drums). Third album together since 2001. All four contribute songs, with Fonda's called "In a Whitecage/The Path," and Whitecage's "Like Sonny." Despite the "Charlie Parker Place" roadsign on the cover, doesn't strike me as boppish -- has a bit of a world music vibe. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Old Dog: By Any Other Means (2007 [2009], Porter): Quartet, led by saxophonist Louie Belogenis (or Louis -- google gives Louie the edge by a little more than 3-to-1), credited with tenor here. Other members: Karl Berger (vibes, piano), Michael Bisio (bass), Warren Smith (drums). Belogenis' early credits (c. 1992) are with God Is My Co-Pilot (seems to be a post-no-wave rock group with porn themes) and Prima Materia (Rashied Ali group channeling Coltrane and Ayler); later he fronted a group with Roy Campbell called Exuberance. Seems like a formidable player, especially well versed in late Coltrane. Berger lays out the first cut, then enters on piano, then moves to vibes, making good use of both instruments. The sort of record I would put back for further listening if I actually had it. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Barry Guy/Marilyn Crispell/Paul Lytton: Phases of the Night (2007 [2008], Intakt): If you take Penguin Guide as gospel, there is probably no major jazz artist that I am further behind on than Barry Guy. (I've rated one Guy record plus two from London Jazz Composers Orchestra, for most intents Guy records. For comparison, I have 5 from Derek Bailey, not much better, especially percent-wise.) Guy seems to have written these four pieces, reportedly inspired by paintings by Max Ernst, Dorothea Tanning, Wilfredo Lam and Yves Tanguy. They do vary in density, detail, and color, the denser the better with this group. The pieces tend to start with bass rumble, and while Crispell is awesome, she never quite beats Guy into the ground. Remarkable, I think. Wish I knew for sure. A- [Rhapsody]

Fred Anderson: Staying in the Game (2008 [2009], Engine): Pushing age 80, seems to be mellowing still, but this is pretty much his standard trio disc, the slight dropoff partly attributable to Tim Daisy instead of Hamid Drake on drums, partly sound -- although regular bassist Harrison Bankhead comes through loud and clear. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Warren Smith Composers Workshop Ensemble: Old News Borrowed Blues (2009, Engine): Hard working, little recorded drummer, ringleader here for something sort of like a big band but rather casually arranged: 2 trumpets, euphonium/bass trombone, 5 reeds, bass violin and guitar but no bass, a second drums/vibes player, plus extra African percussion. A three-part quite, four pieces called "Free Forms," one called "One More Lick for Harold Vick" (an obscure saxophonist c. 1960). I didn't make much sense of it all, but it just sort of slid by with slippery grooves and good humor. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Flow Trio: Rejuvenation (2008 [2009], ESP): Basic avant-sax trio, with Louie Belogenis on tenor sax, Joe Morris on bass, and Charles Downs on drums. Sax is rather lacklustre, partly sonic but mostly because the one thing this group doesn't do is flow. B [Rhapsody]

Chick Corea & Gary Burton: The New Crystal Silence (2007 [2008], Stretch, 2CD): Back in 1972 ECM released the old Crystal Silence, giving Burton top billing. The pair bounced into each other several times since then, leading to this 35th anniversary reunion. Two discs: the first fortified by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the second a bare duo. Needless to say, the latter works better, mostly by avoiding the excess gunk. Still, on their own this is pretty thin. B- [Rhapsody]

John McLaughlin/Chick Corea: Five Peace Band Live (2008 [2009], Concord, 2CD): Another anniversary reunion, this time looking back 40 years to joint service under Miles Davis. Corea plays electric piano here, chasing or pushing McLaughlin through a series of 20-minute groove pieces, with Christian McBride and Vinnie Colaiuta helping out. It's pretty good for what it is, even when Corea is just diddling on his own, as happens a lot in "Dr. Jackle," but the pay off comes when Kenny Garrett chimes in. I've gotten to where I don't expect much from these guys, so this is a very pleasant surprise. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • John Abercrombie: Wait Till You See Her (ECM): Sept. 8
  • Eddie Allen: Jazzy Brass for the Holidays (DBCD)
  • Ryan Blotnick: Everything Forgets (Songlines): Sept. 8
  • The Joshua Breakstone Trio: No One New (Capri)
  • Gary Burton/Pat Metheny/Steve Swallow/Antonio Sanchez: Quartet Live (Concord)
  • Charito Meets Michel Legrand: Watch What Happens (CT Music): Oct. 6
  • Gordon Grdina's East Van Strings: The Breathing of Statues (Songlines): Sept. 8
  • The Gordon Grdina Trio: . . . If Accident Will (Plunge)
  • Eyal Maoz's Edom: Hope and Destruction (Tzadik)
  • Dafnis Prieto Si O Si Quartet: Live at Jazz Standard NYC (Dafnison Music)
  • Fred Simon: Since Forever (Naim)
  • Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls: Seize the Time (Naim)
  • Alex Terrier New York Quartet: Roundtrip (Barking Cat)
  • Henry Threadgill Zooid: This Brings Us to Volume 1 (Pi)

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Downbeat Poll

Posted file here.

Friday, August 28, 2009

George Russell

Fred Kaplan: George Russell, RIP: I only lately stumbled onto this notice. In fact, several recent jazz deaths only came to my attention when I was doing some research toward commenting on Downbeat's Critics Poll -- Bud Shank, Charlie Mariano, at least I knew about Rashied Ali, and later Joe Maneri. Those are all great musicians, but Russell was on a higher plane. Everything Kaplan says is true, but there's much more, and I'm sure I haven't come close to sorting it out. Russell's 1956-62 albums are widely acknowledged, but his later records are barely known -- some of the first electronic music in jazz, long suites and broad concepts. But it was less what he did than the cross-polination he practiced: he made his stage debut with Fats Waller, and Sheila Jordan made her recording debut with him; he wrote pieces like "Cubano Be/Cubano Bop" and "A Bird in Ygor's Garden"; he kicked theory around with Miles Davis and Gil Evans, eventually writing the book on postbop jazz; he left the country for Scandinavia from 1964-69, launching a whole generation of major players; in 1969 he was hired by Gunther Schuller to teach at New England Conservatory, where he did as much as anyone to break jazz into academia. He got some recognition during his life, including a MacArthur genius grant, but he's nowhere among the contenders in Downbeat's Hall of Fame poll. I discovered him back in my first flush of interest in jazz in the mid-1970s, and I've taken him as a touchstone ever since. I recall coming up with aharebrained theory that they were actually four separate avant-jazz schools, founded in the mid-late 1950s by Russell, Ornette Coleman, Charles Mingus, and Cecil Taylor. You could throw more names out there -- I figured Coltrane was Russell ricocheted off Coleman; Sun Ra was a close analog to Mingus; Ayler was later and, well, maybe a fifth. Russell's last album was The 80th Birthday Concert, which was the kind of tribute album his genius made just by letting his ideas and protégés come back to him. I recommend it almost as highly as his first album, 1956's Jazz Workshop, the foundry of really modern jazz.

For more, see the Boston Globe obit.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Talking American

Matt Yglesias: Right-Wing Cranks and Israel: Glad someone said this (although it could have been said in fewer words, with fewer mitigating asides):

I think Josh Marshall is to some extent overthinking his analysis of Mike Huckabee's claim that "generally Evangelicals are so much more supportive of Israel than the American Jewish community." Everything he writes about Christian Zionist eschatology, the apocalypse, and Revisionist Zionism is true. But the larger truth is just that Evangelicals, on average, despite the fact that an intuitive reading of the Gospels points in a different direction, are just generally inclined toward an affection for violence, brutality, and authoritarianism.

If you look at support for executing felons or support for torturing terrorism suspects or support for launching aggressive wars, time and again you'll see that white Evangelical Protestants are the leading proponents of violence as a solution to policy problems.

So if you totally ignore Israel, and just look at the "America debate" inside the United States you find that Evangelicals are much more inclined than Jews to believe that using the military to kill foreigners is a wise and moral approach to security issues. That's not because Evangelicals are more "supportive of America" than Jews are, it's because they're more supportive of violence. Jews and Evangelicals, meanwhile, are both favorably disposed toward Israel. But "support for Israel" in the context of American political debates, is often glossed as meaning something like "proclivity to believe that killing Arabs is a wise and moral approach to security issues."

One interesting thing about right-wing support for Israel -- and this is not just an evangelical phenomenon; it's equally true of neocons -- is that they seem to intuitively grasp that Israel is a racist, vicious, violent, expansionist, domineering force, and that's precisely what they like about Israel. Jewish supporters of Israel (neocons excepted) take great pains to deny all those attributes; they invariably cast Israel's actions as defensive. Part of this is that evangelicals are especially close to the religious settler movement, which is -- even by Israeli standards -- exceptionally belligerent.

This violent streak has a long history in American politics, but it especially came to the fore under George W. Bush, whose abiding faith in the "clarifying" power of force is downright fascist. Jim Geraghty memorably summed this up in a book title: Voting to Kill. But it goes back a long time. One example: after Begin installed the first far-right government in Israel, there was much worry about the reaction when Israeli right-wingers would appear before Congress. Turned out that Alabama Senator Richard Shelby's response to (I think it was) Yigal Allon was, "Now you're finally talking American."

I'm reading Lords of the Land: The War for Israel's Settlements in the Occupied Territories, by Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar, and one thing that's especially striking, even beyond the racist violence so many settlers enjoy, is the messianic overtones of their beliefs -- which differ from the Christians mainly in their belief that is should be possible to secure heaven on earth. I've never been able to believe that Christians actually believe in premillennial dispensationalism (much less understand it), but like moths to the flame they seem to intuitively get off on the apocalypse over there.

Rick Perlstein: In America, Crazy Is a Preexisting Condition: More American history, mostly dêjà vu.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Talking PolicySpeak Disaster Blues

George Lakoff: The PolicySpeak Disaster for Health Care. Useful and somewhat insightful critique of how Obama and most of those who more or less support him speak about the health care issues -- not that I'm not annoyed with the insinuation that it's all a matter of framing. The masses may only respond to political issues in emotional terms, but there's still something to be said for rationally figuring out the policy details. Of course, the left is at a disadvantage here, as in virtually all policy debates, both because we have some good faith in democracy and because we actually intend to accomplish something worthwhile. The right, with no interest in either, is free to kick our asses, but they've hardly been geniuses in this shouting match: they repeatedly come off as ignorant, hysterical, and mean, and in some ways we're best off just to let them destroy themselves. Lakoff has a knack for finding an important point then losing it on his first stab at reframing:

Eighth, it was a mistake to put cost ahead of morality. Health care is a moral issue, and the right-wing understands that and is using it. That's why the "death panels" and "government takeover" language resonates with those who have a conservative moral perspective and have effectively used terms like "pro-life." Health care is a life and death issue, which is as moral as anything could be. The insurance companies have been on the side of death, and that needs to be said overtly.

Morality isn't the right word here, but he's close. The basic fact is that if you can put a price on surviving an illness or injury vs. dying, that price would gladly be met by anyone able to meet it. It's easy enough to see that we value our own lives and most likely the lives of the people we love most more than money. Focus on cost runs against this instinct. (A curious turnaround, actually, since it is usually the moneygrubbing right that lectures us on how little we can afford to pay even for the most basic necessities of those most desperately in need.) That's why we should focus first on quality care and keep that from slipping regardless of cost, only secondarily looking at cost as an aid to being able to do more thing better. On the other hand, following Lakoff's suggestion and decrying insurance companies as deathmongers isn't even true -- at most you can say they are indifferent to deaths because their fiduciary responsibility is focused on profits.

So, sure, we can do a better job of talking in this campaign, but what would help more than better branding and wordsmithing would be a better solution to the problem. In fact, a good start would be to actually understand the problem, which quite simply derives from the commercialization of health care. That part is simple enough, but the industry is so huge and varied that no one realistically wants to try to wring out all of the commercialization. The single-payer advocates are only going after the insurance companies, which is a big and pernicious target and one that could most easily be dispensed with, but that leaves the actual providers, who have plenty of their own problems. Arnold S. Relman, in A Second Opinion, wants to go further and reorganize the providers into non-profit PGPs, which also makes sense, but is a much bigger task, is very likely to be disruptive, and still leaves the drug and tech companies free to scheme. I'd go after them too, and I got a few more things on my list too, like information architecture, training more professionals, and educating people to make smarter health decisions. But more than all that, you need to get people to recognize that professional virtues are more important than acquiring money. The essential reform of the system is to get to the point where your doctor values your health more than his own pocketbook. That's not impossible, but it's pretty hard to do in America these days.

Matt Yglesias: The Psychology of Health Reform. Back to reality, this quotes an article by James Suroweicki on the psychology of loss aversion, then adds a couple of points that are probably more important. I'll add that a key part of why the "public option" is so critical to those of us who think reform is not just a good idea but a dire necessity is that -- exactly contrary to so many folks on the other side of the divide -- we can't stand the idea of ever again being subject to a corporate bureaucracy where our health and welfare is treated as a zero-sum game. We at least know that even mediocre government bureaucracies in theory work for us. We can at least appeal to them, and it helps knowing that the coverage we need isn't coming out of their pockets -- it's actually coming out of our own, but cushioned by the fact that in a public insurance scenario everyone helps everyone out.

Ironically, the other side is equally convinced that it is the government that is arbitrary and capricious, attributes which they may or may not also recognize in the companies. (Some may hold to the fantasy that a free market forces companies to respond to the demands of customers, but there is no free market for health insurance -- nothing even remotely resembling one.) This is one reason why the real debate isn't over health care: it's over democracy. One side insists that the government can never be trusted with anything so important as health care. The other takes a similarly jaundiced view of companies, except insofar as they are regulated by laws enforced by government. Moreover, it sees government as the only agency that can represent the interests of the broad public in a society that is otherwise dominated by business. The Republicans have tied themselves to the mast of Ronald Reagan's dumb joke about the scariest words in the English language being "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help." The fact of the matter is that whenever anything goes seriously wrong -- a hurricane, an earthquake, a terrorist attack, a bunch of bankers swindling themselves into a drunken tizzy -- even Republicans descend on Washington looking for a bailout. There actually isn't anything wrong with that: many problems, especially really big ones, are by far best handled by government. Health care is one of those problems, but if the Republicans admit it they'll lose their whole shtick. So they stick to their guns and suffer, their only comfort being that others suffer worse.

Paul Krugman: Obama's Trust Problem: The news today (i.e., 5 days after this column appeared) is that Obama will renominate Ben Bernanke for a second term as Fed Reserve Chairman. Bernanke hasn't been as bad as a lot of Bush appointees, but part of that was circumstance -- he was nominated as a hawk against inflation, but he spent most of his term in a deflationary recession where his instincts were unneeded and could do little harm. On the other hand, past Fed chairmen have repeatedly been able to hold the economy in a death grip. If you're a president who is committed to trying to stimulate enough growth to actually improve the welfare of the people who voted for you, you'd think you'd want a Fed chairman who'd see eye-to-eye with you on that. Obama could in theory appoint anyone he wants, so why not come up with someone more in line with his programs and ambitions? I don't know what the thinking is here, but it sounds like Obama did this to reassure the banks and investors. That's what his team has done consistently ever since they took office, which is why we've had bailouts without any meaningful reform. Same thing has happened all across the board. Obama was elected as antiwar but he's presdided over business as usual in Iraq, an escalation in Afghanistan, and budget increases for the defense industry. The only other issue as important to his voters is a massive overhaul of the health care racket, and there he's made a series of inside deals with the AMA and PHARMA to cut back on any meaningful reform while the Republicans have had a field day with their unanswered hysterical nonsense. Obama's offer to drop the public option in favor of non-profit co-ops is one more example of his willingness to knuckle under. Krugman notes:

And let's be clear: the supposed alternative, nonprofit co-ops, is a sham. That's not just my opinion; it's what the market says: stocks of health insurance companies soared on news that the Gang of Six senators trying to negotiate a bipartisan approach to health reform were dropping the public plan. Clearly, investors believe that co-ops would offer little real competition to private insurers.

What's left of Obama's plan is a set of private insurance company regulations that would be better than the present situation but will almost instantly translate into significantly higher insurance prices, which will make universal care all that harder to achieve, and leave us in pretty much the same mess we've been entrapped in for several decades now. That may eventually turn into a make-work program for future Democrats, given that the Republicans have no ideas and no desire to actually address any real problems. But with 60 Senators and a big majority in the House you'd think now would be the time to do something. It's not happening, and a big part of the reason is that it doesn't look like Obama's fighting to make things happen or stand up for things he certainly knew before the election were right. Krugman again:

But there's a point at which realism shades over into weakness, and progressives increasingly feel that the administration is on the wrong side of that line. It seems as if there is nothing Republicans can do that will draw an administration rebuke: Senator Charles E. Grassley feeds the death panel smear, warning that reform will "pull the plug on grandma," and two days later the White House declares that it's still committed to working with him.

Time: Top 10 Health-Care-Reform Players: Just a list, but gives you a sense of the obstacle course.

  1. Max Baucus: Montana senator, safely in the industry's pocket
  2. Nancy-Ann DeParle: White House "health czar"; the insider most responsible for cutting industry deals
  3. Douglas Elmendorf: CBO director, projects costs to be surmounted by any plan
  4. Rahm Emanuel: White House chief of staff, Obama's gatekeeper
  5. Charles Grassley: Iowa senator, the Great White Hope for a bipartisan deal that will never happen, even if it doesn't matter
  6. Karen Ignagni: top insurance company lobbyist
  7. Peter Orszag: OMB director
  8. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid: House speaker and Senate majority leader, presumably responsible for pushing the bills through Congress
  9. Olympia Snowe: Maine senator, what passes for the left-wing of the Republican party these days
  10. Henry Waxman: House Energy and Commerce Committee chairman

Monday, August 24, 2009

Jazz Consumer Guide Surplus

Part of my routine on publishing a Jazz Consumer Guide file is to go through the list of the many records I didn't manage to write about and weed out 30-50 that I realize I'll never find space to get to. I'll forego that unpleasant task this round. The "done" file -- rated high enough to consider but still unreviewed -- currently holds 84 records, not an especially large number by historical standards. My guess is that between a quarter and a third will wind up with some sort of review, and it may take several rounds before they see light of day. Looking through the list it's easy to spot slim prospects, but part of my process is to award some of them a small consolation prize: a bonus round review in my surplus post. That's what I don't have time for right now, so they'll wait.

For what it's worth, the surplus file is here. The long lists are records that got dropped into the surplus more or less immediately after prospecting. There's also the unpublished Jazz CG review of the Raoul Björkenheim record that I demoted to Honorable Mention -- no fault of the record, but I never much cared for the review, and being short for space I decided a one-liner would do better now than putting a longer review off for later (which had already happened a couple of times). There are also two "consolation" reviews, which I won't make you search for:

Cosmologic: Eyes in the Back of My Head (2006 [2008], Cuneiform): Tenor sax-trombone quartet, with the latter (Michael Dessen) more than holding his own. Has a tendency to break down to noise, but the more moderate sections are tough-minded and inventive, and sometimes even the noise is bracing. B+(**)

Jim Shearer & Charlie Wood: The Memphis Hang (2008, Summit): Wood could be Memphis's answer to Dr. John -- a keyboardist-singer steeped in the city's vast musical traditions. Shearer plays jazz tuba, straddling trad jazz and bebop. He gooses Wood into a more difficult orbit, even vocalese, but he also keeps the whole affair in good humor. Billy Gibson's harmonica leads the supporting band. B+(**)

Next time the surplus cull will be more substantial. (Next time it will have to be.)

Two more files to point out:

  • Jazz Prospecting: this is the accumulated jazz prospecting file for JCG (20): basically, everything I considered in writing this particular column.
  • Jazz CG Artist Index: this gives you a quick index of all 661 records covered in 20 Jazz Consumer Guide columns, organized by artist. I pulled this data out of the serial index file, which isn't always consistently done. In particular, some *** grades should be ** grades (or maybe A-, since occasionally I slip an A- record into the honorable mentions). I've tried to group the records under principal names -- didn't catch all of them, and in some cases the groups really are more than vehicles for their nominal (and some cases arbitrary) leaders. But this does give you an idea of what I've been doing since Spring 2004.

The artist index would be better if I factored Jazz Prospecting into it. Also much, much, much longer, making it more than I want to tackle right now.

Music Week

Music: Current count 15658 [15628] rated (+30), 744 [744] unrated (+0). Another week, blah, blah, blah. Jazz CG did get published. Didn't get much feedback on it. Thought I'd work on house and not listen to much music (or at least not write much about it), but didn't follow through. Made a nice dinner on Friday. Nephew Mike blew through town over the weekend, which was pleasant and uneventful. Rhapsody keeps the rated counts high, although I'm having trouble finding new stuff I want to listen to.

  • Jack Dangers: Loudness Clarifies / Electronic Music From Tapelab (2004, Important, 2CD): British techno/electronica producer, b. John Corrigan in 1967. First disc is a techno mix that holds together remarkably well. Second collects experimental electronic music from 1993-2003 cut for film, radio, television. It's mostly ambient, shapeless, relatively beatless; interesting nonetheless. B+(***)

Jazz Prospecting (CG #21, Part 5)

Well, so much for that bright idea. I thought I'd force myself away from the computer, work on the house, work through some issues, and stay away from writing about jazz for a couple of weeks. I may try that again this week and/or next week, but thus far that's been a bust. Don't have my countertop fixed, and haven't found my missing doors. Upstairs closet is still wrecked, and the back bedroom is in even worse shape. Did manage to clear one of three desk surfaces in my work area, and cooked a nice dinner Friday night (a Tunisian fish with preserved lemons and olives dish, basic pilaf, ratatouille, the legendary Eretz Israel cake), but that's about it.

Jazz Consumer Guide was published by the Village Voice Wednesday. Didn't get much feedback, but mosty positive what little there was. I have 2154 words left over (56 records), and more I've prospected and need to write up, so the next column is pretty well booked -- mostly waiting on a sign from the Voice when they'll be ready to publish something. My rating count was a robust 30 last week, mostly because in spare moments I've been turning to Rhapsody. I've found a half dozen or so things that I would CG if I had real copies; haven't found anything yet I'd dud even without a copy, but can't say as I've been looking.

Pamela Luss with Houston Person: Sweet and Saxy (2009, Savant): Best use of "saxy" in an album title ever was a four-tenor blowout from 1959 called, without a gram of hyperbole, Very Saxy. The lineup: Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis, Buddy Tate, Coleman Hawkins, and Arnett Cobb. None of those guys would ever get taken for sweet -- Hawkins has some ballad albums to die for, but he was more like cool and debonair. Person, like Ben Webster, could do sweet, but I wouldn't want to rub him the wrong way either. His problem here is Luss: the album could use a lot more sax, and maybe even a little more sweetness. Luss's problem is song selection: seems like an odd set of ill-fitting songs. One bright spot is guitarist James Chirillo. B+(*)

Jim Snidero: Crossfire (2009, Savant): Alto saxophonist, b. 1958, studied at UNT, moved to New York, has 15 or so albums since 1987, one a tribute to Joe Henderson. I've heard very little by him -- last time was an organ quartet. This is another quartet, only with Paul Bollenback's guitar the chordal instrument, a much lighter and snazzier contrast. Snidero sounds remarkably poised at all speeds. It strikes me that alto must be easier to play than other saxophones, because there is a sweet spot in the middle range where some players can make almost anything sound effortless. Mainstream album, doesn't reach or stretch much, but Snidero finds that sweet spot consistently. A-

Cecil Brooks III: Hot Dog (2008 [2009], Savant): Drummer, proprietor of Cecil's Jazz Club in West Orange, NJ. Leads a trio here with Kyle Koehler on organ and Matt Chertkoff on guitar. Would be a throwback to the old soul jazz days except for the odd song selection. Nothing quite spoils a bright day like "Sunny." And "Hey Joe" won't make you forget Hendrix; it won't even make you remember Hendrix. B-

Joe Beck/Laura Theodore: Golden Earrings (2006-07 [2009], Whaling City Sound): Theodore is a singer, from Cleveland, age unknown, has four albums since 1995 (not counting this one). She conceived this as a Peggy Lee tribute, with 9 Lee originals and other related songs like "Fever." Lee was married to guitarist Dave Barbour, which suggested doing the songs with just guitar as accompaniment. Beck, with his homebrewed alto guitar, was a good choice. He supports the songs and fills out all the detail one needs. Beck died in 2008, a few days shy of age 63. He had a long and rather mixed career -- worked with David Sanborn, Dom Um Romão, Esther Phillips, most recently John Abercrombie; paid tribute to Django Reinhardt, and kept returning to Brazil -- but he was often best just on his own. B+(**)

Mimi Jones: A New Day (2007-08 [2009], Hot Tone Music): Looks at first like a soft soul set -- MySpace lists "Mimi Jones aka. Miriam Sullivan" as Nu-Jazz. First record. Not much of a singer -- a soft disco purr as opposed to the usual gospel roar -- but sometimes sneaks up on you. Also plays bass, which keeps her head in the groove and pops out front on occasion, a nice touch. Wrote most of the songs -- "Silva" is a good one. Band is slick and unassuming: guitar, keybs, drums, Ambrose Akinmusire's trumpet on two tracks. Closes with a nice "We Shall Overcome." B+(*)

Tessa Souter: Obsession (2009, Motéma Music): Singer, b. 1956, "of Trinidadian and English parents," based in New York, third album. Has a commanding voice, considerable poise, doesn't fit into any well worn niche: not a standards singer, not an improviser, not a songwriter, not that she doesn't do a little of each (two originals here). I'd like her better if I liked the songs better, but "Eleanor Rigby," Nick Drake, "Afro Blue," and a double dose of Nascimento are a lot to carry. Didn't notice the band. B

Edmar Castaneda: Entre Cuerdas (2009, ArtistShare): Harp player, b. 1978 in Bogota, Colombia; moved to US in 1994, has a couple of previous albums. The list of previous jazz harpists is, well, Dorothy Ashby, who cut an album I still haven't heard in 1958. Didn't expect this to work, but the harp has a sharp plucked sound, sort of a heavier, more flexible glockenspiel. He also gets a lot of help from his trio mates: Marshall Gilkes on trombone and Dave Silliman on drums/percussion. The guests (John Scofield, Andrea Tierra, Joe Locke, Samuel Torres) are less notable. [B+(**)]

Gerald Clayton: Two-Shade (2009, ArtistShare): Pianist, b. 1984 in Netherlands, son of bassist John Clayton -- you know: Clayton Brothers, Clayton-Hamilton Orchestra -- grew up in Los Angeles, based in New York. Side credits with family bands, Michael Bublé, Diana Krall, Roberta Gambarini, Kendrick Scott, a few more, starting in 2004. Debut album, a piano trio, with Joe Sanders on bass, Justin Brown on drums. Billed as a prodigy, which at age 25 I won't hold against him. Don't have any opinion on album yet, except that it's clearly worth taking seriously. [B+(**)]

Sorgen-Rust-Stevens Trio: A Scent in Motion (1994 [2009], Konnex): Harvey Sorgen on drums, Steve Rust on bass, Michael Jefrey Stevens on piano. No idea why Sorgen is listed first -- he has only one previous record under his name (Novella, 2001, Leo; actually same group listed Sorgen-Rust-Stevens) -- other than that the evident leader, Stevens, has a long history of slipping his name in the second spot (usually behind bassist Joe Fonda). Stevens and Rust split the writing credits, with Sorgen getting in on one group improv. Sorgen's discography, starting roughly 1987, includes multiple records with Fonda/Stevens and also with Hot Tuna. Rust has a couple of recent records I haven't heard and a dozen-plus side credits since 1996 with people I haven't heard of. Stevens may be shy about credits, but he's a dramatic pianist, plays loud, skittering on the edge, but can duck inside on occasion. B+(**)

Chris Pasin: Detour Ahead (1987 [2009], H2O): Trumpet player, b. 1958 in Chicago, attended New England Conservatory. First and only album, released 22 years after it was cut, with 7 of 9 Pasin originals, fronting a group of well known (must less so then) musicians: Steve Slagle (alto sax, soprano sax on 2 cuts, flute on 1), Benny Green (piano), Rufus Reid (bass), Dannie Richmond (drums). At best has a sharp hard bop edge, and is also fine when the horns drop out. Slagle is a strong soloist on alto sax, but his harmonizing takes the edge off, and he should lose the flute. Don't know why Pasin hasn't made more of a career. B+(*)

Wayne Shorter: The Soothsayer (1965 [2009], Blue Note): One of his later Blue Note Sessions, unreleased until 1980, probably because the pieces didn't add up until we started to yearn for classic performances from Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams, and the leader, but not necessarily alto saxophonist James Spaulding, who seems like the odd cat out. B+(*)

Bobby Hutcherson: Head On (1971 [2009], Blue Note): An album from Blue Note's dog days, the great vibraphonist working with classical pianist Todd Cochran on suite things with a large band; the reissue adds 40 minutes of extras that blow away the original album, especially the exciting 15:40 fusion romp "Togo Land" and some serious bebop soloing from Harold Land. B+(**)

Alvin Queen: Mighty Long Way (2008 [2009], Justin Time): Basically a hard bop drummer, Queen updates the standard quintet by trading piano for Peter Bernstein's guitar and bass for Mike LeDonne's organ (or vice versa), picking up a conga drummer for good measure. The result is nods toward soul jazz with some extra funk and fancy twists. Terell Stafford and Jesse Davis have some good moments as the horns, but mostly toot along. Songs like "I Got a Woman" and "Cape Verdean Blues" hold up fine, but lesser fare comes up short in interest. B+(*)

Wynton Marsalis: He and She (2007 [2009], Blue Note): Marsalis was long overrated as a composer, but the more he sinks his teeth into the tradition, the better he gets at making it pay. He is exceptionally comfortable in these pieces, at times achieving a grace and elegance that is downright Ellingtonian. A quintet with Walter Blanding on tenor and soprano sax, Dan Nimmer on piano, Carlos Henriquez on bass, and Ali Jackson on drums -- Blanding doesn't make much of an impression, but Nimmer more than earns his keep. The problem is that the music is broken up with numerous "poems" -- more like a libretto, as surface-deep on the battle of the sexes as he's previously been on slavery. B+(**)

Joe Maneri/Peter Dolger: Peace Concert (1964 [2009], Atavistic Unheard Music Series): An alto sax-drums free improv taped as part of "an all-night peace concert" at St. Peter's Church. Interesting enough, cerebral with little flash, but short at 24:23. The record is padded out with Stu Vandermark's 2006 interview of a reticent Maneri, longer at 26:04, an extra you won't want to bother with twice and may not make it through once. B

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Carla Bley: Carla's Christmas Carols (Watt): advance, Nov. 3
  • Stefano Bollani Trio: Stone in the Water (ECM)
  • Anouar Brahem: The Astounding Eyes of Rita (ECM): advance, Oct. 6
  • Randy Brecker: Nostalgic Journey: Tykocin Jazz Suite (Summit)
  • Anne Drummond: Like Water (ObliqSound): advance, Sept. 15
  • Egberto Gismonti: Saudações (ECM, 2CD): advance, Oct. 20
  • Keith Jarrett: Testament (ECM, 3CD): advance, Oct. 6
  • Darius Jones: Man'ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing) (AUM Fidelity)
  • Ted Kooshian's Standard Orbit Quartet: Underdog, and Other Stories . . . (Summit)
  • Pamela Luss with Houston Person: Sweet and Saxy (Savant)
  • James Moody: 4A (IPO)
  • Joe Morris Quartet: Today on Earth (AUM Fidelity)
  • Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore: Three Less Than Between (Clean Feed): advance, Oct. 6
  • Jason Stein: In Exchange for a Process (Leo): advance, Oct. 6

Friday, August 21, 2009

Health Care Kansas Style

Two things from the Wichita Eagle worth pointing out. The first is Richard Crowson's editorial cartoon:

Crowson was retired last year when the Eagle decided they didn't need original editorial cartoons, then finally brought back on a very infrequent basis. For more, see Crowson's blog.


