October 2012 Notebook


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Knee Deep in the Water Somewhere

Woke up this morning thinking of the folly of drowning the federal government in a bathtub. For starters, like without the US National Hurricane Center would be much more precarious. Otherwise, who would have suspected that when Hurricane Sandy crossed Jamaica on Oct. 22 a week later it would drop 24 inches of snow on West Virginia? More important, of course, were the storm surge warnings and evacuations. For a recounting of death before such warnings see Erik Larson's book on the 1900 Galveston hurricane, Isaac's Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History, although recognize that even then Isaac Cline was a federal employee, working for the U.S. Weather Bureau. The Norquist mob would have had him in their sights as well, and may well relish how close he literally came to drowning.

Forecasting helps. For the past week responsible authorities have been preparing to repair the inevitable breaks and disruptions that the storm was expected to leave. The cleanup may look messy, but it would be far worse without the preparation and the concern, and that happens because of and through government -- which is right, because only the government represents the interest and will of the people. Private businesses may look out for themselves, and charities may help patch some of the cracks, but only government moves deliberately enough to make a big difference. (That is, of course, when it does try -- something Bush's patronage cronies had trouble understanding.) Ronald Reagan once joked that the most fearsome words in the English language were, "I'm from the government, and I'm here to help." Funny line, except in the midst of a disaster. In such times, no one sits around contemplating how the free market is going to come to their rescue. No matter what their political stripes, they demand action from their government: lots of it, and now.

I suppose the good thing about a disaster is that it helps focus the mind. Otherwise, some people can get pretty confused. Take, please, Mitt Romney. Ed Kilgore quotes Ryan Grim, quoting Romney (for video, follow the Grim link):

During a CNN debate at the height of the GOP primary, Mitt Romney was asked, in the context of the Joplin disaster and FEMA's cash crunch, whether the agency should be shuttered so that states can individually take over responsibility for disaster response.

"Absolutely," he said. "Every time you have an occasion to take something from the federal government and send it back to the states, that's the right direction. And if you can go even further, and send it back to the private sector, that's even better. Instead of thinking, in the federal budget, what we should cut, we should ask the opposite question, what should we keep?"

"Including disaster relief, though?" debate moderator John King asked Romney.

"We cannot -- we cannot afford to do those things without jeopardizing the future for our kids," Romney replied. "It is simply immoral, in my view, for us to continue to rack up larger and larger debts and pass them on to our kids, knowing full well that we'll all be dead and gone before it's paid off. It makes no sense at all."

Decentralizing government is fine and dandy in principle, but it doesn't necessarily work, and is certain to fail for disaster relief. The obvious problem is that the states have much tighter budgets -- they have to pay as they go, which means they'd have to save ahead of disasters (most likely through buying private market insurance), whereas the feds not only have deeper pockets, they can refill them as needed. You might try arguing that you can have the feds fund (or at least insure) the states, but you'd still get a whole series of inefficiencies and inequities: redundant or missing expertise, coordination problems (many disasters, like Sandy, cross borders), inconsistent policies and red tape. Even now, with the feds doing most of the work, you have vast differences from state to state -- Florida, which has a lot of practice, is relatively effective in doling out federal money, while Mississippi and Louisiana don't seem to be able to do anything competently (or without the taints of corruption and racism).

Romney compounds his ideological delusions about disaster relief with further idiocy about the federal debt. The core fact is that the federal debt, unlike your mortgage or car payment, does not have to be paid off -- not in your lifetime, or in your children's, or in their children's. Sure, that doesn't mean that you can expand it infinitely, but it means there's no clock-running-out scenario. (Also, things get tougher for debts that are denominated in other currencies, as you can see from Greece, Spain, etc. But US debt is exclusively denominated in dollars, and within some limits can be floated in inflated dollars.) Such harping on the debt only works if you assume government have to live like you do -- an assumption that defies our every experience. (Another telling joke: if you owe a bank a thousand dollars, that's your problem, but if you owe the bank a billion, that's the bank's problem.)

The point Romney and other deficit hawks are trying to drive home is the idea that we're broke, and when we're broke we can't afford things no matter how much we need them. (So suck it up, and plod along until you can. Better yet, get rich like Romney -- ignoring that he did it all with borrowed money, the debts for which he was able to pass on to the companies he ruined.) But when disaster hits, debt is often the only way out: e.g., you need to clean up the muck and broken windows in order for your your business to earn the cash to pay for repairs. And disaster shakes loose your illusions about individualism, so it's not just about you: if you repair your business but your neighbors do not, your location is soon worthless. Likewise, you depend on access roads being repaired, the power grid; you depend on public sanitation and health; you depend on police and firemen and courts and a solvent government, and those are all things that federal disaster relief make possible. And you depend on the economy bouncing back so people will buy from your business. The Republican dream of drowning the government will make all of that impossible. "Starving the beast" just withers the hand you may someday depend on to rescue you.

John Nichols has another piece that quotes the same Romney transcript. Alex Seitz-Wald has another; also later a piece not on what Romney was thinking but on what he's doing in face of the actual disaster: collecting canned goods, the ultimate hack charity drive:

Today, we got a look at Romney's charity in action, when he held an event that he swears was not a campaign rally in Ohio aimed at "storm relief" (the choice of a song with the lyrics "Knee deep in the water somewhere" was perhaps ill advised). The Romney campaign encouraged attendees to bring canned goods, clothes and other items to be sent to hurricane victims. "We have a lot of goods here . . . that these people will need," Romney said in his brief remarks. "We're going to box them up, then send them into New Jersey."

This undoubtedly comes from a good place and with good intentions, but is hardly a substitute for the relief efforts -- in fact, it may actually hinder them. The Red Cross, for which Romney is soliciting donations, doesn't even accept goods. "Unfortunately, due to logistical constraints the Red Cross does not accept or solicit individual donations or collections of items. Items such as collected food, used clothing and shoes must be sorted, cleaned, repackaged and transported which impedes the valuable resources of money, time, and personnel," the NGO's website explains. With financial donations, they can buy exactly what is needed closer to the site, and it helps stimulate the local economy in the process.

Most likely he just wanted a photo op to look like he was doing something at a time when the actual president was -- a structural problem which, I think, is one of the reasons why we shouldn't let sitting presidents run for reëlection. Looks like Romney also flipped on getting rid of FEMA, although from what little sense I can make of his new position the least I can say is he didn't make a very clean landing.

While we're at it, Republicans are often confused about who actually benefits from that government largesse they incessantly moan about. Like the old canard about how everyone overestimates how much federal money goes to foreign aid, they also have (and prey upon) a truly irrational fear of supporting the needy (and unworthy). In fact, an awful lot of what government does is to support businesses and their owners, and disaster aid is one of many chunks that fit. Indeed, you have to wonder when the rich are going to wise up and realize that they need the government much more than the poor do, and that the wholesale destruction of public goods and values is going to come back to hurt them. Robert H. Frank has a piece that starts to make this case, although he could go a lot further. The piece is called "Higher Taxes Help the Richest, Too." More on that, later.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 20599 [20576] rated (+23), 655 [643] unrated (+12). Lots of mail, but missed a couple days so the rated count is down, and Jazz Prospecting a bit slim. (Also, the Parker box is a big deal, one I wish I had been able to put more time into.) Also did a bit on Recycled Goods, which is coming due in a week or so: more from my unplayed pile, not that I'm finding enough treasure there to keep me focused.

Ed Byrne's Latin Jazz Evolution: Conquistador (2012, Blue Truffle Music): Trombonist, cut his teeth in Eddie Palmieri's band, second album; credits percussionist Carlos Clinton (congas, bongos, cowbell) as co-leader, adds another percussionist (Esteban Arrufatt on timbales and guiro), piano, sax, violin (Maureen Choi), and two bassists. Pretty basic rhythms, but the horns pack more muscle than the usual brass. B+(**)

Roman Filiu: Musae (2010 [2012], Dafnison): Alto/soprano saxophonist, b. in Cuba, moved to New York in 2011; played with Chucho Valdes both in and out of Irakere, also in David Murray's Latin Big Band; second album, quintet with piano (David Virelles), guitar (Adam Rogers), bass (Reinier Elizarde), and drums (split between Dafnis Prieto and Marcus Gilmore). Does a nice job of keeping the rhythm wedged open, building up tension and never quite gets resolved. B+(*)

Ben Holmes Quartet: Anvil of the Lord (2012, Skirl): Trumpet player, b. 1979 in Ithaca, NY. Released a trio album in 2009, followed up here by adding a trombone (Curtis Hasselbring) and swapping bassists. As Louis Armstrong understood early on, the trombone is the perfect foil for a trumpeter, and that principle still applies here, even moving far into postbop territory. B+(***)

Steve Kuhn Trio: Life's Magic (1986 [2012], Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1938, has dozens of records since 1963, including this one, cut live at the Village Vanguard and originally released on Blackhawk in 1987. Trio with Ron Carter on bass and Al Foster on drums, Kuhn remembers "feeling like a kid in a candy store." Half originals, half swing-period covers, LP-length, light and spry. B+(***)

Rob Mazurek Pulsar Quartet: Stellar Pulsations (2012, Delmark): Cornet player, based in Chicago, an essential part of Chicago Underground Duo/Trio (which morphed into Sao Paulo Underground) and a number of astronomy-themed groups: Starlicker, Exploding Star Orchestra, now Pulsar Quartet. With Angelica Sanchez (piano), Matthew Lux (bass guitar), and John Herndon (drums). The cornet is sparkling, and Sanchez makes a strong impression. B+(***)

Ferenc Nemeth: Triumph (2012, Dreamers Collective): Drummer, b. 1976 in Hungary; second album under his own name, plus two with Gilfema (a trio with Lionel Loueke and Massimo Biolcati). Above the line, this is styled as a star-laden quartet: Joshua Redman (tenor/soprano sax), Kenny Werner (piano), Loueke (guitar, vocals), but more names pop up in the fine print, including a woodwind section all the way down to the bassoon. Makes for a chamber effect, although the principals are interesting enough on their own. B+(**)

William Parker: Centering: Unreleased Early Recordings 1976-1987 (1976-87 [2012], No Business, 6CD): The great bassist of my generation -- he turned sixty back in January -- Parker spent most of the 1980s piling up side credits, which ran close to 300 last time I counted, probably more like 400 now. His own discography only picks up around 1993, with 1995's Compassion Seizes Bed-Stuy a breakthrough, and 1998's The Peach Orchard a triumph. But we now know that he experimented widely from 1974 on -- the 2003 release of Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace picked up bits from 1974-79 -- and he released limited runs on his own Centering label. The Lithuanian label NoBusiness collected his 1980-83 recordings with Jason Kao Hwang as Commitment in 2010 (cf. The Complete Recordings 1981/1983), and now they've gone much further with this lavish, lovely box set. The first three discs feature intimate groups with saxophonists Daniel Carter, David S. Ware, and Charles Gayle -- the latter some of the finest free sax blowing I've heard -- followed by a short (13:51) song set with vocalists Ellen Christi and Lisa Sokolov. The last three discs move into larger groups, ranging from the atmospheric dance accompaniment to the Big Moon Ensemble, one of the most explosive free big bands I've heard. A-

David Virelles: Continuum (2012, Pi): Pianist (also harmonium and organ), b. 1983 in Cuba, based in Canada, has a previous record on Justin Time in 2007 (Motion, not in AMG as far as I can tell), side credits mostly with Jane Bunnett (since 2001). Mostly quartet, with Ben Street (bass), Andrew Cyrille (drums, percussion), and Román Diaz (percussion, vocals), plus horns (Román Filiu, Mark Turner, Jonathan Finlayson) on the centerpiece cut. The vocals are the rub, although they might also frame an Afro-Cuban history lesson that I'm missing. B+(**)

Torben Waldorff: Wah-Wah (2012, ArtistShare): Guitarist, from Denmark, sixth album since 1999: quartet with Gary Versace (keybs), Matt Clohesy (bass), and Jon Wikan (drums). Usually a strong groove player, he starts out behind the piano and rarely steps out. B

Katherine Young: Pretty Monsters (2010 [2012], Public Eyesore): Bassoon player, studied at Oberlin and Wesleyan, running into Anthony Braxton at the latter. Has a couple previous albums. This is a quartet with guitar (Owen Stewart-Robertson), violin (Erica Dicker), and drums (Mike Pride) -- the violin most prominent. All originals. Runs rough and ragged, with some more reflective moments. B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last two weeks:

  • Eivind Aarset: Dream Logic (ECM): advance, November 13
  • Joel Behrman: Steppin Back (self-released)
  • Masha Campagne: Like Water, Like Air (Impetus)
  • Jason Paul Curtis: Love Holiday (self-released)
  • Caroline Davis: Live Work & Play (Ears & Eyes)
  • Louis Durra: Rocket Science (Lot 50): November 30
  • Jacob Garchik/Jacob Sacks/David Ambrosio/Vinnie Sperrazza: 40Twenty (Yeah-Yeah)
  • Joe Gilman: Relativity (Capri)
  • David Gilmore: Numerology: Live at Jazz Standard (Evolutionary Music)
  • Fred Hess Big Band: Speak (Alison)
  • Jason Kao Hwang: Burning Bridge (Innova)
  • Benedikt Jahnel Trio: Equilibrium (ECM): advance, November 13
  • Patricia Julien Project: Still Light at Night (self-released)
  • Manu Katché (ECM)
  • Diana Krall: Glad Rag Doll (Verve)
  • Living by Lanterns: New Myth/Old Science (Cuneiform)
  • José-Luis Montón: Solo Guitarra (ECM): advance, November 13
  • Musaner: Once Upon a Time (Lucent Music)
  • Nicholl and Farquharson: Della by Moonlight (Big Empty Loo)
  • Felipe Salles: Departure (Tapestry)
  • Robert Soko: Balkan Beats Soundlab (Piranha): advance
  • Joan Watson-Jones/Frank Wilkins: Quiet Conversations: A Duet (Eye of Samantha)
  • The Paul Winter Sextet: Count Me In (1962-63, Living Music)
  • Neil C. Young: El Camino (Canadian American): November 20


  • John Carter/Bobby Bradford Quartet: Seeking (1969, Hatology)
  • Ellery Eskelin: Ten (2004, Hatology)
  • Franz Koglmann: L'Heure Bleu (1991, Hatology)
  • John McPhee & Survival Unit II with Clifford Thornton: N.Y. N.Y. 1971 (1971, Hatology)
  • Joe McPhee/Lisle Ellis/Paul Plimley: Sweet Freedom, Now What (1994, Hatology)
  • David Murray Trio: 3D Family (1978, Hatology)

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Excello Vocal Groups (1955-60 [1995], AVI/Excello): Nashville label, a subsidiary of gospel-oriented Nashboro, active 1953-74, best known for their "swamp blues" sound -- Slim Harpo, Lightnin' Slim, Lazy Lester, Lonesome Sundown, Roscoe Shelton -- dabbled a bit in doo-wop, with the Gladiolas' "Little Darlin'" and the Marigolds' "Rolling Stone" indelible songs if not quite hits. Those two are the only songs here (out of 31) that appear on either AVI's 1994 The Best of Excello Records or on either of two 1990 volumes on Rhino (Sound of the Swamp and Southern Rock 'n' Roll) -- compilations I recommend heartily. Slimmer pickings here, partly because the roster didn't get much deeper, and partly because they dug up ten previously unreleased songs (especially by the King Krooners) and a few outtakes. So file this under obscurities, but enjoy nonetheless. B+(***)
  • Stan Getz, Coleman Hawkins & More: Battle of the Saxes (1944-46 [1996], Tradition): A short (28:05) sampler from the "birth of bebop" years, focusing on tenor sax with two cuts each from the teenaged Getz, the master Hawkins, Charlie Ventura (the most boppish), and Ben Webster (the hardest swinger), plus one each from Ted Nash (uncle of the better known alto player) and Don Byas (a lovely ballad), all but Hawk in quartets -- he adds yet another tenor sax great, Budd Johnson, and Emmett Berry on trumpet. B+(***)
  • Sound D'Afrique ([1981], Mango): A-

Sunday, October 28, 2012


The good news in this election is that loathsome Democrat Vern Miller isn't running for sheriff or anything else this time. I voted against him in my first election (1972), and voted against him four years ago. In fact, I've never found him running against a Republican so vile as to drive me into his column. On the other hand, the Republicans running for my state senate and representative seats have taken a drastic turn for the worse this year. They have a lot of money and they are serious threats to win, although at least they will have to overcome estimable Democratic candidates. Other than that, and a ballot question about fluoridating the city's water supply (something I'm ambivalent about), Kansas is a political wasteland this year. The statewide offices have been reserved for the off-years when turnout is down (and more to the Republicans' taste). The Senate cycle is fallow this year. And our Koch-owned congressman appears to be a lock -- at least I haven't seen any evidence of the Democrat allegedly running against him. And, oh, the state's presidential electors have already been conceded: I haven't even seen any statewide polls on Romney vs. Obama -- just some speculation that the margin will rival Reagan's 1980 trouncing of Carter. I expect it will be much closer, but I'm basing that on nothing whatsoever -- other than that Gore surprised me in 2000 by getting 37% of the vote (to 58% for Bush) on so little campaigning that I entertained the fantasy of Nader (3.4%) outpolling him. Turns out that even though Kansas Democrats are remarkably quiet they do exist -- and thanks to the right-wing Republican purge are likely to increase in number, if not in spirit.

