Sunday, May 19. 2013
After a lazy week, some more links to ponder:
Monday, May 13. 2013
Music: Current count 21406  rated (+23), 622  unrated (+5). Not sure what accounts for the fall off, but then don't remember much of last week.
A-list records continue to accumulate at a dizzying pace, a far cry from a couple months ago when they were scarce as hen's teeth -- clever triangulators will note that in addition to the two featured in this rather short week there are two more in the unpacking list that were first uncovered on Rhapsody. Thus far I have 41 A-list records this year, so we're still not quite on track to getting to last year's 125, but not so far behind either.
Rodrigo Amado Motion Trio + Jeb Bishop: The Flame Alphabet (2011 , Not Two): Bishop is the Chicago-based trombone player who left the Vandermark Five about five years ago, and has kept busy since then mostly guesting on projects where he easily adds to the noise level -- his tour with Cactus Truck is fresh on my mind -- but here he takes the lead without the least bit of slop in a showcase of avant-trombone that would turn the heads of Steve Swell, or for that matter Roswell Rudd: a huge improvement over Bishop's previous album with Portuguese tenor saxophonist Amado's trio, Burning Live at Jazz ao Centro. And Amado is sharp as ever, ably backed by Miguel Mira on cello and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums. A-
Jerry Bergonzi: By Any Other Name (2012 , Savant): Tenor saxophonist, from Boston, has a long list of records since 1983 but has never sounded better than in his recent streak -- I have four of his last six albums at A-, the other two just a hair under. So I was surprised when this didn't kick in, but I blame Phil Grenadier's trumpet, which ties the sax up in unison work and takes solos that add up to very little. In his own spots the saxphonist is as brusque as ever -- there just aren't enough of them. Songs are all originals, but parenthetically refer to standards. B+(**)
Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense: Moment & the Message (2012 , Pi): Trumpet player, first album after quality side credits with Steve Lehman, Steve Coleman, Tomas Fujiwara, and -- most likely; still haven't heard the album -- Mary Halvorson. Quintet with Miles Okazaki (guitar), David Virelles (piano), Keith Witty (bass), and Damion Reid (drums). No second horn keeps his out front, while the guitar and piano players are rising stars, sparkling soloists with an intriguingly complex interplay. A-
Hush Point: Hush Point (2013, Sunnyside): Postbop pianoless quartet, the two horns John McNeil's trumpet and Jeremy Udden's alto sax, with Aryeh Kobrinsky on bass and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums. I initially assumed this would be McNeil's show -- he's about 30 years senior -- but Udden outwrote him 4-to-3, Kobrinsky pitched in, and they picked up two Jimmy Giuffre tunes that seem like a shared connection. The hornwork is tight and sly, the rhythm slippery. Nothing spectacular, but could well grow on you. B+(***)
Steven Lugerner: For We Have Heard (2013, NoBusiness/Primary): Plays double reeds, clarinets, flutes, saxes. Second album, after his ambitious 2-CD debut (also has a group record, Dads, by Chives). Quartet with Darren Johnston on trumpet, Myra Melford on piano, and Matt Wilson on drums. Strong soloists in their rare spots, but the compositions come first, with most of the album is woven around the leader's intricate reeds. B+(***)
Jackie Ryan: Listen Here (2012 , Open Art): Standards singer, six or seven records since 2000; has a deep, flexible voice that over an album gains stature and authority. Arranged by bassist John Clayton, features pianist Gerald Clayton, with Graham Dechter on guitar and selected horn spots -- haven't heard much from him lately, but Rickey Woodard sounds splendid. B+(*)
Alex Snydman: Fortunate Action (2012 , self-released): Drummer, lives in Los Angeles, debut album, mostly piano trio with two cuts adding tenor/soprano sax (Cari Clements). He uses three pianists -- Doug Abrams (4 cuts), Chris Pattinshall (3), and Miro Sprague (2) -- and two bassists, with the pianists writing a bare majority of the songs; Snydman has 3.5 credits, plus covers of Ellington/Strayhorn and Herbie Hancock. Despite the credits jumble, it all sounds remarkably consistent. B+(**)
Al Thompson Jr.: City Mainstream (2012 , Alcalgar): Plays piano/keyboards, sings a bit, based in Connecticut. First album, a high energy groove thing, the horns stronger than anything the smooth jazz crowd favors -- gives it some appeal. B
Jacob Varmus: Terminal Stillness (2012 , Crows Kin): Trumpet player, from San Francisco, studied at University of Iowa, based in Brooklyn. Second album, six tracks cut with guitar (Nate Radley), piano (Kris Davis), bass (Ike Sturm), drums (Brian Woodruff); two with accordion (Jacob Garchik), bass (Gil Smuskowitz), and drums; the closer Varmus himself on piano. B+(*)
Renée Yoxon/Mark Ferguson: Here We Go Again (2012 , self-released): Singer and her pianist, based in Ottawa up in Canada, second album; original songs, slight edge to Yoxon with about half credited to both. Band selectively adds trumpet, trombone, sax, and/or guitar, and they flesh out the sound nicely. She likes to scat, and isn't bad at it. B+(*)
Some corrections on a recent Jazz Prospecting review:
Clipper Anderson: Ballad of the Sad Young Men (2008-10 , Origin): Bassist, originally from Montana, based in Seattle since 1992. Third album, if you count an Xmas with Greta Matassa's name first, plus a lot of side credits going back to 1984. Anderson sings as well as plays bass, moldy standards done in the old Sinatra mold, except that he's not Sinatra, and Darin Clendenin's piano trio doesn't pack much punch. B
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, May 12. 2013
Another last-minute link grab:
Saturday, May 11. 2013
A little over two years ago the "Arab Spring" pro-democracy movement broke out in Syria, a nation that nearly everyone agreed could benefit from more political freedom, seeing as how it's been ruled by the Assad family since the 1960s and by one military clique or another even further back. Similar dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt fell quickly; struggles against the dictators of Yemen and Bahrein dragged out inconclusively; but in Libya and Syria demonstrators were met with violence and some fraction of the military establishment broke against the regime, plunging those nations into civil war. Demonstrations in Jordan faded quickly with a few token reforms. And nothing much happened in Saudi Arabia, probably the one nation in the region most in need of a democratic overhaul.
One prism into understanding how these movements played out is to map them against US influence in the region. US interests and actions in the Middle East have been schizophrenic since the late 1940s when US administrations found themselves not just allied but in love with two conflicting suitors: Israel, and Saudi-Arabian oil (although any oil would do, especially Iran's from 1953-79). One problem was that those paramours came with a lot of baggage: Israel was constantly at war with its Arab neighbors and its own [Palestinian] people, forging an elite militarist culture that thrives on conflict, foments hatred against everything Arab, and has turned most of world opinion against them -- the major exception America's own fundamentalist Christians and militarists. The Saudi ruling family, on the other hand, is joined at the hip to the most extremely reactionary Salafist Muslim clergy, and has spent billions of dollars attempting to export their religious orthodoxy throughout the Middle East and into Afghanistan and Pakistan, where it turned virulently anti-American. But America's true obsession was the Cold War, in service of which no tyrant or ideologue could be found too unsavory. The Israelis and Saudis became expert at camouflaging their own obsessions as anti-communist fervor, so the US could embrace them both.
But another facet of America's Cold War obsession was promotion of democracy, not so much for allies as for countries on the other (or no) side, but as a contrast to the "unfree" Soviet-style regimes. So when masses of people demand democracy, our natural tendency is to applaud. In the cases of Tunisia and Egypt -- secure military allies with tired and unsavory leaders -- Obama had little reason to resist, so the US subtly nudged their power structure to go with the flow. In Yemen, one of Obama's favorite drone-shooting ranges, and Bahrein, with its Shiite majority possibly tilting toward Iran, the US was more reserved. But Libya and Syria were rarely US allies, and most of the "brains" behind US policy in the region -- especially the "neocons" -- have spent most of their careers bashing their leaders, so the US had no interests in maintaining them, but also no influence or leverage that could be used to democratize them. Consequently, the more the US leaned against them, the less then had to lose by suppressing their revolts violently. In hindsight, the best way the US could have helped to democratize those nations would have been to develop normal relations with them. (It is worth noting that the only Soviet bloc states that didn't democratize are the ones the US fought wars against, followed by long, grudge-filled periods of isolation: China, North Korea, Vietnam, Cuba.)
As soon as Libya and Syria broke into civil war, the neocons -- most vociferously, Senators McCain and Graham, who never miss an opportunity to plunge us deeper into hell -- and their "liberal hawk" cronies started crying for the US to intervene. How anyone could think that inserting the US military into a conflict would save lives is beyond me. (The historical basis for that idea was probably the NATO intervention in Bosnia. After just two weeks of bombing, the Serbs accepted a ceasefire and signed the Dayton Accords ending a war between Serbia and Bosnia that had dragged on for more than two years. That intervention surely did save lives, at least if you don't factor in the subsequent Kosovo War, which was made all the more likely by the expectation that NATO would again intervene against Serbia -- as it did.) But you can't judge interventions by simply balancing deaths on one side versus the other. US intervention means that people who wouldn't have been killed otherwise are now being killed by the US -- a fact that won't be easily rationalized by the people the US attacked.
Obama did finally agree to intervene in Libya, but only after France and the UK had committed to do so. US firepower quickly degraded Libya's military power, and the civil war turned against Gaddafi, ending after about three months. Obama was careful not to land US troops, or to put the US into a position where the US would have any responsibility for postwar administration and reconstruction. Nonetheless, last September a group of Islamic jihadists attacked the US consulate in Benghazi -- the center of the anti-Gaddafi resistance, presumably the most grateful city for the US intervention -- killing four Americans, the sort of blowback that should always be expected. The Benghazi attack has since become a cause celebre for the Republicans, who have gone so far as to argue that Obama should be impeached for his "cover up" of the attack. (As far as I can tell, that "cover up" consisted of nothing more than Susan Rice making some erroneous statements the day after, confusing the violent attack in Benghazi with non-violent anti-American protests elsewhere. I would write more about this if I could make any sense out of it, but I can't. The one thing I can say is that attacking Obama for something bad happening after he intervened in Libya isn't likely to be the most effective way to convince him to intervene in Syria, where the number of bad things that can happen is much greater.)
Dexter Filkins has a long article, The Thin Red Line, on Syria, the pressures put on Obama to intervene there, and some of the risks. Filkins is one of those reporters for whom war is just business -- booming, as his book, The Forever War, shows. He recounts much of what I wrote above on Yugoslavia and Libya, while only glancingly mentioning less "successful" US interventions like Iraq and Afghanistan. The title refers to Obama's casual warning to Assad that Syrian use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line" leading to US intervention. ("Red lines" have been much in the news lately, especially regarding Iran's "nuclear program" -- what degree of offense would "justify" Israel and/or the US to preemptively attack Iran.) Consequently, advocates of going to war with Syria are scouring the data for any evidence of poison gas use, under the theory that having drawn a red line there, Obama will have no choice but to intervene -- the entire credibility of the US is put at stake by Obama's careless use of jargon.
The Syrian Civil War has resulted in, to pick two recent estimates, between 70 and 120 thousand deaths, with more than a million refugees, and many more internally displaced. Those are substantial numbers, even if they are still less than the death-and-refugee toll of the Civil War in Iraq that was triggered and abetted by the US invasion and occupation. (At least no one was so stupid as to urge anyone to intervene to "save lives" in Iraq. Of course, enforcing a "no fly" zone against the US would have been difficult, but we are talking about genocide here, something the world has committed to tolerate "never again.")
Filkins reports on three options for US intervention: establishing a "no fly" zone; arming the rebels; and somehow securing Syria's chemical weapon sites. The "no fly" zone is regarded as more difficult than it was in Libya because Syria has more sophisticated anti-aircraft defenses, although they don't seem to cause Israel much trouble. The bigger problem is that in itself it's unlikely to have much effect -- e.g., on artillery and missiles. One suggestion is to use the "Patriot anti-missile system" to intercept Syrian SCUD missiles. (Is this the source of the adage that "Patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels"?) So it's very likely that a "no fly" zone will be a stepping stone to deeper involvement, as indeed it was in Libya.
Arming the rebels is relatively easy to do, and is already being done by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey, and possibly others. However, this gets real tricky real fast. There are multiple groups of rebels, and some of them are friendlier to the US than others, and the last thing you want is to send arms to Al-Qaeda-types in Syria -- which are a formidable part of the resistance -- who might wind up using the arms against American targets, so you want to pick and choose who gets what, but in doing so you're not only arming the rebels against Syria, you're arming them against each other. And while you might argue that a "no fly" zone is a neutral way to level the battlefield, arming select groups of the rebels ends any pretense at neutrality or disinterest. You now have a "dog in the fight": which is not only bad news for Assad, it's a challenge for anyone who is wary of American power in the region -- a short list which includes Iran and Russia, even before this revolt provided Syria with arms. The result is surely an arms race, escalating even further the level of violence.
Arming the rebels also means forgoing the alternative, which is to negotiate an arms embargo with Syria's suppliers, and enforce comparable limits on the rebels' suppliers. The desired effect would be to let the conflict degrade into a stalemate, which would give both sides reason to negotiate a power-sharing agreement and move toward a democratic scheme which protects interests allied with both sides. If the US goes in and arms the rebels, that option disappears. The rebels become more convinced in their eventual triumph, cementing their resolve to fight on. From that point the only way to long-term suffering is to shorten the war by increasing the rebels' firepower and leverage, which not only helps them defeat Assad, it also allows them to more completely dominate the social, ethnic, and tribal groups that had favored Assad. And it also makes more likely an internecine war between rebel groups -- as happened when the Russians finally quit Afghanistan.
Even Filkins admits that the third option -- securing Syria's chemical weapons -- is a fool's errand. Nobody knows how many sites there are, how many munitions there are, where they all are, or much of anything else about them. What you really need is a UN disarmament team to set up camp in Syria and track them all down, but for that to happen you have to stop the shooting, in which case you might as well solve the conflict. As for the US doing it directly, Filkins reports an estimate that it would take 75,000 troops: the basic scheme there is to conquer the country, then look for the illicit weapons -- for lessons on how this "works," see Iraq. Even if you could magically wipe the country clean of chemical weapons, it's unlikely that the conflit would be less deadly. They wind up being nothing more than a side-thought: a problem people should have thought of before starting a war that makes their use much more likely.