Bill Roy: Health care rationed based on ability to pay: One of the best opinion pieces I've seen on the health care town halls. Lynn Jenkins defeated Democrat Nancy Boyda in the 2008 election, running as a "moderate" Republican (versus a rather uninspiring one-term Blue Dog Democrat), but since she got in her record has been indistinguishable from the other Kansas Republicans: conservative Jerry Moran and rabid fascist Todd Tiahrt (both running for Sam Brownback's senate seat). Roy is a retired MD who served two terms in the House, then lost two very narrow statewide Senate races against Bob Dole. I'm tempted to quote the entire piece, but here's just the start:

I attended a death panel in Holton last week. Rep. Lynn Jenkins, R-Topeka, was the convener and presided.

I don't think anyone went there expecting to participate in a death panel, and even afterward, most don't realize they did. But any group that meets with the specific purpose of denying other people necessary medical care fully qualifies as a death panel. By its action, people die.

Small-town people should have a good idea that people without insurance or money often -- not always -- can't get care. If for no other reason, they should remember the bake sales they have had to raise money to help a neighbor get care for a family member who would die without it.

On the other hand, no one would expect them to have read the 2004 report by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences that estimated 18,000 uninsured people die each year because they don't get timely medical care.

Americans ration health care on ability to pay. If people did not know that before the congresswoman's meeting, they should have when they left, because a neighbor told them how it happens.

A local businessman said he has 15 employees, and only one has health insurance. He cannot afford to buy health insurance for his employees, who earn $12 to $15 an hour, and they cannot afford to buy their own health insurance.

The consequence: "One of our workers died of cancer last year, because he didn't see the doctor until it was too late." There was a short pause. Then those in the crowd, which was heavy with Medicare recipients, went back to expressing fears about what would happen to them if other people had health insurance, too.

Read the whole thing.

By the way, I've started Arnold S. Relman's A Second Opinion: Rescuing America's Health Care. Thus far, it is one of the best books I've seen on the subject. More on that later.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Super Minority

Matthew Yglesias: Republicans Calling for Super-Majority for Health Care. I take it the political winds are changing. Maybe some of the insane opposition is blowing back. Maybe some of Obama's deals with the powers that be are bearing fruit. A while back Jim DeMint was saying that failing to deliver on health care would be Obama's Waterloo. Now he's saying that if he passes a bill without broad Republian support, the Democrats will never win an election again. Here we see Enzi and Grassley, who seem like rather arbitrary picks as the party's designated negotiators, pleading for a bill which only the 20-25 most hopeless Republicans will oppose. I think it's clear now that the Republican Party from top to bottom will say and do anything to derail any kind of reform -- a point made clear in Yglesias's last paragraph:

I note that if the people who wrote that story, Lori Montgomery and Perry Bacon Jr., were interested in producing a well-informed audience they might have noted that the House bill Grassley opposes meets both of his criteria for supporting a bill. They might have noted that the Senate HELP bill Grassley opposes meets both of his criteria for supporting a bill. They might even have speculated that Grassley is just lying when he says he wants to vote for a bill, noting that his nominal desires are contra[di]cted by his actual actions. But we don't live in a world where Washington Post articles can be reliably expected to be informative.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Jazz Consumer Guide (#20)

Tom Hull: A Summer Suite of Harmonic Disorder. This makes my 20th Jazz Consumer Guide column. Thanks to some breaks at the Village Voice, we got it out in slightly less than three months since the previous column, and they managed to find some extra space so all but one of the honorable mentions I submitted made it to print. The loser was:

Ben Stapp Trio: Ecstasis (Uqbar) Tony Malaby shines as the sideman up front in this tuba-sax-drums trio.

I sent in reviews and one-liners on 48 records, total 1736 words. I have more than that backed up for next time (and the time after), so I figured I'd have them post anything that didn't fit as web only. Nice that it didn't come to that (well, except for Stapp).

I haven't been able to move the column from every three months to anything more frequent. Doing so would let me cover more records, write more about them, and get them in print sooner. I'm guessing that the median record in this column was released about 10 months ago. (Actually, only 2 of the top 13 records came out in 2009, and those quite early in the year: Matthew Shipp and Brad Shepik.) The delays also result in some clumping, like the François Carrier pair (although I held a third record back) and most obviously the Satoko Fujii cluster (7 albums, including Gato Libre and Junk Box). (For the record, I did tag her for a dud back on the 15th column, a Quartet record called Bacchus.) Other clusters got held back, including batches by Evan Parker, Peter Brötzmann, and Paal Nilssen-Love. (I decided to slip one Parker out this time because it was close to two years old and superseded by a later ECM release.)

Another artifact of publishing the column less often than it should be published is that I've wound up slipping some A- records into the Honorable Mentions list: four this time -- Count Basie, Jimmy Rushing, Raoul Björkenheim, and Diana Krall. Various reasons for this, including that I thought the one-liners worked, but each could have used more space as well the stamp of approval that the A- grade adds. Further down, a lot of records I would like to put on the Honorable Mentions list never make it, often for no better reason than I find myself tongue-tied.

This column was based on prospecting 226 records from April 13 through July 19, plus considering 97 carryovers from before. The prospecting file is here. I currently have 114 records carrying over to the next round. I should go through, thin them out, and publish my surplus file, but I may let that slide this time, given all the other things that need my attention.

Publicist letter:

Just wanted to let you know that my 20th Jazz Consumer Guide column
has been published in the Village Voice this week:


We always have a struggle finding space for this unfashionably long
column, but fortunately the Voice found an extra quarter-page somewhere
and crammed everything I sent in (except for an honorable mention by
Ben Stapp, I'm told). More on my blog. In particular, I have a lot of
material left over that will appear in the next Jazz Consumer Guide
(or the one after that).

List by label:

  ArtistShare: Todd Coolman
  AUM Fidelity: William Parker
  Ayler: François Carrier
  Barnyard: Anthony Braxton/Kyle Brenders
  Blue Note: Patricia Barber, Blue Note 7
  Boxholder: Bill Cole
  Calle 54/Norte: Bebo Valdés/Javier Colina
  CDBaby: Craig Enright
  Clean Feed: Jorge Lima Barreto, Luis Lopes
  DMG/ARC: Raoul Björkenheim
  Dreyfus: Ahmad Jamal
  ECM: Arild Andersen, Evan Parker, Wolfert Brederode
  Ettinger Music: John Ettinger/Pete Forbes
  Greenleaf Music: Michael Bates
  High Note: Cedar Walton, Jimmy Rushing
  Icdisc: Bo's Art Trio
  Jazzheads: Oleg Kireyev
  Leo: François Carrier
  Libra: Satoko Fujii [5], Gato Libre, Junk Box
  Live Wired: Burnt Sugar
  Native Language Music: East West Quintet
  Origin: Bridge Quartet
  Ozella: Michel Sajrawy
  Q-rious: Andy Middleton
  Reach Music: Steve Herberman
  Songlines: Brad Shepik
  Soundbrush: Roger Davidson/Raúl Jaurena
  Sunnyside: Tim Ries
  Talking House: Donald Bailey, Billy Harper
  TCB: Count Basie, Brad Leali
  Thirsty Ear: Matthew Shipp
  Uqbar: Ben Stapp
  Unity Music: Scotty Barnhart, Jamie Davis
  Verve: Diana Krall

These records were picked from 323 under consideration in this cycle
(226 new records and 97 carryovers from previous periods). Jazz
Prospecting notes are at:


Let me also point out the index file I have of all 20 Jazz Consumer
Guides to date:


This includes links to the Village Voice articles and to the copies
in my archive. The left-column navigation links will get you to the
Jazz Prospecting and surplus files for each cycle. I need to put
together an artist index file like I have for Recycled Goods, but
don't have time to do that right now.

I appreciate your support in making this column possible. Despite
not appearing more frequently, we do manage to cover a lot of new
jazz, and never fail to find unique items of exceptional interest.

Jazz CG Print Notes

These are notes for records reviewed in the Jazz Consumer Guide. They are moved to the notebook upon publication of the column.

  1. Arild Andersen: Live at Belleville (2007 [2008], ECM): Bassist, one of the young Norwegian players who latched on to George Russell in the late 1960s, establishing a new postbop wave that turned into a big chunk of the ECM aesthetic -- Jan Garbarek and Terje Rypdal are better known, probably because they aren't bassists. Andersen contributed mightly to all that, moving on to his Masqualero group -- better known for introducing Nils Petter Molvaer -- and he has a substantial discography under his own name: ECM's Rarum XIX: Selected Recordings is an excellent introduction, one of the best entries in their sampler series. Useful here to concentrate on the bass lines, and the lovely soft intro to "Dreamhorse" which starts arco and slowly resolves into tenor sax. After all, if you don't concentrate on the bass, you'll just get overwhelmed by the saxophonist: Tommy Smith, in a muscular, mature, masterful performance. A-
  2. Donald Bailey: Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 3 (2008 [2009], Talking House): Drummer, b. 1934, best known for his work with Jimmy Smith 1956-63, which pretty much covers Smith's prime period. Quite a few scattered credits follow: AMG goes into three pages, with the rate picking up after 1990, but the later listings include lots of reissues. First album, or maybe second. Drummers who don't write rarely get their name on top of albums -- Art Blakey being the rule-proving exception -- but we've seen a few exceptions lately, including Mike Clark's on this same label. Can't say as he has any particular style, but he has interesting taste in friends: he turns most of the album over to tenor sax titan Odean Pope, for a bruising, bravado performance, then closes out with Charles Tolliver on two cuts, one enhanced by the leader's harmonica. B+(***)
  3. Patricia Barber: The Cole Porter Mix (2007 [2008], Blue Note): She takes Porter as a fellow modernist aesthete and drags him into a world where modernity's future has dimmed: the songs are slower, sadder, hazier -- flippant irony giving way to ambiguity. But the guitar-driven music is, if anything, even more art deco elegant. Chris Potter's tenor sax breaks grab you every time, then fade into the smoke. A-
  4. Scotty Barnhart: Say It Plain (2008 [2009], Unity Music): Trumpeter. MySpace has him based in Los Angeles but teaching at Florida State. B. 1964. Debut album, calling in various chits from years as a sideman, including five piano players (Ellis Marsalis and Marcus Roberts the best known), trumpet duets with Wynton Marsalis and Clark Terry, and a vocal from Jamie Davis -- like Barnhart, an alumni of the Basie big band, which Barnhart joined in 1993. Stanley Crouch wrote the gushing liner notes, and Bill Cosby chipped in a blurb quote. This sounds a bit like he's trying too hard, but the record is delightful, a vigorous slice of New Orleans neotrad, with supple ballads, a couple of burners, a couple of amusing twists. About half original, half covers. The Wynton duo on "Con Alma" is disposable, but Clark Terry's turn, complete with vocal, is worth hearing ("Pay Me My Money"), and Davis turns in a charming "Young at Heart." Barnhart also has a book: The World of Jazz Trumpet: A Comprehensive History and Practical Philosophy. B+(***)
  5. Jorge Lima Barreto: Zul Zelub (2005 [2008], Clean Feed): Portuguese pianist, b. 1949. I've seen a note that credits him with several books and 16 records, mostly working through groups: AnarBand (1972), Conceptual Music Association (Associaçao Música Conceptual, with Carlos Zingaro, 1973), Telectu (with Vitor Rua, since 1982). Also listed in a "classical composers database" -- good chance some of his work is classified as postclassical avant whatever. AMG knows about three records (including one Telectu), plust side credits with Raimundo Fagner, Derek Bailey, Carlos Bechegas. This is solo piano plus sound effects. The 45:12 "Zul" is accompanied by "radio SW" -- a source of common tuner sweep noise. For the 30:10 "Zelub" he uses "4 cd players." The latter are lower key and offer less contrast in a slightly slower, but still remarkable, piece. The former is quite wonderful. The piano as a brittle sound, something I associate with prepared pianos, but there's nothing in the notes about that, and the effect is less pronounced. A-
  6. Count Basie Orchestra: Mustermesse Basel 1956 Part 1 (1956 [2009], TCB): Volume 19 in TCB's "Swiss Radio Days Jazz Series": old radio tapes from famous bands who wandered through Switzerland 50+ years ago. Such records are common on European labels, and likely to become more so as Europe's more sensible copyright laws dump old performances into the public domain. Most such records I've heard offer little of new interest and are usually second choices, if that, for listening pleasure. This is exceptional on both counts: it is better in almost every respect -- sharper arranging, more virtuosic solos, even sounds terrific -- than any contemporary Basie recording I'm familiar with (e.g., the studio April in Paris or 1957's live Count Basie at Newport). It's also not so far removed from the Old Testament virtues, like soloists who aren't just cogs in the machine. A-
  7. Michael Bates: Clockwise (2008, Greenleaf Music): Bassist, composer, grew up in Canada, played in hardcore and punk bands before settling into jazz. Has three albums, some attributed to Michael Bates' Outside Sources, although Bates is the only one on all three albums. (Actually, my copy, with no mention of Outside Sources, has a different cover from the one shown on the band's website and Myspace page. The label's website shows my cover.) Pianoless quartet this time, with Russ Johnson on trumpet, Quinsin Nachoff on sax or clarinet, and Jeff Davis on drums. It's worth the trouble trying to focus on bass/drums, which provide the foundation for all the free-flying sparks. B+(***)
  8. Raoul Björkenheim/William Parker/Hamid Drake: DMG @ the Stone: Volume 2 (2006 [2008], DMG/ARC): DMG is Downtown Music Gallery, a small record shop on the Bowery that looms large for anyone in the US (and possibly elsewhere) interested in free jazz. Their weekly newsletter is more than a little verbose, but essential for anyone trying to track what's new and interesting (especially since the demise of Jazzmatazz, a fallen project that someone really should pick up and get going again). DMG's owners have some sort of relationship with John Zorn and the Stone. At one point in 2006 they "currated" a series of concerts, and for their trouble have been allowed to release at least two of them. Vol. 1 we'll get to in due course, but the personnel here beat it to my CD player. Björkenheim is a Finnish-American guitarist, b. 1956 in Los Angeles, based in New York, but has done most of his recording in Helsinki -- with UMO Jazz Orchestra, and in his own groups, Krakatau and Scorch. I've heard very little by him, but I've really liked what I've heard -- an album with Lukas Ligeti called Shadowglow made an early Jazz CG. Parker and Drake need no introduction. They're all over the record, dynamic engines of enormous variety and vitality, the only surprise being a stretch where Parker switches to shawm (an ancient double reed precursor of the oboe) and instead of just farting around plays with Rahsaan-like intensity. Otherwise, the guitarist tries to keep out front, with intense hornlike leads. Not his most interesting mode, but strong enough to stay in the game. A-
  9. The Blue Note 7: Mosaic: A Celebration of Blue Note Records (2008 [2009], Blue Note): Bill Charlap's trio augmented with three name horn players -- Nicholas Payton (trumpet), Steve Wilson (alto sax, flute), and Ravi Coltrane (tenor sax) -- plus Peter Bernstein on guitar, work through songs from Blue Note's heyday. Five members plus Renee Rosnes contribute arrangements, but no one seems to have a handle on how to play the horns off, maybe because the original records never used groups like this, or because the Charlap trio and the horns inhabit different universes. Bernstein came up with the only solo I took note of, probably on the song he arranged. B
  10. Bo's Art Trio: Live: Jazz Is Free and So Are We! (2007 [2008], Icdisc): Bo is Bo van de Graaf, Dutch saxophonist (soprano, alto, tenor). Don't have much background, but he's been around since 1976, discography since 1981, mostly on BVHaast. Has some sort of relationship with film composer Nino Rota. He formed Bo's Art Trio in 1988 with pianist Michiel Braam and drummer Fred van Duijnhoven. Like much of the Dutch avant-garde, the operative concept here is humor -- most obviously on the two pieces where Simon Vinkenoog shouts poetry over Braam's jokey, crashing piano chords: D.H. Lawrence's "A Sane Revolution" from 1928 and a "Jazz and Poetry" original, in Dutch, I believe. Those pieces may limit the appeal. Van de Graaf's saxes are bright and edgy, bursting with joy. B+(**)
  11. Anthony Braxton/Kyle Brenders: Toronto (Duets) 2007 (2007 [2008], Barnyard, 2CD): Two discs, two compositions; two reed players -- Braxton plays sopranino, soprano, and alto sax; Brenders clarinet, soprano and tenor sax -- tracking each other closely, with occasional give-and-take, slightly more so on "Composition 356" (the second disc). Not much dissonance, nor much range or color -- the soprano/sopranino dominate, but don't squeak much. Little things count. B+(**)
  12. Wolfert Brederode: Currents (2006 [2008], ECM): Dutch pianist, b. 1974. AMG lists one previous album. This one adds clarinets (Claudio Puntin) to piano trio. Starts with an easy-flowing rhythmic piece, a mode he returns to now and then. In between are tone poem things, where the clarinet leads. Seems simple, and probably is, but as it sinks it it's very attractive. B+(***)
  13. Bridge Quartet: Night (2007 [2009], Origin): Second album from this group, which was pulled together by drummer Alan Jones on a break back home in Portland, OR, from his usual haunts in Europe. They're basically a small time bar band, playing covers of pieces like "Green Dolphin Street" and "Bemsha Swing." Thing is, they're really good at it -- maybe because Jones recruited a couple of ringers. Pianist Darrell Grant has a substantial catalog, and saxophonist Phil Dwyer came all the way from Toronto. He holds his own on Sonny Rollins' "Strode Rode," and does a mean Charlie Parker on Victor Feldman's "A Face Like Yours." He doesn't have a lot out under his own name, but has an intriguing sideline: the Phil Dwyer Academy of Musical and Culinary Arts. He's cookin' here. B+(***)
  14. Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Making Love to the Dark Ages (2008 [2009], Live Wired): Critic Greg Tate's music thing, billed as "a territory band, a neo-tribal thang, a community hang, a society music guild aspiring to the condition of all that is molten, glacial, racial, spacial, oceanic, mythic, antiphonal and telepathic." Ten or so albums since 2001, mostly molten, glacial, racial, spacial, etc., crafted with Butch Morris-style conduction, full of smart ideas, long on mood, short on solos, hard to get much of a handle on. Starts with a three-part gospel-inflected slavery epic; ends with the two-part title thing, largely based on a minor baritone sax riff from "Moist" Paula Henderson, just ugly enough it doesn't lull you into stupor. B+(***)
  15. François Carrier: The Digital Box (1999-2006 [2008], Ayler, 7CD): Download only, as I understand it, although the label very generously provided clumsy me with a set of CDRs, packaged with their usual exceptional care. (Ayler has been going more and more to download-only product, which I always thought a shame, not least because their original artwork and packaging is so nice. I understand they're still producing the artwork, which can be downloaded with the music, so you can print your own packaging -- not that you're going to be able to print it on slick card stock.) Sometimes I complain about multi-disc sets being too much extra work, but one way to handle that is to just let them flow into a single impression -- and that's a pleasure here. Carrier plays alto sax, increasingly soprano sax as well. A free player, I go back and forth on how original or distinctive he is, but he has a spirit and clarity of vision that becomes increasingly compelling the longer he plays. First disc here is a 1999 trio with Dewey Redman joining on on one cut. The rest of the material runs from 2004-06: two discs of duets with drummer Michel Lambert (a constant presence on all 7 discs); two trio discs with bassist Pierre Côté; two quartet discs with guitarist Sonny Greenwich and bassist Michel Donato. The bassless duets run a little slower, working through short, relatively patchy pieces, more like practice, or work even. The others offer long takes, the trios more improv, the quartet a long thematic piece called "Soulful South." It adds up to more than the sum of the parts. A-
  16. François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Jean-Jacques Avenel: Within (2007 [2008], Leo): Avenel is a French bassist, best (or almost exclusively) known for his work with Steve Lacy from 1975 on. He has one record under his own name, a world jazz piece called Waraba, which I recommend highly. Reportedly, he also plays sanza here (according to the booklet) or kalimba (according to the label's website). Carrier plays alto and soprano sax, mostly the former. He's released a number of records since 1998, mostly trios, virtually all with drummer Michel Lambert. Three pieces here, the middle one called "Core" runs 40:18. Takes a while to kick in, and requires more attention than I normally muster, but I've always loved Carrier's sound, and find the intricate free improv fascinating. [Note: Available on CD, but also as a download for $6.49, a bump up from Leo's usual $5.49 price, probably reflecting the declining value of the dollar. The downloads are available in OGG format, which sounds like a good idea to me, but it wasn't easy to get them -- actually, I just tried some of their 30-second samples -- to play on a MS Windows machine. Wound up downloading and installing zipf and firefox. One reason I thought of the download option is that Carrier has a new 7-CD set available as download-only on Ayler Records -- a label I regard highly, but haven't listened to since they switched to download-only releases, figuring it's all too much hassle. But I'm starting to be tempted.] A-
  17. Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble: Proverbs for Sam (2001 [2008], Boxholder): Another live recording from the Vision Festival, belatedly recycled for the rest of us. Sam is alto saxophonist Sam Furnace, present here, but deceased in 2003. The Proverbs are from the Yoruba of Nigeria. Cole was born 1937 in Pittsburgh, where he got BA and MA degrees; got his Ph.D. at Wesleyan, writing his dissertation on John Coltrane, and taught from 1974 until retiring in the 1990s at Dartmouth. He's written books on Coltrane and Miles Davis. His first album under his own name appeared in 2000; AMG lists 3 prior side credits: Jayne Cortez, Blaise Siwula, and Ken Colyer. Cole plays exotic wind instruments, mostly squeaky double reeds from Asia -- Chinese sona, Indian shenai and nagaswarm, Ghanaian flute, didgeridoo. He has a half-dozen albums, either duos or Untempered Ensemble. The latter, as well as many of the duos, include William Parker, who most likely developed his own taste in exotics from Cole. Also present here: Furnace (alto sax, flute), Joseph Daley (baritone horn, tuba, trombone), Cooper-Moore (diddly bow, rim drums, flute), Warren Smith (percussion), Atticus Cole (more percussion). A-
  18. Todd Coolman: Perfect Strangers (2008, ArtistShare): Bassist, based in New York since 1978, teaches at Purchase College, has a couple of previous albums, a couple of books, a few dozen side credits going back at least to 1982. The Perfect Strangers are the composers: seven people I've never heard of who submitted pieces in response to Coolman's request. The musicians are better known: Eric Alexander (tenor sax), Brian Lynch (trumpet), Jim McNeely (piano), John Riley (drums). They make up a sparkling hard bop quintet, with Lynch standing out -- wonder if producer Jon Faddis favored him. B+(***)
  19. Roger Davidson & Raúl Jaurena: Pasión por la Vida (2008 [2009], Soundbrush): Davidson has a long history exploring Latin jazz, which has lately moved him toward Argentina's tango. He finally wrote a batch, which Jaurena's bandoneón makes sound warm, intimate, sometimes stately, more often classic. One cut triggered my Bach reflex, but I soon decided that wasn't such a bad thing. B+(***)
  20. Jamie Davis: Vibe Over Perfection (2005 [2008], Unity Music): Singer, hooked onto the Basie ghost band, and does a terrific Joe Williams impersonation. Second album that I've heard: I slightly prefer the previous It's a Good Thing, probably because the songs are first choice, but this is very close. He's one of the few jazz singers still working in the KC blues shouter mold, and possibly the best. Shelly Berg helms the massive orchestra this time. Mrs. Joe Williams contributes a blurb. B+(**)
  21. East West Quintet: Vast (2009, Native Language Music): Brooklyn group -- even on their website they say "don't be fooled by the name." Members: Dylan Heaney (saxes), Simon Kafka (guitars), Mike Cassedy (keys), Ben Campbell (bass), Jordan Perlson (drums). Kafka and Cassedy have most of the writing credits -- four each, compared to one each for Campbell and Heaney. Reportedly originated as a Cannonball Adderley-style hard bop group, but evolved to be more rockish. Works best when the saxophonist breaks free of the rhythmic thrash; worst when the thrash turns to sludge. C+
  22. Craig Enright: La Belleza . . . (2008 [2009], CDBaby): Saxophonist, b. 1957 in Omaha, raised across the river in Cedar Rapids, IA; lives in Stamford, CT, close enough to NYC. Plays latin jazz -- wrote all the pieces here, ranging from "Iowa Folk Song" to "Bata Boogie." Quintet, with Enrique Haneine making waves on piano, Alex Hernandez on bass, Ludwig Alfonso on drums, and Aryam Vazquez on congas. Reminds me a little of Benny Wallace tonewise, which makes his speed and rhythm all the more impressive. B+(***)
  23. John Ettinger/Pete Forbes: Inquatica (2008, Ettinger Music): Ettinger is a violinist, from San Francisco; this is his third album, with him also playing a little piano and bass, as well as setting up loops. Not sure about Forbes. Most likely he is a singer-songwriter with two previous albums, but here he plays drums, percussion, banjo (2 cuts), and piano (3 cuts), but doesn't sing and may not songwrite either. Comes off mostly as an aleatory electronics album, even if most of the sounds are acoustic. One cover, a lovely, haunting "Stardust." Compelling when they pick up a beat, and intriguing when they merely wander. B+(***)
  24. Satoko Fujii Trio: Trace a River (2006-07 [2008], Libra): This is easier for me to relate to than mainstream piano trios, like the recent Marc Copland records. The crashes are good for an adrenaline rush, and the quiet runs just bid time until all hell breaks out again. Drummer Jim Black takes these twists and turns with exceptional relish. Bassist Mark Dresser is often inscrutable and impenetrable, but his breaks can hold your attention, and he can push a beat as hard as anyone. Fujii can make earthshaking noise and still play fine figures in the cracks. Not sure it all holds together, but it's a thrill when it does. A-
  25. Satoko Fujii Orchestra Nagoya: Sanrei (2008, Bamako): To push the Basie comparisons further, this is one of four territory bands led by Fujii, with Tokyo and Kobe back in Japan, and New York over here. A while back she released sets simultaneously from all four, and the Nagoya group was hands down the winner. They remain an impressive group here, loud and brassy, with no piano -- Fujii is just listed as conductor. The pieces are more distributed, with two by Natsuki Tamura, and two by guitarist Yasuhiro Usui, who seems likely to be Nagoya's secret ingredient. Starts off fusiony, blasts through a lot of sci-fi space. Exhilariating much of the time, but various minor bits I find annoying -- vocal blurts, occasional squawkfests, a bit wearing. B+(**)
  26. Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York: Summer Suite (2007 [2008], Libra): A model of composing and arranging for a group of staunch individualists, a big band that stands on par with Count Basie's late-1930s juggernaut: Ellery Eskelin and Tony Malaby on tenor sax; Oscar Noriega and Briggan Krauss on alto; Andy Laster on barritone; Natsuki Tamura, Herb Robertson, Steven Bernstein, and Dave Ballou on trumpet; Curtis Hasselbring, Joey Sellers, and Joe Fielder on trombone; Stomu Takeishi on bass, Aaron Alexander on drums. Fujii plays piano but is relatively inconspicuous. Strong solo spots, the tenor saxophonists of course, but also one or more of the trombonists stand out. Spans the whole gamut of the genre: loud, quiet, sweet, sour; pretty good beat, too. The first top-ten record of 2008 I got to after filling out my ballot. Didn't take any longer last year either. A-
  27. Satoko Fujii/Myra Melford: Under the Water (2007 [2009], Libra): Two jazz pianists in three duos and a solo apiece, recorded at Maybeck Studio -- home of Concord's 30-plus volume solo piano series from the early 1990s, now deleted. Fujii and Melford started recording around then, but didn't get invites, less because they were unknown than because they were far out. The studio did have good pianos, and the tones ring out here, as does some extra percussion coaxed from the hardware. The solos lay out their kits nicely, including a barnstorming run by Fujii. The duets are more respectful, often with one rumbling on the bottom end while the other waxes eloquent. B+(***)
  28. Gato Libre: Kuro (2007 [2008], Libra): Natsuki Tamura/Satoko Fujii group, a quartet with Kazuhiko Tsumura on guitar and Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass. Fujii foregoes her piano to play accordion, which gives this group a bit of a European folk flair. I had passed on this earlier, but found it misfiled, put it on before I could look it up, and suddenly found myself hooked. B+(***) [originally B+(*)]
  29. Billy Harper: Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 2 (2006 [2009], Talking House): Amiri Baraka talks his way through the first two pieces, then returns at the end with another story of Africa, the blues people, and the evolution of the music. Worth listening to, or even studying if you're not hip to the story. Harper vamps memorably along the way, then blasts open when he gets the chance -- throw in Keyon Harold's trumpet and Charles McNeal's alto sax and this sounds like a big band even though the musician count is six or seven (two bassists, not on all the tracks together). Harper sounds great on tenor sax; OK singing "Amazing Grace." Probably not the best place to hear him. B+(**)
  30. Steve Herberman Trio: Ideals (2008, Reach Music): Guitarist, based in DC, has a couple of previous records. A subtle craftsman, hard to pin down -- cites Joe Pass, Joe Diorio, Lenny Breau, and Gene Bertoncini on his website, which gives you an idea of family resemblance, but he's better than three of those, and different from Pass. Covers include pieces by Weill, Jobim, Gershwin; also "Will You Still Be Mine?" and "Delilah" and Mal Waldron's "Soul Eyes." Originals flow nicely. With Tom Baldwin on bass, Mark Ferber on drums. B+(***)
  31. Ahmad Jamal: It's Magic (2007 [2008], Dreyfus): An old pianist with a light touch, his trio fluffed up with Manolo Badrena's extra percussion, his knack for catchy melodies undiminished. B+(***)
  32. Junk Box: Sunny Then Cloudy (2006 [2008], Libra): Another Satoko Fujii trio, with the leader on piano, husband Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, and John Hollenbeck doing percussion. A previous album called Fragment, released in 2006, made my A-list. This one has its amazing moments, but it also has plenty of rough stretches. One highlight is Tamura's eloquent lead on "Soldier's Depression," rising then fading against Hollenbeck's fractured martial drums. On the other hand, the next song starts off with a trumpet tantrum; after blowing itself out, Fujii has a promising bit of dramatic piano, but then that fades into what I can only guess is Tamura doing something obscene. Hollenbeck seems up for anything, and there's a lot of that. B+(**)
  33. Oleg Kireyev/Feng Shui Jazz Project: Mandala (2008, Jazzheads): Born in Bakshiria, perched in the Urals on the ancient seam between Europe and Asia, saxophonist Kireyev's group plays delicately balanced east-west grooves, with a bit of throat singing, a lot of sinuous guitar, a Senegalese conga player, and inspiration from Coltrane. A-
  34. Diana Krall: Quiet Nights (2009, Verve): Claus Ogerman's strings are soft and cushy, but they do the job, whether adding to the grandeur of a "Where or When" or setting up a little holiday to Brazil to check out "The Boy From Ipanema" and imagine that "So Nice" is something one could ever hope for. The concept is artistically marginal, commercially obvious, and a little bit demeaning. I especially hate the dysfunctional evening gown and all the make up that's meant to glamorize the plainest face in show business. But she sings every song superbly, especially the two so-called bonus tracks, and plays a little piano. She's always been willing to do what it takes to be a star, because deep down she is one. A-
  35. Brad Leali-Claus Raible Quartet: D.A.'s Time (2007 [2008], TCB): Leali is an alto saxophonist, b. Denver, attended UNT, worked his way up through Count Basie's ghost band, released a big band album called Maria Juanez that was a very pleasant surprise. Raible is a pianist; not sure where from or how old, but passed through Munich and NYC on his way to his current base in Graz, Austria. He has four previous records, including a sextet with Leali. He swings, but also taps Bud Powell for a song, and wrote five more, including a pretty good jump blues closer, letting Leali wail. B+(***)
  36. 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 père). 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+(***)
  37. Andy Middleton: The European Quartet Live (2005 [2007], Q-rious Music): Three members of this European Quartet are, and this must mean something, Americans based in Europe, including the leader working out of Vienna. Lists Wayne Shorter at the head of a list of Influences who are mostly just great musicians, but of six or so tenor saxophonists Shorter's the best fit. Shows patience and poise on slow ones, poise and fierce resolve on the fast ones. Good pianist in Tino Derado, the only born European here. Very solid performance. B+(***)
  38. Evan Parker/The Transatlantic Art Ensemble: Boustrophedon (2008, ECM): Large group, with Roscoe Mitchell leading the American contingent, notably including Craig Taborn and Corey Wilkes. On the European side come a batch of strings, notably Philip Wachsmann on violin, adding up to a thick stew, similar to the Electro-Acoustic Ensemble even without the electronics. Parker plays soprano sax -- utterly distinctive, of course. The background noise is engaging; the lurching movements even more so. B+(***)
  39. William Parker Quartet: Petit Oiseau (2007 [2008], AUM Fidelity): A great group, at least as far back as O'Neal's Porch, with two spectacularly sparring horns in Lewis Barnes' trumpet and Rob Brown's alto sax, plus Parker and Hamid Drake on drums. But this took a long while to register, no doubt benefitting from more than a dozen spins -- something I almost never get the chance to do, but this wound up stuck in my boombox in Detroit for the better part of a week. The problem, if you can call it that, is that it is pretty mainstream where avant-garde is the norm. The horns appear tracked for once, depriving us of the joy of free flight. On the other hand, Parker has cycled around from free to make grooveful music. Call it his Horace Silver phase -- that's the level he's working at. A-
  40. The Matthew Shipp Trio: Harmonic Disorder (2008 [2009], Thirsty Ear): I assume this was recorded in '08. Booklet doesn't say, which is par for this label -- I thought about complimenting them for including the record date in the Halvorson/Pavone, as it seemed a breakthrough. This is actually an earlier release. It got lost in the mail and had to be resent, or so the story goes -- actually, same thing happened with Shipp's previous record, Piano Vortex, which I got to so late I wound up skipping, despite the fact that it is a very good record. In any case, this one may be better. Joe Morris on bass and Whit Dickey on drums both stand out, but Shipp does it all, from the simple pacing of "Mel Chi 2" to the rollicking combustion of "Zo Number 2." I often bemoan my difficulties grasping piano trios, but this one just jumps up and grabs you. Not done with it, but figure this grade as a baseline. A [originally: A-]
  41. Tim Ries: Stones World: The Rolling Stones Project II (2008, Sunnyside, 2CD): A saxophonist who's toured with the Rolling Stones takes over the repertoire. The first volume was content to refocus the first tier songs on the saxophonist, but here, Ries goes on tour, picking up anyone (and pretty much everyone) who wanted to get in on the act -- including some actual Stones (Keith Richard in Japan, Mick Jagger and Ronnie Wood in Africa, Charlie Watts several places). Singers are especially plentiful, and not all that convincing -- at least with Jagger you were pretty sure not to believe everything. Instead, we get Ana Moura dropping into Portuguese for parts of "Brown Sugar"; "Jumpin' Jack Flash" goes flamenco, and "Angie" goes to Bollywood; the whole UN gets a piece of "Salt of the Earth"; Marina Machado and Milton Nascimento strain for "Lady Jane." More sax than the originals, but still it takes a back seat to the vocals. If there's a theme, it's the worldwide promotion of the Stones' great idea: miscegnation. B
  42. Jimmy Rushing: The Scene: Live in New York (1965 [2009], High Note): Backed by a band including Zoot Sims and Al Cohn. Evidently they appeared frequently together, with Sims and Cohn opening for a half-hour or so, then Rushing joining in. The record includes eight Rushing tunes and two instrumentals slotted fifth and ninth. Works reasonably well. No precise dates. Seems to have come from at least two sessions, given two bassists and two pianist -- one of the latter billed as "unknown." Nothing new or surprising here for anyone who knows Rushing reasonably well. His set is about as standard as you can get: "Deed I Do," "Gee Baby Ain't I Good to You," "I Can't Believe That You're in Love With Me," "I Want a Little Girl," "Goin' to Chicago," "I Cried for You," "Everyday I Have the Blues," and "Good Morning Blues." For that matter, Sims and Cohn break loose on "The Red Door" and "It's Noteworthy." If you don't know Rushing, well, you've got a lot to look forward to: he was the model every Kansas City blues shouter aspired to -- they were called "shouters" because they never could match Rushing's grace, charm, and swing, so tried to make up for it with gut volume. A-
  43. Michel Sajrawy: Writings on the Wall (2007 [2009], Ozella): Guitarist. Describes himself awkwardly as "a Palestinian of Christian faith who comes from Nazareth and has an Israeli passport." That places him among the minority of Palestinians in the territory that fell to Israeli hands in the 1947-49 war who neither fled nor were driven into exile. Those Palestinians were awarded Israeli citizenship in 1951 in a backhanded law to deny the citizenship and confiscate the property of the majority of Palestinians who fled for their lives. One old theme in Israeli propaganda talks about how much better off Arab Citizens of Israel are than Arabs in other countries (never to mention Palestinian exiles in the Occupied Territories), but you don't hear much of that anymore. They are second class citizens, subject to a social and economic segregation, continuously reminded that this land, peopled by their forefathers over countless generations, is not meant for them. Hence the awkwardness. Sajrawy studied electronic engineering 1990-93; moved to England in 1995, and studied at the London School of Music. He returned to Nazareth in 2000, setting up his own studio. Second album. (First is called Yathrib, the name of pre-Mohammedan Medina.) Quartet with piano, bass, and drums (alternating two drummers, unknown to me, but names worth repeating: Ameen Atrash and Evgeni Maistrovski). A piece of hype compares him to Hendrix, McLaughlin, and Al Di Meola. You can scratch the first two names off that list. I don't know enough of Di Meola or other influences like Pat Martino and Pat Metheny, but they certainly don't have Sajrawy's Arabesque swag, which adds an element to otherwise solid jazz guitar. B+(**)
  44. Brad Shepik: Human Activity Suite (2008 [2009], Songlines): Subtitle, at least as it appears once in the booklet: "Sounding a Response to Climate Change." The clear cause of that climate change is identified as: human activity. The notes go on to cite books by Jared Diamond (Guns, Germs and Steel and Collapse), Alan Weisman (The World Without Us), and David Quammen (The Song of the Dodo) -- all of which, by the way, I've read and recommend highly. Shepik is a guitarist who first came to our attention in Dave Douglas's Balkan-flavored Tiny Bell Trio -- he also plays saz and tambura, which instantly add a Balkan feel here. That's welcome, but it's hardly necessary given how terrific the band is. Drew Gress and Tom Rainey are one of the best rhythm tandems around. Gary Versace is a triple threat on piano, organ, and accordion, making each pay off -- accordion fits in especially with the Balkan bits. Ralph Alessi's trumpet adds a touch of brass; indeed, a lead horn voice. A-
  45. Natsuki Tamura/Satoko Fujii: Chun (2008, Libra): Trumpet/piano duos. Husband and wife, they've done this before -- at least three times, with In Krakow in November my pick of the two I've heard -- as well as appearing on dozens of albums with various bassists, drummers, and others up to big band weight. Stef Gijssels wrote an ecstatic review of this in his Free Jazz blog, ending with "I'm sorry to be so excited." I'm hearing pretty much the same things, but find the contrast between two dramatic soloists somewhat disjointed -- maybe just too abrupt. As usual, Fujii is much the more aggressive player, a reversal from the usual form where pianists slip into accompanist roles. But Tamura does more than just decorate her thrashing. He's a lyrical player, yin to her yang (or is it the other way around?). B+(***)
  46. Bebo Valdes & Javier Colina: Live at the Village Vanguard (2005 [2008], Calle 54/Norte): Piano-bass duets, with the 86-year-old Cuban legend working his way through a set of Cuban classics plus "Yesterdays" and "Waltz for Debby." B+(***)
  47. Cedar Walton: Seasoned Wood (2008, High Note): Pianist, age 74, has over 40 years of often superb recordings, but doesn't seem to get the top-tier ranking he deserves. Part of this may be that he often focuses on writing for horns, with some of his best work filed under Eastern Rebellion. Quintet here, although only the first and last cuts feature both horns: Jeremy Pelt on trumpet/flugelhorn, Vincent Herring on alto/tenor sax. Five of eight are Walton tunes, but I haven't checked to see how many have been around the track before. The others are "The Man I Love," "A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square," and Jimmy Heath's "Longravity." Can't put my finger on why this works so well, but everyone involved plays above their norms: Herring especially, but also the pianist get to show off his craft, and the bassist -- haven't mentioned how great Peter Washington is, but I'd be remiss not to single him out here. A-