In 2004 I wrote a relatively impassioned editorials for Kerry (or more pointedly against Bush) and in 2008 I must have done the same for Obama (certainly against the warmonger McCain). Against Romney, Obama is as clear a choice, even though there isn't much reason to cheerful or enthusiastic about the prospect. Obama has proven himself to be a cautious conservative with only the barest commitment to the general welfare of the majority of the people who voted for him in 2008. He is unimaginative and unresourceful, unwilling to put forth progressive proposals, uneager to stand up to the increasingly destructive program of the far right, or even to point out how much damage thirty years of conservative ascent has already done. And even within his own limited confines, more often than not he has proved inept: obvious examples include the 2010 electoral debacle, and the fact that his own reëlection is in peril despite running against running against a candidate as clueless as Romney and a party as malevolent as the Republicans, despite his evident tactic of sacrificing his party for his own personal gain -- one of many traits he's adopted from Clinton, who proved every bit as ineffective (or uninterested) at halting the nation's unpopular drift to the right.

I say "unpopular" because there's no reason to think that the vast majority of the American people actually approve of what the right has done, let alone intends to do. You can check this many ways, starting with the polling, although that's often muddied by the right's ubiquitous propaganda machine (often helped out by the mainstream media). Or you can look at the ways the right tries to obscure and confuse issues, by their savvy catch phrases, their constant repetition, etc. Or you can look at the right's more and more blatant efforts at disenfranchising and intimidating voters. Or you can take notice of such recent gaffes as Lindsey Graham's concession that the Republicans are losing "the demographic race" or Romney's blatant dismissal of the "47%" of the public who pay no income taxes, people he wrote off as "takers," people "unwilling to take responsibility for their lives": given all the other people Romney is writing off, it should be clear that the only way he can win an election is to keep most of that 47% from voting.

So that's one thing this election is about: whether this nation will remain a democracy. And oddly enough, because the Republican Party has operated in lock step over the last four years in its single-minded agenda to annul the 2008 election, to prevent the sort of change that that election mandated, to sabotage government and prevent it from being used to ameliorate the suffering and to improve the welfare of the vast majority of the people, and above all to make Obama look weak and ineffective, the only way to save democracy is to purge Congress of virtually all Republicans. (A simple thought experiment: how many views an all-Democratic Congress would have on most issues? All of them. All-Republican? One, maybe plus Ron Paul.)

Since Democrats are all over the map, voting a straight ticket might not seem like much of a solution, but Republican groupthink and discipline have created a unique problem: one that is severe enough it should be massively rejected. Otherwise, their obsession with seizing and holding power at all costs will prove ever more corrupting. We saw much of this during the Bush-Cheney years, when the anti-deficit arguments used to hem in Clinton and Obama were suspended, when government oversight was parceled out to lobbyists, when functions were privatized to create patronage. More recently, no matter how much the Republicans decried bank bailouts, they flocked to fight regulation needed to keep future disasters from happening, in a blatant attempt to coddle the big bankers. But more disturbing than hypocrisy and opportunism is how they've converted their power base into a form of extortion: give them the presidency and they'll mismanage government, plunge the nation into endless wars, wreck the economy, but deny them and they'll shut down the government, hold up your social security checks, and drag their feet on everything from unemployment comp to food stamps. They've even argued that the current slow recovery is Obama's fault for "creating uncertainty," causing "job creators" to hold back their magic and let the economy flounder -- when in fact Republican-demanded austerity measures have destroyed public sector jobs as fast as the private sector can generate them.

Moreover, the Republican mindset has turned even more greedy and nasty in the years since Obama was elected. The key abortion issue now seems to be the rights of rapists to force their victims to bear their children. Public education is being gutted, torn between textbook idiocies and prohibitive costs, and likely to suffer worse now that pious Republicans like Rick Santorum have decided that learning inclines students toward liberalism. Such notions, and the Republicans are full of them, are more extreme than we've ever witnessed in major party politics, and they're backed with more money and more pervasive media than ever. From the beginning, Americans have adopted the notion of countervailing powers as a means of checking tyranny: first in the government's separation of powers, and later in the development of a universal democracy that has repeatedly shifted, and moderated, between progressive and conservative tides. Arguably, the Reagan ascent in 1980 was a reasonable reaction to the successes of progressive movements in the 1960s and 1970s. (I wouldn't argue that, but I can see how corporate interests may have gotten spooked.) Early on, conservative measures seemed to do little damage, but over time they have accumulated into serious problems; meanwhile, the right has no sense of enough: they keep insisting on more, to the point of complete domination. (For example, in Kansas now, business owners are exempt from paying state income tax, joining Romney's freeloading 47%.)

The Republican juggernaut stalled in 2008 when it became obvious to nearly everyone that the Bush bubble had burst and took much of the world's economy with it. Then a remarkable thing happened: a handful of talk radio blowhards and behind-the-scenes schemers like Grover Norquist took over the GOP and gave it a fresh life in its own fantasy world. Much of what followed was stark raving nuts, and even now all Romney and Ryan represent are the sanest faces their sponsoring billionaires can put on such an unhinged movement. Even so, Romney's background is from the most predatory and destructive form of finance capitalism, and Ryan's solo claim to fame is his ability to fake a budget that promises to turn the nation into a third world oligarchy. And behind the front men, the advisers -- the people who would make up and run their administration -- are the same con men Bush used (Glenn Hubbard is the most obvious tip of the iceberg here).

These are people, a whole party of them, that must be stopped. For better or worse, all we have to stop them with are Democrats, so that's how I intend to vote, and so should you. Woe to us if we fail, but even if we succeed we'll still have much work to do. We can, at least, take solace in seeing the last four years of propaganda and obstruction fail to defeat Obama. And we can look forward to having somewhat more reasonable people to talk to, to argue with, and possibly on occasion to convince.

By the way, I see now that the Democratic candidate for sheriff, while not Vern Miller, is a guy whose sole comment on why he ran for office is that God told him to. Doesn't sound like much of a candidate to me, and I don't have anything in particular against the Republican, but I'll vote for him anyway. This is a year when anyone should be embarrassed to run as a Republican -- especially in Kansas.

Moreover, I recall how back in the early days of the conservative counterrevolution Reagan used to talk about the "11th Commandment": never speak ill of a fellow Republican. That allowed the Republicans to make gains in unlikely places, including electing mayors of New York and Los Angeles, as well as senators like the recently purged Richard Lugar. Of course, I won't stop speaking out when Democrats like Obama do bad things, but I may hold off until the season's over (now that it practically is).

Expert Comments

Posted link to the above on Facebook:

Posted my 2012 election rationalization for voting for the Democrats (Obama included). Now that I've written this, I'm flooded with more thoughts, less formal, so maybe there'll be another post -- the gist being that for as much as I've criticized Obama, I'm really not that unhappy with him. Went with Wood's cover pic -- the only book I've read lately to make me proud to be an American. (Chandrasekaran on Afghanistan didn't do the trick.)

Cam Patterson on Wussy:

Last night was the sold-out Wussy/Afghan Whigs show at Cat's Cradle. I'd gotten in touch with Wussy's tour manager, the indefatigable Rene Venemous, before the show and met the band for dinner at Mama Dip's, a "down-home" restaurant a couple of blocks from the venue, prior to their soundcheck. (I told Lisa that we walked through the worst part of Chapel Hill to get to the restaurant, and she said "wow, our whole city is rougher than that.") The band members were in really great spirits, not nearly as worn down as when I saw them in Louisville at the end of their long West Coast tour. Happy with how the British shows went, feeling like some momentum is developing, good shows with the Whigs at the Masquerade in Atlanta (especially) and at Tipitina's in New Orleans, appreciative to be invited on tour with the Whigs, making future plans (they bought a van, the band equivalent of a wedding ring I guess). I gave each of them an EW-related gift (about which you'll hear more later) that totally blew their minds and led into a discussion about our host and EW. They were a bit rushed, but they really had a great vibe going. Oh yeah, they can eat that pulled pork.

If you have been to the Cradle but not recently, they've expanded it a bit to accommodate more folks, and there was already a crowd lined up to get in before the doors opened at 8, all of whom got to hear (but not see) Wussy soundcheck "Pulverized" (chosen "because we all sing on it" said Chuck). When I got into the venue I checked with Rene about helping with mersh, as she had asked me to, but she had it totally under control so I told her to look for me if she needed help and wondered around. I saw Bob's remark about "I Like You Too Much" from last night on my iPhone and then immediately ran into Chuck again so I read it to him. His eyes totally bugged out and he said "Great idea" and then talked about doing a covers album. He said that they do all kinds of covers that they never play live, like a Joy Division tune he didn't specify, so I raised up my sweater to show him my "Mickey Mouse in the fashion of the cover of Unknown Pleasures" t-shirt, and Chuck laughed and said that Lisa got the same one in Brighton, but hers was yellow. Then he took off.

By the time the band came on at 9:10, the Cradle was already probably 90% full. This is my third time seeing Wussy, but this is the first time in 1) a big venue with 2) a full room and 3) a top-notch sound system.

(Digression: This is also the second time I've seen the Afghan Whigs. The first time was the first time that my wife Kris and I went out on a date together, when the Whigs opened up for Teenage Fanclub when they were touring Congregation, coincidentally enough at the Masquerade.)

Kris showed up right as the band was getting on stage. She'd never seen the band live, and the show was a real treat for her. All of my Wussy shows have sounded great, but it was really special with the music mixed so well. Half way through the opener, Waiting Room, Kris looked at me with big eyes that said "Now I get it" and by the end of Pulverized, the second song, she and over half of the crowd were moving in rhythm like a big wave. As Jonah shimmered along, I heard the guy in front of me say to pretty much anyone who could hear: "Who these guys?" It was an opening set with no encore, so not as long as the other shows I've seen, but I loved watching them win over an audience, which they definitely did, rather than playing to the converted. (I noticed the bar area was empty each time I looked back, a great sign.) Highlights for me were "Yellow Cotton Dress," which had an improvised intro that Joe Klug the drummer took control of, and a closing "Rigor Mortis" that was less chaotic (and perhaps more friendly to the unitiated) than usual.

I went back to the mersh table between bands and now they were really moving stuff. Mark Messerly the bassist came back in great spirits and said "I hope we brought enough stuff." (New product: rad buttons designed by Lisa.) More chitchat and Chuck took ownership over getting my vinyl copy of Funeral Dress signed by everyone. What a sweet guy.

(Another digression: This is a Wussy review, but the Afghan Whigs were . Dulli's sexy R&B shtick can wear thin when his topic is himself or anonymous females, but live he can tiptoe around those landmines. Kris and I shook and swayed together the whole show, happy to still be together and able to do that. If you like them, definitely check them out if they are in your neighborhood. Far from a nostalgia trip.)

After the Whigs' set, I went back to the mersh table, and Rene and the band kept selling stuff for almost an hour after the show finished. Remarkable, especially on a work night. Mark had a 6:30 AM flight to get to work at 11AM the next morning, so he went home with me and I drove him to the airport to catch his flight this morning. Wussy are back in town in two weeks for Halloween at Saxapahaw to open for the Heartless Bastards (with an extra-special guest coming along) so I guess this story will continue then.

Wussy Setlist:

  1. Waiting Room
  2. Pulverized
  3. Maglite
  4. Misadventure
  5. Jonah
  6. Pizza King
  7. Mountain of Times
  8. Happiness Bleeds
  9. Airborne
  10. Yellow Cotton Dress
  11. Rigor Mortis

Jason Gubbels on Borah Bergman:

The same week that lost David S. Ware also lost jazz pianist Borah Bergman. Bergman's an even more acquired taste than Ware -- very little in the way of an easy entry point unless you're well-conditioned to the more extreme tendencies of downtown jazz.

Still, if you're curious, there are two good places to start that showcase Bergman's versatility (Tom Hull and Chris Monsen and others here may have different recommendations): 1992's The Human Factor, a dense collection of duets with the great drummer Andrew Cyrille (featuring two frenzied takes on Coltrane's "Chasin' The Trane") and 2003's very solemn solo set Meditations For Piano, Jewish Cantorial pieces interpreted on piano for John Zorn's Radical Jewish Culture series of Tzadik. Night and day, those two albums.

Indeed, I liked his 1983 A New Frontier (Soul Note), and the 2008 Luminescence (Tzadik). Probably some notable side credits as well.

Steven Manning on John Tchicai:

Perhaps worth noting that another great free jazz saxophone player, John Tchicai has died. Tchicai played in the short-lived New York Art Quartet with Roswell Rudd and a very young Leroi Jones aka Amiri Baraka. They cut one record in 1964 for ESP which is very much worth seeking out. The only other time the group played together was a few years ago when they opened for Sonic Youth at the South Street Seaport in New York at the invitation of Thurston Moore. The show was a worthy successor to the famed SY-Sun Ra double bill of 1992.

Friday, October 26, 2012

David S. Ware

Tenor saxophonist David S. Ware died in October 18, just a couple weeks shy of his sixty-third birthday. He suffered from kidney disease and came close to dying three years ago, but was rescued by a transplant. He was one of the most impressive tenors of the last few decades, and his long-running quartet -- with Matthew Shipp, William Parker, and a platoon of drummers -- produced more exceptional records than any other, John Coltrane's included.