Obama has managed to frustrate virtually every side in the conflict. He never offered any pretense of neutrality, and has gone out of his way to offend Assad backers from Iran to Hezbollah. He's had better relations with Russia, but not much. Saudi and Qatari arms shipments inevitably smell of US approval, as does Israel's recent bombings of Syria -- one thing the latter does is to test Syria's air defenses, useful research for that "no fly" zone. The CIA is reportedly on the ground in Syria, feeding intelligence info to the rebels. On the other hand, it's hard to tell who's "winning" the war, and nothing Obama has done is likely to tilt the balance, so he's not winning points with the neocon crowd -- nor should he, given the way they've lashed out at him over Libya, which he finessed about as elegantly as any American president could.
As far as I'm concerned, Assad's extremely violent counterrevolt is inexcusable, ensuring his future as an international pariah. However, the more I read of the rebels, the less sympathetic I am to them, and the more I fear their possible triumph. Andrew Bacevich makes an interesting point:
If Assad falls, either democratically or by arms, the successor state will very probably be more conservative, more devoutly Islamist, and very likely more aggressively anti-American and anti-Israel -- in other words, it will be a state that most Americans who reflexively clamored for Assad's ouster will find disappointing. And as such it will ratchet America's frustration with the region even deeper. It will also be a war-torn wreck, with few prospects of reconstruction any time soon. Barring US occupation, it is unlikely to become as corrupt as Iraq or Afghanistan, but like those two disaster areas, its people has already fragmented into many conflicting identities, which will continue to tear at the social fabric even after the war ends. Moreover, as far as the US is concerned, Syria will always be on the wrong side of Israel, and for that matter the wrong side of Lebanon, and if those features fade it will revert to no meaning at all. The only reason McCain and Graham and their ilk care at all about Syria is that they smell war there, and they see in every war an opportunity for the US to assert its omnipotence.
I too see war in Syria as a test for the US, and especially as a test for Obama: the test is whether we can finally see clear to stay out of a conflict where in the long run we can only hurt ourselves. The US is so infatuated with itself that it is a sucker for the likes of McCain and Graham, and Obama has repeatedly allowed himself to be seduced by American power -- partly, no doubt, because the Republicans so delight in trash talking to him, taunting him as an apologist, impugning him for every irresolute doubt. Obama once said that he wants to change how America thinks about war, but he seems unable to even change how he himself thinks. Syria is a test of his ability to pit sanity against jargon, for rarely has a course of action -- intervention -- loomed so temptingly yet been so clearly fraught with folly.
Tuesday, May 7. 2013
This edition started with Spin's recent feature, "Top 100 Alternative Albums of the 1960s" (list only, original link, which gets you short reviews if you're patient enough). When I originally collected the list, I tacked on my grades and found that I had only heard/rated 42 of the 100. I took that as a challenge, and have since reduced my unrated list from 58 to 22. I've heard at least some of the remaining music on compilations (e.g., Desmond Dekker, Mulatu Astatke). I was able to come up with a couple items not on Rhapsody, and sometimes used Rhapsody but working back from later reissues. The reviews below sometimes consider more than one reissue, but often just focus in on the original release (in whatever state of remastering is current, not that you can tell much listening to mp3s on a computer).
Any list can be nitpicked, and this one is especially vulnerable. There's no obvious meaning for "alt" -- a term that Spin treats as its calling, almost a synonym for interesting -- in the 1960s, so they've picked a lot of things that are just obscure (and the top of the list isn't even that: the Velvet Underground, Stooges, Flying Burrito Brothers, Mothers of Invention, MC5, Captain Beefheart, and Pink Floyd were at least semi-popular and by now legendary, as is virtually everything on the Nuggets compilation. Their picks among singer-songwriters are a very mixed bag (Leonard Cohen, Nick Drake, Van Dyke Parks, Scott Walker, but no Tim Buckley, Tim Hardin, or Randy Newman). They picked up some krautrock but paid very little attention to England, missing proto-prog (Soft Machine, King Crimson) and much else (Love Sculpture, The Move). And while they did a fair job of rummaging through American garage rock, they missed the start of a postmodern retro movement -- I'd say the best really alt-rock record not on the list is the Flamin' Groovies' Supersnazz (1969), a fully-realized masterpiece at a time when Alex Chilton and Dave Edmunds were only beginning to get their shit together.
Still, less than half of the list albums were rock. And, needless to say, stayed well clear of black music -- exceptions were proto-rap Watts Prophets, New Orleans funk band the Meters, and if you want to be generous, Rotary Connection -- and didn't touch country or blues (although they picked up a few folkies). Most of the rest of the list was filled out from three slices (13-16 records each): avant-jazz, postclassical electronica, and world music.
The latter is limited by availability, especially from Africa where only Babatunde Olatunji and Mulatu Astatke got noticed (no Franco? Sunny Ade? Rochereau? Fela? Nico? Bebey?) -- Miriam Makeba was the best known African star, but not exactly alt. Desmond Dekker was the only Jamaican listed, but Bob Marley, Toots Hibbert, Gregory Isaacs, and many others finally noticed in the 1970s were already active. So what did make the list? Three albums each from France and Brazil -- the latter much more alt than the bossa nova craze of 1963-65, the former less so -- plus two boogaloo albums from New York and some field recordings on Nonesuch's Explorer Series.
The avant-jazz list hits a lot of the decade's high points, including five Penguin Guide crown albums (Ayler, Braxton, Brötzmann, Coltrane's Ascension, and Dolphy), and many more picks will be familiar to Penguin Guide followers -- even obscure ones like AMM and Spontaneous Music Ensemble. (But had they followed Penguin Guide more closely they should have picked better records for Taylor -- Nefertiti vs. Unit Structures -- and especially for Sun Ra (and for that matter Ornette Coleman).
On the other hand, they missed lots of things too, especially near the dividing line (no Andrew Hill? Sam Rivers? Archie Shepp? Don Cherry? Steve Lacy? Horace Tapscott? Joe McPhee?). Amalgam's Prayer for Peace was one of the decade's best (and another crown album). I'd have been tempted to include Coltrane's A Love Supreme, which broke a lot of new ground, but they most likely left it out because everyone so admires it now.
The other big category remains obscure: early electronic music, mostly done by modernist composers brought up in the euroclassical curriculum -- Harry Partch is only a partial exception in that he didn't go in for electronics much, but invented his own instruments to explore his unique microtonal tunings. Riley and Reich went on to gather fairly large followings (as did Philip Glass, whose first record was 1973), but most of these names remain obscure. Some interesting records made the list, although you might be better off searching out OHM: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music (1937-82 , Ellipsis Arts, 3CD) for a more systematic intro.
I mostly spent the month trying to catch up with the Spin list, but I couldn't help but follow occasional threads. In some cases I didn't find the listed record but reviewed something else that I did find (Axelrod, Hardy, Oliveros, Sonics). In others, I helped myself to an extra record to get a broader idea (Sanders, Subotnick, 13th Floor Elevators, Walker). In most cases I tried to focus on the original LP rosters, although in a couple cases I cite more recent reissues and try to break them down. In the process of doing this, I also ran across non-alt records I felt like checking out -- e.g., early LPs by Cream, the Lovin' Spoonful, and the Who -- so I saved them for a second 1960s-themed Recycled Goods, probably next month. And in a case like Clifford Thornton makes more sense here -- not that I won't run across more like it next time.
Special thanks to Cam Patterson for helping me track down some of this music.
The Balinese Gamelan: Music From the Morning of the World (1966, Nonesuch): An early entry in Nonesuch's Explorer Series, and as such one of the first serious attempts to discover world music beyond the usual Latin and Irish confines, David Lewiston's field recordings from Bali have an anthropological purity to them: clanging, jangly percussion; odd-pitched strings; occasional high-and-lonesome vocals. Reissued twice with different covers and subtitles, the prize is the 1988 Nonesuch CD with two extras, notably the 22:08 "Ramayana Monkey Chant," but Rhapsody has the 2003 Nonesuch reissue, Indonesia: Bali: Music From the Morning of the World, which reverts to the LP lineup, time 41:20. A- [R, dl]
Can: Monster Movie (1969, Mute): My brief experience with the Krautrockers spanned three overly regarded 1972-74 albums -- Ege Bamyasi, Future Days, Soon Over Babaluma -- when they were turning into the continent's Yes, so I was surprised by all the variety shown in The Lost Tapes surprised me, and this first debut album shows why those were outtakes. The guitar is derivative, but from the Velvet Underground, and Malcolm Mooney's vocals offer a frenetic if not fully integrated cross between Lou Reed and Syd Barrett, but what was uniquely their own was the drumming that drives the second side to 20:27. A- [R]
Karen Dalton: It's So Hard to Tell Who's Going to Love You the Best (1969, Capitol): Folk singer, of Cherokee descent, born in Oklahoma, had two kids by 19, when she ran away to New York. This was her first album (although some earlier tracks were eventually released as 1966, and there's a live tape from 1962) and she didn't last long, living on the streets, dying with AIDS; there is a bit of Billie Holiday in her voice, but her guitar rarely connects with it -- best chance is on simple blues like "It Hurts Me Too," otherwise this takes a lot of effort. B- [R]
Love: Forever Changes (1967 , Elektra/Rhino): Los Angeles group led by singer-guitarist Arthur Lee, third album, widely regarded as a landmark -- number 40 on Rolling Stone's 2003 list of 500 among numerous others (see Wikipedia for pages of such testimony) -- reputation enough that I gave it a second spin after being dismayed by the first. I didn't (well, still don't) get why someone with his guitar chops would drape most of the album in strings, a sort of ornateness that gets dubbed baroque pop -- not that you really wind up thinking he's so prissy. More like he just wants to let the melodies sneak up on you. My CD has bonus cuts I could do without, and, bought used, lacks a booklet I wish I had. A-
Conlon Nancarrow: Studies for Player Piano (1969, Columbia Masterworks): Avant composer from the Arkansas side of Texarkana, joined the CP in the 1930s and fought in the Abraham Lincoln Brigade in the Spanish Civil War against Franco -- those who did were branded "prematurely anti-fascist" and regarded as security risks by the US, so he moved to Mexico, where he lived until his death in 1997. These piano pieces are richly abstract, the speed and difficulty handled by punching them into a player piano -- the result kind of like Jerry Lee Lewis pounding his way through Varèse, or Cecil Taylor playing boogie woogie. 1750 Arch Records reissued this in 1977, followed by three more LP volumes, Complete Studies for Player Piano, and Wergo came up with a fifth volume in 1988, followed by CD reissues. Rhapsody's version is the 4CD 2008 release on Other Minds: too much for a single setting, but I can't say as there's any drop off in quality. A- [R]
Tropicália: Ou Panis Et Circensis (1968, Philips): Mark Kurlansky covered the various student revolts in eastern and western Europe in his book 1968: The Year That Rocked the World, and paid heed to tumultuous events in the US, but one important place he missed was Brazil. Tropicália was as politically charged as any music in the world, with Caetano Veloso the theoretician and Gilberto Gil the melodist -- they dominate this compilation. While I can't vouch for the lyrics, I will venture that this builds on MPB like Sgt. Pepper and Their Satanic Majesties Request moved beyond the early Beatles and Stones. I wouldn't attribute any of those leaps to psychedelics, when revolution was so much more mind-blowing. A [dl]
Amon Düül II: Phallus Dei (1969 , Inside Out/Revisited): First album from the Krautrock band, split off from the original Amon Düül commune, a mix of layered guitars and keyb, violin and vibes, percussion from all over, chants, charges, and choirs; the title track runs 20 minutes, complex and enchanting; the reissue moves it up front, balancing it off with two bonus tracks, 10 minutes each, extending the vibe. B+(***) [R]
David Axelrod: Songs of Experience (1969, Capitol): A producer at Capitol in the late 1960s, this was the second album he put his name to (after Song of Innocence); instrumental, the sort of high schmaltz you often get with movie music, with at least one cut ("The Fly") transcending the level of dreck. B [R]
Ray Barretto: Acid (1968, Fania): Congalero from Spanish Harlem, with over sixty records a major figure in salsa and Latin jazz from 1960 to his death in 2006; this is widely lauded, as good a place to start as any; two English lyrics don't spoil the fun, but what you need to hear are the intense rhythm rolls. A- [R]
Blue Cheer: Vincebus Eruptum (1968, Philips): Blues-rock band from San Francisco, sort of an American version of Cream although none of the trio were musicians of the same caliber; starts with a dense "Summertime Blues," good for a cheap hit; no real hooks in the rest -- they just grind it out. B+(*) [R]
Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band: Gorilla (1967, Liberty): Art school/trad jazz refugees, originally the Bonzo Dog Dada Band but they decided to go for parody and/or oom-pah -- probably too many tuba players in the band; not sure how interesting a band can be that credits Adolf Hitler on vibes and wastes one of their longest songs boring you with a complaint about being bored. B+(*) [R]
The Joe Cuba Sextet: Wanted Dead or Alive (Bang! Bang! Push, Push, Push) (1967, Fania): Born in New York in 1931, of Puerto Rican descent, Cuba played congas and developed an abbreviated, upbeat strain of salsa, making him "The Father of Latin Boogaloo"; the refrains here are almost cartoonish, which works for novelty, but the rhythm is lightyears beyond what we're used to. A- [R]
