Monday, August 31, 2009
Music: Current count 15687  rated (+29), 745  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 ,
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
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 , 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.
Van Morrison: Astral Weeks: Live at the Hollywood Bowl
(2008 , 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.
Örjan Sandred: Cracks and Corrosion (2001-09 ,
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.
James Moody: 4A (2008 , 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."
McCoy Tyner: Solo: Live From San Francisco (2007
, 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.
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.
Ab Baars/Ig Henneman/Misha Mengelberg: Sliptong
(2008 , 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.
Rodrigo Amado/Kent Kessler/Paal Nilssen-Love: The Abstract
Truth (2008 , 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.
Jon Alberts/Jeff Johnson/Tad Britton: Apothecary
(2007-08 , 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
Freddy Cole: The Dreamer in Me (2008 , 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
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.
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.
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
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.
Darcy James Argue's Secret Society: Infernal Machines
(2008 , 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
Jeff "Tain" Watts: Watts (2008 , 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.
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.
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.
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.
Grant Stewart: Young at Heart (2007 , 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.
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
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
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
Marcus Strickland: Of Song (2008 , 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.
Adam Rogers: Sight (2008 , 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.
Profound Sound Trio: Opus de Life (2008 ,
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
The Nu Band: Lower East Side Blues (2008 ,
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.
Old Dog: By Any Other Means (2007 , 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.
Barry Guy/Marilyn Crispell/Paul Lytton: Phases of the
Night (2007 , 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.
Fred Anderson: Staying in the Game (2008 ,
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.
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
Flow Trio: Rejuvenation (2008 , 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.
Chick Corea & Gary Burton: The New Crystal Silence
(2007 , 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.
John McLaughlin/Chick Corea: Five Peace Band Live
(2008 , 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.
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
Friday, August 28, 2009
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
Thursday, August 27, 2009
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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.
- Max Baucus: Montana senator, safely in the industry's pocket
- Nancy-Ann DeParle: White House "health czar"; the insider most
responsible for cutting industry deals
- Douglas Elmendorf: CBO director, projects costs to be surmounted
by any plan
- Rahm Emanuel: White House chief of staff, Obama's gatekeeper
- Charles Grassley: Iowa senator, the Great White Hope for a
bipartisan deal that will never happen, even if it doesn't matter
- Karen Ignagni: top insurance company lobbyist
- Peter Orszag: OMB director
- Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid: House speaker and Senate
majority leader, presumably responsible for pushing the bills through
- Olympia Snowe: Maine senator, what passes for the left-wing of
the Republican party these days
- 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 ,
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.
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
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: Current count 15658  rated (+30), 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
- 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
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.
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.
Cecil Brooks III: Hot Dog (2008 , 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.
Joe Beck/Laura Theodore: Golden Earrings (2006-07
, 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.
Mimi Jones: A New Day (2007-08 , 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."
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
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.
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
Sorgen-Rust-Stevens Trio: A Scent in Motion (1994
, 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.
Chris Pasin: Detour Ahead (1987 , 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.
Wayne Shorter: The Soothsayer (1965 , 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.
Bobby Hutcherson: Head On (1971 , 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.
Alvin Queen: Mighty Long Way (2008 , 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.
Wynton Marsalis: He and She (2007 , 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.
Joe Maneri/Peter Dolger: Peace Concert (1964
, 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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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 , 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.
- Arild Andersen: Live at Belleville (2007 , 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.
- Donald Bailey: Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 3 (2008 ,
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.
- Patricia Barber: The Cole Porter Mix (2007 ,
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.
- Scotty Barnhart: Say It Plain (2008 , 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.
- Jorge Lima Barreto: Zul Zelub (2005 , 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
- Count Basie Orchestra: Mustermesse Basel 1956 Part 1
(1956 , 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.
- 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.
- Raoul Björkenheim/William Parker/Hamid Drake: DMG @ the Stone:
Volume 2 (2006 , 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.