Jazz CG Flush Notes

These are notes on records that have been rated for possible use in the Jazz Consumer Guide, but for various reasons I've decided that they won't be used. These notes will be dumped into the notebook at the end of the current JCG cycle.

  1. Claudia Acuña: En Este Momento (2007 [2009], Marsalis Music): Singer, from Chile, b. 1971, moved to New York in 1995. Fourth album, or fifth counting the one with Arturo O'Farrill's name out front. Liner notes argue that this record, with its flow between Spanish and English (often in the same song), "stands as the truest reflection of both her and her band to date." That may be true, but it doesn't amount to much. Her voice is as thin as a frill, and when the band picks up the pace she has trouble keeping up. If her Spanish harbors any depth, it's not disclosed in English -- probably helps that this is her most heavily Spanish-tilted album. The band can't be blamed: Jason Lindner, Omer Avital, Clarence Penn, and a guitarist named Juancho Herrera. Label mogul Branford Marsalis drops in for a soprano sax solo, a high point. B-
  2. Bob Albanese Trio with Ira Sullivan: One Way/Detour (2008 [2009], Zoho): Piano trio plus spare wheel -- Sullivan plays tenor sax on three cuts, soprano sax on one, alto flute on one, and percussion on one more, leaving the trio to their own devices on 4 of 10. Albanese is a pianist, based in New York since 1980 -- don't know how old he is, or where he came from. First album; not many side credits -- first AMG lists is 1991. Mainstream bebopper -- one review I've seen likens him to Red Garland, and I'm not going to try to improve on that. Wrote 7 of 10 pieces, with one from Monk, one from Hampton, and one called "Yesterday's Gardenias" by guys I don't recognize. Sullivan goes back further: in the liner notes, Ira Gitler talks about hearing Sullivan blow trumpet in 1949. AMG has a picture of a fairly young Sullivan with trumpet, but his main axe has long been tenor sax. Cut a couple records in the 1950s, a Bird Lives! in 1962, a fairly productive stretch from 1975-82, not much since. He helps out here, especially on tenor sax. B+(**)
  3. John Allred/Jeff Barnhart/Danny Coots: The ABC's of Jazz (2008 [2009], Arbors): Trombone, piano, drums, respectively. Bassist Dave Stone missed out on the top line, presumably because of the ABC concept. Allred's father, Bill Allred, also plays trombone, in the same retro-swing circles. B. 1962, Allred has four albums and 30-some side credits, mostly Arbors titles and a smattering of albums with Harry Connick Jr. His trombone leads are a treat here, and the band members know their way around the repertoire centered on Fats Waller. Several songs have vocals, which aren't credited. B+(*)
  4. Irene Atman: New York Rendezvous (2009, no label): Vocalist, from Toronto. Evidently sung a little when she was young -- "twenty years ago, while working on a forgettable cruise ship, I met a piano player . . . Frank Kimbrough" -- then did something else for a couple of decades before coming back with a record, and now her second. A New York group set up by Kimbrough, with Jay Anderson on bass, Matt Wilson on drums, and Joel Frahm on sax -- not that I noticed. Voice has some character, band is solid, but nothing special in the songs. Shows her range with one in Spanish, "Somos Novios" -- better choice than an obligatory Jobim. B
  5. Jon Balke/Amina Alaoui: Siwan (2007-08 [2009], ECM): Balke is a Norwegian pianist, credited with keyboards here. He was b. 1955, has 10 or so albums since 1991, most on ECM. His name appears above the title, and on the spine before the title. Alaoui, a Moroccan vocalist specializing in Arabic-Andalusian classical music, is listed just below the title, and on the spine after the title. Three more names make the front cover: Jon Hassell (trumpet, electronics); Kheir Eddine M'Kachiche (violin); and Bjarte Eike (violin, leader of the Barokksolistene, an ensemble of strings, lute, and harpsichord. The material is mostly Spanish, mostly from the Arabic period. For all I know, sounds pretty expert, authentic, an interesting exercise in the archives. B+(*)
  6. Shelly Berg: The Nearness of You (2009, Arbors): Pianist, b. 1955, from Cleveland, studied in Houston, taught in Texas and, since 1991, at USC. Father played trumpet -- Jay Berg, doesn't ring a bell. Sixth album since 1995, including an Oscar Peterson tribute. This is solo, Volume 19 in Arbors Piano Series. A couple of medleys from "My Fair Lady" and "Guys and Dolls"; standards like the title cut and "Where or When" and "My One and Only Love," with "Con Alma" for a taste of bebop. I don't get much out of this sort of thing. Dr. Judith Schlesinger, in the liner notes, describes it as "inherently relaxing," but I don't even get that. It takes a lot to sustain interest in solo piano -- a Ran Blake or Paul Bley or Dave Burrell, maybe, or better still, a Cecil Taylor or Earl Hines or Art Tatum. B-
  7. Josh Berman: Old Idea (2007 [2009], Delmark): Cornet player, from and in Chicago, b. 1972, debut album although he's been gathering credits since 2002 -- Lucky 7s, Exploding Star Orchestra, various projects with tenor saxophonist Keefe Jackson and vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz (both on board here). Quintet, with Anton Hatwich on bass, Nori Tanaka on drums. Mild mannered, ambles thoughtfully without much splash, the drama neatly tucked inside. Good framework for the vibes. B+(*)
  8. Todd Bishop's Pop Art 4: Plays the Music of Serge Gainsbourg: 69 Année Érotique: (2008 [2009], Origin): Not a bad idea, but done so roughly you figure that's part of their concept. Bishop is a drummer from Portland; does some visual art; has a gig on a Columbia River cruise ship; sells some merchandise; has been on a couple of group albums as Flatland and Lower Monumental. Group includes Richard Cole on woodwinds (i.e., not the much better known Richie Cole, although I'm pretty sure I've run across this one before), Steve Moore on keyboards, and Geoff Harper on bass, plus occasional guests. Casey Scott sings "Initials B.B." and "Je T'Aime . . . Moi Non Plus" -- crudely, of course. B
  9. Sarah Brooks and Graceful Soul: Under the Bones of the Great Blue Whale (2008 [2009], Whaling City Sound): Recorded live at The New Bedford Whaling Museum. Hard to read any of the tiny-blue-type-on-black-background: couldn't find the credits at first, or the venue, or the date, all of which eventually revealed themselves under an illuminated magnifying glass. Still haven't tackled Neal Weiss's liner notes. Brooks has one previous album, What My Heart Is For, unless she has a side-business recording things like Give Yourself Permission to Relax (CDBaby) -- seems unlikely for someone whose first impression is that she's a Janis Joplin wannabe. Of course, that comes through more loud and clear on songs that fit ("Bring It On Home to Me," "Chain of Fools," "At Last") than on songs that don't (e.g., "Look of Love"). Two guitar band, with an alto sax. Ends with an "instrumental version" of "Amazing Grace," which seems to add a second sax -- by far the best thing on the record. B
  10. Bobby Broom: Plays for Monk (2009, Origin): Guitarist, b. 1961. Seventh album since 1995, a trio with Dennis Carroll on bass and Kobie Watkins on drums. Eight Monk tunes, plus "Lulu's Back in Town" and "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." Nice and clean, even with Monk being Monk. B+(*)
  11. Peter Brötzmann/Fred Lonberg-Holm: The Brain of the Dog in Section (2007 [2009], Atavistic): Lonberg-Holm plays cello and dabbles in electronics. Based in Chicago, he's best known as a late addition to the Vandermark 5. He provides the glue that holds Brötzmann's reed instruments from going off the deep end. Three pieces have no titles -- just timings. Offhand, this seems longer than the 37:53 they add up to, but the noise level causes a lot of wear and tear. Still, I find that I enjoy it. Not that I can imagine ever playing it for a guest. B+(*)
  12. Dave Brubeck: Time Out [Legacy Edition] (1959-64 [2009], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD+DVD): Every song in a different time signature -- the sort of neat trick an egghead like Brubeck with the degree to back it up might do. The big surprise is how little notice you'd give to the concept, for the simple reason that the pieces seem so organic and complete. "Take Five" sounded so timeless it broke through the charts and sold over a million copies. Brubeck's popularity, like Keith Jarrett's a couple decades later, always seemed a bit excessive: not undeserved, just not fairly distributed. But you couldn't charge his group with selling out or pandering. Maybe you'd complain that Paul Desmond played the most simply gorgeous alto saxophone since Johnny Hodges, but that sounds more like a compliment. Time Out's success encouraged sequels -- the five discs collected in For All Time hold up pretty well (especially Time Further Out). A best-of might have made good filler for the second disc, but Legacy opted instead to plunder the previously unreleased live archives instead, picking from 1961, 1963, and 1964 sets at Newport. Mostly standard in the usual time -- "St. Louis Blues," "Pennies From Heaven," "You Go to My Head" -- they showcase a superb group fleet on their toes. Closes with slightly stretched versions of their two best-known Time Out classics, tying the package up neatly. As for the DVD -- 30 minutes of interview, performance footage, and an "interactive, multi-camera piano lesson" -- another day. A- [single album: A]
  13. Bill Bruford: The Winterfold Collection 1978-1986 (1977-85 [2009], Winterfold) English prog rock's premier drummer, cut loose and adrift with instrumentalists -- Allan Holdsworth and Dave Stewart are the prime offenders -- neither up for jazz nor down for rock -- aside for Annette Peacock, who's up for anything, but only manages to salvage one of her three cuts here. Runners up are the duets with Patrick Moraz, which give Bruford something to interact with. Mostly released by EG at the time, and ultimately picked up by Bruford for his own pair of labels: Summerfold for the newer stuff once he started thinking of himself as a jazz drummer, and Winterfold for the barren old stuff. B-
  14. Bill Bruford: The Summerfold Collection 1987-2008 (1986-2007 [2009], Summerfold, 2CD): The jazz years, which kicked off abruptly when Bruford recruited a odd pair of avant-gardists -- saxophonist Iain Ballamy and keyboardist Django Bates. Other groups followed, with slick saxophonist Tim Garland represented here with his Latin-flavored flute, choice meetings with guitarist Ralph Towner and pianist Michiel Borstlap, and the inevitable percussion ensemble. A long period, some sparkling tunes, some interesting ideas, not especially helped by the mix and match. One previously unreleased cut, from 2002, with a Latin kick. B
  15. Kenny Burrell: Prime Kenny Burrell: Live at the Downtown Room (1976-2006 [2009], High Note): Six cuts as advertised, from a prime period between when Burrell recorded his two Ellington Is Forever volumes, but everyday fare, in an intimate quartet with the equally decorus Richard Wyands on piano. No Ellington there, but the seventh cut is a much later solo guitar take on "Single Petal of a Rose," which hardly seems out of place. B+(**)
  16. Terri Lyne Carrington: More to Say . . . (2009, Koch): Title may (or may not) segue to "(Real Life Story: Nextgen)." Real Life Story was the title of Carrington's 1989 first album, on Verve Forecast, panned by AMG as "disappointingly lightweight." However, her 2003 record on ACT, Structure, with Jimmy Haslip and Greg Osby, got a 4-star rating from The Penguin Guide. Haven't heard either, or anything else, so I'm having trouble parsing her short and scattered discography, which AMG sums up as: funk, instrumental pop, hard bop, M-base. Carrington's a drummer, mentored by Jack De Johnette, currently teaches at Berklee. This is pop jazz with some gospel overtones. It's crammed with guests: Walter Beasley, George Duke, Everette Harp, Jimmy Haslip, Chuck Loeb, Christian McBride, Les McCann, Lori Perri, Patrice Rushen, Dwight Sills, Krik Whallum, Nancy Wilson. At least that's the list from the cover sticker, which also touts the single "Let It Be" -- yes, the Beatles endgame, vocal by Lori Perry (same person as Lori Perri?). Booklet adds more "featuring" credits not deemed cover-worthy: Danilo Perez is the name that jumps out for me. Not really sure how bad this is, and don't care to figure that out. What I look for in pop jazz albums is vibrant funk, cheap disco, breakout sax, and no gospel vocals, and what I can say is that this album fails on all counts. C-
  17. Don Cherry/Nana Vasconcelos/Collin Walcott: The Codona Trilogy (1978-82 [2009], ECM, 3CD): Three albums in a nice little box, like ECM did for Keith Jarrett's Setting Standards. Cherry left Ornette Coleman's classic group to see the world, and he never encountered a rhythm or an instrument he didn't like. In Walcott, an American who specialized in Indian music, playing sitar and tabla, and Vasconcelos, a Brazilian percussionist, he collected a compact synopsis of world music. The name came from the players' first name first syllables, and the second and third albums were simply named Codona 2 and Codona 3. They played everything from melodica to doson n'goni to berimbau to timpani, but Cherry's pocket trumpet always stood out, even as it faded in the declining later albums. The groove-and-trumpet dominated first album reminds one of early '70s Miles Davis. The later albums are more eclectic and aimless. Walcott, best known for his work in Oregon, died in an auto accident in 1984, finishing off the group. B+(*)
  18. Leonardo E.M. Cioglia: Contos (2007 [2008], Quizamba Music): Brooklyn-based bassist, originally from Brazil, which influences his music in subtle ways that don't overwhelm the postbop inclinations of his band -- John Ellis (reeds), Mike Moreno (guitar), Stefon Harris (vibes/marimba), Aaron Goldberg (piano), Antonio Sanchez (drums). Flows nicely, thoughtful, not a lot of pop or punch. B+(**)
  19. Jay Clayton: The Peace of Wild Things: Singing and Saying the Poets (2007 [2008], Sunnyside): Vocalist, b. 1941 in Youngstown, OH, has a strong reputation based on at least a dozen albums, tends to get grouped with Jeanne Lee and Sheila Jordan. I'm way behind the learning curve, with this only the second of her albums I've heard. I messed up my original note, thinking she was British (Penguin Guide loves her) and misreading the subtitle (bad eyes, tightly kerned type). I note though that Wikipedia attributes her albums to Jane Clayton, so maybe she's accident prone. More saying than singing here, accompanied by thin, atmospheric electronics; makes for slow going, not delivering much unless you're paying close attention. Clayton and Lee are good for one lyric each. The other poets are e.e. cummings (5 cuts), Lara Pellegrinelli (1), and Wendell Berry (1). Liked this better the first pass. B
  20. Mike Clinco: Neon (2008 [2009], Whaling City Sound): Guitarist, b. 1954, lives in Sherman Oaks, CA. Toured with Henry Mancini 1980; did some (maybe a lot) of film work from 1981 on. First album. Wrote everything on it except for "Charade" by Mancini and Johnny Mercer. Lined up a good band, with a couple of CA names I recognize -- Darek Oleskiewicz on bass; Bob Sheppard on tenor sax, alto sax, and alto flute. The others -- ex-Mother Walt Fowler on flugelhorn, electric bassist Jimmy Johnson, and drummer/percussionist Jimmy Branly -- have been around. Nice little postbop album. Probably had it in him for decades. B+(*)
  21. Alex Cline: Continuation (2008 [2009], Cryptogramophone): Drummer, leads a string-heavy quintet here with Jeff Gauthier on violin, Peggy Lee on cello, Scott Walton on bass, and Myra Melford on piano and harmonium. Don't think I would have connected with this if I hadn't taken time out to follow it closely. The string stuff is nice and elegant; the drummer works his way carefully around it. Melford's harmonium changes the game immensely -- wish there was more of it. B+(**)
  22. Cosmologic: Eyes in the Back of My Head (2006 [2008], Cuneiform): San Diego quartet, formed in 1999, same lineup through four albums: Jason Robinson (tenor sax), Michael Dessen (trombone), Scott Walton (bass), Nathan Hubbard (drums). Songs are pretty evenly divided between Hubbard, Dessen, and Robinson. Mostly free jazz, with two horns flaying apart, the trombone more than holding its own. B+(**)
  23. Coyote Poets of the Universe: Callin' You Home (2008 [2009], Square Shaped): Denver group, fourth album since 2004 (second I've heard). AMG files them under Pop/Rock, which is evidently their default genre. They call it FolkaDelic. Multiple vocalists, mostly female judging from the credits, with Melissa Ingalls the most prominently mentioned, but starts off with a male spoken word poems about coyotes -- may be bassist Andy O'Blivion, who may in turn once have been Andy O'Leary. Music trends countryish with fiddle and banjo, but also includes a congalero. Sort of an inward-bound Pink Martini. Choice cut: "I Don't Know Birds"; followed by "Canonization," which is pretty good too, and covers their range. B+(***)
  24. Crimson Jazz Trio: King Crimson Songbook, Volume 2 (2006 [2009], Inner Knot): Nominally a straight mainstream piano trio, Volume One from 2005 fared well reducing a set of King Crimson melodies to their bare bones. Volume 2 aims to be jazzier, but isn't much, and "special guest" Mel Collins (saxophone, maybe flute; someone uncredited sings one track) undercuts the spareness. Trio is: Joey Nardone (piano), Tim Landers (bass), and Ian Wallace (drums). Wallace is probably the key character, and he died in 2007 shortly after this was cut. Leads off with "The Court of the Crimson King," which was nice to hear again. B+(*)
  25. Cyminology: As Ney (2008 [2009], ECM): Piano trio -- Benedikt Jahnel, Ralf Schwarz, Ketan Bhatti -- backing vocalist Cymin Samawatie, b. 1976 in Braunschweig, Germany, of Iranian parents. Fourth album. Songs based on Iranian models, including the poetry of Rumi and Hafiz, in Farsi with English trots in the oversized booklet. I find her voice hymnal, which isn't usually a good thing, although it helps when the piano gets out in front. B
  26. Mélanie Dahan: La Princesse et les Croque-Notes (2007 [2009], Sunnyside): French singer. Not much bio other than vague stuff: started singing at 11 as the youngest of a troupe called Les Gavroches; inspired by Natalie Cole's Unforgettable and Ella in Berlin to take up jazz c. 2001; hooked up with pianist Giovanni Mirabassi in 2006. First album, a tribute to lyricist Bernard Dimey fluffed up with other French chanson. Don't know this stuff well enough to catch the transformation from pop to jazz that reviewers talk about, but I did catch a little scat, and two tracks have alto sax. Evidently a bestseller in France. B+(*)
  27. Tim Davies Big Band: Dialmentia (2007 [2009], Origin): Credits list 8 reeds, 7 trumpets, 4 trombones, 2 guitars, 2 keyboards, 2 basses, drums, percussion, and 5 extra guest soloists. Davies is the drummer. He's Australian, based in Los Angeles, aims to add hip-hop and death metal to the usual big band fare. One cut features an MC named Aloe Blacc ("Hanging by a Thread"). Another ("Pythagatha") breaks some interesting jazztronic ground with an electric piano solo (Alan Steinberger, who also has an organ solo later on). The massed horns are less surprising, but they're there for sheer punching power. B+(**)
  28. Miles Davis: Sketches of Spain [Legacy Edition] (1959-60 [2009], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): The third of three major collaborations between Davis and Gil Evans, following Miles Ahead and Porgy and Bess. Spiced with Spanish themes, leading off with Joaquin Rodrigo's slow and moody "Concierto de Aranjuez (Adagio)" -- 16:20 on the original album -- and fleshed out with Evans compositions. The first disc leaves the album intact, signing off after 45:36. Evans keeps his cleverness under tight wraps, producing a subtle background tapestry that never distracts you from the leader's trumpet -- the saving grace here. The second disc adds 70:10 of alternate takes and miscellaneous scraps -- more of the same, but without the flow. B [single album: B+(**)]
  29. DKV Trio: Baraka (1997, Okka Disk): This is the first Hamid Drake-Kent Kessler-Ken Vandermark trio record. Tough, talented group; all pieces jointly credited; fitting that Drake gets the first initial. Still, the long (35:58) title piece has some disorienting dead spots -- sure, I could turn it up -- and the fast-riffing avant runs don't much exceed their stock in trade. B+(*)
  30. Eddie Erickson: I'm Old-Fashioned (2007 [2009], Arbors): A/k/a Fast Eddie, plays banjo and guitar, sings (also dubs himself "The Singing Moustache"). Resume includes 1978-83 leading the Riverboat Rascals show band on Disney's Empress Lilly Showboat. Don't know how old he is, but he started his career in California in the mid-1960s. Has a few previous albums, mostly sharing credits with Bill Dendle, Big Mama Sue, or BEDlam (Becky Kilgore and Dan Barrett). Also appeared with Kilgore as a lead voice in the Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Guys and Dolls. This one is more/less billed "Live with his International Swing Band": a group Mannie Selchow assembled in Germany. Might as well list the names, about half unfamiliar to me: Menno Daams (trumpet), Bill Allred (trombone), Antti Sarpila (clarinet, tenor sax), Rossano Sportiello (piano), Henning Gailing (bass), Moritz Gastreich (drums). Band swings hard on the usual fair. Erickson's an adequate but not all that impressive singer. The banjo is fun. B+(*)
  31. Gabriel Espinosa: From Yucatan to Rio (2009, Zoho): Mexican bassist, starts with his arrangement of Jobim, adds a bunch of originals straddling his title, including two from vocalist Alison Wedding. It's OK as long as the sinuous grooves hold out, with Brazilian pianist Helio Alves setting the pace, and Brazilians Romero Lubambo (guitar) and Claudio Roditi (trumpet/flugelhorn) adding their skills. The drummers alternate between Brazilian Adriano Santos and Mexican Antonio Sanchez. It's less than OK when the singers chime in -- not just Wedding but also Darmon Meader and Kim Nazarian. Anat Cohen gets a lot of billing for one clarinet solo that I didn't notice. B-
  32. Charles Evans: The King of All Instruments (2007-08 [2009], Hot Cup): Baritone saxophonist, b. 1978 somewhere in PA, a childhood friend of bassist Moppa Elliott. Studied with Dave Liebman. Moved to New York. Elliott introduced him to trumpeter Peter Evans, leading to a joint album called No Relation. The latter Evans brought influences like Anthony Braxton into play, but this solo album is no analog to Braxton's For Alto. For one thing, Charles is still enamored with Gerry Mulligan (name-checked in one song title here). For another, this is overlayed, which lets him build up a bit of sax choir sound. In the liner notes, Evans says: "It was created during a period of musical isolation, introspection, and poor health." Makes sense. B+(**)
  33. FJF: Blow Horn (1995 [1997], Okka Disk): Acronym stands for Free Jazz Four. Horn should be plural, with Mats Gustafsson squaring off against Ken Vandermark. The bassist is Kent Kessler; the drummer Steve Hunt. This was cut 2-3 years after Vandermark moved to Chicago, so it's pretty early, but he already had a couple of albums I can recommend -- Utility Hitter and Steelwool Trio's International Front. This was also the first of many crash-ups with Gustafsson. I normally don't care much for avant screech, unless it's funny or invigorating or something like that, which this sort of is. After the initial rutting even a drum solo is relief, but then it also ranges a bit, the single horn sections impressive, especially a baritone riff in "Structure a la Malle." B+(*)
  34. Fred Forney: Chasing Horizons (2008 [2009], OA2): Trumpeter, from Detroit, moved to Arizona in 1973, teaches at Mesa Community College. Second album, a hard bop quintet, recorded in Tempe, AZ , presumably with local musicians, all unknown to me: Brice Winston (tenor sax), Chuck Marohnic (piano), Dwight Kilian (bass), Dom Moio (drums). Wrote all seven songs, ranging from 6:08 ("The Simplest Things") to 8:16 (the title song). Bright, bouncy hard bop. B+(**)
  35. Jürgen Friedrich: Pollock (2007 [2009], Pirouet): German pianist; looks pretty young judging from photo; AMG credits him with 8 records since 2000. This is a piano trio with bassist John Hebert and drummer Tony Moreno. One cover: "'Round Midnight"; two group credits, one by Friedrich and Moreno, two by Hebert, four by Friedrich. They all evince a delicate inside flow, quiet and meditative. B+(**)
  36. Rick Germanson Trio: Off the Cuff (2009, Owl Studios): First album I recall seeing thus far this year with an honest 2009 recording date: January 6-7. I probably have some more in the queue, and more are sure to follow soon, since it no longer takes much to turn this product out. Pianist, b. 1972, Milwaukee, based in New York, has two previous 2003-05 Fresh Sound New Talent albums plus a couple dozen side credits since 1999 -- Brian Lynch, Jeremy Pelt, Wayne Escoffery, George Gee, Ian Hendrickson-Smith, Brad Leali, Louis Hayes & the Cannonball Legacy Band. Hayes is the drummer here, along with bassist Gerald Cannon. Originals slightly outnumber covers -- "Up Jumped Spring," "This Time the Dream's on Me," "Wives and Lovers," "Autumn in New York." B+(*)
  37. Clay Giberson: Spaceton's Approach (2007-08 [2008], Origin): Pianist, based in Portland OR, teaches at Clackamas Community College, has a couple of good records out as Upper Left Trio. This is another piano trio, with David Ambrosio on bass and Matt Garrity on drums. Two covers ("It Might as Well Be Spring," "Solar"), five originals. Mainstream postbop, nicely done, probably better than most such records, but so firmly embedded in its flow you tend not to notice the well-crafted details. B+(*)
  38. Pedro Giraudo Jazz Orchestra: El Viaje (2008 [2009], PGM): Argentine bassist, from Cordoba, moved to New York in 1996, leads a big band, mostly people I don't recognize -- the exception is drummer Jeff Davis. Third album. Relationship to tango, to Latin jazz, or to big band swing, is unclear; this feels more like a sprawling symphony, minus the strings. Played it twice, turning it up part way through because I was having trouble hearing it. Ten minutes later I don't recall anything about it, other than that it wasn't unpleasant. B-
  39. Dave Glenn: National Pastime (2009, Origin): Trombonist. Graduated from UNT. Director of Jazz Studies at Whitman College in Walla Walla, WA. First album, although AMG lists a couple of side credits going back to 1977 and 1980 -- the latter with Gerry Mulligan. Baseball-themed album, with tributes to Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron, a "Blues for Buck O'Neil," and a "Reliving the Glory Days" about the 1978-85 Kansas City Royals. With Dave Scott (trumpet), Rich Perry (tenor sax), Gary Versace (piano), John Hebert (bass), Jeff Hirshfield (drums), and Jim Clouse (soprano sax, 1 cut). Postbop, a bit on the fancy side, with the leader's trombone mostly buried in the mix -- Scott's trumpet is attractive, especially in contrast. Rhythm section is athletic enough. B
  40. Frank Glover: Politico (2005 [2009], Owl Studios): Clarinetist. Don't know much about him, except for some hints that he's from and/or based in Indianapolis, has four albums since 1991, that this one was originally self-released in 2005. Quartet, with Steve Allee on piano, Jack Helsley on bass, Bryson Kern on drums. One piece is a three-part concerto; two more were slated for films. Has a loose postbop feel that covers all these angles. B+(*)
  41. Dennis González/João Paulo Duo: Scape Grace (2007 [2009], Clean Feed): Paulo is a Portuguese pianist; full name is João Paulo Esteves da Silva. B. 1961 in Lisbon. Has three more albums on Clean Feed -- don't know what else. Duets with González playing cornet and trumpet. Seems like an informal set with each musician bringing a few songs. I'm not used to González playing without a rhythm section, so this sounds a bit disjointed. Intimate and sometimes eloquent. B+(*)
  42. Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band: Act Your Age (2008, Immergent, CD+DVD): Big band, eighteen-strong plus some guests, fast, slick, packs a wallop, seems like a fun group. Goodwin plays piano, tenor sax, and soprano sax. Came up with Louie Bellson, continuing in that vein. Never got to the DVD. B+(**)
  43. Jerry Granelli V16: Vancouver '08 (2008 [2009], Songlines, CD+DVD): Drummer led quartet with two electric guitars (David Tronzo, using a slide, and Christian Kögel) and electric bass (brother J. Anthony Granelli), the name meant to imply power, but the music this time is pretty slippery, with few hints of fusion. This works very nicely in the straightforward "Steel Eyed Blues" but mostly it just soaks into the woodwork. Didn't check out the "bonus" DVD. [PS: I misidentified J. Anthony Granelli is the leader's brother. He is actually Jerry Granelli's son. I'm sure I knew that at one time, but misremembered it.] B
  44. Andrew Green: Narrow Margin (2007 [2008], Microphonic): Guitarist. Name appears in red type on front cover, standing out in the middle of a list of better-known artists: Bill McHenry (tenor sax), Russ Johnson (trumpet), JC Sanford (trombone), John Hebert (bass), Mark Ferber (drums). Still, it's Green's album: co-produced with John McNeil, wrote everything except an excerpt from Bernard Herrmann's "Taxi Driver" theme, two credits shared with McNeil. Still, he probably means the title as the group name. Title comes from a 1952 B-movie noir. Green previously worked in a group called Sound Assembly, and has a Shaggs tribute band called My Band Foot Foot. Lives in NYC, and has written three books on jazz guitar technique. His grooves drive this group, but the omnipresent horns dominate the sound, especially Johnson. B+(*)