Tod Dockstader: Eight Electronic Pieces (1961, Folkways): Musique concrète pioneer, took his fascination with radio noise as a start and came up with machines to orchestrate those noises; like much early electronic music, the emphasis is on sound over melody or rhythm -- that he comes up with any is part of the surprise. B+(*) [R]
The Electric Prunes: I Had Too Much to Dream (Last Night) (1967, Reprise): The title cut was a minor hit (and future nugget), by far the most impressive thing here, although the trad jazz throwback "Tunerville Trolley" is a hoot, and the filler attests to the band's integrity, even where the psychedelic fuzz is muted. B+(**) [R]
The Electric Prunes: Release of an Oath (1968, Reprise): Nominally the group's fourth album, but the original musicians had all been swapped out, replaced by composer David Axelrod and producer Dave Hassinger, who built this out of Jewish and Christian liturgy, like their previous Mass in F Minor but this 24:46 album has a much loftier reputation; B [R]
John Fahey: The Dance of Death & Other Plantation Favorites (1964 , Takoma): The guitarist's first album, original pieces (plus one by Clarence Ashley) rather than the promised historical dip, not that history doesn't dwell everywhere Fahey picks; the CD adds four covers, offering the taste of recognition. A- [R]
Brigitte Fontaine: Comme à la Radio (1969, Saravah): French singer, her voice (here at least) almost as declamatory as Nico's, a minimalist effect playing off the exotica of the band -- otherwise known as the Art Ensemble of Chicago. B+(***) [R]
Kim Fowley: Outrageous (1968, Imperial): Son of a Hollywood actor, good enough to launch a career based on playing off his connections, gaining fame as someone who could get away with crap no one else could not so much because he could conceptualize it as because he was utterly shameless -- one such idea was releasing an LP of blank vinyl; this record took more effort, but once you learn a few blues chords and can claim incoherent screaming as a freak out and drugged out ranting as insight, it's really not what you can call work; and lest he accidentally slipped anything serious in, the title discounts it. C- [R]
The Godz: Contact High With the Godz (1966, ESP-Disk): New York folkie band with a half-dozen albums albums on this "anything the artist wants" label -- no relation to the metal band founded in 1978 in Ohio -- these nine songs run 25:01 including the 1:34 Hank Williams coda, their most memorable message "all I wanna do is lay in the sun," repeated 2:56 with strum, bang, and harmonica. B+(***) [R]
Françoise Hardy: Françoise Hardy (1963, Disques Vogue): French singer-songwriter, a star at home -- the preferred word now seems to be "icon" -- but no one speaks French here so she's exotic enough to be considered "alt"; Spin listed her debut, not this -- the second of five eponymous 1962-65 albums and the only one I could find, but I'm struck by how stock the arrangements sound. B+(*) [S]
Pierre Henry: Messe Pour Le Temps Présent (1967, Philips): Henry's musique concrète mass, co-written by Michel Colombier, starts with "Psyché Rock," then "Jericho Jerk" and "Teen Tonic" -- they rock like "Telstar," earning the sobriquet les jerks électroniques; the other pieces on what was originally 2LP and in 1997 were expanded into 2CD are indeed concrète -- scratchy, abstract, atmospheric, which is not such a bad thing; note that even the Roman Catholic Church, under Vatican II, was hipper than it is now. B+(***) [R]
The Meters: The Meters (1969, Josie): New Orleans funk band, with Art (as opposed to Aaron) Neville they didn't sing much, but pumped the organ, scratched out guitar and bass lines, and had Ziggy Modeliste on drums, and Allen Toussaint producing. B+(**) [R]
The Monkees: Head (1968, Colgems): Soundtrack to a film designed to reinvent the TV mophead group as something else -- you were expecting, maybe, Sgt. Pepper? With its skits and bits of fractured dialogue, more like The Who Sell Out, except more literal, a going-out-of-business sale: "hey hey we are the Monkees/you know we love to please/a manufactured image/with no philosophies." B+(**) [R]
The Monks: Black Monk Time (1965 , Light in the Attic): Garage rock band formed by GIs stationed in Germany, cut one obscure album, turned into a cult item after a 1994 reissue, with tributes and films since; has some definite sonic quirks, but plays like a long joke, and wears awful thin in the bonus tracks (e.g., "Cuckoo"). B+(*) [R]
Nico: The Marble Index (1969, Elektra): Christa Päffgen, a German fashion model who gained 15 minutes of fame as an Andy Warhol superstar, a more on the first Velvet Underground album, and maybe a few more for her bleak recording career; this was her second, with John Cale orchestrating, his high church organ mode at times breaking into chaos, her voice chilled, strucken down. B+(**) [R]
Pauline Oliveros: Four Electronic Pieces, 1959-1966 (1959-66 , Sub Rosa): Long ones, too, running 14-19 minutes, made up of wave generators and variable-speed tape machines, mostly noise, much of it sounding like tuning in radio tones only with a bit less fuzz, and at least some of it headache-inducing, or at least way too cathartic for everyday listening -- a more novel, and more artful, Metal Machine Music; that, of course, was the point. B+(**) [R]
Van Dyke Parks: Song Cycle (1968, Warner Brothers): Choir boy turned LA schmoozer-songwriter, played with the Byrds and Mothers of Invention but was better known for his work (and drug recreation) with Brian Wilson during the Beach Boys' darkest (and weirdest) days; first album, twelve songs, some cartoonish, some I'm not even that sure of (there's AMG again, with "Baroque Pop" ready to explain everything, followed by "Psychedelic/Garage"). C+ [R]
Pearls Before Swine: One Nation Underground (1967, ESP-Disk): Singer-songwriter Tom Rapp is basically a mild-mannered folkie, but his use of Hieronymous Bosch details for album covers made quite an impression on the LSD-addled -- turns out that psychedelia, like beauty, is in the pretty much mind of the beholder. B [R]
The Pentangle: Basket of Light (1969, Transatlantic): English folk-rock supergroup, with Bert Jansch and John Renbourn on guitar and Jacqui McShee singing; third album, the guitars gently turning over one another, the soprano vocals sinking deepest into the traditional pieces. B+(**) [R]
Perrey-Kingsley: The In Sound From Way Out! (1966, Vanguard): Jean-Jacques Perrey, from France, and Gershon Kingsley, from Germany, play early synthesizers on jaunty little tunes they wrote, mostly punctuated with extra synth sounds that seem inspired by Spike Jones; electronic music was in its infancy in the 1960s, but rarely has it been done with this much juvenile mischief. B+(**) [R]
The Red Crayola: The Parable of Arable Land (1967 , Collectables): Later Red Krayola, a band which more/less still exists, at least through its latest (2010) release; essential member is Mayo Thompson, the guitarist who also played for Pere Ubu through the 1980s; the usual classifications fall way short here: while the "free form freak-out" pieces here aren't as chaotic as the name suggests, they are very unconventional, the melodic elements skewed, percussion all over the place, atonal and arrhthmic and all that, with quasi-songs slipped in between -- "War Sucks" for one. A- [R]
The Red Crayola: The Parable of Arable Land (1967 , Sonic Boom, 2CD): Consumer options include the bare bones 1993 CD on Collectables, a twofer on Charly that adds their inferior second album, God Bless the Red Krayola and All Who Sail in Her, and this vastly expanded edition; this upholds your interest, a case of "more is more," but caveat emptor: most of the more is redundant, including both mono and stereo mixes of the album, plus one with the songs minus the "freak outs." B+(***) [R]
Rotary Connection: Rotary Connection (1968, Cadet Concept): I'd rather call them an experiment than experimental: bassist Phil Upchurch had some minor jazz cred, and singer Minnie Ripperton was black but didn't sound like it (or much of anything else); mostly they covered contemporary hits -- "Lady Jane," "Soul Man," "Like a Rolling Stone," "Didn't Want to Have to Do It" -- twisting and tweaking them but not into anything very interesting. B [R]
Pharoah Sanders: Tauhid (1966, Impulse): Very much under John Coltrane's spell this early on -- Albert Ayler liked to refer to Coltrane and Sanders as "the father" and "the son," mostly because he saw himself as "the holy ghost" -- struggling on two long pieces (and one short one) spanning the earth and beyond, assisted by a quintet that included Sonny Sharrock on guitar and Dave Burrell on piano. A- [R]
Pharoah Sanders: Jewels of Thought (1969, Impulse): Two side-long pieces, the saxophonist sounding superb except when he occasionally coughs up a chunk of lung, which can be harrowing; the double basses can hold your attention for long vamps, and percussion is suitably exotic, and Leon Thomas alternately warbles and wows. B+(***) [R]
The Seeds: The Seeds (1966 , GNP/Crescendo): One of the Nuggets bands -- "Pushin' Too Hard" was theirs -- managed to maintain their guitar-punk sound through eleven sharp cuts, and the CD reissue doesn't lose much tacking on their second album, A Web of Sound, stretching out to a 14:27 "Up in Her Room." A- [R]
The Sonics: Introducing the Sonics (1967, Jerden): Tacoma, WA, garage band, got a reboot after their 1965 debut Here Are the Sonics!!! stiffed, repeating their local hit singles ("The Witch" and "Psycho") but with different filler -- a couple new originals ("High Time" is the nugget) and some r&b replacing the familiar r&r covers. B+(**) [R]
Alexander Spence: Oar (1969, Columbia): Canadian guitarist, sometimes drummer, played in Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, and Moby Grape before he flipped out on acid, was diagnosed as schizophrenic, and cut his one-and-only solo album; intended as a demo, comes off as a slow countryish plaint, except for moments when it flips into something else. B+(*) [R]
Morton Subotnick: Silver Apples of the Moon (1967, Nonesuch): First album from one of the pioneers of electronic music, the two 15-minute sides are composed of synthesized blips and bleeps, a fairly minimal palette by later standards, yet cohere remarkably, breaking ground both as technology and as music. A- [R]
Morton Subotnick: The Wild Bull (1968, Nonesuch): Second album, less immediately appealing but with lots more drumlike sounds, scattered drones, some entering from far stage left, as the composer is finding more angles to the music; short, a bit less consistent. B+(***) [R]
Morton Subotnick: Silver Apples of the Moon/The Wild Bull (1967-68 , Wergo): But not enough to drag this historically important twofer down. A- [R]
Sun Ra: The Futuristic Sounds of Sun Ra (1961 , Savoy): The Arkestra lands in New York, if not from Saturn at least from Chicago, and they celebrate with a little bit of everything they do, including an odd vocal, flute solos, boogie piano, and percussion all over the place -- nothing electronic squiggles if that's what you expect by futuristic, but still way ahead of the times. A- [R]
The 13th Floor Elevators: The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators (1966 , Collectables): Legendary garage band from Austin, TX; spawned Roky Erickson, or vice versa, but while Erickson maintained his reputation for idiosyncrasy, this sounds more like a band, the guitar thick and crunchy, the psychedelic fuzz some kind of sonic parlor trick, "You're Gonna Miss Me" the hidden nugget. A- [R]
The 13th Floor Elevators: Easter Everywhere (1967 , Collectables): The sonics are less gimmicky -- just as well, they have their own sound anyway, although it's not solid enough to wholly capture the Dylan cover, but it works when they go long for two of their most remarkable songs, "Slip Inside This House" and "Postures (Leave Your Body Behind)." A- [R]
The 13th Floor Elevators: Bull of the Woods (1968 , Collectables): Third album, "noted for its moody, dreamy, and fuzzed-out psychedelic sound," which means none of the songs particularly stand out or even come through all that clearly. B+(**) [R]
The Clifford Thornton New Art Ensemble: Freedom & Unity (1967 , Atavistic): First piece was named "Free Huey" but the politics were less clear, mostly a desire to compose complexity and redouble it through improv; leader plays valve trombone, which with two bases holds the scattered horns and vibes together, barely. A- [R]
Townes Van Zandt: For the Sake of the Song (1968, Poppy): The Texas singer-songwriter's first album, shows a promising sense of detail but it's as flat and repetitive as the dust-swept plains, the songs all merging into a strange sameness. B [R]
Caetano Veloso: Caetano Veloso (1969, Philips): The second of several eponymous albums (sometimes labeled for its first song, "Irene"), the vocals recorded in jail with accompaniment added later, ranging from rockish fuzz guitar to slabs of string orch, with a few songs in English; despite everything, this has a lot of presence. A- [dl]
Scott Walker: Scott (1967, Smash): Scotty Engel, changed his surname when he joined the Walker Brothers, kept it when he split (given the governor Wisconsin, perhaps he should reconsider, but he has a much larger following in the UK); first record, mostly mordant songs from others (Jacues Brel, Barry Mann, Tim Hardin), given Spector-ish productions and operatic vocals -- not as awful as all that, but sure has the potential. B- [R]
Scott Walker: Scott 2 (1968, Smash): No clue why anyone would consider this "alternative" -- the songs are wrapped in strings, the lushness only cut by the bad attitude of a voice meant for Broadway; worth hearing once is Jacques Brel's "The Girls and the Dogs," although you probably won't like it if you're a girl, or for that matter a dog. C+ [R]
Legend: B+ records are divided into three levels, where more * is better. [R] indicates record was reviewed using a stream from Rhapsody ([X] is some other identified stream source; otherwise assume a CD). The biggest caveat there is that the packaging and documentation hasn't been inspected or considered, and documentation is especially important for reissues. But also my exposure to streamed records is briefer and more limited, so I'm more prone to snap judgments -- although that's always a risk.
For this column and the previous 107, see the archive. Total records reviewed: 3666 (3227 + 439).
Additional Consumer News
Albums on Spin's "Top 100 Alternative Albums of the 1960s" that I had previously rated:
Also on Spin's "Top 100 Alternative Albums of the 1960s," but unrated by me that I also couldn't find on Rhapsody:
Update: Changes to David Axelrod.
Monday, May 6. 2013
Music: Current count 21383  rated (+45), 617  unrated (+2).
Not sure how the huge rated bump happened, but the Rhapsody work doesn't stop with this coming week's rather robust Recycled Goods. Losing a bit of ground on Jazz Prospecting, but also pulled a couple old things out of the queue: the Zingaro was literally under a pile of papers on my desk, something I was vaguely aware of having missed. The old Moffett album was in the wrong queue, and being an advance with no spine was impossible to see without rifling through the discs. Also note two high-B+ piano records (Caine and Taborn).