I'm not up for writing a fresh piece at the time, but it occurs to me that it might be useful to collect and organize what I have written about Ware over the years: in Jazz Consumer Guide, and before that in a huge guide to his Quartet stars Parker and Shipp, Bass Fiddles and Nu Bop (filling in some missing records with database grades):

David S. Ware Quartet: Flight of I (1991 [1992], DIW): Like Gayle, Ware is a staunch free saxophonist, but he seems to be more rounded, capable of finesse as well as fierceness. Having worked with Cecil Taylor and Andrew Cyrille, he formed a trio in 1988 with Parker and Marc Edwards (drums), and added Shipp in 1990. He's stuck with the quartet format ever since, with Parker and Shipp (and a series of drummers) as one of the longest running, most fruitful partnerships in jazz history. This album is an early peak, with Shipp exceptionally prominent, and Ware more often in pursuit of his collaborators rather than out on a limb. A-

David S. Ware Quartet: Third Ear Recitation (1992 [1993], DIW): A-

David S. Ware Quartet: Earthquation (1994, DIW): B+

David S. Ware Quartet: Dao (1995 [1996], Homestead): B+

David S. Ware Quartet: Godspelized (1996 [1997], DIW): Ware's sequence of '90s albums (Third Ear Recitation, Earthquation, and Dao with Whit Dickey on drums; this one and Go See the World with Susie Ibarra replacing Dickey) are pretty much of a piece: one long, articulate argument for the saxophone colossus as the voice which cuts through the darkness of the world. Or if that seems too melodramatic, it is also an argument for the community of mutual support provided by one of the longest-running, most intense collaborations in jazz history. What lets Ware project such power and majesty is the solid foundation of Parker and Shipp. Ibarra, too, makes an immediate impact, so if this isn't the peak of the series, it is certainly a majestic rise. A-

David S. Ware: Go See the World (1997 [1998], Columbia): Omitting "Quartet" from the artist attribution seems to have been Columbia's idea -- a concession to mammon that is in no way reflected in the music here, ineluctably the work of a very tight group. Ware's part is much in line with his other albums in this series, but I want to spotlight the stretch in "Logistic" where he lays out, because the remaining trio work belongs on a hypothetical Very Best of Matthew Shipp compilation. And a similar stretch on "The Way We Were" is equally powerful, and very different. But of course Ware is still the dominant voice here -- when he blows, heads turn. A-

David S. Ware Quartet: Surrendered (1999 [2000], Columbia): A-

David S. Ware: BalladWare (1999 [2006], Thirsty Ear): A-

David S. Ware Quartet: Corridors & Parallels (2001, AUM Fidelity): Shipp switches to synth here, trading in his stark piano chords for a smorgasbord of noodling effects, but this works both as backdrop and as counterpoint to Ware, who is challenged to blow some of his most expressive sax. And when the beat goes synthetic on tracks like "Sound-a-Bye" Ware just kicks it up a notch. The more regular beats go a long ways toward making this Ware's most accessible album, without in any way diminishing the power or the glory (cf. "Mother May You Rest in Bliss") of Ware's sax. A

David S. Ware Quartet: Freedom Suite (2002, AUM Fidelity): When the bebop movement flourished, much was made of the virtuosity of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, how their speed and improvisational skills stacked up against their antecedents, but the bebop pianists always had an insurmountable predecessor, namely Art Tatum. Like Tatum in the bebop era, Sonny Rollins stands outside and in many ways above and beyond the Ayler-Dolphy-Coltrane mainstream of avant saxophone. This is one of the few avant efforts both to pay tribute to Rollins and to try to make something new of his legacy, and it succeeds on virtually every level. In part, this is possible because Rollins' 1958 original was little more than a sketch with some improvisation. But mostly it's because the Ware Quartet works more on fleshing out the sketch than on competing with the improvisation, and because they bring group strength to the fore, whereas Rollins always seemed like he'd rather just do it all by himself. Ware's tone is heavier and more muscular, Parker is more active, and Shipp adds immensely to the mix. A-

The David S. Ware String Ensemble: Threads (2003, Thirsty Ear): I knew we were in trouble when the publicist started talking about how beautiful the new Ware + strings album is; then come the notes where Ware concedes that "there are enough records with me blowing my brains out." But this only adds two strings -- Matt Maneri on viola, and Daniel Bernard Roumain on violin -- to Ware's usual quartet, with the oomph still coming from Parker's bass and Shipp's synth. The idea is to focus on the Berklee-trained Ware as a composer, and to this end he lays out on three tracks, and lays back on the other three. But without his roiling sax the compositional ideas are primitive: the title cut rolls gently between paired notes for 13 minutes, the strings adding rich harmonic texture; "Ananda Rotation" is little more than a sheet of background synth, lightly etched with Ware riffs; "Carousel of Lightness" is merely a lazy river of tone; the two "Weave" pieces are drum improvs around sax backbones; and "Sufic Passages" rides its intro bass vamp into a plethora of variations. The latter is the best thing here: it reminds me a bit of Eno's Another Green World, but lushly overgrown. B+

I also wrote a longer piece on Ware's strings album, here. Also, from Jazz Consumer Guide (or, again, the database):

David S. Ware Quartet: Live in the World (1998-2003 [2005], Thirsty Ear, 3CD): A-

David S. Ware Quartet: Renunciation (2006 [2007], AUM Fidelity): Reportedly the finale of the most formidable quartet since Coltrane's, with stars William Parker and Matthew Shipp and a series of drummers marking epochs within the era. One more live shot to go with Live in the World. A-

David S. Ware: Shakti (2008 [2009], AUM Fidelity): A new quartet, with guitarist Joe Morris the second seed. The Indian motifs are part of Ware's spiritual quest, but when he plays it's hard to escape the here and now. While most tenor saxophonists have tried to sound like John Coltrane, Ware simply lived the life, finding his own unique way, elevating everyone around him. A-

David S. Ware: Saturnian (Solo Saxophones, Volume 1) (2009 [2010], AUM Fidelity): The inevitable solo tenor sax-stritch-saxello album, practice as slow-motion performance. B+

David S. Ware: Onecept (2009 [2010], AUM Fidelity): His life saved by a kidney transplant, the avant saxophonist's rehab continues: first the solo Saturnian improv with stritch and manzello for variety, now he adds bass and drums -- old hands William Parker and Warren Smith, who can follow him anywhere. He works up subtle schemata, but the main thing you hear is his towering sound. A-

David S. Ware/Cooper-Moore/William Parker/Muhammad Ali: Planetary Unknown (2010 [2011], AUM Fidelity): More progress: a new quartet with older players than the old quartet, the old fire too. A-

Albums I missed:

  • Passage to Music (1988, Silkheart)
  • Great Bliss, Vol. 1 (1990 [1991], Silkheart)
  • Great Bliss, Vol. 2 (1990 [1994], Silkheart)
  • Cryptology (1994 [1995], Homestead)
  • Oblations and Blessings (1995 [1996], Silkheart)
  • Live in the Netherlands (2001, Splasc(H))
  • Organica: Solo Saxophones, Vol. 2 (2011, AUM Fidelity)
  • Live at Jazzfestival Saalfelden 2011 (2011 [2012], AUM Fidelity)

Ware didn't appear on many albums under other names: two early records for Andrew Cyrille, at least one album with Cecil Taylor, not sure what else. Only one I've heard is a session with William Parker recently released on the Centering box set: very impressive, but I'm not done with the box yet.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Catching Up

Been disconnected for the past week, so I'm catching up. Some links that caught my eye follow. Probably many more that I'll save for Sunday -- e.g., haven't even looked at Krugman yet.

  • Mark Kleiman: A GOP Gaffe, and the Hack Gap: I don't think this is the first time Graham said something like this, but it bears repeating:

    "The demographics race we're losing badly," said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.). "We're not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term."

    It ran in the WaPo. It's a gaffe in Kinsley's sense: the inadvertent statement of something true. The Republican Party is the party of angry white guys (and their angry wives): not just angry in general, but angry at people who aren't white (plus atheists, of course). And they are losing the demographic race, both because there are more non-whites and because under-30 whites are, on average, much less racially angry.

    I wish I knew the source of a previous Graham outburst where (as best I recall) he explained that the conservatives have to get their program passed real soon because the long-term tide is against them. This was to my mind one of the first honest admissions that the Republican agenda was not just anti-Democratic but intended to destroy the principle of democracy in this nation.

  • Ezra Klein: Mitt Romney's George W. Bush Problem: In the second debate, Romney was asked how he'd differentiate himself from Bush. He didn't offer much of an answer, and indeed his "five point plan" is nearly a carbon copy of the Bush's own plan (also five points). Obama didn't help much by trying to argue that Romney was worse than Bush -- Klein points out that Bush had favored Romney's more extreme proposals, just hadn't pushed them as hard.

    Romney's right about one thing: These are different times than when Bush ran for president. But that's why his five-point plan is so depressing. It's not just that there's nothing in it that Bush wouldn't have endorsed in 2000. It's that most of it actually would have made more sense in 2000.

    Take Romney's tax cuts. When Bush was proposing tax cuts without any offsets, the budget was in surplus, and tax receipts were at record highs. The policy made some sense. Romney's tax cuts come at a time of enormous deficits and record low receipts. It's a different time, but Romney's policy, save for a vague promise to pay for it later, is the same. [ . . . ]

    So let's go to the scoreboard: Romney offered precisely . . . nothing that Bush wouldn't have proposed in 2000. And Romney left out some of his more salient agreements with Bush. For instance, both the Enron debacle and the financial crisis happened on Bush's watch. As a result, Congress passed the Sarbanes-Oxley and, later, Dodd-Frank laws to toughen financial regulation. But Romney has proposed rolling back both. [ . . . ]

    This year, 2012, is not 2000. We have deficits rather than a balanced budget. We have historically high unemployment rather than historically low unemployment. We've seen what the financial system can do when left unchecked. We've watched tax cuts in 2001 and 2003 fail to spark economic growth and seen a rising stock market fail to lift middle-class wages. We do need new thinking. But Romney isn't offering any. His problem isn't that the public is unfairly judging him by Bush's policies. It's that they're fairly judging him by Bush's policies.

    I've said this many times before, but once more: one of Obama's biggest mistakes was his failure to drive home just how much damage Bush's eight years cost. Had he done so, we might have learned a few things, instead of recapitulating mistakes so recent they aren't even safely in the past yet.

  • Andrew Leonard: A Debate to Be Ashamed Of: Didn't watch the big foreign policy debate, even indirectly -- I did pick up bits of the second bash blaring in an adjacent room while I tried to piece together a jigsaw puzzle, but this time I was navigating through east Oklahoma. Still, I had predicted it would be hideous, with Obama proudly recounting all the people he's had killed since becoming Free World Führer, and Romney pathetically swearing his intent to kill even more. And that's pretty much the actual debate Leonard reviewed:

    And so on. I'm not sure if there's ever been a debate in which the two candidates expressed so much fundamental agreement on major foreign policy issues. But nothing underscores the dilemma that progressives face on the lack of a meaningful foreign policy choice more than the exchange on drones. Romney's endorsement of drone warfare laid out with perfect clarity why President Obama has been free to pursue policies -- extrajudicial assassination of American citizens, drone warfare, detention without trial -- that appear to clearly violate basic human rights, not to mention the U.S. Constitution.

    He can do so because he is never going to be questioned from the right on such tactics.

    Quite the contrary; the main line of attack is to berate Obama for being too soft. Ponder this: In the same debate in which Romney applauded the president for using "any and all means necessary to take out people who pose a threat to us," he also slammed Obama for his "apology tour" throughout the Arab world. If you're perplexed at how to reconcile Obama's drone war of terror in Waziristan with the idea that he's been wandering the globe saying "I'm sorry" to our enemies, well, join the crowd. It's not easy.

    Actually, the lack of substantive debate on foreign policy goes way back. I did watch the 2000 Bush-Gore debate that the only tiff there was that Bush disapproved of "nation building" in Haiti. In his subsequent administration, Bush did manage to end any semblance of aid fo Haiti, even getting rid of the populist-leaning president Clinton had restored to power. But Bush also did many more things that he didn't forecast in the debate. Surely, one thinks, president Gore would have done some things differently, but he gave no hint he would in the debate, and damn little in subsequent years even when he had the advantages of hindsight.

    I also remember the 1984 debate where Mondale was much more militantly anti-communist than Reagan. Early on, there was the 1960 debate where Kennedy blind-sided Nixon with his fanciful charges of a "missile gap." I don't recall whether Carter and Clinton took such pains to stress how they were the baddest mutherfuckas in the campaign, but they ultimately proved to be: Carter's boycott of the Soviet Olympics and his sponsorship of the Afghan mujahideen kicked off the sabre rattling era Reagan takes much credit for, much as Clinton's reflexive bombing campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq paved the way for Bush. It's not clear that either had a fully formed foreign policy conception when they were elected, nor that they had many options: ever since Truman there's been some sort of unelected foreign policy establishment in Washington that has bent politicians to its will, and Obama's just the most recent example.

    Robert Wright claims to have discerned a significant difference from the debate: Why Romney Is the War Candidate. He makes much of the fact that Obama is running for a lame duck second term, whereas a win would give Romney a first term. He argues that first-term presidents are more likely to pander to their war-loving sponsors -- the keys here are Sheldon Adelson, Israel, and Iran -- whereas second-term presidents look toward history. In itself, that doesn't strike me as convincing -- not that Sheldon Adelson isn't someone to be feared. Looking back at historical comparisons, it's clear that both Bushes regarded getting into wars as good politics. On the other hand, Woodrow Wilson famously campaigned for reëlection as the one who "kept us out of war," then almost as soon as he won his "legacy" term plunged us in. And a big part of Franklin Roosevelt's reasoning for running for a third term was his desire to be remembered as a war president. But those were big wars that had already been started, and they were long ago, back before the US had a strong militarist and imperialist foreign policy establishment.

    The one thing that strikes me as relevant about the first/second term issue is that nowadays all presidents start up strongly hemmed in by their staff choices (and by the more-or-less permanent power bases, like the military and the Fed), but sooner or later they rise to their office and take more direct control. Early on, Clinton was hamstrung by Greenspan and Powell. Bush was so dominated by his VP some pundits insisted on calling his regime the Cheney Admininistration. Obama got scammed by Gates and Petraeus on Afghanistan, and by his own picks of Geithner and Summers on the economy. I doubt that Romney is intrinsically any more belligerent than Obama, but he's had to act like it to snatch the Republican nomination, and he is certain to be surrounded by a plethora of Israel-loving neocons, at a time when blind allegiance to Israel is a sure recipe for a disastrous war. Obama isn't immune to those forces, but he's less likely to be awed and/or shamed into a war with Iran, if for no other reason than he knows that the people who want that war have already overpromised and underperformed in Afghanistan. Add to this Romney's "no apologies" mantra, which translates to "no diplomacy," which means a foreign policy out of control, freed from reason or intent, floudering in a world where sheer military power has become useless, dangerous, and more than a little psychotic. Romney's commitment to that posture may be no deeper than his commitment to anything else, but that offers scant comfort.

    Back on the debate, also see Leonard's No Debate on Climate Change:

    Climate change may end up costing the most in the North America, but it's a problem that can't be solved without the entire world working together. That makes it a foreign policy issue -- perhaps the preeminent foreign policy issue any U.S. president will ever face.

    But for Obama and Romney, the most important fossil fuel issue in the last debate was the question of which man supported the coal industry most fervently. So don't hold your breath waiting for a spirited discussion of the fate of the planet in the final debate.

    I'm a bit less agitated about climate change, at least in part because I figure the people with the most to lose are -- i.e., the people who should be most concerned -- are property owners, whose farms and resorts may lose their appeal, and whose seaside stakes may wind up under water. Still, they haven't come close to standing up to the threat, in large part taking their lead from the oil and coal companies fiddling while the world burns. Four years ago Obama at least raised the issue, but he got little for his concerns, so it's not surprising that he's shelved them. It's not, after all, like he has principles, let alone the courage to defend and advance them.

    Digging back through Leonard's archive, I see he has a piece on Vikram Pandit, Citigroup CEO's Millions. Pandit has raked in $261 million since 2007. For a chart on how well Citigroup's stock has performed under Pandit's leadership, see Brad DeLong; what the hell, let's link it here:

  • Andrew Leonard: Romney's Magic Economy Plan: Forget the talk about five point plans -- which, as Klein points out above, are no different than the ones Bush and Romney ran on, and even less promising. Romney doesn't need a plan: he's convinced that as soon as he's elected, the Job Creators will instantly snap out of their Obama funk and it'll be boom times for all. However, that raises a few questions, like why should you believe him, and even if he's right -- meaning that the rich have deliberately tanked the economy in a political snit fit -- you have to wonder why we should give in to the extortion?

    Here's something you are unlikely to hear during a Mitt Romney stump speech. Business investment has actually recovered to its pre-recession levels. During the Obama recovery, corporate spending on business equipment and software has grown at a faster rate than during any of the last four economic recoveries. (George Bush's economic recovery, embarrassingly, registered zero net growth in business equipment and software spending.)

    What those companies haven't been doing is hiring. And there's a very good reason for that: the economists who point to the problem of demand are right. At least, they're right if you trust the reports of actual business executives. For three years, the number one complaint cited by small businesses about the current economic climate has been poor sales. Not taxes, not regulation -- sales.