  45. Lew Green and Joe Muranyi: Together (2008 [2009], Arbors): Muranyi is the senior citizen here, b. 1928, plays clarinet, resume includes work with Louis Armstrong's last bands. Don't know much about Green: evidently he joined the Original Salty Dogs at Purdue in 1956 and moved them to Chicago in 1960. Band includes Jeff Barnhart (piano), Bob Leary (banjo, guitar), Vince Giordano (tuba, bass, bass sax), and Danny Coots (drums). Trad jazz sound, with Green's cornet as bright as Ruby Braff's (if not Armstrong's), on a relatively obscure selection of songs, including two Muranyis. Exception is an amusing take on "Rockin' Chair," one of four songs with vocals -- four different vocalists from the band, none bad. B+(**)
  46. Jimmy Greene: Mission Statement (2008 [2009], RazDaz/Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, soprano too, b. 1975, has 7-8 albums since 1997 (mostly on mainstream Criss Cross), 50 or so side credits (mostly with young postboppers, a few singers). Mostly quintet with guitar, piano, bass, and drums -- Stefon Harris adds vibes to one cut. Green is an energetic and talented saxophonist, but this feels rather rote, pretty much par for the course, and the band doesn't stand out. B
  47. The Peter Hand Big Band: The Wizard of Jazz: A Tribute to Harold Arlen (2005 [2009], Savant): Guitarist, co-founder of Westchester Jazz Orchestra, don't know much more than that. Band number 18, about half names I recognize -- Harvie S on bass, Richard Wyands on piano; Cecil Bridgewater, Valery Ponomarev, and Jim Rotondi among the trumpets; Brad Leali, Ralph Lalama, Don Braden, and Houston Pearson in the reeds. Pearson gets a "featuring" credit -- reportedly throughout, but he carries "Stormy Weather" and "Over the Rainbow" practically by himself, making them the choice cuts. Group has a light, sprightly touch, put to good use on great songs. B+(**)
  48. Joel Harrison: Urban Myths (2009, High Note): Well, this sucks. One of the most important mainstream jazz labels around switches to a new publicist and starts cutting corners by sending out promos in crappy cardboard sleeves with a wadded up copy of the booklet stuffed inside. Normally -- especially for artists this insignificant -- these things go into the bin where they get ignored for months or years until I notice the discrepancy in my database and decide to dismiss them with a quick spin. But this one arrived on a bad mood day when I was already wondering why the hell I even bother, so I figured I'd dispose of it right away. Starts out promising enough with typical David Binney alto sax, which Harrison does a nice job of emulating. Some violin appears -- Christian Howes. But then it slows down with some fancy postbop arranging, then tries to recover the pace with some funk grooves. Either too many ideas, or not enough conviction. Go figure. B
  49. The Kevin Hays Trio: You've Got a Friend (2007 [2009], Jazz Eyes): Piano trio, with Doug Weiss on bass and Bill Stewart on drums. Pianist Hays comes from Connecticut, b. 1968, has 10 albums since 1994 when he broke through on Blue Note -- several earlier ones back to 1991 then appeared on Steeplechase in Denmark. Starts with three pop/rock tunes -- Carole King's title track, "Bridge Over Troubled Water," "Fool on the Hill" -- offering little but avoiding my tendency to gag on Simon's tune. Then moves back to the jazz repertoire, with Monk and Parker bracketing "Sweet and Lovely" and Bob Dorough's "Nothing Like You" -- more substance in all of those. One of those pianists I respect a lot but never get excited about. Stewart does a lot of this sort of thing, and show you why he's so in demand. B+(*)
  50. Duke Heitger and Bernd Lhotzky: Doin' the Voom Voom (2008 [2009], Arbors): Heitger is a trumpet player from Toledo, based in New Orleans; plays trad jazz. Has a fairly lengthy credits list since 1993, including Jacques Gauthé, Silver Leaf Jazz Band, Squirrel Nut Zippers, various John Gill groups (Dixieland Serenaders, Yerba Buena Stompers); also a couple of albums under his own name, like Duke Heitger's Steamboat Stompers and Duke Heitger's Big Four. Lhotzky is a German pianist who is especially fond of James P. Johnson. He showed up on one of those Arbors Piano Series records a few years back: Piano Portrait. Still, not much stomping going on here, just polite, often charming, duets on classic themes. B+(*)
  51. Pablo Held: Forest of Oblivion (2007 [2008], Pirouet): Young pianist, b. 1986, from Germany. Won lots of prizes for young jazz musicians, the first at age 10. First album, a piano trio with Robert Landfermann on bass and Jonas Burgwinkel on drums. Wrote 6 of 10 songs, not counting the group-credited "Interlude." Fairly quiet, contemplative; hard for me to gauge. B+(*)
  52. Herculaneum: Herculaneum III (2007 [2009], Clean Feed): A town in ancient Italy, buried by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in CE 79. Also a septet from Chicago -- note that only six unidentified pictures, presumably members, are fit into the inside cover -- with a Flash-only website (isn't it time to gripe about that again?). MySpace has no real info either, and I don't feel like trying to track them down. No familiar names: John Beard (guitar), David McDonnell (alto sax, clarinet), Nick Broste (trombone), Patrick Newbery (trumpet, flugelhorn), Nate Lepine (flute), Greg Danek (bass), Dylan Ryan (drums, vibes). Two previous albums -- second one is called Orange Blossom; first one was eponymous, with a quintet (minus Beard and Lepine). Thick large group sound, tightly arranged, rockish drumming, not a lot of fluff (despite clarinet, flute, and vibes). B+(*)
  53. Magos Herrera: Distancia (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): Vocalist, from Mexico City, based in New York since 2007. Sixth or seventh album since 1998, although AMG and Sunnyside both count this as her fourth. Group includes Aaron Goldberg on piano, Lionel Loueke on guitar. Produced by Tim Ries. Hype says "her repertoire is filled with romance, intimacy and enchantment," but that's lost to my woeful ear for Spanish, but two songs in English don't catch my ear either; her "Mexican and Cuban sones and boleros, and sultry, languid samba-bossa nova beats" should cut the language barrier, but I'm not so sure about them either. Brazil is a big part of her mix, with her reworking a Nascimento song and closing with "Dindi." B
  54. Freddie Hubbard: Without a Song: Live in Europe 1969 (1969 [2009], Blue Note): Few jazz men made a bigger splash when they first broke in than Hubbard. From 1960 through 1965 he seemed to be everywhere, straddling hard bop and the avant-garde, filling in Miles Davis slots and adding a little extra splash, dropping a series of good-to-very-good records under his own name. He made his mark with chops and flexibility, and declined rather quickly after that, first losing opportunities, then losing his touch. In 1969 he was still a force, with a couple of good fusion-oriented albums still ahead of him -- Red Clay and Straight Life in 1970. He died in 2008 after a belated and unspectacular comeback shot, pushed largely by David Weiss, who helped assemble this set from three concerts in England and Germany. Seems fairly typical of his repertoire, but his "A Night in Tunisia" doesn't eclipse Gillespie's, and the other standards are unexceptional. But he does break through with expansive solos on the two originals at the end, "Space Talk" and "Hub-Tones." And Roland Hanna's fans will find his fills of interest. B+(**)
  55. Nico Huijbregts: Free Floating Forms (2007 [2009], Vindu): Pianist, Dutch presumably -- web bio has nothing pertaining to space or time, but the domain name is ".nl" and the record was recorded in Holland. Solo piano. Title is as good a description as any. B+(*)
  56. Charlie Hunter: Baboon Strength (2008, Spire Artist Media): Trio, with Hunter on his familiar 7-string guitar, Erik Deutsch on organ and Casio Tone, and Tony Mason on drums. Fairly pleasant grooves, and not much more. B
  57. I Compani: Circusism (2007-08 [2009], Icdisc): Dutch group, formed originally in 1985, released a couple of records based on film music of Nino Rota, and has a record of Giuseppe Verdi's Aida. This one promises "a new approach to circus music." Not sure what that is, given that it sounds like stereotypical circus music, although perhaps a bit odd and disjointed. Fairly sizable group, including saxophonist Bo van de Graaf, who seems to be a mainstay, and pianist Albert van Veenendaal, who's done work I've liked in the past. B+(*)
  58. Jentsch Group Large: Cycles Suite (2008 [2009], Fleur de Son): Composed and produced by guitarist Chris Jentsch, leading a conventionally sized big band: 5 reeds, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, 4 rhythm (guitar, piano, bass, drums). Darcy James Argue conducts, and Mike Kaupa gets a "featuring" credit with solos in 4 of 6 movements (trumpet section; photographs show him with a flugelhorn). This flows very smoothly, the large group tightly disciplined to groove, the solos elevating the themes as opposed to breaking out of them. B+(*)
  59. Hank Jones & Frank Wess: Hank and Frank II (2009, Lineage): This is guitarist Ilya Lushtak's label, and his gig. He's a big fan of old jazz, and Jones and Wess are about as far back as anyone can reach today. They are delightful -- Jones especially. And Lushtak is a quite competent swing-styled guitarist -- sort of Howard Alden, minus the fancy stuff. More problematical is Marion Cowings, who sings most of the songs. Where Jones and Wess sound timeless, Cowings is perfectly dated as a 1950s crooner, even a bit old-fashioned in that context. I hated his sound at first, then it started growing a bit on me. B+(**)
  60. Pandelis Karayorgis/Nate McBride/Ken Vandermark: No Such Thing (1999 [2001], Boxholder): This is the earlier trio I referred to in the Vandermark/Karayorgis Foreground Music note. Both ends of this trio can be combustible, which is hinted at early on, but the music calms down -- the closer, a Vandermark dedication to Jimmy Giuffre, is quite lovely. B+(**)
  61. Eryan Katsenelenbogen: 88 Fingers (2009, Eyran): Israeli pianist, b. 1965, teaches at New England Conservatory of Music in Boston; has a bunch of records since 1989 -- AMG lists 6, Wikipedia (swallowing his press bio whole) has 15. Solo piano, a lot of familiar tunes -- Weill, Berlin, Gillespie, "Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans" -- as well as a couple of improvs based on classical themes (Chopin, Mussorgsky). Nicely done. B
  62. Daniel Kelly: Emerge (2009, Bju'ecords): Pianist, based in Brooklyn, seems to have one or two previous records, plus some side-credits with the bassist who'll always be Harvie Swartz to me. Trio, mostly groove-based, plays some Fender Rhodes. B+(*)
  63. Charlie Kohlhase's Explorer's Club: Adventures (2007 [2009], Boxholder): Boston-based saxophonist (alto, tenor, baritone, listed in that order, although his website shows him playing baritone), leads a group with a couple more horns (Matt Langley on tenor and soprano sax, Jeff Galindo on trombone), guitar (Eric Hofbauer), bass (Jef Charland), and drums (Miki Matsuki and Chris Punis). Kohlhase once released an album with the title Play Free or Die, and that seems to be his motto. Such freedom produces a certain amount of wreckage, especially given the weight of the horns. B+(*)
  64. Tim Kuhl: King (2008 [2009], WJF): Drummer, from Baltimore area, b. 1982, studied at Towson, moved to New York in 2003. Second album. Group includes tenor sax (Jon Irabagon), trombone (Rick Parker), two guitars, bass. Plays free, remaining the center of attention. The two horns make their mark. I'm less taken with the guitars. B+(*)
  65. Steve Kuhn: Life's Backward Glances (1974-79 [2009], ECM, 3CD): One of those pianists who should be far better known but they're just too damn many of them. Started studying under Serge Chaloff's mother, later with George Russell; played with the likes of Coleman Hawkins as a teenager and Stan Getz a bit later; was the original pianist in John Coltrane's Quartet, until McCoy Tyner displaced him. He's recorded steadily since 1963, mostly piano trios. This packages three of the six albums he cut for ECM from 1974-81 -- for variety picking two quartets and one solo. The extra on the first quartet, 1977's Motility, was Steve Slagle, a clear-toned saxophonist who can bop and swing, although he mostly winds up dodging Kuhn's screwballs. Over the record he keeps moving up the register, from tenor to soprano, finishing with flute, a progression that improbably works. The second quartet, 1979's Playground, features vocalist Sheila Jordan. Kuhn's lyrics are as oblique as his music, and Jordan is mixed down, hard to hear, working in the band rather than in front of it. But her command is so complete she makes something of it anyway -- the depth in "Deep Tango" comes from her. The third disc was the first record, 1974's Ecstasy. Solo piano, not easy to get a handle on, no matter how clear and sharp it seems. B+(**)
  66. Julian Lage: Sounding Point (2009, Emarcy/Decca): Guitarist. First record. Twelve paragraphs of "bio" on his webpage disclose hardly anything: he's "Bay Area-based" and/or "Boston-based" (sure, I know about Boston Bay); he is (or was) 21; he's played on albums with Gary Burton, Marian McPartland, Nnenna Freelon, and Taylor Eigsti. Two solo cuts. Other small combinations weave in and out: two duos with Eigsti; three trios with Béla Fleck on banjo and Chris Thile on mandolin; five cuts with Ben Norseth on sax, one a duo, the others with Tupac Mantilla percussion, two also with Aristedes Rivas on cello. They flow nicely because the distinctive guitar is rarely out of the spotlight, and everyone else (well, except Eigsti) makes him sound better. B+(**)
  67. Jermaine Landsberger: Gettin' Blazed (2009, Resonance): Organ player, from Germany, of Sinti heritage, claims to have "made many albums as a jazz pianist under his own name" -- AMG counts four since 2000. Group includes Gary Meek (tenor sax, soprano sax, flute), Andreas Öberg (guitar, with Pat Martino added on three cuts), James Genus (bass), Harvey Mason (drums), and a second keyboard player, Kuno Schmid. Covers one Django Reinhardt song, but also picks on Richard Galliano, Stevie Wonder, Horace Silver, and some Brazilians. Played it twice while trying to write something and didn't notice it much one way or the other. B
  68. Jennifer Lee: Quiet Joy (2008 [2009], SBE): Singer, from San Francisco; MySpace page says she's 43, if that's her -- I'm suspicious of any musician with only 5 friends. Google came up with a lot of Jennifer Lees, most unlikely. This one has two albums, with guitarist Peter Sprague and bassist Bob Magnusson among her band. Three originals, a mix of standards and Brazilian tunes. Surprisingly, the Brazilians are the best things here -- "O Pato" caught my attention, mostly because it doesn't melt in the sun like so many sambas. A bit of Gershwin merged into "Amor Certinho" also works like a charm, especially leading into "Pennies From Heaven." B
  69. The Peggy Lee Band: New Code (2008, Drip Audio): Lots of good things here -- Brad Turner trumpet, Jon Bentley tenor sax, a lot of guitar, a little trombone, a nicely bent "All I Want to Do" opening. The leader's cello is less evident, except when it gets slow and threatens to get mushy. B+(**)
  70. Paul Lytton/Ken Vandermark: English Suites (1999 [2000], Wobbly Rail, 2CD): Some back story: before I started writing Jazz Consumer Guide I wrote the first piece The Village Voice published on Ken Vandermark. Shortly before that I wrote a huge William Parker-Matthew Shipp Consumer Guide, based on a windfall of records I got while working on the Shipp entry in The Rolling Stone Album Guide. I thought it would be cool to do the same thing for Vandermark, and he was kind enough to send me a huge pile of missing records. I started working on it, then was asked to do Jazz CG, and never found the time to finish. I always meant to get back to them. Now that I'm in the sweet spot of Jazz Prospecting -- column out this week, no pressure to wrap up the next -- I can't think of a better time to dust off some of the old things I never got to. This one is two disc-long improvs with Lytton on drums, percusson, and live electronics. The first was cut in Chicago on Jan. 11, and the second in Belgium on Nov. 20, 1999. Lytton is probably best known for his work with Evan Parker and/or Barry Guy, but he's one of the four or five major drummers of the European avant-garde, at least from the mid-1970s through the 1990s. I don't get much out of Vandermark here: a range of effects, including an amusing try at circular breathing. Maybe this early on he was still in awe of Lytton, who puts on a dazzling show from gate to finish line. B+(*)
  71. Jacám Manricks: Labyrinth (2008 [2009], Manricks Music): Plays winds: alto/soprano sax, clarinet/bass clarinet, flute/alto flute. Based in New York, graduated from and teaches at Manhattan School of Music. Don't know where he came from or how he got there, but he's done contract work in Finland. MySpace page has a list of nearly a hundred influences starting with Jelly Roll Morton and including everyone you're sure to have heard of, ending with Metallica and the Beatles -- about 85% jazz, 10% classical, 5% pop. Possible telling outlier is Dick Oatts, who makes the list twice. Six of eight cuts use a quintet with Ben Monder on guitar, Jacob Sacks on piano, Thomas Morganon bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Two cuts add in a chamber orchestra with French horn, flute, and a mess of strings, merely sweetening the basic concept. Intricately elaborate, lots of concepts in the liner notes that turn into complexities in the sound. B+(**)
  72. Thomas Marriott: Flexicon (2008 [2009], Origin): Seattle-based trumpeter. Fourth album since 2005, plus a couple dozen side credits, almost all on Origin. Core group is a quartet with Bill Anschell on piano, Jeff Johnson on bass, and Matt Jorgensen on drums. Five cuts add Mark Taylor on sax; two cuts feature Joe Locke on vibes. The first, with all six, is a Freddie Hubbard barn burner, turned out messy. Locke's other piece is John Barry's "You Only Live Twice," turned out nicely. Otherwise, a mix of originals and covers, wobbling uncertainly between hard bop and postbop. B-
  73. Hugh Masekela: Phola (2009, 4Q/Times Square): South African, b. 1939, plays flugelhorn these days and sings somewhat awkwardly; joined the Jazz Epistles with the future Abdullah Ibrahim in 1959, and left the country soon after the Sharpeville Massacre. Recorded more or less steadily since the mid-1960s, working his way through jazz, fusion, funk, disco, and pop, more often than not working a bit of his homeland in. A good summary is his 2007 live album, Live at Market Theatre, marking his return to South Africa. This follows up nicely, his flugelhorn riding an easy groove with complex beats; a couple of songs, like "Sonnyboy," strike me as overly ripe, but the emotion is palpable. B+(**)
  74. Rob Mazurek Quintet: Sound Is (2009, Delmark): Cornet player, based in Chicago, the mainstay behind Chicago Underground Duo/Trio/Quartet and Exploding Star Orchestra. Quintet picks up drummer and bass guitarist with more rock credits than anything else -- Matthew Lux on bass guitar, John Herndon on drums -- along with two common names in the Chicago underground: Josh Abrams on acoustic bass and Jason Adasiewicz on vibes. There is a lot of stuff to like here, but too much that I find annoying -- mostly having to do with lots of ringing bells. Even the bits that I like -- cornet, stretches of oddly accented free rhythm -- I can't make much of a case for. Played it four times in a row today, and want to move on, and don't particularly care to come back to it. B
  75. Susie Meissner: I'll Remember April (2009, Lydian Jazz): Standards singer, based in Philadelphia, started out in a dinner theatre in the mid-1970s. First album. The usual Berlin ("How Deep Is the Ocean"), Porter ("You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To"), Rodgers/Hart ("There's a Small Hotel"). Two Jobims, both in English. Band swings a little, and she can reach those troublesome high notes. Still, the only reason to bother is "special guest" Brian Lynch, who bursts forth with fireworks we he gets the shot. B-
  76. Andy Milne/Benoît Delbecq: Where Is Pannonica? (2008 [2009], Songlines): Piano duets. I've run across both pianists before, generally finding their work exacting and impressive but much to my taste -- Delbecq's 2005 album, Phonetics, is the exception there, juiced up with Congo drums, sax and viola. This one is toned down, abstract even. The second piano often functions more like a bass, just more minimally. B
  77. Charles Mingus: Mingus Ah Um [Legacy Edition] (1959 [2009], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Frantically label-hopping in the late 1950s, Mingus landed at Columbia for two albums: the title album here on the first disc, and the erratic follow-up, Mingus Dynasty, that fills most of the second disc. The former is an undoubted masterpiece. Mingus learned jazz from the ground up, playing trad with Kid Ory, swinging with Red Norvo, apprenticing with Duke Ellington, bopping with Bird and Max Roach, finding his own path through the avant-garde. The nine neatly trimmed songs on the original Mingus Ah Um take a postmodern tack on jazz history, with gospel welling up in "Better Get It in Your Soul," nods to "Jelly Roll" and "Bird Calls" and an "Open Letter to Duke" and a gorgeous remembrance of Lester Young called "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat." But they don't imitate the past; they subsume it, catapulting it into the future as urgent testimony, which was most explicit in "Fables of Faubus," heaping scorn on the segregationist governor of Arkansas. Mingus was never more Ellingtonian, but everything was updated: his septet thinner but more rambunctious, the gentility and elegance giving way to cleverness and fury. While the first disc -- even fleshed out with the edits restored and padded with redundant alternate takes -- was as perfect as jazz records get, the second slops back and forth between aimless sections and wildly inspired ones. The new edition omits three alternate takes from the 3-CD The Complete 1959 Columbia Recordings -- no great loss -- and it frames Mingus Dynasty better by starting it off with alternate takes to "Better Get It in Your Soul" and "Jelly Roll." A [single album: A+]
  78. Giovanni Moltoni: 3 (2008, C#2 Productions): Guitar album -- long lines, gentle grooves, nice vibes, topped off with Greg Hopkins' moderately boppish trumpet. B+(*)
  79. Joe Morris w/DKV Trio: Deep Telling (1998 [1999], Okka Disk): DKV Trio is Hamid Drake (drums), Kent Kessler (bass), and Ken Vandermark (tenor sax). They released four albums from 1997 to 2002, plus three albums backing up and/or collaborating with others: Aaly Trio, Fred Anderson, and Morris, a guitarist from Boston. This breaks down into subgroups for 5 of 8 cuts: two Kessler-Morris duos, three trios omitting a D, K, or V. The opener finds Vandermark parodying Morris's guitar style, rather tedious, which may help the next two Vandermark-less cuts sound more refreshing. Morris plays long lines with a sort of staccato rhythm for a somewhat indeterminate groove -- works nicely here when he gets to lead. Vandermark's return is more auspicious, and the 18:35 "Telling" suite finally gets all of the pieces moving in synch. B+(**)
  80. Rakalam Bob Moses: Father's Day B'hash (2006 [2009], Sunnyside): Percussionist. Broke in while still a teenager with Rahsaan Roland Kirk (1964-65), and eventually figured he needed a cool moniker as well. Has a dozen or so albums since 1975. Has long taught at New England Conservatory of Music, where he recruited most of this mostly unknown band. Some small rhythmic bits are interesting, but most of the band came armed with horns, which they tend to play loud and at the same time, which isn't to say in unison. "Pollack Springs" splashes sound as chaotically as Pollack poured paint. I find it can get to be very annoying, although a little control -- as on "A Pure and Simple Being" -- can make all the difference. B-
  81. Paul Meyers: World on a String (2009, Miles High): Guitarist. Don't know anything about him, and Google isn't helping. Presumably not Mike Myers' older brother, the former front man for a group called the Gravelberrys. Plays acoustic. Wrote 7 of 9 songs, the exceptions the Arlen-Koehler "I've Got the World on a String" that suggests the title and John Lennon's "Because." Nice sound and feel on guitar, plus he gets help from Donny McCaslin on sax and Helio Alves on piano -- both given featuring plugs on the cover -- and also Leo Traversa on electric bass and Vanderlei Pereira on drums/percussion. McCaslin also plays flute on a couple of cuts, which spoils this for me. B+(*)
  82. Milton Nascimento and Jobim Trio: Novas Bossas (2007 [2008], Blue Note): Guitarist son Paulo Jobim and pianist grandson Daniel Jobim of Antonio Carlos Jobim anchor the trio, with Paulo Braga on drums, and bassist Rodrigo Villa relegated to a "featuring" credit. A little stiff with the piano up front. Nascimento sings, his falsetto aiming for the heavens but often brought down by the dead weight -- especially when the others chime in. B-
  83. David "Fathead" Newman: The Blessing (2008 [2009], High Note): Cut a little over a month before Newman died, at 75, Jan. 20, 2009. Soul jazz man, best known for his stint with Ray Charles, has a steady stream of 30-plus records under his own name ever since 1958 -- the biggest gap in AMG's list is 1989-1994. Had a lovely tone and a gentle disposition, but never made especially good records -- Bluesiana Triangle, with Dr. John and Art Blakey, is an exception but not really his album. Wrote the title song, and featured two from his pianist, David Leonhardt; covers tend to be slow and wispy, covering for a shortfall of wind. Peter Bernstein's guitar fills in admirably. Doesn't lose much on his flute feature this time. B
  84. Adam Niewood & His Rabble Rousers: Epic Journey Volumes I & II (2008, Innova, 2CD): An epic record, two long discs, one mostly composed, the other mostly improv. Niewood plays a wide range of saxophones and clarinets, with tenor sax justly first listed. Add keyboards, guitar, bass, drums, including some African percussion. His tone and range are impressive, although it's hard to know just what to make of it all. Perhaps in the future he'll make a record clear enough to make this one worth deciphering. As it is, I prefer the improvs -- "Movin' & Groovin'" does just that for 9:35, after which "Loved Ones" shows some ballad sensitivity. B+(**)
  85. Sean Noonan's Brewed by Noon: Boxing Dreams (2007-08 [2008], Songlines): Drummer, from Brockton, MA, graduated from Berklee. Formed Brewed by Noon in 2004, leading to a 2007 record, Stories to Tell -- also a "live" record on Innova I haven't heard. Similar lineup, with Aram Bajakian and Marc Ribot (electric guitar), Mat Maneri (viola), Thierno Camara (electric bass), Thiokho Diagne (percussion), Susan McKeown and Abdoulaye Diabaté (vocals) on both. This one adds Jamaldeen Tacuma on electric bass, dropping some extra guitar, percussion, and vocals. Package teases: "A Potent Brew: Tribal Rhythms by an Irish Griot." The Afro-Celtic fusion is palpable, but the vocals don't mesh very well -- Diabaté runs roughshod over the album, but isn't anywhere near the next Salif Keita. Still, Ribot and Maneri make a powerful team, and the mixed-bag percussion is interesting. B+(*)
  86. Margie Notte: Just You, Just Me & Friends: Live at Cecil's (2008 [2009], Gnote): Singer, from Orange, NJ, no published age -- one hint is that her mother had five brothers who served in WWII. Studied with Carla Wood and Roseanna Vitro. First album. Standards, mostly associated with the 1950s: "Too Close for Comfort," "Cry Me a River," "You Go to My Head," "I've Got You Under My Skin," "I Thought About You." Cecil's owner Cecil Brooks III is the house drummer. Jason Teborek handles the piano, and Tom Di Carlo bass. Don Braden plays warm tenor sax and a little flute. I like her voice and poise, and the songs are hard to miss with. She nails them all. B+(**)
  87. Offonoff: Slap and Tickle (2009, Smalltown Superjazz): Another permutation on the Ex-Zu axis, with Ex guitarist Terrie Ex and Zu bassist Massimo Zu (here dba Massimo Pupillo) joining forces, label house drummer Paal Nilssen-Love (Atomic, School Days, The Thing, etc.) refereeing, or just stirring up trouble. Two pieces, more "Slap" (32:39) than "Tickle" (16:20), but plenty of both. Thrashes at first, but they get tired of that not long after you do, at which point the moves take on a bit more interest. Not a lot of contrast between bass and guitar, so it's rather narrow. Terrific drummer. B+(*)
  88. Olatunji: Drums of Passion [Legacy Edition] (1959-66 [2009], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): One of the first albums of African music to appear in the US, no doubt because Babatunde Olatunji, a Yoruba from southwest Nigeria, got a scholarship to study at Morehouse College in Georgia, then moved on to New York, where he set up his percussion ensemble as a side project while studying public administration. With its dense percussion and crude, chantlike vocals, this seems geared to contemporary stereotypes of Africa, but it doesn't pander: it stands tall and forthright. The album became a huge bestseller. The band expanded, with some notable jazz names joining in on the bonus tracks: Clark Terry, Yusef Lateef, Jerome Richardson, Bud Johnson, Ray Barretto. Second disc features the long-out-of-print More Drums of Passion. Cut 7 years later, it seems less of a novelty, especially with the irresistible groove of "Mbira." A- [single albums: Drums of Passion B+(***); More A-]