Clipper Anderson: Ballad of the Sad Young Men (2008-10 , Origin): Bassist, originally from Montana, looks like he's based in Spokane after various stretches in Portland and Seattle. Third album, if you count an Xmas with singer Greta Matassa's name first, plus thirty or so side credits, notably with fellow Montanan Jack Walrath. Anderson sings here, moldy standards done in the old Sinatra mold, except that he's not Sinatra, and Darin Clendenon's piano trio doesn't pack much punch. B
Lary Barilleau & the Latin Jazz Collective: Carmen's Mambo (2009-10 , OA2): Conga player, b. 1958 in Seattle, still based there, first album as far as I can tell, cut in two sessions, with trombonist Doug Beavers the only other musicians straddling both. B
Michael Bates/Samuel Blaser Quintet: One From None (2011 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Bassist and trombone, leaders because they do the writing, 5-3 in favor of Bates if you're counting. Each as 3-5 records already, solid work, as is this. Band includes Michael Blake (sax), Russ Lossing (keybs), and Jeff Davis (drums). B+(***)
Geof Bradfield: Melba! (2012 , Origin): Tenor saxophonist (also credited with soprano sax and bass clarinet here), fourth album since 2003, a tribute to trombonist and big band arranger Melba Liston (noting also that two songs are named after band leaders she worked for: Dizzy Gillespie and Randy Weston). Septet includes two brass (trumpet and trombone), Jeff Parker on guitar, and Ryan Cohan on piano, with Bradfield the sole reed player. The arrangements swing, the horns slide. Ends with a brief Maggie Burrell vocal. B+(***)
Cactus Truck with Jeb Bishop and Roy Campbell: Live in USA (2012 , Tractata): Dutch sax-guitar-drums trio, guitarist Jasper Stadhouders also playing some bass; has a previous album, which got them this US tour, attracting trombonist Bishop and trumpeter Campbell to join in the mayhem. Three sets packed into one long CD, all but the tail end flat-out noisy, something I've never enjoyed unless I managed to find some coherent strand to organize the chaos around. No evidence of that here. B-
Uri Caine/Han Bennink: Sonic Boom (2010 , 816 Music): Piano-drums duet, going by the order on the spine instead of the front cover. Recorded on the drummer's home ground -- "live at the Bimhuis" -- with Bennink's artwork both inside and out. Looks like joint improvs aside from "'Round Midnight," which isn't the only debt to Monk. The drummer is especially superb, and Caine gets hotter and harder as he learns the ropes. B+(***)
Tommy Flanagan/Jaki Byard: The Magic of 2: Live at Keystone Korner (1982 , Resonance): Two major pianists, live, start out with duets on standards (first three: Charlie Parker, Cole Porter, Duke Ellington), later on alternating solos. Bright and tinkly, Flanagan seems more at home with the material. B+(*)
Nick Fraser: Towns and Villages (2012 , Barnyard): Drummer, based in Toronto, has at least one previous album under his own name, several as Drumheller, a dozen or so side credits. Quartet, modeled loosely on Ornette Coleman's recent two-bass quartet, this one with Rob Clutton on double bass and Andrew Downing on cello. They provide an ever shifting substrate for the horn: Tony Malaby on tenor (and soprano) sax gives a bravo performance, one of his finest ever. A-
Noah Haidu: Momentum (2012 , Posi-Tone): Pianist, second album, a trio with Ariel de la Portilla and McClenty Hunter. Wrote 4 (of 9) cuts, covering Keith Jarrett and Joe Henderson along with more standard fare. Postbop, energetic, complex, hard to say more. B+(*)
The Bill Horvitz Expanded Band: The Long Walk (2011 , Big Door Prize): Guitarist, has a handful of albums since 1997; wrote this for his late brother Phil Horvitz (1960-2005), performed by a 17-piece band including a lot of orchestral instruments (oboe, bassoon, French horn, tuba, violin, cello) -- mostly musicians I recognize. Interesting bits here and there. Can't find anything that suggests that pianist Wayne Horvitz is related, but he's in the band here. B+(*)
The Alex Levin Trio: Refraction (2012 , self-released): Pianist, from Philadelphia, based in New York, third album, all standards, none remarkable but the appeal of hearing bits of great songs floating up from the mainstream piano jazz matrix is undeniable. Looks like they manage to make most of their living playing private engagements (first time I've run across Gig Salad). That's a niche they fit nicely. B+(*)
María Márquez: Tonada (2012 , Adventure Music): Singer, from Venezuela, studied at Berklee, moved to San Francisco area; fifth album since 1985, second on this label. Folkish arrangements, mostly guitar, some accordion, although there are more upbeat pieces, even some brass. Has a distinctive voice, slowly grows on you. B+(*)
Charnett Moffett: The Bridge: Solo Bass Works (2011 , Motéma): Bassist, has ten albums since 1987, many more side credits. This is all solo, and rather than searching out the far out sounds one can create with bass -- as, e.g., Peter Kowald and William Parker have done on their solo albums -- Moffett sticks to basics, picking and a little arco, and features a dozen proven melodies, adds in eight originals, and keeps them all short and to the point. B+(**)
Charnett Moffett: The Art of Improvisation (2009, Motéma): Checking on his new record, I noticed that I had never rated this old one, which I only got an advance promo of and file it in a queue that I almost never look at -- a risk that wouldn't have happened had they sent me a final copy. (Actually, this is two records back; never got the intervening Treasure in any shape or form.) Don't have the credits, so I don't know how chores were split up between two guitarists and three drummers, or which bass Moffett plays where -- my impression is that the fretless bass guitar gets a workout here. All originals, except for a Langston Hughes poem spoken by Angela Moffett and a warbly "Star Spangled Banner"; one more vocal is by Yungchen Lhamo -- no clue what the language is. The bass is always prominent, driving the groove, incorporating the world, and elaborating on it. B+(***) [advance]
Craig Taborn Trio: Chants (2012 , ECM): Pianist, from Minneapolis; cut an early album for DIW in 1994, two "Blue Series" albums that established his reputation as one of the few distinctive electric keyb players in jazz, a couple avant exercises on European labels (Clean Feed and ILK), and a very well received acoustic solo for ECM. This trio, with Thomas Morgan and Gerald Cleaver, should be his crowning success, but I keep coming up a bit short with it. B+(***)
Rich Thompson: Less Is More (2012 , Origin): Drummer, third album, basically a hard bop quintet, with Gary Versace in piano and organ, the two horns Terrell Stafford and Doug Stone. One original, the title cut (although bassist Jeff Campbell also kicks in one), two Rodgers & Hart covers, most of the rest from a who's who of jazz in the 1960s (Kenny Dorham, Ornette Coleman, Wayne Shorter, Joe Henderson). B+(*)
Carlos Alves "Zingaro"/Jean Luc Cappozzo/Jerome Bourdellon/Nicolas Lelievre: Live at Total Meeting (2010 , NoBusiness): Violin, trumpet/bugle, flutes/bass clarinet, percussion, respectively, a prickly combination. Zingaro, b. 1948 in Portugal, came out of the postclassical avant-garde with a long discography. Cappozzo has a few albums, including one with Herb Robertson called Passing the Torch. Don't know the others, but the drummer is terrific, someone to watch out for. Three long improv pieces, difficult but dazzling, kept a smile on my face all the way through. A-
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, May 5. 2013
Didn't squirrel away any links last week, but came up with a few anyway.
Monday, April 29. 2013
Music: Current count 21338  rated (+36), 615  unrated (-3).
Probably spent more time last week working on Rhapsody Streamnotes (posted) and Recycled Goods (still in progress) than Jazz Prospecting, but got off to a good start when two (of three) Ivo Perelman titles came through, then two more albums got big lifts from their sax players. Result is probably the best quality week of the year so far -- actually even better if I count two Rhapsody A- albums (Allison Miller, already posted, and Roscoe Mitchell, in the file for May). More promising things in the mail, too.
JD Allen: Grace (2012 , Savant): Tenor saxophonist, from Detroit; has a handful of albums since 1999. Originally a hard charger, has backed off quite a bit lately, especially here. Quartet includes Eldar Djangirov on piano, playing with exceptional delicacy. B+(**)
Duo Baars-Henneman: Autumn Songs (2012 , Wig): Ig Henneman on viola, Ab Baars on tenor sax, clarinet, shakuhachi. Henneman tends to lead, pushing the limits of high lonesome. Baars is complementary, especially on clarinet. B+(***)
Michiel Braam: EBraam 3 (2012 , BBB): Dutch avant pianist, just credited with "keys" here, his bassist Pieter Douma on bass guitar, with Dirk-Peter Kölsch on drums, a group he calls "eBraam (in which case the album is just 3). Closes with a Hugh Hopper song -- not sure who does the vocal, but it comes as a surprise. B+(*)
Cristina Braga: Samba, Jazz and Love (2012 , Enja): From Brazil, plays harp and sings, tenth album since 1998 (according to AMG), some classical, but her 2010 Harpa Bossa started to recast classic samba using harp instead of guitar, and this continues in that quest. Group includes trumpet, bass, vibes, and percussion, the harp not all that obvious until your clued in. Voice reminds one of Astrud Gilberto. B+(**)
Kaylé Brecher: Spirals and Lines (2012, Penchant Four): Singer, based in Philadelphia, fifth album since 1992. Don't see song credits but most seem to be originals -- obvious covers are "When Johnny Goes Marching Home" and "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime," but she segues the latter into a corny patriotic anthem ("The House I Live In") and updates a Mingus blues for the white collar world. Long list of musicians, none I had heard of, shuttle in and out, including four trumpet/flugelhorn players and three trombonists but her favorite accompanist is Jimmy Parker on sousaphone -- mine too. B+(***)
Boyd Lee Dunlop: The Lake Reflections (2012 , Mr. B Sharp): Pianist, b. 1926 in North Carolina and spent most of his life in Buffalo, working in steel mills and railyards and playing piano in clubs at night; a local Hall of Famer but only cut his first album after turning 85. This is his second, solo piano improvisations; doesn't try to dazzle you, but keeps the ideas flowing. B+(**)
Ross Hammond Quartet: Cathedrals (2013, Prescott): Guitarist, based in Sacramento, CA; has a handful of albums. Last cut here is a duet with drummer Alex Cline, a good chance to hone in on Hammond's attractive technique. But the rest of the album is dominated by Vinny Golia (tenor and soprano sax, flute) in an amazing tour de force that reduces Cline to keeping metronomic time. Steuart Liebig plays bass. A-
Barbara Morrison: A Sunday Kind of Love (2010-12 , Savant): Singer, b. 1952 in Michigan, got her start opposite Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson in 1974, toiled a couple decades in the Johnny Otis Show, has a dozen records since 1995. I haven't heard any of them, but would be real surprised if any hold a candle to this one. The secret isn't a fine-but-who-are-they pianio trio -- Stuart Elster? Richard Simon? Lee Spath? -- so it must be Houston Person, who is more than just featured here. But it's the singer who hits one softball after another out of the park: "I'm Just a Lucky So and So," "The Green Door," "A Sunday Kind of Love," "On the Sunny Side of the Street," "Let's Stay Together" -- only "I Cover the Waterfront" is out of her zone. Exquisite: the medley of "Smile/Make Someone Happy." I dare anyone not to. A
New York Voices: Live: With the WDR Big Band Cologne (2008 , Palmetto): Long-running vocal group, down to a quartet here -- Darmon Meader, Kim Nazarian, Lauren Kinhan, Peter Eldridge -- with seven albums since 1989. This is a live shot backed by the WDR Big Band Cologne -- a sharp group we've heard with damn near everyone, and here they provide uniformly solid support, a big help for a group where the voices slide all over the place. B-
Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: The Art of the Duet, Volume One (2012 , Leo): The Brazilian avant-saxophonist has been releasing records at a furious pace recently, including two batches of three each last year, and three more recently. All of this batch include Shipp, who played piano in David S. Ware's now-legendary quartet among much else, including a 1996 duet with Perelman (Bendito of Santa Cruz). Over the last two years no one has produced more top flight music than Perelman, but I'm starting to wonder if we're getting too much of the same thing. At least that's where I was stuck on the two new quartet albums, but the duets here are clear and sparkling, both sides coherent and connected. Not that the inevitable Volume Two won't be too much . . . On to the quartets. A-
Ivo Perelman: The Edge (2012 , Leo): Tenor sax quartet with Matthew Shipp (piano), Michael Bisio (bass), and Whit Dickey (drums) -- Dickey goes way back with Shipp, and Bisio is the current bassist in Shipp's piano trio. Perelman indeed seems on edge early on, where the going is rougher than need be, but he does finds himself by the end. B+(**)
Ivo Perelman: Serendipity (2011 , Leo): Another tenor sax quartet, reportedly accidental: session was originally scheduled to be trio with Matthew Shipp (piano) and Gerald Cleaver (drums) -- that trio was recorded a week later as The Foreign Legion -- but when one was late they called in bassist William Parker and wound up with a quartet. Sometimes hard to judge exactly what Parker adds, but Perelman is remarkably relaxed and fluid from the start, and builds up to some of his most impressive blowing ever. A-
Jan Shapiro: Piano Bar After Hours (2012 , Singing Empress): Standards singer, came out of St. Louis and wound up teaching at Berklee. Has at least three previous albums. This one is almost only accompanied by piano, with five pianists in rotation -- one cut has bass and drums. A very precise, disciplined vocalist, she doesn't need much help, but great songs work better than not-so-great ones. B+(*)
Melvin Taylor: Taylor Made (2012 , Eleven East): Guitarist, sings some -- one song here, with another sung by Bernell Anderson, no better -- has a half-dozen albums going back as far as 1982. Band includes bass (a second Melvin Taylor), keyboard, and drums. Six songs, one from Isaac Hayes. Nice little groove record. B+(*)
Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet: Hustlin' for a Gig (2012, Housekat): Ginny Carr, Robert McBride, André Enceneat, and Holly Shockey, with all but one of the songs penned by Carr ("This Is the Life"). Third group album, but they (Carr and McBride, at least) claim to have been together for twenty-some years. The spirited interplay and cleverness wears on you (or me, anyway). B-
John Vanore & Abstract Truth: Culture (2012 , Acoustical Concepts): Trumpet player, came up in Woody Herman's band, should explain his taste in bright and brassy. Fourth album with his unconventional big band Abstract Truth. Pieces include a 3-part suite and an arrangement of "Footprints." Strong solos, some interesting quirks in the arrangements. B+(***)
Bob Wolfman: Transition (2012, self-released): Guitarist-singer-songwriter, from New York, first album, produced by Larry Coryell with piano, bass, and drums. Aside from the blues cover ("Born Under a Bad Sign") Wolfman's a truly awful singer. Some nifty guitar work here and there -- until proven otherwise, I'd chalk that up to Coryell. C
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 28. 2013
Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Saturday, April 27. 2013
One thing about the gun debate is the lack of specific case examples, especially for arguments that putting more guns into the hands of "good" people will limit the amount of gun violence perpetrated by "bad" people. The contrary argument, that reducing the number of legal guns -- which, by the way, simplifies the task of enforcing prohibitions against illegal guns -- reduces the overall amount of gun violence, can be argued with gross statistics. That argument, by the way, seems convincing, but we aren't just statistical aggregates. We're individuals, and even if more guns in general endanger us, it seems at least possible that there are some cases where a gun could save one's life or thwart a crime. So why don't "second amendment rights" advocates give us more concrete examples? (Aside, of course, from the fact that it's a lot easier to spout pieties, a form of laziness and sloppiness you hear on all sides of virtually every issue.)
