April 2010 Notebook


Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Epistemic Closure and the Rot of the Conservative Mind

I was struck by the following letter which appeared in the Wichita Eagle on Monday:

Over the past few decades, American voters have created a government that would be unrecognizable to the original Founding Fathers. Year after year, voters elect representatives further and further removed from the principles this nation was founded upon.

The most ironic result is that they expect things to get "better." Wouldn't you call that insanity?

The country that Ronald Reagan once described as "the last best hope of man on Earth" is gone and will never be again. From this point forward, the will of people will be defied on an ever increasing scale. The democratic process has been effectively quashed.

We have created a federal government that has become the greatest domestic threat this country has ever faced. The options to change our future for the better have become severely limited. What options are the remnant of patriots left with? All I can say is: Pray hard, praise God, and pass the ammunition.

One could construct an argument that our elections are rigged up in various ways that make it possible for those elected to effectively ignore the voters' real interests and intents. (Money is the key to any such argument.) One could argue that bureaucratic culture results in governments being inefficient and sometimes flat out ineffective in implementing popular policies. (Although usually this is done by ignoring the dysfunctionalities of the private sector alternative.) The author doesn't make any such arguments here. He -- I've redacted the name but rest assured the author is a he -- settles for thrashing in a soup of clichés, a convenient substitute for thought, not to mention facts.

"Over the past few decades" is annoyingly vague: that sounds more recent than the 1960s-70s when government grew by taking on regulatory power over things like pollution and job safety; so is he referring to the deregulatory efforts of Reagan? the downsizing of Clinton? the crass politicization and imperial overreach of Bush? He can't mean Obama, who has been in office for little more than a year -- a tiny fraction of a decade -- and who has done nothing significant other than to offer jobs to relatively competent people (mostly held up by Senate Republicans).

As to the Founding Fathers, government is hardly the only thing in today's world they might find unrecognizable. Even so, so what? They had no single set of views or expectations. Jefferson, in particular, expected revolution every generation, so for him the greatest surprise would likely be that we've preserved so much of the constitution. Both conservatives and liberals like to claim the FFs, but this is almost always an historical fallacy -- an attempt to cite an authority too dead to speak for himself.

Same for Ronald Reagan, at least for conservatives. I saw a letter in the Eagle recently where the author cited Reagan as his authority for arguing against Obama's nuclear warfare policy amendments. Funny thing was that he claimed Reagan understood the need for an unfettered nuclear arsenal, when in fact Reagan was horrified by nuclear weapons and wanted to see them if not banned at least rendered impotent by a comprehensive antimissile shield. Conservatives just assume that they can cite Reagan in defense of whatever crackpot idea they have, even when Reagan had no such views.

Another cliché starts with the observation that it's insane to expect an experiment to produce a different result when it's always proven something else. This is handy for arguing against repeating failed behaviors, like arguing that occupying Afghanistan will work this time where doing the same thing in Iraq and Vietnam failed. Problem here is the author's assumption that everything government has tried to ameliorate has had the opposite effect. Sure, one can think of examples of government failure, but there are many more examples where government has made things better: the FAA has made air travel safer, the FDA has made food and drugs safer, the EPA has made air and water cleaner and less dangerous, Social Security and Medicare have made poverty rare among our elders, public support for schools has (until recently) made Americans among the world's best educated, regulations kept the banking system stable (until deregulated, which led to the thrifts crashing in the late 1980s and the investment banks melting down recently), and there are many other examples -- indeed, they are the rule, not the exception.

So where does "the greatest domestic threat this country has ever faced" come from? The federal government? You could argue that the counterterrorism apparatus built up by Bush and Cheney et al., and to an embarrassing extent continued by Obama, counts as a grave threat to our constitutionally-protected rights, but the focus there is still mostly external, much less directed at the regime's political opponents than what Nixon did, therefore less of an effective threat. No doubt Obama could do more, both to use his executive powers to reverse the travesties of the Bush administration and to nominate judges who will stand up for our rights against government intrusion. But one suspects that the author means something else. He's just unwilling or incapable of specifying the threat he sees. He would be easy to dismiss but it seems like whole masses of right-wingers have succumbed to a vague but powerful delusion that Obama is a bogeyman out to get them.

What's really disturbing is that people who know so little and understand even less have chosen this moment to give vent to their civic paranoia, and that they're so loud and certain and desperate about it even though they can't point to any evidence or explain themselves at all coherently. The first thing this makes me wonder is why this civic paranoia didn't appear when someone actually dangerous like Bush was in power. The main reason seems to be that conservatives aren't actually interested in policy issues -- at least in the sense that all parties should work together to find best (or least worst) solutions. They are primarily interested in power, and are willing to put up with virtually anything as long as their guy is in power, and absolutely nothing when someone not in their claque comes out on top.

What Obama has done that is so dastardly to the right is that he's cut their policy legs out from under them, leaving their obsession with seizing power naked. Sane conservatives, for instance, might argue for a somewhat regulated private insurance exchange program which curbs the worst excesses of private insurance while preserving a competitive range of coverage options, as opposed to a more efficient single-payer one-size-fits-all scheme, but Obama adopted the conservative option. Sane conservatives might argue for a market-oriented cap-and-trade scheme for limiting greenhouse gas emissions but, well, that's Obama's plan. Same thing on pretty much everything from Afghanistan to atomic power to offshore oil to finance reform, which I, hoping for better, find pretty frustrating, but at least I can argue Obama's shortcomings rationally. The conservative rank-and-file, who have by all accounts been dumbing down for a couple of decades now, have nothing but their primal rage to fall back on.

Which is pretty much all you can say about the letter's final paragraph. I forget whether patriotism or religion is the last refuge of scoundrels, but it scarcely matters when your conclusion is "Pray hard, praise God, and pass the ammunition." You can dismiss that as another idiot cliché -- originally "praise the Lord and pass the ammunition" and set in a shooting war as opposed to this bout of self-important indulgence -- but I don't see how this can end well.

Jonathan Bernstein: More on that Closed Loop: One of a bunch of recent pieces on "epistemic closure" -- the practice of dismissing out of hand opinions, analyses, and even basic reporting from sources not sanctioned by your political allies. This is a big enough problem on the right that conscious conservatives like Julian Sanchez and Conor Friedersdorf are fretting over it (and hacks like Jonah Goldberg are dismissing). I can't pretend that leftists, liberals, or any other ideological stripe are immune from this temptation, but a lot of asymmetries make this a peculiarly conservative problem. For starters, there is the matter of payroll, where rich right-wing patrons pay good money for intellectual workers, both through their media networks and their pseudo-academic think tanks. But there is also, as I argued above, a peculiar focus on political power on the right, which puts a lot of pressure behind talking points. The right doesn't care about truthful journalism or insightful analysis; they simply want foot soldiers to toe their line and put their focus-group-tested, poll-proven messages across. Every bit as important, there is a fundamental deceitfulness to the right's message, and that bears very little scrutiny: somehow in a democracy they have to convince average folks it's best for [the country, the economy, God, even average folks] to elect a bunch of people whose main project is to use the government to further enrich the already rich. So of course the right doesn't value truth, honesty, and integrity, because those qualities -- once thought of as conservative virtues -- spoil the message. Of course the right favors mediocre obeissance over initiative and independence, which helps explain why hacks do so well on the right -- and why whenever the right is in power they do so poorly with reality.

Matthew Yglesias: The Cushy Life of the Rightwinger: As I was saying, Yglesias adds: "There's a nice, very cushy gravy train out there awaiting anyone who wants to be a loyal footsoldier and one consequence of that is that the standards in terms of personnel are quite low." Also pulls up an old Julian Sanchez quote saying pretty much the same thing:

If you're willing to toe a straight party line, on the other hand, let's face it, you can be pretty damn mediocre and still carve out a nice little niche for yourself at any one of a welter of generously funded ideological publications and think tanks. Sure, it's a smaller pond, but you get to be a relatively big fish. You'll always have a book deal waiting at Regnery, a warm guest chair on Fox, editors at NR and the Weekly Standard eager to look at your pitches, handsome honoraria on your speaking tour of College Republican groups, and in your golden years, an undemanding sinecure as the Senior Olin Fellow at the Institute for Real 'Murriken Studies.

Conor Friedersdorf: The Fraud That Conservative Entertainers Can Never Acknowledge: Ronald Reagan used to have his so-called Eleventh Commandment about never saying ill of a fellow Republican. That's long since gone by the wayside given the slightest hint of RINO-ism, but still seems to be in play when considering anyone on the right, no matter how crackpot they get. Friedersdorf writes a "metablog" about bloggers on the right, which gets back to those "epistemic closure" issues. In particular, he deals with what he calls "conservative entertainers" -- Mark Levin in particular, although the first I heard of such beasts was a reference to Glenn Beck, who seems to regard his sense of humor as a get-out-of-reality pass. This is another area where you can look for asymmetries by thinking about who might pass as "liberal-or-leftist entertainers": names that pop into mind are Jon Stewart, Al Franken, Bill Mahrer, but quickly the differences emerge. For one thing, their typical humor is ironic, especially for unmasking hypocrisy, whereas a Rush Limbaugh, say, is more suited to spouting hypocrisy -- indeed, to bludgeoning you with it. Left-leaning entertainers like Franken and Dick Gregory also tend to get seriously wonkish, whereas it's well nigh impossible to find a carefully considered analysis in any work by a "conservative entertainer." Still, the bigger question is whether "conservative entertainers" are actually able to entertain anyone not already part of their flock. The profession they actually have more in common with is preaching, and there's no real symmetry to that on the left (except in black churches, which historically were havens for self-organization). You can unpack that a good deal further.

Matthew Yglesias: Freedom's Just Another Word for I'm an Orthodox Conservative With Orthodox Conservative Views: This relates to, but doesn't cite, George Lakoff's argument that the left needs to reclaim the word "freedom." Examples of its right-wing abuse abound.

Paul Krugman: Epistemic Closure in Macroeconomics: Another response to the "epistemic closure" debate, pointing out that of the two major camps of macroeconomists, one (saltwater) understands and argues against the other, while the other (freshwater) is merely ignorant and contemptuous of the first. One guess as to which is the more conservative.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 16637 [16605] rated (+32), 811 [801] unrated (+10). Working on house mostly. Had electricians in for a couple of days last week, with a couple more days scheduled this week. Got power to the garage. Cleaned up the attic. Ripped out the old fuse box in the basement and all the MC connected to it. Reorganized the basement lights so now they are on three wall switches instead of lots of pull cords. Main thing left to do is to take out the last knob and tube circuit, which goes into the most obscure nooks and crannies of the house. Meanwhile, I've been doing some carpentry. Have built four CD shelves for the upstairs back bedroom -- two are finished and installed, the other two are cut and assembled, but still need backs added and finish. Also building a bed head for that room, which is roughed out, and will top it off with a small bookshelf unit. Have repainted the back bedroom and the bathroom walls. Fixed the HVAC vent in the bathroom -- when we opened it up to clean all the ductwork, we opened up a few chunks of adjacent wall, so now I have that all filled in with a modern 8x8-inch register. Still need to paint the trim, the vanity and medicine cabinet, add a shelf or two, do something about the floor. Will also build a large drawer unit for a closet in the bathroom. Not sure how long all this will take: at least another week, probably two, maybe three.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #23, Part 10)

Not much here: tempting to skip the week's post but A-list jazz records have been hard to come by this year so the two below are something of a bounty. (Non-jazz has been a different story, with records I like a lot from V.V. Brown, Kate Nash, Shelby Lynne, and Apples in Stereo in the forthcoming Rhapsody file.) I don't expect much more jazz prospecting this week: I hope to wrap up a big chunk of the current house projects, and I've had a tough time multitasking construction work and writing. Still expect to finish this Jazz CG by mid-May.

Tomasz Stanko Quintet: Dark Eyes (2009 [2010], ECM): Venerable Polish trumpet player. Started out in avant-garde c. 1970. Has mellowed out, which is practically mandatory at ECM, but remains a strikingly lyrical player. After several albums with Marcin Wasilewski's piano trio, has a new group this time, a quintet with Alexi Tuomarila on piano, Jakob Bro on guitar, Anders Christensen on bass, and Olavi Louhivuori on drums -- haven't heard of any of them, but expect we will, especially Tuomarila. Record came out late last year in Germany, making some year-end lists. Doesn't blow me away, but is remarkably pleasing, and not all pretty. A-

Denny Zeitlin: Precipice (2008 [2010], Sunnyside): I'm not good with solo piano, and I'm in no shape to sort this one out right now, but I can't just dismiss it either. Zeitlin is in his 70s, has had a long career making small scale piano albums -- solos, duos, a lot of trios. I've only heard a few -- notably missing his Columbia sessions from the 1960s which were wrapped up neatly in a 3-CD Mosaic Select box last year. Never found an album I can flat out recommend, but never been disappointed either. [B+(***)]

Jean-Michel Pilc: True Story (2009 [2010], Dreyfus): French pianist, b. 1960, has recorded frequently since 2000, although he evidently has a few scattered earlier albums. Piano trio, with Boris Kozlov and Billy Hart. Can be a powerful, dynamic, lightning fast performer, although that is only occasionally evident here. B+(**)

Thomson Kneeland: Mazurka for a Modern Man (2007 [2010], Weltschmerz): Bassist, in New York, first album, although he has three previous with or as Kakalla, a similar group with less emphasis on the horns. Group here has David Smith on trumpet, Loren Stillman on alto sax (4 of 9 cuts), Nate Radley on guitar, and Take Toriyama on drums/percussion, except for one track in the middle which has trumpet (Jerry Sabatini), accordion, violin/viola, and drums. Balkan influence, bebop drive, although the violin cut aims for something more chamberish, and is less convincing. B+(**)

Joe Chambers: Horace to Max (2009 [2010], Savant): More Roach than Silver, but Chambers is a drummer, even though he mostly plays vibes and marimba here, with Steve Berrios on the kit. Nicole Guilland sings two Roach songs, one an Abbey Lincoln co-credit; I don't really care for either. I'm ambivalent about Chambers' vibes as well, but the marimba has an interesting sound. Much better is Eric Alexander's tenor sax. Old Blue Note-style cover art. B

The Nels Cline Singers: Initiate (2009 [2010], Cryptogramophone, 2CD): Guitarist, b. 1956, had a solid jazz career with a couple dozen albums since 1980 before he joined rock band Wilco, leading to stuff like Rolling Stone dubbing him one of the "Top 20 New Guitar Gods." NC Singers is a long-running trio with Devin Hoff on bass (acoustic and electric) and Scott Amendola on drums. Cline gets credits for "voice, megamouth, thingamagoop," but those things elide into his guitar effects -- no one actually sings here. Two discs, the old one studio, one live deal. Live is better -- more straightforward fusion power, less layering, fewer mood grooves. Studio packages more ideas more tightly. A-

The Bickel/Marks Group With Dave Liebman (2009 [2010], Zoho): Pianist Doug Bickel, bassist Dennis Marks, with Marco Marcinko on drums, Matt Vashlishan on alto sax, and Dave Liebman on soprano and tenor sax (mostly soprano). Bickel and Marks came up through the Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson, and Arturo Sandoval bands, winding up with one or two albums each under their own names, plus this joint operation. They play a jaunty postbop, and Liebman adds something -- this is a rare outing where I think he might justify his soprano. B+(**)

Tobias Gebb & Unit 7: Free at Last (2009 [2010], Yummy House): Drummer, from and in New York, with college detours to Berklee and the Bay Area (tempting to guess Berkeley). His debut Trio West album was an HM in these parts, but I didn't get inspired to play his Xmas album when it was in season -- it's still around here somewhere and someday I'll get to it, well, maybe. Unit 7 is a larger group, but not a septet, and not evidently a regular group: I count five or six musicians. Eldud Svulun plays piano on all eight, with the smaller group adding Mark Gross (alto sax), Joel Frahm (tenor sax) and Ugonna Okegwo (bass); the larger group features Bobby Watson (alto sax), Joe Magnarelli (trumpet), Stacy Dillard (tenor sax), and Neal Miner (bass), for a thick postbop stew. Title track offers "a special thanks to Barack Obama." Closer is "Tomorrow Never Knows," which I'd hazard a guess (but not a bet) is the Beatles tune most often recorded on jazz albums -- a big part of why jazzing up the Beatles never seems to work, although Frahm gives it a good run, and the sitar adds a little frizz. B+(**)

Matthew Shipp: 4D (2009 [2010], Thirsty Ear): Solo piano. I've lost track of how many solo albums Shipp's done since the late 1980s -- half a dozen I'd guess. Seems like he's moved away from developing melodic lines and into rhythmic patterns built from dense chords, which sort of parallels his group context work, but is more bare and sparse here. Some covers on the home stretch, not that they help much. B+(**) [advance]

Jeff Healey: Last Call (2007 [2010], Stony Plain): Canadian guitarist-singer, blinded at age one by eye cancer, formed a blues band in mid-1980s and sold a ton of records. Always had a passion for old jazz records, which he finally turned into a second act as a trad jazz artist, picking up trumpet as well. Died in 2008 at age 41 after another bout of cancer. This is presumably his last studio album. Trumpet switches off his vocals, but recorded guitar ahead of time, citing Eddie Lang as an influence but he hits it harder with more sting, almost getting a banjo sound. Drew Jureeka plays Joe Venuti on violin, and Ross Wooldridge plays piano and clarinet. Half the songs are pretty familiar. B+(***)

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

Some corrections and further notes on recent prospecting:

Abraham Inc.: Tweet Tweet (2010, Table Pounding): I erroneously identified the label as Dot Dot Dot Music. B+(***)

Jon Gold: Brazil Confidential (2010, Zoho): Artist's second album -- not his first as I had noted. Gold also tells me that his interest in Brazilian music predates his moving to Rio, and was in fact the reason to make the move. B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Tony Allen: Secret Agent (World Circuit/Nonesuch)
  • Carlos Barretto Lokomotiv: Labirintos (Clean Feed)
  • Carlos Bica + Matéria-Prima (Clean Feed)
  • Ran Blake/Christine Correa: Out of the Shadows (Red Piano)
  • Frank Carlberg: Tivoli Trio (Red Piano)
  • Cedar Chest: The Cedar Walton Songbook [The Composer Collection Volume 6] (High Note)
  • Rosario Giuliani: Lennie's Pennies (Dreyfus Jazz)
  • Luther Gray: Lawnmower (Clean Feed)
  • Taylor Haskins: American Dream (Sunnyside)
  • John Hébert Trio: Spiritual Lover (Clean Feed)
  • John Hicks & Frank Morgan: Twogether (High Note)
  • Keefe Jackson Quartet: Seeing You See (Clean Feed)
  • Beat Kaestli: Invitation (Chesky)
  • Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Deluxe (Clean Feed)
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa & Steve Lehman: Dual Identity (Clean Feed)
  • Sarah Manning: Dandelion Clock (Posi-Tone)
  • Jason Moran: Ten (Blue Note): advance, June 22
  • Music of the Sphere: Thelonious Monk Songbook [The Composer Collection Volume 5] (High Note)
  • Aldo Romano: Origine (Dreyfus Jazz)
  • Bernardo Sassetti Trio: Motion (Clean Feed)
  • Avery Sharpe Trio: Live (JKNM)
  • David Smith Quintet: Anticipation (Bju'ecords)
  • Tribute to JJ Cale, Volume 1: The Vocal Sessions (Zoho)
  • Carrie Wicks: I'll Get Around to It (OA2)
  • Phil Woods with the DePaul University Jazz Ensemble: Solitude (Jazzed Media): May 11
  • Nikki Yanofsky: Nikki (Decca)


  • African Pearls: Sénégal 70: Musical Effervescence (Syllart/Sterns, 2CD)
  • The Coathangers: Scramble (Suicide Squeeze)
  • An Horse: Rearrange Beds (Mom & Pop)
  • Ricardo Lemvo & Makina Loca: Isabella (Mopiato Music)
  • Rail Band: 2: Mansa (Syllart/Sterns, 2CD)
  • Dyan Valdés/Eddie Argos: Fixin' the Charts, Vol. 1: Everybody Was in the French Resistance . . . Now! (Cooking Vinyl)

Friday, April 23, 2010

More Books

I promised a quick follow-up on the last batch of new book notes, here back on April 10, then decided to back off a bit, only making the backlog worse. Here are short notes on 40 recent books.

Greg Albo/Sam Gindin/Leo Panitch: In and Out of Crisis: The Global Financial Meltdown and Left Alternatives (paperback, 2010, PM Press): Missed this in the big banking book roundup, which may mean that even I am marginalizing the left. Panitch has been writing books like Working Class Politics in Crisis: Essays on Labour and the State and Global Capitalism and American Empire at least since 1986.

Giovanni Arrighi: Adam Smith in Beijing: Lineages of the Twenty-First Century (paperback, 2009, Verso): Substantial (432 pp) book on China's tryst with capitalism, from a late Italian Gramscian who takes the long view -- another recently reprinted book is called The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power and the Origins of Our Times.

Raymond W Baker/Shereen T Ismael/Tareq Y Ismael, eds: Cultural Cleansing in Iraq: Why Museums Were Looted, Libraries Burned and Academics Murdered (2010, Pluto Press): The images of looting in Baghdad upon the arrival of US forces are indelible, but less known is the purge of intellectuals, with over 400 killed, many more driven from their homes and often from Iraq.

Wendell Berry: Imagination in Place (2010, Counterpoint): A new collection of essays, mostly short, many on acquaintances and friends, literary subjects and history.

Stewart Brand: Whole Earth Discipline: An Ecopragmatist Manifesto (2009, Viking): Forty years after The Whole Earth Catalog, a new collection of ideas and tools for coping with climate change and so forth. Brand has written occasional books as well as updates to his catalog. The most interesting looks to be How Buildings Learn: What Happens After They're Built.

Christopher De Bellaigue: Rebel Land: Unraveling the Riddle of History in a Turkish Town (2010, Penguin Press): A Kurdish town in Turkey, Varto, formerly shared by a sizable percentage of Armenians -- a three-way struggle for control of the story line of the past (and present). Complicated.

Lisa Dodson: The Moral Underground: How Ordinary Americans Subvert an Unfair Economy (2009, New Press): Stories of "economic civil disobedience," where workers and even managers bend or break rules to make the economic system a bit more humane. Previously wrote Don't Call Us Out of Name: The Untold Lives of Women and Girls in Poor America.

John Ehrenberg/J Patrice McSherry/José Ramón Sánchez/Caroleen Marji Sayej: The Iraq Papers (paperback, 2010, Oxford University Press): Of course, no non-scholar who lived through such recent history actually needs 656 pp of primary sources on the whole WMD scam. On the other hand, it's worth keeping track of who said what when, and holding them accountable.

Timothy Ferris: The Science of Liberty: Democracy, Reason, and the Laws of Nature (2010, Harper): Science (mostly Astronomy) writer, takes a look back at the Enlightenment and the insight that reason rules the universe, with the founding fathers of US independence right in the middle of the story.

Charles R Geisst: Collateral Damaged: The Marketing of Consumer Debt to America (2009, Bloomberg Press): Credit cards, one of the leading vehicles for modern usury; how they have been marketed, how ordinary Americans have piled up hereto unimaginable levels of debt. Geisst has many banking books: one I missed in my round up was Undue Influence: How the Wall Street Elite Puts the Financial System at Risk. Main reason I missed it was that it came out in 2004.

Tom Hayden: The Long Sixties: From 1960 to Barack Obama (2009, Paradigm): Fair enough for Hayden to write about the 1960s movements he was so prominent in, but Obama missed them, coming of age in the backlash years where he learned to be pragmatic, to couch his occasional idealistic-sounding rhetoric in obeissance to the powers that be. On the other hand, it's worth reminding that nearly all of the substantive agenda the 1960s new left succeeded -- civil rights were secured, the Vietnam War was ended, women made substantial advances both politically and economically, a serious effort was made to clean up the environment. Where the new left fell short was in not being able to secure the institutional power that would be needed to defend those gains. One might hope that Obama might succeed where the new left failed, but even if he had the inclination he may be too compromised. Still, how'd that '60s song go? "You can't always get what you want/but if you try sometimes you might find/you get what you need."

Steven Hill: Europe's Promise: Why the European Way Is the Best Hope in an Insecure Age (paperback, 2010, University of California Press): As compared to what? The Tea Party movement? Kleptocracy and civil war in Africa? China's bourgeois revolution from above? I'm not sure Europe is such great shakes, but Americans have never wanted to follow the old world's lead. On the other hand, there is something to be said for sanity, which Europe proves is still possible.

Paul Ingrassia: Crash Course: The American Automobile Industry's Road from Glory to Disaster (2010, Random House): I imagine there's a lot one can say about this subject -- the first key question being when do you want to start? To get to some glory, you have to go back quite a ways. The collapse of profits is a more recent problem, more susceptible to scapegoating. Of course, even if he doesn't get the whole story right, a little dirt can't hurt. Previously wrote Comeback: The Fall & Rise of the American Automobile Industry, which appears now to have been premature.

Philip Jenkins: Jesus Wars: How Four Patriarchs, Three Queens, and Two Emperors Decided What Christians Would Believe for the Next 1,500 years (2010, Harper One): A history of the early Christian church, especially how political influences dictated theology. Author has a number of books, many on the ancient (and somewhat hidden) history of Christianity, but also Mystics and Messiahs: Cults and New Religions in American History, The New Anti-Catholicism: The Last Acceptable Prejudice, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South, Pedophiles and Priests: Anatomy of a Contemporary Crisis, and Decade of Nightmares: The End of the Sixties and the Making of the Eighties.

Gordon Laird: The Price of a Bargain: The Quest for Cheap and the Death of Globalization (2009, Palgrave Macmillan): We're supposed to be thankful that globalization makes it possible for jerkwad companies like WalMart to keep their margins up while selling junk for less. Helps make up for the fact that working people in America are making less then they have in 30-40 years. Several people have written this up lately, so I'm not sure what distinguishes this account, other than that the title suggests it cannot continue indefinitely.

Jaron Lanier: You Are Not a Gadget: A Manifesto (2010, Knopf): Computer scientist, developed some early version of virtual reality, disparages "Web 2.0" information aggregation (e.g., Wikipedia, Amazon.com) for undervaluing individuals and creating a hive mentality. Not sure how I feel about this.

Steven Lomazow/Eric Fettmann: FDR's Deadly Secret (2010, Public Affairs): Medical sleuthing, argues that Roosevelt suffered from an undiagnosed metastatic skin cancer (melanoma) that spread to his brain and killed him.

Diarmaid MacCulloch: Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years (2010, Viking): Huge (1184 pp), sweeping history, most notably tries to extend the history of Christianity back 1000 years before Jesus. Author previously specialized in The Reformation, especially in England where he has books on Edward VI and Thomas Cranmer, as well as something more general on the Tudors.

Shane J Maddock: Nuclear Apartheid: The Quest for American Nuclear Supremacy From World War II to the Present (2010, University of North Carolina Press): Title phrase came from an Indian diplomat, offering a rare glimpse of how US policy looks to an outsider. There is much truth to it, and still is as the US scolds other countries for attempting to acquire nukes while refusing to relinquish its own useless stockpiles.

Micheline Maynard: The Selling of the American Economy: How Foreign Companies Are Remaking the American Dream (2009, Broadway Business): Foreign-owned companies located in the US were something of a scandal in the 1980s when a buying spree was fueled by the growing US trade gap. You didn't hear much about them in the following two decades, but they amount to a bigger slice of the American pie than ever before. This focuses on Tata, Haier, Airbus, and Toyota, and doesn't look to be negative about the changes. One of the ironies is that foreign companies, accustomed to markets with higher wages and much stronger safety nets, often turn out to be more generous employers than American companies, and they don't seem to be at a competitive disadvantage for doing so.

Bill McKibben: Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (2010, Times Books): I don't much care for McKibben's imagery in trying to peddle his global warming alerts. That was the weakest part of his early -- pathbreaking, really -- book on the subject, The End of Nature, and his pitch here is that the planet we've changed is so far removed from the one we inherited that it shouldn't even be called Earth anymore. On the other hand, as he gets more successful, he seems to be getting more upbeat.

Louis Menand: The Marketplace of Ideas: Reform and Resistance in the American University (2010, WW Norton): Short (176 pp) book on the state of the university, including a chapter on "Why Do Professors All Think Alike?"

Bill Minutaglio/W Michael Smith: Molly Ivins: A Rebel Life (2009, Public Affairs): A biography of the late, much missed columnist. Evidently also a Broadway play, and no doubt a movie some day. All the better to keep recycling some marvelous quotes, and a spirit that was more than America, let alone Texas, deserved.

Mwenda Ntarangwi: East African Hip Hop: Youth Culture and Globalization (paperback, 2009, University of Illinois Press): Short book (176 pp), but breaks some ground -- the African hip-hop I'm familiar with comes from West and South Africa, but I expect we'll find hip-hop in every corner of the world. In fact, one of the better comps I've come across leads off with something from Greenland.

Geoffrey Nunberg: The Years of Talking Dangerously (2009, Public Affairs): After a couple of books along the lines of The Way We Talk Now, Nunberg took a look at how right-wingers twist English to suit their purposes in Talking Right. This one looks like a scattered collection of essays; hard to tell how relevant or interesting.

Adi Ophir/Michal Givoni/Sari Hanafi, eds: The Power of Inclusive Exclusion: Anatomy of Israeli Rule in the Occupied Territories (2009, Zone Books): Big (650 pp) book, drawing on 19 contributors, looks at all aspects of Israel's occupation system.

Jurgen Osterhammel/Niels P Petersson: Globalization: A Short History (paperback, 2009, Princeton University Press): German historians, start in prehistory, find a "golden age" in the 1970s (of all times), all in less than 200 pp.

Benjamin I Page/Lawrence R Jacobs: Class War?: What Americans Really Think About Economic Inequality (paperback, 2009, University of Chicago Press): Short book (160 pp), does some polling and finds mass support for "conservative egalitarianism" -- i.e., some inequality is merited but more equality is better.

Fred Pearce: The Coming Population Crash: And Our Planet's Surprising Future (2010, Beacon Press): Science writer, has written some fairly inflammatory things on global warming (e.g., The Last Generation: How Nature Will Take Her Revenge for Climate Change) and an alarmist book on water shortages (When the Rivers Run Dry: Water -- The Defining Crisis of the Twenty-First Century), so his relatively moderate take on population growth, which he sees ending but not really crashing, is a bit of a surprise.

Henry Pollack: A World Without Ice (2009, Avery): Geophysicist, evidently an expert in paleoclimatology, writes about global warming. Pollack is described as "a co-winner of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize" with his foreword-writer Al Gore, but most likely that just means that he contributed to the IPCC reports. Pollack previously wrote Uncertain Science . . . Uncertain World, which doesn't seem like a book committed to pushing an agenda.

David Remnick: The Bridge: The Life and Rise of Barack Obama (2010, Knopf): New Yorker editor, his frequent pieces on Israel make me cringe, although on most other subjects he seems to be a reasonable liberal, a good writer, a dilligent researcher. Big (672 pp) biography, very likely the best general background book available on Obama. Previously wrote King of the World, about Muhammad Ali, which must now seem like useful practice.

Elizabeth D Samet: Soldier's Heart: Reading Literature Through Peace and War at West Point (2007, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Tom Engelhardt put this high up on a recommended book list a couple of years ago, which is the only reason I was ever tempted by it. Well, also have a fondness for meta-lit, ever since I discovered how much more fun it was to read Leslie Fiedler than the books he wrote about. My least interest is in the military mind, which is less interesting than no mind at all.

Ron Schalow: Bullshit Artist: The 9/11 Leadership Myth (paperback, 2006, Book Surge): Focuses on the day Bush met history, Sept. 11, 2001 -- a mixture of reporting and screed. I can't fault Bush for not knowing what to do, let alone not doing it, as the day unfolded. His real crimes came later, fully dressed up in leadership myth as he delivered us into blind, stupid war.

Simon Schama: The American Future: A History (2009, Harper Collins): Viewed through the prism of the 2008 presidential election, or maybe just a book on the election as a springboard to an excursus on American history.

Nancy Sherman: The Untold War: Inside the Hearts, Minds, and Souls of Our Soldiers (2010, WW Norton): Philosopher, ethicist, psychoanalyst investigates psychological and moral burdens of soldiers, mostly US in Iraq and Afghanistan but some others. Previously wrote Stoic Warriors: The Ancient Philosophy Behind the Military Mind, which seems to have been more stuck on the philosophy side -- Sherman taught ethics at the US Naval Academy. I'm dubious about the analytical framework, but the case histories no doubt reveal the damage caused by experience of war to minds that were none too healthy in the first place.

Michael Specter: Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives (2009, Penguin Press): Examines the revolt against science, or "progress" as he generalizes it, especially for reasons of political ideology which he blames on the left as well as the right. Amazon reviews are evenly scattered, not diametrically opposed.

Kristin Swenson: Bible Babel: Making Sense of the Most Talked About Book of All Time (2010, Harper): I read Karen Armstrong's The Bible: A Biography, which helped with the broad historical view but wound up about half as long as this one, which seems to go more into interpretation of specific texts.

Roger Thurow/Scott Kilman: Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty (2009, Public Affairs): Famines in Africa, agricultural policy in the US and Europe, politics and business everywhere.

Jason Vuic: The Yugo: The Rise and Fall of the Worst Car in History (2010, Hill and Wang): Released in 1985 at $3990, at the time the cheapest car on the American market, barely under the newly released Hyundai. The only car from a Communist country ever released in the US. (I think; I knew someone who owned a Skoda, but I'm not sure how he got it.) Good idea, but not good enough a car to survive a hostile market, which liked to joke how overpriced it still was.

Chris Wickham: The Inheritance of Rome: Illuminating the Dark Ages, 400-1000 (2009, Viking): One of several recent books arguing that the Dark Ages weren't so dark. Previously wrote Framing the Early Middle Ages: Europe and the Mediterranean, 400-800.

Barton Gellman: Angler: The Cheney Vice Presidency (2008; paperback, 2009, Penguin): Standard biography, at least for the eight years when Cheney was the worst vice-president in history. Does a good job of showing how Cheney was able to grab power early in the Bush regime. Also suggests that he lost his grip after the downfall of Scooter Libby, although it was also true that he was losing his grip on staffing more generally, and that he suffered some degradation due to what you might call job performance. I read this, but haven't typed my notes up yet. [book page]

William Greider: Come Home, America: The Rise and Fall (and Redeeming Promise) of Our Country (2009; paperback, 2010. Rodale): Having written pathbreaking books on the major political issues of our age -- Secrets of the Temple on the Fed and the financial system, One World, Ready of Not on globalization, and Fortress America on the imperial military-industrial complex -- he's settled into a mode of gently reminding us that democracy is still here for the taking. [book page]

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Lies, Damn Lies, and Focus Groups

Gabriel Winant: You don't know Orwellian until you know Frank Luntz: Luntz's specialty is creating those annoying catchphrases that do so much to obscure and confuse real issues, like "death tax" to characterize estate taxes -- which if seriously implemented and seriously progressive would help limit the concentration of wealth in inherited aristocracies, as well as raise significant taxes in a way that creates no drag on the economy. (Estate taxes are almost unique in that even a 100% tax would have no behavioral effect -- people are no more or less likely to die regardless of the tax rate. Moreover, they would be especially effective in stimulating the economy, as they would force the liquidation of pent-up assets.) Luntz provided much of the noise on the health care and finance reform debates, but he's not just a reactionary strategist and ideologue, like Grover Norquist and William Kristol. The deeper problem is that what he does is profoundly destructive of communication, and as such of reason. He reduces words to tools for manipulation, to weapons for hidden purposes. As such, he seeks to undermine communication, and ultimately reason. He harkens a new dark age, where we parry slogans like brand names, unable to understand what's going and unable to reason our way back to reality. Tastes great! Less filling! All other alternatives excluded.

Needless to say, there's nothing terribly original about Luntz. The advertising trade broke the ground he treads on, an arena of deceitfulness that largely succeeded because so little of import actually dependend on it. I still believe that the single thing that did the most damage to American political discourse -- that, increasingly, is making discourse impossible -- was advertising-supported television.

Matthew Yglesias: Higher Taxes: The Solution to Obscene Wall Street Profits: One thing people that hardly ever comes up in griping about the obscene growth in executive pay is the growth has taken place in the context of significantly lowering tax rates on that same pay. The same trend applies to the entire finance industry, which represents a little less than 20% of the economy but typically captures more like 40% of all corporate profits -- and that's generally after the obscene salaries and bonuses and the like have been taken out.

Perhaps the best way to look at this is to turn the equation around. It is often said that raising marginal tax rates on the rich would be counterproductive because it would reduce their incentive to invest and make more money, which is supposedly crucial for driving the economy. This never made much sense to me. Maybe a worker would cut back on extra hours if taxed at an exorbitant rate -- for argument's purposes, the workers in this example usually turn out to be brain surgeons -- but people who make their money off their money have little time and leisure to gain by not working their money, even if the real return is very much diminished by taxes. What high taxes would do to them is to shift their focus from short-term gains to long-term accumulation -- it's hard to see that as a negative in an economy where there is way too much short-term focus. What is diminished in a high marginal tax world is the value of higher salaries -- the bigger the tax cut, the less they're worth seeking, and the less they're worth paying out.

Of course, that's just hypothetical thinking. There's a real world test case we can consult: in the 1940s and 1950s top income tax rates in the US climbed to 90%; during those same years the economy grew at rates never equalled before or since. The finance industry was much more regulated then, but managed to thrive while extracting far less toll from the economy. The more equitable economy translated into a dominant middle class. Moreover, there are other examples, especially in Europe. And there are counterexamples, especially in kleptocracies where government honchos like Suharto and Mobutu were able to suck up multi-billion-dollar fortunes tax free.

So I think the conclusion has to be that higher marginal taxes on the rich is a win-win proposition: more tax revenue, which can be redistributed downward to counter all the ways the rich get richer; but also more cautious, longer-term, less larcenous behavior from the rich.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 16605 [16567] rated (+38), 801 [786] unrated (+15). Listened to a lot of stuff on Rhapsody this past week, including virtually all of the Live From Austin TX series: always good for a big ratings boost. Not much of anything else. Allergies are awful. Housework is going slow but making progress.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #23, Part 9)

Not much below, especially for two weeks. Allergies are hurting bad, and various other things distract me away from the computer. Spent a lot of time on Rhapsody, so actually my rated count is pretty high for the week, crossing 16600. Mail picked up a bit too, after lagging for a couple of weeks, so unrated count edged up over 800 again. Still in good shape for an early Jazz CG.

Should have a couple of corrections on previous notes, but don't have them written up yet. Unpacking is also incomplete.

Gabriel Johnson: Fra_ctured (2009 [2010], Electrofone): After Robert Christgau A-listed this, citing Jon Hassell and Nils Petter Molvaer (and Miles Davis) as antecedents, and Chris Monsen added it to his 2010-in-progress list I had high expectations here, but never could quite hear whatever it was that I expected -- beats, I think. Rather, what I'm hearing (after way too many plays) is soundtrack electronica, closer to Morricone than to Miles, darker but with grandiose gestures. Don't get much out of his PR bios, which are as oblique and opaque as his music. Seems to have played everything here, or at least sampled it, but the trumpet is authentic. B+(***)

Satoko Fujii Ma-Do: Desert Ship (2009 [2010], Not Two): Japanese quartet, with Fujii on piano, Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass, and Akira Horikoshi on drums. Played this five times in a row and don't have a lot to say about it. Seems to work in bits without taking shape as a whole. Tamura as many strong spots, and the bass is a powerful presence. Fujii, too, when she feels like it, which isn't all that often. B+(**)

Gato Libre: Shiro (2009 [2010], Libra): Trumpet player Natsuki Tamura's group, with wife Satoko Fujii taking a back seat on accordion, Kazuhiko Tsumura on guitar, and Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass. At its best (cf. Nomad) this group could channel a Euro folk vibe, largely aided by the accordion; here it tends to flounder, with the guitar lyrical, the accordion in the background, the trumpet neither here nor there. Second album in a role I found myself focusing on Koreyasu. B+(*)

Satoko Fujii Orchestra Tokyo: Zakopane (2009 [2010], Libra): Conventionally-sized big band: 5 reeds, 4 trumpets, 3 trombones (no bass trombone), guitar, bass, drums, no piano -- Fujii composed and conducts, but does not play. B+(***)

Jason Adasiewicz's Rolldown: Varmint (2008 [2009], Cuneiform): Vibraphonist, based in Chicago, the guy everyone else in Chicago goes to when they want a splash of vibes. Second album; the group now named after their first album. In Josh Berman (cornet) and Aram Shelton (alto sax, clarinet) he has two first-rate horn options, each contributing remarkable solos here. In Jason Roebke (bass) and Frank Rosaly (drums) he has a flexible rhythm section. All four are well known from numerous Chicago groups. Loose freebop, lots of space for the vibes to open up. B+(***)

Mose Allison: The Way of the World (2009 [2010], Anti-): Pianist-singer, b. 1927, first albums date back to mid-1950s; first album since 2000. Joe Henry produced, presumably came up with the idea. Songs are uneven, but "My Brain" is a cool little cluster of perpetual inquisitiveness, "Modest Proposal" is the best one I've heard in quite some while; he's also the only jazz singer perfectly at home covering Loudon Wainwright III. B+(***)

The Wee Trio: Capitol Diner Vol. 2: Animal Style (2010, Bionic): James Westfall (vibes), Dan Loomis (bass), Jared Schonig (drums). Second album, following Capitol Diner Vol. 1, recorded in 2007. No recording date offered here, but their MySpace page says this was recorded "shortly after" the first volume. I found the first volume quite engaging, but this one sailed past me without evoking much interest. B

Alan Ferber: Music for Nonet and Strings/Chamber Songs (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Trombonist, b. 1975, based in Brooklyn, third album including a previous nonet on Fresh Sound I was impressed with, plus quite a bit of side work -- John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble stands out. I recognize about half of the strings, conducted by J.C. Sanford, from previous jazz work. The nonet has a wide pallette of sounds, notably including Scott Wendholt on trumpet, John Ellis on tenor sax, and Nate Radley on guitar. Takes some concentration to get past the third stream thing, but lots of rewarding details. B+(*)

Frank Glover: Abacus (2009 [2010], Owl Studios): Plays clarinet and soprano sax. Based in Indianapolis. Has a half-dozen or so albums since 1991. This one is for quartet plus orchestra, the latter conducted by Dean Franke -- credits only list names, nineteen of them. The orchestra tends to overwhelm the clarinet, and early on this reminded me of the classical music I used to zero the volume on during my "required listening." Gets better toward the end, mostly because the rhythm picks up. B- [May 11]

Bob Greene: St. Peter Street Strutters (1964 [2009], Delmark): Pianist, b. 1922, later organized a group called World of Jelly Roll Morton -- they have a record recorded in 1982, released by GHB in 1994; as far as I know Greene's only other record. Group here is a very trad jazz quartet, with Ernie Carson on cornet, Shorty Johnson on tuba, and Steve Larner on banjo. Carson, 27 at the time, is by far the best known. So old-fashioned swing would be showing off. Still, I've been enjoying this a lot, especially driving around where I'm not obligated to figure things out. B+(***)

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail the last two weeks (give or take a couple of days):

  • Antonio Adolfo/Carol Saboya: Lá e Cá/Here and There (AAM)
  • Jeff Antoniuk and the Jazz Update: Brotherhood (JAJU)
  • Judith Berkson: Oylam (ECM): advance, May 25
  • Steve Cardenas: West of Middle (Sunnyside): May 25
  • Bill Carrothers: Joy Spring (Pirouet)
  • Dave Douglas: Spirit Moves (Greenleaf Music)
  • Dave Douglas: A Single Sky (Greenleaf Music)
  • Jacob Duncan/John Goldsby/Jason Tiemann: The Innkeeper's Gun (Base Lion Music)
  • Peter Epstein & Idée Fixe: Abstract Realism (Origin)
  • Lena Horne Sings: The M-G-M Singles (1946-48, Verve/Hip-O Select)
  • Manu Katché: Third Round (ECM): advance, June 22
  • Wolfgang Muthspiel & Mick Goodrick: Live at the Jazz Standard (Material)
  • Andrew Oliver Sextet: 82% Chance of Rain (OA2)
  • Polar Bear: Peepers (Leaf Label)
  • Ellen Rowe Quartet: Wishing Well (PKO)
  • Speak (Origin)
  • The Stryker/Slagle Band: Keeper (Panorama): June 1
  • Steve Swell's Slammin' the Infinite: 5000 Poems (Not Two)
  • Gabor Szabo: Jazz Raga (1967 [2010], Light in the Attic)
  • Trichotomy: Variations (Naim Jazz): July 13
  • Wellstone Conspiracy: Motives (Origin)
  • Lenny White: Anomaly (Abstract Logix)
  • Michael Zilber: The Billy Collins Project: Eleven on Turning Ten (OA2)

Sunday, April 18, 2010

One More

Movie: The Ghost Writer: Film by Roman Polanski, about a deposed British Prime Minister with a long history of servitude to and seconding of the United States, including roles in American wars in the Middle East and possible war crimes, and a ghost writer picked to help out with the PM's memoirs. Ewan McGregor plays the writer; Pierce Brosnan the PM. McGregor replaced a previous writer who had somewhat mysteriously perished from a ferry, and who had left evidence that compromised Brosnan's background story. The plot machinations aren't that important, although the CIA will be flattered both to find out that they were able to manipulate a foreign government over decades and that they were so effective at killing people who might blow the story open. Brosnan's crimes seem unlikely to provoke either the ICC or the sudden mass of protestors -- Tony Blair never did, nor does George Bush appear to have much to worry about even though he did far worse -- but I suppose Polanski is free to dream of a better world. One thing he does enjoy here is the notion that the PM/war criminal should be forced to take refuge in the United States, the country that currently regards Polanski as a famous fugitive from justice. Some justice. A-

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Movie Shorts

Movie: Green Zone: Not often that I've read the book a movie is putatively based on, but I did make it through Rajiv Chandrasekaran's Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq's Green Zone. You might as well read the quotes since you won't get any of the information much less the flavor from Paul Greengrass's movie, which abbreviates a good deal more than the title, and makes up so much stuff you wonder why they didn't go all the way and make up new names for Baghdad and Iraq -- the answer there was probably that the scenarios of mass destruction were too tempting. The background scenes and the thick swell of anonymous people are the most noteworthy parts of the movie. Matt Damon is determined to get to the bottom of the WMD nonsense, but his aperçu that General Al-Rawi is informant "Magellan" is based on nothing more than the concidence of Al-Rawi travelling to Jordan at the same time as Greg Kinnear's character -- didn't Jordan in due course turn out to be where anyone met everyone? Searching for someone in the US government to be less stupid than Kinnear, Greengrass appoints the CIA chief, played by Brendan Gleeson, a role I see "loosely based on Jay Garner" (i.e., not on anyone actually in the CIA). The cat-and-mouse game between Damon and Al-Rawi provides a few chase sequences, where the US forces, riding humvees and helicopters, are so burdened down with armor and gear they resemble nothing more than clunky reptillian alien invaders -- a half-movie idea given that they couldn't bother to characterize any of the victims of the invasion, except for a translator named "Freddy," who manages to get off the one true line of the story, telling Damon that it's not America's right to decide what happens in his country. B

Movie: Crazy Heart: Jeff Bridges is bad enough as Bad Blake in a country music-alcohol-rehab rehab film that doesn't get too cute or clever yet which still manages some uplift. B+

Movie: Shutter Island: Martin Scorsese film, based on Dennis Lehane novel, with Leonardo DiCaprio a marshall supposed to be investigating curious events at a Massachusetts Bay jail for the criminally insane before he and the film fall off the deep end. Flashbacks to the dead at Dachau and elsewhere unhinge any sense of reality, as does an improbably providential storm. C+

Movie: The Messenger: An injured Iraq War veteran assigned to the Army's Casualty Notification service (Ben Foster), partnered with a frustrated Captain who got no more than a cup of coffee in the first Iraq War. They serve notice on a half dozen next-of-kins, with a range of reactions, a fair cross section of the recruit class -- no doubt more poignant for focusing on the families as opposed to the soldiers. Samantha Morton has a strong part as one of the bereaved -- her stoicism attracts Foster, but I was more impressed the one time she lost it, chasing off a pair of Army recruiters at a local mall. As for Woody Harrelson, who got the raves including an Oscar nomination, he reminds me of why is revered for its discipline but deep down is simply fucked up. A-

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sounds of the City

Robert Christgau: Charlie Gillett, 1942-2010: Thought I'd point this out since it adds something to the little I had to say about the late British rock critic/DJ Charlie Gillett. I'll add that his book, The Sound of the City, loomed large for us in the first issue of Terminal Zone: Paul Yamada featured it in a piece, and I read the book to make sure Yamada wasn't pulling anything on me. Learned a lot, including my first acquaintance with Louis Jordan. I never tracked down those comps Christgau featured in his consumer guides, although by this point I imagine there's little from Memphis or New Orleans that I don't have in some form. That first issue of Terminal Zone was the point when I turned from writing up my subjective tastes to putting the music I wrote about into some form of historical framework.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Afghanistan Again

David Miliband: How to End the War in Afghanistan: I posted my schematic for ending the war in Afghanistan on Monday. The April 29 issue of The New York Review of Books arrived the next day, with a sketch of Hamid Karzai on the cover and a big banner for Miliband's title. Figured I should read it, albeit with some nervousness, like the expert author was checking my work. False alarm, as it turns out. Miliband's a the UK's foreign secretary -- remember when NYRB used to feature real critics instead of schmoozy insiders like Miliband and Peter Galbraith? Miliband does agree on the need to decentralize Afghanistan's government, and on the need for an international agreement to eliminate the outsiders' tug-of-war that has torn Afghanistan apart, although in neither case does he take the point as far to heart as I did. On the other hand, he misses the simplest, most straightforward point: the first (and most important) step to ending the war is to stop the shooting. He acknowledges that Afghans don't like foreign troops, but then he praises those troops and promises to keep them there -- as far as I can tell, forever:

The achievements of the last eight years would not have been possible were it not for the tireless efforts and unstinting bravery of our troops. Without them, the insurgency would have overwhelmed the Afghan government and probably overrun Kabul. Our development work would have ground to a halt. And al-Qaeda would have seized more space to plan its terrorist atrocities.

The work ahead -- on each of these fronts -- is both clear and pressing. The additional troops that the United States, Britain, and others are deploying are vital if progress is to be made. Britain's commitment and determination will endure until we have achieved our shared objective -- an Afghanistan that must not again be used as a basis for international terrorism.

However, even on the most optimistic reading of present plans, the Afghan authorities will not be able to govern their land in sustainable or acceptable ways unless the scale of the insurgency itself is reduced. And only then will we be able to withdraw our forces confident that we will not have to return. The strengthened efforts of our military forces are an important part of this. As General McChrystal said recently, the role of the military is to "try to shape conditions which allow people to come to a truly equitable solution to how the Afghan people are governed."

As should be clear by now, it doesn't matter what General McChrystal says. What matters is what his troops do, and they mostly do what they were trained to do: kill people. That's their nature, and the failure of people like Miliband -- all politicians in the US and UK seem to feel duty-bound to pay obeisance to the troops, a trap which prevents them from comprehending what their policies really mean.

There is no military solution to Afghanistan. Thee is only a political solution, and that political solution requires that everyone voluntarily put their guns away. That necessarily means that we have to leave. It also means that Afghans have to learn to treat each other better: they need to develop a more civil and a more equitable society. I don't know how they do that, but it's clear that we aren't the solution -- in fact, we aren't all that good at it ourselves. If we were, our reaction to reading Miliband's boast that now 80% of Aghans have access to health care wouldn't be: wish that were true here.

Tony Judt: Ill Fares the Land: Better reading in the April 29 NYRB, an excerpt from Judt's short book on how decent societies were built in Europe and America before the right started tearing them apart. This was a world that Afghans might indeed have envied and aspired to, but especially in America it has started to crumble. (See especially this photo, which reminds us that neglect can ultimately take the sort of toll that bombs render instantaneously.)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Target Practice

Update below

Matthew Yglesias: Casualty-Minimization in Theory and in Practice: For all the Generals talking about how we need to stop killing civilians in Afghanistan, about how such incidents only redound to fand resistance to the occupation, the reality is pretty much same as it ever was. For example:

American troops raked a large passenger bus with gunfire near the southern city of Kandahar on Monday morning, killing as many as five civilians and wounding 18, Afghan authorities and survivors said. [ . . . ] Hundreds of demonstrators gathered around a bus station on the western outskirts of Kandahar, shouting anti-American chants and blocking the road for an hour, according to people in the area.

This is pretty much the nature of the US military. For that matter, it's pretty much the temper of the American people: shoot first and ask questions later. After all, we presume the right to self-defense, even on the far side of the world. If you want to change that policy, you have to start prosecuting every soldier who kills unnecessarily, regardless of inevitably limited information. Do that and you'll get revolts both in the ranks and among the war supporters back home. Don't do that and you'll keep taking a step or two backwards for every step forward, creating a hopeless situation in Afghanistan. Actually, that's what we've been doing all along, so the right word is perpetuating rather than creating.

Stephen Walt: On that viral video from Baghdad: The video -- I've only seen the short version -- shows a US helicopter crew shooting up a group of people in a Baghdad suburb, killing a dozen civilians including two Reuters journalists: evidently their cameras were misidentified as weapons. Note that the helicopter crew was not at any risk. They were just out looking for something to shoot. It's what they signed up to do. It's what they do. And by making more and more enemies, it's what you call job security. [Glenn Greenwald has more on this here and here. Also: Tom Engelhardt.]

Someone asked me a while back what we should be doing in Afghanistan. I didn't have a real coherent answer in store, but thought I'd try to sketch out one here:

  1. Declare a unilateral seize fire, ending all offensive operations, and freezing current force levels, bases, and logistics. (Presumably it wouldn't be hard to twist NATO's arm to go along.) Forces could still return fire if fired upon, but would not go looking for trouble. It is imperative that the US stop compounding the violence that has become endemic in Afghanistan ever since 1979, when the USSR and the US started interfering in Afghan affairs.
  2. Start planning for a gradual withdrawal of all foreign troops and their war materiel from Afghanistan. Withdraw such troops and materiel at a judicious rate -- slower if attacks persist, faster if violence subsides.
  3. Arrange a set of international agreements to prohibit foreign contributions to arming or supporting any Afghan insurgent factions, and to prohibit any bilateral aid to Afghanistan. Instead, all aid would be funneled through a UN-managed development bank, which would be instructed to approve grants and loans based upon proven records of maintaining peaceful order, eliminating corruption, and achieving planned goals. This bank should be funded initially by proportionally assessing all nations that have contributed to Afghanistan's wars in one form or another since 1975.
  4. Convene a loya jirga to reconstitute the Afghan government. This government should be a weak federation of largely independent provincial governments, each free to constitute its own government, laws, and institutional frameworks including police. The central authority, working with the UN, would certify fair elections in the provinces, which in turn would make the provinces eligible for bank aid. Any provinces not so certified would be isolated but left alone. The expectation here is that the Taliban would assume power in some number of provinces, but would be contained to those provinces. Moreover, if the Taliban actually had majority support in a province, it would benefit from holding fair elections and becoming certified to join the Afghan federation. In any case, it should be simpler to sort out stable power relationships in the vast majority of 34 provinces than to build an effective central administration, as has been attempted (and largely failed) since 2002.
  5. A residual international security force would remain, partly constituted from NATO forces, with its charter limited to a single case: defending any one province, at its request, against aggression originating in any other province. This force should be disbanded if it is unused for a substantial period of time -- e.g., 5 years. The force would not directly report to any nation, including the central authority in Afghanistan.

I could throw in more nice-to-see details, such as that groups of provinces could agree on things like customs unions, but that starts to get presumptuous. Indeed, if a province prefers to have its government selected by loya jirga as opposed to elections, that may still be a reasonable concession. One would like to have a court system whereby someone unfairly convicted in provincial court could be freed on appeal. One would like to have a central power that could prosecute corruption. But the critical thing right now is to establish more-or-less popular order, even if it isn't ideal, to get the foreign troops out of the country, and to provide a fair and orderly system for redevelopment. The scheme here attempts to do exactly that: little more but no less.

The federal system I propose here is much looser than the United States ever was, even under the Articles of Confederation. Provinces can, for instance, levy tariffs. Although free trade dogma decries such things, they are for starters the easiest way of establishing a simple tax system, which any government needs. They also correspond to the current system of shakedown bribes on trucking, which they would quickly supplant. The main thing the provinces would not be able to do is to conduct foreign policy beyond Afghanistan.

One more thing not mentioned here is the drug trade. I believe that Afghans would be best off to simply legalize the drug trade, to legitimize it within the country then let the drugs slip into unregulated black boxes for export, at which point they become somebody else's problem. One of the key things to resolve is the sense that outside countries are imposing their ways upon Afghans, and any outside focus on the drug trade simply adds to that. In particular, Afghanistan has so little opportunity for earning export dollars that it seems unfair to strip them of any one.

As for Al Qaeda, keep your warrants warm but otherwise don't sweat it. Ending the war and the occupation will leave them with little if any relevance let alone legitimacy, and in the end that matters far more than revenge. Stop the killing first. End the squandering of wealth and the enrichment of crooks. Clear up the perception that outsiders are going to tell Afghans how to live or how to run their affairs. Take the first steps unilaterally, and slow down or back up only to stave off a collapse into chaos, and only temporarily at that. Realize you aren't wanted, you're not needed, and in the end you're not going to wind up doing anything useful or worthwhile. Be aware that no matter what anyone says, the only thing the US military is truly good at is target practice.

Update: Also see Glenn Greenwald on the bus incident, and more, like a new snuff film of a US airstrike that killed close to 100 Afghan civilians (alleged at the time to be Taliban, of course).

Monday, April 12, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 16569 [16537] rated (+32), 786 [790] unrated (-4). Jazz Consumer Guide came out, but I fell into some doldrums and didn't follow up with much Jazz Prospecting. Rather, I spent a good deal of the week on Recycled Goods, Rhapsody, and Book Notes, as well as working on the house, then wound up slammed hard by allergy season.

No Jazz Prospecting

With Jazz Consumer Guide finally in the Village Voice this week, I found myself distracted. Played a few new jazz releases, but had trouble writing even cursory notes on them -- some stuck in rotation 5-6 times without inspiring me -- so wound up short of my minimum. Of course, there were other distractions that made it hard to focus: repainting a couple of rooms, building some (badly needed) CD shelves. Also got slammed by the tree pollen. Should have something next week. But with another publication date a couple of months off, this is a good time to get something else done.

Outrage Justified

Laura Tillem letter in the Wichita Eagle today, titled "Many Opposed":

"Hypocritical outrage" (April 7 Letters to the Editor) implied that "almost all of the Democrats in Congress" thought Saddam Hussein was such a danger to the United States that they voted for the Iraq war resolution. But this was not true. In the Senate, 29 Democrats voted for the war and 21 against. In the House, only 81 Democrats voted for the war and 126 voted against.

I agree that Bill and Hillary Clinton did a lot to push for an Iraq war while he was president and when she was in the Senate. But that just proves they thought it would make them look good. Oops.

And President Bush did lie. He claimed the intelligence said Iraq had weapons of mass destruction. Most of the intelligence contradicted that, including from the United Nations inspectors.

The notion that the Iraq War was a bipartisan effort obfuscates reality. The decision to go to war was made in the White House, by George W. Bush and a few critical advisers. Once they decided for war, they orchestrated a campaign to line up support, including that of Democrats in Congress. They carefully selected which intelligence findings to popularize, including pure fabrications, and roled them out in a tightly orchestrated propaganda blitz, discarding anything that didn't fit their schemes -- up to and including Army Chief of Staff Gen. Eric Shinseki. They even went so far as to invent a new doctrine of preëmptive war to take out their imaginary WMD threats. (In fact, the whole WMD coinage was concocted to conflate chemical weapons, which Iraq had previously used, with biological and nuclear weapons.) Lots of people were snowed by this blitz, including most of the media -- Judith Miller, of the so-called liberal New York Times, was their most effective mouthpiece. Then they twisted arms on Congress, passed a weakly worded resolution, and got the UN to go with an even weaker resolution, at which point they declared their war authorized.

This has all been well documented for so long it's shameful or just plain ignorant to argue otherwise: see especially Greg Mitchell's So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits -- and the President -- Failed on Iraq. The war where Democrats are more culpable is Afghanistan. Only Barbara Lee voted against the post-9/11 resolution that gave Bush carte blanche to launch his Global War on Terrorism. That vote tore Afghanistan to shreds, destabilized Pakistan, set up the war in Iraq, left the neocons licking their chops in their quest for Tehran, set off proxy wars from Lebanon to Somalia, made the Israel-Palestine conflict all that more intractable, breathed new life into moribund Islamist movements; and wasted a decade, thousands of American lives and trillions of American dollars in a selfish, fruitless, and ultimately self-defeating fit of vengeance. You can blame the Democrats for not opposing that, at least not soon enough; even so, Lee is a Democrat, and the one person who could have put a halt to this madness, president Bush, was not.

PS: Someone called today arguing that Laura had misrepresented the "Hypocritical outrage" letter: that the point was that everyone believed that Iraq had WMD, not that both parties were equally guilty of voting for the war. The only way one could believe that everyone believed that was to burrow inside a cocoon where Bush's propaganda machine ruled supreme. Congress was especially susceptible to such manipulation because Bush's operatives could take Senators and Representatives into closed rooms and show them classified "intelligence" selected to fit their story line. The shroud of secrecy worked especially well for Bush's purposes, as so many people foolishly assumed that he wouldn't be so convinced of the need for action unless he knew something we didn't.

Still, there was plenty of reason at the time to think otherwise. Scott Ritter was travelling around the country pointing out that he had seen the inspections work to root out Iraq's clandestine weapons programs. And much of the stovepiped evidence didn't withstand scrutiny: recall the famous aluminum tubes, and the forged documents about Iraq trying to buy uranium in Niger. Perhaps the most damning piece of evidence was Bush's eagerness to shut down the renewed UN inspections operation, which would have found anything real in short order. The war could easily have been avoided had Bush let the inspections proceed, which is why he moved so fast to shut them down.

Of course, there were people who bought the story that Iraq had WMD -- chemical weapons were the low bar there -- but still opposed going to war over them. But for most such people the WMD issue was irrelevant: the war was a bad idea in the first place, Iraq was never a threat to the US, and the way to deal with Iraqi WMD was inspections. Still, no one outside of the Bush administration had any evidence that Iraq possessed WMDs. To say that everyone knew puts an awfully low bar on knowledge: only the CIA had sources and resources to investigate the matter, and they were committed to supporting Bush. The only way anyone else could "know" that Iraq had WMD was by crediting what Bush was saying. That turned out to be a gross mistake, but it wasn't a case of spontaneous mass hysteria: it was consciously orchestrated by people who knew better.

We should draw some lessons from this episode. For one thing, the CIA is intrinsically compromised in at least two ways, which make it undependable and dangerous. The first is that it operates under a shroud of secrecy where its findings are not subject to outside review. Lack of outside review invites this sort of scam. Second is that the CIA reports to the president, which automatically lines it up under a political agenda. That's less obvious when wars are less controversial, but one thing that Bush has done was to show us how war can be a tool for the advancement of the president's party over democracy. Today, support for war and opposition to war has become largely partisan, even if many Democrats in Washington haven't gotten the message yet.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Heinberg's Hell

Reading Richard Heinberg's Blackout: Coal, Climate and the Last Energy Crisis (paperback, 2009, New Society) is quite the bummer. Heinberg has written a number of gloomy books about a near future where oil production has peaked and is in permanent decline (e.g., The Party's Over: Oil, War and the Fate of Industrial Societies and Peak Everything: Waking Up to the Century of Declines). His most profound insight has been the upslope correlation between energy use and population, with the implication that once energy use peaks -- we draw so much energy from petroleum that the two are close to inextricably linked -- population too will be forced into decline. In previous books he has been similarly pessimistic about coal and nuclear. Here he addresses coal in much more details, and comes up with a triple whammy: peak oil is imminent (if it hasn't already peaked) with a fairly steep decline over the next 30-40 years; estimates of hundreds of years worth of coal reserves are shriveling as declining quality and increasing extraction and transportation costs marginalize coal fields; plus any coal that we do manage to burn just adds to a near apocalyptic climate problem. In short, he has combined three worst case scenarios into a massive economic decline in short order -- well within the expected lifetimes of today's youngsters.

Heinberg posits three hypothetical scenarios: a "do nothing" which actually allows for a lot of wind, solar, and nuclear, with disastrous results; a major "clean coal" push, which does little better (it does slow down coal depletion a bit); and a presumably recommended solution that involves a lot of government-managed rationing -- in some ways that's even more of a bummer than the "do nothing" trainwreck. I'm sympathetic to each of the arguments, and the long thrust of my thinking is to come up with ways not so much to solve these problem as to live within resource limits, but I always figured we have more time to work it all out. For instance, the way the world works now means that post-peak oil scarcity will be rationed through higher prices which will in turn reduce demand, first by wringing most of the unnecessary consumption out of the system, then eventually by imposing all sorts of hardships. This will mean that the world 30 years after peak will be much different than now, and it probably means that the economy will be somewhat smaller. There are things we can do about it to make the transition less painful, and most likely we will not do many of them, but even so it won't be for lack of understanding or ideas -- it's more because so many people only learn things the hard way.

Climate change is trickier for lots of reasons: it's less clear what's happening, and it's less clear how hard it will be to adapt to whatever does happen, but most of all because some climate change functions are catastrophic -- minor changes can push past thresholds where the results radically change. My impression is that thus far we've been pretty lucky that greenhouse gas warming hasn't disrupted the climate more than it has, but that happens sometimes when you're gambling, and there's no guarantee that luck won't change. (In fact, if luck is the right word, it will change.)

Paul Krugman: Building a Green Economy: Straightforward survey of most of the serious thinking on the economics of doing something about anthropogenic climate change. Sure, that means he ignores the people who deny that there's a problem or who deny that there is a solution, which leaves several arguments: command or market (cap-and-trade) approaches to limiting greenhouse gases, differences in urgency (gradual ramping or "big bang"; I would have named the latter "shock treatment," drawing an analogy to the forced privatization that wrecked post-Soviet Russia). One thing of note viz. Heinberg above is that Krugman cites various studies concluding that the costs of doing nothing, resulting in a global temperature rise of up to 9 degrees F, are on the order of 5% of GDP, while the costs of limiting emissions is more like 2% of GDP. Both of these numbers seem small, not things that would radically alter our way of life -- pace Heinberg. They are, however, far from certain. One key paragraph:

You might think that this uncertainty weakens the case for action, but it actually strengthens it. As Harvard's Martin Weitzman has argued in several influential papers, if there is a significant chance of utter catastrophe, that chance -- rather than what is most likely to happen -- should dominate cost-benefit calculations. And utter catastrophe does look like a realistic possibility, even if it is not the most likely outcome.

Weitzman argues -- and I agree -- that this risk of catastrophe, rather than the details of cost-benefit calculations, makes the most powerful case for strong climate policy. Current projections of global warming in the absence of action are just too close to the kinds of numbers associated with doomsday scenarios. It would be irresponsible -- it's tempting to say criminally irresponsible -- not to step back from what could all too easily turn out to be the edge of a cliff.

Andrew Leonard: Paging Paul Krugman: More apocalypse, please: A brief comment on the above piece, mostly dealing with the issue of whether Krugman was forceful enough in describing the dire consequences of unchecked global warming. More relevant to my concerns viz. Heinberg:

Maybe economists are just constitutionally incapable of imagining a future without an economy?

Krugman's stock-in-trade is explaining things with simple models. His models can be simple because they assume everything else remains essentially the same. That works all right most of the time, but almost by its very nature doesn't work so well here. In fact, we don't know what works. And the problem isn't doubting the science. It's our ability to understand what it all means. I suspect Krugman understands this well enough: that's why he cites Weitzman. Think of it as a hedge against a really bad possible scenario -- the sort of thing the banking industry didn't do because their models didn't admit the possibility of risk on the level that actually occurred, let alone factor in the cascading failures that ensued. Moreover, the sort of risk we are running on the climate isn't something we can easily fix just by inventing more liquidity. It impacts things like whether land is above or below sea level, whether we can grow food on it and what kind of food, whether we will have adequate water where we want it, at the same time as the fossil fuel energy we have depended on is certain to go into decline.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Book Notes

More book notes, probably the first of two quick sets. Last one was the Banking Books survey on March 24, at which point I looked up a lot of things I couldn't (or didn't need to) use at the moment. Before that I did one on February 25. Only rule here is that I cut off at 40 books, anything that interests me and/or I have something to say about.

George A Akerlof/Rachel E Kranton: Identity Economics: How Our Identities Shape Our Work, Wages, and Well-Being (2010, Princeton University Press): Sounds like another of those shaggy dog stories Akerlof theorized about in Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism. No doubt that there is something to the idea, but the analogous Identity Politics has a nasty reputation, mostly as a refuge for racism and bigotry.

Richard Ames: Going Postal: Rage, Murder, and Rebellion: From Reagan's Workplaces to Clinton's Columbine and Beyond (paperback, 2005, Soft Skull Press): A history of random massacres in the American workplace, symptomatic of something more than the occasional loose hinge. A bit dated, especially at the post-2009 pace, which doesn't make it any less relevant.

Bernard Avishai: The Hebrew Republic: How Secular Democracy and Global Enterprise Will Bring Israel to Peace at Last (2008, Houghton Mifflin): I recently picked up Avishai's 1985 The Tragedy of Zionism: Revolution and Democracy in the Land of Israel (reissued in 2002 with a new subtitle, How Its Revolutionary Past Haunts Israeli Democracy) because it seemed to have a sense of how Ben-Gurion's ostensibly pragmatic tactics locked Israel into an untenable prison of myths. Looks like he has a critical analysis of Israel's internal divisions and how they prolong the conflict, and a fanciful solution that thinks Israel can correct itself and become a normal nation.

John Avlon: Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe is Hijacking America (paperback, 2010, Beast Books): Cover shows Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and Keith Olbermann in the best plague-on-both-your-houses style. Still, for all the author's deliberate centrism -- his previous book was called Independent Nation: How Centism Can Change American Politics -- an Amazon reviewer slams the book as "leftist trash; he's just another socialist who hates the constitution, distorts the truth, and fawns over progressive elitists." After all, you're only right if you're right.

Edwin Black: War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America's Campaign to Create a Master Race (2008, Dialog Press): A history of the eugeneics movement in the US, starting in the early 20th century, successful enough to forcibly sterilize some 60,000 Americans, and ultimately tarnished by association with an analogous movement in Nazi Germany.

Edwin Black: Banking on Baghdad: Inside Iraq's 7,000 Year History of War, Profit, and Conflict (2004; updated ed, 2008, Dialog Press): Mostly recent, of course -- just 42 pp for the first 6,500 years -- as the imperial and corporate plots thicken. Black has mostly written on topics more/less related to Nazi Germany, including his detailing of deals between the Nazis and the Zionists which permitted a number of German Jews to escape to Palestine in the early 1930s: The Transfer Agreement: The Dramatic Story of the Pact Between the Third Reich and Jewish Palestine. He also has a forthcoming book called The Farhud: The Arab-Nazi Alliance in the Holocaust, which tries to link the Nazis to the 1941 anti-British riots in Baghdad via the Mufti of Jerusalem.

Edwin Black: Internal Combustion: How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives (2008, Dialog Press): More muckraking on the political influence of auto and oil corporations, some of which is well known and justified, although they really didn't have to twist arms very hard to sell oil power. Also wrote: The Plan: How to Rescue Society the Day After the Oil Stops -- or the Day Before.

Edwin Black: Nazi Nexus: America's Corporate Connection to Hitler's Holocaust (paperback, 2009, Dialog Press): Previously wrote the more detailed IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation. This is a short (192 pp) summary.

Mark Braverman: Fatal Embrace: Christians, Jews, and the Search for Peace in the Holy Land (paperback, 2010, Synergy Books): American Jew, seems to be sincerely committed to peaceful resolution of the Israel/Palestine conflict, but sees the main problem being the inability of American Jews and Christians to have a meaningful dialogue that gets past myriad preconceptions -- like the long history of anti-semitism up to and including the Holocaust -- and approaches the real issues. Heartfelt, so they say.

Joel Chasnoff: The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid From Chicago Fights Hezbollah -- A Memoir (2010, Free Press): A 24-year-old American, Ivy League grad, failed stand up comic, joins the IDF, a tank brigade full of 18-year-old draftees, just in time to invade Lebanon. Maybe he'll go back to stand up now that he's got some fresh material. Probably won't go back to Lebanon again.

Ted Conover: The Routes of Man: How Roads Are Changing the World and the Way We Live Today (2010, Knopf): A book on scattered travels around the world, focusing on roads and what they mean to people. Peru; Lagos; the West Bank, with apartheid roads for Jewish settlers and checkpoints for Palestinians. Conover previously wrote Coyotes: A Journey Across Borders With America's Illegal Migrants and Rolling Nowhere: Riding the Rails With America's Hoboes.

John D'Agata: About a Mountain (2010, WW Norton): About Yucca Mountain, Nevada, for many years the controversial planned burial site for all the nuclear waste the country can generate. (Obama finally ordered the project shelved and a new study to be done from scratch -- something Harry Reid can remind his angry voters of in the coming election.) A lot of threads come together here, like how can you run a nuclear power industry with no idea how you deal with the waste, or how do you sell a plan when nobody wants it anywhere near them, or what does the government do when everyone shoots holes in the only plan they bothered to come up with?

Robert H Frank: The Economic Naturalist's Field Guide: Common Sense Principles for Troubled Times (2009, Basic Books): Another entry in the "economics can explain everything in everyday life" Freakonomics-niche, following on the heels of the author's The Economic Naturalist: In Search of Explanations for Everyday Enigmas. Has more sense than most economists working this beat, which also implies less flair for perverse contrarianism. [paperback Apr. 27]

Ken Gormley: The Death of American Virtue: Clinton vs. Starr (2010, Crown): Correct me if I'm wrong, but wasn't it Starr vs. Clinton? At 800 pp, it seems unlikely that Gormley left out anything from Ken Starr's mudslinging report, which probably means there is at least some redeeming social content (i.e., smut). A sad, pathetic story, compounded by ill will from all sides, cheered on by a jaded media.

Peter Hessler: Country Driving: A Journey Through China From Farm to Factory (2010, Harper): China-based journalist, wrote an earlier China book that has intrigued me: Oracle Bones: A Journey Through Time in China. This one travels around the fast-changing country, one of the best ways of getting a glimpse.

Dilip Hiro: After Empire: The Birth of a Multipolar World (2010, Nation Books): London-based reporter, has written much that is worthwhile on the Middle East, Central Asia, and oil politics. Book covers rising powers in China and India, and the relative decline of the war-logged United States.

Wang Hui: The End of the Revolution: China and the Limits of Modernity (2010, Verso): Chinese "new left" intellectual, an activist in Tiananmen Square, evidently has a four volume intellectual history of modern China somewhere in the translation mill. Something is happening in China now that we haven't begun to understand, but little pieces like this are bound to help. Still, as Chou En-lai said about the French Revolution, it's really too early to tell.

Tony Judt: Ill Fares the Land (2010, Penguin Press): Looks like a quickie political tract in defense of social democracy, the values the left had before losing our way, and/or getting run over by the right-wing propaganda machine. Judt's Postwar is one of the great historical books of the last twenty years, but despite its length is wound tight, a sketchy synthesis, which at least shows that no one understands the human progress of postwar Europe better. Recently diagnosed with ALS, Judt's disabling illness may add to the urgency of his thoughts, as if material conditions wasn't more than enough.

David Kirby: Animal Factory: The Looming Threat of Industrial Pig, Dairy, and Poultry Farms to Humans and the Environment (2010, St Martin's Press): The latest wholesale assault on the meat end of the agribusiness conglomerate, with plenty to easy targets to write about. Big book (510 pp), clearly much of what's going on should be exposed, and this looks like one of the most comprehensive books on the subject. Harder to find reasonable compromises.

Jonathan Krohn: Defining Conservatism: The Principles That Will Bring Our Country Back (2010, Vanguard Press): Teenage philosopher, self-published an earlier draft of this book when he was 13; is more like 15 now, out giving speeches at Tea Parties and CPAC. Identifies four principles: defend the Constitution, respect human life, minimalist government, personal responsibility. Those principles are sophisticated enough it might be possible to flip him, unlike less thoughtful conservatives whose principles are more like "be white" and "inherit (or steal) a lot of money" and "slaughter people not like us." Talks a lot about "natural laws" and gibberish like that. Clearly is a smart kid with a lot to learn.

Matt Labash: Fly Fishing With Darth Vader: And Other Adventures With Evangelical Wrestlers, Political Hitmen, and Jewish Cowboys (2010, Simon & Schuster): Features Dick Cheney's mug on the center of the cover. In case you thought this might be critical, consider that it's just a compilation of pieces recycled from The Weekly Standard, and on the blurb draws praise from David Brooks, PJ O'Rourke, and Christopher Hitchens.

Annie Leonard: The Story of Stuff: How Our Obsession With Stuff Is Trashing the Planet, Our Communities, and Our Health -- and a Vision for Change (2010, Free Press): The expanded book version of a pretty good little animated video, exploring the life cycle of stuff and our role in pushing it through the economy and the environment. Basic, and basically profound.

James Mahaffey: Atomic Awakening: A New Look at the History and Future of Nuclear Power (2009, Pegasus): Another effort to bootstrap the nuclear power industry -- clean, safe, you know the drill.

Jason Mattera: Obama Zombies: How the Liberal Machine Brainwashed My Generation (2010, Threshold Editions): Bet you didn't realize that "in 2008, Barack Obama lobotomized a generation." The Liberal Machine? Twitter, Facebook, MySpace, YouTube. A nice case of transference, but not as amusing as John Gibson's How the Left Swiftboated America: The Liberal Media Conspiracy to Make You Think George Bush Was the Worst President in History.

Mike Moore: Twilight War: The Folly of US Space Dominance (2008, Independent Institute): The best book I've seen on the folly of attempting to militarize space is Chalmer Johnson's Nemesis. This covers the subject in much more detail, but the basic arguments are the same: satellites provide essential peaceful services, and are easily wrecked by war, which means any space-based conflict will make us much worse off.

Malcolm Nance: An End to Al Qaeda: Destroying Bin Laden's Jihad and Restoring America's Honor (2010, St Martin's Press): Author is certainly right that the way to undermine Al Qaeda is to marginalize it in the Muslim world, and the way to do that is to back away from America's hostile stance within that world. His view of Obama as a credible spokesman leans on wishful thinking, as is his notion that Americans can continue to operate in that world under a reformed image.

Nell Irvin Painter: The History of White People (2010, WW Norton): Author has mostly written about Afro-American history, from Exodusters: Black Migration to Kansas After Reconstruction (1992) to Creating Black Americans: African-American History and Its Meanings, 1619 to the Present (2005), so this must seem like a fair turnaround.

Robert Perkinson: Texas Tough: The Rise of America's Prison Empire (2010, Metropolitan Books): A history of the US prison system, the world's largest since the Soviet Gulag was shut down, focusing on the South and Texas in particular, where prison labor was seen as the second best thing to slavery. Eventually, the Texas paradigm of punishment and exploitation took over the nation, driving out any ideas about reform and redemption and turning the justice system into a sefl-perpetuating spiral of crime and prison and more crime.

Mark Perry: Talking to Terrorists: Why America Must Engage With Its Enemies (2010, Basic Books): Basically a military historian -- cf. Four Stars: The Inside Story of the Forty-Year Battle Between the Joint Chiefs of Staff and America's Civilian Leaders (1989), and Partners in Command: George Marshall and Dwight Eisenhower in War and Peace (2007) -- although he's also written about Middle East issues -- e.g., A Fire in Zion: The Israeli-Palestinian Search for Peace (1994). Perry's favorite example is the Awakening group in Iraq, which did more to stabilize Iraq than the US ever could have hoped for. Hamas and Hezbollah, with popular roots formed in resistance to Israeli occupation, are essential components of any post-conflict scenarios in their countries, as most likely is the Taliban. Perry sees Al Qaeda as beyond reconciliation, although I'm less clear why that should be the case.

David Priestland: The Red Flag: A History of Communism (2009, Grove Press): Long enough (720 pp), nuanced, willing to acknowledge that communist movements varied greatly in place and time even while insisting that all were doomed. Traces origins, both utopian and authoritarian, to the Jacobins. The liberature is full of simplistic, silly books, but maybe we're starting to get beyond that. If not this one, I'd be tempted to write such a book myself some day.

Diane Ravitch: The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education (2010, Basic Books): Former Assistant Secretary of Education under the first Bush offers second thoughts on the latter Bush education reforms: I gather she lacked first thoughts, which may or may not count for something, but it suggests the tide is turning after years of dumb and senseless failure. Previous books include Left Back: A Century of Battles Over School Reform and The Language Police: How Pressure Groups Restrict What Students Learn. The latter has the usual sendups of political correctness, but also notes how a textbook publisher censored a line about fossil fuels being the primary cause of global warming because "we'd never be adopted in Texas."

Eugene Rogan: The Arabs: A History (2009, Basic Books): A general primer, but evidently starts with the Ottoman period up to the present, more or less.

Karl Rove: Courage and Consequence: My Life as a Conservative in the Fight (2010, Threshold Editions): The big payoff for so many years of carrying the right's water and, more importantly, jockeying right-wing political campaigns. An important enough figure his book must have some value as a primary source, but there's no reason to think he'd start spinning truths now. He sees he still has work to do, money to make, a nation to ruin.

Michael Schuman: The Miracle: The Epic Story of Asia's Quest for Wealth (2009, Harper Business): The history of Asia's tiger economies, including major ones in Japan, China, India, and Indonesia. Looks like useful background, although he has a tendency to favor stories that elicit the correct capitalist answers.

Victor Sebestyen: Revolution 1989: The Fall of the Soviet Empire (2009, Pantheon): "The principal reasons the Soviet empire fell was the USSR's disastrous decade-long war in Afghanistan, which is eerily reminiscent of the conflict the West is involved in now. Soviet generals of 20 or 25 years ago were saying almost identical things about their war against the Mujahideen (The Army of God) as NATO soldiers are saying now fighting the Taleban." I'm inclined to argue differently, but Afghanistan, Chernobyl, and a few other incidents may have been critical in dismantling the mythic powers of the Soviet military; some comparable comeupance is needed in the US. Sebestyen on Reagan the "Evil Empire" fighter: "When he took a hard line Reagan got nowhere. In fact, it nearly led to a nuclear war by accident. He was successful when he took a soft line and began negotiating with the Russians, in particular with Mikhail Gorbachev."

Patti Smith: Just Kids (2010, Ecco): Memoir of the poet-singer and photographer Robert Maplethorpe. Bohemians slightly ahead of my generation, i.e., from a time when it made more sense (although I was plenty smitten for a while). Everyone compliments the writing.

Michael Steele: Right Now: A 12-Step Program For Defeating the Obama Agenda (2010, Regnery Press): Republican National Committee chairman, starts with the assumption that Obama is up to no good, and moves far enough to the right to start to focus that picture (or lose track of it altogether). Along the way we find out that the reason Bush stunk so bad was that he was too left-wing. I suppose the Republicans have nothing else to campaign on, but doubling down on their far right fringe isn't an obvious reaction to losing badly in 2006-08.

Marc A Thiessen: Courting Disaster: How the CIA Kept America Safe and How Barack Obama Is Inviting the Next Attack (2010, Regnery Press): Former Bush speechwriter turned CIA mouthpiece. The difference between the CIA under Bush the CIA under Obama is presumably the former's embrace of torture -- no doubt that Thiessen is a huge fan of the practice, which most likely gets us into psychosexual territory I don't want to get into. Otherwise he's just engaging in the big lie, a skill he no doubt honed nicely under Bush and Rove.

Janine R Wedel: Shadow Elite: How the World's New Power Brokers Undermine Democracy, Government, and the Free Market (2009, Basic Books): Author's background is in post-Communist East Europe, where she developed a theory of how corruption is exploited by actors she describes as "flexions." She identifies some Americans along those same lines, including Richard Perle, Barry McCaffrey, and Larry Summers. No doubt there are more, but those are certainly good examples. Previous book: Collision and Collusion: The Strange Case of Western Aid to Eastern Europe.

John-Paul Wilson: Political Bias In Historical Writing (2009, Xlibris): Cover shows Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. Case study involves the Sandinistas, which Carter tolerated and Reagan waged a long, bloody, patently illegal war against. Not sure how this plays out, but there certainly is political bias in historical writing, as in much of everything else.

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

Adam Cohen: Nothing to Fear: FDR's Inner Circle and the Hundred Days That Created Modern America (2009; paperback, 2010, Penguin): Useful survey of FDR's famous first 100 days, how he worked out the kinks between his conservative inclinations and his liberal impulses. [book page]

Gregory Feifer: The Great Gamble: The Soviet War in Afghanistan (2009; paperback, 2010, Harper Perennial): Good basic history of the Russian occupation/war in Afghanistan. Among other things it shows that nothing much worked, but that they could hang on indefinitely if they could stand the stupidity of it all. Unlike us, they couldn't, so they left -- although it was Gorbachev who called that shot, not the military. [book page]

Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore: Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950 (2008; paperback, 2009, WW Norton): A long, detailed history of the few white people who stood up for civil rights before it became fashionable among post-WWII liberals: communists, socialists, radicals. You might call them "premature antiracists" -- it's important to recognize them because they've always been the first people to stand up for human rights.

Nicholas Schmidle: To Lie or to Perish Forever: Two Tumultuous Years in Pakistan (2009, Henry Holt; paperback, 2010, Holt): A useful travelogue to Pakistan, going into some neighborhoods you'll be glad someone else went to, meeting some people you'll be glad someone else met, with some historical background. [book page]

Friday, April 09, 2010

Rhapsody Streamnotes (April 2010)

Another month, another batch. Monthly seems to make sense given that I copy the monthly Recycled Goods entries into the archive -- if I did this more often I'd have a blank slot. Also means I tend to second-guess Christgau's Consumer Guide toward the bottom of the post -- entries toward the top sometimes get written before Christgau gets to a record, as is the case here with Love Is All. Since I use Rhapsody for Jazz Prospecting and Recycled Goods, those records drop out from the main list below. On the other hand, I am including occasional older records here. Usually I'm filling in some background -- earlier albums by Love Is All or Eddy Current Suppression Ring, or that White Stripes I missed -- without seeing any good reason to file the note in Recycled Goods. For what it's worth, I have started a 2010 meta file, which helps me decide what new things I should check out. The methodology is very erratic at this point.

Pick up main list from archive file below.

Archive file: here.

Thursday, April 08, 2010

Some Surplus

As each Jazz Consumer Guide cycle ends, I wind up with a published column, my notes on the records in that column, a long list of records that I considered for the column but decided not to use, and another long list of records that I considered but didn't fit in and kept for future consideration. The latter list has grown to 165 records: 54 that I actually have reviews -- well, mostly HM lines -- reserved for the next column (or maybe the one after that), and 111 in a notes file awaiting whatever inspiration it takes to convert them into reviews. Periodically, I decide it's never going to happen for some of those records: I don't have the space, don't have the inspiration, and I'm tired of looking at them in the list. So I periodically purge that list.

I need to do that more dilligently now, cutting those 111 records down to 60-70. Realistically, very few of the B+(**) I didn't already cut will make it -- I usually wind up with 4-6 each column, and I have something like 40 in reserve. Keith Jarrett's Testament is one of the better known examples. Also some B+(***) have been sitting around so long I've lost track of them: in fact, I appear to have literally lost Nigel Kennedy's Blue Note Sessions, released in 2007 and who knows where. I thought I'd do that now, but don't really have the time, and at this late date in transition it would mess with my paperwork. But I did kick out some of these records back when I was finishing the column, and wrote the following consolation reviews.

Pick up text from surplus file below.

More next cycle. The full surplus file is here.

PS: One thing I notice in looking at the surplus file is that the Rhapsody list is rather long at 38 records. It is actually even longer (57 records) in the previous cycle's surplus file. My rule of thumb is that I use Rhapsody for prospecting but not for Jazz Consumer Guide, so everything I hear on Rhapsody goes into the surplus file. Partly this is to provide some incentive to get labels to send me actual CDs; part is that I just don't feel right reviewing bits. (Admittedly, I do some Jazz CG reviews based on advances or unseemly promos, but I often gripe about them, and I don't always treat them fairly -- e.g., I'm somewhat more likely to hold a promo back for a later column. I don't, however, think I'm unfair in judging the music.)

Some records that show up in the Rhapsody lists eventually materialize one way or another -- sometimes I even buy one -- at which point they get a second chance. Dennis González's The Gift of Discernment turned around fast enough to make this column, and some others are lined up for future columns, like Radio I-Ching's No Wave au Go Go and John Zorn's Alhambra Love Songs. Some others would certainly be welcome, like Darcy James Argue, Dave Douglas, Michael Musillami, Vandermark 5, and that Barry Guy-Marilyn Crispell record I was so taken with. I'm not arguing that this is fair, just explaining how it works.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Jazz Consumer Guide (22): Adapt, Improvise, Party

The long-awaited 22nd Jazz Consumer Guide column has been published in the Village Voice this week. The previous one came out on November 24, so this has been a longer-than-usual stretch. Shouldn't have happened like that. I had the column nearly done by year-end, and we had talked about running it in late January, but I got delayed by stuff I don't even recall right now, and it wound up sitting at the Voice for nearly two months after I belatedly got it in. I guess jazz is still pretty marginal music, and I'm but a small cog in its public review apparatus.

I'm already nine weeks into Jazz Prospecting for the following column, which I have 1700 words written for, covering 54 albums. For comparison, this column ran 1755 words on 51 albums, so I should be able to hand the next one in with just a couple of weeks polish. I haven't seen the print edition in ages, but I gather they're finding more space than the single page they used to cut the column down to. At least on the web pages, the only omission from my draft is Ralph Bowen's Dedicated (Posi-Tone), my bottom-rated HM. This all seems like old copy to me -- indeed, most of it had been written before and held back from the Nov. 24 column -- so one thing I'm struck by is how fondly I remember the honorable mentions, even the end-of-the-list ones. They're likely to get forgotten in the numbers game, but each is remarkable in its own way, and the top four, I should remind you, were graded A minus, missing the main section mostly because I was satisfied writing something shorter about them.

Publicist letter:

The Village Voice has published my 22nd Jazz Consumer Guide column
this week:


This one was delayed, first by personal matters in January then by
a relatively long gestation period waiting for a slot at the Voice.
I've tried to compensate for the scarcity of available space and
the inevitable delays by writing tighter pieces so I can cover more
ground. This may seem like paltry returns for your PR efforts, but
I'm stuck in a space and time squeeze, trying to do too much with
too little. The final tally this time came to 51 records, 49 of
which are really noteworthy.

Index by label:

  482 Music: Paul Giallorenzo, Mike Reed, Chad Taylor
  ACT: Lars Danielsson, Vijay Iyer, Ulf Wakenius
  Apria: Steve Shapiro/Pat Bergeson
  Arbors: Harry Allen/Joe Cohn, Ron Hockett, Marty Grosz, Johnny Varro/Ken
  ArtistShare: Chris Potter
  AUM Fidelity: The Fully Celebrated, Joe Morris (2)
  Bju'ecords: Arthur Kell
  Blue Note: Robert Glasper
  Challenge: Harry Allen
  Clean Feed: Adam Lane, Avram Fefer, Lucky 7s
  Concord: John Patitucci, Monterey Quartet
  DBCD: The Aggregation
  ECM: Louis Sclavis, Miroslav Vitous/Michel Portal
  Furthermore: Dennis Gonzalez
  Half Note: James Carter
  High Note/Savant: Jerry Bergonzi, Freddy Cole
  Hopscotch: Digital Primitives
  Justin Time: Oliver Jones/Hank Jones
  Marsalis Music: Branford Marsalis
  Nonesuch: Allen Toussaint
  Not Two: Dennis Gonzalez
  Origin: Hal Galper, Jeff Johnson
  Pi: Steve Lehman, Henry Threadgill
  Skipstone: Erik Friedlander
  Smalls: Stacey Dillard
  SoLyd: The Second Approach Trio/Roswell Rudd
  Strotbrock: De Nazaten/James Carter
  Strut: Mulatu Astatke (2)
  Sunnyside: Chris Morrissey, Roswell Rudd, Peter Delano, Rez Abbasi
  Thirsty Ear: Mary Halvorson/Jessica Pavone
  Tzadik: Tim Sparks

The Jazz Prospecting notes for this round are at:


I appreciate your support in making this column possible. I try to
cover a wide range of jazz -- trad and avant and mainstream, American
and European and world -- and that depends on your support. I'm sorry
that this hasn't been as frequent as any of of us would like, and
that I haven't been able to go into more depth -- my weekly Jazz
Prospecting blog posts are meant to make up for that. I've noticed
that some labels have lost touch -- Arbors (with 4 albums above)
is one that concerns me; it's also been quite a while for Fresh
Sound, Intakt, CIMP, Atavistic, Palmetto, those are just a few on
the top of my mind. I should track them down and be more proactive,
but many are on this hacked-together (and rather dated) mailing list,
so I thought I'd by making an appeal here.

Working notes from the bk-print file for the records reviewed in Jazz CG (22):

  • Rez Abbasi: Things to Come (2008-09 [2009], Sunnyside): This is a great group but not quite a great record. Part of it is that guitarist Abbasi and alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa shine on their solos but they remain separate things. Part is that pianist Vijay Iyer doesn't shine even though he's the most talented player here. Part may be that Dan Weiss plays drums instead of tabla, which steers this toward American jazz instead of Indo-Pak. Then there is the matter of wife-singer Kiran Ahluwalia, who tries to steer the album back toward India on her four spots, leaving it a bit unhinged. Reminds me that no matter how much they like the idea of an Indo-Pak coalition, what they really like is being in the forefront of jazz back home in the USA. B+(**)
  • The Aggregation: Groove's Mood (2008 [2009], DBCD): Big band, arranged and produced by trumpeter Eddie Allen, who certainly favors the sound of trumpets, although he manages to keep every other cog in the machine engaged. Lists Kevin Bryan as the lead trumpet, but takes his own solos, plus hands out one each to the other trumpets: John Bailey, Guido Gonzalez, and Cecil Bridgewater. Allen wrote 3 of 10 pieces, including the four-part "The Black Coming"; other sources include Freddie Hubbard, James Williams, Stevie Wonder, and trad. Two Wonder songs, "You Are the Sunshine of My Life" and "Ma Cherie Amour," get vocals from LaTanya Hall, who pretty much nails them. B+(***)
  • The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet: Plays Music From South Pacific (2008 [2009], Arbors): Same group, including singers Rebecca Kilgore and Eddie Erickson, who took on Guys and Dolls a while back. The liner notes is already referring to them as "the official Arbors Repertory Company of American Musical Theater," so I guess they'll keep this up until they run out of material. I never cared for Broadway musicals, and never listened to an original cast album until the Royal Shakespeare Company did Threepenny Opera, which was something else altogether (and very much my thing). Hardly ever saw the movies either, but the one thing I do recall was how hokey the stories were with so much plot wound up in song. Still, I love Allen's tenor sax, and Cohn's guitar has been a productive accompaniment. Every significant music of the period -- South Pacific came out in 1949 -- has a few songs that have turned into jazz standards, and it's interesting to check out the context, much of which hasn't aged very well -- cf. "There's Nothing Like a Dame" and "Honeybun" which sound these days little better than a couple of old coon songs. The singers are fun, but they don't fit their characters very well -- Erickson as a sophisticated French man? They are, as Kilgore puts it, cornier than Kansas in August, while Allen and Cohn do what they always do: swing. B+(***)
  • Harry Allen: New York State of Mind (2009, Challenge): A follow-up to his Hits by Brits: I suppose Hits by Yanks would have seemed too broad, just as a London-themed album would have been too narrow. Not sure that it's such a good idea to drag Billy Joel into this, but his "New York, New York" is decidedly tender, and almost everything else swings powerfully. Half quartet, half with trombonist John Allred added -- latter half is better. B+(**)
  • Mulatu Astatke/The Heliocentrics: Inspiration Information Vol. 3 (2009, Strut): A lifetime of Ethiopian jazz moves recycled by Sun Ra-centrics into something resembling dub, with less echo, less Haile Selassie, more subtle groove. A-
  • Mulatu Astatke: New York-Addis-London: The Story of Ethio Jazz 1965-1975 (1965-75 [2009], Strut): The guy who got away from Swinging Addis while the getting was good. Working from an advance with no doc, I can only guess where and when these scattered singles came from or who does what on them. Christgau reports that eight are dupes from the Addis-rooted Éthiopiques 4, which I've checked out on Rhapsody and find more/less as inspired. One thing I note here from his New York and/or London wanderings (or Boston or wherever else) is a flirtation with Latin jazz, which he spices up subtly. A-
  • Jerry Bergonzi: Simply Put (2008 [2009], Savant): Tenor saxophonist, a mainstream blower from Boston who doesn't go in for fancy titles or concepts. He's happy working in front of piano-bass-drums, and you'll be happy too, because the point is to hear the sax. Bruce Barth (piano) joints Dave Santoro (bass) and Andrea Michelutti (drums), repeaters from last year's Tenor Talk, which I thought might have been his best yet. (25-plus albums since 1982; I've only heard a few recent ones, and some older side-spots, where he's always made a big impression.) No signs of decline here. He's on a roll. A-
  • Chuck Bernstein: Delta Berimbau Blues (2007-08 [2008], CMB): Minimalist gutbucket blues, played on berimbau, a Brazilian diddley bow -- one string, plucked or bowed, with a sphere at the bottom for resonance and/or percussion. Other musicians show up now and then, and two cuts have vocals. The choice cut is the one Roswell Rudd plays on. B+(***)
  • James Carter/John Medeski/Christian McBride/Adam Rogers/Joey Baron: Heaven on Earth (2009, Half Note): The liner notes start by comparing Carter to LeBron James, presumably because it's obvious he's a spectacular talent even on a losing team. The team actually isn't that bad, but only Rogers adds much of note, with Medeski unable to get any traction until they slow down and throw him a blues. McBride and Baron could be anyone, even though we know they're not. No new ground for Carter here: starts with one from Django Reinhardt, recaps Don Byas and Lucky Thompson, pulls a blues attributed to Leo Parker and Ike Quebec, winds up with Larry Young's title cut. Carter plays soprano, tenor, and quite a bit of baritone. I've complained about his poll winning on the latter, but he makes a good case here. A-
  • Freddy Cole: The Dreamer in Me (2008 [2009], High Note): Played this in the car and Laura was trying to figure out who it was: "it isn't Nat King Cole." I had to laugh. She wasn't aware of Nat's baby brother, who has the genes, the speakeasy pipes, even a bit of the piano. Last album I thought he was finally growing out of big brother's legacy, now that he's gotten to be a good deal older than Nat ever was. But he's straddling here, on the one hand sounding more like Nat than ever, on the other feeling exceptionally confident on his own. A live set at Dizzy's Club Coca Cola. Plays piano on four cuts, giving way to John di Martino on the other seven. Namechecks Von Freeman on "The South Side of Chicago," but the sax man is Jerry Weldon -- sounding momentarily a lot like Freeman. With Randy Napoleon on guitar, Elias Bailey on bass, Curtis Boyd on drums. A-
  • Lars Danielsson: Tarantella (2008 [2009], ACT): Starting to get nervous with this string of A-list records, like I may be losing my critical mean streak. Still, this is a remarkably lovely record, with a lot of fascinating detail. Swedish bassist, b. 1958, with a substantial discography I've only barely touched; also plays cello and bass violin, which add to the details. Piano is by Leszek Mozdzer, who collaborated with Danielsson on the HM-worthy Pasodoble and is even better here in this richer context. Mathias Eick plays trumpet. His ECM debut was overrated, but he gives a nicely rounded performance here. John Parricelli plays odd bits of guitar that complement the bass nicely, and Eric Harland can go exotic on the percussion as well as do everything a drummer should do. A-
  • Peter Delano: For Dewey (1996 [2008], Sunnyside): I remember reading a Joshua Redman blindfold test a few years back where he instantly exclaimed, "gee, doesn't pop sound great." Pop, of course, was Dewey Redman, and he had one of those sounds that didn't take a son to recognize. That was my first reaction to this previously unreleased 1996 album. Redman only plays on three (of eight) cuts: they jump out of the box, setting the frame so that Delano's piano trio cuts just seem like filler. They're more than that: first-rate postbop piano, intense, intricate, innovative. Of course, there's a lot of that elsewhere, and it never manages to sound as great as Dewey Redman's tenor sax. B+(***)
  • Digital Primitives: Hum Crackle & Pop (2007-09 (2009), Hopscotch): Trio: Cooper-Moore (vocal, banjo, twinger, diddley-bow, mouth bow, flute), Assif Tsahar (tenor sax, bass clarinet), Chad Taylor (drums, m'bira, percussion). Previous album together was called Digital Primitives, so this is another band in the wake of an album. Acoustic group, with Cooper-Moore's homemade instruments definitively a primitive one. Early on Tsahar struck me as a guy who'd just screech when he ran of ideas, but the only time that happens here is when it's the right thing to do. I caught a couple of YouTube videos of Cooper-Moore, which make me realize I should revise my view of him as a hermit. He's the life of the party here, and Taylor rounds him out into a terrific rhythm section. His one vocal is a bit trite, but he no doubt means it as profound. A-
  • Stacey Dillard: One (2008 [2009], Smalls): Saxophonist (mostly tenor, some soprano), from Michigan, 32 (presumably b. 1976 or 1977). Website lists 4 albums since 2006, but this is the only one on a label I've heard of. Wrote all the pieces. Quintet with fender rhodes, guitar, bass, and drums -- no one I recognize. Dillard gives a bravura performance, fierce at high speeds, soulful when he slows down. B+(***)
  • Avram Fefer Trio: Ritual (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Reed player -- I have him listed clarinet first based on earlier work, but credits this time are ordered alto sax, tenor sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet, which seems like the right order. B. 1965, near San Francisco, family moved around, settling in Seattle; picked up a liberal arts degree at Harvard, while studying music at Berklee and New England Conservatory. Spent some time in Paris, wound up in New York. Sixth album since 2001, a trio with Eric Revis on bass, Chad Taylor on drums. Basically, a series of freebop pieces, varied mostly by horn. Played it four straight times while fighting with my cabinet work and reading about the CIA, enjoying it while not finding much to say, and need to move on. The bass clarinet piece stands out, and Taylor is a bundle of focused energy. [formerly B+(**)] B+(***)
  • Erik Friedlander/Mike Sarin/Trevor Dunn: Broken Arm Trio (2008, Skipstone): Cello-drums-bass trio. Not sure why it's ordered that way -- maybe alphabetical by first name? In any case, Friedlander is the auteur, providing the helpful note that the music was inspired by Oscar Pettiford and Herbie Nichols. Small chamber bop, light, loose, funky. B+(***)
  • The Fully Celebrated: Drunk on the Blood of the Holy Ones (2008 [2009], AUM Fidelity): Boston group, a trio with Jim Hobbs on alto sax, Timo Shanko on bass, and Django Carranza on drums. Not familiar with the latter two, but Hobbs had a couple of albums in 1993 (Babadita and Peace & Pig Grease) then largely disappeared. I noticed him when he appeared on Joe Morris's Beautiful Existence and flat-out stole the show. There is a 2002 album by a slightly larger group (add Taylor Ho Bynum on cornet) billed as The Fully Celebrated Orchestra: Marriage of Heaven and Earth. Same lineup also appears on a 2005 album, Lapis Exilis, as Jim Hobbs & the Fully Celebrated Orchestra. Don't know what the mythology signifies, but it strikes me as a ruse. Most of the cuts here start with basic funk or blues grooves and lay on deceptively simple sax melodies, just shy of honking, but thoughtfully close to the edge. The odd tune out is "Conotocarius," where they run free and thrash -- it can get a bit tedious. A-
  • Hal Galper/Reggie Workman/Rashied Ali: Art-Work
  • (2008 [2009], Origin): A 70-year-old pianist too few have heard of -- inspired by Bud Powell, taught by Jaki Byard, always turns out thoughtful albums -- goes live with two 70-year-old avant-gardists, each as fascinating in his own right as the leader. A-
  • Paul Giallorenzo: Get In to Go Out (2005 [2009], 482 Music): The pianist-leader has a couple of other groups/projects which appear to be more experimental -- electronics and such. This is a flashy postbop quintet with Josh Berman on cornet and Dave Rempis on various saxes. First two cuts rush out in torrents, with the pianist waxing Monkian and Rempis having a field day. Third one, "Porous (for Quintet)," starts slow and grim but unfolds dramatically. Only quibble I have is when they try to rein in the two horns into postbop harmony. Pretty impressive when they cut loose. B+(***)
  • Robert Glasper: Double Booked (2009, Blue Note): He got a huge PR boost in signing with Blue Note, whose previous discoveries had included Jason Moran and Bill Charlap. Certainly attractive is the idea of a young whiz who can incorporate hip-hop influences into the jazz lexicon. However, he's yet to deliver the goods. Here he keeps his two sides separate. The first half trio tracks show him making nice progress as a postbop pianist. Nothing really stands out, but it all comes off as fundamentally sound. Second half is his Robert Glasper Experiment, where he plays more electric piano, adds Casey Benjamin on sax and vocoder, and works in some turntables and voices and -- well, I don't have the details. Benjamin's sax charge carries one piece, but other experiments, as can happen, turn into stink bombs. I think Bilal is involved in one of the worst. B-
  • Dennis González/Jnaana Septet: The Gift of Discernment (2008, Not Two): Trumpet player, from Abilene, TX, based on Dallas, has a long list of records since 1985 but after a slow stretch in the late 1990s has been on a major roll since 2003, mostly due to renewed interest in Europe. I've featured a couple of his records -- Idle Wild was a pick hit, Nile River Suite another A-list, and a couple of HMs -- but I haven't heard any of the five records I know of that he's released this year: A Matter of Blood and Renegage Spirits on Furthermore, Hymn for Tomasz Stanko on Qbico, Songs of Early Autumn on No Business, and The Great Bydgoszcz Concert on Ayler. The group here is deep with percussion: three drummers, including Robby Mercado on bata and congas, plus extra percussion from González, pianist Chris Parker, and bassist Aaron González. The six pieces, especially the long ones, stretch out in complex grooves. The seventh member is vocalist Leena Conquest, who appeared on William Parker's wonderful Raining on the Moon. She tends to ululate harmlessly in the background, carried, like González's sharper trumpet, on a vast river of percussion. A-
  • Dennis González: A Matter of Blood (2008 [2009], Furthermore): Trumpet player, on a roll lately with a half dozen or so new albums out. Quartet, with Curtis Clark on piano, Reggie Workman on bass, Michael T.A. Thompson on a drum set he calls a soundrhythium. Old school avant-garde, with everyone playing at a high level. B+(***)
  • Marty Grosz: Hot Winds, the Classic Sessions (2008 [2009], Arbors): The title, which can be read several ways, suggests that this has been pulled off someone's archival shelf, but the recording dates are recent. the "classic" left unexplained. Grosz plays acoustic guitar, banjo, and sings 5 of 15 cuts. He was born in 1930 in Berlin, the son of Georg Grosz, the legendary painter/caricaturist who fled the Nazis in 1932, settling in the US in 1933. Marty took to his new home, especially its trad jazz. He cut one record in 1959, one in 1986, and a steady stream since 1986. Famed for his humorous monologues, but none here. Dan Block and Scott Robinson are the Hot Winds, rotating through a range of clarinets and saxophones, with Robinson also playing cornet and echo horn. Bassist Vince Giordano occasionally switches to tuba and bass sax, and Panic Slim [aka Jim Gicking] adds trombone on 5 tracks. Easy going swing faves -- Ellington, Fats Waller, a lot of obscurities with one original. Not classic, but loose as a goose. B+(***)
  • Mary Halvorson & Jessica Pavone: Thin Air (2008 [2009], Thirsty Ear): Guitarist and violinist respectively; both sing some, but not well. Halvorson has occasionally played brilliantly in the past, but there's little evidence of it here, in what is roughly speaking jazz chamber anti-folk. Obliquely primitivist when they're just playing, suggesting little talent and no finesse, but something distinctive. Can't say anything nice about the vocals. (Note unusually big drop from first round.) B-
  • The Ron Hockett Quintet: Finally Ron (2008, Arbors): Longtime journeyman clarinettist gets the Arbors red carpet treatment, with a first class trad band -- John Sheridan, James Chirillo, Phil Flanigan, Jake Hanna -- and no complaints when he wants to do yet another "Beale Street Blues." Everybody's sharp, especially Chirillo, but Hockett earns his keep too. Arbors is a rare label that will not only pull someone out of the blue and give him a recording date because every musician deserves one sooner or later; they'll make sure the record is worth remembering. B+(***)
  • Dave Holland/Gonzalo Rubalcaba/Chris Potter/Eric Harland: The Monterey Quartet: Live at the 2007 Monterey Jazz Festival (2007 [2009], Monterey Jazz Festival): All-star live jam session, does pretty much what you'd expect, with both Rubalcaba and Potter working their full mojo in. Only surprise for me is that Harland, who has no catalog under his name, contributed his share of songs -- breaks out two each. No surprise that Holland and Harland can go Cuban, even on their own songs. B+(***)
  • Vijay Iyer Trio: Historicity (2008-09 [2009], ACT): Piano trio. AMG credits the leader with 10 albums since 1995, not including his leadership in Fieldwork and his impact in Burnt Sugar. Has mostly worked with saxophones in the past -- Steve Lehman in Fieldwork, Rudresh Mahanthappa practically everywhere else -- but it seems like all pianists are driven to prove their mettle in the trio context. Covers album, recycling 2 of 4 originals, adding pieces from Andrew Hill, Julius Hemphill, Ronnie Foster, Stevie Wonder, Bernstein & Sondheim, and M.I.A. Unfortunately, I often run into trouble dissecting piano trios, but I do know what I like. After five plays, this is still opening up. A-
  • Jeff Johnson: Tall Stranger (2002 [2008], Origin): Bassist-led trio. Hans Teuber's reeds (tenor sax, bass clarinet) are weakly blown, almost faint, while Billy Mintz's drums whisper more often than not, with soft splashes on the cymbals predominant. All of this keeps the bass equally in the game, and it works remarkably well -- sure, you need to pay careful attention, but that's easy to do. Johnson switches to guitar on one cut, with Teuber moving to bass. That works, too. B+(***)
  • Oliver Jones/Hank Jones: Pleased to Meet You (2008 [2009], Justin Time): The younger Jones is a Canadian, 65 now, grew up under the spell of Oscar Peterson, has been a favorite of his Canadian label since 1984, with a couple dozen albums in the catalog -- titles like Speak Low Swing Hard and Have Fingers, Will Travel. The elder Jones is 90, born seven years before than Peterson, who died before this session, drafting it into something of a tribute. Piano trio plus extra piano. These things rarely work, but Oliver doesn't have to overstretch knowing that Hank's got his back, and Hank is a rare jazz genius who doesn't mind fitting in. Peterson might have tried playing both parts, and might have gotten away with it, but he couldn't have made this much piano power sound so effortless. B+(***)
  • Arthur Kell Quartet: Victoria: Live in Germany (2008 [2009], Bju'ecords): Bassist-led quartet, all compositions by the leader, most with a strong pulse, some built around sax figures that recall Ornette Coleman. I would never have taken alto saxophonist Loren Stillman for Coleman before, but he's all over these pieces, a veritable tour de force. Guitarist Brad Shepik, who has a lot of experience improvising on Balkan beat lines, is even better. And Joe Smith, well, as Ornette would say, he plays with the band. A-
  • Adam Lane/Lou Grassi/Mark Whitecage: Drunk Butterfly (2007 [2008], Clean Feed): The bassist gets top billing because of his knack at setting up grooves that turn free-oriented saxophonists on rather than off. He did that with Vinny Golia in Zero Degree Music; here he gets the most accessible work ever out of Whitecage. In her liner notes, Slim calls this "avant swinging bebop." That's about right. A-
  • Steve Lehman Octet: Travail, Transformation, and Flow (2008 [2009], Pi): Probably the most famous free jazz octet was the one that David Murray ran during the early 1980s. It was never one of my favorite formats, although a lot of people will list Ming as Murray's greatest album, and I eventually turned into a big fan of the album. Lehman's octet is slightly different: the five horns split in favor of the brass, with Jose Davila's tuba the decisive change; Chris Dingman's vibes replace the piano; the leader plays alto sax (Mark Shim is the tenor), so the leads shift up a register. Lehman's music is more acutely angular, pitched a bit higher, and almost as tight as his duos and trios on the nearly minimalist Demian as Posthuman. A-
  • Lucky 7s: Pluto Junkyard (2007 [2009], Clean Feed): Septet, from Chicago, led by two trombonists, Jeff Albert and Jeb Bishop. Others are: Josh Berman (cornet), Keefe Jackson (tenor sax), Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), Matthew Golombisky (double bass), and Quin Kirchner (drums). Tough group to characterize, more freebop than avant; despite the group size there doesn't seem to be anyone at the helm with postbop arranger ambitions. I thought their previous album, Faragut, had a bit of New Orleans gumbo in it, but don't get that feel here -- maybe it's that the vibes are better integrated. The cornet adds some high contrast, but the sax seems to be here mostly for muscle, the trombones rooling. B+(***)
  • Branford Marsalis Quartet: Metamorphosen (2008 [2009], Marsalis Music): I've long thought that the first brother was lucky to get to pick tenor sax first, because it gave him a broader and more open model (Coltrane) than the second could do on trumpet (Davis). Despite their fame, both have stayed within their bounds: it's just that Branford gives you the sense that he really enjoys where he is, whereas Wynton won't be satisfied until he turns into Napoleon. One indication of Branford's comfort zone is that this quartet -- Joey Calderazzo on piano, Eric Revis on bass, Jeff "Tain" Watts on drums -- has been together for 10 years now. Their first album, Requiem (for Calderazzo's predecessor, Kenny Kirkland), is still my pick from the series, perhaps because the solemn occasion brought them together, but they've almost always made solid albums, and this is one more. Everyone in the group writes -- Branford himself is down to one song plus "Rhythm-A-Ning" -- creating a bit of a jumble, but Revis's "Sphere" (following the Monk cover) and Watts's "Samo" are first rate. I've never like Calderazzo on his own, but he fills in admirably here. And Branford has mostly switched to soprano sax, which pace my instincts may be a good thing. All of Coltrane's children thought they had to master the second horn, but damn few did -- Marsalis is about as good on it as Wayne Shorter is, which is saying something. B+(***)
  • Joe Morris: Wildlife (2008 [2009], AUM Fidelity): After many years as an obscure and difficult guitarist, Morris picked up the double bass and has developed into a lucid and energetic pacemaster. He's not interesting enough to salvage such bass-centric productions as his Elm City Duets with Barre Phillips, but he sure can set up a free-wheeling saxophonist -- witness Ken Vandermark on Rebus and Jim Hobbs on Beautiful Existence. His latest find is Petr Cancura, a Czech-born, Canadian-raised, Brooklyn-based tenor saxophonist who doesn't stray far from the line that runs from Albert Ayler through David S. Ware and many lesser figures. Luther Gray is the drummer, and he's very tight with Morris. A-
  • Joe Morris Quartet: Today on Earth (2009, AUM Fidelity): After several records on bass, Morris returns to his main instrument, guitar. The net effect is that he competes for lead time with alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, each interesting in his own right, but neither runs away with the show. That's a bit of a letdown for Hobbs, who's made a big impression both with Morris on bass and in his own group, the Fully Celebrated, with Timo Shinko on bass, as he is here. B+(***)
  • Chris Morrissey Quartet: The Morning World (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): Bassist, b. 1980, from Minneapolis/St. Paul area, now based in Brooklyn. First album. Side credits since 2004 with Mason Jennings, Andrew Bird, Haley Bonar, and Ben Kweller -- those I recognize are rockers (more/less), and AMG misfiled this as Pop/Rock. With Michael Lewis (all kinds of saxes) and David King (drums) this is virtually a Happy Apple record. Piano is split between Peter Schimke (5 cuts) and Bryan Nichols (3). Chris Thomson adds another sax to one cut. Record doesn't specify electric or acoustic bass, but Morrissey's MySpace page shows him pretty juiced up. He wrote all of the pieces here, mostly propulsive bass lines which King emphatically pushes along. That may not sound like much, but Lewis does a terrific job of exploring the jazz angles tangential to the grooves, and he can wax eloquent even when he doesn't have much to go on. Record doesn't specify which sax he plays when, but they tend toward higher registers -- alto, probably a lot of soprano too. Working behind his group name and on the side like this he's way underrecognized. A-
  • De Nazaten & James Carter: Skratyology (2007 [2009], Strotbrock): Dutch group, with some input from the former Dutch colony of Surinam; originally De Nazaten van Prins Hendrik ("the offspring of Prince Hendrik"), after the consort (1901-34) to Dutch Queen Wilhelmina (1890-1948). They describe Hendrik as "infamous for his promiscuous lifestyle." The Wikipedia article on Prince Hendrik is notably lacking in details, other than to suggest that Wilhelmina wasn't terribly happy with the dude. The group does promiscuously merge world musics with a lot of brass and drums -- the skratyi the title was based on is a bass drum from Surinam, played by Chris Semmoh. Not sure how James Carter got involved with this group. He may be in a class of his own, but he doesn't stand out that much here, playing baritone sax, but surrounded by Klaas Hekman (bass sax), Keimpe de Jong (tenor sax, tubax), and Patrick Votrian (trombone, sousaphone) there is a lot of rumbling in the lower registers, which sets off some explosive trumpet by Setish Bindraban. They remind me a bit of Parliament, both for the party vibe and for a word that might be a good future title: thumpasaurus. A-
  • John Patitucci: Remembrance (2009, Concord): Bassist, b. 1959, plays a 6-string electric as well as acoustic, has a dozen or so albums since 1987, but somehow this is the first I've heard. (I have heard a few of his side credits, but the list there is huge -- won't count them but I will note that in 1991 alone he appeared on 19 albums not counting compilations; in 2003 he was down to 15. If those years are typical, he's on a pace to wrack up career totals rivalling Ray Brown and William Parker.) The trio here includes Joe Lovano and Brian Blade. All songs are jointly credited, so I figure them for sketchy improvs. In other words, no reason not think of this as a Lovano record -- the bass is prominent as it goes, but Lovano's Lovano, a bit informal but that's often so much the better. Needless to say, Blade does his part. B+(***)
  • Chris Potter Underground: Ultrahang (2009, ArtistShare): After years of complaining about Potter's postbop moves, he blew me away with two live Village Vanguard albums and impressed me nearly as much with Underground, a bass-less group powered by Craig Taborn's Fender Rhodes and Adam Rogers' guitar. These are contexts where he can loosen up and blow, as he does here. (Nate Smith squares off the quartet on drums.) Electrified, he quickens the pace and pumps up the volume. B+(***)
  • Mike Reed's People, Places & Things: About Us (2009, 482 Music): Chicago drummer, formed this particular group -- Greg Ward on alto sax, Tim Haldeman on tenor sax, Jason Roebke on bass -- originally to explore the music of the late 1950s post-bop, proto-avant Chicago scene. Second album explores their own music, including three contemporary guests who each bring a tune along: tenor saxophonist David Boykin, trombonist Jeb Bishop, and guitarist Jeff Parker. Starts fast with a more convincing 21st century chase than old-timers Anderson and Jordan recently put on. Wanders a bit, but mostly sharp, vibrant even. B+(***)
  • Roswell Rudd: Trombone Tribe (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): As best I can figure this, five cuts from the officially designated Trombone Tribe band -- Deborah Weisz and Steve Swell joining Rudd on trombone, Bob Stewart on tuba, Henry Grimes on bass and violin, Barry Altschul on drums -- and ten more tracks representing various other trombone tribes, including one from Benin (the Gangbe Brass Band of Benin), one called Bonerama (Mark Mullins, Steve Souter, Craig Klein, and Eric Bolivar on trombone; Matt Perrine on sousaphone), Steven Bernstein's Sex Mob (with Rudd guesting on trombone), and a couple more tracks with an unannointed tribe featuring trombonists Ray Anderson, Eddie Bert, Sam Burtis, Wycliffe Gordon, Josh Roseman, and, of course, Rudd. In other words, a whole lot of big, heavy brass, fired up to celebrate. As a longtime trombone (not to mention Rudd) fan I can hardly turn my nose up at such riches. A-
  • Louis Sclavis: Lost on the Way (2008 [2009], ECM): French clarinetist, b. 1953, has been a major figure since the early 1980s. Quintet, with Matthieu Metzger on soprano and alto sax blending in near seamlessly, and Maxime Delpierre on guitar, not just fitting in but sometimes busting out in solos that have more to do with Jimi Hendrix. B+(***)
  • The Second Approach Trio With Roswell Rudd: The Light (2007 [2009], SoLyd): Russian group, has seven albums since 1999, plus various collaborations. Consists of Andrei Razin on piano, Igor Ivanushkin on bass, and Tatyana Komova singing or otherwise exercising her voice, with all three credited with percussion. Razin plays a little bit of everything, ranging from plaintive accompaniment to rough and ready avant-garde. In the latter context, Komova can hurl sounds against the wall, and is remarkably engaging at it. Rudd stopped in Moscow on his way back from a Siberian engagement with Tuvan throat singers, and he reminds you that he can hold his own in any avant-garde circus, as well as dash off a touching solo. B+(***)
  • Steve Shapiro/Pat Bergeson: Backward Compatible (2007 [2008], Apria): Shapiro plays vibes, and has a background as a producer. Bergeson plays guitar and harmonica. This is their third album together. The previous one, Low Standards, was a Jazz CG A-list item in 2005. Nashville Hot Clubber Annie Sellick sings most cuts. Two 1970s rock classics -- "Heart of Gold" and "Free Man in Paris" -- seem too indelibly attached to their originators, the bubbling vibes not all that apparent at first, but older, lower standard fare like "It Could Happen to You" and "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," works nicely, and the instrumental breaks swing so effortlessly they could support an album on their own. B+(***)
  • Tim Sparks: Little Princess - Tim Sparks Plays Naftule Brandwein (2009, Tzadik): Guitarist, which puts him in a different bandwidth from the legendary klezmer clarinetist. I made a point of checking out Rounder's Brandwein anthology, The King of the Klezmer Clarinet, and can vouch for its clarity, vigor, and good humor. Sparks' guitar is spaced out a little less succinctly, or perhaps I mean indeterminately? Moreover, his rhythm section -- Greg Cohen on bass, Cyro Baptista on percussion -- is far better recorded, sharper, and more varied. All in all, jazzier. A-

  • Chad Taylor: Circle Down (2008 [2009], 482 Music): Aside from the normal Google name confusion -- Consuming Fire Minister, Chainsaw Juggler, Novelist from New Zealand -- there's the Chad Taylor who plays guitar for some post-grunge rock band called Live. AMG has merged this guitarist with the guy I would have sworn was the real Chad Taylor: drummer, b. 1973, from Chicago, based in New York, member of Chicago Underground Duo/Trio, Sticks and Stones, Digital Primitives, etc. First album with his name up front: a piano trio, of all things, with Chris Lightcap on bass and Angelica Sanchez on the keys. Taylor wrote 5 of 10 pieces, with Lightcap 3 and Sanchez 2. Better than Sanchez's own album, especially on Taylor tracks like "Pascal" where the percussion swirls all around. B+(***)
  • Henry Threadgill Zooid: This Brings Us To, Volume 1 (2008 [2009], Pi): First album since Threadgill dropped two back in 2001, after a five year hiatus, but from the mid-1970s with Air up to 1996 he was one of the more inventive avant-gardists, and one of the few who often seemed on the verge of breaking out with something big. You'll hear more about that next year when Mosaic comes out with a big box of his long out-of-print Novus material, including such classics as Air Lore. This one is interesting in parts, fraught in others: slow start, lots of flute, some odd dead spots, but also much of it is flat out wonderful. The band is distinctive, and each has his spots: Liberty Ellman on guitar, Jose Davila on trombone and tuba, Stomu Takeishi on bass guitar, and Elliot Humberto Kavee on drums. I've played it a lot and go up and down. Volume 2 would be most welcome, maybe decisive. B+(***)
  • Allen Toussaint: The Bright Mississippi (2008 [2009], Nonesuch): A great record producer, especially with Minit Records in the 1960s and scattered acts into the 1970s like the Wild Tchoupitoulas, with a pretty sporadic six decade career as a recording artist tries his hand on a Joe Henry-produced trad jazz album. The songs offer few surprises -- even the Monk title song bends to the prevailing wind -- and Toussaint is neither an ambitious or impertinent pianist. But he gets expert help from Don Byron (clarinet), Nicholas Payton (trumpet), and Marc Ribot (uncharacteristically restrained acoustic guitar), and on one cut each Joshua Redman (tenor sax, impossible not to notice) and Brad Mehldau (who takes over piano on Jelly Roll Morton's "Winin' Boy Blues"). The album shifts slightly starting with the title track nine tunes in, closing with two Ellington songs sandwiching Leonard Feather's "Long, Long Journey." Redman runs the first Ellington ("Day Dream"), then Toussaint offers a typically sly vocal on the Feather -- the only vocal on the record. The finale is "Solitude" -- a poignant end if ever there was one. A-
  • Johnny Varro Featuring Ken Peplowski: Two Legends of Jazz (2007 [2009], Arbors): You'd think if they were going to have two legends of jazz, they wouldn't relegate Peplowski to the "featuring" slot. But then, you'd think if they were going to celebrate legends of jazz, they'd pick a couple more, uh, legendary than Varro and Peplowski. Varro is a good Teddy Wilson disciple, born around the time Wilson was starting out, getting close to 80 now. Peplowski is nearly 30 years younger, which leaves him with less hair than Varro has, and not much darker. He was always the second tier young fogey behind Scott Hamilton -- a good side man, either on clarinet or tenor sax, but never a very inspired leader. He sticks to clarinet here, and plays as fine as ever. Frank Tate and Joe Ascione provide all the backup they need. Very nice work. B+(**)
  • Miroslav Vitous Group w/Michel Portal: Remembering Weather Report (2006-07 [2009], ECM): Strange thing, memory, blotting out not just Joe Zawinul's fusion but all keyboards, substituting bass clarinet for Shorter's soprano, orchestrating a set of strange and intriguing Dvorak variations on not just Miles Davis but on Ornette Coleman to boot. B+(***)
  • Ulf Wakenius: Love Is Real (2007 [2008], ACT): Swedish guitarist, b. 1958, has a dozen or so albums since 1992, mostly mild-mannered, likable affairs. Has played with Oscar Peterson from 1997 to the pianist's death. Last album our was shaped as a tribute to Keith Jarrett -- its simple elegance turned into one of the most pleasing albums I've heard in many years. This one looks like it suffers from Second System Complex -- when at first you succeed, try something grander and riskier -- but it comes together marvelously. The string quartet (name: radio.string.quartet.vienna) provides a groundswell of rich textures, discreet use of guest horns (trumpeters Til Brönner and Paolo Fresu on one cut each, trombonist Nils Landgren on another) shifts the focus around, and someone named Eric Wakenius -- I'd guess the leader's son -- grafts on an electric guitar solo from another generation. The fancy stuff works because the core quartet -- Lars Jansson (piano), Lars Danielsson (bass, cello, effects), and Morten Lund (drums, cajon, percussion) -- is so solid, and because Svensson's songs have some snap, crackle and pop to them. A-

Working notes from the bk-flush file for the records considered but discarded during the Jazz CG (22) review cycle:

  • Mario Adnet/Philippe Baden Powell: Afro Samba Jazz: The Music of Baden Powell (2009, Adventure Music): Sweetened up and stretched out for a studio orchestra where every little detail fits in but none stand out. One thing that loses out here is Baden Powell's guitar. Adnet plays most of the guitar here, but he passes a song each to Antonia Adnet and Marcel Powell in what look like family favors. Philippe Baden Powell avoided his father's footsteps by taking up the piano, but he plays on fewer than half of the cuts here, with Marcos Nimrichter carrying most of the load. Ricardo Silveira plays electric guitar on four cuts, but just for flavoring. A lot of neatly layered horns come and go, none making a lasting impression. I've heard several of Adnet's albums now, and remain lukewarm. Can't fault his knack for sophisticated arranging, but don't quite see the point. B+(*)
  • Ahleuchatistas: Of the Body Prone (2009, Tzadik): Guitar-bass-drums trio: Shane Perlowin, Derek Poteat, Ryan Oslance, respectively. Fifth album since 2004, with Oslance a newcomer this time. Rather metallic, not inordinately heavy but dense, not much that strikes me as jazz; maybe post-grunge. B [Rhapsody]
  • J.D. Allen Trio: Shine! (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): Tenor sax trio, a real solid freebop outing, promising a bit more at the start. B+(**)
  • By Request: The Best of Karrin Allyson (1993-2007 [2009], Concord): Kansas girl, started out with a clean, wholesome take on songbook standards, and wrote a bit -- her sole original here, "Sweet Home Cookin' Man," fairly stands out. I'm not sure that I like her 1996 "Cherokee," but her scat and Kim Park's slurred alto sax show her trying to do something interesting with the jazz tradition. Same can be said for her efforts to play off Coltrane. On the other hand, her early and recurring interest in Brazilian pop yields little -- she identifies "O Pato" as one of her signature songs, which makes it all the harder to put aside. Sort this chronologically and and it becomes clear that her career has been tailing off. After eleven albums, good time to catch her breath and take stock. B+(*)
  • Boogie Woogie Kings (1938-71 [2009], Delmark): Your basic boogie woogie piano sampler with some vocals; Lofton's six cuts are the oldest; Red, with four cuts including a previously unreleased (and relatively mild) "Dirty Dozens" is the most recent; Lewis gets three sharply played cuts, plus one with the Ammons-Johnson-Lewis triumvirate. B+(**)
  • Fred Anderson: 21st Century Chase (2009, Delmark): Eightieth birthday bash, live at Anderson's Velvet Lounge in Chicago. The 20th century "Chase" was a rousing bebop joust between Dexter Gordon and Wardell Gray, cut on a 78 in two parts back in 1947. This one also comes in two parts, one 36:13, the other 14:13. Anderson spars with fellow tenor saxophonist Kidd Jordan, about six years his junior. They've tangled before, as on a 1999 record called 2 Days in April, which I panned as plug ugly to the dismay of the record's few admirers. This one is plug ugly too, although for some reason I find it more amusing. Maybe because they pull their punches here and there. Also because they end with "Ode to Alvin Fielder." B+(*)
  • Carlos Barbosa-Lima: Merengue (2009, Zoho): Brazilian guitarist, b. 1944, has a couple dozen records including a 1982-98 stretch on Concord. The "Merengue" here is Venezuelan, not the better known Dominican form. Other pieces draw on Cuba and Brazil, elsewhere in South America, Hawaii even. Much of this is solo guitar, cautiously paced and captivating. Extra musicians appear here and there: Hendrik Meurkens (harmonica) on 2 cuts and Duduka Da Fonseca (percussion) on 4 make the front cover. Three cuts are guitar trios, with Karin Schaupp and Christopher McGuire chiming in. Two cuts add mandolin; three cuatro. B+(**)
  • Beaty Brothers Band: B3 (2007 [2008], Beaty Brothers): LP-style slipcase, probably a final product although it looked at first like an advance to me -- some labels do just that, but it seems unlikely that a self-release would. Brothers are John Beaty on alto sax and Joe Beaty on trombone. Band adds Yayoi Ikawa on piano (sounds electric), Jim Robertson on bass, Ari Hoenig on drums -- the latter is the only one I'm familiar with. Postbop, no real effort to take advantage of the electric instrument(s), and fairly limited solo power. B
  • David Berkman Quartet: Live at Smoke (2006 [2009], Challenge): Very solid, perhaps exemplary, mainstream postbop quartet, the pianist-leader always cogent, Jimmy Greene a pleasant surprise on tenor sax, even making a strong showing on soprano. Not sure why I don't rate this higher; probably because after a half-dozen plays I'm short for words. B+(***)
  • Bik Bent Braam: Extremen (2008, BBB): Braam is Michiel Braam, Dutch pianist, b. 1964. Don't know what "Bik Bent" means. One suggestion was Big Band, but online Dutch-to-English dictionary don't confirm that. The band is big: 13 pieces. None of the other names seem to figure in. Five reeds, with three saxes switching off to clarinet, another to bassoon. Five brass: cornet, trumpet, trombone, euphonium, tuba. A few players I recognize: Wilbert de Joode and Michael Vatcher from Braam's trio; trombonist Walter Wierbos; saxophonist/clarinetist Frank Gratkowski, who hitherto may have ranked as the most famous jazz musician I had never managed to hear. (No idea who moves up, but surely someone does.) As is often the case with avant-garde orchestras, the pieces are little more than cues for variation and improvisation. Starts somewhat tentative, but before long the players start to find their moments. A Spanish twist in a piece called "Franxs" especially grabbed my attention, but it was probably just a mistake. Hard to tell. B+(**)
  • David Binney: Third Occasion (2008 [2009], Mythology): Alto sax journeyman, has appeared on 60 or so albums since 1989, 13 of his own, without making much of a splash until he won Downbeat's Rising Star poll at age 45 -- i.e., he's the sort of guy who sneaks up on you. Here he's got an all-star quartet (Craig Taborn, Scott Colley, Brian Blade; if not stars at least I don't have to tell you what they do), and slips in some extra brass so subtly I scarcely noticed. Nothing here especially turns me on, but every time I notice they're in a nice groove, everyone doing something that sounds right. B+(**)
  • Jeb Bishop/Harris Eisenstadt/Jason Roebke: Tiebreaker (2008, Not Two): Trombone, drums, bass, respectively. Bishop and Roebke come out of Chicago, Bishop having made a name for himself in the Vandermark 5 before splitting a couple of years ago -- subsequently doing similar work in Lucky 7s and the Engines. Free improvs, don't know whether it was caught live in Poland or packed off on a tape. Trombone doesn't have a lot of range for this sort of thing, so while this is very solid work, it doesn't sweep you away. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Samuel Blaser Quartet: Pieces of Old Sky (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Trombonist, from Switzerland, based in New York and Berlin, has a previous Quartet album with guitar-bass-drums like this but different musicians. This time it's Todd Neufeld on guitar, Thomas Morgan on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Has an atmospheric feel to it, more free than not, not very boppish. B+(**)
  • Carla Bley/Steve Swallow/The Partyka Brass Quintet: Carla's Christmas Carols (2008 [2009], Watt): Probably inevitable, especially once Carla took her big band to church, and the choice of Ed Partyka's Brass Quintet is inspired. Two originals, a lot of Trad., starting with the undisguisable "O Tannenbaum," but with a "Jingle Bells" that wandered far enough afield I found myself checking the title. Still, it's more solemn than not, stately and measured. Would be an improvement over much you'll hear this shopping season. B+(*)
  • Stefano Bollani Trio: Stone in the Water (2008 [2009], ECM): Italian pianist, leading a trio with Jesper Bodilsen on bass and Morten Lund on drums. Rather quiet and delicate; perhaps too much so to really get a handle on. B+(*)
  • Anouar Brahem: The Astounding Eyes of Rita (2008 [2009], ECM): Oud player, from Tunisia, b. 1957, eighth album since 1991, all on ECM. He's generally struck me as the milder, blander alternative to Lebanese oudist Rabih Abou-Khalil, but he's settled into such a seductive groove here one can hardly complain. Group is a quartet with Klaus Gesing on bass clarinet, Björn Meyer on bass, and Khaled Yassine on percussion (darbouka and bendir). The bass clarinet adds depth without standing out on its own. Album is dedicated to the late Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, whose poem "Rita and the Rifle" is featured in the booklet. B+(***)
  • The Joshua Breakstone Trio: No One New (2009, Capri): Guitarist, b. 1955, I count 16 albums since 1983, noting a Remembering Grant Green, Let's Call This Monk!, and The Music of Bud Powell. Mostly originals here, but covers include Jimmy Rowles and Joe Henderson. Bop-oriented guitar lines, with bass and drums. Been done before, but this flows nicely. B+(**)
  • Brinsk: A Hamster Speaks (2008, Nowt): A concept album about hamsters singing arias over "metal-based rhythmic structures." The horns -- trumpet, tenor sax, euphonium -- keep it in the jazz realm. (There are no vocals, so don't worry about that.) I didn't get it the first time, and I don't get it now. It does seem likely that the group name is derived from bassist Aryeh Kobrinsky's name. B+(*)
  • The Rob Brown Trio: Live at Firehouse 12 (2008 [2009], Not Two): Alto saxophonist, a key player in several William Parker groups, starting to put together a solid catalog on his own. Joined here by Daniel Levin on cello and Satoshi Takeishi on percussion. Mostly rough, but there are several interesting and even eloquent sections, including the Billy Strayhorn-inspired "Stray(horn)." B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Michael Bublé: Crazy Love (2009, 143/Reprise): Singer, from Canada, b. 1975. Fourth studio album since 2003; second straight to chart No. 1, which puts him in a different universe than nearly every other jazz singer -- this album has sold more than 1.5 million copies to date. Pretty much the polar opposite of Gretchen Parlato: a suave, sophisticated, powerful vocalist, backed with an arsenal of a big band, so much overkill it turns into amusing self-caricature. Obvious songs, too: "Cry Me a River," "All of Me," "Georgia on My Mind," the Van Morrison title cut. Some clever ideas: a Sharon Jones duet, "Baby (You've Got What It Takes)"; sounds like the Mills Brothers on "Stardust." Not sure whether to be appalled or applaud. Most likely neither. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Gary Burton/Chick Corea: Crystal Silence: The ECM Recordings 1972-79 (1972-79 [2009], ECM, 4CD): Hot on the heels of a 35th anniversary reunion tour documented as The New Crystal Silence, ECM repacks the original album along with two subsequent duet performances. I wish I could extoll the original as a legend, but vibes-piano duets offer a limited palette with similar dynamics -- at best (e.g., Milt Jackson and Thelonious Monk) you get an intriguing solo piano record with a cloud of bright accents. Corea's piano is similarly dominant here, especially on the original album, which despite name order Burton's vibes add very little to. Six years later, Duet is thicker, with Corea more dramatic and Burton more frenzied -- often too much so. The following year's live album finds both players slipping into their comfort zones. Spread out over two discs (combined length 83:11) they are the most evenly matched and generally pleasing, although the piano on the first album makes a stronger impression. B+(*)
  • Gary Burton/Pat Metheny/Steve Swallow/Antonio Sanchez: Quartet Live (2007 [2009], Concord): I've never really gotten the point of Pat Metheny, but he's certainly the force that holds this surprisingly agreeable group together. He keeps it all moving swiftly forward, with electric bassist Swallow blending in seamlessly, which leaves vibraphonist Burton little to do but react. He's produced a lot of mediocre (and some hideous) records over 45 years now, but one thing he's always had is quick reflexes, and they're a plus here. B+(*)
  • Taylor Ho Bynum & Spidermonkey Strings: Madeleine Dreams (2009, Firehouse 12): One of those things that musicians sometimes do: take a piece of literature and turn it into opera. My all-time favorite is Michael Mantler's take on Edward Gorey's The Hapless Child, the exception to the rule that opera is usually a just a nasty slog. The book here is Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum's Madeleine Is Sleeping. I don't know how it reads, but it's awkward musically, and I can't say anything nice about Kyoko Kitamura's voice -- sure, could be an inspired meeting of weird words and music, but not an obvious one. Three extra cuts at least give the band a chance to show off. The Spidermonkey Strings are Jason Kao Hwang (violin), Jessica Pavone (viola), Tomas Ulrich (cello), and Pete Fitzpatrick (guitar), fortified by Joseph Daley (tuba) and Luther Gray (drums), with the leader on cornet. Coleman and Ra are standard here, but Ellington's "The Mooche" is most sublime, at least until Kitamura butts in with her Adelaide Hall impression, almost as amusing. B [Rhapsody]
  • Amanda Carr and the Kenny Hadley Big Band: Common Thread (2009, OMS): Carr is a vocalist with five albums since 2000. I rather liked her previous album Soon. Here she fronts a big band led by drummer Hadley. He cites Buddy Rich as an inspiration, and formed the band from local musicians, wherever local is -- I don't recognize anyone in the band. He has two previous albums, one with singer Rebecca Parris. Nothing much wrong here. The band has some punch; the singer can command a song. Still, I couldn't hear "They All Laughed" without recalling Fitzgerald and Armstrong, and, well, you know, nothing like that here. B
  • Sharel Cassity: Relentless (2008 [2009], Jazz Legacy Productions): Alto saxophonist, b. 1978 in Iowa City, IA, also plays soprano sax and flute. Second album. Solid mainstream group with Orrin Evans on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass, EJ Strickland on drums, and quite a few extra horns popping in and out -- Jeremy Pelt on trumpet, Thomas Barber on flugelhorn, Michael Dease on trombone, Andrew Boyarsky on tenor sax, Don Braden on alto flute. Slick and flashy postbop. B
  • Audrey Chen/Robert van Heumen: Abattoir (2008-09 [2009], Evil Rabbit): Chen plays cello and makes vocal noises -- hard to judge her as a singer here in what is basically an unapologetic avant-noise album. Van Heumen is credited with laptop and controllers; also "selected, mixed, and mastered" so he has the last laugh. Chen is Chinese-American, b. 1976 near Chicago, is based in Baltimore. She has appeared on several other albums, only incidentally getting top billing here. Van Heumen's credit list goes back to 2000, but it's hard to tell how they shape up into albums. I tried following postclassical electronic music back in the 1970s when it was still relatively rare, but lost track in the 1980s, especially after Tom Johnson left the Village Voice. I imagine there's more stuff like this floating around, but just don't hear it. Strange sounds, lots of noise, a bit hard to take. Still, I don't find it as annoying as Merzbow or Lightning Bolt. I doubt that you'll like it, but I'm not sure I don't. B+(*)
  • The Aaron Choulai Trio: Ranu (2008 [2009], Sunnyside): Pianist, from Papua New Guinea, b. 1982, which moves him past prodigy contention -- I was pretty hard on his previous album, Place, but don't have anything to complain about here. Two of his four covers are rock-derived, and while Radiohead seems likely to be the curse of his generation, his 10:18 repetitive stretch of Neil Young's "Tell Me Why" works out quite nicely. B+(*)
  • Freakish: Anthony Coleman Plays Jelly Roll Morton (2009, Tzadik): Pianist. AMG credits him with 9 albums since 1992, omitting a couple of duos he came up on on the short stick of, and maybe some group albums I'd file his way -- Sephardic Tinge, the Selfhaters, not sure what else. No doubt he was thinking of Morton when he titled an early album Sephardic Tinge then recycled the album name as group name. This is solo, as straightforward as any Morton tribute. "Freakish" is an obscure song title. I suppose if Morton were around he'd explain how he invented Monk. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Andy Cotton: Last Stand at the Havemeyer Ranch (2009, Bju'ecords): Bassist, plays guitar on one cut, grew up near Boston, studied at New School, based in Brooklyn, first album. Packaging a thin brown sleeve, looks biodegradeable. Gets lots of help, and the whole thing can be described as eclectic, but one relatively common theme is reggae -- "Shit Rock" is probably the best example, but there's also "Slow Reggie" and "C minor Reggie." Influences list starts with King Tubby; also includes "Appalachian fiddle music," which influences "Macallan's Waltz." Several cuts have vocalists, adding to the mish-mash feel even though there's nothing particularly wrong with any of them. B+(**)
  • On Ka'a Davis: Djoukoujou! (2009, Tzadik): Guitarist, joined up with Sun Ra near the end of the latter's career, manages an unruly mob here, long on bass and percussion, with horn credits, like vocal credits, merely divided into "fronting" and "backing." Davis has another new record out this year, Seed of Djuke, which I picked as an HM. It had pretty much the same group, more vocals, a bit more generic funk. This is rougher, dirtier, like he's finally getting some mileage out of his Sun Ra channel. Especially vivid is a squeaky sax solo early on -- I figure it's probably Saco Yasuma. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Maria de Barros: Morabeza (2009, Sheer Group): Born in Senegal, grew up in Mauritania, and has lived and moved all over, but she maintains allegiance to the Cape Verdean music of her parents, and of Cesaria Evora. Lithe Portuguese soul music, familiar from Brazil but just a shade different. B+(**)
  • Joey DeFrancesco: Finger Poppin' With Joey DeFrancesco: Celebrating the Music of Horace Silver (2008 [2009], Doodlin'): A batch of Horace Silver classics played by a Silver-like group, only with DeFrancesco's organ replacing both piano and bass, which costs a bit of sparkle on the high end. You'd think it would also add to the churchiness, but that's not really DeFrancesco's style, and if anything he loses some of the gospel swagger and sway. The two horns are Tom Harrell on flugelhorn and Tim Warfield on tenor sax. They both have moments, but neither really breaks loose. [NB: Rhapsody didn't cooperate in playing all of the songs.] B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Karl Denson's Tiny Universe: Brother's Keeper (2009, Shanachie): Saxophonist, plays them all plus flute, b. 1968, 9th album since 1992. Always liked funk grooves, but started out thinking he might rough them up rather than smooth them over. But he kept edging further into pop jazz, but rather than letting himself be swallowed up he's emerged on the other side as a vocalist, where he has too much grit in his voice to go smooth. Upbeat, positive expressions, doesn't like war. Easy to imagine that "Mighty Rebel" would fit into the Bob Marley songbook, but that just reminds you that Marley would have done it better. As "Just Got Paid" shows, he's never going to sell it all out, but a man's gotta make a living. B+(**)
  • Bill Dixon: Tapestries for Small Orchestra (2009, Firehouse 12, 2CD): Trumpet player, b. 1925, which makes him 84. Late starter: he got his first notice on a 1966 Cecil Taylor album, Conquistador, but didn't carve out much of a career until the 1980s when he cut a series of albums on the Italian Soul Note label, a run that ended around 2000. Those were small group albums, some no more than duos with drummer Tony Oxley. However, Dixon was enough of a legend, at least in some circles, that he reappeared in 2007, of all things arranging for large groups -- curiously, a move also made by Andrew Hill, Sam Rivers, and Charles Tolliver. I've only sampled Dixon lightly over the years, and never found anything particularly appealing, but this one is striking. The 9-piece group is heavily stocked with the trumpet family -- Dixon plus Taylor Ho Bynum, Graham Haynes, Stephen Haynes, and Rob Mazurek, most on cornet with flugelhorn, bass trumpet, and piccolo trumpet also credited. The only reed is Michael Conte's contrabass and bass clarinet. Glynis Loman plays cello, Ken Filiano bass, and Warren Smith vibes, marimba, drums, tympani, and gongs. Several of these plyers are also credited with electronics, which can get a bit Halloweeny, often pierced by jabs of cornet. Eight pieces stretch out over two discs. Package also includes a DVD, which I don't have and haven't seen. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • DJ Spooky: The Secret Song (2009, Thirsty Ear): Paul Miller, turntablist, producer; hooked up with Matthew Shipp in the early days of Thirsty Ear's Blue Series jazz-DJ experiment. The instrumental pieces reflect that, with Shipp and Khan Jamal's vibes and samples flutes and what not, mixed in with rap bits from the Coup and the Jungle Brothers, plus some spoken Bush that almost makes sense. Comes with a second disc, but I have no idea what's on it or what it's for. B+(***)
  • Anne Drummond: Like Water (2007 [2009], ObliqSound): Flute player, seems to be from Seattle, moved to New York in 1999, this looks to be her first album (although AMG also lists something called Flute Ballads with no real info). Has side credits with Kenny Barron, Stefon Harris, Avishai Cohen (the bassist), Dave Liebman, Nilson Matts, Jason Miles, Andy Milne, Manuel Valera, James Silberstein -- enough to get her on the short list of rising flute stars. Likes Brazilian music, enough to pick up Matta and Duduka Da Fonseca on a couple of cuts. Also likes classica music, or that's how it seems given she adds violin and/or viola on most cuts. I've never been a flute fan, exept when it's incidental to something else I really like, like David Murray's Creole. This is listenable enough, but has no special appeal to me. C+
  • The Duke of Elegant: Gems From the Duke Ellington Songbook [The Composer Collection Volume 3] (1959-2007 [2009], High Note): Label recycling project, only two cuts predating 1999 -- a Mark Murphy shot from 1990 and Lucky Thompson from 1959 -- with the usual ups and downs but nothing that really stands out. Doesn't flow all that well either. B
  • Kyle Eastwood: Metropolitan (2009, Rendezvous): Bassist son of actor Clint Eastwood. Physicist Sheldon Glashow once had a story about being at some sort of celebrity autograph thing and noticing that the guy next to him was getting a lot more traffic than he was. He asked the guy who he was, and got "Clint Eastwood" for an answer. Asked him what he was famous for, and got "you gotta be kidding." Kyle has been lurking on Clint's soundtracks for the past decade, although Lennie Niehaus is still the director's jazz professor emeritus. Fourth album since 1998, not counting his soundtrack to Letters From Iwo Jima. Advance copy with no credit info either on sleeve or hypesheet, other than that Miles Davis's son Erin co-produced. Mostly groove tracks, with non-cheezy electric keybs, bass and drums, some nice spots of trumpet (Til Brönner), two vocals (Camille). B+(*)
  • Zé Eduardo Unit: Jazz Ar: Live in Capuchos (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Recording date doesn't give year, so I'm guessing there, rolling back from the more precise liner notes date. Trio, led by Portugese bassist, with Jesus Santandreu on tenor sax and Bruno Pedroso on drums. Don't recognize the pieces other than "The Simpsons" theme. One problem is that the record has some unusually quiet spots -- probably bass solos -- plus some other starts and stops. B
  • Marty Ehrlich Rites Quartet: Things Have Got to Change (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Two horns, with James Zollar's trumpet joining Ehrlich's alto sax, Erik Friedlander's cello in lieu of bass, Pheeroan Aklaff on drums. Ehrlich picked up 3 Julius Hemphill pieces and wrote 5 originals much in the same vein. Hemphill tended to write slippery pieces with lots of odd harmonic touches, things I often found irritating although sometimes he managed to turn them into miracles. There's some of that here, with a couple of pieces that don't come together -- Ehrlich's, actually -- making this a difficult record. Zollar is generally superb. Friedlander's cello sometimes comes off more like a guitar, leaving the steadying role of the bass vacant. B+(*)
  • Harris Eisenstadt: Canada Day (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Drummer, b. 1975 in Toronto, Canada; based in New York. Has an interest in West African music, which he's worked into some of his 7 records since 2002, although it's not obvious here. Quintet, with Nat Wooley (trumpet) and Matt Bauder (tenor sax) the horns, Chris Dingman's vibes in between, and Eivind Opsvik on bass. More freebop than postbop, although the harmonics make me think of the latter; while the horns have their moments, they don't work as consistently as I'd like. B+(*)
  • Empirical: Out 'n' In (2009 [2010], Naim Jazz): UK group, based in London, a quartet with Nathaniel Facey on alto sax, Lewis Wright on vibes, Tom Farmer on double bass, and Shaney Forbes on drums, expanded here with Julian Siegel on bass clarinet and tenor sax. The occasion for the latter is an interest in Eric Dolphy, who provides the two covers and inspiration for a Facey original, "Dolphyus Morphyus." B+(**)
  • Ersatzmusika: Songs Unrecantable (2009, Asphalt Tango): A group of six Russians based in Berlin, the most critical being keyboard-accordion player and singer Irina Doubrovskaja. The Russian lyrics have been translated into English by seventh wheel Thomas Cooper who sings two of them with as little voice as possible. Doubrovskaja as a speechy voice as well -- I've seen her likened to Marlene Dietrich, which at least give you a picture of the effect -- with an accent so heavy she turns the English words back into Russian pidgin. What's ersatz is the folk-rock with a cabaret twist. Group also has an earlier album, sans Cooper, called Voice Letter, which is even truer to the concept. [PS: I don't normally put any stock in a musician's MySpace friends list, even I was impressed by this group's combo: Moondog, Brian Eno, and Manu Chao. PPS: I think those are fan pages rather than artist pages.] A-
  • Wayne Escoffery: Uptown (2008 [2009], Posi-Tone): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1975 in England, moved to Connecticut at age 11, studied with Jackie McLean. Fifth album. Has a big tone, impressive chops, tends to make conservative musical choices. (Labels: Nagel Heyer, Savant, now Posi-Tone.) This is an old-fashioned soul jazz configuration -- guitar (Avi Rothbard), organ (Gary Versace), and drums (Jason Brown) -- although no one here quite risks sounding old-fashioned. B+(*)
  • Anna Estrada: Obsesión (2009, Feral Flight): Singer, from Bay Area, second album, mostly in Spanish (I think), with some Brazilian tunes slipped in, plus two in English done with nice samba beats. The latter two are inspired choices: "Nature Boy" and "Always Something There to Remind Me." Nice album cover art. B+(**)
  • Charles Evans/Neil Shan: Live at Saint Stephens (2009, Hot Cup): Evans plays baritone sax; had a solo record called The King of All Instruments that held up pretty well. Shah plays piano, and has a previous album I haven't heard. (Also reportedly sings, but not here.) Like so many duos, a lot of thoughtful interplay but nothing really takes off. B+(*)
  • Ella Fitzgerald: Twelve Nights in Hollywood (1961-62 [2009], Hip-O Select/Verve, 4CD): The recently reissued single Ella in Hollywood sums this up nicely, but with Norman Granz recording all of an eleven night stand at Sunset Strip's Crescendo Club, the first three discs here are still cherry picking, with no redundancies except when Ella herself would sing one twice in a row, just because she was into it. She was into nearly everything here: on the last lap of her tour through the songbooks, she had a vast repertoire, and could make more up any time the words stumped her or she just wanted to play with you -- after all, everybody loves "Perdido" even though nobody knows the words. The fourth disc returns a year later, with no guitar and different piano and drums -- changes that make no real difference. The packaging here looks fancy but is awkward, with its slip-cover misidentifying guitarist Herb Ellis, and inflexible sleeves making it hard to get discs in and out. A-
  • The Fonda/Stevens Group: Trio (2006 [2007], Not Two): Bassist Joe Fonda, pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, drummer Harvey Sorgen. Stripped down to a trio the piano flowers with a commanding rhythmic density and the bass stretches out. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • The Fonda-Stevens Group: Memphis (2008 [2009], Playscape): Principals are bassist Joe Fonda (b. 1954) and pianist Michael Jefry Stevens (b. 1951), who have something like ten albums together, probably more each on their own -- not easy to count these things informally (e.g., AMG has separate lists for "Fonda Stevens Group" and "Fonda-Stevens Group"). Quartet this time, with Herb Robertson on trumpet and Harvey Sorgen on drums. Wide range of stuff here, including two group vocals, very rough attempts at r&b -- note that Stevens calls Memphis home -- but mostly slippery freebop that can go fast, slow, inside, or far out. Both principals write five songs each. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • John Funkhouser Trio: Time (2009, Jazsyzygy): Piano trio, with Greg Loughman on bass and Mike Connors on drums. Funkhouser comes from Boston, studied at New England Conservatory, lived in New York for a while then returned to Boston to teach at Berklee. Also plays bass, presumably not here. Website claims discography of "over 40 CDs," three with his Trio: previous ones take the hint from his name are are called Funkhouse and Funkhouse II. This rolls along brightly. B+(**)
  • Nobuyasu Furuya Trio: Bendowa (2009, Clean Feed): Plays tenor sax, bass clarinet, flute, in that order; from Japan, based in Lisbon, Portugal; so is rhythm section: Hernani Faustino on bass, Gabriel Ferrandini on drums/percussion. Jointly-credited improvs, five in all. Title has something to do with zen master Dogen. Gives the flute/bass clarinet stuff a bit of airy elegance, but the sax can still get ugly -- it's in its nature. B+(**)
  • Jim Gailloreto's Jazz String Quintet: American Complex (2009, Origin Classical): Saxophonist, plays soprano here, but seems to have started on tenor. Fourth album, second with this string quartet, which despite the Jazz in the name is standard issue classical in format and, most likely, training. They stay rather neatly in the background, but the soprano sax matches their timbre well enough that they fit together smartly. Best on Monk's "Well You Needn't," which forces them into unnatural positions. Patricia Barber adds piano and voice on two of her songs. Origin invented a label for them, but that really wasn't necessary. B+(*)
  • Rob Garcia 4: Perennial (2009, Bju'ecords): Drummer, has a couple of previous albums out. Wrote everything here but "Cherokee." Quartet, with Noam Preminger on tenor sax, Dan Tepfer on piano, and Chris Lightcap on bass. Measured postbop, a tension to the rhythm, strong leads both on sax and piano. B+(**)
  • Ray Gehring & Commonwealth: Radio Trails (2009, Evan Music): Guitarist, b. 1968 in Washington, DC; grew up in Nebraska; eventually landed in Brooklyn after spells in Paris and Minneapolis. Has a previous trio record. This one is a little more complicated, often combining keyboards and organ, sometimes with bass, always with drums. Four songs have vocals, three by Dan Gaarder, starting with Gram Parsons' "She," given a tasteful read. Guitar doesn't stand out very much, although it does fold in with the keyboards nicely. Rather indifferent about the vocals. B
  • Egberto Gismonti: Saudações (2006-07 [2009], ECM, 2CD): Brazilian guitarist, has a long list of records since 1970, which I've sampled only lightly. The two discs here are completely independent. The first is a 7-part suite for string orchestra, performed by the Cuban group Camerata Romeu. Labelled a "tribute to miscegnation," it purports to tell the story of Brazil, but in classical composition terms I can't begin to decipher. The second disc is on the opposite end of the scale: a set of guitar duets with Alexandre Gismonti. They're hard to follow too, but the intimate scale and tight intertwining give them some interest. B
  • Jared Gold: Supersonic (2008 [2009], Posi-Tone): Organ player, based in New York, has another record out this year on Posi-Tone (didn't get it), not sure which is his debut. This one has Ed Cherry on guitar and McClenty Hunter on drums. Rather energetic, but not much else to recommend it. B-
  • Ben Goldberg: Speech Communication (2009, Tzadik): Clarinetist, has 8 albums since 1992, plus three more by his New Klezmer Trio group (1990-2000). This is another trio, in Tzadik's Radical Jewish Culture series, so there's some suggestion that this is a New Klezmer Trio reunion -- drummer Kenny Wollesen is shared, bassist Greg Cohen is new. With all original tunes, doesn't sound very klezmerish, but isn't far removed either. Starts solo, but picks up nicely with bass and drums. The deep-sounding clarinet on a couple of pieces is a contra alto. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Chris Greene Quartet: Merge (2009 [2010], Single Malt): Saxophonist, from Evanston, IL; studied at University of Indiana; returned to Chicago. Fifth album since 1998. Album pictures him with a tenor sax; website with a soprano. Grew up listening to funk, which comes through especially in the three originals that kick off the album. After that this leans more postbop, although I'm occasionally reminded of Illinois Jacquet. Group includes piano-bass-drums, no one I've heard of, although pianist Damian Espinosa wrote one song and takes a few notable solos. B+(**)
  • Tom Gullion: Carswell (2008-09 [2009], Momentous): Saxophonist, b. 1965 in Clinton, IN, studied at Indians University and Northwestern; worked in Chicago, currently based in Wisconsin. Two sets here, one cut in LaCrosse, WI, the other in Chicago, with different groups -- both feature electric piano, acoustic bass, and drums; plus the WI group has David Cooper on trumpet. Mainstream player with some chops, mostly tenor but also works in a little soprano, bass clarinet, and alto flute. When in doubt, sticks close to funk grooves, not a bad idea. B+(**)
  • Andy Haas/Don Fiorino: Death Don't Have No Mercy (2005, Resonant Music): Haas is a saxophonist (alto, I believe), who also plays piri, fife, and live electronics here, didjeridu elsewhere. He first appeared c. 1980 in a Canadian rock group called Martha and the Muffins -- their Metro Music was one of my favorite records that year. Since then he's worked with God Is My Co-Pilot, circulated in and around John Zorn projects, and landed with a group called Radio I-Ching. I liked their latest when I streamed it from Rhapsody, asked for a real copy, and got a lot of background material in addition. This is a duo with Fiorino, who plays guitar, lotar, banjo, and dobro. Some of this stuff is fascinating, including the stretched way out "Anthem" which you will recognize as "Star Spangled Banner," but it tends to wander especially when they get off their main instruments. B+(*)
  • Andy Haas: Humanitarian War (2006, Resonant Music): What's it good for? Absolutely nothing. Sorry, couldn't resist. The ten tracks are named for weapons, especially ones that are more oriented toward maiming than killing -- cluster bombs ("CBU 87 Steel Rain," "BLU108B Cluster"), anti-personnel mines ("PFM-1 Green Parrot," "Valmara 69"), "White Phosphorus" and "Depleted Uranium." "AGM-142 Have Hap" is an Israeli air-to-ground missile; "MK77 Mod 5" is a US incendiary bomb, updated napalm; "BLU 113 Penetrator" is a US bunker-busting "smart bomb." Solo improvs, with shofar and fife prominent on the instrument list. Educational, I suppose, but not very enjoyable. B
  • Andy Haas: The Ruins of America (2007-08 [2008], Resonant Music): Another solo job, which is inevitably its weak spot. Haas is credited with sax, piri, fife, live electronics and prepared loops, footnoting that the electronic sounds are processed from unnamed acoustic instruments. Two Brazilian tunes, but mostly Americana -- a lot of trad., a little Irving Berlin, the three part original title track split up into four pieces. Tends toward abstraction, deconstruction, sonic mischief. B+(*)
  • The Jeff Hamilton Trio: Symbiosis (2009, Capri): Piano trio, led by the drummer better known for his role in the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, currently the big band singers like Diana Krall routinely call on. The pianist here is Tamir Hendelman, with Christoph Luty on bass -- two young musicians based in Los Angeles, possibly on their first records. Record includes one Hamilton original (a samba), the rest standards. Straightforward, snappy, enjoyable. B+(**)
  • The Hanuman Sextet: 9 Meals From Anarchy (2006, Resonant Music): Radio I-Ching -- Andy Haas (sax, raita, morsing, live electronics), Don Fiorino (lotar & lap steel guitar), Dee Pop (drums, percussion) -- plus Mia Theodoratus (electric harp), Matt Heyner (bass, erhu), and David Gould (more drums, percussion). Two covers -- one from Jamaican saxophonist Cedric Brooks, the other "Everything Happens to Me" -- plus eight joint improvs. The latter are rather scattered, but rarely short of interest. B+(**)
  • The Heliocentrics: Out There (2007, Now Again): Presumably Sun Ra-inspired, although an association with DJ Shadow has sharpened up their beats, and their jazz credentials are unsure. Still, they first came to my attention playing with Mulatu Astatke, and the difference they made between Astatke's old Ethio-Jazz and his Information Inspiration is not just beatwise -- they also improvise more around the beat. Subtract Astatke and you get this, which is more dancefloor and more soundtrack but only around the frilly edges. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Jim Hobbs/Joe Morris/Luther Gray: The Story of Mankind (2008, Not Two): Hobbs is an alto saxophonist from Boston who remained obscure despite sounding brilliant every time he popped up. But he's been popping up a lot in the last couple of years, on records led by Morris or in his Fully Celebrated group. Morris plays bass, although elsewhere he's mostly a guitarist. Gray plays drums. Don't know what the circumstances of this record were, but it is up and down, with some very impressive parts as well as indecisive ones. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Billie Holiday: The Complete Commodore & Decca Masters (1939-50 [2009], Hip-O Select/Verve, 3CD): Nothing new here. The 16 cuts Holiday recorded in 1939-44 for Commodore are available since 2000 as The Commodore Master Takes, and the 37 1944-50 Decca cuts appeared as The Complete Decca Recordings back in 1991. Both sets are still in print, and a good deal cheaper than this elegant little "limited edition." This is the middle period Holiday you never hear about: the early-late debate turns on how much you are attracted to her martyrdom, but both periods are consistently backed by great bands -- thanks to John Hammond and Norman Granz, with a strong assist from Teddy Wilson. Milt Gabler tried at Commodore, but results were spotty, while Decca's orchestras -- not to mention the strings and backing choirs -- were anonymous and often schlocky. Still, Holiday's voice is strong and healthy and one-of-a-kind, and she carries almost everything they throw at her. The most historic, of course, is her anti-lynching ballad "Strange Fruit." Among the most fun are a pair of Decca duets with Louis Armstrong. A-
  • Will Holshouser Trio + Bernardo Sassetti: Palace Ghosts and Drunken Hymns (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Accordion player, has a couple of previous albums on Clean Feed. Trio adds trumpeter Ron Horton, who is sparkling throughout, and bassist David Phillips. Sassetti is a Portuguese pianist I have high regard for, but he doesn't make much of an impression here. "Drunkard's Hymn" is fully achieved; it is credibed to Holshouser but its roots are deep in trad. B+(**)
  • Randy Ingram: The Road Ahead (2009, Bju'ecords): Pianist, from Laguna Beach, CA; studied at USC and New England Conservatory, at the latter with Fred Hersch and Danilo Perez (also garlanding an "incredible pianist" quote from George Russell). First album, mostly trio with Matt Clohesy and Jochen Rueckert, with saxophonist John Ellis joining in on several cuts. Four of nine originals, including a Monkish "Hope" leading in to Monk's "Think of One" -- other covers include Lennon/McCartney, Cole Porter, and Ornette Coleman. Impressive work either way. B+(**)
  • Nick Kadajski's 5 Point Perspective: Remembering Things to Come (2008 [2009], Circavision): Alto saxophonist, based in New York, leads a group with two guitars, bass, and drums -- no one I recognize. Has a Jekyl/Hyde aspect to it: when the saxophonist lays back this loses itself in arrangerly postbopism, but when he takes charge he's the life of the party. B+(*)
  • Beat Kaestli: Far From Home: A Tribute to European Song (2009, B+B): Vocalist, from Switzerland, based in New York since 1993, looks like his third album. Nine of 14 songs list Kaestli as co-writer; most likely he adds lyrics to others' songs. Album credits are confusing, although Gregoire Maret needs no introduction. Liner notes are by Jon Hendricks; not much help either. The European songs include Bizet and Weill and trad. The words are all in English. The singer is sauve and elegant, precise and stylish, something of a drag. B
  • Kind of Blue Revisited: The Miles Davis Songbook [The Composer Collection Volume 4] (1990-2006 [2009], High Note): The five songs from Kind of Blue, two repeated, "All Blues" a third time; at least they hold together better than any sampling across the Davis songbook, and the repetitions are spaced out so they return like themes. The takes also vary in interesting ways: they lose the trumpet after three cuts, at first in favor of Bob Stewart's tuba, then down to an Eric Reed piano trio, then (into the repetitions) a Mark Murphy scat (surprisingly good), Regina Carter's Quartette Indigo, and a Jimmy Ponder guitar duo. B+(**)
  • Guy Klucevsek: Dancing on the Volcano (2009, Tzadik): Accordion player, b. 1947, a major figure on the instrument since the late 1980s, covering a wide range of styles -- AMG lists his genre as Avant-Garde and his styles as including World Fusion, Klezmer, and European Folk. He's not a jazz musician in the bebop sense, but most other senses will do. Group is normally a quartet with Steve Elson (clarinet, bass clarinet, soprano sax), Pete Donovan (bass), and John Hollenbeck (drums, percussion); on a couple of tracks Alex Meixner's accordion replaces Elson. A couple of waltzes, some dancing, not a lot of volcano. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Ithamara Koorax & Juarez Moreira: Bim Bom: The Complete João Gilberto Songbook (2009, Motema): Brazilian singer and guitarist, respectively. She has a dozen or so album since 1993, including a couple based on Luiz Bonfá. Album is timed for the 50th anniversary of Gilberto's debut album, Chega da Saudade. Only surprise is that he only wrote the 11 songs here (several cowritten by others, especially João Donato). B+(*)
  • Ted Kooshian's Standard Orbit Quartet: Underdog, and Other Stories . . . (2008 [2009], Summit): Pianist, b. 1961 in San Jose, CA; attended San Jose State; played on cruise ships; moved to New York in 1987. Third album since 2004; second under this group name, which aligns him with saxophonist Jeff Lederer, bassist Tom Hubbard, and either Warren Odze or Scott Neumann on drums. Most of the songs here are recognizable as TV or movie themes. "Underdog" was a cartoon show I recall from my youth, done with a Latin twist here, while "Sanford and Son" and "The Odd Couple" were sitcoms; "Popeye" goes back even further. Not sure where to place Raymond Scott and Duke Ellington, but Steely Dan's "Aja" is an outlier. While some of the themes are cartoonishly obvious, most of them amount to more than laughs. B+(**)
  • Briggan Krauss: Red Sphere (2008, Skirl): Alto saxophonist, cut three albums for Knitting Factory in the late 1990s, but has a lot of side credits going back to Babkas in 1993, most notably with Sex Mob. Makes some noise here, little resolving into music of note, but much of it works as a foil for his trio mates: Ikue Mori on laptop and Jim Black on percussion. Black is terrific, and Mori provides some variation. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Kristina: Offshore Echoes (2009, Patois): Vocalist. No last name, not even on hype sheet or on her website (which, by the way, wasn't on hype sheet either). AMG lists 8 artists known solely as Kristina plus 38 Kristina Somethings plus one more with Kristina as a last name plus a Kristina & Laura, none of which look like likely matches. This one is from the Bay Area, home of the world's worst world music. Ten songs are labelled by country treatment rather than source, so you get "Cherokee" representing Cuba and Paul Simon for Jamaica. The band would prefer playing everything with a Cuban twist, except for the starchy strings representing USA ("Tenderly"). The credits laborously label the percussion instruments, then chalk the horns off as, well, horns. Voice is on the sweet side, and her jazz phrasing is average, but the songs leave a lot to be desired. Could use a corporate makeover -- she's certainly not going to become a Madonna, a Joyce, or even an Eldar. C+
  • Scott LaFaro: Pieces of Jade (1960-61 [2009], Resonance): Legendary bassist, almost exclusively known for his work in Bill Evans' trio culminating in Waltz for Debby and Sunday at the Village Vanguard -- the most essential records in Evans' considerable discography. He died in a car wreck in 1961 at age 25, leaving no records in his own name, but has grown in stature to the point where he regularly gets substantial votes in Downbeat's Hall of Fame poll. This release gives him something for the books, but it's pretty scattered. Five tracks pick up a trio session with pianist Don Friedman and drummer Pete LaRoca -- fine work, as you'd expect from Friedman. There follows a 22:44 rehearsal tape of LaFaro with Evans, a 13:39 interview with Evans talking about LaFaro from 1966, and a 6:23 Friedman solo, "Memories for Scotty," dating from 1985. All this is interesting but in the end it strikes me that we're reading more into his premature death than his short life warranted. He's not even unique in that regard -- cf. Ray Blanton, Richard Twardzik, and others who actually did leave more to chew on, like Charlie Christian, Booker Little, and for that matter Charlie Parker. B
  • Mark Lambert: Under My Skin (2006 [2009], Challenge): Guitarist-singer, second album, pretty much all standards starting with two Cole Porters and nearly closing with "Without a Song" -- Cream and Betty Carter are the outliers. Don't know much about him, but he lives in Rio de Janeiro, his real name is evidently Lampariello, he refers to "our home in Belleville" -- there are 10 in the US, 2 in Canada, others in France and Côte d'Ivoire -- and most of his credits are accompanying other singers -- he singles out for special thanks Annie Haslem, Astrud Gilberto, Darlene Love, and Ute Lemper. Songs I like, in spare arrangements that move along nicely. B+(**)
  • Tom Lellis and the Metropole Orchestra: Skylark (1999 [2009], Adventure Music): Lellis is a singer with various jazz affectations that I've always found offputting, but he comes off merely bland here, maybe a little deeper than bland. Metropole Orchestra seems to be a Dutch group with more musicians than I felt like jotting down -- 17 violins, 5 violas, 4 celli, 3 basses (one of which was credited as "jazz bass"), 20 wind instruments, 5 percussion; 2 each of guitar, harp, and piano/synthesizer. John Clayton conducted. Lellis composed 3 of 8 songs, and wrote lyrics to 3 others, leaving only the title song and the obligatory Jobim. Label specializes in Brazilian music, but despite the Jobim there's none of that here. B
  • Gianni Lenoci: Agenda (2003 [2005], Vel Net): Thought I'd check out an earlier work by Lenoci, an Italian pianist whose recent Ephemeral Rhizome solo impressed me. This is also solo, a set of Steve Lacy pieces transplanted to piano. Slow and deliberate, thoughtful. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Ray LeVier: Ray's Way (2007 [2009], Origin): Drummer, based in New York, has worked with KJ Denhert for 10 years, but doesn't have much in the way of credits. First album. Must have worked his way around, for he came up with a name roster, having to divide the guitar slots between John Abercrombie (5 cuts, with Joe Locke on vibes) and Mike Stern (4 cuts). Dave Binney play sax on two cuts with each guitarist. François Moutin and Ned Mann split bass duties, and Federico Turreni gets one cut on soprano sax. LeVier wrote 2 of 9 songs, picking up others from the band, plus "Blues in the Closet" by Oscar Pettiford. Straightforward postbop, providing an especially good showcase for the guitarists, with Stern more than holding his own. B+(**)
  • Mark Levine and the Latin Tinge: Off & On: The Music of Moacir Santos (2009, Left Coast Clave): Pianist, b. 1938 in New Hampshire, moved through Boston to New York; has often, but not always, worked with Latin players like Cal Tjader, Mongo Santamaria, and Willie Bobo. Has 10 albums since 1977, introducing his Latin Tinge group in a 2001 album. This time he's working off the music of Brazilian composer-arranger Moacir Santos. Music has a light, lithe feel, mostly marked by Mary Fettig's flute -- not my first choice, but doesn't seem inappropriate here. B+(*)
  • Mahala Rai Banda: Ghetto Blasters (2009, Asphalt Tango): Touted as "the Balkan equivalent of the Memphis Horns with the Muscle Shoals rhythm section," a rowdy Romanian brass band inching into the age of electronica. Like their analogues, they're at their best when they stick to time-tested verities, and crank up the volume and velocity until they become self-evident. B+(***)
  • Mike Mainieri/Marnix Busstra Quartet: Twelve Pieces (2006 [2009], NYC): Mainieri's a vibraphonist, been around a long time, broke in with Buddy Rich, has a modest list of records under his own name, starting with Blues on the Other Side in 1962. Busstra is a younger guitarist, b. 1965, Dutch, also credited here with bouzouki and electric sitar. As far as I know, his only previous record is a 1996 4-Tet, On the Face of It, which included current bassist (Eric van der Westen) and drummer (Pieter Bast). Basically a groove album, tight, low key, attractive. B+(**)
  • The Manhattan Transfer: The Chick Corea Songbook (2009, Four Quarters): Vocal quartet: Tim Hauser, Cheryl Bentyne, Janis Siegel, Alan Paul. Been around since 1969 or 1971 or 1976 (when Bentyne replaced Laurel Massé), dropping 23 or 24 albums. I've heard very few of them -- none that I can recommend. Their harmonizing gives me the willies even on songs built for it, but it seems all the more ridiculous vocalese-ing on top of Corea's mostly Spanish-flavored melodies. C- [Rhapsody]
  • Nicholas Masson Parallels: Thirty Six Ghosts (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1972 and raised in Geneva, Switzerland, has a couple of previous records. This is a quartet: Colin Vallon (fender rhodes), Patrice Moret (bass), and Leionel Friedli (drums). Website describes this as "at the same time remotely familiar and completely unclassifiable" -- only good that statement does is to make me feel better about not being able to come up with a description. Coltrane-ish in a moderated way, the electric piano providing somewhat unusual accents -- organ without the heaviness, xylophone with reverb. B+(**)
  • Mark Masters Ensemble: Farewell Walter Dewey Redman (2006 [2008], Capri): Big band arranger, b. 1957, started playing trumpet, learned his craft under Stan Kenton. Eighth album since 1984 -- others include Jimmy Knepper Songbook, The Clifford Brown Project, and Porgy and Bess: Redefined. This one is dedicated to the late Dewey Redman, mostly featuring his songs, with one from Masters, two from the group, and "My One and Only Love." Arrangements are crisp and detailed, as you'd expect, but the main point is the solo space, and what makes it work is that Oliver Lake is the main focal point. B+(**)
  • Donny McCaslin: Declaration (2009, Sunnyside): There are stretches here where the guitar fusion (Ben Monder) and/or the extra brass let you forget that the album is supposed to belong to the most technically gifted tenor saxophonist of his generation. That doesn't strike me as the right strategy. B+(*)
  • Roscoe Mitchell: The Solo Concert (1973, AECO): [Rhapsody]
  • Pablo Montagne/Adolfo La Volpe/Francesco Massaro/Alessandro Tomassetti: Chaque Objet (2008 [2009], Evil Rabbit): Group name and/or album name. French name, but the group is all Italian, with two guitarists, Pablo Montagne and Adolfo La Volpe, plus Francesco Massaro on saxes and flutes and Alessandro Tomasseti on drums, percussion, and vibes. Guitar sound dominates, in a heady avant-garde mix. B+(**)
  • John Moulder: Bifröst (2005 [2009], Origin): Guitarist, based in Chicago although some of this was recorded in Norway, home turf of two band members: bassist Arild Andersen and tenor saxophonist Bendik Hofseth, who makes a big impression here. B+(*)
  • David Murray and the Gwo Ka Masters: The Devil Tried to Kill Me (2007 [2009], Justin Time): Murray's connection to Guadeloupe has produced a remarkable series of albums: 1998's Creole, 2002's Yonn-Dé, and 2004's Gwotet. I figured one more would automatically be a year-end contender, so rushed this advance CDR into the player. Two plays later it's certainly not a contender. The saxophonist is brilliant, natch, and the gwo ka drummers power an awesome beat. Can't complain about the guitarists, or Rasul Biddik's occasional trumpet. But the vocals barely connect, especially on Taj Mahal's solo feature, the generic "Africa" with the overly didactic Ishmal Reed lyric. Sista Kee holds up a bit better, with or without Taj. My copy includes two "radio edits" -- shorter versions of the two Taj Mahal songs. I don't mind recapping a hit, but a miss is something else. B+(*)
  • Michael Musillami Trio + 3: From Seeds (2009, Playscape): Guitarist, has a dozen albums since 1990, is capable both of metallic density and quick flights. The trio adds Joe Fonda on bass and George Schuller on drums. They are particularly impressive on the title cut where they blow everyone else away. But often, especially on the opener, the +3 add much more: Ralph Alessi on trumpet, Marty Ehrlich on alto sax, and Matt Moran on vibes. A- [Rhapsody]
  • The New Mellow Edwards: Big Choantza (2009, Skirl): Second album by this quartet, named after the first album, which was attributed to trombonist Curtis Hasselbring. The others both times are Chris Speed (clarinet, tenor sax), Trevor Dunn (bass), and John Hollenbeck (drums). Basically a freewheeling two-horn quartet, a little less mobile with the trombone-clarinet pairing, although Hollenbeck helps out in that regard. B+(**)
  • New Niks & Artvark Saxophone Quartet: Busy Busy Busy (2009, No Can Do): Drummer-led quartet with Fender Rhodes, guitar, and violin, but no bass, plays swanky postbop with some swing, mixed in with a sax section that can stand on its own. Has some awkward moments, but also marvelous ones when they loosen up. B+(**)
  • Opsvik & Jennings: A Dream I Used to Remember (2007-08 [2009], Loyal Label): That would be bassist Eivind Opsvik and guitarist Aaron Jennings. A publicist note pointed out that Opsvik has played with Paul Motian, Bill Frisell, and David Binney, but I associate him with A-list records by Kris Davis and Jostein Gulbrandsen. Also has three FSNT records, and a previous one with Jennings, Commuter Anthems (Rune Grammofon). Opsvik also plays keyboards, lap steel guitar, and percussion; Jennings strays past banjo to electronics, and both are credited with software and vocals. The vocals tend toward choral, which I don't find all that enticing. Otherwise, the interaction is intimate and intriguing. B+(*)
  • Out to Lunch: Melvin's Rockpile (2009 [2010], Accurate): New York group, led by David Levy (bass clarinet, alto sax, bansuri flute), presumably named for Eric Dolphy's legendary album. Septet, with three horns (Levy, Evan Smith on tenor sax, Josiah Woodson on trumpet) and a mostly plugged-in rhythm section (Eric Lane on keyboards, Matt Wigton on bass, Fred Kennedy on drums, and Kris Smith doing programming). Odd and interesting mix of free jazz and funk groove. B+(**)
  • Gretchen Parlato: In a Dream (2008 [2009], ObliqSound): Singer, bio provides no details before winning a Monk prize in 2001, but seems to have been born in 1976, probably in California. Second album. Musicians include: Lionel Loueke (guitar), Aaron Parks (piano, keybs), Derrick Hodge (bass), and Kendrick Scott (drums). Keeps them rather minimal, like her voice, which if anything is even thinner and less flexible than Astrud Gilberto's -- a rather novel feat in presumably a native English speaker. Still, kinda cute. B [Rhapsody]
  • Jessica Pavone: Songs of Synastry and Solitude (2009, Tzadik): Violinst, best known for her work with guitarist Mary Halvorson. This is a tough record for me to relate to: a string quartet with double bass instead of a second violin. It is played by Toomai String Quartet -- Pavone doesn't perform. Doesn't kick off my usual allergic reaction to classical music, but it's in the same sonic range, and refuses to break out. B [Rhapsody]
  • Ben Perowsky: Moodswing Orchetra (2009, El Destructo): Drummer, b. 1966, has 6 records since 1999 plus a large number of side credits since 1989. Given a blindfold test I'd call this trip-hop, with its lank beats, turntables and theremins, and bored-out-of-their-skulls voices. A relatively strong horn section -- Doug Wieselman on woodwinds, Steven Bernstein on trumpet, Marcus Rojas on tuba -- snores along. B
  • Oscar Peterson: Debut: The Clef/Mercury Duo Recordings 1949-1951 (1949-52 [2009], Verve, 3CD): Last year Mosaic came up with a 7-CD box of The Complete Clef/Mercury Studio Recordings of the Oscar Peterson Trio (1951-1953). Think of this set -- duos with either Ray Brown or Major Holley on bass -- as the other shoe dropping. Peterson had recorded in Canada, but made his US debut after midnight on one of Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic shows, recorded and released on a 10-inch LP as Oscar Peterson at Carnegie. The first disc adds three cuts from a return to Carnegie Hall a year later -- according to the book here, which differs from other sources which put both dates close together in 1950. Second disc adds two LPs from early 1950 sessions, Tenderly and Keyboard, the former mostly with Brown, the latter mostly with Holley. The third disc takes another LP, An Evening With Oscar Peterson, more duos with Brown except for a stray 1952 quartet cut, and tacks on six extra cuts -- only one, plus a newly discovered track from Carnegie Hall, previously unreleased. Masterful mainstream piano, closer to swing than to bop, not as tarted up as Tatum, but close, the bass adding harmonic depth to the strong piano leads. B+(***)
  • Phoenix Ensemble/Mark Lieb: Clarinet Quintets (2007-08 [2009], Innova): Lieb plays clarinet. The rest of the New York-based Phoenix Ensemble is a string quartet, with a couple of slots changing between the two sessions here. One session plays Morton Feldman's "Clarinet and String Quartet" (39:10). The other is Milton Babbitt's "Quintet for Clarinet and String Quartet." Feldman's gentle repetition works nicely here. Babbitt unsurprisingly is somewhat dicier, with some squeak and discord. B+(**)
  • Alberto Pinton/Jonas Kullhammar/Torbjörn Zetterberg/Kjell Nordeson: Chant (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Pinton is a baritone saxophonist, also credited with clarinet, from Italy, b. 1962, studied at Berklee and Manhattan School of Music, based in Sweden. Has 5 previous albums since 2001. Kullhammar plays tenor and baritone sax; b. 1978 in Sweden. AMG credits him with 7 albums since 2000; website admits to a 1994 "CD that I don't want anyone to know about," and in 2000 "One more secret recording" among 123 entries, mostly under others' names. Looks like he runs Moserobie Records, a Swedish label with about 75 titles. Zetterberg and Nordeson play bass and drums, respectively. Freebop, the saxes vying for the low ground, gets ugly in spots, but sometimes even those click. B+(**)
  • Plunge: Dancing on Thin Ice (2009, Immersion): New Orleans trio, led by trombonist Mark McGrain, with Tim Green on saxophones and James Singleton on double bass. AMG lists 8 Plunge records since 1996, two with Bobo Stenson. Website only mentions one other, with McGrain, Bob Moses, Marcus Rojas, and Avishai Cohen. The New Orleans vibe is pretty subdued, but is there in a faint bounciness. One piece has some vocalization -- not sure how or who. B+(**)
  • Portinho Trio: Vinho do Porto (2008, MCG Jazz): Brazilian drummer, based in New York, leads a trio with pianist Klaus Mueller and bassist Itaiguara Brandão (or Lincoln Goines on 3 tracks). Brazilian tunes, "Satin Doll," "Footprints," a piece from Paquito D'Rivera. Lively, subtle, with a big boost from "special guest" trombonist Jay Ashby. B+(*)
  • Prana Trio: The Singing Image of Fire (2008 [2010], Circavision): Brooklyn group, although it's not clear that Trio means a group with three members. The only real member is drummer Brian Adler, although vocalist Sunny Kim is most noticeable on 11 of 12 tracks, while piano (Carmen Staaf and Frank Carlberg), bass (Matt Aronoff and Nathan Goheen), and guitar (Robert Lanzetti) come and go. Kim sings poems by Kabir, Kukai, So Wal Kim, Hafiz, Anselm Hollo, Shankaracarya, Wang Wei, and Han-Shan. The vocals got on my nerves at first, but it actually settles down; may even be deeper than I'm inclined to credit. B+(*)
  • Quartet San Francisco: QSF Plays Brubeck (2009, Violin Jazz): Traditional string quartet -- Jeremy Cohen and Alisa Rose on violins, Keith Lawrence on viola, Michelle Djokic on cello -- from San Francisco. They Play a bunch of Dave Brubeck compositions, plus Paul Desmond's "Take Five," which stands out like it always did. Mostly painless. B-
  • Sun Ra and His Arkestra: Interplanetary Melodies (1950s [2009], Norton): A few doo wop singles from the 1950s, including a Christmas chant anyone could have improved on; a groove track called "Africa" that showed up on a 1966 album, a bunch of previously unissued material, including a fractured "Summertime"; a bit of spoken word -- stuff that kicks back and forth between quirky and too trivial to bother with. B [Rhapsody]
  • Sun Ra and His Arkestra: The Second Stop Is Jupiter (1950s [2009], Norton): More odds than sods, as they mix a couple more known singles with a lot of tape scraps, all with vocals, though most unreleased for good reasons -- not that he ever did anything completely uninteresting. B- [Rhapsody]
  • Sun Ra: Nidhamu/Dark Myth Equation Visitation (1971 [2009], Art Yard): A series of impromptu concerts from a visit to Egypt, with Ra on his Moog and the band on instruments borrowed from the army; some solo keyb, some pieces with drums and backing vocals, a lot of odd constructions, nothing likely to blow you away, but plenty to think about. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Sun Ra: The Antique Blacks (1974 [2009], Art Yard): A small group live shot that wound up on Saturn in 1978 and languished in extreme obscurity, distinguished by lots of quirky rockish synth and tuneless vocals with occasional honks and screeches from the horns; by normal people this would be desperate but, of course, there's nothing normal about it. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Radio I-Ching: Last Kind Words (2005-06 [2006], Resonant Music): Andy Haas once again (sax, fife, morsing, live electronics), Don Fiorino too (guitar, lap steel, banjo, lotar), but also drummer Dee Pop, invaluable for moving things along. Otherwise similar to the earlier albums by Haas (one with Fiorino): deep Americana like "Let My People Go" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic" and "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?"; also "The Mooch" and "Caravan" and "Song for Che." B+(*)
  • Radio I-Ching: The Fire Keeps Burning (2007, Resonant Music): The first in this series of records to break away from Andy Haas's peculiar interest in Americana, which pays immediate rhythmic dividends. Starts off with two Arab pieces (Mohamed Abdel Wahab, Hamza El Din), for good measure adding a piece of Count Ossie nyahbinghi. Second half has a jazz sequence -- Roland Kirk, Prince Lasha/Sonny Simmons, Thelonious Monk -- sandwiched between Captain Beefheart and Jimmie Driftwood. B+(**)
  • Joshua Redman: Compass (2008 [2009], Nonesuch): Final copy has the song-by-song credits, so my speculation of two separate sax trios is wrong. Bassists Larry Grenadier and Reuben Rogers double up on 7 of 13 cuts, the other splitting 3-3. Drummers Brian Blade and Gregory Hutchinson double up on 5 cuts, splitting the rest 5-3 in favor of Blade. Redman plays tenor sax on 10 cuts, soprano on three. I've played this like six times in a row now, feeling indifferent for stretches, then hearing something I like -- often something real simple like "Insomniac" which is just a repeated riff he rides out. Redman remains a superb tenor saxophonist, but only so-so on soprano. This seems like an average record for him, probably no worse than the Branford Marsalis record I have down as an HM. B+(***)
  • Greg Reitan: Antibes (2008 [2010], Sunnsyide): Pianist, second album, in a trio with Jack Daro on bass and Dean Koba on drums. Includes covers from Bill Evans, Denny Zeitlin, and Keith Jarrett, which should give you an idea. I'm impressed by both albums, but thus far don't have much to say. B+(**)
  • The Rempis Percussion Quartet: Hunter-Gatherers (2006 [2007], 482 Music, 2CD): Group consists of Vandermark 5 saxophonist Dave Rempis, bassist Anton Hatwich, and two drummers, Tim Daisy and Frank Rosaly. Live set, recorded in South Carolina at a place named Hunter-Gatherers. Impressive sax work. Not obvious that both drummers are engaged. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • The Rempis Percussion Quartet: The Disappointment of Parsley (2008 [2009], Not Two): Dave Rempis on alto and tenor sax (no baritone), Anton Hatwich on bass (no Ingebrigt Håker Flaten), Tim Daisy and Frank Rosally on double drums. Recorded live at Alchemia in Krakow, Poland. Three cuts, the middle one ran short on all accounts (6:56), but the 15:18 title cut up front is a tour de force, and the drummers get some to kick off the 24:30 finale. That piece ends fast and furious, another tour de force. If only they had another facet to play off against. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • The Respect Sextet: Sirius Respect (2009, Mode/Avant): New York group, been together (give or take a few changes) since 2001. Several previous albums -- not sure how to count limited editions. Lineup: Eli Asher (trumpet), James Hirschfeld (trombone), Josh Rutner (tenor sax), Red Wierenga (piano), Malcolm Kirby (bass), Ted Poor (drums); most also play related instruments. Album subtitled "Play the music of Sun Ra & Stockhausen" -- presumably Karlheinz. I was briefly intrigued by Stockhausen a long time ago, but never got in very deep. His pieces here tend toward drones with a bit of classical overhang. Sun Ra, of course, is a lot more fun. B+(*)
  • Revolutionary Snake Ensemble: Forked Tongue (2008, Cuneiform): Self-styled New Orleans Mardi Gras brass band, with some snapshots dressed to the nines in feathers and snakeskin, but actually based in Boston, led by alto saxophonist Ken Field. Second album, following 2002's Year of the Snake (Innova). The other horns are trumpet, trombone, and tenor sax; bass is both acoustic and electric, and there is extra percussion, and vocalist Gabrielle Agachiko not studying war no more "Down by the Riverside" -- one of four Trad. songs here, mixed in with "Que Sera Sera" and "Brown Skin Girl," one by Ornette Coleman, one by Billy Idol, four originals by Field. Fun group. Not sure how firmly they stick. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Jim Rotondi: Blues for Brother Ray (2009, Posi-Tone): Trumpet player, b. 1962, ten or so records since 1997, basically a mainstream player with a lot of spit and polish. Ray Charles tribute, of course: six songs Charles virtually owned (although I still associate "One Mint Julep" with the Clovers), plus Mike LeDonne's "Brother Ray." LeDonne plays organ; Eric Alexander is on tenor sax, Peter Bernstein guitar, Joe Farnsworth drums -- you couldn't ask for a better schooled band. B+(**)
  • Charles Rumback: Two Kinds of Art Thieves (2009, Clean Feed): Drummer, b. 1980, "Kansas roots, Chicago branches"; leads a debut record with two saxophones -- Joshua Sclar on tenor, Greg Ward on alto -- and Jason Ajemian on bass. Mostly slow free jazz, the two horns twisting into impenetrable knots. B+(**)
  • Jackie Ryan: Doozy (2006-08 [2009], Open Art, 2CD): Singer, born sometime, based somewhere -- claims a Mexican mother and an Irish father, but my guess is that they're both Americans, as is she. Has a half-dozen albums since 2000. Writes some vocalese lyrics, drops in some Portuguese, works with frontline, impeccably mainstream musicians -- Cyrus Chestnut, Ray Drummond, Carl Allen, Jeremy Pelt, Eric Alexander, and when she needs a taste of Brazil, Romero Lubambo. Pretty average for jazz singers, with some striking moves, lots of ordinary ones, occasional hitches in her voice (may come from taking her claimed "three and a half octave range" too seriously). Double-disc album is de trop, could have been edited down to a better single, focusing on upbeat pieces like "Doozy" and "Do Something." B+(*)
  • Saltman Knowles: Yesterday's Man (2009 [2010], Pacific Coast Jazz): Bassist Mark Saltman, pianist William Knowles, based in DC, both write, 10 songs split 5-to-5. Third record together. Their songs have a nice tight feel to them, flowing easily, and they rotate various horns expertly, as well as employ a drummer and a soprano steel pan player. The point I keep sticking on is vocalist Lori Williams-Chisholm, who isn't bad (least of all in the good-bad sense) but always seems to be in the way. B-
  • Massimo Sammi: First Day (2009, Massimo Sammi): Guitarist, from Genoa, Italy, won a scholarship to Berklee in 2006, now based in Boston. First album. Credits John Forbes Nash's decision theory for inspiring his project. Game theory enters into some of the titles, especially the two "Prisoner's Dilemma" pieces, but it's harder to follow in the music. The group is mostly a quartet, with George Garzone on tenor and soprano sax, John Lockwood on bass, and Yoron Israel on drums. Sammi's guitar tends to shadow the sax; alternatively, Garzone, especially on soprano, spins off lines in a form that strikes me as more typical of guitar. Dominique Eade adds her voice to a couple of pieces, an awkward soprano I'm not much taken with, but likely to satisfy some notion of beauty. B+(**)
  • Daniel Santiago: Metropole (2009, Adventure Music): Brazilian guitarist, second album. Quintet, with Josué Lopez (tenor and soprano sax), Vitor Gonçalves (piano), Guto Wirtti (bass), and either Edu Ribeiro or Marcio Bahia (drums). Not a lot of definition, but nice beat, some sax power, some slinky guitar. B+(*)
  • Alexander von Schlippenbach/Daniele D'Agaro: Dedalus (2008, Artesuono): Germany's premier avant-garde pianist turned 70 in 2008, releasing a bunch of records I've been hard pressed to find: a trio Gold Is Where You Find It (Intakt), duets with Aki Takase Iron Wedding (Itakt), Friulian Sketches (Psi), two volumes of Twelve Tone Tales (Intakt). On the other hand, I did find this duo with Italian reed player D'Agaro, so figured I should give it a listen. D'Agaro, b. 1958, leads off with clarinet; also plays bass clarinet, tenor sax, and C melody sax, but don't have details here -- tenor sax, for sure. Has a few records more or less under his own name, mostly avant-garde (give or take Sean Bergin), but a couple of early ones were tributes to Don Byas (Hidden Treasures and Byas a Drink), a trio with Mark Helias and U.T. Gandhi looks like Ben Webster (Gentle Ben), and another is credited to the Daniel D'Agaro-Benny Bailey Quintet. The pianist is forceful enough to more than hold his own, framing the multipart pieces to draw D'Agaro out, and providing the necessary percussion on the Monk trilogy (plus "Hackensack") at the end. It's worth pointing out again that Schlippenbach's Monk's Casino is an outstanding tribute to Monk. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Schlippenbach Trio: Gold Is Where You Find It (2008, Intakt): Same trio in 1972 cut Pakistani Pomade, one of the founding documents of Europe's avant-garde, a crown selection in the first and recent editions of The Penguin Guide to Jazz: Alexander von Schlippenbach on piano, Evan Parker on tenor sax, and Paul Lovens on drums. All three have done a lot in the intervening 36 years (especially Parker, who has been averaging 5-6 records per year), but the aesthetic here hasn't changed much. Parker and Schlippenbach are both forceful players, always prodding, searching, and Schlippenbach is like having a one-man rhythm section. In his company, Lovens is all finesse. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Bud Shank Quartet: Fascinating Rhythms (2009, Jazzed Media): Alto saxophonist, b. 1926, worked his way up through Charlie Barnet and Stan Kenton bands, one of the most distinctive figures in the west coast cool jazz universe; worked steadily until he cut this (presumably) last record, a live set at age 82, a couple of months before he died. Quartet with Bill Mays (piano), Bob Magnuson (bass), and Joe La Barbera (drums). Mostly well-worn covers, two possibly picked for their titles (Monk's "In Walked Bud," Jobim's "Lotus Bud"). Feels a bit rough edged, with some chatter, occasional harshness in his tone, ambling by Mays. Still, this has some awesome moments. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Gene Segal: Hypnotic (2009, Innova): Guitarist; born in Moscow, Russia; based in Brooklyn; first album. Mostly a trio with Sam Barsh on organ, Matt Kane on drums, running more toward funk than soul jazz. A couple cuts add some horns, which adds substantially to the groove -- Jonathan Powell's trumpet is most memorable. B+(*)
  • Aram Shelton's Fast Citizens: Two Cities (2009, Delmark): Chicago sextet, with leader on alto sax, Keefe Jackson on tenor, Josh Berman on cornet, Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello, Anton Hatwich on bass, Frank Rosaly on drums. All lean avant, and they are capable of some energetic slicing and dicing, which is bracing when it works. Just doesn't work as often as it should. B+(*)
  • Matthew Shipp Quartet: Cosmic Suite (2008 [2009], Not Two): With Daniel Carter on reeds (although I've seen reference to him starting on muted trumpet, which sounds right), Joe Morris on bass, Whit Dickey on drums. Nine parts. Instrumentation seems a little thin and indecisive for the suite concept, but it could be something that grows on you. The pianist leads most of the way. Carter tries working in nuances, which isn't exactly his thing. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Idit Shner: Tuesday's Blues (2008, OA2): Alto saxophonist, grew up in Israel, studied in Oklahoma, graduated from UNT, played in Sherrie Maricle's DIVA Jazz Orchestra; now based in Oregon. First record, a quartet with Stefan Karlsson on piano, Mike League on bass, Steve Pruitt on drums. Four of seven songs are listed as traditional: "Yellow Moon," "Elisheva Doll," "Adon Haselichot," and "Ha Lachma." I wouldn't classify them as klezmer, but the folk melodies help center the album. A bit of solo sax near the end is particularly nice. B+(**)
  • Yotam Silberstein: Next Page (2009, Posi-Tone): Another unrequited advance copy, actually released back in June, stuck in the cracks of my filing system. Israeli guitarist, did three years in the IDF as a "musical director, arranger, and lead guitarist"; got a New School scholarship and moved to New York in 2005. Second album, after a FSNT from 2004 that I don't much remember but graded B+. Half trio with Sam Yahel on organ and Willie Jones III on drums; other half adds Chris Cheek on tenor sax. No sense of soul jazz in either guitar or organ; at least that steers clear of clichés. Cheek is typically strong, but cycling in on every other song does little for the flow. B+(*)
  • Daniel Smith: Blue Bassoon (2009 [2010], Summit): Bassoon player, b. 1939, started out in classical music where, among many other performances, he produced a 6-CD set of 37 Vivaldi bassoon concertos. Not sure about his discography -- AMG classifies him as classical and is pretty spotty; on the other hand, his own website lists more records but no dates -- but it looks like Baroque Jazz and Jazz Suite for Bassoon were transitional. I've heard two of his jazz efforts -- one themed to bebop, the other to swing -- where he struck me as little more than a novelty. This one's a novelty too -- the bassoon has a thin, deep sound, combining the immobility of a bass sax or tuba with the sonic charm of a kazoo -- but it's so good natured it would be churlish to complain. Mostly jazz standards -- Silver, Parker, Rollins, Coltrane, Mingus, Morgan, Adderley, Shorter, etc. -- plus a couple of blues. Help on piano and guitar. B+(*)
  • The Joel LaRue Smith Trio: September's Child (2007 [2009], Joel LaRue Smith): Piano trio, with Fernando Huergo on bass, Renato Malavasi on drums. Don't know much about pianist Smith, except that he studied at Manhattan School of Music under Jaki Byard and Barry Harris, and teaches at Tufts, directing their Jazz Orchestra. Debut record. Wrote 7 of 11 pieces, with a strong Afro-Cuban accent, and does an impressive job of carrying it off. Some of the quirkiness of Afro-Cuban jazz is inevitably lost in reducing it to straight piano trio, but he nails it pretty well. B+(***)
  • Tommy Smith Group: Forbidden Fruit (2005, Spartacus): Scottish tenor saxophonist, broke in with Blue Note in 1989, moving to Linn after four albums, then eventually to his own label. Started out with phenomenal speed and technique, and eventually grew a mature sound to round out his capabilities -- Blue Smith, from 2000, was a breakthrough. I last heard him on 2004's Symbiosis, a duo with pianist Brian Kellock, which was a Jazz CG Pick Hit -- last record he sent my way, although he made all the difference on last year's Arild Andersen record. This is the follow up, a little dated for Jazz CG, but finding it I had to play it. Young Scottish group: Steve Hamilton (piano), Aidan O'Donnell (bass), Alyn Cosker (drums). I go up and down on the group, but Smith is a tour de force running through his considerable range. A- [Rhapsody]
  • Sonore: Call Before You Dig (2008 [2009], Okka Disk, 2CD): Sax trio, three guys famous for walking on the wild side, all the more dangerous together: Peter Brötzmann, Mats Gustafsson, Ken Vandermark. Two sets, one live, one studio. Impossible to deny that they bring interesting ideas into play, and after several records together they communicate readily, but the casual listener is going to hear mostly noise, and I find it rough going myself. B+(*)
  • Southern Excursion Quartet: Trading Post (2007 [2009], Artists Recording Collective): Tennessee group, more or less -- bassist Jonathan Wires is based in Oxford, MS, and drummer Tom Giampietro is merely described as belonging to the region, but saxophonist Don Aliquo moved to Nashville from Pittsburgh and pianist Michael Jefry Stevens left New York for Memphis. They style this as a collective, and all four write. Stevens has a reputation as an avant-gardist, but he's picked up a beat in Memphis, and Aliquo has refined a very eloquent mainstream sound. I assume this is the final packaging, although it's just a flimsy oversized foldover with a plastic gummy sleeve to hold the disc. B+(***)
  • Jason Stein: Solo: In Exchange for a Process (2008 [2009], Leo): Bass clarinetist, b. 1976 on Long Island, studied at Bennington, moved to Chicago in 2005. Has two albums on Clean Feed -- the second we'll get to in due course. Also appeared with Keefe Jackson and Ken Vandermark (Bridge 61). This one is solo, raising all the usual caveats. But one thing he can do here is explore a lot of percussive effects that would normally get drowned out in a group. Works carefully, kicking a lot of things around. [Bonus factoid, from his website, "10 bass clarinetists you should know if you have happened upon my music": Rudi Mahall, Louis Sclavis, David Murray, Ned Rothenberg, Michel Pilz, Ken Vandermark, Andrew D'Angelo, Michael Lowenstern, Michael Moore, Eric Dolphy. A couple of those I don't know, yet.] B+(**)
  • Jason Stein's Locksmith Isidore: Three Less Than Between (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Bass clarinet trio, with Jason Roebke on bass and Mike Pride on drums. Working off an advance copy here with a schedule release date of Oct. 6, but Clean Feed is very good about sending me their new releases, and this one isn't even on the website yet. If/when a real copy comes around, I'll give it another listen. For now, it has the same sketchiness of the solo album, just with added noises. B+(*)
  • Loren Stillman: Winter Fruits (2008 [2009], Pirouet): Alto saxophonist, b. 1980 in London, on his 9th album since 1998, a quartet with Nate Radley (guitar), Gary Versace (organ), and Ted Poor (drums; also writes 2 of 8 songs, the rest Stillman's). Likes the upper range of the horn, giving him a mostly sweet but sometimes tart tone. Few surprises here. B+(*)
  • The Stone Quartet: DMG @ the Stone: Volume 1 (2006 [2008], DMG/ARC): Group name comes from the venue, although none of the principals are especially associated with it, nor for that matter with each other. Rather, this looks like a supercollider experiment dreamed up by DMG honcho Bruce Lee Galanter: let's smash some quarks together and see if any muons emerge. Top quark is Roy Campbell Jr. (trumpet, flute); bottom Joelle Leandre (bass); charm Marilyn Crispell (piano); strange Mat Maneri (viola). Even in such close proximity, they tend to keep to themselves. B+(**)
  • Marcus Strickland Trio: Idiosyncrasies (2009, Strick Muzik): Clearly a rising star, but also clearly not an idiosyncratic one: he channels Coleman and Coltrane, Shorter, many others down through Donny McCaslin (but not Rollins or James Carter), but he has yet to produce a breakthrough album that stands on its own. Trio format keeps him up front, but switching away from tenor sax gives up some edge -- sure, he does play soprano better than most tenor men. Helps that his twin brother is every bit as good a drummer. B+(**)
  • John Surman: Brewster's Rooster (2007 [2009], ECM): Surman should need no introduction, but I'll offer one anyway. Has played most saxophones, appearing in a book I have somewhere as the model for the instruments. Plays baritone and soprano here, probably his most frequent choices. His early work, starting in the late '60s, is very interesting and rather adventurous, straddling fusion and avant-garde in a rare moment when one could do both. He moved on to ECM around 1979 and settled down into a sort chamber music recess, which I've occasionally admired but rarely cared much about. Many of those albums were concept-bound. This one seems to just be a working band: a quartet with John Abercrombie on guitar, Drew Gress on bass, and Jack DeJohnette on drums. Good group, should work, but I've played this 5-6 times and it only rises above pleasant postbop background when you hang right on the speakers. Surman's baritone can be a little hard to hear, and Abercrombie lays back rather than taking charge. But the rhythm section keeps on chugging, and there's more to the leads than I've figured out. B+(**)
  • Benjamin Taubkin/Sérgio Reze/Zeca Assumpção + Joatan Nascimento: Trio + 1 (2009, Adventure Music): Piano trio + trumpet. Taubkin is a Brazilian pianist with several albums out. Assumpção plays bass, Reze drums, Nascimento trumpet. Doesn't sound necssarily Brazilian to me; more like postbop, with a steady rhythmic push, the trumpet (or flugelhorn) coloring tastefully. B+(**)
  • David Taylor: Red Sea (2009, Tzadik): Taylor is billed as "one of the world's greatest virtuosos on the bass trombone." While most 16-18 player big bands have a bass bone alongside three standard ones, I've never heard of one touted as a virtuoso before. It's hard to tell here: the dominant vibe is slow and ugly, inspired by and borrowing from Cantor Pierre Pinchik. But Taylor gets help in that department: Scott Robinson is credited with nine instruments, mostly down deep as well -- bass sax, contrabass clarinet, contrabass sarrusophone, tenor rothophone, bass flute, like that, plus something called a treme-terra I can't find any info on. Some toy piano and other sounds, some vocals, a lot of Warren Smith percussion. Hard to figure but oddly intriguing. [Rhapsody]
  • Fred Taylor Trio: Live at Cecil's: Volume 1 (2009, Fred Taylor Music): Fred Taylor Music, CD+DVD): Drummer-led trio, with Bob Ackerman on woodwinds and Rick Crane on doubel bass. Taylor wrote one piece; Ackerman four; the other five covers, starting with a delightful "Sunnymoon for Two" and ending comparably with "Bags' Groove." Of course, I favor Ackerman's sax over clarinet or flutes, but he makes them all work nicely -- postbop with a little edge. Haven't watched the "bonus" DVD. B+(**)
  • 3 Play +: American Waltz (2009, Ziggle Zaggle Music): Odd group name, with a nonsequitur album name. Group is a quartet with two significant guests -- guitarist Mick Goodrick and tenor saxophonist George Garzone. Pianist Josh Rosen is the probable leader, but trumpeter Phil Grenadier is much better known, almost on par with the guests. I kept playing this, 4-5 times this round. It's never annoying, but I never grabbed onto any one thing to write about, except of course that Garzone is a national treasure, but you know that, right? B+(**)
  • Ushio Torikai: Rest (2009, Innova): Composer, b. 1952, from Matsumato, Japan, presents five pieces written 1994-2002, performed by other people. The opener, with Aki Takashi's jarring (sounds like prepared) piano, is the most striking. It is followed by a clarinet-violin-cello trio, then by some vocal pieces, the last (the title piece) with the Tokyo Philharmonic Chorus. The utter lack of swing in postclassical vocal music is generally a turnoff for me. B
  • Sofia Tosello: Alma y Luna (2007-08 [2009], Sunnyside): Singer, from Cordoba, Argentina, based in New York. First album, wrote or co-wrote 4 of 13 songs, got a lot of help. All in Spanish (as far as I can tell), feels trad although I can't trace the lineage, barely a whiff of tango. B+(*)
  • Christine Vaindirlis: Dance Mama! (2009, Ubuntu World Music): Pop singer, born in London, group up in South Africa, moved to Italy to launch her career, then wound up in New York. I figure her for a Shakira-wannabe, but she hasn't really found her niche. Some songs work with South African choral support, including the title track, which isn't all that danceable. The pennywhistles are hard to resist, but but they only make it to two tracks. B-
  • Vandermark 5: Annular Gift (2009, Not Two): Live record, cut in Poland, like the group's mammoth (and quite marvelous) 12-CD Alchemia box. Not sure whether any of the pieces had been recorded before -- I vaguely recall seeing (or maybe starting to put together) an index of compositions, but don't recall where. In any case, they aren't dupes from recent studio albums. "Spiel" starts with a cello solo, as Fred Lonberg-Holm continues to get better integrated into the group. Vandermark forgoes the baritone sax that had been an increasing part of his V5 repertoire, so he winds up playing more tenor, and Dave Rempis more alto. The result often tends toward what we might call "freebop and roll." Great sound. Great group. A- [Rhapsody]
  • Myron Walden: Momentum (2009, Demi Sound): Might as well start out in gripe mode and get that out of the way. I've had this advance for something like five months, along with lavish PR, and I've endured emails and phone calls to sound out my uptake. Got a second package, with CDRs of a live version and a couple of more albums allegedly out in January. But the final copy I've been waiting for never showed up. I have a lot of correspondence with musicians and companies who can't afford to send me records, and in general I can't make much of an argument otherwise. But anyone who can afford to hire a PR flack to phone me should be able to afford to send a finished package. End gripe mode. B. 1972 (AAJ) or 1973 (AMG) in Miami, FL; moved to New York at age 12; fell for Charlie Parker and picked up the alto sax. Has four previous albums plus a lot of side work since 1996, mostly in/near the Smalls scene. Took some time off recently to retool for tenor sax, which he debuts here, in a basic hard bop quintet with Darren Barrett (trumpet), David Bryant (electric piano), Yasushi Nakamura (bass), and Kendrick Scott (drums). This is all very solid mainstream work, with only the electric piano and an occasional harmonic smear distinguishing it from the typical early-'60s work of, oh, Hank Mobley, or Art Blakey. B+(**)
  • Terry Waldo's Gutbucket Syncopators: The Ohio Theatre Concert (1974 [2009], Delmark): A trad jazz pianist, b. 1944 in Ohio, which has remained his stomping ground. Has close to 20 albums since 1970's Hot Jazz, Vol. 1, many on Stomp Off, which is a pretty consistent label for that sort of thing. This archival tape came from a concert originally intended to feature ragtime pianist Eubie Blake, who took ill and didn't show. The band then had to scramble around to fill in, reflected here in a rather scattershot set of points of interest. The middle section features Edith Wilson on seven songs -- billed here as "the third black woman to make phonograph records, recording for Columbia nearly a year and a half before Bessie Smith." She was 77 at this point (1896-1981), favoring Louis Armstrong's songbook -- all the way to "Black and Blue." Waldo sang one song earlier, the sly "How Could Red Riding Hood?" Toward the end there's a 3:16 piece of speechmaking, by a guy reminiscing about his long history as a ragtime/trad jazz fan. Turns out this is William Saxbe, an Ohio Republican politician who at the time was US Attorney General, appointed to restore some integrity to the post-Watergate White House. I remember Saxbe more as a dovish pro-civil rights Senator -- as I recall, he evenleaned toward marijuana decriminalization. They don't make Republicans like him any more. B+(**)
  • Wayne Wallace Latin Jazz Quintet: ¡Bien Bien! (2009, Patois): As Latin Jazz goes, this is well-ordered and consistently listenable -- especially if you're a trombone fan. The extra trombones don't hurt, but the vocals sometimes do. B+(**)
  • Weightless: A Brush With Destiny (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Two Brits I'm more or less familiar with -- tenor/soprano saxophonist John Butcher more, bassist John Edwards less -- and two Italians who don't ring a bell -- pianist Alberto Braida and drummer Fabrizio Spera. All group improvs, cut live in Germany. Filed it under Butcher, who has a lot of records I haven't heard. Butcher is gnarly as usual, but Braida adds an interesting charge to the session, striking oblique chords and punctuating what little rhythm there is. B+(**)
  • Ben Wendel/Harish Raghavan/Nate Wood: ACT (2009, Bju'ecords): Title all-caps on cover; spine only says "ACT" but front cover identifies the trio and their instruments: saxophone, bassoon, piano for Wendel; bass for Raghavan; drums for Wood. Not sure if my package matches the product: the print cover is pasted to a generic brown cardboard foldout wrapper, with a pasted print piece inside. On the other hand, nowhere is there "for promotional purposes only" print. I have less to say about the music, which is lean and articulate. B+(*)
  • Wolter Wierbos: Deining (2006 [2009], Dolfjin): This is described as "Wolter Wierbos' houseboat concerts" -- various collaborators, mostly squaring off for duos where they sort of feel each other out, or fake, or try something grosser. Bassist Wilbert de Joode is the most complementary of the bunch. At the other extreme, Han Bennink's percussion tends to complicate things, while Ab Baars' tenor sax fits uneasily. Mary Oliver's viola and Franky Douglas's electric guitar are somewhere in the middle. Misha Mengelberg's name also appears on the back cover, but I'm not clear where he fits in, if at all. B+(*)
  • The Anthony Wilson Trio: Jack of Hearts (2009, Groove Note): Guitarist, b. 1968, son of arranger Gerald Wilson; 7th album since 1997. Actually, two trios: one with Jeff Hamilton on drums, the other Jim Keltner. Both feature Larry Goldings on organ, making this sort of a soul jazz throwback, but Goldings is unusually reserved, and Wilson is more intricate, but swings less, than someone like Grant Green. B+(*)
  • The Tony Wilson Sextet: The People Look Like Flowers at Last (2008 [2009], Drip Audio): Canadian guitarist, not to be confused with Anthony Wilson, or for that matter any of a considerable number of Tony Wilsons in or related to music -- my favorite was the Hot Chocolate founder who turned in a lovely (and hopelessly out of print) 1976 album I Like Your Style. Sextet includes Vancouver stalwarts Peggy Lee (cello) and Dylan van der Schyff (drums), saxophonist Dave Say, trumpeter Kevin Elaschuk, and bassist Paul Blaney. The horns have some excited runs here, but they tend to get swamped out in the complicated postbop harmonizing. B
  • Pete M. Wyer: Stories From the City at Night (2008, Thirsty Ear): Spoken voice or artsong -- a couple remind me of Kurt Weill, but they can get more operatic. Music, which mostly consists of Wyer's guitar and "sound design" with scattered guests -- trumpet on one song, trombone on another, Matthew Shipp's piano for one cut, Matthew Sharp's cello for three -- is interesting but scattered in a soundtrack sort of way. Can't say as I've followed it closely enough to know how it hangs together, which might make a difference. B
  • Eri Yamamoto Trio: In Each Day, Something Good (2009 [2010], AUM Fidelity): Piano trio, with David Ambrosio on bass and Ikuo Takeuchi on drums. Yamamoto moved from Japan to New York in 1995 and soon put this group together, now with 6 albums to show for 14 years collaboration. Bright, fluid, quite likable, a performance level she consistently achieves. Don't have much more to say. B+(*)
  • Eli Yamin: You Can't Buy Swing (2008, Yamin Music): CDR with a thermal print cover sheet in a slim jewel case, just the formula for a record I didn't notice for two years. Yamin is a pianist, b. 1968 in East Patchogue, NY; based in New York City; director of Jazz at Lincoln Center's Middle School Jazz Academy; has one previous album. This one includes Ari Roland on bass, Alvin Atkinson on drums, and two saxophonists: Lakecia Benjamin, whom I've never heard of, and Chris Byars, a favorite (except when he plays flute). Swings more than anything else, with a buoyant rhythm section and some tasty sax bits. B+(*)
  • Miguel Zenón: Awake (2007 [2008], Marsalis Music): He explored his native Puerto Rican music to impressive effect on Jíbaro, but doesn't betray a hint of that here, even in a quartet with Luis Perdomo and Hans Glawischnig, who live and breathe that music. Two cuts with strings don't do much for me, but suggest that he might do more in the future. The quartet tracks blow wide open, with one ugly noise blast and a lot of Coltraneish searching. Arguably the best alto saxophonist of his generation, which you can't help but notice, then wonder why this doesn't pan out even more impressively. B+(**)
  • Miguel Zenon: Esta Plena (2009, Marsalis Music): For sheer virtuosity, perhaps the most impressive alto saxophonist to show up in the last two decades -- maybe since Anthony Braxton. Fifth album since 2002, mostly uneven although Jíbaro held to a tight Puerto Rican concept and was nearly flawless. This is more lavishly, and slavishly, rooted in his native commonwealth, with extra percussion and lots of vocals piled on top of a superb quartet -- Luis Perdomo (piano), Hans Glawischig (bass), Henry Cole (drums). Not sure what I think of the vocals, other than that "Que Sera de Puerto Rico?" would make a curiously indecisive anthem. Really need more time than I have now, and a little miffed that I didn't get serviced on this one -- especially since the label sends me everything else they release. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Yuganaut: This Musicship (2005 [2008], ESP-Disk): Piano trio. Steven Rush doesn't actually list piano among the dozen-plus instruments. Moog and Fender Rhodes are his main instruments, plus lots of percussion and blow-toys (ranging from harmonica to elk calls). Rush teaches at Michigan, where he directs the Digital Music Ensemble, an out fit that plays John Cage, Philip Glass, and LaMonte Young. Bassist Tom Abbs -- the member I recognize due to his work with Assif Tsahar and others in New York -- wanders to violin, cello, tuba, didjeridoo, and percussion. Drummer Geoff Mann adds cornet, flute, and mandolin to the more expected vibes, mbira, and percussion. Something of a scattered noise fest, interesting here and there, cluttered, not so much annoying as random at worst. Last cut, the 10:09 "Hymn for Roscoe" (presumably Mitchell), is unusual for its straightforward structure, even when it erupts in the album's loudest passage. Choice cut. B+(**)

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Recycled Goods (72): March 2010

Pick up text here.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 16537 [16519] rated (+18), 790 [793] unrated (-3). Kind of an off week, with a day taken out to visit Aunt Freda out in Independence, KS, and more time spent on house chores. Didn't get much in, either.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #23, Part 8)

Jazz Consumer Guide should be in Village Voice this week, meaning Wednesday, April 7. Went through the edit and title last week. Haven't heard anything about the layout, which typically means cuts, so I'm likely to find out when you find out. Otherwise had a slow week, with lots of distractions, some spring fever (meaning nasty allergies) making it hard to make up my mind about records. Have some house projects going on which will keep slowing me down. In any case, I'm far enough along I can finish another Jazz CG in a couple of weeks once I pull the trigger. Wish the Voice would run them more often, given how far behind we all are.

Should do a surplus post this week sometime. Will also have a Recycled Goods up, and probably a Rhapsody streamnotes. Also have a bunch of book stuff piled up.

Arturo O'Farrill: Risa Negra (2009, Zoho): Pianist, son of legendary Cuban arranger Chico O'Farrill, inherited his father's Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, scored a coup by cornering the Latin Jazz franchise at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Seventh album since 1999. Knows how to work those tricky Afro-Cuban rhythmic shifts, exciting at first but they often wind up throwing me. The horns -- Jim Seeley on trumpet and David Bixler on alto sax -- shine here, and Vince Cherico's drums and Roland Guerrero's percussion keep things moving. B+(*)

Jon Gold: Brazil Confidential (2010, Zoho): Pianist, got a Ph.D. in chemistry at UC Santa Cruz, moved to Rio de Janeiro to teach chemistry, picked up an interest in Brazilian music. First album. Has a chintzy, slick, 1960s bossa nova feel, pretty close to perfect with Tatiana Parra's sole vocal, slightly less on Leah Siegel's two vocals. A lot of musicians slide in and out -- Anat Cohen is the one you'll recognize, Harvie S of course, maybe Zack Brock (violin, a standout), and percussionist Ze Mauricio is critical. Works more often than it should, especially when Jorge Continentino forsakes the softer woodwinds for a sax solo. B+(*)

Anat Cohen: Clarinetwork: Live at the Village Vanguard (2009 [2010], Anzic): Israeli reed player, b. 1975, played tenor sax in the IAF band, studied at Berklee, moved to New York in 1999. Fifth album, with a healthy amount of side work. Someone complained to me once about her PR budget like she was violating the Sherman Antitrust Act, but it netted her enough press attention that she started winning Downbeat polls, especially on clarinet where the competition is much thinner than on tenor sax. One indication that she blew through her budget is that after the lavish promotion of her second and third albums, I only got a CDR of her fourth -- was promised a final copy by Anzic's head but he never delivered -- and this crummy advance. Nothing crummy about the music, of course. I've always preferred her tenor sax for its soulful tone and occasional honk, but there's little to fault here. Maybe I could complain that she picks a couple songs that beg comparison to Barney Bigard, but she measures up well enough, and anyone who reminds me of Bigard is all right in my book. Giddins can add her "Body and Soul" to his all-time list, and the set bookends, "Sweet Georgia Brown" and "What a Little Moonlight Can Do," are all hers. Hope they send me a real copy this time. Then again the two PR-heavy albums were her weakest. This time she put her money into the band. Pianist Benny Green has rarely impressed me this much. Peter Washington and Lewis Nash always do. A- [advance, Apr. 13]

Abraham Inc.: Tweet Tweet (2010, Dot Dot Dot Music): Ad hoc group. Klezmer clarinetist David Krakauer has worked with hip hop sampler/vocalist Socalled before, but rather than faking the funk they've brought in lifetime funk permit holder Fred Wesley, formerly of the Horny Horns and before that the JBs (as in James Brown, need I add?). Various others pop in unannounced -- another cheapo advance with limited credits and little info, even though "Fred the Tzadik" and "Moskowitz Remix" got to mean something. The obligatory "Hava Nagila" has me confused, but mostly I don't care, especially when the trombone is pumping. May be just a novelty, but I'll take it. B+(***) [advance]

Oleg Kireyev/Keith Javors: Rhyme & Reason (2009 [2010], Inarhyme): Kireyev is a tenor saxophonist, b. 1964, Russia, somewhere way out in the Urals; came to US in 1994, studied under Bud Shank. Website lists 10 previous albums going back to 1989, most on Russian labels (one Polish, one American). The latter was Mandala, from his Feng Shui Jazz Project, a world-fusion thang I liked a lot. This, however, is pure mainstream -- one might even say a perfectly good Bud Shank album. Javors is a pianist, b. 1971 Carbondale, IL; studied at UNT; taught various places; has several albums since 2000, and has shown up in contexts like the American Music Project. Boris Kozlov plays bass; E.J. Strickland drums. Lovely album. A-

Hal Galper: E Pluribus Unum: Live in Seattle (2009 [2010], Origin): A very good albeit not all that well known pianist, now in his 70s, in a trio with Seattle stalwarts Jeff Johnson (bass) and John Bishop (drums). Dense, deliberate, interesting, but less compelling than his 2009 Art-Work, which was elevated by Reggie Workman and Rashied Ali. B+(*)

Jeremy Pelt: Men of Honor (2009 [2010], High Note): Trumpeter, tabbed as a rising star a few years back, certainly has the chops, but with seven albums since 2002 hasn't delivered much. This is a hard bop quintet, with J.D. Allen underutilized at tenor sax, Danny Grissett fancy on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass, and Gerald Cleaver anything-but-hard-bop on drums. The free-ish "Danny Mack" sounds like a way out, but it's followed by a conventional ballad that only briefly reminded me of Mingus chanelling Ellington, then settled into postbop slumber. B

Karl Seglem: NORSKjazz.no (2009 [2010], Ozella): Norwegian tenor saxophonist, based in Oslo, don't know old but he's recorded extensively since 1988 -- website lists 26 albums, AMG has noticed 11. Has the calm, steady sound I associate with other Scandinavians like Arne Domnerus and Bernt Rosengren, or more recently with Trygve Seim. Quartet with piano, bass, drums. B+(***)

The Dominant 7/The Jazz Arts Messengers: Fourteen Channels (2009 [2010], Tapestry): Two groups, a septet (plus a guest on one cut) and a nonet, each good for seven cuts, no more than two in a row. The groups come from Colorado Conservatory for the Jazz Arts (CCJA), directed by Paul Romaine. Never heard of anyone listed, or for that matter of CCJA. Much of the growth in jazz over the last 10-20 years, at least in the US, has been fueled by jazz programs in music schools, where the most likely result is classical-trained postbop with an emphasis on intricate arrangements and complex but annoying harmonies. I've long been suspicious of this, and will continue to be, but these sets are surprising on many levels. The groups provide the range of big bands with chamber intimacy, so there are plenty of solo options but little section bombast and relatively simple harmonic ranges. The two groups fit nicely together, and there are no dominant players or auteurs: each of the 14 pieces is credited to a different composer, and the solos are scattered widely. The sum lacks the raging individualism I think I prefer, but there's nothing here I don't enjoy -- even the flute solos. B+(***)

Damian Erskine: So to Speak (2010, DE): Bassist, primarily or perhaps exclusively electric bass guitar; based in Portland, OR. Second album, after Trios in 2007. Group adds guitar, piano, drums, percussion, with occasional addition of a horn or yet more percussion -- tenor saxophonist John Nastos is the only name I recognize. Basically a shifting groove album; I can't quite call it hard-edged or relentless, but it trends that way. B+(**)

Brian Landrus: Forward (2007 [2010], Cadence Jazz): Reedist, b. 1978 in Reno, NV, based in New York, plays baritone sax, bass clarinet, and alto flute here, on his first album. Most cuts include Michael Cain (piano), John Lockwood (bass), Rakalam Bob Moses (drums), and Tupac Mantilla (percussion), but one is solo, one each drop Cain or Mantilla, and several add extra horns: George Garzone (2: tenor sax), Allan Chase (2: alto sax), Jason Palmer (3: trumpet). Avant-oriented label, but sounds pretty mainstream, with a steady rhythm, even a bit of swing. Sole cover is T. Monk's "Ask Me Now." B+(***)

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Mose Allison: The Way of the World (Anti-)
  • Marco Benevento: Between the Needles and Nightfall (Royal Potato Family)
  • Hamilton de Holanda Quintet: Brasilianos 2 (Adventure Music, CD+DVD)
  • Alan Ferber: Music for Nonet and Strings/Chamber Songs (Sunnyside): May 4
  • Dave Glasser: Evolution (Here Tiz): Apr. 19
  • Margret: Com Voce (Sunnyside): May 11
  • Ben Monder/Bill McHenry: Bloom (Sunnyside): May 4
  • Ricardo Silveira: Até Amanhã/'Til Tomorrow (Adventure Music)
  • Pharez Whitted: Transient Journey (Owl Studios): Apr. 13
  • Denny Zeitlin: Precipice (Sunnyside): May 11

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Linking In

Haven't had much time to post lately. Not sure I've had a lot to say, but I've been distracted on other things. Finally upgraded my main work computer from Fedora 6 to Fedora 12, which took quite a lot of tweaking to get it all going. I'm back to running Firefox on it, experiencing none of the Javascript meltdowns that had plagued the old browsers. Also running Ad Block Plus, Flash Block, and Flash Killer: I figure the latter two will make it tolerable to run some Flash objects, which I had banned a while back for corrupting and ultimately crashing browser sessions (as well as being a genuine nuissance). Also upgraded Ubuntu on my laptop, so everything but my old gateway box is running up-to-date software. (The Windows box is still running Vista, and I'm unlikely to move it forward as long as it is getting updates, which seems to be the case. I only use that box for some media things; not for real work.)

The old gateway box is due to be phased out: next step is to move mail off it, then some local websites, then local file storage; finally, to replace the machine with a new dedicated firewall box. The updates will also make it possible for me to build some new websites that will eventually be moved up to the server, once I get it upgraded. The server is actually the biggest problem, as it involves replanting a dozen websites.

Also took off to go visit my 95-year-old aunt. Plus we've started some more construction projects: repainting and adding new storage to the bathroom and a small bedroom upstairs. Hope to get that all done within two weeks. Got the lumber and most of the hardware already, plus some of the paint -- at least the stuff leftover from the kitchen. So those things will keep me distracted.

Meanwhile, some links:

  • Zachary Roth: Going to Extremes: The Obama Era's Top Ten Anti-Government Flare-Ups: Certainly a lot of that going around. I don't understand why Scott Roeder wasn't included -- maybe because his "flare-up" looked more like first degree murder (which all things considered should have ranked him way above Norman LeBoon or Steven Anderson), or maybe because his victim, Dr. George Tiller, wasn't a federal employee. The latter misses the point: Roeder was not just out to kill Tiller but to disable late-term abortion services and thereby take legal rights away from all Americans.
  • Justin Elliott: Gen. McChrystal: We've Shot 'An Amazing Number of People' Who Were Not Threats: One constant factor in the interminable tragedy of the US war in Afghanistan is that we keep creating more problems for ourselves than the socalled enemy can dream of conjuring up: the unnecessary slaughter at checkpoints being one more case in point. Two good letters way down. One from "larsvanne" offers a 9/11 counterpoint: given what the US did in response to the Al Qaeda attack, what should India have done in response to the US corporate disaster that struck Bhopal? (What they actually did was to try to resolve the matter in the courts.) The other is from "bill": a list of eight things Obama has done -- most relevant here: "escalating a meaningless and fruitless war" -- leading to the conclusion that Obama is really "a center-right Republican."
  • Paul Woodward: US Funds Help Arm the Taliban: Links and quotes from pieces in New York Times and Los Angeles Times on the money trail in America's recent Marja triumph. Think of this as an economic stimulus package: first US forces invade a hostile territory, blowing lots of shit up; then to make amends and win hearts and minds and all that we pay to rebuild all the shit we blew up; now we find that not everything we blew up is innocent collateral damage -- some of it actually belonged to Taliban, so now we're paying the Taliban for damages they incurred by waging war against us (even though we're the ones who invaded their country). The whole Marja operation was predicated on the idea that first we would secure the area, then we'd establish a "good government" that would win the loyalties of the locals (or at least the ones we didn't kill in invading). This must be what "good government" looks like.
  • Mark Perry: The Pentagon's Doubts About Israel Began With Its Creation: Recalls George Marshall's argument with Harry Truman over the founding of Israel. Marshall does a very good job of anticipating the realist arguments about how Israeli interests diverge from American interests, and is prescient about Israel's expansionist trajectory. Curiously, Marshall's view has been historically dismissed as antisemitic; in fact, antisemites were as likely as not to favor creation of Israel.
  • Barnabe Geisweiller: 'Simpsons' Go to the 'Happiest Place on Earth': I somehow lucked into actually viewing the Simpsons episode where the family gets roped into a trip to the Holy Land by their born-again (and again and again) neighbor Ned Flanders. Thought it was mostly funny, so I was surprised to see this ridiculous review. Geisweiller's big complaint is that the cartoon failed to deal with the issues the critic cares about -- the occupation, the plight of the Palestinians -- thereby missing what was actually there, which is that a bunch of more/less Christians (uh, plus Krusty the Clown, who disappeared after one joke) made a pilgrimage to the Hold Land and found Israel there, armed to the teeth with guns and attitude. If Israelis don't take offense at Sacha Baron Cohen's tour guide, it's because he flatters their sense of how tough and brusque they are. He oozes contempt for the Christians, and if they don't get it, that's mostly because they're in their own little delusional dream world: Homer, always the weak link, winds up thinking he's the Messiah, while Ned Flanders' faith is sorely tested. Sure, not the political critique of Israel you're hoping for, but there's something to be said for art taking unexpected turns. Btw, the letters section is as bad as I've ever seen.
  • Glenn Greenwald: White House Access Is a Jackpot for Reporters: On journalists seeking insider access to the White House and the compromises such access costs them. Applies just as well to the Bush White House and many predecessors, at least back to Kennedy. The underlying problem is that people seem to think that quotes make news. It used to be that quotes reflect news, and sometimes refract them in useful ways, but journalism has gotten so shallow that quotes have come into their own. I'm reminded that when I was growing up, the most effective journalist in the nation -- certainly the one I most admired -- was I.F. Stone, who never had insider access to anyone. Still, I'm somewhat glad to get those insider quotes. I just wish they didn't drive muckraking journalism off the market.
  • AP: Nuclear Heartland Anxious About Missile Cuts: Guess what? Obama's deal with Russia to cut back on the nuclear weapons overkill has run into opposition from the normally rabidly antigovernment Greater Cheyenne Chamber of Commerce, which fears a loss of jobs at a nearby missile base. Montana and North Dakota are also worried. No one seems to doubt that military extravagance creates and maintains jobs, even those who claim every other case of federal spending steals from the private sector, producing no net jobs or worth.

Mar 2010