- The Blue Note 7: Mosaic: A Celebration of Blue Note Records
(2008 , 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.
- Bo's Art Trio: Live: Jazz Is Free and So Are We!
(2007 , 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
- Anthony Braxton/Kyle Brenders: Toronto (Duets) 2007
(2007 , 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
- Wolfert Brederode: Currents (2006 , 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.
- Bridge Quartet: Night (2007 , 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'
- Burnt Sugar/The Arkestra Chamber: Making Love to the Dark
Ages (2008 , 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.
- François Carrier: The Digital Box (1999-2006 ,
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.
- François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Jean-Jacques Avenel: Within
(2007 , 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.]
- Bill Cole's Untempered Ensemble: Proverbs for Sam
(2001 , 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
- 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.
- Roger Davidson & Raúl Jaurena: Pasión por la Vida
(2008 , 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
- Jamie Davis: Vibe Over Perfection (2005 , 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
- 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.
- Craig Enright: La Belleza . . . (2008 , 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.
- 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.
- Satoko Fujii Trio: Trace a River (2006-07 , 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.
- 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.
- Satoko Fujii Orchestra New York: Summer Suite
(2007 , 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
- Satoko Fujii/Myra Melford: Under the Water
(2007 , 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.
- Gato Libre: Kuro (2007 , Libra):
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
B+(***) [originally B+(*)]
- Billy Harper: Blueprints of Jazz, Vol. 2 (2006
, 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
- 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.
- Ahmad Jamal: It's Magic (2007 , Dreyfus):
An old pianist with a light touch, his trio fluffed up with Manolo
Badrena's extra percussion, his knack for catchy melodies undiminished.
- Junk Box: Sunny Then Cloudy (2006 , 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.
- Oleg Kireyev/Feng Shui Jazz Project: Mandala (2008,
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.
- Diana Krall: Quiet Nights (2009, Verve):
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.
- Brad Leali-Claus Raible Quartet: D.A.'s Time
(2007 , 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.
- Luis Lopes: Humanization 4Tet (2007 , 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.
- Andy Middleton: The European Quartet Live (2005 ,
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.
- Evan Parker/The Transatlantic Art Ensemble: Boustrophedon
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.
- William Parker Quartet: Petit Oiseau (2007 ,
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.
- The Matthew Shipp Trio: Harmonic Disorder (2008 ,
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 [originally: A-]
- 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.
- Jimmy Rushing: The Scene: Live in New York (1965 ,
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.
- Michel Sajrawy: Writings on the Wall (2007 ,
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.
- Brad Shepik: Human Activity Suite (2008 , 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.
- 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?).
- Bebo Valdes & Javier Colina: Live at the Village
Vanguard (2005 , Calle 54/Norte):
with the 86-year-old Cuban legend working his way through a set
of Cuban classics plus "Yesterdays" and "Waltz for Debby."
- 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.
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.
- Claudia Acuña: En Este Momento (2007 ,
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.
- Bob Albanese Trio with Ira Sullivan: One Way/Detour
(2008 , 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
- John Allred/Jeff Barnhart/Danny Coots: The ABC's of Jazz
(2008 , 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.
- 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
- Jon Balke/Amina Alaoui: Siwan (2007-08 , 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
- 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.
- Josh Berman: Old Idea (2007 , 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.
- Todd Bishop's Pop Art 4: Plays the Music of Serge Gainsbourg:
69 Année Érotique: (2008 , 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
- Sarah Brooks and Graceful Soul: Under the Bones of the Great
Blue Whale (2008 , 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.
- 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.
- Peter Brötzmann/Fred Lonberg-Holm: The Brain of the Dog in
Section (2007 , Atavistic):
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.
- Dave Brubeck: Time Out [Legacy Edition]
(1959-64 , 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
A- [single album: A]
- Bill Bruford: The Winterfold Collection 1978-1986
(1977-85 , 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.
- Bill Bruford: The Summerfold Collection 1987-2008
(1986-2007 , 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.
- Kenny Burrell: Prime Kenny Burrell: Live at the Downtown
Room (1976-2006 , 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.
- 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
- Don Cherry/Nana Vasconcelos/Collin Walcott: The Codona
Trilogy (1978-82 , 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.
- Leonardo E.M. Cioglia: Contos (2007 , 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.
- Jay Clayton: The Peace of Wild Things: Singing and Saying the
Poets (2007 , 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.
- Mike Clinco: Neon (2008 , 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.
- Alex Cline: Continuation (2008 , 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.
- Cosmologic: Eyes in the Back of My Head (2006 ,
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
- Coyote Poets of the Universe: Callin' You Home
(2008 , 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
- Crimson Jazz Trio: King Crimson Songbook, Volume 2
(2006 , 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.
- Cyminology: As Ney (2008 , ECM):
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.
- Mélanie Dahan: La Princesse et les Croque-Notes
(2007 , 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
- Tim Davies Big Band: Dialmentia (2007 , 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.
- Miles Davis: Sketches of Spain [Legacy Edition]
(1959-60 , 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+(**)]
- 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
- Eddie Erickson: I'm Old-Fashioned (2007 , 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.
- 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
- Charles Evans: The King of All Instruments
(2007-08 , 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.
- FJF: Blow Horn (1995 , Okka Disk):
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."
- Fred Forney: Chasing Horizons (2008 , 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.
- Jürgen Friedrich: Pollock (2007 , 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
- 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."
- Clay Giberson: Spaceton's Approach (2007-08 ,
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.
- Pedro Giraudo Jazz Orchestra: El Viaje (2008 , 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.
- 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.
- Frank Glover: Politico (2005 , 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.
- Dennis González/João Paulo Duo: Scape Grace (2007 ,
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.
- Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band: Act Your Age (2008,
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.
- Jerry Granelli V16: Vancouver '08 (2008 ,
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.
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.]
- Andrew Green: Narrow Margin (2007 , 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.
- Lew Green and Joe Muranyi: Together (2008 , 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.
- Jimmy Greene: Mission Statement (2008 ,
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.
- The Peter Hand Big Band: The Wizard of Jazz: A Tribute to
Harold Arlen (2005 , Savant):
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.
- 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.
- The Kevin Hays Trio: You've Got a Friend
(2007 , 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.
- Duke Heitger and Bernd Lhotzky: Doin' the Voom Voom
(2008 , 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
- Pablo Held: Forest of Oblivion (2007 , 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.
- Herculaneum: Herculaneum III (2007 , 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).
- Magos Herrera: Distancia (2008 , 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."
- Freddie Hubbard: Without a Song: Live in Europe 1969
(1969 , 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.
- Nico Huijbregts: Free Floating Forms (2007 , 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
- 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.
- I Compani: Circusism (2007-08 , 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.
- Jentsch Group Large: Cycles Suite (2008 , 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.
- Hank Jones & Frank Wess: Hank and Frank II
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.
- Pandelis Karayorgis/Nate McBride/Ken Vandermark: No Such
Thing (1999 , 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.
- 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.
- Daniel Kelly: Emerge (2009, Bju'ecords):
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.
- Charlie Kohlhase's Explorer's Club: Adventures
(2007 , 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.
- Tim Kuhl: King (2008 , WJF):
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.
- Steve Kuhn: Life's Backward Glances (1974-79 , ECM,
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Jennifer Lee: Quiet Joy (2008 , 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
- 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.
- Paul Lytton/Ken Vandermark: English Suites (1999
, 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.
- Jacám Manricks: Labyrinth (2008 , 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.
- Thomas Marriott: Flexicon (2008 , 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Andy Milne/Benoît Delbecq: Where Is Pannonica?
(2008 , 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.
- Charles Mingus: Mingus Ah Um [Legacy Edition]
(1959 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD):
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+]
- Giovanni Moltoni: 3 (2008, C#2 Productions):
Guitar album -- long lines, gentle grooves, nice vibes, topped
off with Greg Hopkins' moderately boppish trumpet.
- Joe Morris w/DKV Trio: Deep Telling (1998 ,
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.
- Rakalam Bob Moses: Father's Day B'hash (2006 ,
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.
- Paul Meyers: World on a String (2009, Miles High):
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.
- Milton Nascimento and Jobim Trio: Novas Bossas
(2007 , 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
- David "Fathead" Newman: The Blessing (2008 ,
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.
- 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.
- Sean Noonan's Brewed by Noon: Boxing Dreams
(2007-08 , 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.
- Margie Notte: Just You, Just Me & Friends: Live at
Cecil's (2008 , 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.
- 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.
- Olatunji: Drums of Passion [Legacy Edition]
(1959-66 , 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+(***);
- Original Silence: The Second Original Silence
(2006 , 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,
- Arvo Pärt: In Principio (2007-08 , 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
- 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.
- Enrico Pieranunzi: Plays Domenico Scarlatti: Sonatas and
Improvisations (2007 , CAM Jazz):
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.
- 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."
- Frank Potenza Trio: Old, New, Borrowed, & Blue
(2008 , 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.
- Tito Puente: Dance Mania [Legacy Edition] (1956-60 ,
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
A- [single albums: Dance Mania A-;
Vol. 2 B+(***)]
- Refuge Trio (2008 , 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.
- Ridd Quartet: Fiction Avalanche (2005 ,
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.
- Marcus Roberts Trio: New Orleans Meets Harlem, Vol. 1
(2007 , 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- David Sánchez: Cultural Survival (2007 ,
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.
- Venissa Santi: Bienvenida (2006 , 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."
- 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.
- 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.
- Alfred Schnittke/Alexander Raskatov: Symphony No. 9/Nunc
Dimittis (2008 , ECM New Series):
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.
- John Scofield: Piety Street (2009, EmArcy):
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.
- Sex Mob Meets Medeski: Live in Willisau (2006 ,
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.
- Avery Sharpe Trio: Autumn Moonlight (2008 , 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
- Jim Shearer & Charlie Wood: The Memphis Hang
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.
- Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra: Harriet Tubman
(2007 , 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.
- Adam Shulman: Patterns of Change (2008 , 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.
- Dave Siebels With Gordon Goodwin's Big Phat Band
(2008 , 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.
- Henning Sieverts Symmetry: Blackbird (2007 , 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
- Asaf Sirkis Trio: The Monk (2007-08 , 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.
- Harry Skoler: Two Ones (2008 , 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.
- Omar Sosa: Across the Divide: A Tale of Rhythm &
Ancestry (2008 , 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.
- Jesse Stacken: That That (2006 ,
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.
- Steam: Real Time (1996 , 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.
- John Stetch: TV Trio (2007 , Brux):
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.
- E.J. Strickland Quintet: In This Day (2008 ,
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.
- Mark Taylor: Spectre (2008 , Origin):
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.
- Ximo Tebar & Ivam Jazz Ensemble: Steps
(2007 , 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.
- 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.
- Gian Tornatore: Fall (2007 , 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.
- Transit: Quadrologues (2006-07 , 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
- Paul Tynan & Aaron Lington: Bicoastal Collective:
Chapter One (2008 , 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
- Nicholas Urie Large Ensemble: Excerpts From an Online Dating
Service (2008 , 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.
- Ken Vandermark: Two Days in December (2001 ,
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.
- Ramana Vieira: Lágrimas de Rainha / Tears of a Queen
(2008 , 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
- Kobie Watkins: Involved (2006 , 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.
- WHO Trio: Less Is More (2008 , 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.
- Corey Wilkes & Abstrakt Pulse: Cries From Tha Ghetto
(2008 , 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.
- Phil Woods: The Children's Suite (2007 ,
"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.
- Sam Yahel: Hometown (2009, Posi-Tone):
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.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
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
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
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
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
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
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
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: Current count 15628  rated (+32), 744  unrated (+13).
Listening to Rhapsody when I get the chance. Getting tired of jazz.
- Hamza el Din: Escalay (The Water Wheel) (1968 ,
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.
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.
Luis Lopes/Adam Lane/Igal Foni: What Is When (2007-08
, 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.
Eric Vloeimans: Fugimundi: Live at Yoshi's (2008
, 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
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
David Berkman Quartet: Live at Smoke (2006 ,
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.
Forgas Band Phenomena: L'Axe du Fou/Axis of Madness
(2008 , 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
Joe Morris: Wildlife (2008 , 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.
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.
Guilherme Monteiro: Air (2005-06 , 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,
Mark Buselli: An Old Soul (2008 , 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."
Chad McCullough: Dark Wood, Dark Water (2008
, 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.
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
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.
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
Perry Robinson/Burton Greene: Two Voices in the Desert
(2008 , 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.
John Zorn: Alhambra Love Songs (2008 , 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.
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.
Dave Douglas: Spirit Moves (2008 , 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
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.
Borah Bergman Trio: Luminescence (2008 ,
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.
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.
Tony Malaby: Paloma Recio (2008 , 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.
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.
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.
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
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
Also spent a fair amount of time streaming recent jazz
records, which will appear in Jazz Prospecting.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
I guess if I'm going to do movie notes I should get them over with
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.
Friday, August 14, 2009
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
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
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
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
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
Monday, August 10, 2009
Music: Current count 15596  rated (+38), 731  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.
- 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.
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
James Carney Group: Ways & Means (2008 ,
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.
John Surman: Brewster's Rooster (2007 , 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.
Jim Turner's Jelly Roll Blues (2007-08 ,
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.
John Hicks: I Remember You (2006 , 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
Steve Swell: Planet Dream (2008 , 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.
Daniel Levin Quartet: Live at Rowlette (2008 ,
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.
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!
Elli Fordyce: Sings Songs Spun of Gold (2008 ,
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.
Fay Victor Ensemble: The Freeesong Suite (2008 ,
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.
Gebhard Ullman: Don't Touch My Music I (2007 ,
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
Gebhard Ullman: Don't Touch My Music II (2007 ,
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
Trespass Trio: ". . . Was There to Illuminate the Night
Sky . . ." (2007 , 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.
Christian Lillingers Grund: First Reason (2008
, 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.
Dan Tepfer/Lee Konitz: Duos With Lee (2008 ,
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.
Baptiste Trotignon: Share (2008 , 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.
Laurence Hobgood: When the Heart Dances (2008 ,
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.
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,
Steve Lehman Octet: Travail, Transformation, and Flow
(2008 , 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
Arthur Kell Quartet: Victoria: Live in Germany
(2008 , 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.
Richie Goods & Nuclear Fusion: Live at the Zinc Bar
(2007 , 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.
Unpacking: Found in the mail this week (and the week
- 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
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.
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
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
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  rated (+26), 736  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 , 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
Jane Bunnett: Embracing Voices (2008 ,
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.
Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Big Band: I'm BeBoppin' Too
(2008 , 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.
Bob Florence Limited Edition: Legendary (2008 ,
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.
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
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.
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.
Theo Travis: Double Talk (2007 , 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.
Positive Catastrophe: Garabatos Volume One (2008
, 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.
Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Strings: Renegades
(2008 , 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."
Kevin Deitz: Skylines (2005-08 , 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.
Mike DiRubbo: Repercussion (2008 , 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
Sean Nowell: The Seeker (2008 , 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.
Eddie Harris/Ellis Marsalis: Homecoming (1985-2009
, 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.
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.)
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
[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
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
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
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
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 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
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
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