Someone could (and should) do some actual research on shootings: map out what kinds of confrontations happen -- e.g., home invasion where perpetrator is shot by home resident (or vice versa, in which case was resident armed or not?) -- and count them all up. (As I understand it, the government is prohibited from undewriting any such study, thanks to the NRA, which seems to fear any actual research into gun use or abuse.) But not every confrontation has an obvious right and wrong side. For example, consider the case of Dustin Cheever, here in Wichita.
What happened was: Cheever suspected that the son of a neighbor, Robert Gammon, had stolen a motorcycle. Cheever didn't take his suspicions to the police. Instead, he and a friend (Steve Grose) searched for the motorcycle in Gammons' backyard -- they entered Gammons' property without his permission or knowledge. Gammons confronted them, pointing a BB pistol (which plausibly appeared to be a real gun) at them, and threatening them. Cheever, however, was carrying a real gun. Rather than backing away, he decided that he needed to defend himself and/or his friend, so he pulled his gun, shot, and killed Gammons. Cheever is currently being tried for second degree murder, which seems about right.
Had Cheever pulled his gun and Gammons killed him, Gammons would have been in a stronger legal position. He was, after all, at home, whereas Cheever and Grose were trespassing. Gammons misjudged twice that his gun would protect him: first, as is so often the case, the gunfight was determined not by right or wrong, good guy or bad guy, but by who was quicker with more deadly aim (a fact which, by the way, tends to favor the more experienced bad guys); but second, had he not brandished the gun, had he instead just threatened to call the police, Cheever would have had no excuse to defend himself with his gun, and most likely the pair would have just left.
That Gammons' gun was actually a non-lethal BB pistol is pretty much irrelevant here: it looked like a real gun and was given extra credibility by Gammons' threats to kill with it, plus Cheever had no reason to doubt that Gammons could have owned a real gun, since guns are pretty much the norm here in Wichita. Also, Cheever may well have belatedly understood that Kansas's Stand Your Ground law gave Gammons a legal excuse to shoot first -- had Gammons realized that Cheever was in fact armed (something he might reasonably have suspected). It is often argued that the expectation that the other person is armed leads to more moderate behavior -- that seems to be a big part of the argument that all "good guys" should carry guns -- in this case such expectations pretty clearly escalated the conflict.
So this case, at least, doesn't provide much support for the notion that we are better off with more guns: one gun owner, attempting to defend his property from trespass, is dead; another, intent on taking the law into his own hand in searching for his stolen property, faces second degree murder charges. Neither of those outcomes would have happened had either (much less both) parties been unarmed, nor would they have happened had either (again much less both) turned to the police to settle their dispute.
There may be other gun confrontations where it's easier to tell who is "good" or "bad," where it's clearer who's right and wrong, but I suspect this sort of mess is more common. Moreover, it's more reflective of the mentality of people who think guns are an answer for their problems dealing with other people: they overestimate the value and grossly underestimate the risks; and they almost never have the skills and judgment they'd need to make the gun work for them, and often lack the self-awareness to realize when they're getting into trouble. Indeed, the police, who are trained both in the law and the proper use of guns, often screw it up. Why would a random individual expect to do better?
There are simple solutions here, but not practicable ones. The statistics are clear, but no one wants to be a statistic. As long as people think they need guns for self-protection, it's awfully hard to take them away. Moreover, it's hard to say "trust in the police" when the police aren't all that trustworthy, nor can one say "have faith in our system of justice" when that system is far from just. Those are, I'm tempted to argue, bigger and more urgent problems than guns. On the other hand, so many of the reasons that people give for insisting on arming themselves are so patently false you have to argue with them just to attempt to open up a space for public sanity.
No such argument is more ridiculous than the one that you need guns to protect yourself from the government -- although the one that the government needs guns to protect itself from you is every bit as specious, not to mention the one -- which costs us about a trillion dollars a year -- that the government needs armies and navies and air forces to protect us from foreigners. War doesn't protect us from war: war is war. Guns don't protect us from gun violence: aside from a few museum pieces, they create gun violence.
Friday, April 26. 2013
Had promised to post this today, so be it. But I was tempted to slip in something else in its stead. First thing I saw in the paper this morning was a piece on Obama (and Clinton and Carter and the old man, whose face is on a T-shirt I have captioned something like "I wish I had pulled out") saying nice things about the worst president in US history on the occasion of the opening of a library built by the taxpayers in his name. There are lots of reasons to be unhappy with Obama these days, but none galls me more than his utter failure to expound on the incalculable damage that the presidency of George W. Bush did to this country. By not doing so, he let the nation forget, and thereby learn nothing. Indeed, within two years the Republican Party not only recovered as a political force, it did so under much more extremist leadership. And also by not speaking up he tacitly accepted the legacy Bush left as a new norm: hence it became his recession, his deficits, his bloody wars.
Then when I got on the net, I discovered that George Jones died. That would have been worth a post, too -- for now, let me just refer you to my Rolling Stone CD Guide piece on him. My mother was a huge fan of his, so his music became a bonding point -- going as far back as when there weren't many such points. The day Jones wrecked his SUV, I flew home to Wichita, got in real late, and let myself into her house. She had been sleeping but got up to greet me, and all she could talk about was Jones. She was crying, slobbering; I could hardly understand a word, and for the first time wondered whether she was losing her mind. Turned out, she had forgot to put her teeth in. Always wished we could have taken her to see Jones, but by the time we did get a chance to see him, she had passed, and he was barely able to sing -- very disappointing show.
Nothing much to say about the following streamnotes. I've been checking out what I could, not much taken by recent recommendations by Christgau and Tatum (although the African stuff has mostly kept out of reach), doubtful that they will approve of my minor finds. So feeling alone out here. And cranky. Damn cranky.
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on March 28. Past reviews and more information are available here (3274 records).
Actress: R.I.P. (2012, Honest Jon's): Darren Cunningham has a new EP I can't find, but last year's album has belatedly appeared. Most songs are built from simple patterns with minor oddities, adding up in interesting ways. B+(***)
Jello Biafra and the Guantanamo School of Medicine: White People and the Damage Done (2013, Alternative Tentacles): Eric Boucher, ex-Dead Kennedys, has nine "spoken word" albums (1987-2006), formed this band in 2009 to record The Audacity of Hype. Guitar heavy, not pop-punk but maybe power-punk, lyrics political though I'm not sure how useful. B+(*)
James Blake: Overgrown (2013, Polydor): Considered electronica for his dewy electroglop, but nothing conveys bathos like the juvenile human voice -- as AMG put it, "the faintest hints of Chet Baker's springtime loneliness buried in Blake's mumbling blue-eyed R&B vocals." Of course, he's less cracked than Baker, and more authentically bereft. What a sad world he portends. B
Bombino: Nomad (2013, Nonesuch): Tuareg guitar hero, goes with an American producer this time, who decides to crank up the guitar (and bass and drums) -- not a bad idea, but a bit limiting. B+(***)
Charli XCX: True Romance (2013, Iamsound): British electro-diva Charlotte Aitchison, age 20, first album (not counting a promo, EPs, and a couple mixtapes). Voice is so-so and her raps barely flow, but the multi-producer synth pop buoys her, at least until the tedious "How Can I." B+(**)
Chicha Libre: Cuatro Tigres (2013, Barbès, EP): Brooklyn group built around the "psychedelic cumbias from Peru" that the label first anthologized on The Roots of Chicha (2007). After two albums, a four track, 14:48, EP, starting with a cover of the Clash's "The Guns of Brixton" -- a signifier that they are of our world, as is their take on the Simpsons theme music, but "Rica Chicha" suggests a more interesting one. B+(*)
Eric Church: Caught in the Act: Live (2011 , EMI Nashville): Country singer-songwriter with three pretty good and pretty popular records under his belt, consolidates them into one 75-minute set here -- the sound cranked up to fill his arena and to keep the crowd psyched. Recorded with a lot of fan cheer, annoying at first, eventually settling into something akin to groove wear. B+(*)
Chvrches: Recover (2013, Glassnote, EP): Glassgow electropop group with singer Lauren Mayberry and two keyb players, tiptoes into the pop arena with an EP, 5 cuts, 21:23, but actually the two longest cuts are remixes of the title cut -- stretches out the undoubted pleasure, but impresses me less. B+(*)
DJ Koze: Amygdala (2013, Pampa): Stefan Kozalla, from Hamburg, Germany, has a handful of albums since 2000, titles like Music Is Okay, All People Is My Friends, and Wo Die Rammelwolle Fliegt. His beats are slight but deeper into the album become hypnotic. The vocals, some in German, are awkward, but ultimately superfluous. A-
Maxmillion Dunbar: House of Woo (2013, RVNG Intl.): "Left-field house" from Andrew Field-Pickering, has a previous album and the usual pile of short forms and DJ mixes, dishes up sparkling synth sounds that hold your interest even when he wanders from the beat. A-
Steve Earle & the Dukes (& Duchesses): The Low Highway (2013, New West): Not sure that hanging around the set of Treme did him much good -- his Cajun comes up a bit shy -- but "That All You Got?" may wind up the most memorable of Katrina songs, and two co-credits with Lucia Micarelli -- Eleanor Whitmore plays the fiddle -- wrap up a tidy package in the midst of an otherwise down-and-out album. He also treads ominously with a loner threatening to burn WalMart down, and other characters are no less sullen, but that's where he finds his purpose. A-
Jonny Fritz: Dad Country (2013, ATO): Formerly known as Jonny Corndawg, whose 2011 album Down on the Bikini Line tried to be funnier, all grown up and sober now, with a dozen songs I don't recall clearly enough, except that I'm pretty sure they don't suck. B+(**)
Ghostface Killah/Adrian Younge: Twelve Reasons to Die (2013, Relativity/Soul Temple): Cover of this mock soundtrack reads "Adrian Younge Presents . . . Starring Ghostface Killah," but I figure go with the big type first. It's another hoary gangster chronicle, replete with 1970s spaghetti western musical effects, so hackneyed it's almost funny, something that could grow on you if you never took it seriously. B+(***)
Greyboy Allstars: Inland Emperor (2013, Knowledge Room): Started out in the mid-1990s during the brief acid jazz boom with DJ Greyboy the organizing force, and while I wouldn't call them stars, at least I've heard of saxophonist Karl Denson and organist Robert Walter. The instrumental funk is not without interest (e.g., "Trashtruck"), but the vocals are. B
The Knife: Shaking the Habitual (2013, Mute, 2CD): Swedish electropop duo, Olof Dreijer and sister-singer Karin Dreijer Andersson (aka Fever Ray). Some confusion: there's a 77:18 single disc version and a 96:19 double, but Rhapsody's comes in at 86:16. Several terrific cuts here, at least when they stay upbeat and oblique, with the slow ones slipping back into the ordinary. Could be that all versions are just a hair too long. A-
The Knife: Silent Shout (2006, Rabid/Mute): The Swedish siblings' second, and probably best-regarded, record: the beats seem a bit better crafted and less exciting, the songs a bit more consistently crafted -- seems to be their level. B+(***)
Lapalux: Nostalchic (2013, Brainfeeder): Stuart Howard, English but attached to Flying Lotus, which shares a lot of the choppy pastiche, but is better at it. B+(*)
Lil Wayne: I Am Not a Human Being II (2013, Cash Money): "I would sing about my dick/but that'd be a long story." Instead, perhaps inspired by his dick, he focuses on pussy. B+(**)
Major Lazer: Free the Universe (2013, Secretly Canadian): Reggae/dancehall/ragga project by Diplo (Wes Pentz) and Switch (Dave Taylor), a bit removed from Jamaica but so is everything since roots reggae got lost in the 1980s. Third album, their most natural and most expansive, and not just because they get help on "Bubble Butt." B+(***)
The Men: New Moon (2013, Sacred Bones): Brooklyn post-whatever band, have started to mix up the punkish formula with countryish ballads and hooks wherever they can find them, but haven't found much, and are better off when they revert. B
Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom: No Morphine No Lillies (2013, Foxhaven/Royal Potato Family): Drummer, third album, her second called Boom Tic Boom a smashing piano trio with Myra Melford and Todd Sickafoose plus "guest" violinist Jenny Scheinman. Some "second system complex" here as Scheinman becomes a regular, giving the group two stars to try to keep in sync, and a new batch of guests, including a Rachel Friedman vocal, Erik Friedlander cello, and a pair of trumpets. Too much to sort out quickly, but the pianist is brilliant as ever, and the closer with the trumpets is deliriously over the top. A-
Willie Nelson and Family: Let's Face the Music and Dance (2013, Legacy): He turns 80 this year, taking it easy by doing what he's done pretty much ever since Nashville, and he's put as little effort into this as he's ever done: just a bunch of semi-standards done Family style -- less likely to tax his voice, which is still remarkably prime at a time when peers like Haggard and Jones are shot to shit. Easy suits him. B+(**)
OneRepublic: Native (2013, Interscope): Arena rock band from Colorado Springs, not something we really need, but their avalanche of synths is tuneful more often than not, and I don't detect any of the ickiness you get with bands like Journey. Sample shallow sentiment: "And if we only die once I wanna die with you." B
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: English Electric (2013, Relativity): New wave synth group from 1980, when their first two albums were fresh and danceable despite the fact that all they could do were variations on their formula -- "Enola Gay" remains the archetype. Having nothing better to do, they regrouped after a 12 year hiatus in 2008. This is pleasant filler until "Helen of Troy" earns a spot on their best-of, then this turns into more interesting filler. B+(**)
Brad Paisley: Wheelhouse (2013, Arista Nashville): What do you do about a guy who'd really like to be smarter, kinder, and more decent than his cohort, but who frets that it may cost him sales and huzzahs down at the local redneck honky tonk? Especially since it probably already has, although more for the way he keeps picking at his self-inflicted scabs than his lack of backbone. Has anyone ever written a lazier, wobblier-kneed anthem than "Southern Comfort Zone"? ("Accidental Racist"? Despite its platitudes, lazy as they are, not an anthem.) Oh, and by the way, the real lesson of Sherman's march through Georgia isn't that Dixie got wronged. It's what the man said: "War is hell." B