  89. Original Silence: The Second Original Silence (2006 [2008], Smalltown Superjazz): There's also an album called The First Original Silence, which I didn't get, but is presumably much the same. This gets classified as improvised rock because Sonic Youth is a rock band and that's where Thurston Moore and Jim O'Rourke hail from. That's also more/less what Terrie Ex (of The Ex) and Massimo Pupillo (of Zu) do. The Ex, for those not in the know, has a long history with most of their stuff roughly paralleling the Mekons, although guitarist Terrie Ex occasionally shows up in jazz contexts, like his duets with Ab Baars. Zu is more consistently on the jazz edge -- no doubt best known (to the extent they are known at all) for their mashups with Ken Vandermark (Spaceways Inc.'s Radiale) and Mats Gustafsson (How to Raise an Ox). Gustafsson is here too, along with drummer Paal Nilssen-Love -- two thirds of The Thing. Sonic Youth has a long line of big commercial records and a smattering of obscure spinoffs there Moore, in particular, indulges his guitar noise fetish. So what we have here is the intersection of four circles -- coincidentally four nations -- pursuing a common goal: not sure what it is, but I wouldn't exclude making you squirm. I don't have a lot of tolerance for just cranking up the amps and letting them choke on feedback, so parts of this do make me squirm, but when they can control themselves they produce a powerful post-Velvets crunch, with Gustafsson's sax a fair analogue to Cale's viola. Good drummer, too. B+(**)
  90. Arvo Pärt: In Principio (2007-08 [2009], ECM New Series): This release marks the 25th anniversary of ECM's more or less classical sublabel, ECM New Series, launched in 1984 with Pärt's Tabula Rasa. Seemed like an event worth noting, and Pärt is a name that I noticed around then but never managed to get to. Back in the 1970s I took an interest in what I prefer to call postclassical music -- seems premature to be call it classical, ahistorical as contemporary composition, too pointed as avant-garde. I grew up despising Euroclassical music -- everything from Bach to Mahler, and a good deal before and after -- but took a deep interest in Theodor Adorno, who in turn was very much devoted to the 12-tone music Schönberg and Webern. I found I could handle it -- even got to where I liked Pierrot Lunaire -- and I checked out some of the newer stuff, especially with electronics (Babbitt, Berio, Crumb, Wuorinen, Stockhausen, Cage, Cardew, Glass, Reich). I lost track in the 1980s, especially after Tom Johnson left The Voice, and never managed to pick it up again -- one reason, perhaps, being that the avant fringes of jazz are usually more interesting. Pärt doesn't seem to be much of a modernist at all. Born 1935 in Estonia, left the Soviet Union for Vienna in 1980, then moved on to Berlin. This is a scattered set of pieces originating 1999-2006, recorded back in Estonia by Estonian National Symphony Orchestra, Estonian Philharmonic Chamber Choir, and Tallinn Chamber Orchestra. The choral pieces are based on scriptures. The ensemble work is dominated by the violins. Feels quasi-medieval to me, not a distinction I'm in any way expert on. Certainly not my thing, but tolerable, even in spots haunting. B+(*)
  91. Madeleine Peyroux: Bare Bones (2009, Rounder): Nice French name, but she was born 1974 in Athens GA, grew up in New York and Southern California, but moved to Paris with her mother after her parents divorced, and was discovered there. She was slotted as a jazz singer because she sounds like Billie Holiday -- not that anyone really does, but she was one of the few who begged comparison. (Holiday wasn't necessarily a jazz singer either, but she hung with jazz musicians, sung on their records, employed them on hers, and was so great that no one quibbled about her style.) Peyroux's earlier records paraded various songbook items which heightened the comparison, but she has her name on every song here -- mostly co-credits with bassist-producer Larry Klein. Several are striking -- "Love and Treachery," "Our Lady of Pigalle" -- but none are what you would call jazzy. The band is mostly guitar and keyboards -- several credits on Estey, a brand name that could be a piano but is probably an old pump organ -- with a bit of violin by Carla Kihlstedt. Peyroux herself plays acoustic guitar. B+(**)
  92. Enrico Pieranunzi: Plays Domenico Scarlatti: Sonatas and Improvisations (2007 [2009], CAM Jazz): Giuseppe Domenico Scarlatti is a baroque composer, 1685-1757. My wife has a short list of classical music faves, mostly from his period or earlier, and Scarlatti is on it. I tend to hate all classical music as a matter of personal principle and custom, but this isn't bad -- has some groove to it, even if it's a bit too neatly tied up in the end. Solo piano, which is probably par for this course. The pianist is a major figure in Italy's jazz scene, with a lengthy catalog that I've only lately had the luxury of following. He is always worth hearing, even solo, even here. Note that the improvs stay strictly in character. B+(*)
  93. PIZZArelli Party with the Arbors All Stars (2009, Arbors): I filed this under Bucky Pizzarelli, figuring he's still the tribe's sheikh, but closer inspection suggests this is really John Pizzarelli's record -- he produced, wrote a sizable chunk of the songs (to Bucky's one and seven covers from the usual suspects), sings on two, and wrote the liner notes. Martin Pizzarelli is on bass, Tony Tedesco on drums, Larry Fuller on piano. The Arbors All Stars are limited to Harry Allen on tenor sax and Aaron Weinstein on violin, plus a couple of vocal spots for Rebecca Kilgore and/or Jessica Molaskey. The vocals are rather scattered, but there's a lot of hot swing guitar, and Weinstein and Allen are superb, especially on the closer, "I'll See You in My Dreams." B+(**)
  94. Frank Potenza Trio: Old, New, Borrowed, & Blue (2008 [2009], Capri): Guitarist-led organ trio, with Joe Bagg on organ, Steve Barnes on drums, and Holly Hoffman joining in here and there as "special guest" on flute and alto flute. Potenza was b. 1950, studied at Berklee, has eight albums since 1986. Also sings a little. This is about as lightweight as jazz gets -- pop songs like "Ode to Billie Joe" and "You've Got a Friend"; clean guitar lines over just enough organ to carry the tune; the vocals and even the flute solos are instantly forgettable -- I noted two and one, which must be a short count, but reinforces my point. Still, it's awfully damn pleasant, which is something. B+(*)
  95. Tito Puente: Dance Mania [Legacy Edition] (1956-60 [2009], RCA/Legacy, 2CD): A Puerto Rican timbalero from Spanish Harlem, Puente jumped onto the Cuban bandwagon in the mid-1950s, releasing albums like Cuban Carnival and Cubarama before this breakthrough party album. The band is huge, the blaring brass rather clunky, and the beats a bit more basic than what the real Cubans were doing -- Pérez Prado, in particular, managed to sound more pop and at the same time more radical -- but the energy is cranked up high and the vocals exude passion. This package expands the original 12-cut 37:50 album to 22 cuts to fill the first disc, then offers Dance Mania Vol. 2, again pumped up from 12 to 23 cuts. The prime slice is slightly leaner and cleaner, but it's hard to nitpick the rest: more is truly more. A- [single albums: Dance Mania A-; Vol. 2 B+(***)]
  96. Refuge Trio (2008 [2009], Winter & Winter): This would be Theo Bleckmann (vocals, live electronic processing), Gary Versace (piano, accordion, keyboards), and John Hollenbeck (drums, percussion, crotales, vibraphone, glockenspiel). Group name seems to be tied into the 1:09 intro version of Joni Mitchell's "Refuge of the Roads" -- otherwise it's not at all clear what it means. Hollenbeck is always doing interesting things, and Versace is a pretty dependable double threat. Bleckmann, on the other hand, is a difficult case. I find his voice has little appeal, although he clearly is a fountain of clever ideas -- it's hard to think of any male vocalist who's pushed so many boundaries over the last five years. I wish I liked him more. B+(*)
  97. Ridd Quartet: Fiction Avalanche (2005 [2008], Clean Feed): The all-Davis half of the Kris Davis Quartet -- that means drummer Jeff Davis -- with a couple of New Yorkers who, in theory at least, push the Davises a bit further out towards left field: alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon, best known for Mostly Other People Do the Killing, and bassist Reuben Radding. A bit rougher and less settled: maybe because no one is calling the shots, or it's a relatively old tape that Radding remastered and the others are moving on. B+(**)
  98. Marcus Roberts Trio: New Orleans Meets Harlem, Vol. 1 (2007 [2009], J-Master Music): Pianist; b. 1963 Jacksonville, FL; blind since youth; studied and teaches at Florida State. Joined Wynton Marsalis's group in 1985. Has 15 albums since 1988, mostly tributes to other pianists plus several Gershwin sets. This one, with Roland Guerin on bass and Jason Marsalis on drums, pulls 11 songs from Scott Joplin, Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, and Thelonious Monk, then tacks on an original called "Searching for the Blues" (actually, another stride tune, until he slows it down). That about sums up his range, and as long as he sticks to what he knows he does nicely. When he wanders, as on the first half of "Honeysuckle Rose" (misattributed to Jelly Roll Morton on the hype sheet), he gets lost fast. First record on his own label. Got a lot of florid press in advance of this, but when it came to put up or shut up all I got was a crappy CDR. B+(*)
  99. Rufus Huff (2009, Zoho Roots): What makes this Southern rock-blues-boogie band any different from any other Southern rock-blues boogie band? Well, nothing, really. B-
  100. Philippe Saisse: At World's Edge (2009, Koch): French pianist, classified as smooth jazz or new age; credited here with keyboards and programming, of course. AMG figures this is his 12th album since 1988 (first I've heard). They also give him two pages of side credits, starting with a 1979 Andy Pratt album and three 1980-82 by Al di Meola -- mostly bit parts on rock albums, including David Bowie, Chaka Khan, Grace Jones, Nona Hendryx, Tina Turner, Luther Vandross, Steve Winwood, Billy Joel, the B-52's, Donny Osmond, Rod Stewart; plus a few smooth jazzers, with Rick Braun, Kirk Whallum, Marc Antoine, and Jeff Golub returning the favor here. Three cuts have vocals: the chintzy disco from Jasmine Roy and processed Africana from Angelique Kidjo aren't bad, but the pro forma vocal version of the title track (also an album instrumental) by David Rice is staggeringly, almost comically, awful. C
  101. David Sánchez: Cultural Survival (2007 [2008], Concord Picante): Originally streamed this from Rhapsody, noting that his roots are more in Coltrane than in his native Puerto Rican salsa or his neighboring Afro-Cuban jazz. Got a copy, played it a few times, and don't have much more to say, other than that the inspiration cited in the liner notes comes from Africa: "the Baca forest people from southeast Cameroon, the Ari people of Tanzania, polyphonies from music from Ethiopia and music from Mali, all of which are important resources that I drew from when composing this piece." This piece is "La Leyenda del Cañaveral" -- the 20:31 closer which works best because he takes his time building it up. B+(**)
  102. Venissa Santi: Bienvenida (2006 [2009], Sunnyside): Singer, b. 1978, Cuban-American, family left Cuba in 1961; raised in Ithaca NY, based in Philadelphia; first album. She takes her Cuban heritage seriously, with three expats in her band, and more second-generation Cuban-Americans. Most impressive when the rhythms are most authentic, but she's also more than credible on standards like "Embraceable You," and wrote one called "Wish You Well" that if anything reminds me of Leon Russell's "Song for You." B+(**)
  103. Daniela Schächter: Purple Butterfly (2009, CDBaby): Pianist-vocalist, from Messina, Sicily, Italy. Studied classical music, got a scholarship to Berklee, where she got into jazz, studying with Joanne Brackeen. Third album, after Quintet (2001) and I Colori del Mare (2006). This is another quintet, with Alex Sipiagin (trumpet, flugelhorn), Joel Frahm (tenor sax), Massimo Biolcati (bass), and Quincy Davis (drums), as well as Schäcter's piano (sometimes Rhodes). The latter doesn't emerge much from the accompaniment, so it's hard to judge her more than proficient. She has a distinctive, compelling voice, but she doesn't take the songs into particularly interesting places. Two have Italian titles but there's no ethnic fusion attempt, and no accent betraying her as a non-native English speaker. Didn't notice Frahm much, but Sipiagin makes a strong showing. B+(*)
  104. Jenny Scheinman: Crossing the Field (2008, Koch): Two string orchestras on six cuts lay this on rather thick. The other half is more engaging, but that's the least you'd expect from Ron Miles, Bill Frisell, Jason Moran, Doug Wieselman, etc., not to mention the violinist-leader, who often seems either missing or buried in the masses. B+(*)
  105. Alfred Schnittke/Alexander Raskatov: Symphony No. 9/Nunc Dimittis (2008 [2009], ECM New Series): Schnittke was a Russian composer, 1934-1998. This was the last of his nine symphonies, the manuscript reconstructed by Raskatov, given an initial recording by the Dresdner Philharmonie, conducted by Dennis Russell Davies. It sounds like . . . a symphony. (What can I say? Masses of violins. Lots of ups and downs, with quiet spots that may mean something in a perfect acoustic environment. Raskatov is a younger Russian composer, b. 1953. don't know much more. His piece fills out the last 16:10 of the record. It's built around texts by Joseph Brodsky and Starets Siluan, with mezzo-soprano Elena Vassilieva and the Hilliard Ensemble joining the orchestra. The vocals do even less for me -- they seem very mixed down, but that could just mean I should turn it up. Quite a bit of documentation with this set -- evidently the label sees it as a big deal. Feels wasted on me. B-
  106. John Scofield: Piety Street (2009, EmArcy): AMG describes him as one of the "big three" jazz guitarists, along with Bill Frisell and Pat Metheny. He has released 30-plus albums since 1977, but still strikes me as an underachiever -- his best records simple jams like Groove Elation (1994) although his change of pace Quiet (1996) made a good case that he can play. The new record is reminiscent of his 2005 Ray Charles tribute -- I missed a couple records in between, so this seems like even more of a slumming slump. The Charles record relied on guests, especially vocalists, and got by on the songs and sentiment, but just barely. Here he goes into gospel, picking immaculate songs -- Dorsey, Cleveland, Bartlett, Hank Williams, Dorothy Love Coates, trad. -- backing them with a blues-oriented band, and using two singers: Jon Cleary, a nonentity from England, and John Boutté, not much better from New Orleans. In the end, the paleness they bring to Afro-American gospel is a saving grace -- no one's going to compete with Coates, or even Williams, so why try? Not much from the guitarist, although his work on "The Angel of Death" suggests he could contribute if he wanted to. B
  107. Sex Mob Meets Medeski: Live in Willisau (2006 [2009], Thirsty Ear): Quartet -- Steven Bernstein on slide trumpet, Briggan Krauss on alto sax, Tony Scherr on bass, Kenny Wollesen on drums -- with John Medeski sitting in on organ. Usual mix of lowbrow pop raised to avant-kitsch, with covers from Prince and John Barry -- think James Bond themes -- prominent, along with bits from Ellington, Basie, and "Little Liza Jane." Originals include a series of "Mob Rule" connecting pieces and a tribute named "Artie Shaw." A lot of brains go into this, but the wit is swallowed up in sloppy noise. And while Medeski has fun, he doesn't add much. B+(*)
  108. Avery Sharpe Trio: Autumn Moonlight (2008 [2009], JKNM): Bassist-led piano trio. Sharpe has eight albums since 1988, plus a much longer list of side credits, especially working for McCoy Tyner. His pianist here, Onaje Allan Gumbs, fits nicely into the Tyner mold, although his performance here is less flashy than usual. B
  109. Jim Shearer & Charlie Wood: The Memphis Hang (2008, Summit): Wood is a sly singer, probably more at home with simpler country/blues fare, but he tackles some difficult pieces here -- not just Dave Frishberg and Andy Razaf but Joni Mitchell's lyrics to "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" and Mike Ferro's to "Well, You Needn't" -- and stays on top of it all. He also plays keyboards, principally Hammond B3, which gets sharpened up considerably by Billy Gibson's harmonica. Shearer is less conspicuous, but tuba is sort of the running gag of the brass section, and his oom-pah keeps the whole affair in good humor. B+(**)
  110. Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra: Harriet Tubman (2007 [2008], Noir, 2CD): One problem with thinking of jazz as America's classical music is tends to make jazz sound more like Europe's classical music. This is especially true when a jazz arranger reaches for the bombast of a large concept, as with this opera. And, so often the case with opera, all that singing can get to be annoying. Still, this holds up relatively well. The default musical tradition is gospel, especially for the vocals. The horns are bright and rowdy, and the big band work is sharp. And you stand to learn a thing or two. B+(**)
  111. Adam Shulman: Patterns of Change (2008 [2009], Kabocha): Pianist, from San Francisco, presumably not the same Adam Shulman seen acting in The Dukes of Hazzard and dating Anne Hathaway, although from pictures on the web they don't look that different -- the pianist, I guess, looks a little glummer. Second album, expanding from quartet to quintet with the addition of Mike Olmos on trumpet/flugelhorn, alongside Dayna Stephens on tenor sax. Mainstream postbop, swings a little, horns have some kick to them. I keep hearing bits of "Dat Dere" in "4th Street Strut." One called "Chopinesque" isn't particularly. B+(*)
  112. Dave Siebels With Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band (2008 [2009], PBGL): Siebels' home page is titled "Dave's Film Music, Inc." Claims: composer, arranger, keyboardist, producer; arranged and produced 25 albums, scored 35 films, scored 9 TV series, conducted 65 musical variety TV shows; musical director/arranger for 2 musical variety TV specials. Liner notes give special thanks to Pat Boone "for making this album possible" -- indeed, Siebels' chief claim to fame was his concept and production of Boone's In a Metal Mood. All that sounds like work. He may be moonlighting here, but this sounds like fun. The Phat Band is hot and greasy. Siebels composed 7 of 10 songs -- Neil Hefti's "Girl Talk," Stevie Wonder's "I Wish," and Lalo Schifrin's "The Cat" are the covers -- and plays Hammond B3. He rests the band on "Girl Talk" -- just organ, guitar, and drums -- and on two others with Roy Wiegand's trumpet added, providing a break from the blare, but that isn't always a help. B+(**)
  113. Henning Sieverts Symmetry: Blackbird (2007 [2009], Pirouet): From Berlin, Germany, b. 1966, plays bass and cello; label's website claims he has 10 albums under his own name (AMG only lists 3), a total of 75 credits. Wrote 11 of 13 tunes here: the exceptions a medley of the Lennon-McCartney title tune and trad's "Wenn Ich ein Vöglein Wär" and Charlie Parker's "Blues for Alice." Three songs have dedications: to Paul Klee, Arnold Schönberg, and Olivier Messiaen. Interesting group, with John Hollenbeck on drums, Achim Kaufmann on piano, Johannes Lauer on trombone, and Chris Speed on clarinet and tenor sax. A mixed bag, with the harder edged stuff (with Speed on tenor sax, cf. "Gale in Night, Nightingale") quite sharp, the soft ones (e.g., cello-clarinet) much less so. Doesn't help that I've loathed the title cut for decades. B
  114. Asaf Sirkis Trio: The Monk (2007-08 [2008], SAM Productions): Drummer-led trio, with guitar (Tassos Spiliotopoulos) and electric bass (Yaron Stavi). Nothing fundamentally different, but one of the sharper guitar trios I've heard recently -- the main difference is that the drums are louder, which I count as a plus. But not just a trio: keyboards (Gary Husband) and extra percussion (Adriano Adewale) sometimes seep in, the former muddying the waters, the latter harder to judge. B+(**)
  115. Harry Skoler: Two Ones (2008 [2009], Soliloquy): Clarinetist, b. 1956 in Syracuse, NY, graduated Berklee 1978, originally inspired by Benny Goodman, later studied under Jimmy Giuffre. Fourth album since 1994, divided between 7 quintet tracks and 8 duos with pianist Ed Saindon. The duets are low keyed and rather pretty, but the larger group is too much of too many bad things: a front line of clarinet and flute, the pianist often switching to vibes, the bass and drums rolling like they're seasick. C
  116. Omar Sosa: Across the Divide: A Tale of Rhythm & Ancestry (2008 [2009], Half Note): Cuban pianist; moved to Ecuador in 1993, then San Francisco, then Barcelona in 1999. Has a dozen or more records since then, but this is the first I've heard, and it's thrown me for a loop. Nothing especially Afro-Cuban to it, even though Roman Diaz dubbed bata drums, congas, and cajon after the fact. Tim Eriksen, with a rather unnotable voice, sings four tracks, with gospel themes and slave roots: "Promised Land," "Gabriel's Trumpet," "Sugar Baby Blues," "Night of the Four Songs." The slow, atmospheric closer, "Ancestors," adds some more talk, not very clear. The other stuff muddles through more than ambles on. Exotic instruments come and go -- kalimba, chigovia, caxixis, chinese flute -- and who knows what's coming out of Sosa's samplers. The cool moodiness strikes me as more appropriate than anything in Wynton Marsalis's slave epics, but still leaves me uncertain and uneasy. B+(*)
  117. Jesse Stacken: That That (2006 [2008], Fresh Sound New Talent): Debut album, piano trio, dense and dramatic, not least thanks to bassist Eivind Opsvik and drummer Jeff Davis, who also back up Kris Davis. Stacken, however, lacks Kris Davis's main threat -- tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby -- and doesn't make up the deficit on his own. While Stacken can reward close listening, I find more often than not this record slips by unheard. B+(**)
  118. Steam: Real Time (1996 [2000], Atavistic): Just when I feel like I'm tiring, at least of the avant screech and untethered rhythm, this picks me up. Sole album by a short-lived Vandermark group, with Jim Baker on piano, Kent Kessler on bass, and Tim Mulvenna on drums. Liner note writer Jon Corbett argues that it's in and of the tradition, which is neither here nor there. It is more song-structured, with Baker contributing three richly imagined pieces, and Vandermark six (dedications to Dexter Gordon, Jimmy Lyons, Terri Kapsalis, Herbie Nichols, Booker Ervin, and Peter Greenaway). Vandermark is credited with reeds -- some bits even sound like soprano sax, as well as the more usual clarinet and tenor sax. A wide range of feels and looks here, including a reminder that Vandermark was once big on R&B. Baker plays well, and I even dug the bass-drums duet. Originally released on Eighth Day in 1997; reissued in 2000. A-
  119. John Stetch: TV Trio (2007 [2009], Brux): Pianist, b. 1968, has a dozen albums since 1992, this the first I've heard, although I gather from the titles -- Carpathian Blues, Kolomeyka Fantasy, Ukranianism -- that he has some sort of Eastern European interest. This is a trio with Doug Weiss and Rodney Green, running through a dozen TV theme songs, dropping down to solo for "All My Children." Can't say as I recognized a single one of them. Not sure if that's a plus or a minus. B-
  120. E.J. Strickland Quintet: In This Day (2008 [2009], Strick Muzik): Twin brother of saxophonist Marcus Strickland, plays drums, has been an asset since 1999 in his brother's groups as well as with Eric Person, Vincent Davis, Xavier Davis, David Weiss, Ravi Coltrane, Russell Malone, Tom Guarna, and George Colligan. First album, produced by Coltrane, with Jaleel Shaw and Marcus Strickland on saxes, Luis Perdomo on piano, Hans Glawischnig on bass, and the occasional guest here and there -- Tia Fuller flute, David Gilmore guitars, Pedro Martinez congas, Brandee Younger harp, Cheray O'Neal spoken word, and Yosvany Terry as if they needed another tenor sax. At a moderate pace the saxes melt into that slick postbop harmony I never cared for, but when they break loose even the ace Latin rhythm section is hard pressed to keep up. None of the guest touches strike me as good ideas, except maybe the congas. B+(*)
  121. Mark Taylor: Spectre (2008 [2009], Origin): Plays alto and soprano sax. From Washington state; studied at University of Washington, then Manhattan School of Music, before returning to Seattle. Shows up on more than a dozen Origin records; this is the second under his name. Evidently not the same Mark Taylor of the Taylor/Fidyk Big Band, which has a record on Origin's sibling (farm team?) label OA2. Quartet with Gary Fukushima on piano/Fender Rhodes, Jeff Johnson on bass, Byron Vannoy on drums. Has a sweet tone on alto, and plays well-rounded postbop. B+(*)
  122. Ximo Tebar & Ivam Jazz Ensemble: Steps (2007 [2009], Omix/Sunnyside): Spanish guitarist, b. 1963, seventh album since 1995 (according to AMG, which may be short). I figure him for a Wes Montgomery acolyte, which is reinforced by an original called "Four on Six for Wes." This zips along at Montgomery speeds, but is cluttered by double-dosed keyboards from Orrin Evans and Santi Navalón. Bass alternates between Alex Blake on acoustic and Boris Kozlov on electric. Adds some horns for the opening "Pink Panther," which is kinda cute. B
  123. The Thing: Bag It! (2009, Smalltown Superjazz): Mats Gustafsson's power trio, with Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. Gustafsson is a very noisy saxophonist, favoring the baritone most likely for its ugliness, but much faster on tenor or alto. (He's credited here with alto, baritone, and slide sax, but photographed playing tenor.) Best thing this group does is to take a rock song and pound it hard. This starts off with two that qualify: one from The Ex, another from Nude Honeys. Then they lurch into Gustafsson's title thing, which isn't a song at all. In two covers at the end, Ellington gets uppity, and Ayler turns into solemn prayer, channelled through live electronic fuzz. B+(**)
  124. Gian Tornatore: Fall (2007 [2009], Sound Spiral): Tenor saxophonist, plays a little soprano but not as well. Has a couple of good albums on Fresh Sound New Talent, the first struck me especially favorably (Sink or Swim). This, a quintet with both guitar and piano, less so, although I still like his tone and command. B+(*)
  125. Transit: Quadrologues (2006-07 [2009], Clean Feed): Quartet, band members listed alphabetically: Jeff Arnal (percussion), Seth Misterka (alto sax), Reuben Radding (bass), Nate Wooley (trumpet). Second album on Clean Feed. Don't have credits on songs, which are presumably group improvs. In any case, they play free, the horns jousting and jamming. Has a number of impressive spots, but doesn't sustain the pace consistently. B+(*)
  126. Paul Tynan & Aaron Lington: Bicoastal Collective: Chapter One (2008 [2009], OA2): Tynan plays trumpet and flugelhorn. From Canada, b. 1975, went to UNT, presumably picked up the big band arranging bug there. Third album. Lington plays baritone sax and bass clarinet. Also passed through UNT, on his way from Houston to San Jose, where he teaches. He has a previous quintet album. Ten-piece group, covers the big band bases without massed horn sections. The bulk of the album is taken up by the 7-part "Story of Langston Suite." The horn voicings are often striking, and the whole thing flows effortlessly. I guess jazz is America's classical music. B+(*)
  127. Nicholas Urie Large Ensemble: Excerpts From an Online Dating Service (2008 [2009], Red Piano): B. 1985, Los Angeles, composer/conductor on his first album. AMG lists it as Pop/Rock, meaning they haven't so much as looked at the cover let alone listened to it. On the other hand, it does have a pretty consistent beat, and one voice throughout -- Christine Correa, whom I'm tempted to describe as workman-like because she makes everything she sings sound like work. The Large Ensemble numbers 18 when Chris Speed shows up late for the last two tracks. The texts were collected unedited from dating sites. It's always difficult to wrap music around words not intended as lyrics, which may explain why they feel stilted here -- so much so that my first instinct is to say this sounds like opera. The arranging is often superb, and the solos often stand out -- Bill McHenry's tenor sax most of all. John McNeil produced. Ambitious work. B
  128. Ken Vandermark: Two Days in December (2001 [2002], Wobbly Rail, 2CD): Two days in Stockholm, although they took a day off between them. Four sets of duets, roughly half a side each, with four names that share the front cover and spine in the same size type as Vandermark. The four are: Raymond Strid (drums), Sten Sandell (piano), David Stackenas (guitar), and Kjell Nordeson (vibes). By this point Vandermark had several albums teamed up with the Aaly Trio, which is to say Mats Gustafsson, and that provides the invites to members of various Gustafsson groups -- Strid and Sandell from Gush, Stackenas from Pipeline, Nordeson from Aaly. Strid opens up aggressively, threatening to provoke a squawkfest, but his section soon slows down into the abstract, giving Vandermark a chance to stretch out. The closing set with Nordeson is similar but even more scattered. The other two sets are more interesting. Sandell takes charge quickly and rarely lets up. Stackenas is more oblique, with a scrawny metallic twang that never quite winds up where you expect it. One of the more consistently inventive Vandermark duo sets. B+(***)
  129. Ramana Vieira: Lágrimas de Rainha / Tears of a Queen (2008 [2009], Pacific Coast Jazz): Portuguese-American fado vocalist, born in San Leandro, CA, now based in or near San Francisco. Grew up listening to classics like Amália Rodrigues -- strikes me as more deeply traditional than recent Portguese fadistas like Mariza, but part of that is my instinctive reaction to opera. That turned me off from this at first, but she hangs in there, and the group for once sounds utterly authentic. (San Francisco seems to have become a melting pot of truly mediocre world music, hence the "for once.") Wrote five songs, the last two in English: her anthemic "This Is My Fado" and one called "United in Love" that could be retooled for Nashville. B+(*)
  130. Kobie Watkins: Involved (2006 [2009], Origin): Drummer, from Chicago. First record. Has a few side credits since 2001, and calls in some chits here, like Ryan Cohan and Bobby Broom. Wrote 4 of 10, one of those with Howard Mims, who wrote 2 more. Shuffles a lot of musicians in and out, but generally has one or two horns, piano or keyboard, and bass. Broom plays guitar on 3 cuts. Mostly upbeat postbop, well done but not very distinct or especially interesting. B
  131. WHO Trio: Less Is More (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Group name is an acronym for Michel Wintsch (piano), Gerry Hemingway (drums), and Bänz Oester (bass). Wintsch is a Swiss pianist, b. 1964, has 16-18 albums since 1998, mostly on Unit and Leo, none that I've heard before. Oester, also Swiss, b. 1966, has one album on Leo plus a dozen or so side credits, many with Wintsch. Hemingway should need no introduction at this point. Very low key affair, which starts to gain some interest once you focus in tightly. B+(**)
  132. Corey Wilkes & Abstrakt Pulse: Cries From Tha Ghetto (2008 [2009], Pi): Hot young trumpet player from Chicago, leading a quintet -- or sextet if you count tap dancer Jumaane Taylor -- with Kevin Nabors on tenor sax, Scott Hesse on guitar, Junius Paul on bass, and Isaiah Spencer on drums. Wilkes is developing into a very strong performer -- paying some interest back on those Freddie Hubbard comparisons. A lot going on here, much of it impressive on the surface, but it's not adding up for me. Neither hint from the group name nor from the title sheds much light here. He could just as well claim an Organic Pulse, and the Cries certainly aren't of anguish, although maybe there's some anger there, or maybe he just hasn't found himself, at least not like he's found his horn. B+(*)
  133. Phil Woods: The Children's Suite (2007 [2009], Jazzed Media): "Inspired by the verses of A.A. Milne" -- some sung by Vicki Doney and/or Bob Dorough, some narrated by Peter Dennis. Woods composed and arranged the music, and plays alto sax in an orchestra he conducts: four reeds, three brass, piano, guitar, bass, drums, four strings. Milne, of course, is best known for Winnie-the-Pooh, which makes an appearance, but I assume woods jumps around, and some things like "Sneezles" even strike me as familiar. Not something likely to appeal to me on any level, with the vocals and the strings especially likely to rub me the wrong way, but much of it is well done -- the sax, naturally, but also the witty narration. B+(*)
  134. Sam Yahel: Hometown (2009, Posi-Tone): Plays piano here, in a trio with Matt Penman (bass) and Jochen Rueckert (drums), but has almost exclusively played organ in the past: five albums since 1998, a couple dozen side credits including Norah Jones and Joshua Redman. Starts with John Lennon's "Jealous Guy," slow, always sounds good. Follows up with Monk, Ellington, two originals, Gilberto, "Moonlight in Vermont," Wayne Shorter, etc. Nice variety, amply supported by bass and drums, lively on the upbeat, touching when they slow it down. B+(**)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Browse Notes

Trying to clean up my virtual desktop, closing browser tabs on pages I opened up but hadn't done with. Some quick notes:

  • Matthew Yglesias: Huckabee Calls for Ethnic Cleansing of Palestinian Territories [August 18]: It used to be that Americans would show their support by making Israel seem more benign than it is, but now we're seeing ambitious Republicans starting to move beyond Israel's far right flank. I've said all along that the neocons didn't love Israel so much as they envied it: they wanted the US to attack the world with the same arrogance Israel showed. Of course, it's hard to tell with Huckabee: he may be part of the GOP's race to the bottom, or he may just be pining for the apocalypse. More on Huckabee by Richard Silverstein and Glenn Greenwald.

  • Nicholas Beaudrot: The Flowchart: This was copied by Krugman, Yglesias, probably others, but has gone through a couple of extra iterations here. One problem with this is that Obama isn't out reassuring the 78 million folks on Medicare or Medicaid that there will be "no change" -- he keeps talking about the need for cost savings there. The "new consumer protections" are also likely to cost more, especially in private insurance premiums -- not that they won't go up otherwise. Possible cost savings is an interesting wonk topic, but what people need to know is that reform won't make the current situation worse. How much better is far less important.

  • Robert Reich: The Public Option's Last Stand, and the Public's [August 17]: Response to Obama's (or Sebelius's?) concession on the public option, a willingness to go with private sector insurance co-ops. I can see some ways to make the latter work, but public insurance would have a lot more clout in the marketplace, would be able to drive better bargains, would have the numbers to ignore adverse selection problems, and would have a political commitment to success. Moreover, the main reason for not having government-backed insurance is precisely the political turf we're fighting over. The only reason not to go that way (unless you own one of the rackets masquerading as private insurance companies) is that you fear Republicans will wind up running it. That would indeed be awful, but that's also an avoidable scenario.
  • Paul Krugman: The Swiss Menace [August 16]: Perfectly reasonable and sane explanation of public health care options, and why Obama's isn't all that bad. "At this point, all that stands in the way of universal health care in America are the greed of the medical-industrial complex, the lies of the right-wing propaganda machine, and the gullibility of voters who believe those lies." One thing that Krugman didn't mention is that while the US spends 15.3% of its GDP on its non-universal health care, Switzerland ranks as the second most expensive nation, at 11.3%.
  • Barack Obama: Why We Need Health Care Reform [August 15]: "This is a complicated and critical issue, and it deserves a serious debate." Still, this is sketchy, and while it seems reasonable and well intentioned, doesn't allay my fears, much less the paranoid fantasies fanned by the Republicans.
  • Margaret Talev: Who's behind the attacks on a health care overhaul? Hint: follow the money.

  • David Goldhill: How American Health Care Killed My Father [August 14?]: "And what about us -- the patients? How does a nation that might close down a business for a single illness from a suspicious hamburger tolerate the carnage inflicted by our hospitals? [ . . . ] blood clots following surgery or illness, the leading cause of preventable hospital deaths in the U.S., may kill nearly 200,000 patients per year. How did Americans learn to accept hundreds of thousands of deaths from minor medical mistakes as an inevitability?" Long article promising a "radical solution" I haven't gotten to yet, but want to get back to.
  • Paul Krugman: Republican Death Trip [August 13]: "This opposition cannot be appeased. Some pundits claim that Mr. Obama has polarized the country by following too liberal an agenda. But the truth is that the attacks on the president have no relationship to anything he is actually doing or proposing."
  • Lara Jakes/Anne Gearan: Gates: 'A few years' of combat in Afghanistan [August 13]: Press conference, reporting that "the Afghanistan mission can only succeed if troops are there far longer -- anywhere from five years to 12 years." Doesn't say what success means, leaving them 5-12 years to dial it even further down.
  • Paul Krugman: Even more gilded [August 13]: Emmanuel Saez updates his top 0.01% income share chart to include 2007: sharp rise, to a level higher than any year as far as his chart goes back (1913).
  • Carrie Peyton Dahlberg: If U.S. health care's so good, why do other people live longer? [August 12]: Good question. One reason is all the people who have no insurance. One study shows that Americans who make it to 65 and medicare are much more evenly matched with the rest of the world.

  • Tony Karon: Obama, Foxman and Israel's Purpose [July 16]: "Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear . . . Where on Earth did Barack Obama get this idea that Israel's foundation was intimately tied to the Holocaust? Maybe it's the fact that the first place Israel takes every visiting dignitary is to Yad Vashem, which as Avrum Burg has so eloquently argued, a visit designed effect what he calls the "emotional blackmail" that sears into the minds of the guest that Israel is the answer to the Holocaust, and that any criticism of the Jewish State must be muted for that reason." I just read a series of books by Rich Cohen, Idith Zertal, and Tom Segev that pound home this very point.

  • Hussein Agha/Robert Malley: Obama and the Middle East [June 11]: Bush did "the wrong things poorly"; however, doing the right things poorly isn't much of an improvement.
  • Lynsey Hanley: The way we live now [March 14]: Review of a book by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better, published in UK by Allen Lane, not available here (yet). Strikes me as a very important book: we are rich enough, but we do a bad job of sharing the wealth, and we're almost completely ignorant of how inequality hurts everyday life.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Music Week

Music: Current count 15628 [15596] rated (+32), 744 [731] unrated (+13). Listening to Rhapsody when I get the chance. Getting tired of jazz.

  • Hamza el Din: Escalay (The Water Wheel) (1968 [1998], Elektra/Nonesuch): Subtitled Oud Music from Nubia; actually oud and voice from Sudan. A relatively famous milestone in our reception of world music, now striking more for its patient gentility (and short LP length) than local color. B+(**)

Jazz Prospecting (CG #21, Part 4)

Jazz Consumer Guide #20 should be out in the Village Voice mid-week. At this stage I don't know what fit and what didn't, but like last time I plan on adding the surplus to the website so I don't have to find space for it later. I have another whole column and then some already written up, so there's no point in saving things. I provide a prioritized list of things that can be cut back from the hardcopy version, but don't have direct control over the layout.

Presumably the column I'm working on now will come out sometime around November. Would be nice if it could happen earlier, but it's always been tough to get space. Meanwhile, I feel like taking a break. It takes an extraordinary amount of time to keep up with the new jazz coming my way, and I'm falling behind on a lot of fronts, so I'm thinking I'll suspend Jazz Prospecting until September.

One change this time is that I've started to stream some records from Rhapsody. I did a bit of this a year ago, and have rather mixed feelings about it. I've written some boiler plate below as to the protocol I've worked out. I've been pretty reluctant to get involved with download schemes, but I'm also pretty fed up with the clutter and logistics, so I'm experimenting a bit. One thing you'll note is that many of the Rhapsody albums this time are on Tzadik, a very interesting label that takes pride in doing no promo. (There are also two Tzadik releases in the regular section, kindly provided by the artists.) On the other hand, Rhapsody is pretty limited in its jazz selection. I've put together a wish list based on a few scattered lists and reviews -- mostly Stef Gijsells' Free Jazz blog -- and I've found very few of those on Rhapsody.

Frank London/Lorin Sklamberg: Tsuker-Zis (2009, Tzadik): London plays trumpet, mostly in klezmer-rooted contexts, like his Hasidic New Wave band and vocalist Sklamberg's main gig, the Klezmatics. London's Carnival Conspiracy (2005, Piranha) is probably his high point, but there's a lot in his discography that I haven't explored, including a 1998 album co-credited to Sklamberg called Nigumin. Title here is Yiddish for "sugar sweet." Texts are evidently Hasidic, mostly holiday songs, many in Yiddish, at any rate nothing in English. For all I know, this may be as inocuous as the musically similar Klezmatics album of Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hanukkah, but it feels more distant, exalted maybe. Sklamberg's voice is full of wonder; you have to search a bit for London's horn, which rarely crowds the stage, but is welcome when it does. B+(***) [advance]

Luis Lopes/Adam Lane/Igal Foni: What Is When (2007-08 [2009], Clean Feed): Guitarist, from Portugal, has a previous album called Humanization 4Tet that was a solid HM, largely on the strength of Rodrigo Amado's tenor sax. This one is just guitar, bass and drums, so he takes more of a lead here -- for good measure, he starts with a piece dedicated to Sonny Sharrock. It ends, though, with an impressive segment from Lane. B+(**)

Eric Vloeimans: Fugimundi: Live at Yoshi's (2008 [2009], Challenge): Dutch trumpet player, b. 1963, has a dozen-plus albums since 1992. Postbop, fairly mainstream, has a nice bright sound and deft command. This is a rather slow group for him, a rhythm-less trio with Harmen Fraanje on piano and Anton Goudsmit on guitar. B+(*)

Marcus Strickland: Idiosyncrasies (2009, Strick Muzik): Hard to read this cover, but this looks like a sax trio, with the leader favoring soprano over tenor and playing clarinet on one track, with Ben Williams on bass and brother E.J. Strickland on drums. Strickland is still in his 20s (b. 1979), a guy we've been watching closely for a few years now, especially as he's moved up through some of the same circles that put Chris Potter and Donny McCaslin on the map. I haven't been alone in that regard. The new Downbeat Critics Poll picks Strickland as its Rising Star at soprano sax (not actually a lot of competition there) and has him second to Donny McCaslin at tenor sax (some real competition there, and you can argue that the 42-year-old McCaslin has risen enough already). I don't think this is his breakthrough -- more likely just another good solid album. I want to check out the covers more closely: Bjork, Stevie Wonder, Jaco Pastorius, Andre 3000, Jose Gonzales. Standardswise he's in a new zone. I'd also like to figure out where he thinks the idiosyncrasies are -- I don't hear them yet. [B+(**)]

David Berkman Quartet: Live at Smoke (2006 [2009], Challenge): Pianist, b. 1958, from Cleveland, based in Brooklyn, sixth album since 1995. Made a strong impression on his first two Palmetto albums, but hasn't been heard from since 2004. Quartet includes Jimmy Greene (tenor sax, soprano sax), Ed Howard (bass), and Ted Poor (drums). This strikes me as a very centered, settled, group, sure of itself, relaxed, consistent. This is especially true of Greene, who's never much impressed me before, but is note perfect here. [B+(***)]

Forgas Band Phenomena: L'Axe du Fou/Axis of Madness (2008 [2009], Cuneiform): Fusion group, led by drummer Patrick Forgas. Second album. Moves swiftly through four long-ish pieces, with Karolina Mlodecka's violin the signature instrument, two horn players punching in highlights, guitar-keyboards-bass chugging along. They make it look easy. B+(**)

Joe Morris: Wildlife (2008 [2009], AUM Fidelity): After many years as an obscure and difficult guitarist, Morris picked up the double bass and has developed into a lucid and energetic pacemaster. He's not interesting enough to salvage such bass-centric productions as his Elm City Duets with Barre Phillips, but he sure can set up a free-wheeling saxophonist -- witness Ken Vandermark on Rebus and Jim Hobbs on Beautiful Existence. His latest find is Petr Cancura, a Czech-born, Canadian-raised, Brooklyn-based tenor saxophonist who doesn't stray far from the line that runs from Albert Ayler through David S. Ware and many lesser figures. Luther Gray is the drummer, and he's very tight with Morris. A-

Tim Sparks: Little Princess: Tim Sparks Plays Naftule Brandwein (2009, Tzadik): Guitarist, which puts him in a different bandwidth from the legendary klezmer clarinetist. I made a point of checking out Rounder's Brandwein anthology, The King of the Klezmer Clarinet, and can vouch for its clarity, vigor, and good humor. Sparks' guitar is spaced out a little less succinctly, or perhaps I mean indeterminately? Moreover, his rhythm section -- Greg Cohen on bass, Cyro Baptista on percussion -- is far better recorded, sharper, and more varied. All in all, jazzier. A-

Guilherme Monteiro: Air (2005-06 [2009], Bju'ecords): Brazilian guitarist, b. 1971, in New York since 2000. Debut record, although he's also recorded in Forró in the Dark. Most cuts include Ben Street (bass), Jochen Ruckert (drums), and Jerome Sabbagh (tenor sax); two have pifano or alto flute and percussion; three have voice, with Chiara Civello on one, Lila downs on another. All very low key, subtle, slinky. B+(*)

Mark Buselli: An Old Soul (2008 [2009], Owl Studios): Trumpeter, co-leader with Brent Wallarab of Buselli Wallarab Jazz Orchestra, a group based in Indiana that released my favorite big band album of the last couple of years -- Where or When, in the JCG print queue. Evidently the plan is for the two leaders to each take a shot at arranging an album, but for all practical purposes the whole gang is there, plus a bunch of extra strings. Kelly Strutz sings five songs -- reminds me of Cory Daye on "If I Should Lose You." B+(**)

Chad McCullough: Dark Wood, Dark Water (2008 [2009], Origin): Trumpeter, based in Seattle. Debut album, leads a sextet through 7 originals, 1 by pianist Bill Anschell, and "Blackbird" by you know who. Shares front line with two saxes (Mark Taylor, Geof Bradfield), backed by piano (Anschell), bass (Jeff Johnson), and drums (John Bishop). Postbop, the sort of thing I find overly fancy and not all that inspired. Does have a bright, strong tone to his trumpet. B

These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.

Roberto Rodriguez: Timba Talmud (2009, Tzadik): A/k/a Roberto Juan Rodriguez -- not sure how the name appears on the actual package. Percussionist, from Cuba, played some bar mitzvahs once he got to Miami and figured out how to put a Cuban spin on klezmer. He laid out the basic ideas in El Danzon de Moises and Baila! Gitano Baila!, and has been working angles and variations since then. This sextet plays his basic shtick, the percussion played down a bit so it doesn't interfere with the richness and suppleness of the melodies. A-

Roberto Rodriguez: The First Basket (2009, Tzadik): Soundtrack for a film (same name) by David Vyorst, something about the origins of the Basketball Association of America, which was founded in 1946 and merged with the National Basketball League in 1949 to form the NBA. Consists of 30 pieces, starting with a shofar solo call-to-arms, then various more/less klezmerish pieces, some less enough to be period 1930s swing. Fifteen musicians, probably split up but I have no notes. A remarkable pastiche of fragments. Technical problems kept me from following it as well as I would have liked. B+(***)

Perry Robinson/Burton Greene: Two Voices in the Desert (2008 [2009], Tzadik): Duo, two mellowed veterans from the 1960s avant fringe. Robinson plays clarinet, ocarina, wooden flute, sopranino clarinet. Greene plays piano. Almost too polite, but the closer you dig into it the more ornate it becomes. I guess small things count for a lot in the desert. B+(*)

John Zorn: Alhambra Love Songs (2008 [2009], Tzadik): Hard not to repeat some of the hype here, one of Zorn's most shameless: "touching and lyrical . . . perhaps the single most charming cd in Zorn's entire catalog . . . will appeal to fans of Vince Guaraldi, Ahmad Jamal, Henry Mancini and even George Winston!" Wow: more charming than Naked City? New Traditions in East Asian Bar Bands? Kristallnacht? Nani Nani? (The latter is the worst thing I've heard him do, absolutely hideous, but I've barely sampled 10% of his catalog, so who knows what horrors I've missed.) In case you haven't guessed, Zorn is only the composer here, not a player. The group is a piano trio: Rob Burger, Greg Cohen, Ben Perowsky. Burger isn't in Jamal's class -- he actually has more credits on accordion and organ than piano -- but Zorn's melodies have so much structural integrity he doesn't need to elaborate, especially with Cohen all but singing on bass. A-

John Zorn: O'o (2009, Tzadik): Another slice of new age music from composer/non-player Zorn, following The Dreamers (an enjoyable 2008 record, presumably same group). Song titles reflect various birds from "Archaeopteryx" on, the album title (not on the song list) honoring an extinct Hawaiian bird. Sextet: Marc Ribot (guitar), Jamie Saft (piano, organ), Kenny Wolleson (vibes), Trevor Dunn (bass), Joey Baron (drums), Cyro Baptista (percussion). Upbeat, tuneful, shows flashes of guitar power when Ribot turns it up, or splashes of vibes on lighter fare. B+(**)

Dave Douglas: Spirit Moves (2008 [2009], Greenleaf Music): You'd think I would have gotten this. Some sources credit this to Brass Ecstasy, but cover just lists the musician names, Douglas above the title, the others below. Brass Ecstasy groups four brass -- trumpet, french horn (Vincent Chancey), trombone (Luis Bonilla), and tuba (Marcus Rojas) above drums (Nasheet Waits) -- a tip of the hat to Lester Bowie. Two covers ("Mr. Pitiful" and "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry") are fully formed, and "Great Awakening" shines with exuberance. The other originals are less scrutable, but I've always been a slow study with Douglas. Sometimes he pays off handsomely. B+(***)

Wadada Leo Smith/Jack DeJohnette: America (2009, Tzadik): Apparently a new recording, although I keep reading about a "proposed" ECM date in 1979 of the pair, and they actually go back further, to Smith's Golden Quartet. Of course, the usual caveats about duos apply: thin sound, limited colors, slow dynamics. Still, I find it touching, and masterful. B+(***)

Borah Bergman Trio: Luminescence (2008 [2009], Tzadik): Piano trio, with Greg Cohen on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums. Bergman was born in 1933, took a while before he started recording (1976) and didn't record regularly until the 1990s. I have one of his records from 1983, A New Frontier, on my A-list, but haven't heard much by him. Early on he evoked Cecil Taylor, but that isn't evident here. This is one of the most even-tempered piano trio albums I've heard in a long time, the rhythm hushed, the chords masterfully sequenced. John Zorn joins on alto sax on one cut, filling in background colors. A-

John Hébert: Byzantine Monkey (2009, Firehouse 12): Bassist, originally from New Orleans, now based in New Jersey or New York. First album under own name, but he's no stranger: I recognize about 15 albums on his credits list (out of 50-some), and I've often noted his work on them. Very interesting group he's rounded up here: Michael Attias (alto sax, baritone sax), Tony Malaby (tenor sax, soprano sax), Nasheet Waits (drums), Satoshi Takeishi (percussion), Adam Kolker (4 tracks: flute, alto flute, bass clarinet). Kolker's bass clarinet holds the second track together, and his flute runs away with the third. "Blind Pig" is a slow, melancholy bass rumble, very attractive. "Cajun Christmas" seems a little wobbly, a bit of postbop harmonics sliding in. Lost track after that, but seems like a very worthy debut. B+(***)

Tony Malaby: Paloma Recio (2008 [2009], New World): Album name seems likely to return as a band name in future releases. Quartet, Malaby on tenor sax, Ben Monder on guitar, Eivind Opsvik on bass, Nasheet Waits (a busy guy all of a sudden) on drums. Malaby and Monder both have a habit of stealing other people's shows while selling themselves short on their own records. They starts out a bit reticent, but picks up some muscle as it goes along -- I'm tempted to credit Opsvik, who plays with Malaby in the Kris Davis Quartet and is a tower of strength here. Seems like the sort of record that could slowly grow on you. B+(**)

Masada Quintet: Stolas: The Book of Angels Volume 12 (2009, Tzadik): A John Zorn joint. He's listed as playing on this, but I gather he only plays on one cut. The quintet is stellar: Dave Douglas (trumpet), Joe Lovano (tenor sax), Uri Caine (piano), Greg Cohen (bass), Joey Baron (drums). I take his word that there are 11 previous Book of Angels volumes, although I have no idea how they are organized or filed. Masada was a Zorn quartet (with Douglas, Cohen, and Baron) dating back to 1994, launched with a series of records Alef, Beit, Gimel, etc., shifting to numbers later on, then finally mutating into all sorts of things around 2004. For all the stylistic pastiche Zorn works in, what this most reminds me of is Sun Ra: a case where no amount of interstellar weirdness can quite shake an inate sense of swing. B+(**)

Rashanim: The Gathering (2009, Tzadik): Group, evidently led by Jon Madof (guitar, banjo), with Shanir Ezra Blumenkranz (acoustic bass guitar, bass banjo, glockenspiel, melodica, tiple, chonguri) and Mathias Kunzli (drums, percussion, jaw harp, whistling). AMG lists three Rashanim albums, plus an earlier one by Madof called Rashanim. Chantlike vocals on "Jeremiah"; otherwise intricate little groove pieces based on old Jewish themes, captivating, charming, a bit new agey. 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.

Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Rez Abbasi: Things to Come (Sunnyside)
  • John Abercrombie: Wait Till You See Her (ECM): advance, Sept. 8
  • By Request: The Best of Karrin Allyson (Concord)
  • David Ashkenazy: Out With It (Posi-Tone)
  • Count Basie Orchestra: Swinging, Singing, Playing (Mack Avenue)
  • George Benson: Songs and Stories (Concord/Monster Music): Aug. 25
  • Gary Burton/Pat Metheny/Steve Swallow/Antonio Sanchez: Quartet Live (Concord)
  • James Carter/John Medeski/Christian McBride/Adam Rogers/Joey Baron: Heaven on Earth (Half Note)
  • Mel Carter: The Heart & Soul of Mel Carter (CSP)
  • George Colligan: Come Together (Sunnyside): Sept. 22
  • Digital Primitives: Hum Crackle & Pop (Hopscotch)
  • Jan Garbarek: Dresden (ECM, 2CD): advance, Sept. 22
  • David Gibson: A Little Somethin' (Posi-Tone)
  • Yaron Herman: Muse (Sunnyside): Sept. 8
  • Dave Holland/Gonzalo Rubalcaba/Chris Potter/Eric Harland: The Monterey Quartet: Live at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival (Monterey Jazz Festival)
  • Pamela Luss with Houston Person: Sweet and Saxy (Savant)
  • Mike Mainieri/Marnix Busstra Quartet: Twelve Pieces (NYC)
  • John Patitucci: Remembrance (Concord): advance
  • PianoCircus featuring Bill Bruford: Skin and Wire (Summerfold)
  • Mika Pohjola: Northern Sunrise (Blue Music Group): Sept. 10
  • Alvin Queen: Mighty Long Way (Justin Time)
  • Roger Rosenberg: Baritonality (Sunnyside): Sept. 22
  • McCoy Tyner: Solo: Live From San Francisco (Half Note/McCoy Tyner Music): Aug. 25

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Rhapsody Streamnotes

See file.

Also spent a fair amount of time streaming recent jazz records, which will appear in Jazz Prospecting.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Star Trek

I guess if I'm going to do movie notes I should get them over with quickly.

Movie: Star Trek: We waited long enough on this one to catch it at a second-run theater, affectionately referred to as the Cheap Seats. I have some pedigree as a fan, given that I watched the original TV series both when it came out and in endless reruns. Also saw the first four or five movies, but never sat still for Next Generation or any of the other spinoffs. This attempts to wipe the slate relatively clean by posing an alternate reality corrupted by time travel. Just as well, given how poorly the original crew aged -- especially the second tier actors, who never were very good in the first place. On the other hand, youth can be a handicap too. Especially for Kirk, whose brilliance is repeatedly asserted but rarely suggested much less proved: in fact, he spends much of the movie getting his face smashed in and getting out of jams only through the most improbable luck. Two scenes were especially rotten: when as a child he skids a vintage Corvette into the Grand Canyon of Iowa, and when he hacks the "no win" Kobayashi Maru simulation but he acts like it's a big joke. The new Spock is even less convincing. That these two are the best and brightest of Star Fleet suggests how far the current dumbing down of the military can go over the next three or four centuries. With the background development asides and the time chewed up by protracted action sequences -- the dragon on an ice planet was a low point -- there wasn't much time for plot development, so they ran through that part pretty quick. It's all pretty crackpot, but not that hard to take. It's still worth point out that the movies seem stuck with war plots, where the original TV series was more interested in exploring new worlds, especially ones that were sci-fi variations of our own. While the movie is now set up for a protracted series of movie sequels, it would be much more interesting to scale these new versions of the old characters back down to weekly TV size. One saving grace was Leonard Nimoy as Spock Prime. He not only provided what little sense there was to the movie, he gave it some much needed dignity. The second-tier actors were also much better than their prototypes, especially Simon Pegg as Scotty. B

Friday, August 14, 2009

Broken Hip

From TPM: Throw Mama from the Train:

That's about where Congressional Republicans are on the escalating health care debate. Rep. Paul Broun (R-GA) just sent out a letter that tells voters, among other things, that "When mama falls and breaks her hip, she'll just lie in her bed in pain until she dies with pneumonia because her needed surgery is not cost efficient."

Broun is getting ahead of himself here. Not only it he assuming that the government's going to health care at such a detailed level that they'll routinely overrule doctors, he's assuming that the Republicans are going to be running the government.

Republican vehemence over health care seems to be coming from a deeper point in their reptilian brains than their usual desire to help rich businesses fleece poor customers. They seem to recognize that if government is ever trusted to run anything as critically important to voters as health care, they'll never win another election.

One thing that is certain is that Broun's concern has nothing to do with mama. Preserving the status quo leaves these life or death situations in the hands of the private, profit-maximizing insurance companies. In fact, if health insurance reform fails, the private companies will be all that much emboldened in their search for profits.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Welcome to My Mess

I remember seeing a common office knick-nack, a little sign that reads "A clean desk is a sign of a deranged mind." I always recalled that when I'd go in to talk to the VP of Human Resources when I worked at Xyvision: his desk was always spotless, though less a sign of derangement than one of someone who didn't have any real work to do. My desk was never clean for more than a few minutes. On the other hand, it has rarely gotten so oppressively deranged as it has in the last few weeks/months. I do plan on cleaning up real soon now, but I thought that first I'd immortalize this mess, if for no other reason than to make future messes feel less guilty. It should also serve as a cautionary lesson for anyone toying with the idea of reviewing records: the more successful you become, the more unmanageable your living/working space.

This is where I work. It's a space roughly 10-feet square -- actually the back half of our nominal living room. There is a chair in the middle, which somehow managed to evade the camera. The pictures are all more/less cropped on top: the shelves go further up, with much more of the same. Also missing are a few thousands more books and CDs scattered in virtually every room in the house. The top row looks north and east. There's more room to the east, and for that matter more pile on top, but I wanted to get the floor, which is where my current pending CD baskets are, and the file with all the hype I haven't thrown out or filed yet. The north desk is where I do most of my work, including writing this. There's an old CRT monitor that I'm stuck with until it dies and I can get a spacesaving LCD, and two computers under the desk, a router, a UPS to the side, a lot of junk and crumbs. The shelves on the desk include some reference books, and further up are more shelves full of CDs. The bottom row is the northwest: a big bookshelf unit mostly with computer books, except now it's been taken over by CDs. On the floor, more baskets, mostly empty CD cases I packed for the trip and haven't gotten around to putting back together again. Finally, the south/southwest view, with my old stereo cabinet -- one of the few things left from my first serious carpentry binge -- on the right, a desk covered with stuff that belongs in the CD shelves above it, an LCD monitor (the old CRT died last year), two more computers underneath, a couple of printers and a scanner that isn't hooked up. The five CD cases on top of the desk should have all of the good jazz I've CG'ed in the last few years but it doesn't fit. It completely covers a window. The first thing I need to do is to clear off the surfaces, which means moving a lot of CDs to other spots in the house. I still haven't mastered the art of disposing of excess CDs and books, but that's something I'm going to have to work on, because the current rate of expansion is unsustainable. I do have some space elsewhere in the house -- we've built a lot of shelf storage in the last year -- but once that's gone I've sworn I'll live within that space.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Losing Ugly

Fred Mann: Tiahrt gets warm response at area town halls. Similar reports on Reps. Jerry Moran and Lynn Jenkins. On the other hand, the sole Kansas Democrat in the House, Dennis Moore, called off his town hall meetings after receiving death threats. (Scott Roeder, the guy who assassinated Dr. George Tiller, resided until his arrest in Moore's district.) Tiahrt is the worst of the worst. People urge us to write to him, call, go to his events, but he's so far gone it's pointless trying to reason with him. I've seen him do his town hall thing, and it's a complete waste of time -- one reason he hears so little reason. Still, there is something relatively new here: his crowd is getting out in front of him, pulling even harder to the right:

Speakers were in sync with Tiahrt's opposition to the Obama health care reform plan.

But he didn't escape criticism. The first speaker he called upon said Tiahrt and his party were part of the system that grew federal spending.

Tiahrt cited efforts he made to limit the growth of government, gave a history of how it grew, and drew applause when he said, "If we want to grow the economy, we need to grow it from the ground up, not the government down."

But the next speaker, Jim Hughes of Mulvane, accused him of answering in platitudes rather than saying what he was going to do about government spending.

Hughes then moved on to a series of issues that made him angry, including health care reform. He said he didn't want government in his health care plan.

In some sense this doesn't matter, because Tiahrt is already bought and paid for. But it's starting to look like Obama's has lost not just the fight but his political courage. It's hard to sell a bill full of compromises and loopholes designed to undo the benefits originally promised. It's hard to sell a bill when you yourself admit that something else -- single-payer -- would do the job better.

Robert Reich: How the White House's deal with Big Pharma undermines democracy. As bad as the private sector health insurance companies are, it's not obvious to me that they are the biggest problem, either in terms of health care quality or excessive cost. Big Pharma is way up there, and the megacorp profit-oriented health care providers may even be further up there. The main reason I see for focusing on insurance first is that it not only solves a couple of major problems -- lack of coverage for people who have inadequate insurance and no coverage at all for large numbers of people excluded from the present system -- but that beyond solving those problems it provides purchasing power leverage on the rest of the system. The other nice thing about the insurance companies is that we don't need them at all, so cleaning up that problem should be relatively simple. On the other hand, the health care providers are needed -- the workers, anyhow, if not all the financiers -- which makes it harder to sort out. Drug companies are in between, but the problems can easily be separated out. For starters, rewrite patent law to eliminate monopolies and to regulate drug prices. More importantly, publicly fund research and development, and make all of the planning, procedures, and testing transparent, so you can put an end to drug companies spinning test results and covering up problems (cf. Vioxx). And put some strict regulations on drug industry marketing; better still provide transparent public forums for disseminating information about drug performance. One goal here is to make all drugs generic, reducing the industry to manufacturing. And make this system international, so that research, development, and manufacturing anywhere in the world is available anywhere in the world. Even with new investment in R&D, these few simple changes should result in savings of 50-75% of what is currently spent on pharmaceuticals. That in itself would be a big chunk of cost savings which would help out everywhere else.

The same sort of thing can be done with any other medical technology. One big thing that drives up the cost of health care is that nearly all of the new technologies and procedures are monopoly-priced under patent protection. Which is to say that every new whizzbang development gets to ask the question: how much is your life worth? Most are marketed with ridiculous gross margins, the most successful ones becoming huge bonanzas. Public funding of research and development would if anything outproduce the current private system. For one thing, it would encourage competing groups to build on each other's work. Public testing would make it possible for anyone to spot a problem and come up with a better solution. One of the big hidden costs of the current system is liability: what it costs when a product does unexpected damage. That costs would get wrung out of the system real fast.

Admittedly, private insurance has some easy cost targets too: they currently spent something like 30% of their gross on marketing and administration, whereas a single-payer system like Medicare only spends 3%. The difference could easily pay for universal coverage. But that sort of change is more than Obama will allow himself to consider. Instead, he's pushing a set of regulations on private health insurance which will make it less unpalatable but also more expensive. Then he's shackling those reforms with a requirement that they be deficit-neutral, which opens his whole program to charges that he'll inflict some combination of higher taxes and service restrictions. Cutting this deal with Big Pharma just digs himself a deeper hole.

Personally, I would prefer an approach where we started talking about how the system fails qualitatively, then figure out how to improve on that, introducing savings only once we ensure that no quality will be lost. This means educating people pretty much from scratch about how it all works, and how it currently malfunctions. At some level Obama must understand this, but instead of tackling the problem head on, he keeps trying to skirt past problems by making deals with established interests. That's why he keeps losing. That's why it feels like we wound up with the Clinton administration we voted against.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Israel Is Myth

M.J. Rosenberg: Great New Book. That would be Israel Is Real, by Rich Cohen. As rave reviews go, this actually comes out rather fuzzy: "I don't know if Cohen is a Zionist. . . . He seems to believe . . . But the book is not a political argument. It's a story with wonderful tales about Herzl, and Golda, and Sharon,and Rabin, written with love but also with pity." I wrote up a comment, tried to post it, only to get rejected. My comment:

I read Cohen's book. Enjoyed it a lot. Winced at various errors, especially the ones Adam Kirsch didn't bother with, like the consistent soft-peddling of Israeli atrocities from Deir Yassin to Kibbya to Sabra and Shatila. The book is full of big ideas, worth pondering even if some don't quite pan out. It's occurred to me before that the Judaism of the temple and the Judaism of the exile are fundamentally different with different trajectories even though they share common referents. Cohen puts a lot of emphasis on Israel the nation as the third temple, a metaphor that hadn't occurred to me before. And he makes a strong case for the Holocaust as all-pervasive in Israeli political culture, but then he makes Yad Vashem the third temple. (He explains how one exits Yad Vashem to behold a panoramic view of Jerusalem, as if the point is to give the Holocaust a happy ending.)

On the other hand, I'm not sure that his elaboration of so much myth really explains what is going on. Cohen comes off as a dabbler: religious enough to observe the high holidays but not much else; skeptical of Israel from a distance but welcomed inside whenever he makes an appearance. If Zionism is religion for secularists, he dabbles in it too. He sees the occupation as corrupting, but money and power corrupt yet it's still good to have some. Palestinians hardly ever appear in the book, except as genocidal killers or as embarrassing victims. He quotes Hillel but doesn't connect the dots, except insofar as the Zionist rejection of exilic Judaism frees them from the rule not to be hateful to others.

On the other hand, Palestinians aren't likely to get anything out of the book, except perhaps to wonder how they got wrapped up with such nutters.

Kirsch, in his review, is exactly wrong about Cohen: what's most valuable in the book is precisely its mess of contradictions, flippant ideas, and injudicious rhetoric. Cohen never gives you just one way to think about Israel, which is why no one with pat answers and a canonical storyline will like the book. He challenges you to think. On the other hand, he overindulges those of us who already tend to think too much about the history. That's why I suspect that a more present focus, like Richard Ben Cramer's Why Israel Lost (several years old but hardly obsolete) goes further in explaining why Israelis have become so addicted to their fight.

Adam Kirsch: Disengagement. Another review of Rich Cohen's Israel Is Real, referred to above thanks to a tip in the post's comments.

Marked some quotes in the book, but don't have them typed up yet, but when I do they will be here.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Music Week

Music: Current count 15596 [15558] rated (+38), 731 [736] unrated (-5). Car still in shop, which leaves me in an odd frame of mind. Will feel more proactive when I get it back. Some jazz, some Rhapsody, some unpacking, doesn't feel like a lot of any of those, but the rated count is pretty high, so maybe I did something.

  • Todd Snider: The Excitement Plan (2009, Yep Roc): Disappointing at first: the band is scaled back, and it doesn't seem he put much effort into the melodies. Later on he's got a song about having to scratch out a few more songs to fill up a record. That one is subtitled "Song Number Ten"; it appears in the number eleven slot, and the songs before and after are even simpler, little more than good natured gestures. Still, most of these songs are written on a level that hardly anyone else can match, and the one called "Corpus Christi Bay" will make it to a future best-of. A-
  • Sonic-Youth: The Eternal (2009, Matador): Somewhere past their 25th anniversary, what keeps them young is satisfaction, certainly with their distinctive sound, perhaps with life itself. Christgau reviewed this by comparing and contrasting to a Rolling Stones album a comparable ways down their career path: Steel Wheels. By that time the Stones had gotten old, had one guitarist die, discarded excessively fussy another, waged a pretty successful comeback, and sunk back into the dumps again. In sheer numbers, even with the ups and downs the Stones had more great, near great, and (closer) real good records, but in my database the last time one of Sonic Youth's mainline releases (as opposed to their trivia and odd experiments) came in below A- was 1995's Washing Machine -- which Christgau had higher, but he cared less than me for 2002's Murray Street. This one is right in their sweet spot. Unlike the Stones, I can imagine them doing this for a long time to come. A-

Jazz Prospecting (CG #21, Part 3)

The doldrums between when a column is finished and when it finally runs. Jazz CG should appear in Village Voice next week, the Aug. 19 issue. Just finished what's likely the final edit. Going through stuff with no real plan below: unpacking some things, pulling others out of the new box. Playing non-jazz from Rhapsody when I'm near the computer; jazz from the boxes when I'm up and around the house. Will get serious again after the column runs. Meanwhile, just don't want to fall too far behind.

James Carney Group: Ways & Means (2008 [2009], Songlines): Pianist, from Syracuse, NY, based in Los Angeles and/or Brooklyn (sources differ), fifth album since 1993. Group is a septet: Peter Epstein (soprano/alto sax), Ralph Alessi (trumpet), Tony Malaby (tenor sax), Josh Roseman (trombone), Christ Lightcap (bass), Mark Ferber (drums). Seems like a lot of horn power, but the horns are folded in tightly, layered for color, the individual personalities appearing here and there -- Epstein has an especially delectable lead spot. Carney plays some electric piano and analog synth, only gradually emerging as a leader with intricate ideas and taste. B+(***)

John Surman: Brewster's Rooster (2007 [2009], ECM): Surman should need no introduction, but I'll offer one anyway. Has played most saxophones, appearing in a book I have somewhere as the model for the instruments. Plays baritone and soprano here, probably his most frequent choices. His early work, starting in the late '60s, is very interesting and rather adventurous, straddling fusion and avant-garde in a rare moment when one could do both. He moved on to ECM around 1979 and settled down into a sort chamber music recess, which I've occasionally admired but rarely cared much about. Many of those albums were concept-bound. This one seems to just be a working band: a quartet with John Abercrombie on guitar, Drew Gress on bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums. Good group, should work, but I've played this 5-6 times and it only rises above pleasant postbop background when you hang right on the speakers. Surman's baritone can be a little hard to hear, and Abercrombie lays back rather than taking charge. But the rhythm section keeps on chugging, and there's more to the leads than I've figured out. B+(**)

Jim Turner's Jelly Roll Blues (2007-08 [2009], Arbors): Pianist, of course, plays in the Jim Cullum Jazz Band, a trad-jazz outfit from San Antonio billed as "the only full-time traditional jazz band in the United States." Solo piano, bunch of Jelly Roll Morton songs, fine as far as it goes -- I still prefer Dave Burrell's The Jelly Roll Joys for solo piano, even more so James Dapogny's Original Jelly Roll Blues, not to mention Morton himself. Ends with Topsy Chapman singing "Mr. Jelly Lord" -- a nice bonus. B+(*)

John Hicks: I Remember You (2006 [2009], High Note): Hicks died May 10, 2006. Recording date here is only given as 2006, so we don't know whether this was his last, or whether it was days, weeks, or months before his death. Solo piano. Nine standards. Takes them in a fairly gentle stride. A thoughtful reminder of a great pianist. B+(**)

Steve Swell: Planet Dream (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Trombonist, b. 1954, from Newark, NJ, based in New York, has a dozen or more albums since 1996, probably 50-some credits since 1985, most avant-garde, or at least pretty underground. I've only sampled him lightly, and don't have much of a feel for what he does. This is an ugly trio, two horns and a bass, except the bass is actually Daniel Levin's cello. The other horn is Rob Brown, on alto sax, trying to sound more like Braxton's For Alto than anything Charlie Parker might have hallucinated. The trombone only adds to the effect. Like I said, ugly. B+(*)

Daniel Levin Quartet: Live at Rowlette (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Cellist, based in New York, has a couple of records out. This quartet has evidently been together since 2001. Seems like an odd choice of instruments at first -- cello, trumpet (Nate Wooley), vibes (Matt Moran), bass (Peter Bitenc) -- and indeed they tend to fall apart into separate pieces (well, not so sure about the bass). Odd pieces, more or less interesting, especially the cello. B+(*)

Mr. Groove Band: Rocket 88: Tribute to Ike Turner (2009, Zoho Roots): Tim Smith on bass, Roddy Smith on guitar, a bunch of others, a lot of guests, with Bonnie Bramlett (1 track) and Audrey Turner (3 tracks) pictured on the back cover, but most of the vocals are by Darryl Johnson. The songs are more Tina than Ike, but none of the singers make you think of Tina, let alone forget her. The horns are deployed in soul arrays, never allowed to bust out like Jackie Brenston -- even on the title track. And the guitar is off, which if you're serious about Ike should really have been the point. They can't even plead ignorance: the record ends with a "bonus track" instrumental that puts them to shame -- an outtake from a 2007 record by guess who? Ike Turner! C+

Elli Fordyce: Sings Songs Spun of Gold (2008 [2009], Fordyce Music): Vocalist, b. 1937, released her first album in 2007; this is her second. Standards, some backed by guitar-bass-drums, some piano-bass-drums, two just piano; two Jobims get extra percussion, one with flute by Aaron Heick. Jim Malloy duets on "Oops!" with some extra percussion from tap dancer Max Pollack. Distinctive singer -- "Let's Get Lost" is one song she adds something to, and she steers "Desafinado" well away from the usual clichés. B+(**)

Fay Victor Ensemble: The Freeesong Suite (2008 [2009], Green Avenue Music): Vocalist, in past has reminded me of Betty Carter, an influence virtually none other has risked. Backed by a rather avant group: Anders Nilsson (guitar), Ken Filiano (bass), Michael T.A. Thompson (drums). Previous album, Cartwheels Through the Cosmos, made my A-list. This one is more trouble. Idea was to take some song material and let the musicians improvise between it. The material tends to be heavy-handed, arch, and gloomy, and the improvs tend to be tentative, especially in the guitar, a strong point on the previous album. B+(*)

Gebhard Ullman: Don't Touch My Music I (2007 [2009], Not Two): German reed player, credited with bass clarinet and tenor saxophone here. Julian Arguëlles offsets with soprano and baritone sax, and Steve Swell muddies the waters with trombone. Ullman, b. 1957, has a long discography of marginally listenable avant-oriented discs, but this one is very listenable. Some of the hornwork is even neatly weaved together, and it would be hard to overpraise John Hebert and Gerald Cleaver in the rhythm section. Cut to celebrate Ullman's 50th birthday. B+(***)

Gebhard Ullman: Don't Touch My Music II (2007 [2009], Not Two): More of the same -- most labels would have gone for a double, but I guess this one is eager to fill up its catalog. Not as painless as the first volume -- fourth song breaks down into a nasty squawkfest, the sort of thing that must be more fun to play than to listen to. Still, it's not that bad; the horn interplay and the rhythm section are still inspired. Guess it was a happy birthday. B+(**)

Trespass Trio: ". . . Was There to Illuminate the Night Sky . . ." (2007 [2009], Clean Feed): Annoying title, what with all the quote marks and elipses. Sax trio: Martin Küchen on alto and baritone sax, Per Zanussi on bass, Raymond Strid doing percussion. Küchen leads or is in various groups, notably Angles and Exploding Customer. He plays loud and free, although this feels much more compressed and constrained as he makes every breath seem unbearably arduous. B+(*)

Christian Lillingers Grund: First Reason (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): German drummer (Lillinger; the s would be 's in English), b. 1984, first album, built this group from the ground up with two bassists, two saxophonists (also on clarinet), and famous guest pianist Joachim Kühn on 3 of 11 tracks. Good to focus on the drum-and-bass and let the horns fly where they may. Gets a little shrill at toward the end. B+(**)

Dan Tepfer/Lee Konitz: Duos With Lee (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): Tepfer is a pianist, b. 1982 in Paris (American parents), studied astrophysics at University of Edinburgh, then music at New England Conservatory. Moved to New York in 2005. Has a previous trio album. Konitz is 55 years his senior, an alto saxophonist, one of the all-time greats. All but two pieces are improvs; just pick a key and start from there. No drama, nothing rushed; just thoughtful, graceful interaction. B+(***)

Baptiste Trotignon: Share (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1974 near Paris, grew up in Loire, studied at Nantes Conservatory, moved to Paris 1995, has a pile of records since 2000 as well as side credits with Moutin Reunion Quartet. Mostly piano trio, with Eric Harland and Otis Brown III splitting the drum slot. Tom Harrell (flugelhorn) and Mark Turner (tenor sax) appear on two tracks together and one each alone. Mostly fast-paced postbop, especially on the trio tracks. Nothing strikes me as exceptional, but it is all expertly fashioned, straight down mainstream. B+(*)

Laurence Hobgood: When the Heart Dances (2008 [2009], Naim Jazz): Pianist, b. 1949 in North Carolina, grew up in Texas (his father had "a job" at Southern Methodist University), moved to Chicago in 1988. Fifth album since 2000. Two cuts solo, the rest duets with bassist Charlie Haden. Three Hobgood originals, two from Haden. The duos are lovely, except for the three cuts when the third name on the cover joins in: vocalist Kurt Elling. Hobgood has played for Elling since the early 1990s, so you can figure this as returning the favor. But there's something about Elling I find unbearable, and while he's on his best behavior here -- slow, smokey ballads that eliminate his tendencies to get slick and/or smarmy -- he's still tough to take. B+(**)

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

Erik Friedlander/Mike Sarin/Trevor Dunn: Broken Arm Trio (2008, Skipstone): Cello-drums-bass trio. Not sure why it's ordered that way -- maybe alphabetical by first name? In any case, Friedlander is the auteur, providing the helpful note that the music was inspired by Oscar Pettiford and Herbie Nichols. Small chamber bop, light, loose, funky. B+(***)

Steve Lehman Octet: Travail, Transformation, and Flow (2008 [2009], Pi): Probably the most famous free jazz octet was the one that David Murray ran during the early 1980s. It was never one of my favorite formats, although a lot of people will list Ming as Murray's greatest album, and I eventually turned into a big fan of the album. Lehman's octet is slightly different: the five horns split in favor of the brass, with Jose Davila's tuba the decisive change; Chris Dingman's vibes replace the piano; the leader plays alto sax (Mark Shim is the tenor), so the leads shift up a register. Lehman's music is more acutely angular, pitched a bit higher, and almost as tight as his duos and trios on the nearly minimalist Demian as Posthuman. A-

Arthur Kell Quartet: Victoria: Live in Germany (2008 [2009], Bju'ecords): Bassist-led quartet, all compositions by the leader, most with a strong pulse, some built around sax figures that recall Ornette Coleman. I would never have taken alto saxophonist Loren Stillman for Coleman before, but he's all over these pieces, a veritable tour de force. Guitarist Brad Shepik, who has a lot of experience improvising on Balkan beat lines, is even better. And Joe Smith, well, as Ornette would say, he plays with the band. A-

Richie Goods & Nuclear Fusion: Live at the Zinc Bar (2007 [2009], RichMan): Electric bassist, leading a quartet with Jeff Lockhart on guitar, Helen Sung on keybs, and Mike Clark on drums, formidable musicians. More fusion than soul jazz or pop, hot and frenzied, but like all contained fusion experiments thus far, doesn't generate more energy than is input. B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail this week (and the week before):

  • Al Basile: Soul Blue (Sweetspot)
  • Cecil Brooks III: Hot Dog (Savant)
  • Mark Buselli: An Old Soul (Owl Studios)
  • Edmar Castaneda: Entre Cuerdas (ArtistShare)
  • Gerald Clayton: Two-Shade (ArtistShare)
  • Alexis Cole: The Greatest Gift: Songs of the Season (Motema)
  • Paolo Conte: Psiche (Platinum/Universal)
  • The Duke of Elegant: Gems From the Duke Ellington Songbook [The Composer Collection Volume 3] (High Note)
  • Jeff Golub: Blues for You (E1 Music)
  • Inner Circle: State of Da World (Shanachie)
  • Kind of Blue Revisited: The Miles Davis Songbook [The Composer Collection Volume 4] (High Note)
  • Mark Levine and the Latin Tinge: Off & On: The Music of Moacir Santos (Left Coast Clave)
  • Lhasa (Nettwerk)
  • Jim Snidero: Crossfire (Savant)
  • Tyshawn Sorey: Koan (482 Music): advance, Sept.
  • Tim Sparks: Little Princess - Tim Sparks Plays Naftule Brandwein (Tzadik)
  • Marcus Strickland Trio: Idiosyncrasies (Strick Muzik): Sept. 21
  • John Surman: Brewster's Rooster (ECM)
  • Benjamin Taubkin/Sérgio Reze/Zeca Assumpção + Joatan Nascimento: Trio + 1 (Adventure Music)
  • Joris Teepe Big Band: We Take No Prisoners (Challenge)
  • Melissa Walker: In the Middle of It All (Sunnyside): Aug. 25
  • Jessica Williams: The Art of the Piano (Origin)

Sunday, August 09, 2009


Movie: Wanted: Saw this on TV last night (not sure of the source, since that's not my department). Supposedly based on a comic book, a convenient excuse for all sorts of nonsense. Aside from the physics, which starts with a guy who can run so fast his passing sucks papers out of file cabinets to all sorts of curving slow-motion bullet paths, the normal office dialog sets new levels for stupidity and plain meanness -- so bad that the ridiculous action sequences are appreciated more for rescuing the audience than for advancing the plot. Terence Stamp has a bit part that could have grown, but that too is cut short by another bloody assault. C-

Movie: Mamma Mia: Saw this on TV last week. Stage musical given an overly lavish set direction which does nothing to shape up the story. Not sure if any new music was written for this, as there were a couple of songs I didn't recognize -- fewer in reading the song list than in watching the movie, which says something about the performances. In any case, the fit of the songs to the story (or vice versa) is tenuous, and the father mystery is a slender joke to hang this all on -- something that could have used some more story but keeps succumbing to song, leaving Amanda Seyfried beamy-eyed, confused, and silly. Christine Baranski and Julie Walters supposedly have a little story, but they squander it in their numbers. The three male leads are good-natured props, except when they try to sing or show up in flashback photos. That leaves Meryl Streep, which is why anyone bothered watching this in the first place. C+

For a long time I wrote little notes/grades on movies I saw. Sometime over a year ago I fell behind -- last one I posted was November 2007 -- and never caught up, nor does it look like I'll catch up anytime soon. I do at least have a list with grades, which I'll flip around for most recent first. We haven't been seeing many movies since Warren shut down their low budget artsy theater. Bill Warren announced that the land had been called to a "higher use" then sold it off to a church. At the time, he promised more serious movies at his other venues, and pointed out that he had to because his wife was a big art movie fan. Not only did he double cross us there, he divorced the wife for good measure. A friend recently moved to Salina, and comparing notes I find out they get movies there that we never see. You might think someone could open a theater that would fill the niche of the one Warren shut down, but it would be awfully hard to raise the money to go up against his virtual monopoly in this town.

For whatever it's worth, the movies (note: only 4 from 2009):

  • Cheri [A-]
  • Up [A-]
  • The Soloist [A-]
  • State of Play [B+]
  • The Wrestler [A-]
  • Slumdog Millionaire [A]
  • The Reader [A-]
  • Milk [A-]
  • Cadillac Records [A-]
  • Happy Go Lucky [B+]
  • Australia [B-]
  • Appaloosa [A-]
  • Rachel Getting Married [B+]
  • Vicky Christina Barcelona [B+]
  • Iron Man [B+]
  • Wall-E [B]
  • Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull [B-]
  • Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day [A-]
  • The Savages [B+]
  • The Diving Bell and the Butterfly [A-]
  • There Will Be Blood [A-]
  • Juno [A-]
  • Charlie Wilson's War [B]
  • American Gangster [B]
  • No Country for Old Men [B+]

While we're at it, I'll also list some 2008 (more or less) films I didn't note, probably because I caught them later on the tube.

  • Tropic Thunder [B]
  • The Dark Knight [B-]
  • Harold & Kumar Escape From Guantanamo Bay [B]
  • Eastern Promises [B+]
  • Ocean's Thirteen [B]

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Losing Patience

Helena Cobban: Just how inept is Ross as a 'Middle East expert'? That would be Dennis Ross. "Short answer: extremely." Long answer follows. Points out that his original training -- I doubt that it actually qualifies as expertise -- in in Soviet affairs. What he's doing in the Obama White House isn't clear, but it's probably tied into the lack of results so far. His specialty is CBMs (as they're called here, standing for Confidence Building Measures), a way to pretend you're doing something while never getting anything done. Saudi King Abdullah goes a bit out on a limb calling himself a "man of action" but the contrast to Ross is still well taken.

Robert D Kaplan: Losing patience with Israel. Not a guy you'd call anti-Likud much less anti-Israel. Not a guy who wouldn't be just as happy with another Middle East war or three. But a guy who isn't going to book reservations on Masada either:

Both politically and demographically, time is not on Israel's side. Now that Iran is weakened by domestic turmoil, it may actually be in Israel's best interests for America, Saudi Arabia, and other moderate Arab states to impose a peace agreement by leaning hard on the Palestinians, as America twists Israel's arm. The result would be the return of almost all of the West Bank to a fundamentally demilitarized Palestinian state, even as many Israeli settlements are dismantled. What other resolution can there be?

The piece is full of the usual crap distortions, but underlying it is a plea for Obama to do something -- as opposed to having Dennis Ross making sure nobody does anything.

David Bromwich: The character of Barack Obama. Actually, Obama needs not only to do something; he needs to do pretty much the right thing. But thus far he's compromised on just about everything, which has sort of worked OK in some cases but not in others. He got enough in bank bailouts to save the system, but thus far hasn't gotten the regulation needed to keep it all from happening again, and he's let a lot of people who did no good off the hook when he could have gone much further. He got enough of a stimulus to bring GDP back toward the black, but not enough to generate the jobs that would make the recovery feel like one to average workers. He's left health care painfully dangling in the political winds. Maybe he'll pull something through, but it's likely to be so compromised we'll have to do this all over again.

The strange thing about Obama is that he seems to suppose a community can pass directly from the sense of real injustice to a full reconciliation between the powerful and the powerless, without any of the unpleasant intervening collisions. This is a choice of emphasis that suits his temperament.

One might compare Franklin Roosevelt, who started his first term with a fireside chat that explained the banking crisis in terms so clear and convincing that he defused the problem virtually overnight, and who wound up taunting his conservative opponents by admitting he welcomes their hate.

I hadn't looked at Mondoweiss in a while, not since I took my vacation. They've redesigned the layout, and it's really hideous: only two (short) posts in full, everything else in two columns you have to jump to based on teasers. This used to be a very useful blog -- during last year's Israeli siege of Gaza it was the best information source available on the web. I hate to say this, but I can't stand to look at it now.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Monday, August 03, 2009

Music: Current count 15558 [15532] rated (+26), 736 [750] unrated (-14). Strange malaise this week. I'm tempted to blame it on driving a rental car while our car is in the shop. Actually, not driving it much, but I've put some things off pending return of the real car, and that sort of procrastination has been contagious. Could also blame it on reading Rich Cohen's Israel Is Real, which is engrossing but weird. Most trip records still in the travel cases.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #21, Part 2)

Fairly lazy week, with some non-jazz Rhapsody streaming cutting into my jazz time. Best guess is that Jazz Consumer Guide will be out late August, but that's only a guess.

Bill Frisell: Disfarmer (2008 [2009], Nonesuch): Mike Disfarmer (1884-1959) -- "not a farmer"; original name Mike Meyers -- was a photographer in north-central Arkansas, just a few miles south of where my mother grew up. His portraits capture both the dignity and pain of Depression-era farmers, although thumbing through his gallery I'm struck by the lack of backgrounds and the absence of blacks (perhaps not so odd, given how scarce blacks were in my mother's hill country). For Frisell, this just sets up another excursion through string-band Americana, with Greg Leisz on steel guitars and mandolin, Jenny Scheinman on violin, and Viktor Krauss on bass. You can split the 26 short pieces into covers and originals. The covers -- "That's All Right, Mama"; "I Can't Help It"; "Lovesick Blues" -- are so indelible they jump right out, focusing your attention on the striking variations. The originals are subtler, largely of a piece, small notions that just sort of flow into one another, like the title series: "Think," "Drink," "Play." It seems like Frisell has been refining this approach all his career, but he's rarely gotten it down to such fine basics. A-

Jane Bunnett: Embracing Voices (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): Soprano saxophonist, also plays quite a bit of flute, has 16 albums since 1988, most Latin-oriented, many specifically Cuban. This one offers vocals, primarily Grupo Vocal Desandann, a large (10-voice) Cuban acapella group with Haitian roots. They can take the lead or back up Kellylee Evans, Molly Johnson, or Telmary Diaz. The instrumental sections are very agreeable -- the grooves flow effortlessly, the flute fits in organically, the soprano sax standing out a bit stronger. The vocals don't drag things down, either. B+(*)

Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band: I'm BeBoppin' Too (2008 [2009], Half Note): Ghost bands always seem to run into trouble, even though they start off with great songbooks and fond memories. Problem here isn't that James Moody can't play James Moody anymore, or that Slide Hampton can't update the classic arrangements. More like that Frank Greene can't hold a candle to Dizzy Gillespie, but even there the problem isn't technical so much as existential. Even Jon Faddis, who played Gillespie's stunt double for a decade-plus, couldn't raise the energy level of a big band like Gillespie, and then there's the matter of levity -- Diz wasn't what you'd call a real funny comic, but he could always lift you up. Moody and Roy Hargrove contribute a couple of forgettable stabs at scat. Roberta Gambarini sings three songs, but they don't suit her. B

Bob Florence Limited Edition: Legendary (2008 [2009], Mama): I guess you could call this a ghost band, but the corpse is relatively fresh -- this was recorded Oct. 22-23, 2008, a bit more than five months after Florence died. While Florence has a trio album as early as 1958, his discography picks up in the 1980s as he made his reputation as a big band arranger. The group is fresh and sharp, with Alan Broadbent ably filling in the piano chair. B+(**)

David Crowell Ensemble: Spectrum (2009, Innova): Alto saxophonist, based in New York, studied at Eastman with Walt Weiskopf, has spent a couple of years playing woodwinds for Philip Glass. Debut album, a quartet with guitar, electric bass, and drums, the guitar sometimes providing a synthesizer effect. One cut adds Red Wierenga on Fender Rhodes, reinforcing the effect. Several pieces build on minimalist rhythms vamps. Two pieces are group improvs. B+(***)

Fernando Benadon: Intuitivo (2009, Innova): Composer, b. 1972 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, studied at Berklee, teaches at American University. Doesn't play here. Says he recorded each of the musicians playing independently then put this together. Mostly string music: two violins, viola, bass, also clarinet, drums, percussion. Sounds pretty beguiling, with enough edge to keep you from nodding off. [B+(***)]

Michael Farley: Grain (2009, Innova): Ethnomusicologist, teaches at St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY. Studied at Central Missouri State and University of Iowa. Not sure how old, but he writes: "Since my first trip across Kansas (1955?) I loved the way wheat looks and sounds as it moves in the wind." First album I can find -- google knows about dozens of Michael Farleys but damn little about this one. Four pieces plus a Quiktime video called "Milton Avery in Kansas" -- would like to see that some time, but don't have time or patience to figure out how now. Cover advises using headphones and warns: "Woe unto those who labor in the fields of tall amplifiers/They know not what they sow." Probably good advice, not followed, so I didn't follow the spoken word text close enough. The middle two pieces, both 2-channel tapes, one of piano and the other electronic sounds, could also benefit from closer concentration. The final piece, "Brown's Hymn," is another spoken word/sax noodle, themed toward understanding the blues. Even without headphones, I'm attracted by the intelligence and ambiance. With headphones there may be some upside potential. B+(**)

Theo Travis: Double Talk (2007 [2008], Voiceprint): British tenor saxophonist, b. 1964, has a dozen-plus albums since 1993, also plays soprano, flute, alto flute, clarinet, and something called wah-wah sax here. First album I've heard, although Penguin Guide likes him and he's been on my shopping list. This album has been out long enough it's already in Penguin Guide; he's got another more recent duo with Robert Fripp, which I didn't get. Fripp guests on three tracks here, expanding the guitar-organ-drums quartet. (Mike Outram is the regular guitarist.) Travis has some affection for the jazz-oriented prog rock of the early 1970s -- Fripp is one example, Travis's membership in the Soft Machine Legacy Band (taking over for Elton Dean) is another, then there's the sole cover here, Syd Barrett's "See Emily Play." Travis strikes me as a strong, distinctive tenor saxophonist, but the record often gets muddled, especially by the organ -- the guitars are more of a mixed bag. And Travis's other horns aren't nearly strong enough to rise above the muck. B

Positive Catastrophe: Garabatos Volume One (2008 [2009], Cuneiform). A peculiar twist on a Latin big band, led by percussionist Abraham Gomez-Delgado, who has a previous album as Zemog, and Taylor Ho Bynum, who plays cornet in circles strongly influenced by Anthony Braxton. The group is touted as connecting "the dots between Sun Ra, Eddie Palmieri, and beyond" (dots to beyond?), with the Ra-dedicated "Travels" supposedly a mash up with Ra, Chano Pozo, and Julie London. I don't hear any of those things except maybe for one (and only one) Jen Shyu vocal. But then I don't hear hardly anything I can hang onto here, neither in the Latin domain (where the beats are skimpy and the band's lack of cohesion precludes a groove) or as avant. I reckon the comparisons are no more than cultural dissonance conceived as a positive postmodern virtue, but I don't see the point. Still, I hear some things I like, especially in the engine room, where Michael Attias's baritone and Reut Regev's flugelbone try to keep things moving. B+(*)

Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Strings: Renegades (2008 [2009], Delmark): Flautist, b. 1967, based in Chicago since 1990. Downbeat Critics Poll ranks her #1 rising star and #4 overall on flute, trailing senior citizens (and saxophonists) James Moody, Lew Tabackin, and Frank Wess, ahead of James Newton, Hubert Laws, Dave Valentin, Jamie Baum, and a bunch of others who primarily play something else. Her growing rep is deserved on a lot of levels, not least her ambition in breaking new ground, but still it's just flute, there's not much competition, and I've never much cared for it. Here she's backed with three strings -- Renee Baker doubling on violin and viola, Tomeka Reid on cello, Josh Abrams on bass -- and percussion, which sets off the flute nicely and gives her composing space without the flute -- actually the more impressive share of the record. One bit of uncredited vocal, more a proclamation than a lyric: I make it out to be, "I will never again let my destiny be in the hands of another." B+(**)

Kevin Deitz: Skylines (2005-08 [2009], Origin): Bassist, b. 1959, based in Portland, OR, seems to be active in classical as well as jazz, plays both acoustic and electric basses, including a 7-string fretless. First album, mostly cut in 2007 with two earlier cuts and one later one. Groups range from a piano trio (where Deitz also plays accordion) to an octet full of horns. Pieces lean Latin then lean away, the first on the slick side, but others show a wide range of talents. B+(*)

Mike DiRubbo: Repercussion (2008 [2009], Posi-Tone): Alto saxophonist, b. 1970, from Connecticut, based in New York. Fifth album since 1999, mostly on conservative mainstream labels like Sharp Nine and Criss Cross. Quartet with Steve Nelson on vibes, Dwayne Burno on bass, and the late Tony Reedus on drums. (Reedus died in November 2008; this was recorded in June.) The vibes fill a pretty traditional piano role here, the one thing that shifts this out of a standard bop orbit. DiRubbo has great presence, raising the usual music to an exceptional level. Could go higher. [B+(***)] [advance]

Sean Nowell: The Seeker (2008 [2009], Posi-Tone): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1973, from Birmingham, AL, based in New York. Second album. Six credits, but cello and guitar appear after drums, like an afterthought, and not one that I noticed along the way. Nowell is also credited with clarinet and flute, also inconspicuous. Otherwise, a conventional, mainstream sax quartet with piano-bass-drums. Upbeat, boppy, never boring, not something any jazz fan would be tempted to complain about. B+(**) [advance]

Eddie Harris/Ellis Marsalis: Homecoming (1985-2009 [2009], ELM): Reissue of a 1985 duo album, which takes a while to get going -- "Out of This World" did it for me. Harris wasn't an especially consistent tenor saxophonist, but he left a handful of marvelous records before he died in 1996 -- a personal favorite is There Was a Time (Echo of Harlem) (1990, Enja). Good to hear him again, and he brings out the Les McCann in Marsalis. The record is filled out with four new tracks: three piano duos with Jonathan Batiste and a quartet adding bass and drums and moving Batiste to melodica. I wouldn't have bothered -- pleasant enough, but it messes with my bookkeeping system. B+(*)

On Ka'a Davis: Seed of Djuke (2009, Live Wired): Guitarist, from Cleveland, based in New York, first album, although he seems to have been working on this much longer. Hype sheets look to Sun Ra and Fela Kuti as influences, but strip the excess vocals and percussion away and you'll find a mess of Miles Davis fusion. The underrated horns are simply listed as "fronting" and "backing," as are the singers. (Nothing specific about the latter, but I'm reminded that one reason I like jazz is that it shuts people up. Maybe I'm just going through an anomalous random stretch, but it seems like vocals are showing up on more than half of the records I've run across recently.) B+(***) [advance]

M. Nahadr: EclecticIsM (2009, Live Wired): Vocalist, also plays keyboards and gets a "programming" credit. First album, although I haven't explored her M alias or Mem Nadahr, which seems to be her real name. Wikipedia article focuses on her "albinistic Afro-American" genetics. Her label slots her as a jazz vocalist, but there's little here to distinguish her from the run of neo-soul divas, either in soft coo or in full-blooded gospel shout. Maybe a little more eclecticism in the synth-based music. B+(*) [advance]

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

Unpacking: Didn't manage to catalog what I got, which wasn't much. Next week.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Rhapsody Streamnotes Returns

See file here.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Book Notes

I haven't done a book list since May 10, which I guess explains why I have so much material piled up. For a while I thought I might just do this one on health care books only, but when I pulled the health care books out, they topped out at around 15 -- 40 is the usual dosage. Second pass added books about the economy

John Abramson: Overdosed America: The Broken Promise of American Medicine (2004; paperback, 2008, Harper Perennial): Just one of a bunch of drug industry exposes, shaded more toward the bad things the drugs do to your body rather than their reckless pursuit of profits. Others include: Marcia Angell: The Truth About the Drug Companies: How They Deceive Us and What to Do About It; Ray Moynihan/Alan Cassels: Selling Sickness: How the World's Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies Are Turning Us All into Patients; Melody Petersen: Our Daily Meds: How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves into Slick Marketing Machines.

Alan Beattie: False Economy: A Surprising Economic History of the World (2009, Riverhead): Financial Times world trade editor skips his way through world history, picking up all sorts of more or less relevant connections, analogies, or innuendos. Sounds like it's oriented to entertain the general reader, with the fertile cross-polination of ideas sparking occasional insight.

Clayton M Christensen/Jerome H Grossman/Jason Hwang: The Innovator's Prescription: A Disruptive Solution for Health Care (2008, McGraw-Hill): Christensen's a business researcher/writer who came up with some solid research and revealing thinking in his first book, The Innovator's Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book that Will Change the Way You Do Business, and then parlayed that into a small fortune flacking for big companies. His book raised a lot of discussion when I was at SCO -- I saw it as very critical of the way they ran the company, but they had no trouble hiring him to deliver the opposite message. The other two are MDs who plug some details into his shtick. Probably a few interesting ideas in here somewhere.

Rich Cohen: Israel Is Real: An Obsessive Quest to Understand the Jewish Nation and Its History (2009, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Sweeping history of Judaism's obsession with Jerusalems (temples, Israels) both metaphorical and physical. I'm more than half way through, often amazed, sometimes thinking about a similarly shaped book I had imagined writing someday (like after I learned a lot more detail than I had before reading this). It confirms some of my views, challenges others, makes me nervous. My guess is that Palestinians will find it completely meshugganah.

Matthew B Crawford: Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry Into the Value of Work (2009, Penguin Press): Author owns a motorcycle repair shop, which gives him practical problems to solve. One of the more suggestive explanations for why we seem to keep getting dumber and dumberer is that fewer and fewer people actually work with basic mechanics -- we're more into what Robert Reich touted as symbol manipulation, and it doesn't take much manipulation of symbols to come up with something profoundly stupid.

Molly Caldwell Crosby: The American Plague: The Untold Story of Yellow Fever, the Epidemic That Shaped Our History (2006; paperback, 2007, Berkley): The story of the yellow fever epidemic that swept through Memphis, TN in 1878, killing about half of the population. This was certainly not the only time yellow fever hit the US, but must have been particularly dramatic.

Tom Daschle: Critical: What We Can Do About the Health-Care Crisis (2008, Thomas Dunne; paperback, 2009, St Martin's Griffin): Actually, cover credit is to Senator Tom Daschle, as if he still is one, and is followed by "with Scott S Greenberger and Jeanne M Lambrew," who presumably know something about the subject. Probably represents at least one stage in Obama's thinking (to the extent that he has done some), as the sort of compromise only a super-lobbyist could come up with.

Howard Dean: Howard Dean's Prescription for Real Healthcare Reform: How We Can Achieve Affordable Medical Care for Every American and Make Our Jobs Safer (paperback, 2009, Chelsea Green): Given all the "team of rivals" talk in assembling the Obama administration, it's rather strange that Obama made no effort to put Dean on the team. This is obviously a quickie lobbed into the debate on an Obama-backed plan that seems to miss the point. Pushes "Medicare for all," which if done right would evolve in to single payer.

Ezekiel J Emanuel: Healthcare, Guaranteed: A Simple, Secure Solution for America (paperback, 2008, Public Affairs): Short book, focuses on the fix rather than the problem, pushing for a government regulated private insurance system that would provide enough transparency to make competition meaningful, with universal coverage funded through a VAT. That strikes me as something easy in theory, but hard in practice, mostly because it leaves private insurance motivations (greed) in need of constant regulation, whereas a fully public system only depends on people cooperating responsibly.

Justin Fox: The Myth of the Rational Market: A History of Risk, Reward, and Delusion on Wall Street (2009, Harper Business): Organized thematically, jumping around in time, which lets him sneak a big subject into 400 pages.

David Fromkin: The King and the Cowboy: Theodore Roosevelt and Edward the Seventh, Secret Partners (2008, Penguin Press): A portrait of the two principals, centered around the Algeciras Conference of 1906 which was convened to carve up Morocco. Fromkin is a fairly important historian of the period -- his A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East is the best book I know of on where all the trouble in the Middle East came from. (Looks like it will be reissued shortly in a "20th Anniversary Edition.") Fromkin also has an intriguing book called Kosovo Crossing: The Reality of American Intervention in the Balkans, written shortly after Clinton's Kosovo adventure, but a subject that resonates with the Balkan wars and Wilsonian diplomacy of Fromkin's main period.

John Geyman: Do Not Resuscitate: Why the Health Insurance Industry is Dying, and How We Must Replace It (paperback, 2009, Common Courage Press): Author is an MD, a professor emeritus of family medicine, active in Physicians for a National Health Program, and has written previous books like The Corrosion of Medicine: Can the Profession Reclaim Its Moral Legacy? One thing of interest here is that he not only looks at the usual suspects, he takes a close look at compromise reform plans like the Massachusetts mandate, and finds them inadequate too.

Greg Grandin: Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City (2009, Metropolitan Books): The story of the city Henry Ford built in 1927 in the middle of Brazil: meant to be a huge rubber plantation feeding his automobile empire, it soon turned into an arrogant delusion.

Ryan Grim: This Is Your Country on Drugs: The Secret History of Getting High in America (2009, Wiley): Amazon lists "seven surprising consequences" from this book, which hardly bear repeating other than the obvious one ("past antidrug campaigns actually encouraged drug use"). Sounds like trivia to me, but this a subject where ignorance and misinformation rise to the top levels of policy, so maybe it has a place.

Daniel Gross: Dumb Money: How Our Greatest Financial Minds Bankrupted the Nation (paperback, 2009, Fred Press): Short (112 pp) account of the current financial debacle, rushed out in paperback first. Even so, I wonder how much news there is here, let alone analysis.

Nina Hachigan/Mona Sutphen: The Next American Century: How the US Can Thrive as Other Powers Rise (2008, Simon & Schuster): Another entry in the future superpowers sweepstakes game. I normally skip right past the genre because the game itself is less and less worth playing, much less winning, but Matt Yglesias hyped this -- apparently Hachigan works at his progressive think tank. I still think they should think about real problems.

Nortin M Hadler, MD: Worried Sick: A Prescription for Health in an Overtreated America (2008, University of North Carolina Press): Backs off a bit from the health care reform argument to ask whether large classes of current treatments aren't seriously abused and overused -- mammography, colorectal screening, statin drugs, or coronary stents. One effect of having a money-driven, profit-seeking health care system is that there's little check on selling anything.

George C Halvorson: Health Care Will Not Reform Itself: A User's Guide to Refocusing and Reforming American Health Care (2009, Productivity Press): CEO of Kaiser Permanente, the huge health care conglomerate in California, which actually has a relatively reasonable record of cost containment -- i.e., self-reform. Short book (184 pp), don't know how it plays out.

Chris Hedges: Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009, Nation Books): More on our blighted intellect and moral bankruptcy, an easy target for cheap shots, but Hedges is deep enough he's one of the few people I'm inclined to listen to when he preaches -- I take this more as a sequel to Losing Moses on the Freeway than to American Fascists or I Don't Believe in Atheists.

George Irvin: Super Rich: The Rise of Inequality in Britain and the United States (paperback, 2008, Polity): Presumably an English writer, otherwise why bother with them. On the other hand, may be good that he does, because the trend isn't limited to the US, and it produces similar problems elsewhere.

Eugene Jarecki: The American Way of War and How It Lost Its Way: Guided Missiles, Misguided Men, and a Republic in Peril (2008, Free Press): Director of the documentary, Why We Fight, a pretty good movie on the War on Terror. This covers a lot of ground around America's obsession with militarily engaging the world, going back as far as a discussion of who knew what about Pearl Harbor.

Haynes Johnson/David S Broder: The System: The American Way of Politics at the Breaking Point (1996, Little Brown; paperback, 1997, Back Bay Books): More/less the standard history of Clinton's health care fiasco, written shortly after the event. Worth reviewing for the details on the lobbying efforts against the bill, and for the sense of déjà vu as Obama takes on the same forces, now richer than ever.

Jerome P Kassirer: On the Take: How Medicine's Complicity with Big Business Can Endanger Your Health (paperback, 2005, Oxford University Press): Focuses on bribes of various sorts health care companies (especially drug companies) make to physicians. Author is an MD who's been around and no doubt has seen a lot.

Les Leopold: The Looting of America: How Wall Street's Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions, and Prosperity--and What We Can Do About It (paperback, Chelsea Green): The Wall Street debacle told by a labor economist. I dislike "and what we can do about it" titles, but this is most likely a good primer on the problem, the place to start.

Maggie Mahar: Money-Driven Medicine: The Real Reason Health Care Costs So Much (2006, Harper Business): Finance journalist, previously wrote a book about the stock market called Bull!, follows the money trail in health care, reportedly sparing no one.

Peter Marber: Seeing the Elephant: Understanding Globalization from Trunk to Tail (2009, Wiley): Pro-globalization tome, replete with "bold suggestions on how America reassert its historic leadership in the new global arena."

Paul Mason: Meltdown: The End of the Age of Greed (paperback, 2009, Verso): Economics editor at BBC Newsnight, good for a view outside of the usual US self-focus.

Chris Mooney/Sheril Kirshenbaum: Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future (2009, Basic Books): Mooney previously wrote The Republican War on Science, experience that gives him a leg up here. I'm not so much worried about scientific illiteracy per sé as the loss of any sort of scientific bent on the part of vast segments of the populace.

Dick Morris/Eileen McGann: Catastrophe: How Obama, Congress, and the Special Interests Are Transforming . . . a Slump Into a Crash, Freedom Into Socialism, and a Disaster Into a Catastrophe . . . and How to Fight Back (2009, Harper): Hysterical nonsense, but it's already shot to the top of the bestseller list, as have the last couple of eruptions from these two (Fleeced is newly out in paperback, and Outrage is somewhere on the shelves -- the subtitles are equally long-winded and ridiculous).

Mary O'Brien/Martha Livingston, eds: 10 Excellent Reasons for National Health Care (paperback, 2008, New Press): Short (176 pp), but how complicated do the reasons have to be? It's the horror story books that run long.

Robert Pitofsky, ed: How the Chicago School Overshot the Mark: The Effect of Conservative Economic Analysis on US Antitrust (paperback, 2008, Oxford University Press): A collection of 15 papers on how the vogue of free market fetishism undermined antitrust enforcement and ultimately the competitiveness of the markets. Or maybe that's just my position: reports claim this is more balanced, but then antitrust doctrine is easily confused in a political system that so favors special interests.

Eric Rauchway: The Great Depression & the New Deal: A Very Short Introduction (paperback, 2008, Oxford University Press): A lot to cover in 160 pages (maybe only 130), but this may be a useful review or primer. Rauchway also wrote the intriguing Blessed Among Nations: How the World Made America.

Gary L Reback: Free the Market!: Why Only Government Can Keep the Marketplace Competitive (2009, Portfolio): Author is an antitrust lawyer, a key person pushing the Clinton DOJ to file its lawsuit against Microsoft. Antitrust is an idea that has been fretted away for decades, and pretty much totally abandoned by Bush, but if you're going to have a market economy, you need some way to keep it open and honest, and that's generally not in the specific interests of the big players. You need some sense of a public interest, and for that you need an active government agency. It's all pretty simple, and about time someone reminded us.

Barry Ritholtz: Bailout Nation: How Greed and Easy Money Corrupted Wall Street and Shook the World Economy (2009, Wiley): Broad history of the bubble and its bust, especially looking at the bailout, which he describes as "history's biggest transfer of wealth -- from the taxpayer to the Banksters."

Ellen Ruppel Shell: Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture (2009, Penguin Press): There's Wal-Mart, of course, and plenty more where they're headed. Seems like there are several ways this book could go, the hollowing out of quality being one. On the other hand, a big problem is price psychology. I doubt that anyone is truly enamored with cheap, but at least price is something you can evaluate: if you're going to get crap anyway, why overpay for it? It's not like you get what you pay for.

Theda Skocpol: Boomerang: Health Care Reform and the Turn Against Government (2nd edition, paperback, 1997, WW Norton): How Clinton's botched health care reform proposal fed into the far right Republican dominance of Congress.

David M Smick: The World Is Curved: Hidden Dangers to the Global Economy: The Mortgage Crisis Was Only the Beginning . . . (2008, Portfolio): Shouldn't be too hard to send up Thomas Friedman's ridiculous hyperbole, but surely serious thinkers have better things to do.

Paul Starr: The Social Transformation of American Medicine: The Rise of a Sovereign Profession and the Making of a Vast Industry (1983; paperback, 1984, Basic Books): An old book, judged by many the standard history of how health care in the US started out and remained tightly controlled by the profit-seeking private sector. Sobering that even in 1983 Starr termed it a "vast industry" -- it has, after all, grown by leaps and bounds since then. In 1992 Starr wrote a brief in favor of Clinton's plan: The Logic of Health Care Reform, which had to be revised with a post-mortem in 1994. Starr also wrote the equally sweeping history, The Creation of the Media: Political Origins of Modern Communications in 2004 and Freedom's Power: The True Force of Liberalism in 2007.

Cass R Sunstein: Going to Extremes: How Like Minds Unite and Divide (2009, Oxford University Press): The basic argument seems to be that when groups of people only talk to themselves they become more polarized and more extremist. I can fill in many examples -- the current post-Bush right the most obvious one, a group that talks only to itself because they can't conceive that they completely failed and honestly lost, a group no one but itself can take seriously as they become ever more unhinged.

Thomas E Woods Jr: Meltdown: A Free-Market Look at Why the Stock Market Collapsed, the Economy Tanked, and Government Bailouts Will Make Things Worse (2009, Regnery): From the Product Description: "If you are fed up with Washington boondoggles, and you like the small-government, politically-incorrect thinking of Ron Paul, then you'll love Tom Woods's Meltdown." Note that their selling point is self-satisfaction, nothing to do with whether anything here is right. One learns, for instance, that never mind Roosevelt, it was Hoover's activist government that deepened the Great Depression. Ron Paul wrote the intro; he's a stopped clock, right on only one issue, and this isn't it.

Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:

Peter Gosselin: High Wire: The Precarious Financial Lives of American Families (2008; paperback, 2009, Basic Books): A deeper reporter's version of Jacob Hacker's The Great Risk Shift: the small problem is that workers are earning less these days, the bigger one that they are running bigger risks. Needless to say, health insurance (or lack thereof) plays a big role. [a href="/ocston/books/gosselin-high.php">book page]

Chris Hedges: When Atheism Becomes Religion: America's New Fundamentalists (2008; paperback, Free Press, 2009): New title, a slight improvement over his original I Don't Believe in Atheists, although it introduces new problems. I haven't bothered with the Harris-Dawkins-Hitchens troika, whose books don't look all that interesting even though I reckon myself an atheist.

Melody Petersen: Our Daily Meds: How the Pharmaceutical Companies Transformed Themselves into Slick Marketing Machines and Hooked the Nation on Prescription Drugs (2008; paperback, 2009, Picador): The latest dope on the drug industry, which all in all is probably a bigger villain than the insurance industry in the whole health care mess. Cf. John Abramson above for a list; this one looks to me like the best of the batch. I'm waiting for someone to write the right book on how to fix it: end patents, open up research so that it is publicly funded and totally transparent, limit drug companies to manufacturing generic drugs and competing on costs/integrity.

Rebecca Solnit: Storming the Gates of Paradise: Landscapes for Politics (2007; paperback, 2008, University of California Press): A writer I keep thinking I should like -- good politics, has an acute sense of the visual as well as skill with words, knows her history, picks apart big problems from small clues, lives in the west and adores the landscape -- but I haven't found her that interesting or useful. Scattered essays, maybe a gem or two.

Nick Turse: The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives (2008; paperback, 2009, Holt): It only starts with the military-industrial complex: Turse finds complex relationships with academia, science, technology, entertainment, media, games, and your local recruiter. Maybe we wouldn't get into so many tight spots if military influence were much less intrusive.

Government Care

Phillip Longman: The Best Care Anywhere. This is actually an article from 2005, back in the dark (Bush) ages when nobody even considered the possibility of trying to do something to reform our mess of a health care system, but it's worth taking another look at now. It's about how a government agency carved off a single-payer population and provided them with a health care system with virtually no private sector participation. Free from the influence of private interests, the government only had to balance costs and benefits off. The result is the best quality, lowest cost health care system in America. That's what the Veterans Administration did. Longman went on to expand this article into a book, Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care Is Better Than Yours (paperback, 2007, Polipoint Press).

The story of how and why the VHA became the benchmark for quality medicine in the United States suggests that much of what we think we know about health care and medical economics is just wrong. It's natural to believe that more competition and consumer choice in health care would lead to greater quality and lower costs, because in almost every other realm, it does. [ . . . ]

But when it comes to health care, it's a government bureaucracy that's setting the standard for maintaining best practices while reducing costs, and it's the private sector that's lagging in quality. That unexpected reality needs examining if we're to have any hope of understanding what's wrong with America's health-care system and how to fix it. It turns out that precisely because the VHA is a big, government-run system that has nearly a lifetime relationship with its patients, it has incentives for investing in quality and keeping its patients well--incentives that are lacking in for-profit medicine.

This came about basically because of two moves by Bill Clinton: in 1994 he appointed Kenneth W. Kizer VHA undersecretary of health, and in 1996 he signed a bill to expand eligibility to all veterans, not just combat casualties.

A physician trained in emergency medicine and public health, Kizer was an outsider who immediately started upending the VHA's entrenched bureaucracy. He oversaw a radical downsizing and decentralization of management power, implemented pay-for-performance contracts with top executives, and won the right to fire incompetent doctors. He and his team also began to transform the VHA from an acute care, hospital-based system into one that put far more resources into primary care and outpatient services for the growing number of aging veterans beset by chronic conditions. [ . . . ]

Yet the most dramatic transformation of the VHA didn't just involve such trendy, 1990s ideas as downsizing and reengineering. It also involved an obsession with systematically improving quality and safety that to this day is still largely lacking throughout the rest of the private health-care system.

A lot of details follow on just how this works, but much of it shouldn't be surprising. Most problems are easier (less expensive and more successful) to deal with when you catch them early, which became a focus. And health care is a team activity, so having one set of common electronic records both eliminates extra work and errors and lets everyone work on the same plan. They also took a look at evidence, identifying problems and checking what worked and what didn't. This is almost common sense when you're trying to provide quality health care, but it isn't always followed in the private health care system, where there's an overriding concern for profits.

For example, there is little controversy over the best way to treat diabetes; it starts with keeping close track of a patient's blood sugar levels. Yet if you have diabetes, your chances are only one-out-four that your health care system will actually monitor your blood sugar levels or teach you how to do it. According to a recent RAND Corp. study, this oversight causes an estimated 2,600 diabetics to go blind every year, and anther 29,000 to experience kidney failure.

All told, according to the same RAND study, Americans receive appropriate care from their doctors only about half of the time. The results are deadly. On top of the 98,000 killed by medical errors, another 126,000 die from their doctor's failure to observe evidence-based protocols for just four common conditions: hypertension, heart attacks, pneumonia, and colorectal cancer.

Doctors write their orders into the electronic records system, and nurses check off every time they administer a drug or procedure. The system, by checking the patient ID and the drug/procedure, has virtually eliminated routine mistakes.


As the health-care crisis worsens, and as more become aware of how dangerous and unscientific most of the U.S. health-care system is, maybe we will find a way to get our minds around these strange truths. Many Americans still believe that the U.S. health-care system is the best in the world, and that its only major problems are that it costs too much and leaves too many people uninsured. But the fact remains that Americans live shorter lives, with more disabilities, than people in countries that spend barely half as much per person on health care. Pouring more money into the current system won't change that. Nor will making the current system even more fragmented and driven by short-term profit motives. But learning from the lesson offered by the veterans health system could point the way to an all-American solution.

Of course, you don't automatically get superior health care by turning it over to the government. It also takes management skill, professional dedication, adequate funding, enough time to review cases and refine and improve methods. You could duplicate many of these methods with private health care providers, especially if you can develop a portable system of records and a system of reviews and accountability that can be shared everywhere. You also need to do as much as you can to isolate medical decisions from the profit machinations that inevitably come with private sector companies. (No one denies that profits are powerful motivators, but nothing is clearer than the fact that optimal health outcomes and optimal profit outcomes have nothing in common.) Public financing of as much shared infrastructure as possible would help -- indeed, would be essential -- with private providers. Open source software is one key element here: it makes adoption practically free, while keeping all of the technology transparent so it can be critiqued and improved by users all over the world. Freely published academic research is another. A single-payer insurance system would also help to push best practices throughout a private provider system.

Lots of lessons here, but the most important one is that the pursuit of best practices and quality outcomes also works best as a cost containment system. In fact, it's the only cost containment methodology that doesn't sacrifice quality. Moreover, by focusing on quality first, we have an answer to everyone worried more that reform will diminish quality, as well as an answer to the bean counters.

Jul 2009