    Also see: Matthew O'Brien: Mitt Romney's Economic Plan: Win, Then Do Nothing: Quotes Romney as claiming that if get elected, the markets will be happy, and "We'll see capital come back and we'll see -- without actually doing anything -- we'll actually get a boost in the economy." Curious, then, that the stock markets are already back to pre-recession levels, but the economy, well, isn't.

    Romney's magical thinking is the consequence of Republican obstruction. From the beginning, Republicans have been quite candid that their number one goal is making sure Obama is a one-term president. From the stimulus to Fed appointments to the abortive American Jobs Act, they have tried to block anything that might help the economy -- while decrying it all as dangerously outside the mainstream. There's a problem. It's not. The Obama administration has just followed textbook economics -- spending more and cutting interest rates amidst a slump -- much as a hypothetical McCain administration likely would have followed textbook economics. After denouncing these policies for years, the Republicans can't very well run on them. So they blame those policies for creating uncertainty, evidence be damned.

    As for doing nothing, that's exactly what we've tried for the past two years. It hasn't worked. Now, eventually it will "work" -- in other words, housing will come back at some point, no matter what we do or do not do. It already might -- with the Fed giving it a kick as well. But believing that our problem is we have the wrong person doing nothing is strange.

    I'll add that the political debate over economic policy has always had less to do with how to restore economic growth than who gets helped and who gets hurt by whatever short- and long-term policies are to be implemented. The banks get bailed out because the banks matter to both parties. The stock market recovers for the same reason. Employment is more contentious, because the Republicans actually like weaking the labor market -- cheap labor, reduced benefits, etc. The balance of political power was different in the New Deal, resulting in a massive unionization movement. Try that now and you'll hear how that leads to even more unemployment, but in history it led to broad middle class economic growth -- something 30 years of conservative politics have done their best to wreck.

Expert Comments

Robert Christgau:

I hope I can weigh in briefly, since this topic is infinite.

1) Pop music is full of geniuses--and sometimes, as in the case of the Beatles, that genius is, uh-oh, collective. And then there is the problem of the "stroke of genius," You're So Vain and Mind Playing Tricks on Me being excellent examples.

2) Pop music is also the most democratic of the arts.

Ergo (?????):

3) We do pop music an injustice if we neglect its geniuses. But if anything we do it more of an injustice if we neglect its reach, its breadth, and even its tendency to throw up flashes in the pan that we often forget about but will nevertheless sound just dandy if they take us by surprise coming out of someone's window 10 years from now. What was the damn song I heard in the elevator at the Meadsville Best Western 16 months ago? I'd forgotten it, and now I forgot what it was. Sounded so wonderful. And BTW, I strongly recommend the Channels' The Closer You Are, which I listened to hard for the first time in 30 or 40 years three weeks ago. Holy mackerel!

4) So, go for both.

5) Bradley, maybe you'd better not tell your colleagues that your thesis topic thinks they're dicks. But he does. Don't let them get into your head.

Posted this on Facebook:

Not part of my public profile, but today is my birthday -- 62nd, to be precise. Usually cook something extraordinary (or at least a cake), but will forgo that today: still a bit ragged from the Arkansas trip, and for once I cooked there.

Got some comments back, plus eight likes:

  • Marsha Steinberg And a happy B'day to ya.
  • Cam Patterson And many more Tom.
  • Max Stewart Congrats may you get better each years
  • Carrie Armstrong Happy birthday, Tom!
  • Gene Springer Happy birthday and many more! !!!
  • Alice Powell Happy Birthday, dear tom
  • Art Protin Happy Birthday!

Also a chat message from Jan Barnes:

Happy Birthday Tom, what a sweetheart you are, wish I was there I would cook for you tonight, it would be more of a meal like your mom would fix, becasue I can't cook like you do. Bless your heart. So how did you find Elsie Lee ??? Did you go to the cemetry?? sure did think about you. we have snow and can't get out trailer in storage until tomorrow. tell me about your trip. sure do love you!!

Also email from Josi Hull and Rhonda Pyeatt.

I added:

Went to Stroud's for dinner, a famous fried chicken restaurant in these parts. Place always reminds me of Mom, mostly because every time we went we commented on how much better her fried chicken was.

Kathy joined us for dinner. Steve called later.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Music Week/No Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 20578 [20576] rated (+2), 647 [643] unrated (+4).

Had a visitor from last Monday evening to Thursday morning, so spent most of my time with her. Thursday I shopped for groceries and prepped for a cookout. Friday drove to Arkansas with my sister to see our cousin, Elsie Lee. Saturday we did our cookout:

  • Chicken wing kebabs
  • Lamb kebabs
  • Swordfish kebabs
  • Baked prawns with feta cheese
  • Burghul pilaf
  • Yogurt-cucumber salad
  • Onion-orange-olive salad
  • Grilled eggplant with yogurt
  • Fall spice cake
  • Brownies with peanut butter icing

Surprise I don't have more recipes available, since most of these are dishes I've fixed many times, including on similar cookout trips.

Left Elsie Lee's on Monday. Stopped for dinner with one of her daughters in Springdale, then drove on to Bristow, OK, to see some more cousins. Got in late Monday, but stopped to see Duan and Harold (and his wife Louise) today, before driving home to Wichita. The three cousins are aged 79-87. Their children (my first cousins, once removed), of which I saw four, are closer to my age, but a bit younger. All on my mother's side. She was passionate about keeping track of her scattered family. I'm not nearly as adept, but do treasure those connections, and try to make some variation on this trip once or twice a year.

It is very wearing, though, as I more and more feel my age. Drove 900 miles, most on two-lane roads, some on gravel. Made one cemetery stop: the resting place of two uncles, one set of grandparents, and parts of two previous generations, as well as a few others I recall -- Dow Cotter (1881-1960) was probably the oldest person I ever met.

I added a few new favorites to an old travel case to listen to music in the car, so nothing ungraded. Took a notebook computer, but never went anywhere with an internet connection, and never turned it on. Read a little, watched too much TV (with way too many political ads, mostly from Missouri), ate too much, slept too little.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Rhapsody Streamnotes (October 2012)

Pick up text here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 20576 [20551] rated (+25), 643 [642] unrated (+1).

Confused week: jazz enough to report, probably spent more time on Rhapsody Streamnotes, which will appear in a day or two -- not sure just when to pull the plug there. Rated count is a bit down. For one thing, I've played a number of jazz records I didn't feel like writing about yet. The two A- records took a lot of time, especially the SLF, and I'm still feeling they're pretty marginal. That's gotten me to wondering whether I've been too lax with A- grades this year, but the current list is at 80, which isn't much out of line with the expectation that I'll wind up around 120. (The 2011 list currently touts 131 A/A- records -- almost picked up another this week, before second thoughts backed me off.) So I'm probably being pretty consistent -- just a bit uncomfortable with how little time I can spend with all of these exceptional records.

I'm expecting to get little done this following week, what with guests coming and travel planned for the weekend into next week. So good chance for no Jazz Prospecting next Monday. (May even be hard to put a notice up.) The backlog queue has been piling up, so can't complain there (even though some times I still do).

Dan Block: Duality (2011 [2012], Miles High): Reed player, mostly tenor sax and clarinet, but also here alto and baritone sax plus bass clarinet. Second album, nine duets and two trios -- one with bass/drums, the other with Scott Robinson and the same roster of reed instruments (at least that's what the credits suggest) plus Ted Rosenthal on piano (name misspelled; he appears on three cuts). His tenor sax cuts a deep swath, the clarinets impress as well, but the duets vary widely, with voice and vibes losing the pace. B+(**)

Chives: Dads (2012, Primary): Trio: Steven Lugerner (reeds), Matthew Wohl (bass), Max Jaffe (drums); first group album, all pieces jointly credited. The one we've heard of before is Lugerner, whose notable 2011 debut sprawled over two discs. This is much less ambitious, and more readily digestible, a compact sax/clarinet trio riffing smartly within the usual framework. B+(***)

The Billie Davies Trio: All About Love (2012, Cobra Basement): Drummer, website describes her as "post cool jazz & avant garde drummer" -- could parse that two ways, with a disconnect either way. Album, her first as far as I can tell, is a trio with trombone (Tom Bone Ralls) and bass (Oliver Steinberg). Tuneful -- well, anything with "Afro Blue" is that and this has two takes -- shifted into a lower register, a nice effect, more cool than avant, not my idea of post. [PS: gender error corrected.] B+(**)

Grupo Los Santos: Clave Heart (2010 [2012], OA2): Latin-themed jazz group, based in New York, third album -- I liked their previous Lo Que Somos Lo Que Sea quite a bit. I file them under tenor saxophonist Paul Carlon -- wrote 4 of 10 songs here, and has a mainstream tone that always gets my attention -- but bassist/bata-player David Ambrosio wrote the liner notes, and guitarist Pete Smith's email address is up for booking info. (Fourth member is drummer William "Beaver" Bausch, and a couple guests appear, notably tap dancer Max Pollak.) Not sure that the Cuba aficionados will be impressed, but a nice sax album with a little extra. B+(**)

Kelly McCarty 3: Roux Steady (2012, 72 Offsuit): Guitarist, plays 8-string, studied at Kansas State, based in Jacksonville; second group album, trio with tenor sax (John Diaz-Cortes) and drums (MJ Hall). Sax has some grit to it, and guitar some groove -- sounds like an organ-sax quartet minus organ, hardly missed here. B+(*)

Drew Paralic: Wintertime Tunes of Drew Paralic (2011 [2012], self-released): Composer/arranger, from Brooklyn, fourth album, plays piano but not here. Six songs, two with vocals (Laura Kenyon), group includes tenor sax/clarinet (Mike McGinnis), piano (several players), bass, and drums. First song ("My Wintertime Sky") is catchy enough to be a standard, isolated bits of piano stand out (one song is called "How Bill's Heart Sings"), like the sax, but a bit scattered. B+(*)

Sonic Liberation Front: Jetway Confidential (2009-11 [2012], High Two): This is percussionist Kevin Diehl's Baltimore-based Afro-Cuban group, built around the tuned bata drums at the center of Yoruba religio-cultural practice, their fifth album since 2000 (2004's Ashé a Go-Go remains the one to start with). Cut over a couple years with a spreadsheet of contributors, the horns grate sometimes, and the vocals go so deep into their roots they come out of a strange other world. Took me many plays to get into it, but a remarkable band, unique, and worth the trouble. A-

Weasel Walter/Mary Halvorson/Peter Evans: Mechanical Malfunction (2012, Thirsty Ear): Christopher Todd Walter was b. 1972 in Rockford, IL. He founded an avant-rock group, the Flying Luttenbachers, which featured Ken Vandermark on at least one album. He's described as a "composer and instrumentalist" -- credits are scanty here, but he seems to be the drummer. Halvorson plays guitar. She is a remarkable player with an erratic catalog that I don't fully appreciate, partly due to a spat with her publicist -- twice now her records have scored high in critics polls (meaning, among other things, that they were distributed widely, just not to me), and this year's Bending Bridges appears likely to be a third. Evans plays trumpet in the "bebop terrorist" outfit Mostly Other People Do the Killing, and likes to record solo albums on the side. Second album for the trio: avant noise, the guitar scratchy but probing, the trumpet poking through the clouds, the drummer on top of everything. A- [advance]

Sean Wayland: Click Track Jazz: Slave to the Machine (2012, Seed Music, 2CD): Pianist, mostly electronic keyboards here, b. 1969 in Sydney, Australia; has 21 since 1992 (the two volumes are available separately, at least on Bandwidth, but I haven't tried disentangling them here. Mostly groove pieces, cut with various guitar-bass-drums combos, Donny McCaslin tenor sax (2 cuts), Mark Shim EWI (1), Kristen Berardi vocal (1). B+(*) [advance]

Steve Williams & Jazz Nation with Eddie Daniels (2010 [2012], OA2): Alto saxophonist, most of his background is in big band, including North Texas State, the Navy, and the Smithsonian, and now this group. Daniels is a well known clarinet player, has worked steadily since the late 1960s, and is special guest here, also writing 3 (of 8) songs -- Williams has four, and the other is by Mike Noonan. Solid group, few names I recognize, but hard to deny the thrill of the massed brass. B+(*)

Shingo Yuji: Introducing Shingo Yuji (2010 [2012], Yujipan Music): Guitarist, b. in Kumamoto, Japan; based in Los Angeles since 2005. Debut album, mostly trio with bass and drums, first two cuts add tenor saxophonist Walter Smith III, who makes an impression the rest of the album shies away from. Five originals; covers from Mingus, Lennon-McCartney ("Help"), and trad. B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Accidental Tourists: The L.A. Sessions (Challenge)
  • Harry Allen & Scott Hamilton: 'Round Midnight (Challenge)
  • Uniquely Standard: Akua Allrich Live! (self-released)
  • Jeb Bishop/Jorrit Dijkstra: 1000 Words (Driff)
  • Kelly Bucheger: House of Relics (Harder Bop)
  • Kui Dong/Larry Polansky/Christian Wolff: Trio (Henceforth)
  • Jeff Holmes Quartet: Of One's Own (Miles High)
  • Knoxville Jazz Orchestra: Christmas Time Is Here (self-released)
  • Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: No New Tunes (Hot Cup): advance, download/vinyl only
  • David Maxwell: Blues in Other Colors (Shining Stone)
  • Van Morrison: Born to Sing: No Plan B (Blue Note)
  • Will Scruggs Jazz Fellowship: Song of Simeon: A Christmas Journey (self-released, 2CD)
  • The Whammies: Play the Music of Steve Lacy (Driff)

Barry Commoner and the Old New Left

I haven't thought about Barry Commoner, who died Sept. 30 at age 95, in quite a while. I'm not even sure I finished his 1971 bestseller, The Closing Circle: Nature, Man, and Technology, but he had a major impact on new left thought in the early 1970s, not just adding ecology to the list of concerns but showing how they all fit together. When I finally went to college, I spent my first year at Wichita State garnering credits and shopping for a better school. I was most impressed by the sociology department roster at Washington University, but after I applied, got in, and moved there, I found that their three biggest names had vanished: anthropologist Jules Henry (author of Culture Against Man, another book I spent lots of time thumbing through) died. Alvin Gouldner (author of The Coming Crisis in Western Sociology -- the definitive slam down of the Talcott Parsons school) and Commoner took leave, and as far as I know never came back.

But Commoner, at least, had recruited Paul Piccone, who was my main mentor for my two years at Wash. U. Piccone edited the quarterly Telos, and managed to wangle a Compugraphic typesetting machine from Commoner's budget. Aside from his synthesis of phenomenology and Marxian critical theory, I learned translation, editing, and typesetting from Piccone -- the latter giving me the profession that supported me for five years after my academic burn out. Commoner and Gouldner may have had an inkling that Danforth intended to crush Wash. U.'s sociology department. One critical blow was denying Piccone tenure in 1977. As far as I know, he never taught again, although he did continue to edit Telos until his death in 2004. (Looks like they're still chugging along: they've published a collection of Piccone's writings, and even have a nice website.)

Peter Dreier does a good job of summing up why Commoner was, and is, important. I'm quoting from the print version of The Nation, which appears to be edited down from his longer piece here.

Once described by Time magazine as the "Paul Revere of ecology," Barry Commoner, who died on September 30, followed Rachel Carson as America's most famed modern environmentalist. But unlike Carson, Commoner viewed the environmental crisis as a symptom of a fundamentally flawed economic and social system. A biologist and research scientist, he argued that corporate greed, misguided government priorities and the misuse of technology undermined "the finely sculptured fit between life and its surroundings."

Commoner insisted that scientists had an obligation to make scientific information accessible to the general public. Citizens, he said, have a right to know the health hazards of the consumer products and technology they use every day. Those were radical ideas in the 1950s and '60s, when most Americans were mesmerized by the seemingly infinite potential of cars, plastics, chemical sprays and atomic energy.

Commoner linked environmental issues to a broader vision of social and economic justice. In his 1976 bestseller The Poverty of Power, he introduced the "Three Es" -- the threat to environmental survival, the shortage of energy, the problems of the economy (inequality, unemployment) -- and explained their interconnectedness.

Many embraced Commoner's ideas about workplace hazards, nuclear power and recycling. But he grew frustrated by corporate influence over politics and by the failure of mainstream environmentalists to join other progressive movements to challenge the free-market system. In a 2007 interview with The New York Times, the 90-year-old Commoner remained the relentless radical, saying, "I think that most of the 'greening' that we see so much of now has failed to look back on arguments such as my own -- that action has to be taken on what's produced and how it's produced. That's unfortunate, but I'm an eternal optimist, and I think eventually people will come around."

The New Left isn't held in high regard these days. I especially cringe when I read people like Tony Judt, with his Old Left roots and later anti-Communist fixation, try to belittle the movement, but that's partly because he should know better. What's had far greater effect has been a 30-year propaganda assault by the right against what for lack of a better term they call "the sixties." What I think of as New Left was sort of the intellectual crust on top of a much broader-based push for social and political reforms -- a movement that itself never coalesced under a common brand name, like the early-20th-century Progressives: rather, you had movements for civil rights, antiwar, women's liberation, the environment.

It's worth noting that as the 1970s unfolded all of those key New Left movements were remarkably successful, both in terms of political effects and in shifting deep-seated cultural norms. Even after thirty years of well-funded counterrevolution, the right's attack on those four cornerstones is limited to fringe issues that more often than not have to be disguised. By some measures, the military has bounced back strongest, but no one entertains the prospect of restoring the draft, and for most people the endless grind of foreign wars has no sensible impact on their lives.

In retrospect, the main shortcoming of the New Left revolution was the failure to establish sustainable political institutions. This was in large part because the New Left was deeply distrustful of power in any form. It was also because natural allies nominally on the left side of the political spectrum, like the unions and the Democratic Party, were often viewed as enemies -- after all, it was LBJ who tragically escalated the Vietnam War, and Chicago mayor Daley who organized the police riot against demonstrators in 1968. Meanwhile, the unions had essentially given up on trying to organize the poor after Taft-Hartley became law, and by 1972 many were supporting Nixon (and later Reagan in 1980, including the air traffic controllers Reagan soon locked out).

The New Left grew out of an idealized self-image of America as an egalitarian middle class society -- something very different from previous left movements, which grew out of the inequity of economic relations, with the underclass organizing to fight for their own interests. For the most part, New Leftists were satisfied with their own station, but were sharply critical of the hypocrisy of their prosperous egalitarian society for allowing poverty and injustice to persist. The brilliance of the movement was in its relentless uncovering of that hypocrisy, starting with obvious ideologies like racism and sexism and militarism and imperialism and extending ad infinitum: for example, R.D. Laing wrote a piece picking apart the whole concept of obviousness. Eventually, all that analysis hit home -- in the 1970s I worked on a publication called Notes on Everyday Life -- but early on politics was all about helping other people, be they the poor in Appalachia, the segregated in the South, the peasants in Vietnam. Some even got worked up to the point of self-destruction (Weatherman is a case in point) but for most students it became a phase, giving way as personal life (families and mortgages and such) grew ever more complicated.

Ecology was a perfect concept for a time when we were coming to suspect that everything is related to and affected by everything else, and also that capitalism's gospel of infinite growth would sooner or later crash into the finiteness of the world. Commoner both introduced the concept and drew the key political conclusions. The environmental movement was quickly defanged by success, as the path from Earth Day to major legislation on air and water pollution and endangered species was almost immediate. But the next step toward facing the limits of capitalism never came close to making the public agenda, even less than the notion that civil rights should advance the economic profile of Afro-Americans.

When Commoner ran for president in 1980, he got crushed, as the nation decided to turn a blind eye to reality. I blame the Cold War, and for that I mostly blame the blind and cowardly acquiescence of liberals, including many labor union officials, in signing up for the anti-communist crusade. After the Russian Revolution, the new Soviet leader styled themselves as the leaders of world revolution, but they did very little -- other than to make affiliated communists look foolish -- until after WWII, when their armies occupied most of Eastern Europe and North Korea, and anti-fascist partisans from Albania and Yugoslavia to China and Vietnam had gained power bases.

Still, it wasn't inevitable that the US would choose to become the leader of the capitalist world, and would further decide to fight the Marx-inspired underclasses all around the world for the indefinite future. The US was itself formed by the world's first anti-imperialist revolution, and had traditionally avoided standing armies, international alliances, and -- except around its favorite "lakes": the Caribbean and, to a lesser extent, the Pacific -- foreign interventions. Even if the US wished to promote business interests abroad, it could have positively promoted the principles of independence, democracy, labor rights, and equal opportunities as an alternative to repressive systems both on the right and on the left, and it could have attempted to find common ground and interests with the Soviet Union and its bloc with the hope of ameliorating its repression and backwardness.

But a bipartisan succession of liberal presidents -- Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon -- chose instead to wage an international class war, supporting any friend (no matter how brutal or corrupt), opposing any foe (no matter how principled and progressive). What happened then was often astonishing. Just a few highlights: the US backed decolonization for Indonesia but not for Vietnam, leading to a 30-year war in Vietnam that killed millions of people (including 50,000 Americans), one that could largely have been avoided by elections, cancelled by the US on grounds that our guy would lose; meanwhile, when Indonesia veered too far to the left, the US staged a coup followed by the murder of several hundred thousand people the CIA suspected of bad politics; in Iran, a CIA coup ended democratic rule and installed a megalomaniacal shah, who 25 years later provoked a revolution creating the first militantly Islamic regime in the Middle East -- to this day, the US is trying to break Iran with economic sanctions and cyberwarfare, and threatening to bomb it; in the Congo, the CIA had its first leader killed, installing Mobutu instead, who siphoned billions of dollars out of one of the poorest countries in the world, leading to a series of wars which have killed millions more; in Chile when a non-communist socialist was elected president, the US staged a coup and had him and thousands of his supporters killed; the US urged Saudi Arabia to export its Salafist Islam, especially to Afghanistan, where the US sponsored the birth of modern Jihadism, starting a series of wars in 1979 that tie down US troops to this day.

But the anti-communist crusade wasn't solely directed against the underclasses of the world. It was also focused on the working class inside the United States, and once conservatives like Reagan came to power, that became its primary focus. If you look at the rhetoric they use to smash unions, to rip up the economic safety net, to strip regulation of business, to cut taxes on the rich, it invariably recycles the jargon of Cold War propaganda. Moreover, the same tactics and dubious ethics apply: government is no longer of, by, and for the people; it is something that a handful of self-designated rich guys insist they have to "take back." Broad middle class prosperity is a thing of the past, while poverty is way up, and we're running the largest penal system in the world. Worldwide war is a permanent feature: the only thing government can be trusted to do (maybe because it deposits the incompetence elsewhere). But religion is back -- initially another piece of Cold War propaganda to needle the atheist communists. And science, and for that matter education, is out, or at least being priced out of reach -- the right suspects it makes people more liberal.

The effect of the Cold War on our welfare is actually easy to calculate: following WWII the US and Europe had pretty much the same labor rules and welfare policies, the main difference being that the US was flush with cash and Europe was in ruins. Since then the US has fought its Cold War and beat down its working class, while Europe has at most gone through the motions, and so has preserved a middle class egalitarianism that Americans only have a distant memory of. Europe has some problems now, mostly too many politicians beholden to the same money interests that dominate the US, but they are many miles behind their American counterparts, in large part because they don't have that Cold War legacy to beat up their citizens with.

The right is so wrong on so many counts now that it's hard to know where to attack first. So it might be time to return to Commoner's essential conclusion, that unbridled capitalism will wind up ruining the environment, which is to say the world we live and work in. To keep the environment livable, we need to understand better how it all links together, but we also need to rein in capitalism, and the right. Survival depends on it.

After all, the right's basic argument: since everything we enjoy in the modern world is the product of our capitalist system, the more we do to support and promote capital the better off we all will be. That argument is wrong.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Peter Dreier's List

From Peter Dreier's book, The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (paperback, 2012, Nation Books). Obviously, lots of ways this is wrong, but before anything else I figured I should jot them down (in Table of Contents order, by birth date, not any sort of ranking):

  1. Tom Johnson (1854-1911)
  2. Robert M. La Follette Sr. (1855-1925)
  3. Eugene Debs (1855-1926)
  4. Louis Brandeis (1856-1941)
  5. Clarence Darrow (1857-1938)
  6. Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919)
  7. Florence Kelly (1859-1932)
  8. John Dewey (1859-1952)
  9. Victor Berger (1860-1929)
  10. Charlotte Perkiins Gilman (1860-1935)
  11. Jane Addams (1860-1935)
  12. Lincoln Steffens (1866-1936)
  13. Hiram Johnson (1866-1945)
  14. W.E.B. Du Bois (1868-1963)
  15. William "Big Bill" Haywood (1869-1928)
  16. Alice Hamilton (1869-1970)
  17. Emma Goldman (1869-1940)
  18. Lewis Hine (1874-1940)
  19. Robert F. Wagner Sr. (1877-1953)
  20. Upton Sinclair (1878-1968)
  21. Albert Einstein (1879-1955)
  22. Margaret Sanger (1879-1966)
  23. John L. Lewis (1880-1969)
  24. Helen Keller (1880-1968)
  25. Frances Perkins (1880-1965)
  26. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945)
  27. Rose Schneiderman (1882-1972)
  28. Fiorello La Guardia (1882-1947)
  29. Roger Baldwin (1884-1981)
  30. Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962)
  31. Norman Thomas (1884-1968)
  32. A.J. Muste (1885-1967)
  33. Alice Stokes Paul (1885-1977)
  34. Sidney Hillman (1887-1946)
  35. Henry Wallace (1888-1965)
  36. A. Philip Randolph (1889-1979)
  37. Earl Warren (1891-1974)
  38. Floyd Olson (1891-1936)
  39. Dorothy Day (1897-1980)
  40. Paul Robeson (1898-1976)
  41. William O. Douglas (1898-1980)
  42. Harry Bridges (1901-1990)
  43. Langston Hughes (1902-1967)
  44. Vito Marcantonio (1902-1954)
  45. Virginia F. Durr (1903-1999)
  46. Ella Baker (1903-1986)
  47. Theodor Geisel (Dr. Seuss) (1904-1991)
  48. Myles Horton (1905-1990)
  49. Carey McWilliams (1905-1980)
  50. William J. Brennan Jr. (1906-1997)
  51. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)
  52. Rachel Carson (1907-1964)
  53. Walter Reuther (1907-1970)
  54. I.F. Stone (1907-1989)
  55. Thurgood Marshall (1908-1993)
  56. Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973)
  57. John Kenneth Galbraith (1908-2006)
  58. Saul Alinsky (1909-1972)
  59. Bayard Rustin (1912-1987)
  60. Harry Hay (1912-2002)
  61. Studs Terkel (1912-2008)
  62. David Brower (1912-2000)
  63. Woody Guthrie (1912-1967)
  64. Arthur Miller (1915-2005)
  65. Jane Jacobs (1916-2006)
  66. C. Wright Mills (1916-1962)
  67. Barry Commoner (1917-2012)
  68. Fannie Lou Hamer (1917-1977)
  69. Jackie Robinson (1919-1972)
  70. Pete Seeger (1919- )
  71. Jerry Wurf (1919-1981)
  72. Bella Abzug (1920-1998)
  73. Betty Friedan (1921-2006)
  74. Howard Zinn (1922-2010)
  75. Rev. William Sloane Coffin (1924-2006)
  76. Malcolm X (1925-1965)
  77. Cesar Chavez (1927-1993)
  78. Michael Harrington (1928-1989)
  79. Rev. James Lawson (1928- )
  80. Noam Chomsky (1928- )
  81. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. (1929-1968)
  82. Allard Lowenstein (1929-1980)
  83. Harvey Milk (1930-1978)
  84. Ted Kennedy (1932-2009)
  85. Ralph Nader (1934- )
  86. Gloria Steinem (1934- )
  87. Bill Moyers (1934- )
  88. Bob Moses (1935- )
  89. Tom Hayden (1939- )
  90. John Lewis (1940- )
  91. Joan Baez (1941- )
  92. Bob Dylan (1941- )
  93. Barbara Ehrenreich (1941- )
  94. Jesse Jackson (1941- )
  95. Muhammad Ali (1942- )
  96. Billie Jean King (1943- )
  97. Paul Wellstone (1944-2002)
  98. Bruce Springsteen (1949- )
  99. Michael Moore (1954- )
  100. Tony Kushner (1956- )

Dreier has another list on pp. 8-9, of which I'm only seeing p. 9, so I'm picking it up without the necessary introduction. Nonetheless:

  1. Jonas Salk, scientist (1914-1995)
  2. Daniel Berrigan, Catholic priest and antiwar activist (1921- )
  3. William Appleman Williams, historian (1921-1990)
  4. Harold Washington, congressman and mayor of Chicago (1922-1987)
  5. Grace Paley, writer (1922-2007)
  6. Anne Braden, civil rights activist (1924-2006)
  7. James Baldwin, writer (1924-1987)
  8. Robert Kennedy, US senator and presidential candidate (1924-1968)
  9. Phillip Burton, US congressman (1926-1983)
  10. Allen Ginsberg, poet (1926-1997)
  11. Tony Mazzocchi, labor activist (1926-2002)
  12. Harry Belafonte, performer (1927- )
  13. Adrienne Rich, writer (1929-2012)
  14. Dolores Huerta, United Farm Workers organizer (1930- )
  15. Frances Fox Piven, political science and sociology professor (1932- )
  16. Jonathan Kozol, social critic and education reformer (1936- )
  17. Julian Bond, civil rights activist (1940- )
  18. Phil Ochs, folksinger (1940-1976)
  19. Bernice Johnson Reagon, singer and musicologist (1942- )
  20. Ernesto Cortés, community organizer (1943- )
  21. Randall Forsberg, antiwar activist (1943-2007)
  22. Arthur Ashe, athlete (1943-1993)
  23. Wade Rathke, community organizer (1948- )
  24. Holly Near, singer and feminist (1949- )
  25. John Sayles, filmmaker (1950- )
  26. Andy Stern, union organizer and president of Service Employees International Union (1950- )
  27. Miguel Contreras, union organizer and leader of Los Angeles County Federation of Labor (1952-2005)
  28. Cornel West, philosopher and activist (1953- )
  29. Barbara Kingsolver, writer (1955- )

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Went to see a movie last night, at the cheap seats:

Movie: Moonrise Kingdom: A-

Might as well note the only other movie we've seen in ages:

Movie: Arbitrage: B+

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

A Downloader's Diary (24): October 2012

Insert text from here.

This is the 24th installment, (almost) monthly since August 2010, totalling 615 albums. All columns are indexed and archived here. You can follow A Downloader's Diary on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Expert Comments

Another Brad Sroka poll, this one for albums that Christgau didn't grade A- or higher, from 1970 to the present.

Another useful way to split the poll would be to have two sections, one for albums Christgau graded B+ or below (disagreements), the other for ungraded albums (omissions). Could be separated after the fact, but you'd have less data to work with (my perennial gripe). There are at least three subsets of omissions, but you're almost never able to separate them: records Christgau knew about and could have reviewed but for one reason or another decided not to CG; records he was aware of but didn't feel like putting the time into; and records he was completely unaware of. (Maybe he could sort them out after the fact.)

Worth noting that many of the obvious non-CG picks were 1970s imports he deliberately excluded, e.g. The Clash, Germ-Free Adolescents, One for the Road, Screaming Target (all of which he wrote about at the time). He started plugging that hole in 1980, but opened up others, then changed scope again in 1990, and again in 2010 with EW, so I count four distinct CG eras (five if you want to elevate 1969). It would be more consistent to poll each one separately -- you're certain to get distortions if you don't.

If I had time, I'd go through my 1000-album list and sift out the "disagreements" and "omissions" (as defined above). Maybe someone could do that, and maybe Brad would post the resulting lists?

Monday, October 08, 2012

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 20551 [20514] rated (+37), 642 [642] unrated (-0).

Spent the early part of the week on Recycled Goods, not stopping with the October column post but trudging on for a couple days. Result is a healthy rated count with a relatively slim Jazz Prospecting. Streamnotes still struggling from neglect, but I'm listening to Carolyn Mark as I try to write this intro. In any case, Dowloader's Diary has been delayed until this week, and I probably won't run Streamnotes until a week later. (If I cram, that'll mean another slim Jazz Prospecting next week, but as you can see from the unpacking the new stuff has been pouring in.) Made a pitch to revive Jazz CG last week, but no response thus far, so I'm not optimistic. At some point I need to clear my desk of the piles of HM and better CDs I've been saving up.

No A-list records this week, after quite a few lately. Couple near misses, and some quality also-rans. Thought I'd like to see the cover I didn't get.

Rez Abbasi Trio: Continuous Beat (2012, Enja): Guitarist, b. 1965 in Karachi, Pakistan; based in New York; has at least seven albums since 1995, some referring back to the subcontinent's musical heritage, some (like this one) not: trio, with John Hebert on bass, Satoshi Takeishi on percussion. Five (of nine) originals, covers of Gary Peacock, Keith Jarrett, Thelonious Monk, with a short, delicate, very respectful "Star Spangled Banner" closing. B+(***) [advance]

Bill Anschell/Brent Jensen/Chris Smyer: Blueprints (2012, Origin): Piano, soprano sax, bass, respectively; recorded in Seattle, which is at least the pianist's home town. Jensen started out on alto but has become a specialist; he's a mainstream player, always precise and eloquent, should be regarded as one of the main players on his instrument. One group improv, eight standards, none in any way obscure ("All Blues," "How Deep Is the Ocean," "Blue Monk," "Star Eyes," "Yardbird Suite" -- for example). Nothing daring about any of them, and the lack of a drummer ensures a leisurely pace, but they're tasteful and lovely, another feather for Jensen's hat. B+(***)

Clarice Assad: Home (2010 [2012], Adventure Music): Brazilian singer, also plays piano, b. 1978. Third album, accompanied by percussionists Keita Ogawa and Yousif Sheronick. Three originals, pieces by Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Dorival Caymi, an Elis Regina medley, a few lesser knowns (i.e., no Jobim). Was playing Abbey Lincoln before, so I was struck by the similarity, but Betty Carter would have had the same effect, especially when Assad scats. B+(**)

Natalie Cressman & Secret Garden: Unfolding (2012, self-released): Trombone player, also sings, 21 (so b. 1991?), from San Francisco, based in New York (studies at Manhattan School of Music), first album, wrote 7 of 9 songs (covering "Honeysuckle Rose" and "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" with Joni Mitchell's lyrics). The band adds trumpet, tenor sax, piano, bass, and drums for a suitably quirky postbop mix. B

Jeff Davis: Leaf House (2011 [2012], Fresh Sound New Talent): Drummer, originally from Greely, CO; second album, plus a dozen-plus side credits since 2007, notably with pianist Kris Davis. This is a piano trio, with Russ Lossing and Eivind Opsvik doing all original compositions by Davis. B+(**)

Michael Formanek Quartet: Small Places (2011 [2012], ECM): Bassist, tenth (or ninth) album since 1986, second on ECM after a decade-long break. All-star quartet: Tim Berne (alto sax), Craig Taborn (piano), Gerald Cleaver (drums). Aside from the pianist, the album is a little languid, with the sax painting background colors, tones only slightly brighter than the arco bass. But Taborn's developed into a remarkable pianist, and he shines here. B+(**)

Kalle Kalima & K-18: Out to Lynch (2011 [2012], TUM): Guitarist, b. 1973 in Helsinki, Finland. Third album, quartet with Mikko Innanen on reeds (alto and baritone sax, flutes), Veli Kujala on quarter-tone accordion, and Teppo Hauta-aho on bass. The guitar doesn't ring out much, leaving the sax and accordion to duel, the latter holding its own in the noise department. B+(**)

Lisa Kirchner: Charleston for You (2012, Verdant World): Singer-songwriter, b. 1953, father was classical composer Leon Kirchner (1919-2009), himself a student of Schoenberg. Her credits include a 1976 Threepenny Opera, but her records didn't start until 2000, now numbering five. Cut in seven studios with changing support groups -- many just piano, only one with a horn -- half originals, half covers, including one Brazilian medley (De Moraes/Powell/Veloso); focused, assured. B+(**)

Max Marshall: Instant Camaraderie (2011 [2012], Jazz Hang): Pianist, originally from Chicago, now based in New York; first album, wrote 5 (of 9) originals, adding one from a band member (alto saxophonist Sharel Cassity), Clifford Brown, John Coltrane, and "When I Grow Too Old to Dream." Quintet, with trumpet, sax, bass, and drums: the traditional hard bop lineup with some postbop curves. B+(**)

Maria Neckam: Unison (2012, Sunnyside): Singer, third album, writes her own music, occasionally pinching famous poets for lyrics (here: Hafez, Rilke, Neruda). Produced her own album, drawing on a talented core band -- Aaron Parks, Nir Felder, Thomas Morgan, Colin Stranahan -- working in horns on half the cuts, cello on a couple. No doubt a lot of talent and thought went into this, but the result is a sort of art song that I find all but unlistenable. Except, that is, when it isn't. C+

Russ Nolan: Tell Me (2012, Rhinoceruss Music): Tenor saxophonist, third album: quartet with piano, bass, and drums, sometimes electric, plus producer Zach Brock plays violin on three tracks. Four originals, five covers, the jazz sources from Oliver Nelson and Joe Zawinul, pop from Stevie Wonder and the Beatles; lets them kick up their heels. B+(*)

Zohar's Nigun: The Four Questions (2012, Rectify): Australian group -- Daniel Weltlinger (violin), Daniel Pliner (piano), Simon Milman (bass), Alon Ilsar (drums) -- playing Jewish music, some trad, some new, the violin in the lead. B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Greg Abate: The Greg Abate Quintet Featuring Phil Woods (Rhombus)
  • Michaël Attias: Spun Tree (Clean Feed)
  • Augi: Citizens of the World (Diapson West)
  • The Julian Bliss Septet: A Tribute to Benny Goodman (Signum)
  • Kaylé Brecher: Spirals and Lines (Penchant Four)
  • Kyle Brenders Quartet: Offset (18th Note)
  • Avishai Cohen: Triveni II (Anzic)
  • Jaiman Crunk: Encounters (Origin)
  • Kate Dunton: Mountain Suite (Real and Imagined Music)
  • Scott Fields: 5 Frozen Eggs (Clean Feed)
  • Tianna Hall & the Mexico City Jazz Trio: Two for the Road (Mighty Pretty)
  • Hardcoretet: Do It Live (Tables and Chairs)
  • Justin Horn: Hornology (Rotato)
  • Cecily Kate: Standards (self-released)
  • The Peggy Lee Band: Invitation (Drip Audio)
  • Paul Lytton/Nate Wooley: The Nows (Clean Feed, 2CD)
  • Chad McCullough & Bram Weijters Quartet: Urban Nightingale (Origin)
  • Bill McHenry: La Peur du Vide (Sunnyside): October 30
  • Janka Nabay & the Bubu Gang: En Yay Sah (Luaka Bop)
  • Paradoxical Frog: Union (Clean Feed)
  • Patchet Orchestra: Hemlock (Drip Audio)
  • Eric Salzman: The Nude Paper Sermon/Wiretap (1966-72, Labor, 2CD)
  • Angelica Sanchez Quintet: Wires & Moss (Clean Feed)
  • Sara Serpa/Ran Blake: Aurora (Clean Feed)
  • Jacqui Sutton: Notes From the Frontier: A Musical Journey (Toy Blue Typewriter)
  • Gian Tornatore: The Heights (Sound Spiral)
  • The Verge: Introducing . . . the Verge (Danger Productions)
  • Allen Vizzutti: Ritzville (Village Place Music)
  • Pharez Whitted: For the People (Origin)
  • Carrie Wicks: Barely There (OA2)
  • Peter Zak: Nordic Noon (Steeplechase)

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Joe Arroyo: Super Fiesta Con Joe Arroyo (1990-99 [2001], Disco Fuentes): Colombian cumbia star, one of the few to have established a large discography, not that it's easy to sort out exactly where these loud and brassy hits came from, a place to start exploring beyond the compilations (which remain the place to start with cumbia, although I can attest to Arroyo's La Noche, on Riverboat). B+(**)
  • Louisiana Saturday Night (1959-93 [1993], Ace): Swamp Pop is what they call it, rock and roll with Cajun accents, or without, some bits borrowed from country or blues, anything you can dump into gumbo; still, not as frenzied as you'd hope, no one making me want to dig deeper, although I'll note that the label has options for Johnnie Allan, Tommy McClain (whose Don Gibson tune is a highlight here), and Rockin' Sidney. B+(*)
  • The Smothers Brothers: Sibling Revelry: The Best of the Smothers Brothers (1962-68 [1988], Rhino): Folk duo, Tom on guitar, Dick on bass, but they spent more time talking than singing, with Tom's malaproprisms and mental wandering often stumbling onto something mildly subversive. In the mid-1960s that made them hip and landed them on TV, and by the end of the decade made them dangerous and got them kicked off -- at one point, Tom explains, "we have freedom of speech in America, so you better say what you're supposed to say." They recorded nearly a dozen albums, nearly all live -- or at least with laugh tracks, which get to be a bit much. B+(**)
  • Caetano Veloso: Personalidade (1968-84 [1986], Verve): A major figure in Brazilian music from the late 1960s on, one I know mostly from his occasional attempts to approach the US market, which leaves him in the category of research subjects; this sampler jumps around a lot without explaining anything, so not that great of an intro, not that songs here and there aren't intriguing. B+(**)

Changed previous grades:

  • Pharoahe Monch: Desire (2007, SRC): [was B+(***)] B+(**)

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:

  • William J Broad: Robert F Christy, Atom Bomb Physicist, Dies at 96:

    Dr. Christy may be best remembered for a bitter encounter that crystallized the resentment that many American scientists felt toward Edward Teller, considered the father of the hydrogen bomb.

    During the height of American cold war fears of Communist influences, Teller, a veteran of the Manhattan Project, had testified against Oppenheimer before the Atomic Energy Commission, questioning his judgment and recommending that the government revoke his security clearance.

    Shortly after the testimony, in the summer of 1954, scientists attending a conference at Los Alamos were preparing for a picnic lunch on a terrace. Teller saw Dr. Christy, an old friend, and hurried over to greet him.

    But Dr. Christy, a former protégé and colleague of Oppenheimer's and known to be a courteous, genial man, threw back an icy glance and walked away.

    "I was so stunned that for a moment I couldn't react," Teller recalled in Memoirs, a 2001 book. "Then I realized that my life as I had known it was over."

    I'm not really familiar with Christy, although I've read enough about the Manhattan Project I must have run into him somewhere. Some other recent obituaries I plan on writing about sooner or later: Eugene D. Genovese, Eric Hobsbawm, Barry Commoner.

  • Paul Krugman: Disdain for Workers:

    By now everyone knows how Mitt Romney, speaking to donors in Boca Raton, washed his hands of almost half the country -- the 47 percent who don't pay income taxes -- declaring, "My job is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them that they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives." By now, also, many people are aware that the great bulk of the 47 percent are hardly moochers; most are working families who pay payroll taxes, and elderly or disabled Americans make up a majority of the rest.

    But here's the question: Should we imagine that Mr. Romney and his party would think better of the 47 percent on learning that the great majority of them actually are or were hard workers, who very much have taken personal responsibility for their lives? And the answer is no.

    For the fact is that the modern Republican Party just doesn't have much respect for people who work for other people, no matter how faithfully and well they do their jobs. All the party's affection is reserved for "job creators," a k a employers and investors. Leading figures in the party find it hard even to pretend to have any regard for ordinary working families -- who, it goes without saying, make up the vast majority of Americans.

    Am I exaggerating? Consider the Twitter message sent out by Eric Cantor, the Republican House majority leader, on Labor Day -- a holiday that specifically celebrates America's workers. Here's what it said, in its entirety: "Today, we celebrate those who have taken a risk, worked hard, built a business and earned their own success." Yes, on a day set aside to honor workers, all Mr. Cantor could bring himself to do was praise their bosses. [ . . . ]

    The point is that what people are now calling the Boca Moment wasn't some trivial gaffe. It was a window into the true attitudes of what has become a party of the wealthy, by the wealthy, and for the wealthy, a party that considers the rest of us unworthy of even a pretense of respect.

  • Andrew Leonard: What the Presidential Candidates Aren't Talking About: Issues they don't have any substantive disagreement on, and issues Obama would rather not talk about for various reasons -- he doesn't see any tangible gain from doing so, he doesn't want to expose himself to attacks (gee, look how well that's worked out), he doesn't care, and/or he doesn't know any better. Leonard's examples: climate change, Afghanistan, poverty, drone wars, gun control. I'm not big on politicking over the latter myself, but I was surprised by how large some of these numbers are:

    In 2010, the last year for which data are available, there were 31,672 gun-related deaths in the United States. The last 18 months have witnessed three high-profile shootings, the Tucson attack on Rep. Gabby Giffords, D-Ariz., in January 2011; the Aurora, Colo. massacre in July 2012; and the mass shooting at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in August. In the wake of the Aurora shootings, ABC News reported that "the gun murder rate in the U.S. is almost 20 times higher than the next 22 richest and most populous nations combined."

    But there's a pretty simple answer as to why gun control has not been an issue in the 2012 presidential campaign. Obama' response to the high-profile shooting incidents that have occurred during his term has been to take no action. Romney's response would be the same. With no difference between the two campaigns, there's nothing to cover.

Links for further study:

  • Mike Konczal: Is Taxing Capital Income Fair? I wound up writing a long letter about this piece, squirreled away in the notebook, so I won't repeat all that here. Konczal states the idea, then dismisses it, so I'm not arguing. Rather, I'm shocked that anyone -- well, actually we know who those people are -- would be so brazen as to argue on any grounds that income from capital ownership should be exempt from taxes. I'll add one more point here: we already favor capital income in two huge ways. One is that through Keogh and other plans we allow taxes to be deferred on long-term savings. The other is that workers do not get to deduct their expenses before labor income is taxed, business owners and investors do: indeed, much of the advantage of owning a "small" business is the ability to deduct and depreciate some (or in many cases much) of your living expenses, only paying taxes on the profit left over. And now they want to avoid paying taxes on that, too. Go look up the definition of Chutzpah.

  • Mattea Kramer: Tough Talk for America: subtitled "A Guide to the Presidential Debates You Won't Hear"; author of A People's Guide to the Federal Budget; looks into debt, recession, taxes, Medicare ("or any other kind of health care"), the military, education; finds we're doing just about everything wrong, which is about right.

  • Andy Kroll: The Death of the Golden Dream of Higher Education: The detailed reporting is all about California, but the general idea applies elsewhere. For whatever reasons, it's becoming prohibitively expensive to get a college education, and the economy (not to mention the well being of the populace) suffers for that.

  • Michael O'Donnell: A Malevolent Forrest Gump: review of Joseph Crespino's book, Strom Thurmond's America, reminds us "he was there at all the major choke points of modern conservative history."

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Konczal Letter: Capital Fairness

Started a letter to Mike Konczal, in response to his article Is Taxing Capital Income Fair?:

It never occurred to me that it wouldn't be, let alone that anyone could even try to make a "fairness" case for not taxing income derived from owning capital. Even as you construct the case, it sounds more like you're arguing that capitalists should be taxed favorably because they provide more social utility than laborers -- that the social benefits of extra capital creation are greater than the social benefits that could be funded by the taxes the capitalists are excused from paying. Unless you take an extremely dim view of the relative contributions of labor and/or government (which is much the fashion these days, at least in certain voluble quarters) this isn't obviously true, especially for forms of capital income like rents.

Moreover, even if such utilities existed, it's counterintuitive that a tax incentive favoring capital income would be an efficient way to increase capital income. Labor income is time-limited but within those limits is usually responsive to marginal inducements (e.g., overtime pay). Capital income is unlimited: how much one gets depends almost exclusively on how much one has -- or perhaps more importantly can leverage -- and (unlike labor income) has very little to do with incentives. (If one has excess money, one invests. The only time an extra incentive might help is if one has a severe shortage of people with excess money, which, well, isn't the case.) Moreover, tax breaks for capital income have the perverse effect of concentrating wealth, since the only people who benefit from them are people who already own capital (especially those who own a lot of it). Since part of the social utilities attributed to capitalists is moral -- that people with savings are less likely to need relief, that they are more likely to contribute to charities, etc. -- what you really want is to broaden the class of savers/investors, which means distributing wealth more equally. There are lots of ways to do this, the proliferation of 401k plans being one example. (More ambitiously, I'm a big fan of employee-owned businesses.) But providing tax incentives for people who already save isn't one of them.

As I recall, back during the first round of Reagan tax cuts, they made a distinction between earned and unearned income, and taxed them at different marginal rates. (I don't recall for sure which was taxed lower; earned, I think, which probably helped push executive salaries through the roof.) I've long thought that the distinction was useful, and should be developed further. Earned income (wages, salaries, commissions, tips, bonuses) might as well be taxed year-to-year (maybe with some income averaging). Unearned income (interest, dividends, capital gains, gifts, inheritance, I suppose you could throw in lottery wins) is more of a lifetime project. Both should be taxed progressively, but the rate for unearned income would be based on the total accumulation of such income. You could, then, set the rate very low for the first few hundreds of thousands of dollars, keep it low (e.g., lower than median income taxes) up to a million or so, then crank it up as the millions accumulate (toward something close to confiscatory, I would hope). This sort of scheme would not only provide incentives for saving/investing, it would focus those breaks on increasing the breadth of the savings class. (In my experience, the difference between the middle class and the poor is that the former can write a check to cover a surprise moderate expense like a dental crown or a broken transmission, whereas the poor always live day-to-day, week-to-week. But then I come from a family of Depression-influenced ex-farmers who never trusted credit cards, so maybe my definition is old-fashioned -- or maybe, as they say, the middle class is.)

Of course, there are some murky details I haven't worked out here -- e.g., Chapter S income is a mix of the two, so I'd give those filers a lot of flexibility in deciding what's earned and unearned (nice incentive here for small business owners, at least the small ones). And yeah, I'd double tax estates: tax the estate itself, then tax the distributions to the beneficiaries. Someone would have to work out those details, tune the rates, etc.

I've never seen anyone else try to articulate this sort of tax scheme, probably because the interested parties have pushed so hard for flat tax rates (e.g., on dividends and capital gains, which I'd argue should be more progressive than income taxes -- estate taxes even more so, since nobody's going to postpone dying because the tax rate is onerous). I'd like to see more progressivism in the tax code for corporate taxes as well -- not a lot, but enough to counteract the "economies of scale" that gives WalMart, for example, such an edge over smaller competitors (or more often drives those competitors out of business). But that's getting off the subject. For the last 30-40 years we've been bombarded with economists and politicians harping on the need to promote savings, insisting that the economy depends on savers and investors, often to the exclusion of anything else. Odd that this hasn't actually increased the nation's savings rate one iota. (The only thing that actually seems to work is a massive asset bubble burst, so savings correlate with recessions, not booms.) Obviously, a big part of this is that all of the incentives wind up favoring the already rich, and their net effect is to concentrate wealth, with most of the gains going to the sticky-fingered finance sector.

Just some thoughts I hope you might find interesting. I read you avidly. By all means, keep up the good work. Thanks.

Thursday, October 04, 2012


Update: linked in, then removed, New Yorker cover. Clever, too big, not really the point I wanted to make.

I didn't watch the Obama-Romney debate last night. I've reached the point where I find both candidates hopelessly irritating, and I've never had much stomach for political cant. Also, from past experiences, I can't say that I've ever learned much from debates -- except not to trust impressions based on personal style or quirks. Judging from reports, had I watched I would have come away even more irritated, especially at Obama. Ever since his election in 2008, what's bothered me about Obama hasn't been his policies or programs -- inadequate, unimaginative, and often misguided as they are -- but his inability or unwillingness to speak up for anything better, or indeed even to articulate why his own programs matter. The debate just provides more examples of his failing.

The front page article itself, from McClatchy, was formally neutral, the headline: "Candidates Cordial, but Pull No Punches." Below I'll argue that Obama did little but pull his punches. (Krugman called him Capillary Man: "his instinct, as people said, was apparently to go for the capillaries.") Consider the four quotes that the Wichita Eagle spotlighted on the front page today, the first sense readers in these parts got of the substance of the debates:

  • Romney, on Economic Revival: "The path that we're on has been unsuccessful. Trickle down government will not work."

    "Unsuccessful" is a fair argument, although one could counter that Obama did basically right things both to halt the fall into a major depression -- bailing out the banks and auto industry, unfreezing credit lines -- and to start the recovery -- stimulus spending, extending unemployment benefits, cutting payroll taxes -- but that he didn't do enough of the right things, mostly due to the political obstruction of Republicans in Congress and the state houses, which forced the US to endure an austerity program that was not part of Obama's program. Not that Obama did everything right: his own preference for balanced budgets and his aloofness during the disastrous 2010 elections aided and abetted the Republicans immensely; also his reappointment of Ben Bernanke as Fed Chairman left him with little help from that quarter.

    The second line about "trickle down government" means, well, what? The phrase "trickle down" usually applies to the flow of money: give zillionaires more money and they'll spend some of it on gardeners who will buy groceries so the money will flow through the economy, but since rich people are more likely to save than spend their extra income the effect really is a trickle. Stimulus spending flows the same way, which results in a multiplier effect on the economy: for each dollar the government spends, substantially more than a dollar's worth of economic activity is generated. But if that's what Romney's referring to, he's simply wrong, because stimulus spending works. What doesn't flow is government, or his cute phrasing.

  • Obama, on Economic Revival: "Governor Romney has a perspective that says if we cut taxes skewed toward the wealthy and cut regulations, we'll be better off. I have a different view."

    Most likely this is pulled out of context, and Obama eventually gets around to explaining what his "different view" is and why he has it, but he's already done one stupid thing here: he's generously restated Romney's position, in more favorable terms than were called for[*], and further dignified the position by calling it a "view," respecting it like his own. Even if he did manage to say what he wanted to say, he blew his opportunity to get his statement on the front page of the Eagle, and he probably lost listeners along the way.

    Not that Obama really has much to say on the subject. He could have argued that raising tax rates on the rich would put that money to better use than it's going to now. He could have pointed out that the Republican agenda of cutting taxes for the very rich has resulted in them making out like bandits while everyone else has suffered stagnant wages and declining benefits for thirty years now -- despite steady growth in labor productivity. He could have noted that as America's wealth has become ever more concentrated in the hands of a tiny fraction of the populace -- the 1% is an especially striking example, the top tenth of that even more so -- the political and economic climate for everyone else has become increasingly bitter. He could have given the example of Romney telling his donors that he doesn't care about 47% of the American people, and he could have pointed out that based on his actions and proposed policies that number is far below Romney's true interests.

    None of this has much to do with "economic revival" but it does have everything to do with the nature of that revival. All that is needed for the economy to revive is for money to flow, and the most straightforward way for that to happen is for the government to spend more, both to buy things like badly needed infrastructure improvements and to redistribute money to those who will spend it -- money which, by the way, has for thirty years now been systematically shifted to the rich due to their superior ability to game the American political system. So the short-term plan should be to force the economy back toward its potential growth line by using public spending to make up for the shortfall in private spending. Longer-term, the plan should be to force a more equitable distribution of wealth, both to increase demand -- which has been suppressed by thirty years of redistribution in favor of the wealthy, although the effect was long masked by increased work hours (mostly by wives) and easy consumer credit, solutions no longer sustainable -- and because it's the right thing to do. There are lots of ways to do this, and no single one is satisfactory: raise the minimum wage, make it easy to form unions, shift benefit costs to the public, improve education and make it more accessible, etc.

    Needless to say, the right hates this plan. Unfortunately, Obama doesn't care much for it either. I won't argue that Obama isn't a liberal, at least in the traditional (i.e., non-leftist) sense of the term, but he's also profoundly conservative. He doesn't want to change anything in the social and economic order he grew up in -- one which, needless to say, has favored him lavishly. He can't imagine a world without General Motors, which is basically a good thing. He can't imagine a world without Jamie Dimon in charge of JPMorgan Chase, which is something else. The fact that such perversions of finance capitalism are so much part of his world is one reason why he's so ineffective at criticizing Mitt Romney.

    Romney's a conservative too, but he's less committed to the details of the status quo, and more to sustaining the trend line of right-wing dominance. He know, for instance, that investors always expect (or at least seek) returns greater than GDP growth, so they're never satisfied with sustaining their share: they need more, which means someone else has to lose. For a long time, most of that more came out of asset inflation, but those bubbles have a nasty tendency to burst, leaving the poor poorer and the rich ever more desperate to make up lost ground. Capturing government not only keeps and extends their legal perks, it opens up large treasures to plunder. You got a taste of that under Reagan and Bush, and there's still lots more in store. When you get down to specifics, Romney's just Bush redux. If you doubt me, take a look at his advisers and check their resumes for 2001-09.

    Of course, that's not Romney's published plan for growing the economy: there are some things that even Republicans shy away from spelling out. But consider what he does say: that the economy will start turning around the moment he is elected, because the driving force behind the economy is the class of job creators, and the reason they haven't been job creating these last four years is that they were bummed out worrying over what Obama might do to their taxes and regulations, but once they know that Romney will save them, they'll rally forth and fix everything. In other words, Romney's public plan for fixing the economy is magic. His private plan is to rape it. There's hardly any other way to put it.

    Again, this is something Obama could point out, in pretty graphic terms. One reason is that he's spent so much time romancing the Confidence Fairy himself: he fell into an ego trap early on, believing that since confidence is contagious in an economy, as president he could help boost the economy just by believing in it. (Ron Suskind memorialized this by calling his book on Obama's economic team The Confidence Men.)

    [*] Presumably by "cut taxes skewed toward the wealthy" he means "skew tax cuts in favor of the wealthy," which really means use the tax system to help the rich get richer, undermining the American ideal of an egalitarian society; by "cut regulations" he means "give businesses a free pass to do whatever they want, regardless of the harm they may cause the public."

  • Romney, on Jobs: "Under the president's policies, middle-income Americans have been buried. They're just getting crushed."

    So true. Of course, it's not just the president's policies. It's mostly the recession, the result of the previous president's policies (with a lot of help from Alan Greenspan, and an assist from Clinton's treasury team, which -- oops! -- bears an awfully close resemblance to Obama's). And a fair share of the blame can be placed on private equity firms like Bain Capital that drive companies deep into debt, then pound their employees to restore a semblance of profitability. But it's also because the safety net which would keep out-of-luck workers from being crushed is being dismembered by the austerity policies of the Republicans (often aided by the budget-balancing fetish of the Democrats). And once again you can dig up the entire 30-year ascendancy of the right, with its attack on unions, and favoritism shown the ultra-rich.

  • Obama, on Jobs: "We've begun to fight our way back. We've still got a lot of work to do."

    True enough, but a concession and an apology. Again, this might have been taken out of context. Obama needed to go on and explain all that work, how that work has been obstructed by Republicans, and how that work won't get done if Romney is elected. Maybe he did, and just didn't get quoted, but he certainly didn't take the gloves off and present Romney and his ilk as they truly are. Wouldn't have been difficult. After all, Obama's running against Gordon Gekko, John Galt, Simon Legree, pick your villain.

Romney's two statements were direct, mostly true (albeit cynical and at least partly nonsensical). Obama's were evasive and incomplete, offering little reason to trust or even understand him. Romney was shameless, while Obama would prefer that we overlook what he has to be ashamed of. Whether you believe one or the other depends on how much you know about the matter. If you know nothing, you might be taken in by Romney's confidence, faux concern, and pat answers. If you know anything, you already know that Romney is a fraud, and in his debate answers and points you'll find nothing but more evidence. You will also know that Obama has struggled with huge problems in a political climate that has confused and confounded him. Part of his problem is that he is too invested in that climate. Part is that he's unclear on who voted for him and why, and all of that came through in his lackluster performance. No doubt we would be happier to have a smarter, more earnest, more dedicated, more trustworthy candidate, but we have no such option.

What we've gotten instead is another embarrassing moment in our democracy. Unfortunately, there will be more before this election is settled. In particular, next debate is supposed to be about "foreign policy" -- basically a contest to see which candidate can most convincingly project himself as a killer. There, at least, Obama will have the advantage of four years of practice. Expect to hear a lot about Bin Laden, but he's only one of thousands of people the US has killed on his watch, under his direction, and sometimes in direct response to his orders. In contrast, the worst Romney can claim is torturing his dog, but rest assured that he will do his best to convince us that he's badder than Obama could ever be. He's committed to more military, more war. He's committed to letting Netanyahu dictate US policy in the middle east. Most of all, he's committed to never backing down, never apologizing, never second guessing his own brilliance. That sounds to me like a perfect recipe for disaster.

And no doubt there will be more embarrassments down the road. Hard to pick a debate winner when everyone involved is such a loser.

Some post-debate links:

Bonus link: Matt Taibbi: This Presidential Race Should Never Have Been This Close: Written well before the debate, but more true than ever:

The mere fact that Mitt Romney is even within striking distance of winning this election is an incredible testament to two things: a) the rank incompetence of the Democratic Party, which would have this and every other election for the next half century sewn up if they were a little less money-hungry and tried just a little harder to represent their ostensible constituents, and b) the power of our propaganda machine, which has conditioned all of us to accept the idea that the American population, ideologically speaking, is naturally split down the middle, whereas the real fault lines are a lot closer to the 99-1 ratio the Occupy movement has been talking about since last year.

Think about it. Four years ago, we had an economic crash that wiped out somewhere between a quarter to 40% of the world's wealth, depending on whom you believe. The crash was caused by an utterly disgusting and irresponsible class of Wall Street paper-pushers who loaded the world up with deadly leverage in pursuit of their own bonuses, then ran screaming to the government for a handout (and got it) the instant it all went south.

These people represent everything that ordinarily repels the American voter. They mostly come from privileged backgrounds. Few of them have ever worked with their hands, or done anything like hard work. They not only don't oppose the offshoring of American manufacturing jobs, they enthusiastically support it, financing the construction of new factories in places like China and India.

They've relentlessly lobbied the government to give themselves tax holidays and shelters, and have succeeded at turning the graduated income tax idea on its head by getting the IRS to accept a sprawling buffet of absurd semantic precepts, like the notions that "capital gains" and "carried interest" are somehow not the same as "income." [ . . . ]

For all this, when it came time to nominate a candidate for the presidency four years after the crash, the Republicans chose a man who in almost every respect perfectly represents this class of people. [ . . . ] He has a $250 million fortune, but he appears to pay well under half the maximum tax rate, thanks to those absurd semantic distinctions that even Ronald Reagan dismissed as meaningless and counterproductive. He has used offshore tax havens for himself and his wife, and his company, Bain Capital, has both eliminated jobs in the name of efficiency (often using these cuts to pay for payments to his own company) and moved American jobs overseas.

The point is, Mitt Romney's natural constituency should be about 1% of the population. If you restrict that pool to "likely voters," he might naturally appeal to 2%. Maybe 3%.

Of course, the reason the election is close is because so few understand Taibbi's points. Part of that is that the mainstream (and far right) media keep drubbing you with their "conventional wisdom." Part is that the Democratic Party leadership doesn't lead, or inform, or enlighten, or even campaign very much. The real key to the 2012 elections will be how many people vote -- if the turnout is close to 2008 Obama and the Democrats will win handily, and if it falls off to 2010 levels the Republicans will prevail. And the other is how effective unlimited spending by billionaires turns out to be. The fate of the nation hangs in the balance. Either we get four more years of the same mediocre melange we've enjoyed for the last four years, or the country collapses under the hubris of the superrich and falls off the deep end. The debates will be forgotten, unless you let yourself be suckered by them.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Expert Comments

Not EW, but wrote this to Ben Westhoff, music editor at LA Weekly, reportedly taking over the Village Voice slot:

Heard you've taken over the Village Voice music section. I wrote rock reviews for Robert Christgau there in the late 1970s, and (mostly) jazz reviews since 2003. The Voice built up a strong reputation for its jazz coverage under Gary Giddins. When Giddins left the Voice, Christgau (under Chuck Eddy) tried to plug the hole by having me write a Jazz Consumer Guide column (it wound up running 4 times a year) with Francis Davis writing longer pieces (initially monthly). After Christgau and Eddy were fired, Rob Harvilla continued to run my column and pieces by Davis (including his year-end critics poll). After Harvilla departed, Maura Johnston ran one Jazz CG column, then (after much delay) killed another one. She also dropped Davis, who took his poll to Rhapsody. She offered to run an expanded Jazz CG as a weekly web-only post. I agreed to do that, but she stopped answering my mail and it never happened. I had long complained that I had much more material than I could squeeze into my limited print space, so I started posting weekly notes on my own website, something I called Jazz Prospecting. (I wanted to document everything I was listening to, so many of those notes were not review quality; more like triage, weeding out the losers, noting the prospects, jotting down some background and the occasional idea, not worrying about making strong statements.)

I've continued Jazz Prospecting, so by now I have about a year's backlog of material that could be fed into a revived Jazz Consumer Guide. I also write two more-or-less monthly CG-like columns, one on old shit (Recycled Goods, which I started doing in 2003), and one on new (Rhapsody Streamnotes, because that's where I mostly pick up non-jazz). Website has a database with more than 20,000 records rated, and year-end lists since 2000. I'm basically a retired software engineer, so this is something of a hobby and public service, but I'd like to see some income to offset my expenses. If you have any interest in covering recorded jazz (and most publications, shamefully, don't), I can do that. Can't do much about live coverage -- I live in a town where we rarely have such distractions, and never much cared for it even when I did (New York and Boston). Can expand the CG format somewhat beyond jazz. Can get rid of the grades, although I don't see why -- they're economical and clear. Johnston wanted 7-11 albums per week. I could do that, but was thinking of writing a bit longer on fewer albums, more like what I do with Recycled Goods (couple features, some "briefly noted"; may do some grouping with an intro, something I never had space for in print; may add some ACN, same problem). Less than weekly means less coverage, less timely, but biweekly or monthly would still be a big improvement over quarterly.

Heard back from Westhoff. He tells me that he isn't the Voice editor -- Brian McManus is. He promised to send the letter on.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Recycled Goods (101): October 2012

New Recycled Goods: pick up text here. Total review count: 3460 (3037 + 423).

Expert Comments

Milo Miles thanked me for linking to John Quiggin's aeon article, and asked for more info. I wrote:

For Milo, don't know anything about aeon magazine. I follow John Quiggin at Crooked Timber -- he's not the only one who writes there, nor the only one I read, but he's the reason I go there. He has a good book out called Zombie Economics. If you read Krugman's econ posts you'll recognize most of them, and if you've read recent books by John Cassidy and/or Yves Smith you'll know even more. I have Skidelsky's book on Quiggin's topic, but have been putting it off until I feel better -- been reading books about shad fishing, the founding fathers, and Afghanistan instead. The Keynes essay is older, but the idea has been rattling around in my head ever since I read Paul Sweezy -- a quote from the 1950s I haven't been able to find in ages.

So much for criticism. For some music reviews, Recycled Goods is up now, preceded by Jazz Prospecting.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 20514 [20485] rated (+29), 642 [646] unrated (-4). Another week, another bad one, slouching into another month, historically my favorite. Should have A Downloader's Diary by week's end. Recycled Goods continues from last month's shelf scrounging, not quite as fat (or prime) but hefty enough. Streamnotes is still very slim, so likely to wait until mid-month.

Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Live (2009-11 [2012], ECM, 2CD): Swiss pianist, group includes Sha (bass clarinet, alto sax), Björn Mayer or Thomy Jordi (bass), Kaspar Rast (drums), and Andi Pupato (percussion). Half dozen records together, this live summary pieced together from eight concerts although it could be seamless. Works mostly around a rhythm that is propulsive even when it shifts, and builds complex modulations on that, so stretching out is part of the art. A-

LaVerne Butler: Love Lost and Found Again (2012, High Note): Vocalist, b. 1962 in New Orleans, fifth album since 1992 (last one was 2001, on MaxJazz). All standards, arranged by pianist Bruce Barth, backed by Ugonna Okegwo on bass and Rudy Royston on drums, with Houston Person, never less than adorable, guesting on four tracks. Lots to smile about. B+(***)

Kevin Coelho: Funkengruven: The Joy of Driving a B3 (2012, Chicken Soup/Summit): First album, the leader described on the back cover as a "sixteen(16)-year-old jazz organ prodigy," with a conventional soul jazz trio: Derek Dicenzo on guitar, and Reggie Jackson on drums. Doesn't have any of the high-falutin' airs or drama I associate with prodigies -- just steadfast service to the groove. B+(**)

Philip Dizack: End of an Era (2012, Truth Revolution): Trumpet player, originally from Milwaukee, moved to New York in 2003, cut an album in 2005; this is his second. Looks like two piano-bass-drums rhythm sections, tenor saxophonist Jake Saslow on five cuts, strings on three (one shared with the sax). All this backup isn't overly busy, but it isn't that helpful either -- only the trumpet really stands out. B+(**)

Jürgen Friedrich: Monosuite: For String Orchestra and Improvisers (2011 [2012], Pirouet): Normally a pianist, from Germany, has ten or so records since 2000, conducts the Sequenza String Orchestra (11 violins, 5 violas, 4 cellos, 2 basses), on top of which several jazz musicians improvise: Hayden Chisholm (alto sax), Achim Kaufmann (piano), John Hébert (bass), and John Hollenbeck (drums). I go back and forth on it, the dark strings not compelling, the improvs less than striking, still wondering what I am missing. B

Adam Glasser: Mzansi (2011 [2012], Sunnyside): Harmonica player, b. 1955 in Cambridge, England; spent some time as a youngster in South Africa, retaining an interest in African music that is showcased here: with tunes from Abdullah Ibrahim, Dudu Pukwana, and others, plus a long line of African vocalists and musicians. B+(*)

Beka Gochiashvili (2012, Exitus Entertainment): Pianist, sometimes electric ("Wurly"), b. 1996 in Tbilsi, Georgia, played festivals when he was 11, eliciting praise from noted jazz critic Condoleezza Rice: "Beka is one of the best jazz pianists I've heard anywhere." When someone compiles a list of Rice's greatest whoppers, that exaggeration falls far short of the one about the "mushroom cloud" or "the birthpangs of a new Middle East" -- probably even her reference to GWB has "my husband." He moved to New York in 2010, winding up with this debut album, produced by Lenny White, packed with household names (including four bassists, Wallace Roney, and Jaleel Shaw). Unlike so many ex-Soviet musicians, doesn't seem to be in thrall to classical music (although the vocal by Natalia Kutateladze is). Plays fast and fluid, easy to see how experts like Rice are impressed. B

Gerard Hagen Trio: Song for Leslie (2012, Surf Cove Jazz): Pianist, has a couple of previous albums, at least back to 1998; Leslie is his wife, singer Leslie Lewis. Trio adds Domenic Genova (bass) and Jerry Kalaf (drums). Three standards, two originals each by Hagen and Kalaf. Tasteful. B+(*)

Marc Johnson/Eliane Elias: Swept Away (2010 [2012], ECM): Bassist and pianist, the latter from Brazil, both well established before they got hitched. While they've played on each other's albums before -- Elias has 25 since 1986, Johnson 10 since 1985 plus a lot more side credits -- I think this is the first time both names are up top. The songs split 5-to-3 for Elias, with two shared and "Shenandoah." Joey Baron plays drums, and Joe Lovano appears here and there on tenor sax in what may be the most underwhelming credit in his career -- all hushed tones and thin vibrato. Elias has also shelved her samba accent, leaving us with relatively placid but expert postbop. B+(*)

Greg Lewis: Organ Monk: Uwo in the Black (2012, self-released): Organ player, has been around this block -- soul jazz jerks on Thelonious Monk tunes -- before, but expands to a quartet this time, with saxophonist Reginald Woods joining guitar (Ronald Jackson) and drums (Nasheet Waits). Couple spots seem to stick them up, but "Little Rootie Tootie" shows how it works. B+(*)

Leslie Lewis with the Gerard Hagen Trio: Midnight Sun (2011 [2012], Surf Cove Jazz): Standards singer, third album, lives in Paris but label claims to offer "Creative Jazz from California" and her own CV mentions London, New York, and Los Angeles. Has a terrific voice, deep and resonant, but has trouble with the slow ones -- the exception is her grandly gestured "Where or When," saved from excess by the tasteful rhythm section, Hagen's piano trio. The fast ones are helped by Chuck Manning (tenor sax) and/or Joey Sellers (trombone). B+(**)

Harold Mabern: Mr. Lucky: A Tribute to Sammy Davis Jr. (2012, High Note): Pianist, b. 1936, came out of Memphis, has worked since 1968 but the '70s and '80s were a little thin, with his '90s records on DIW especially esteemed. Davis was an important entertainer in Mabern's lifetime -- indeed, in mine -- but his reputation hasn't endured well, in part because he released some of the worst records of his period, and even his big hits were often so cheesy it's hard to find a decent anthology -- plus he didn't write, and his best songs are just as likely to show up in his pal Sinatra's songbook. Still, I remember him well enough to vouch for Mabern's feel, but I'm less sure of tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander. One irresistible tune here is the closer, "Something's Gotta Give." B+(**)

Ron Miles: Quiver (2011 [2012], Enja/Yellowbird): Trumpet player, b. 1963 in Indiana, moved to Denver at age 11 and is still based there. Ninth album since 1989 -- surprised that this is the first I've heard, although looking at his credits list I see at least a dozen familiar albums, most with Bill Frisell but also Fred Hess, Wayne Horvitz, Jenny Scheinman, DJ Logic, even a pretty good Ginger Baker album. This is a trio with Bill Frisell guitar and Brian Blade drums. Frisell does much to shape this, whether he's shifting the background, or working up one of his Americana twists, but credit the leader, too. B+(***)

Nadje Noordhuis (2010 [2012], Little Mystery): Trumpet/flugelhorn player, b. 1977 in Australia, based in New York since 2003. First album, composed through, makes deft use of Sara Caswell's violin for background texture to offset the trumpet -- what many people hope for with strings but few pull off. With Geoff Keezer (piano), Joe Martin (bass), and Obed Calvaire (drums), aside for a diversion on "Le Hameau Omi" with pandeiro and classical guitar, which works just as well. B+(***)

Houston Person: Naturally (2012, High Note): Tenor saxophonist, 77 when this was recorded, a mainstream fixture since the early 1960s who now must be counted among the all-time greats. With my idea of a supergroup: Cedar Walton, Ray Drummond, and Lewis Nash. Not that anyone's trying for super -- just relaxed, enjoying themselves, luxuriating in his sound. I know I always say nice things about him, but this is his best since To Etta With Love (2004). A-

Irene Reid: The Queen of the Party (1997-2003 [2012], Savant): Singer, 1930-2008, came up in jazz bands including a stint with Count Basie, cut five records 1963-71 then faded until her 1997 comeback, Million Dollar Secret, with Charles Earland on organ and Eric Alexander on tenor sax, jump blues with a post-feminist vengeance. She cut five albums for Savant (plus they released a 1990 date as Thanks for You), so this serves as a best-of, an intro, a memoir. B+(***)

Jordan Young: Cymbal Melodies (2012, Posi-Tone): Drummer, has a previous album as Jordan Young Group. Organ quartet, with Joe Sucato (sax), Avi Rothbard (guitar), and Brian Charette on the B3. Two originals (one called "Mood for McCann"), plus a mix of standards (Irving Berlin), jazz riffs (Grant Green, Lee Morgan), and tacky pop (Bacharach, Webb, Sting). Picks up its groove along the way, but not much more. B

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Bobby Bradford/Frode Gjerstad/Ingebrigt Håker Flaten/Paal Nilssen-Love: Kampen (NoBusiness): advance
  • Dave Douglas Quintet: Be Still (Greenleaf Music)
  • Danny Green: A Thousand Ways Home (Tapestry)
  • Ig Henneman Sextet: Live @ the Ironworks Vancouver (Wig)
  • I Compani: Garbo (Icdisc, 2CD)
  • Frank Kimbrough Trio: Live at Kitano (Palmetto)
  • Chris Lawhorn: Fugazi Edits (Case/Martingale)
  • Louisiana Red: When My Mama Was Living (Labor)
  • Lisa Mezzacappa/Marco Eneidi/Vinny Golia/Vijay Anderson: Hell-Bent in the Pacific (NoBusiness)
  • Liudas Mockünas & Barry Guy: Lava (NoBusiness): advance
  • Dave Phillips & Freedance: Confluence (Innova)
  • Preservation Hall Jazz Band: 50th Anniversary Collection (1962-2010, Columbia/Legacy, 4CD)
  • Julian Shore: Filaments (Tone Rogue)
  • Sonic Liberation Front: Jetway Confidential (High Two)
  • Juma Sultan's Aboriginal Music Society: Whispers From the Archive (1970-78, Porter)
  • Mikolaj Trzaska/Olie Brice/Mark Sanders: Riverloam Trio (NoBusiness): advance
  • Carlos Alves "Zingaro"/Jean Luc Cappozzo/Jerome Bourdellon/Nicolas Lelievre: Live at Total Meeting (NoBusiness)

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Grits & Grooves! (1966-77 [1992], Instant): New Orleans funk anthology, subcontracted from Charly with next to no documentation, 20 cuts, doubles up on Aaron Neville, Lee Dorsey, The Meters, Ted Taylor, Ann Sexton, Bobby Patterson, Tommie Young; didn't know the latter four, and found a few pleasant surprises, especially Taylor's not-so-funky "How Do You Walk Away From Fear." B+(**)
  • Roots N' Blues: The Retrospective 1925-1950 (1925-50 [1992], Columbia/Legacy, 3CD): "Roots N' Blues" was a logo Sony/Legacy used in the early 1990s for a series of blues reissues, nearly all of which are worth searching out (see the ACN below). No doubt there's some intersection with the series, but this is less a best-of or a sampler than a repository for all sorts of minor artists that wouldn't be slotted elsewhere (although I'd never call Charlie Poole minor, or Gid Tanner, Lucille Bogan, Charley Patton, Big Maceo Merritweather, Bill Monroe, Hank Penny, Molly O'Day, Rosetta Howard, a few others). Wobbles back and forth between country and blues, a distinction most thoughtful compilers of the period obliterate -- in his even more important 9-CD American Pop, Allen Lowe works in a lot of jazz as well -- with some scratchy Cajun and quite a bit of gospel (including a couple sermons), all making for a great treasure trove. Comes in an old-fashioned longbox, which makes the booklet easier to read (and easier to lose). A-
  • The Slide Guitar: Bottles, Knives & Steel Vol. 2 (1927-34 [1993], Columbia/Legacy): Nothing much here screams out slide guitar, especially given how easy Tampa Red makes it seem -- he has 7 of 20 cuts; Curley Weaver and Sylvester Weaver 3 each -- so just another grab bag of vintage blues and hokum, including two early Helen Humes vocals. B+(**) [rhapsody]
  • The Sound of the Delta (1963-65 [1994], Testament): Recorded by Pete Welding during the 1960s folk blues boom, when a few old guys like Mississippi Fred McDowell and Big Joe Williams were still young enough to record and got the chance as long as they sounded old as the hills; with a half-dozen others who never made a name for themselves, barely salvaged from obscurity. B+(**)

Sep 2012