Palma Violets: 180 (2013, Rough Trade): British group debut, punk-related, black-and-white cover suggesting their basic approach, but a little fancier, especially with the organ -- more Jam than Ramones. B+(**)
Paramore: Paramore (2013, Fueled by Ramen): Fifth album from a band formed in Tennessee, fronted by singer-songwriter Hayley Williams, the eponymous album a way of doubling down after two other band founders split. Big voice, big beat, grand gestures, a bit of pop sheen, all of which leaves me cold -- unlike the 0:52 "I'm Not Angry Anymore," which suggests a different path. B
Pennybirdrabbit: Safer (2013, Big Beat, EP): Second EP, four songs, 14:13. The hype, aside from citing her appearance on a Skrillex joint, dwells on how cute she is, but her electronica is pretty tasteful, the vocals forthright, and the songs smarter than you had any reason to expect. B+(**) [sc]
Phosphorescent: Muchacho (2013, Dead Oceans): Group alias for Matthew Houck, singer-songwriter based in Athens, GA. Did a Willie Nelson tribute two albums back, but could also do one for Bon Iver, not that he should -- his own songs are better. B+(**)
Salva: Odd Furniture (2013, Friends of Friends, EP): Paul Salva, from LA. Five cuts, 20:04, hard beats and emphatic repetition remind some of Skrillex, not much of a recommendation in my book. B [bc]
Shlohmo: Laid Out (2013, Friends of Friends, EP): Henry Laufer, from Los Angeles, has a couple albums and a handful of EPs, this one running 5 cuts, 26:52. Even the one with the annoying vocal-like samples has a structure that makes use of them; better still when the sounds have their own appeal. B+(**) [bc]
Skrillex: Leaving (2013, Owsla, EP): Showboat techno, at least that's what I concluded after not being able to stomach his commercial breakthrough, Bangarang, although I rather liked his earlier, still extravagant, Scary Monsters and Nice Sprites. He files everything in his catalog as EP, but this one really is -- 3 songs, 12:41 (Bangarang ran 29:56, and three remixes pushed Scary Monsters even longer). First two bang his gong, although less irritating than before; title track is measured and pleasant. B+(*) [dl]
William Tyler: Impossible Truth (2013, Merge): Solo guitarist, in the mode of John Fahey with all the rich harmonic reverb but less of a sense that he's an authentic primitive. Rumbles a bit early on, then sweetens up: "The World Set Free" is more than a good idea. B+(**)
Kurt Vile: Wakin on a Pretty Daze (2013, Matador): Singer-songwriter from Philadelphia, name not an alias, which helps explain why he is blander -- less witty and less menacing -- than you would expect. He's also lost whatever lo-fi gestalt he started with, winding up here with a rather nice guitar groove album regardless of how the songs break. B+(*)
Charles Walker & the Dynamites: Love Is Only Everything (2013, Gemco): Veteran blues shouter fronting a Motown-tinged r&b group: hard to see what could go wrong there, but now you can construct a catalog of annoying tics, none redeemed by a hopelessly catchy hook. B-
Will.i.am: #Willpower (2013, Interscope): Black Eyed Peas majordomo, has produce some of the catchiest arena funk of the last decade but even when he steps up front he remains a background persona -- perhaps he doesn't have much else. This has been predictably panned, and indeed the rhymes are lazy and the "let's get dumb" party philosophy shallow but "Ghetto Ghetto" isn't shallow -- just a little tongue-in-cheek with the kiddie chorus. B+(*)
Wire: Change Becomes Us (2013, Pink Flag): More than any other 1970s group, the one that engineered the transition from punk to new wave, something they've immortalized in their guitar tunings and bass crunch -- cf. "Eels Sang," a throwback for more than its brevity, a rule "& Much Besides" fruitfully sets aside; other tracks less so. B+(**)
Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Mosquito (2013, Interscope): Despite all the vampire hoopla of the last decade, the real blood-sucking killer is the lowly mosquito, and their title song plays it up for all the horror you should feel. Half of the songs are equally remarkable -- "Sacrilege" sure is, "These Paths" burbles ominously, "Area 52" destroys the earth, and the ballad helps with the healing. A-
Wednesday, April 24. 2013
by Michael Tatum
I'm delighted by the symmetry of touting two pick hits from Mali featuring the ngoni (I'll explain in a minute), both distributed by German imprint Out Here. Unfortunately for me -- and, I'm afraid, for you -- Rokia Traoré's CD should have been re-issued stateside by Nonesuch, who as of this writing have pushed back the release date indefinitely. I have no idea if it's a licensing issue, but nevertheless, enough publications have run reviews on the record that I'm justifying its inclusion this month. If need be, do yourself a favor and hunt for a good price on the import -- or at least bug WEA to put it back on their release schedule. Good rock and roll is so hard to find these days.
Dieuf-Dieul de Thiès: Aw Sa Yone Vol. 1 (Teranga Beat) Outshone in their time by a certain nonpareil Dakar outfit, these competitors from nearby Thiès couldn't garner the necessary financial backing to commit these 1982 sessions to cassette, let alone the more expensive vinyl. So even if thirty plus years later the resulting CD is prone to the occasional channel drop out, be thankful Baobab producer Moussa Diallo had the foresight to record them live at the Sangomar Night Club gratis when no else would. Although their name translates to "collective good deeds undertaken in hopes of future profit," one gathers from the testimonials from bandleader/guitarist Pape Seck and singer Gora Mbaye -- both of whom take pains to remind us that they've had no recompense from this project -- this short-lived aggregation was a labor of love that, despite its failure to live up to its nominal promise, has been unmatched musically or spiritually for either man before or since. Mbalax fans will find much to appreciate in Bassirou Sarr's dynamic tenor, but what really distinguishes this band -- and keeps their spellbinding jams going for an average of nine minutes each -- are insinuating, serpentine rhythms that rumble rather than rock, and two wild card saxophonists whose expansive, incisive solos actually go somewhere. In short, for those who covet the idea of garage rock, but are more persuaded by the kind of scrappy upstarts who are too poor to own a car -- let alone a garage. A
Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba: Jama Ko (Out Here) Showcasing passionate vocal performances not only from Kouyate himself but also lifemate Amy Sacko, Khaira Arby, Kassé-Mady Diabaté, and my favorite, leather-larynxed Zoumana Teretayou, you might be led into believing this is a singer's album. Of course, it is -- inasmuch as so many Malian records are -- but it owes its majesty and power mainly to the ngoni, a lowly stringed-instrument fashioned from wood or calabash and covered by a layer of dried, stretched animal skin: in other words, if one had a hankering to "shred one's ax," no match for a Fender Strat. In theory. But because its string placement makes it ideal for executing dazzling, pirouetting runs, and because this is arranged for not one but four players shadowboxing around each other, this is a guitar workout like few others, and with the help of amplification, effects pedals, and two percussionists who must have at least four hands each, their desert protest blues is powerful rock and roll indeed. Recorded with careful thought to space by Arcade Fire hand Howard Bilerman, Kouyate's leads are as lightning-quick as you'd expect, but he's equally deft at string-bending and one-note freakouts reminiscent of Santana or the Doors, resulting in an album with no dead spots, right down to the Howlin' Wolf tribute and the sprint-to-the-finish-line named after Kouyate's son. And the manic climax to "Ne Me Fatigue Pas" says more about doom and uncertainty about Mali's recent political coup than mere words ever could. A
Kate Nash: Girl Talk [Deluxe Edition] (Ingrooves) Nash's riot grrrl move makes a lot more sense when you work your way back through her discography. Compared initially to Lily Allen because each masked her privileged upbringing by cultivating a Mockney accent and a potty mouth after her egalitarian parents sent her to public school, one could argue the British record buying public cottoned to them because although they swore like Liverpudlian sailors, they remained "proper birds" about it. Even so, Allen herself would never have countenanced the tart homemade production of Nash's Made of Bricks and My Best Friend Is You, nor would Allen's bright, fluttery soprano have been capable of tackling Nash's new material -- hints of the nasal yowl the latter employs here have been hinted at in her darker timbre all along. And most crucially, many of Nash's songs, beginning with the anti-bullying "Dickhead" on the debut, address relationships with women: platonic of course (the phrase "best friend" reoccurs in song after song), romantic up in the air, and either way for you and The Daily Mirror to puzzle out. So while this first sounds like a mess, immersion reveals itself to be both a logical progression and a good way to stick it to the British pop music journalists who would turn their noses at the prospect of putting a "lightweight" on the cover of Mojo. And though the domestic release ends with a whimper -- the fey "You're So Cool, I'm So Freaky," followed by a lullaby that rubs its mawkish orchestral arrangement in old fans' faces -- the import deluxe concludes with three good-to-great tracks, including the self-explanatory "I'm a Feminist, You're Still a Whore," preceded by an ode to Pussy Riot that speaks feminism's universal language ("Meow, meow, meow, meow"). And note how Nash connects to her Russian compatriots: "They're the kinda girls that you'd be friends with/Cause they look cool and they give a shit/About the kind of things you give a shit about." Sisters gotta stick together. Brothers, take notice. A
Orchestra Super Mazembe: Mazembe @ 45rpm, Vol.1 (Sterns Africa) Although identified with Nairobi benga -- their biggest hit, the lovely "Shauri Yako," appears on the magnificent 1991 Earthworks compilation Guitar Paradise of East Africa, though not here -- the Super Earth Shakers are actually carpetbaggers who came up in the 70s from the Congo, less to flee Mobutu's kleptocracy (one could hardly argue Daniel arap Moi's vile police state as an improvement) but because Kenya promised bigger money. Their basic approach, covering both sides of an affordable, ten-shilling, 45 rpm single, will be familiar to benga/soukous/what-have-you fans: luminescent verses/choruses, followed by a brief caesura, after which the music bursts into a breakneck reverie in which voices and guitar bounce off each other so ebulliently you'll be thankful compiler Doug Paterson, as with the great 2010 D.O. Misiani compilation he also curated, painstakingly fuses both sides together (besides, who wants to get up and turn over a record while he's dancing?). Unlike most Afropop combos, there is no prime mover here: the band had as much a revolving door policy as the Drifters or Parliament-Funkadelic -- the liner notes list twenty members, plus nine confederates of indistinct involvement. And they sung the majority of their material in their native Lingala, a language denizens of their adopted country understand only slightly more than you and I. So with beauty, beats, and Atia Jo's buoyant bass their only non-variables, why do you suppose sold these records like hotcakes? Clues can be found in the included pics, one displaying the band goofing around in hardhats and yellow slickers (their name also translates to "construction workers"), another a group shot in which they lightheartedly mug for the camera. Eager to please any which way, they're almost a little too accommodating -- this isn't nearly as lively, resourceful, or magical as Guitar Paradise of East Africa, which I guess is my way of saying eleven bands are better than one. Or maybe I mean one band is better than none -- the band's lack of cohesive identity is a problem. Beauty against adversity may be Africa's gift to the world, but that's no excuse to make pleasure feel like business. A
Brad Paisley: Wheelhouse (Arista Nashville) Musically, Paisley's crazed strategy here reminds me of long-dismissed grunge reprobate Art Alexaxis: begin with a genre record, flirt with crossover, scurry to an apology, then heroically stage-dive into a full-fledged, gonzo sellout. The difference is that because he theoretically comes from right field, Paisley risks far more, not just by nodding three times to "rap" (the best by Charlie Daniels, who makes me wonder if "The Devil Went Down to Georgia" was the antebellum "The Breaks"), but with samples, my favorite from a Roger Miller song I'm willing to bet that before this no one who actually own a Pro Tools setup has actually heard. Yet the knee-jerk conservatism of the lyrics shows how much Paisley is hedging his bets. It's one thing to remind red-staters that not everyone owns a gun, another to muse affectionately about "Those Crazy Christians" (Jeff Foxworthy: "If you bless a casserole or pray before a football game, you might be a Christian"). And while I love the gleeful abusive boyfriend revenge fantasy "Karate," songs like that have been staples of the genre long before Garth Brooks. But consider "Runaway Train," where Paisley opines, "When I was a young'un, my momma used to pray/That I'd find me a Christian girl and settle down someday," without revealing what kind of strong-willed woman took that archetype's place, or "The Mona Lisa," who regardless of her status as a ne plus ultra is seen, not heard, or the beer-commercial plots of "Harvey Bodine" and "Death of a Single Man." And while I'd point out that the Bob Doles of the world don't fear Bill Cosby or Ben Carson as much as they do brothers in gold chains and do-rags, you don't have to be Dolores Kearnes Goodwin to doubt the veracity of LL Cool J's closing benediction to Robert E. Lee (!!) and Abraham Lincoln in "Accidental Racist." Next time, Paisley should ring up Chuck D. But somehow I doubt Chuck's gonna return to the calls of someone who spends two "sensitive" verses rationalizing his reasons for proudly displaying the Confederate flag on a T-shirt. B+
Rilo Kiley: Rkives (Little Record Company) Completists complain -- and don't they always? -- why not include the juvenilia from their obscure first EP? Why not "Big Break" (the desultory b-side to "The Moneymaker")? Or the acoustic "Somebody Else's Clothes" (which appears only on the Live at Fingerprints EP) or "Xmas Cake," their bummed-out contribution to Nettwerk's Maybe This Christmas Too? Diligent Youtube research reveals however that these sixteen rarities plus one hidden novelty comprise the cream. Sure, there's Blake Sennett's mealy-mouthed demo "Rest of My Life," as well his petulant title-says-it-all "Well, You Left," which lies stillborn until Jenny Lewis adds a backing vocal to a disingenuously joyous coda. Yet although it took me several spins to suss it out -- the band would never have left a potential radio hit on the cutting room floor -- this is the rare odds and sods deal that can stand with the original records, and with three of the stragglers from 2004's heartfelt More Adventurous and seven more from 2007's slicker Under the Blacklight, what it offers in sonic variety makes up for what it lacks in thematic heft. Jenny is the star -- that goes without saying. But it never before occurred to me how much Sennett brought to the table until I heard how much muscle and imagination he put even into Lewis' second-stringers -- and had the benefit of Lewis' slightly more perfunctory solo efforts with Johnathan Rice and the Watson Twins for comparison. Great singer-songwriters are one thing. Great bands are another. A
Rokia Traoré: Beautiful Africa (Out Here) You won't be disappointed if you backtrack through this Malian singer-songwriter-guitarist's four previous albums, but as a whole they're slightly static: graceful to be sure, but also a tad too subtle, understated, and as deliberate as a piano recital, thus inaccessible to "world music" holdouts who thinks Oumou Sangare's records "all sound the same." This record poses no such hurdles. Beginning with the shotgun entrance of trap drum dynamo Sebastian Rochford, this electrifying set announces itself as nothing less than a rock record -- if you're wondering what might have inspired PJ Harvey confidante John Parish to sign on as producer, Traoré's crunchy guitar riffs, off-kilter time signatures, and awe-inspiring vocal gymnastics (from trilling coo to banshee wail to playful purr) must feel like familiar territory. And with the exception of the regretful "Mélancolie" this doesn't let up, including the two in English, a tough title anthem and a gorgeous song of praise for women. Not that you should let the ones in French and Bamako scare you off -- the killer girl-group backing vocals make the parlez vous ring out like doo wah diddy, hey-ya, hey-ya. A
Wire: Change Becomes Us (Pink Flag) Some bands evolve out of necessity; some evolve out of boredom. These shrewd shell-gamers evolve as to whatever fits their currents needs. If new wave bleaches punk, we'll bleach it even further by hiring Depeche Mode's producer. If our drummer quits, we'll lean harder on the drum machines. When our drummer returns, we'll get back to basics. And when guitarist Bruce Gilbert retires, we'll recycle and renew fragments from 1981's chaotic Document and Eyewitness like we were the Rolling Stones rolling from Some Girls to Emotional Rescue to Tattoo You, though letting thirty years pass by rather than three, well that's just shrewd shell-gamers for you. Their more obscure lyrics still don't signify without memorable melody -- the breakdown in communication theme may finally justify Graham Lewis' penchant for acronymic gobbledygook on "Re-invent Your Second Wheel," but it's still gobbledygook (and no, it's not code, Graham -- I applied a substitution cipher). But especially on the first half, catchier and more propulsive than their similarly-textured 2011 Red Barked Tree, their blast-chilled art punk makes the most out of lines like "How I adore your island/You're the one who should be spared," and a pile-driving anti-anthem that makes the change promised in their album title sound like a threat. And in the embittered opener, Colin Newman re-imagines "Reuters" from the point of view of an "ally in exile": "He breaks down in this theatre, but hopes not under these lights/Specifically those which gain strategic insights/By the best of good fortune, he had provisions in store/He doubles, then trebles the locks on his door." B+
Suede: Bloodsports (Suede Ltd.) Okay I'm swayed, but the word "aniseed" appears in back-to-back songs, and "Like a cause without a martyr/Like an effigy of balsa/Like a hairline crack in a radiator/Leaking life" is from one of the good ones ("Barriers," "It Starts and Ends With You") ***
Atoms for Peace: Amok (XL) Joey Waronker isn't my idea of an Afrobeat drum titan any more than Phil Selway, but for chilly DOR he'll do ("Default," "Reverse Running") ***
Telekinesis: Dormarion (Merge) The question isn't can you be a one man band, but should you? ("Power Lines," "Dark to Light") **
The Rough Guide to Acoustic Africa (World Music Network) In which even songs I liked in other contexts are subsumed by a concept that could use its own change of pace (Syran Mbenza & Ensemble Rumba Kongo, "Mbanda Nasali Nini? (Madeleine)," Shiyani Ngcobo, "Yekanini") **
Justin Timberlake: The 20/20 Experience (RCA) Maybe Smokey belabored the corny metaphors too, but he had the good sense not to stretch them out over an average song length of seven minutes ("Don't Hold the Wall," "Strawberry Bubblegum") *
David Bowie: The Next Day (Columbia) I have no idea what has taken hold in David Bowie's mind and body -- whether it's psychological, biochemical, or the thought of time waiting in the wings and speaking senseless things -- but whatever it is, it's scaring him to death: "Here I am/Not quite dying/My body left to rot in a hollow tree/Its branches throwing shadows on the gallows for me/And the next day/And the next/And another." Yet as he grips with the thought of his own mortality -- for real this time, no romanticized bullshit -- his Anglophile acolytes pretend, as they have for the last twenty-five odd years, that this represents a new dawning, another phase in a many storied career no one will admit has too many vacancies on the uppermost floors. Both the album title and the Dadaist appropriation of 1977's Heroes cover imply that this record is the one that should have surfaced in 1979 rather than Lodger -- a pretty bold statement, I'd say -- yet nothing here hits as hard as the first three songs on that underrated record's b-side. Meanwhile, Tony Visconti's production (another connection to his lost past) recreates old affects without that fertile period's air of discovery (the disjointed beat of "Dirty Boys" recalls "Breaking Glass," the squishy synth-snares of "Love is Lost" evoke "Sound and Vision"). Only on "The Stars Are Out Tonight" does the artist completely abjure sad nostalgia (the Potzdamer Platz, the Nurnberger Strasse) for directness and Visconti's chilly art rock find a purpose. Read the lyric sheet and you'll find that the celestial bodies in question have curious names like Birgitte, Jack, Kate, and Brad, and spend their time aimlessly wandering, never sleeping: "The dead ones and the living." And, one assumes, those in between. Peace be with you, David. B
Johnny Marr: The Messenger (Sire) You don't need to shoot him because there is no message -- message (and I use that word with reservations) was his old songwriting partner's department. So maybe the title should be Don't Shoot Me, I'm Only the Guitar Player? Except on the basis of this record, he doesn't have anything interesting to offer in that realm anymore either. Besides, who needs "message" anymore when your sole frame of reference is what Fran Healey and the Gallagher brothers were doing better in the '90s? Although if there's a "Some Might Say" or (ulp) "Writing to Reach You" here, I'll happily scarf up whatever Morrissey's serving up at the Staples Center. C+
Roger Knox & the Pine Valley Cosmonauts: Stranger in My Land (Bloodshot) Proves that "blacks" are alike the whole world over, singer-songwriters too. B
Josh Ritter: The Beast in Its Tracks (Pytheas Recordings) He just went through a terrible divorce -- can you tell? C+
Bilal: A Love Surreal (Entertainment One Music) Or: A Lunk Supreme: Airhead's Redux. C+
Holly Williams: The Highway (Georgiana) Shows restraint by not mentioning Grandpa Hank until track two, whose own "highway" is more lost than you think -- the title track is a self-pitying plaint about being on tour. C
Jake Bugg: Jake Bugg (Mercury) Or, The Freewheelin' Lonnie Donnegan. C
Tuesday, April 23. 2013
Still trying to unpack the overhang accumulated up to the March 14 post, with a second installment on March 16, although this one is delayed about as much as I should normally do -- one result is that the queue isn't getting noticeably shorter. So here's another batch of forty more/less recent book titles, with more to follow relatively soon.
Nicholson Baker: The Way the World Works: Essays (2012, Simon & Schuster): Fifteen years of short pieces by the mostly novelist, including a couple I would certainly want to read ("The Charms of Wikipedia," and "Why I Am a Pacifist," the first of three in the section on War). I haven't read his fiction, but Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization is a great book.
William J Baumol, et al: The Cost Disease: Why Computers Get Cheaper and Health Care Doesn't (2012, Yale University Press): An important subject, although it's not clear that Baumol has got the answer right: health care is a dysfunctional market with a lot of hidden (and frankly cancerous) monopolies. Other factors may add to this, including some Baumol identifies (labor costs, lack of productivity improvements).
William Blum: America's Deadliest Export: Democracy: The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else (paperback, 2013, Zed Books): Longtime critic of US foreign policy. Previous books include: The CIA: A Forgotten History (1986); Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower (2000); West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir (2002); Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II (2000; revised 2003); Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire (2004).
David Byrne: How Music Works (2012, McSweeney's): Talking Heads frontman, Luaka Bop honcho, applies his experience to a big topic, although I can imagine lots of different tangents for "works" to take off in. Most likely: how music works for me. Still, a topic of some interest.
Caitlin Carenen: The Fervent Embrace: Liberal Protestants, Evangelicals, and Israel (2012, New York University Press): The US has lots of reasons for being exceptionally sympathetic to Israel, ranging from the founding bond of both being white settler nations to the symbiosis of our overbloated arms industries, but one of the most important is how Israel has played in protestant thought -- both early on with liberal guilt over the Holocaust and later with evangelicals pining for the apocalypse.
Victor Cha: The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future (2012, Harper Collins): Former Bush admin NSC Korea hand -- you know, the folks who concocted "the axis of evil" meme -- tries to explain North Korea, something I'm not sure anyone can do. A couple years ago, when Barbara Demick wrote Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (2009) there weren't many books, but that's started to change. Relatively new: Andrei Lankov: The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia (2013, Oxford University Press); BR Myers: The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters (2010; paperback, 2011, Melville House); Bruce E Bechtol Jr: The Last Days of Kim Jong-Il: The North Korean Threat in a Changing Era (2013, Potomac Books). Still, I doubt if any on these shed much light on the latest round of threats and condemnations.
Noam Chomsky: 9-11: Was There an Alternative? (2001; revised paperback, 2011, Seven Stories Press): Right then, right now. Wish he could write better, but decades of being right and ignored have taken a toll on his patience.
Noam Chomsky: Occupy [Occupied Media Pamphlet Series] (paperback, 2012, Zucotti Park Press): Short (128 pp.) pamphlet, meant to advise the Occupy movement. Looks like there will be a series of these things, with additional titles by Stuart Leonard (Taking Brooklyn Bridge), Mumia Abu-Jamal (Message to the Movement), and Marina Sitrin/Dario Azzellini (Occupying Language).
Noam Chomsky: Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to US Empire (paperback, 2013, Metropolitan Books): Continues a long series of interviews with David Barsamian, a context which draws out his wisdom without cluttering up the page.
Climate Central: Global Weirdness: Severe Storms, Deadly Heat Waves, Relentless Drought, Rising Seas, and the Weather of the Future (2012, Pantheon): Written by Emily Elert and Michael D Lemonick but credited to their "nonprofit, nonpartisan science and journalism organization"; with just-the-facts-style reporting, not that they ignore the applicable science.
Susan P Crawford: Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age (2012, Yale University Press): Argues that the 2011 merger of Comcast and NBC Universal "create the biggest monopoly since the breakup of Standard Oil a century ago." During much of that time AT&T monopolized the telephone industry, but at least it was recognized as such and tightly regulated -- so much so that it begged for breakup. The new monopoly combines content as well as networking, which is what makes it not just too expensive but far more dangerous.
Guy Debord: Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1987; third edition, paperback, 2011, Verso): Debord's original essay was written in 1967. When I first read it (in Radical America, 1970) it illuminated all sorts of things, but the basic idea is simple enough it requires little elaboration. The essay is short, as are the comments (94 pp.); still, I've never figured out what you do with the concept -- more likely than not it just leaves you awestruck.
John De Graaf/David K Batker: What's the Economy For, Anyway?: Why It's Time to Stop Chasing Growth and Start Pursuing Happiness (2011; paperback, 2012, Bloomsbury Press): Good question, one also explored by Robert Skidelsky/Edward Skidelsky: How Much Is Enough? Money and the Good Life (2012); Juliet B Schor: Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth (2010); and Joseph E Stiglitz, et al., Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn't Ad Up (2010). [link]
Ross Douthat: Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (2012, Free Press): Conservative New York Times columnist, tries to appear reasonable and rarely succeeds, wants to bring back that old time religion, or something like that. We would at long last do us a favor if he helps break the binds between religion and partisanship, but the old time religion never was much good at respecting others.
Peter Dreier: The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (paperback, 2012, Nation Books): Thumbnail biographies, 4-6 pages each (adding up to 512 pp.), political people you should know at least something about, even though one can nitpick the roster coming and going. Only two are younger than me (Michael Moore and Tony Kushner). Three of the last ten are musicians, and two are athletes, so the spectacle seems to have won out, especially over the writers who have provided so much insight and kept the flame going (Chomsky and Ehrenreich are about it since C. Wright Mills).
Jeff Faux: The Servant Economy: Where America's Elite Is Sending the Middle Class (2012, Wiley): Previous book was The Global Class War: How America's Bipartisan Elite Lost Our Future -- and What It Will Take to Win It Back, so presumably this returns to American specifics. Lots of recent books on the destruction of the middle class, the ripe corrollary to the same old, same old of rich-getting-richer and poor-getting-poorer.
Jonathan Fetter-Vorm: Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb (2012, Hill and Wang): Much shorter than Richard Rhodes' epochal The Making of the Atomic Bomb, but they say a picture is worth a thousand words. I've toyed with the idea of writing graphic histories on the Cold War and the Arab-Israeli Conflict -- critical assumption here is that I can get my nephew to illustrate -- mostly because I wish to sharply focus on key understandings rather than to just spew out a lot of narrative, and graphic histories seem to offer a unique opportunity to state and reinforce basic points.
Robert K Fitts: Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination During the 1934 Tour of Japan (2012, University of Nebraska Press): Previously co-edited Remembering Japanese Baseball: An Oral History of the Game and wrote Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball, reports on one of the most famous exhibition tours in history: a key event in Japan's adoption of America's pastime as its own favorite sport, but also cover for Moe Berg's espionage. Not sure who got assassinated.
Stephen M Gardiner: A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change (2011, Oxford University Press): A philospher's take on the problem, seeing ignorance and inaction as a lapse in ethics, looking into geo-engineering, etc.
Brandon L Garrett: Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong (2011; paperback, 2012, Harvard University Press): DNA evidence has shown that quite a few innocent people have been convicted of serious crimes. Analyzing those cases should help identify how the justice system gets it wrong and winds up creating injustice. Other recent books on this: Jim Petro/Nancy Petro: False Justice: Eight Myths That Convict the Innocent (2011, Kaplan); Daniel S Medwed: Prosecution Complex: America's Race to Convict and Its Impact on the Innocent (2012, NYU Press).
Wenonah Hauter: Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America (2012, New Press): "Local food" farmer, director of Food & Water Watch, explains how agricultural policy has been designed to aid Cargill, Tyson, Kraft, and ConAgra.
Tim Kane: Bleeding Talent: How the US Military Mismanages Great Leaders and Why It's Time for a Revolution (2012, Macmillan Palgrave): Right-wing economist (Hudson Institute, John McCain), former USAF "intelligence" officer, "startup maven" (to quote Bush economist Glenn Hubbard). I suspect his thesis is right, but I have my doubts that "great leaders" is something the we need the military to have, right now, or just about ever. Bean counters and shrinks, that's another story.
Frederick Kaufman: Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food (2012, Wiley): Starting with Domino's Pizza, hits all the usual stops surveying the contemporary food industry, how it's all related and tied more to finance than to old-fashioned interests like agriculture. Related: Kara Newman: The Secret Financial Life of Food: From Commodities Markets to Supermarkets (2012, Columbia University Press).
George Lakoff/Elisabeth Wehling: The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic (paperback, 2012, Free Press): Lakoff thinks we can solve all our problems by coming up with better terminology to frame our arguments -- i.e., something other than what Frank Luntz comes up with. Supposedly this is that.
Chris Lamb: Conspiracy of Silence: Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball (2012, University of Nebraska Press): Previously wrote Blackout: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Spring Training, digs deeper here into the press attitudes that reinforced the color line in baseball, and a few journalists -- mostly blacks and/or communists, by the way -- who thought differently.
Charlie LeDuff: Detroit: An American Autopsy (2013, Penguin Press): Local journalist, has watched Detroit decline from 1.9 million people to fewer than 700,000, as people left the city for the suburbs or beyond while industry crumbled. I recall that when I was visiting Detroit it was hard to find books on the city, but that at least is looking up. For example, another is Mark Binelli: Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis (2012, Metropolitan).
Jonathan Lethem: The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfictions, Etc. (2011, Doubleday): A novelist based in Brooklyn dumps off scattered essays, mostly lit, some about music. Poking around Amazon's "look inside" I can't get a sense of the whole, but one fragment on "Disnial" is certainly sharp.
Jonathan Lethem: Talking Heads' Fear of Music (paperback, 2012, Continuum): Part of their 33 1/3 series of short books, where a writer picks out a single record and riffs on it. This is number 86, a rare case with a celebrity author.
Audrea Lim, ed: The Case for Sanctions Against Israel (paperback, 2012, Verso Books): Twenty essays here, including Omar Barghouti, Naomi Klein, Ilan Pappe, Joel Beinin, John Berger, Neve Gordon. Sanctions are a relatively non-belligerent way of expressing concern over Israel's manifest unwillingness either to free occupied Palestinians or to treat them equitably. Sanctions helped to tip the balance in South Africa to end the apartheid regime. At some point I fear they will be necessary to make any degree of progress toward peace and justice in Israel-Palestine. Also see: Omar Barghouti: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights (paperback, 2011, Haymarket Books).
William Marsden: Fools Rule: Inside the Failed Politics of Climate Change (2011, Knopf Canada; paperback, 2012, Vintage Canada): Canadian journalist, so good chance this focuses more on Canadian politics than on riper targets in the US, not that the anti-science opposition in both countries isn't driven by the same oil and coal companies. Author previously wrote a book on oil shale: Stupid to the Last Drop: How Alberta Is Bringing Environmental Armageddon to Canada (and Doesn't Seem to Care).
GJ Meyer: The Borgias: The Hidden History (2013, Bantam): Of interest mostly, I suspect, if you've followed Neil Jordan's TV series and want to fill in some details, although it looks like this book takes some unexpected turns. Also available, and perhaps more conventional: Christopher Hibbert: The Borgias and Their Enemies: 1431-1919 (2008; paperback, 2009, Mariner Books).
Loretta Napoleoni: Maonomics: Why Chinese Communists Make Better Capitalists Than We Do (2011; paperback, 2012, Seven Stories Press): Previously wrote Rogue Economics: Capitalism's New Reality (2008), and ups the snark quotient here. Certainly is the case that China's economic growth has outpaced ever corner of the capitalist world for at least the last decade.
Mark Owen/Kevin Maurer: No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden (2012, Dutton): Also subtitled, The Autobiography of a Navy Seal. Second guy up the stairs. First guy to cash in. Isn't that -- making a killing out of a killing -- what America is really all about?
Joel Salatin: Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World (2011; paperback, 2012, Center Street): The Virginia farmer who loomed so large in Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma speaks for himself -- not for the first time, either: previous books include: You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Start and Succeed in a Farming Enterprise (paperback, 1998, Polyface); Holy Cows & Hog Heaven: The Food Buyer's Guide to Farm Friendly Food (paperback, 2005, Polyface); Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front (paperback, 2007, Polyface); The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer (paperback, 2010, Polyface).
Josh Schonwald: The Taste of Tomorrow: Dispatches From the Future of Food (2012, Harper Collins): Enthusiastic survey of speculations about how food will be engineered and manufactured in 2035.
James Gustave Speth: America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy (2012, Yale University Press): Environmentalist, previously wrote The Bridge at the Edge of the World, which questions growth for growth's sake. Should expand on that here.
John Swenson: New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans (2011; paperback, 2012, Oxford University Press): A rock critic of my generation goes to post-Katrina New Orleans and finds inspiration in the music -- where else would one work?
Gary Wills: Why Priests? A Failed Tradition (2013, Viking): Always an interesting writer, although his commitment to Catholicism has always baffled me, the issue here seeming like someone else's personal fight.
Bob Woodward: The Price of Politics (2012, Simon & Schuster): Another inside-out first draft of history, his second on Obama after four volumes on Bush, the first extolling his genius for leadership and the last wondering where all that went. Focuses on the budget battle with congressional Republicans, not anyone's best hour. New Yorker review: "Woodward, who has here the elements of a devastating study of Washingtonian pettiness, has instead written a book that in many ways exemplifies it."
Luigi Zingales: A Capitalism for the People: Recapturing the Lost Genius of American Prosperity (2012, Basic Books): Chicago economist, argues that American capitalism is dying as the market gets ever more regulated not just by "anti-market pitchfork populism" but by crony corruption he associates with "Europe and much of the rest of the world." Quick fix: trust the markets.
Still don't have the paperback report together. Maybe next time.
Monday, April 22. 2013
Music: Current count 21302  rated (+27), 618  unrated (+12).
Big week in that I have three -- count 'em, three -- A- records, but the inside story is that two of them took an awful lot of plays (more than a dozen each) before I set aside my usual rule-of-thumb ("if you can't make up your mind, go with the lower grade"). The exception was Halley, which clicked so fast I didn't get around to writing anything substantial about it. His sax has nearly always been so my minor reservations about past his quartet albums concerned the second horn, but they play less in sync here, with the trombone most often either comping or jumping out front, either of which helps.
Eskelin is doing more of a ballad thing this time, so he's not as aggressive as usual, and Versace doesn't push him much, but the record has some really gorgeous passages. Douglas is just being Douglas: fantastic chops, really explosive at times, but his songs can get strange and veer off in unsettling directions. Irabagon, at least, is too much of a scrapper to get boxed up in a harmony role, so this never goes splat like some Douglas albums have done. I've had an advance (and only that) for a long time, so I was tempted to wait and see if a final arrived.
More plays might help push Snidero over the edge. He's very sharp here, as he was on 2009's Crossfire. The other HMs are certainly just that. Wanted to work in the latest batch of Ivo Perelman records, but it's hard to juggle three at once, and thus far they're all sounding pretty much the same. Also held back potentially good records by John Vanore and Craig Taborn.
Should have a Downloader's Diary this week, followed by a (currently short) Rhapsody Streamnotes -- latter may cut into my jazz time, but got a lot of mail this week.
Berserk! (2013, Rare Noise): Collaboration between singer Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari (aka LEF, has appeared in groups Transgender, Litania, Ashes, Costituto, Somma, Owls, Obake) and bassist Lorenzo Felicati. Extra musicians include some jazz names -- Gianluca Petrella (trombone), Jamie Saft (keybs), Eivind Aarset (guitar) -- but record is rockish, veering toward doom near the end. B+(*) [advance]
Jaimeo Brown: Transcendence (2012 , Motema): Drummer, first album, has a few side-credits going back a decade. Front cover shows an old black church, and features two additional names: JD Allen (tenor sax) and Chris Sholar (guitar, electronics). (Geri Allen might have been a better marketing pick, but she plays on only one track, where Sholar is always there.) The sax is a huge asset here, but everything else is swamped in gospel vocals -- Falu, Marisha Brown, Selah Brown, samples from Gee's Bend Singers -- a meditation on Afro-American history (including a side trip to Ghana) that doesn't seem to resolve much. B+(*)
Dave Douglas Quintet: Time Travel (2012 , Greenleaf Music): Same lineup as last year's Be Still -- Jon Irabagon (tenor sax), Matt Mitchell (piano), Linda Oh (bass), Rudy Royston (drums) -- minus the singer and the solemn tone, which gives them space to repeatedly flare out, even if the compositional matrix is the same fancy, slippery postbop Douglas has honed for years. The main thing you get is chops: he remains in a class by himself, so confident he's game to take on the hottest saxophonist he can find -- Potter, McCaslin, Strickland, now Irabagon, who is having one helluva year. A- [advance]
Ellery Eskelin: Trio New York II (2013, Prime Source): Sax-organ trio, with Gary Versace on the B3 and Gerald Cleaver on drums; second album together, the first dedicated to the tenor saxophonist's organ-playing mother. Likewise, this one is all standards, with a Monk piece, ohers like "Just One of Those Things," "After You've Gone," and "Flamingo." Versace stays clear of the usual soul jazz moves, giving this an odd delicacy, undercutting the spark but bringing out some of Eskelin's most poignant ballad craft. A-
Ken Fowser/Behn Gillece: Top Shelf (2012 , Posi-Tone): Tenor sax and vibes, respectively; fourth album together, songs split 7-3 for Gillece. Backed by a sextet, with trombone, piano, bass, and drums. Postbop, runs fast and slick. B
Rich Halley 4: Crossing the Passes (2012 , Pine Eagle): Tenor saxophonist, has recorded since the 1980s, more so since he's approached retirement age. Quartet adds a second horn -- Michael Vlatkovich's trombone -- to bass (Clyde Reed) and drums (son Carson Halley). A-
Curtis Hasselbring: Number Stations (2012 , Cuneiform): Trombonist, studied at New England Conservatory and played in Boston bands like Either/Orchestra, then moved to New York, recorded in groups as disparate as Slavic Soul Party and Ballin' the Jack, finally recording his own album as The New Mellow Edwards. That band name is "featured" here, on his third album, and they're a motley bunch: Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet), Mary Halvorson (guitar), Trevor Dunn (bass), Matt Moran (vibes, marimba), and two drummer/percussionists: Ches Smith and Satoshi Takeishi. Compositions have something to do with numeric codings read off shortwave radio broadcasts, but what you get is a mish-mash studded with brilliant solos, much as you'd expect if a band this talented just winged it. B+(***)
Joe Locke: Lay Down My Heart: Blues & Ballads Vol 1 (2012 , Motéma): Vibraphonist, has close to 30 albums since 1983, most paired off with pianists -- Ryan Cohan here, plus David Finck on bass and Jaimeo Brown on drums. Two originals, seven covers, the most immediately appealing the ones that skip around the edges of the familiar, like "Ain't No Sunshine" (Bill Withers) or "Makin' Whoopee." B+(**)
Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge: River Runs (2011 , Summit): Composer/arranger, has three albums on Sea Breeze (1995-2004), one on MAMA. Jazz Surge is his big band, introduced on the 1995 album, so it's not like he's jumping on a bandwagon. He subtitles this "A Concerto for Jazz Guitar, Saxophone, & Orchestra," and aside from the prominence of guitar (LaRue Nickerson) and tenor sax (Jack Wilkins), this really is contemporary classical music more than jazz, especially with the added orchestra (flutes, oboes, bassoon and harp, three French horns, and a phalanx of strings, the violin solos reserved Rob Thomas). Seems like I should hate it, and I started to, then lots of little things won me over. Nice booklet. B+(*)
Shamie Royston: Portraits (2011 , self-released): Pianist, first record, piano trio, with Ivan Taylor on bass and her father Rudy Royston on drums, plus a Camille Thurman vocal. Nice piano work, with a gentle swing. Can't say the vocal is a plus. B+(*)
Markus Schwartz/Monvelyno Alexis: Vo-Duo Nou La (2011 , Lakou Brooklyn): Drummer, b. in Copenhagen, Denmark, based for the last twenty years "in the heart of Lakou Brooklyn," "learning the wealth and complexity of traditional Haitian religious music." Alexis, born and raised in Haiti, plays guitar, sings, and co-wrote most of the songs. B
Jim Snidero: Stream of Consciousness (2012 , Savant): Alto saxophonist, 17 albums since 1987, generally a mainstream/postbop guy, but looking for "strong, free-spirited younger players" this time, coming up with Paul Bollenback (guitar), Linda Oh (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums). Actually, he winds up running away from them more often than not. B+(***)
Jacqui Sutton: Notes From the Frontier: A Musical Journey (2012, Toy Blue Typewriter): Interpretive singer from Houston, second album, some kind of concept on discovering America. Starts with an interesting banjo-paced take on "Summertime," then segues to something unsingable. Album continues to teeter like that, with some hot trumpet the high spot. B-
The Verve Jazz Ensemble: It's About Time (2012 , self-released): Five musicians are credited, but only four pictured: Tatum Greenblatt (trumpet), Jon Blanck (tenor sax), Matt Oestreicher (piano), and Josh Feldstein (drums) -- odd man out is bassist Chris DeAngelis. First album, six bop-era standards plus three alternate takes, nice job on each. B+(*)
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, April 21. 2013
Some scattered links of special interest. Caught most of them today, which shows it isn't all that hard to find trouble these days: