Friday, February 29. 2008
Three items from the Wichita Eagle this week.
Feb. 28: "Israelis retaliate with attack on Hamas in Gaza":
Israel has used Palestinian rocket attacks to justify collective punishment of Gaza, targeted assassinations, and random retaliation, so they must be pleased that Hamas has so indulged them. As the cycle makes clear, neither preëmptive attacks nor retaliation prevent the rockets. The only thing that has worked has been a cease fire, which Hamas had in place until they wearied of unanswered Israeli attacks. What's notable about this piece is that it at least offers a bit of context, showing the rocket attack as a response to an Israeli attack. The arithmetic is still a bit of a problem: the number of Palestinians killed by Israel in this 24-hour period was 30.
Also in Feb. 27 issue, a piece by Kevin G. Hall (McClatchy Newspapers) called "Highest cost of war yet to come", about the new book, The Three Trillion Dollar War, by Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes. Note the White House response:
Courage? That seems all the more kneejerk because it has no conceivable relevance, unless Fratto means his dogged conviction to ignore the consequences of the war regardless of cost. I have no idea how to calculate the "cost of failure," but if such were possible Stiglitz should add it to his $3 trillion baseline, because failure is one of the few things that seems assured.
The "cost of doing nothing" is more hypothetical because we didn't do nothing. What would have happened had we not responded to 9/11 with Bush's Crusade is open to debate, but whatever it is would have to be gauged against the $3 trillion baseline -- Stiglitz's scenarios go up to $7 trillion, and he probably hasn't factored in the full 100 years McCain is hoping for.
The Feb. 27 Wichita Eagle had an article by Jonathan S. Landay (McClatchy Newspapers) called "Pakistan to try talks, not fighting":
A dangerous idea, sure to be anathema to Al-Qaeda and the US alike. They are, after all, so much alike.
William F. Buckley, Jr., died, age 82. His father made a fortune in Mexican oil, so he was born rich, a beneficiary of US imperialism. He spent his whole long life defending his class and race, extolling his religion, and promoting the militarism and imperialism that made his pampered life possible. Or at least until recently, when the Iraq war got to be a bit much, even for him.
Monday, February 25. 2008
Nothing to report this week. I came down with something flu-like Monday night. Had a couple of very bad days, followed by a bunch of merely bad days. Felt improved enough over the weekend I thought I might get back to my routine today, but can't say as I feel up to it at the moment. Even hacking out this little notice seems over my head. Maybe best to leave it at that.
Monday, February 18. 2008
We went to what was billed as "A Taste of Interfaith Dialogue" last night, at Covenant Presbyterian Church in the suburban sprawl out west. Up front was a panel of 11 of 12 people who went to Israel in December. The group was "interfaith": three Jews (the rabbis of the Reformed and Conservative synagogues, and the executive director of the Mid-Kansas Jewish Federation, evidently also a rabbi and an Israeli citizen); two Muslims (a cop and an engineer who works for the city, the former a Sunni from Kuwait, the latter a Shi'a from Iran); Presbyterian and Methodist ministers, plus assorted Christian laiety. The trip was at least partly occasioned by the question of whether the Presbyterian church should divest from business involved in Israel's occupation of Palestinian Territories. The three rabbis who went on this trip spend much of their time here politicking for Israel. They raised funds for the trip. Given their prior experience in Israel, they should have been effective guides and minders.
The session started with two passes around the table, where each talked about their favorite moments during the trip. Most of the Christians talked about their awe at the holy sites, retracing the steps of Jesus. The rabbis, somewhat condescendingly, talked about being touched by the depth of the Christians' experiences, asserting their common religious experience -- one went so far as to describe Christianity as Judaism's "daughter religion." The muslims talked about the fellowship of the group, how they recognized that we are all one people. This polite, feel good facade fractured as soon as the first question was raised. It was: in your travels, were you able to experience anything that let you empathize with the state Palestinians find themselves in? The Arab-American policeman, who teaches Arabic and advises police departments throughout the state on Arab issues, who as he put it is "in the security business," spoke first, and that's all it took for the conflict to take over the discussion.
I didn't take notes, but I think only one subsequent question was not on the conflict. The rabbis did their best to hold their ground -- the Conservative one (originally from South Africa) was combative, the others conciliatory, one lamely arguing that there are only shades of gray in the conflict, the other (in a rare moment of self-examination) admitting his inability to hear the same human complexity from Palestinians that he easily discerned in Israelis. The discussion remained at a friendly level, with much agreement to disagree. What struck me wasn't the details, let alone the arguments, but the simple fact that the legendary Israeli hasbara, practiced in this case by skilled pros on a well-meaning but relatively naive group of mere Americans, had failed to work its magic.
In the end, the interfaith lesson is simple: getting us to agree that we are all the same under God is easy; reconciling that agreement with the Occupation is not.
Transition week, with a lot of paperwork done to move on from one column cycle to the next. Jazz Consumer Guide (15) came out in the Village Voice last week. Most of those records have been kicking around for the better part of a year, but lots of good things, worth being reminded of. (Except for the duds, of course.) We've decided to start printing grades with the duds, so for the record:
Hancock won a Grammy between when I submitted the draft and its final appearance. I've been wondering whether I was too harsh. To some extent, my complaint boils down to arguing that a different record -- specifically one with no vocals -- would have been much better. Or maybe a vocal album could have been salvaged had the singers been more distinctive, but only Leonard Cohen managed to break the mold (and he could hardly help it). I stand by my grade, but predict that samplers will be listening to the Wayne Shorter solos.
The Fujii Quartet is the same group as put out Zephyros, one of her best albums (When We Were There is another), so the drop was especially noteworthy. Vitous slipped by no reconvening the group behind his original Universal Syncopations. The substitutes fall short on every count, and his sampling doesn't make up for it.
It looks like I'll be able to by with no "Dud of the Month" going forward. Also looks like April will be open for the next Jazz Consumer Guide column. Whether the quicker pace can be sustained isn't clear, but for now I'm almost ready, and Francis Davis is on leave.
Another intense week of jazz prospecting. Items with bracketed grades have been shelved for another round. There are more than usual; at this point in the cycle I feel more like working fast through the incoming queues. It actually looks like I've gotten through more than half of my backlog. One, maybe two more weeks like this, and I'll start trying to nail the column down.
Maceo Parker: Roots & Grooves (2007 , Heads Up, 2CD): An alto saxophonist, Parker has played on dozens of great albums, but he's never put his name on one before. He joined James Brown in 1964, then moved on to George Clinton in 1975 and back to Brown in 1984. Both leaders spun off instrumental albums, first as the J.B.'s, then as the Horny Horns. Since 1989 Parker has recorded a dozen albums, mostly underachieving the modest goals announced in their titles: Roots Revisited, Mo' Roots, Life on Planet Groove, Funk Overload, etc. This looked like another, until I popped it in and it blasted off into "Hallelujah I Love Her So." First disc is titled "Tribute to Ray Charles," and works through "Busted," "Hit the Road Jack," a few more, climaxing with "What'd I Say." Parker sings a few -- he's more Cleanhead Vinson than Ray Charles, but that works for me. Parker doesn't have the direct connection that Fathead Newman has, but he started out when Charles was laying the foundation his whole career was built on. Second disc is called "Back to Funk": five originals and "Pass the Peas" from J.B.'s days. It's less obvious and every bit as exciting. The secret in both cases is the band. Directed by Michael Abene, the WDR Big Band Köln will play anything with anyone -- their purpose, after all, is to crank out radio shots with visiting dignitaries -- and they've never amounted to much, but they have a ball here. Maybe it's too easy: Charles ran a big band himself, and scaling Parker's grooves up to J.B.-size is as obvious as it is fun. Parker gloats in the dêjà vu. With Charles and Brown gone, he's just the guy to honor them. [Note: Don't know when this was recorded. Album appears to have been released in Europe in 2007, and reissued in US by Heads Up, which has been picking up quite a bit of WDR Big Band material.] A-
Horace Silver: Live at Newport '58 (1958 , Blue Note): I'm glad that Blue Note keeps digging old concert tapes up: the 1956 Thelonious Monk/John Coltrane set was a real find; the 1964 Charles Mingus/Eric Dolphy didn't really deliver the historical import or musical interest attributed to it -- quite a bit of later material from the same group has been out for a long time -- but was good to have nonetheless. This one is slighter than the others in terms of historical interest, but delightful in its own minor ways. Silver's group included Louis Smith on trumpet, a little recorded interlude between Donald Byrd and Blue Mitchell. The rest are: Junior Cook on tenor sax, Gene Taylor on bass, Louis Hayes on drums, and Silver, of course, on piano. Only four cuts, with the marvelous "Señor Blues" the shortest at 8:42 (not much longer than the earlier studio version) and "Tippin'" topping out at 13:10 (more than double the studio version). The extra space is put to good use by the horns and piano, but this doesn't add much for anyone familiar with Silver. The earlier Six Pieces of Silver, with Byrd and Hank Mobley, has 3 of 4 songs; the later Doin' the Thing is an even better sample of Silver live. I can't recommend this over either, but it doesn't miss by much, and it would be churlish to scare anyone away from this "Señor Blues," some marvelous piano, and the chance to hear Smith. A-
Buddy DeFranco: Charlie Cat 2 (2006 , Arbors): Born 1923, DeFranco came up in the swing bands of Gene Krupa and Charlie Barnet, but adapted to bebop, one of the few young reed players to stick with the instrument. He started recording around 1952, his output waxing and waning with business cycles, but he pretty much always sounds the same: the bright tone and fleet dynamics you remember from the swing masters, occasionally showing off his bebop moves. He hasn't recorded a lot lately, but sounds fine here -- well supported with Howard Alden and often Joe Cohn on guitar, Derek Smith on piano, Rufus Reid on bass, Ed Metz Jr. on drums, and Lou Soloff adding some contrast on trumpet. [B+(**)]
Howard Alden and Ken Peplowski's Pow-Wow (2006 , Arbors): I still think of Alden as a young guy, but he's pushing 50 now. He came up well after bop became postbop, so he never had to pay much heed to it, developing a swing style on guitar that never really existed before -- real swing guitarists (unless you count Charlie Christian, which most don't, or Django Reinhardt and Eddie Lang, other stories completely) played rhythm. (Oh yeah, George Van Eps was an influence, a pretty obscure one.) He has a couple dozen albums since 1985. Peplowski plays clarinet and tenor sax, where swing traditions are much clearer. He's a year younger, also has a couple dozen albums. Don't know how many times they've played together before -- at least 11 times, but working in the same circles with each over 100 credits there are doubtless more. This isn't even their first duo: they did one in Concord's Duo Series in 1992 (which my records say I have ungraded but I can't find). I'm not much of a duo fan, but works out pretty well. Peplowski has a knack for tracing out clear melodies even solo. Alden can pick him up with some rhythm, fill out his lines, or add something on his own. The album wanders around quite a bit, mixing Bill Evans with Ellington, Bud Powell with Cole Porter, hopping off to "Panama." B+(***)
Al Basile: Tinge (2007 , Sweetspot): Born 1948 in Haverhill, MA. Learned trumpet as a teenager, but majored in physics at Brown, and seems to have had a spotty musical resume until he started recording in 1998. Played trumpet in Roomful of Blues 1973-75. Started singing in clubs in Providence in 1977. Has six albums now. Don't know about the others, but this one, with Duke Robillard producing and playing guitar, is straight blues with a dash of Jelly Roll Morton providing the title. Basile's liner notes include references to Louis Armstrong and Cootie Williams. Smart, sensible record. B+(**)
ZMF Trio: Circle the Path (2005 , Drip Audio): ZMF stands for Jesse Zubot (violin), Jean Martin (drums), Joe Fonda (bass). Label describes them as international: Zubot is from Vancouver, Martin from Toronto, Fonda is well known on the avant-garde in New York. Zubot is also involved in the rockish Fond of Tigers group, and he runs the label, which has branched out beyond his own work -- a few more items are on my shelf, including a new John Butcher album, and he seems to have something by Leroy Jenkins in the pipeline. Other than that, don't know much about him. This is avant, by turns aggressive and moody. Martin wrote one piece, Fonda three, Zubot four. The only outside credit is to Anthony Braxton. Didn't catch enough of it first time through, but will play more. [B+(***)]
John Butcher/Torsten Muller/Dylan van der Schyff: Way Out Northwest (2007 , Drip Audio): Recorded in Vancouver by local drummer van der Schyff. Butcher is an English avant-garde saxophonist, plays tenor and soprano here. Has a PhD in theoretical physics (thesis: "Spin effects in the production and weak decay of heavy Quarks"). He has a long list of records, and is well known to anyone who reads The Penguin Guide more assiduously than The Bible, although few others are likely to have even heard of them. I've only heard three albums myself, nothing I much cared for, but hardly a representative sample. Müller (umlaut omitted here) is a bassist, b. 1957 in Hamburg, Germany, but since 2001 based in Vancouver. Müller has no albums of his own, but pops up all over the place, a notable common denominator here being his relationship with the late trombonist Paul Rutherford, to whom this record is dedicated. This is pretty rough free music, very democratic, or maybe I mean anarchic. One thing I rate avant records on is their crossover potential, and this clearly fails on that account. On the other hand, sometimes I like something perversely difficult I chuck my normal standards. This gorgeous ugly mess may be one of them. [A-]
The Inhabitants: The Furniture Moves Underneath (2007, Drip Audio): Vancouver group: JP Carter (trumpet), Dave Sikula (guitar), Pete Schmitt (bass), Skye Brooks (drums), with use of effects by the first three. Carter and Brooks are also in Fond of Tigers. Quasi-rockish instrumentals, starting off loud and brash, mellowing out later. The latter pieces with their ripened textures are more pleasing, and marginally more interesting. B
Steven Bernstein: Diaspora Suite (2007 , Tzadik): Trumpet player, refers to Oakland as his hometown in liner notes here, although he's better known in New York. Credits include Lounge Lizards, Sex Mob, Robert Altman's Kansas City band, Baby Loves Jazz band, Millennial Territory Orchestra. This is his fourth Diaspora title in Tzadik's Radical Jewish Culture series. They refer back to sephardic folk songs, sometimes reframed in terms of where the diaspora found themselves, as with Diaspora Hollywood. This one jelled conceptually when the Kansas City band reunited after Robert Altman's death -- something about setting the scene then letting the improvisations fly. Large group: hype sheet refers to it as a nonet, but I count ten musicians -- possibly explained by a hint in the liner notes that Will Bernard added his "guitar sweeteners" after the fact. The group swallowed the Nels Cline Singers whole, with extra guitar and percussion, Ben Goldberg's clarinets, Peter Apfelbaum's tenor sax (or flute, or qarqabas, evidently metal castanets from Morocco), Jeff Cressman's trombone. I thought it sounded fabulous first time through, but haven't caught the mood since. Will keep it in play. [B+(***)]
The Jack & Jim Show Presents: Hearing Is Believing (2005 , Boxholder): First, I have to admit that I had never heard of Jimmy Carl Black. Turns out that he was best known for being in my least favorite band of the twentieth century, the Mothers of Invention, usually filed under the bandleader's name, Frank Zappa, but his website discography totals 77 albums without getting past 2002. Black played drums, and introduced himself as "the Indian of the group." Later he had a band called Geronimo Black. Anyhow, he's the Jim. Jack must be guitarist Eugene Chadbourne, who I have heard of and rarely heard -- his website discography claims 180 records, so I haven't heard much. Together since 1995 as the Jack & Jim Show they have 8 previous albums. Might as well list them to get a whiff: Locked in a Dutch Coffeeshop, Pachuco Cadaver, Uncle Jimmy's Master Plan, The Early Years, The Perfect C&W Duo's Tribute to Jesse Helms, The Taste of the Leftovers, 2001: A Spaced Odyssey, Reflections and Experiences of Jimi Hendrix. They do a mix of deconstructed parodies (including three Beatles songs; one each from Marvin Gaye, Tim Hardin, and Dizzy Gillespie) and perverse protest songs ("Cheney's Hunting Ducks" is a choice cut, "Girl From Al-Qaeda" is abducted and held hostage from Jobim and Getz). Chadbourne plays some extreme skronk guitar, and Oxford avant-gardist Pat Thomas slums with some amusing keyboards. Title parses as: you won't believe this until you hear it. B+(***)
Bobby Few: Lights and Shadows (2004 , Boxholder): Pianist, born in Cleveland in 1935, followed Albert Ayler to New York in 1962 and headed further east in 1969 to France, where he teamed up with Steve Lacy. Still in Paris, with a sizable discography. This one's solo, original improvs except for a Lacy piece. My usual caveats about solo piano apply, including my difficulty finding words, but this strikes me as well above average, the work of someone who's spent a lot of time digesting Lacy's oeuvre, itself built on the work of pianists Thelonious Monk and Herbie Nichols. B+(*)
Jason Kao Hwang/Edge: Stories Before Within (2007 , Innova): Hwang was born in the US (Waukegan, IL), of Chinese extraction. He made a strong effort to master Chinese classical music, but now works mostly in avant jazz. He plays violin, often with a Chinese inflection. He has several records I've been very impressed by -- e.g., Ravish Momin's Climbing the Banyan Tree. Group here: Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet), Ken Filiano (bass), Andrew Drury (drums). Bynum was a student of Anthony Braxton, and still plays with Braxton -- I've tried to get hold of some of his material, thus far to no avail. Filiano, as I've mentioned many times by now, always seems to show up on good records. Got distracted in the middle of writing this and lost my thread, but I wanted to give it more time anyway. [B+(***)]
The David Finck Quartet: Future Day (2007 , Soundbrush): Bassist, from Philadelphia I think, studied in Rochester, settled in New York. First album as leader, but he's done quite a bit of studio work: his website lists 122 albums going back to 1980; AMG comes up with more. He's worked with a lot of singers, mostly pop -- he flags 5 gold and 4 platinum albums, including Rod Stewart's Great American Songbook series -- but also Rosemary Clooney, Harry Connick Jr., Mark Murphy, Peter Cincotti, and one album with Sheila Jordan. Some other credits include Steve Kuhn, Paquito D'Rivera, Claudio Roditti, and André Previn, who praises him lavishly. He wrote two pieces here, with four more from the band, and six covers. Starts off with a nice bass groove, and much of the album is deliriously upbeat. Locke's strong suit is the way he interacts with pianists, effectively turning the two of them into one supersplashy instrument. Jeremy Pelt (trumpet) and Bob Sheppard (tenor sax) appear here and there as special guests. I didn't keep score -- you don't really notice them until you realize that things have slowed down a bit, which probably isn't a good sign. B
The Joe Locke Quartet: Sticks and Strings (2007 , Jazz Eyes): No piano for once, actually a nice change of pace. The strings are Jonathan Kreisberg's electric and acoustic guitars and Jay Anderson's bass. The sticks would be drummer Joe La Barbera and the vibraphonist. The mix is unusual, with Kreisberg providing texture and Locke accents. (AMG compares this to Gary Burton/Pat Metheny, which if memory serves isn't right at all.) [B+(**)]
Jerry Leake: Vibrance: Jazz Vibes & World Percussion (2005-06 , Rhombus Publishing): Leake teaches percussion with an insatiable desire to span the world, writes books about it, and produces CDs that could function as textbooks. Although vibraphone is front and center here, his credits include a couple dozen other percussion objects from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The only other players are Jonathan Dimond on electric bass and Lisa Leake with a couple of rather odd vocals -- two Jobim songs in the first semester ("Theme 1: jazz/latin & world percussion") and "My Funny Valentine" in the second ("Theme 2: standard jazz"). The extras tend to distract. Lots of everything here, but short on focus. Leake has an interesting approach to vibes. B
Marc Copland: The New York Trio Recordings, Vol. 2: Voices (2006 , Pirouet): Pianist, originally from Philadelphia, based in New York, closing in on 60 now. Always well regarded. I've only heard a couple of his records, and don't have Vol. 1 to compare this one to. What I've heard before struck me as good, and this as better. One could say that by association at least he's moved into the front ranks of contemporary pianists: he's working here with Gary Peacock (as he has many times in the past) and Paul Motian (who has a Hall of Fame career making pianists look good, starting with Bill Evans; Copland's usual drummers have been Billy Hart and Bill Stewart). One of those quietly unassuming piano records that sneaks up on you, never hitting a false note, full of subtle nuances, the only thing we've come to expect from masters like Peacock and Motian. [B+(***)]
James Silberstein: Expresslane (2008, CAP): Guitarist. Not much bio info, just that he's been "a working pro on the New York scene for the past 25 years." Second album. AMG doesn't list any more credits. He has a nice loping rhythm and clean tone, but doesn't run off much, mostly because he has a lot of help here. Most important is bassist Harvey S (né Swartz), who wrote some, arranged more, and keeps the rhythm running, often with tricks he picked up mastering Latin jazz. Horns come and go: Eric Alexander's tenor sax, Jim Rotondi's trumpet and flugelhorn, Steve Davis' trombone, Anne Drummond's flute. Kate McGarry scats on one of the two flute tunes, which barely survives on the strength of S's bassline. Website points out that this hit #13 on the radio charts in its first week. This kind of mix up is typical of a radio focus -- something for everyone -- but doesn't help over the course of an album. [PS: Got ahead of myself here: last piece is a 2:04 solo, a good example of his guitar.] B+(*)
Kelly Brand Nextet: The Door (2008, Origin): Pianist, based in Chicago. Fourth album. Composed and arranged all except for a Wayne Shorter piece. Several songs have lyrics, which are sung by Mari Anne Jayme. Postbop group, with trumpet, tenor sax/flute, cello, bass, and drums. Smart, even tempered, carefully poised. Hype sheet quotes someone calling this "noteworth craftsmanship and flowing serene energy"; another: "elaborate, listener-friendly pieces that score points for both poise and intellect." Neither quote stretches far. B+(**)
Hendrik Meurkens: Sambatropolis (2007 , Zoho): Parents were Dutch, but he was born in Hamburg, Germany. Studied at Berklee, became fascinated with Brazilian music in early 1980s, and has played little else since. Started on vibraphone, but that's become his second instrument now (5 of 11 tracks), behind harmonica. Has 17 albums since 1990, the new title a neat bookend to his first, either Sambahia (according to AMG) or Sambaimportado (his website). They seem to be averaging out. While he brings a new instrument to Brazilian music, he winds up just folding it into the signature light beat and lazy melodies. B
Marcos Ariel: 4 Friends (2007, Tenure): Brazilian pianist, from Rio de Janeiro. Recorded his first record, Bambu, in 1981. Divides his time between Rio and Los Angeles. First I've heard of him, and I don't have a good feel for his discography. May be inclined toward progressive or fusion -- he classifies himself on MySpace as "Nu-Jazz / Down-tempo / Lounge." This is a Brazil-rooted jazz quartet -- piano (Ariel), guitar (Ricardo Silveira), bass (João Baptista), drums (Jurim Moreira) -- with a twist when Ariel moves to synth and starts pumping in fake horn sections. The synth parts are a bit off, partly undeveloped, but mostly because his piano is so crisply rhythmic. Also because it complement Silveira, who is as superb as ever. B+(**)
Machan: Motion of Love (2007, Nu Groove): Singer, plays guitar, writes her own songs. As far as I can tell -- numerous expletives about Flash, MySpace, etc. deleted -- she comes from Japanese parents, grew up in the US, and, well, hell if I know. Says somewhere she was inspired by Joni Mitchell and James Taylor; she's appeared with Pink Floyd and George Benson, and toured with Sting (presumably as a backup singer). Second album. Some jazz players on board here, such as John Scofield, Randy Brecker, John Medeski, Nanny Assis. Sounds like a pop record to me, but with a cool breezy groove. B+(*)
Raya Yarbrough (2006 , Telarc): Singer-songwriter, from Los Angeles. First album, eponymous, like a star the whole world has just been waiting for, a simple revelation of her just being herself. Most jazz singers are interpreters, partly because they've been driven out of rock and pop by songwriters who have found their adequate voices workable. But latey we've seen a few singer-songwriters slotted as jazz, a bit of niche marketing that rarely seems appropriate (but sure paid off for Norah Jones). Yarbrough is part of that incursion, but she's also got a terrific voice, and her jazz moves are better than Amy Winehouse's. Starts off with a blues, "Lord Knows I Would," that had me thinking she could crack the A-list, although I was still a bit worried about all the special guests, many armed with string instruments. By the time the record ended, I was thinking she could be as flat out annoying as Meatloaf. Clearly an uncommon talent. Don't know what the hell to do with her yet. [B]
Diane Hoffman: My Little French Dancer (2006 , Savsomusic): Singer. Born and raised in Cambridge, MA; passed through California on way to New York. Looks like she has one previous album, although it's not mentioned on her website. (MySpace page shows the first, Someone in Love.) This at least is a straightforward jazz vocal album. She has the voice, the nuances, the sense of humor, the repertoire. Well, almost the repertoire -- songs are a little weak, but at least not beat to death. B+(*)
Greg Ruggiero: Balance (2006 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist: credits here read: electric/acoustic/classical guitars & vocalisms. Not sure what the latter are. Born 1977, Albuquerque. Based in Brooklyn since 2004. First album. Quintet, with Rob Wilkerson (alto sax), Frank LoCrasto (piano, keyboards), Matt Brewer (bass), Tommy Crane (drums/percussion). They form a small circle, playing in each other's bands -- Wilkerson had a nice album on FSNT a couple years ago. This one has a sort of pastoral-industrial feel -- factory rhythms slowed down, rocking gently back and forth, spread out with soft, lulling tones; pleasantly engaging background music, nonetheless interesting when you notice it. B+(**)
Jostein Gulbrandsen: Twelve (2006 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Norwegian guitarist, based in New York since 2001, Manhattan School of Music guy. First album, quartet, with Jon Irabagon (tenor sax, clarinet), Eivind Opsvik (bass), Jeff Davis (drums). First thing I noticed was how much I liked the sax, the way it stretched time out into fractured, disjoint slabs. Turns out I've run across Irabagon before but forgot the name: he's in Moppa Elliott's Mostly Other People Do the Killing, my current leading contender for a pick hit slot. A couple of songs later the guitar came into better focus, but he's hard to pigeonhole -- of the usual list of influences on his MySpace page I only hear Jim Hall and Wolfgang Muthspiel, and not much of either. More strong sax follows. A very bent cover of "Message in a Bottle." A bass solo -- Opsvik is a name I do recall, shows up on a lot of good records. Slow guitar solo to close. Either a strong HM or better. [A-]
Peter Van Huffel Quintet: Silvester Battlefield (2006 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Saxophonist, plays alto and soprano here, from Canada, now in Brooklyn. Quintet has a previous 2005 EP. Van Huffel has a 2003 album, Mind Over Matter, and a couple of group records, but this is the first I've heard. Quintet adds guitar (Scott DuBois), piano (Jesse Stacken), bass (Michael Bates), drums (Jeff Davis). This is postbop pushed a bit toward the edge, fairly adventurous stuff bit by bit, but it also sounds ordinarily adventurous -- bit by bit, stuff I'm used to hearing. B+(*)
The Roy Campbell Ensemble: Akhenaten Suite (2007 , AUM Fidelity): The only time I tempted to visit New York for live jazz is when the Vision Festival is on. For several years I was seeing very selective compilations from the concert series. Lately we're starting to see more full concerts, such as this one, subtitled Live at Vision Festival XII. Campbell plays trumpet and its relatives, and picks up something called an arguhl (a two-tube "clarinet") to flavor his Egyptian themes -- beyond the title suite, he plays "Pharoah's Revenge" and "Sunset on the Nile." Born 1952 in Los Angeles, moved east in the late 1970s, joining Jemeel Moondoc's Muntu Ensemble, hooking up with various William Parker projects, including Other Dimensions in Music. This is Campbell's 7th album since 1991 under his own name, but there are more albums with him in a leading role, and lots more joining in. Group here includes Bryan Carrott on vibes, Hilliard Greene on bass, Zen Matsuura on drums, and Billy Bang on violin. Bang makes the difference, his natural swing propelling the album as unstoppably as the Nile, but the vibraharp accents kick it off in surprising directions. A-
Rob Brown Ensemble: Crown Trunk Root Funk (2007 , AUM Fidelity): Born 1962 in Virginia, based in New York, plays alto sax, mostly in William Parker projects like the Little Huey Orchestra, In Order to Survive, and the extraordinary Quartet behind O'Neal's Porch and Sound Unity, expanded to Raining on the Moon and expanded again. He's been building up a catalog under his own name, now up to 19 titles, mostly duos or trios on very small labels. He plays fast and fierce, thrilling when it all comes together. This group was assembled for a Vision Festival show, then reconvened in the studio, where they play 7 Brown originals. Craig Taborn (piano, electronics), William Parker (bass), Gerald Cleaver (drums) -- terrific rhythm section, they keep Brown flying all through the session, or soaring gracefully on the rare spots when they slow down a bit. A- [Mar. 11]
Cindy Blackman: Music for the New Millennium (2008, Sacred Sound, 2CD): Drummer, born 1959 in Ohio, raised in Connecticut, studied at Berklee and with Alan Dawson. Has a pile of records as a leader: 4 on Muse, 3 on High Note. Don't know when this was recorded (AMG lists whole thing as 2004, which looks to be wrong). Quartet, with JD Allen on tenor sax, Carlton Holmes on keyboards, George Mitchell on bass. AMG classifies Blackman as hard bop, which seems fair: this is solid mainstream fare with nothing aiming towards postbop. Blackman's drumming is heightened in the mix, but not heavy handed. It's her record, and shows her off well. I'm even more impressed with Allen. He's got a distinct tone, commanding presence, can move around and flash some muscle. From Detroit, about 33, has two albums I haven't heard -- the one called Pharoah's Children most likely has nothing to do with Sanders. B+(**)
The Klobas/Kesecker Ensemble: No Gravity (2007 , KKEnsemble): Bay Area group. Klobas plays bass, has a classical background as well as some jazz credits, teaches at Cal State Hayward. Kesecker plays vibes and marimba. He's played with Zakir Hussain in the past, and Hussain returns the favor here, gaining a front cover "guest artist" notice. Hussain's tabla doesn't stand out all that much, but contributes to the fertile rhythms. The non-guest who does stand out is saxophonist Gene Burkert. He's credited with woodwinds here, given no further specifics. His tenor sax powers through the first piece, the perfect foil for the rhythmic accents. His other horns are less impressive, but the record picks up whenever the tenor returns. Having trouble (some merely technical) getting more info on these guys. Fun record. Amusing cover shot -- grins well deserved. B+(**)
Keith Marks: Foreign Funk (2006 , Markei): Reported to be "a 35 year veteran of the entertainment business," but this looks like the first album under his name. AMG has some very scattered credits: Beaver Harris, Jerry Goodman, Tommy Shaw, Wishbone Ash, Styx. Harris is pretty obscure these days, but he was a drummer with a pan-African orientation working on the avant fringes, leading a group called The 360 Degree Music Experience. Someone could make something out of that. As for the others, I guess money's green. Marks plays flute. He gets a nice airy sound out of it, and it's not really the problem, although it is kind of limited. The problem is the songs, which pace the title cut, are neither foreign (world would be more politically correct, and for once smarter to boot) nor funky: low points include "Mission Impossible," "Eleanor Rigby," and that old Seals & Croft barfer, "Summer Breeze." B- [Apr. 1]
Melody Breyer-Grell: Fascinating' Rhythms: Singing Gershwin (2008, Rhombus): Singer, born in New York, raised on Long Island. Don't know when, or how long she spent "honing in on her skills" -- her web bio doesn't offer much for a timeline, but she emerged in 2004 with an album called The Right Time (Blujazz), and this is her second. Gershwin songs, hard to go wrong there. Strong voice, able to spin some nuance that I don't always like. First half she seems game to challenge the standards head on, and she gets plenty of help from her band, especially saxophonist Don Braden. Toward the end she feels the need to try to do something a bit different. She talks her way through much of "They All Laughed," then sandwiches "Embraceable You" and "Our Love Is Here to Stay." Score some points for interest and form. Try not to think too much about Ella. B+(*) [Mar. 4]
Gonzalo Rubalcaba: Avatar (2007 , Blue Note): Cuban pianist, has a long string of records since 1990, and should by now be considered one of the world's major jazz pianists. Rather straight jazz quintet, with Yosvany Terry (various saxophones), Mike Rodriguez (trumpet), Matt Brewer (bass), and Marcus Gilmore (drums). Most of the kinks come from the pianist himself, whose deftness at shifting rhythms, at breaking the flow with abrupt stops and starts, is unique. Terry continues to impress. Not as immediately appealing as his last group album, Paseo, but part of that is added complexity. Still working on it. [B+(***)]
Frank Kimbrough: Air (2003-07 , Palmetto): Pianist, part of the Jazz Composers Collective circle in New York. Has 8-10 records since 1988, plus a fair amount of session work -- his role in Maria Schneider's orchestra may be a draw. I've heard a couple, and haven't heard much in them. This solo set started promising, but didn't sustain my interest. But that's usually the case with solo piano, so I'm not sure what this proves. B
No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.
Sunday, February 17. 2008
At the end of each Jazz Consumer Guide cycle I have a lot of paperwork to do. Most of this is only of interest to me. I do things like moving my notes from the print and flush files for the previous cycle to the notebook, where it's easier for me to find them. The thing that takes the most work is making a pass through my "done" file -- the notes repository for all of the records that I've rated, haven't written up reviews for, but think I still might want to. Usually what happens is that the done file grows up to around 120 records. I only have space to review about 30 per column, so that's four columns worth, not even counting the new records will that will come in during the meantime. I figure that of those 120 I will at most wind up using 40, so it does no harm to cut the file back to 60-80. It just forces me to cope with reality.
The problem is, those records didn't get cut when I first rated them for a reason: usually that they're pretty good and deserve at least the Honorable Mention treatment. There are a few exceptions that I hold back for possible Dud treatment, but they are a tiny fraction. There are lots of reasons why good records don't make it to the column. I used to figure that if Francis Davis covered a record in the Village Voice I needn't merely concur, but I wound up losing track of what Davis does, so that's less of an excuse. I also tended to scratch off records that I reviewed in Recycled Goods, but I won't have that excuse any longer. I do prefer covering new jazz in Jazz CG, but I'm starting to work more old records in, and that will probably continue. So more and more, my reasons aren't all that good or clean cut. At the high end, they come down to age, lack of inspiration, and faulty memory. I also try to whittle from the bottom end, leaving only things that have some special interest. Even they tend to get cut as they get old. It's not so much that I think the timeliness is so important to the reader as I figure it shows some marginal loss of interest on my part.
When I do the surplus cut, I find that in most cases what I've already written in Jazz Prospecting suffices. But in a few cases I feel like adding a few more words, maybe even a bit of explanation. These extra notes follow:
Ralph Alessi & This Against That: Look (2005 , Between the Lines): I hate pulling the plug on this, but it's one high HM I did go back and play again and again, but never managed to get anything written about it. Alessi has repeatedly distinguished himself as a sideman, and that has some relevance here. His leads are as tight and tasteful as his support work, only here they're supposed to stand out front. Complex, difficult postbop -- I can't begin to enumerate the interesting ideas. Only a couple of minor flat spots kept it from the A-list, and in any case it deserves a listen. I'm only kicking it off because I'm not up to it, and I'm getting tired of the pressure. B+(***)
Richie Barshay: Homework (2004-05 , AYVA): Picked this up on the rebound along with Francisco Mela (q.v.). Both guys are drummers who can do a lot of different things, and stuff their debut albums so full of it they wind up feeling like recitals or clinics. I like this one a shade more, but never found much to say about it. He's a talent to keep an eye on. B+(***)
Tony DeSare: Last First Kiss (2006 , Telarc): Slick, handsome, he's my favorite Sinatra wannabe. Young enough he may figure Prince and Carole King were part of Tin Pan Alley. Two good albums down. I'll catch him one of these days. B+(***)
Steve Lacy-Roswell Rudd Quartet: Early and Late (1962-2002 , Cuneiform, 2CD): Previously unreleased work from the 1962 quartet that recorded School Days, an album that much later provided Ken Vandermark with a group name, and from the 1999-2002 reunion that recorded Monk's Dream. Both were major figures in the intervening decades, although Rudd had a rougher time, for a while making ends meet playing nostalgia bands in the Catskills. This only loses out to the space crunch: Francis Davis covered it in the Voice, I wrote it up in Recycled Goods, and it's been sitting a while. A-
Francisco Mela: Melao (2005 , AYVA): I only found out about this Boston-based Cuban drummer after his album won the Village Voice Jazz Poll's debut category. One reason it won was that for a debut album it had a lot of star power: Joe Lovano, George Garzone, Anat Cohen, Lionel Loueke. Getting to it so late I never spent enough time sorting it out -- "an embarrassment of riches," I called it. Haven't touched it in a long time since. B+(***)
Golda Solomon: Word Riffs (2006, JazzJaunts): Spoken word poet with jazz accompaniment. I tracked this down looking for background after I heard her on saxophonist Saco Yasuma's Another Rain, and it's more of what intrigued me in the first place. B+(**)
Abram Wilson: Ride! Ferris Wheel to the Modern Day Delta (2007, Dune): Dune is an English label trying to break a peculiarly English form of Contemporary Jazz -- one based on hip-hop, reggae, maybe some African pop, something far hipper than any American label of similar ambitions would risk. I applaud the idea, but the realization has been more miss than hit thus far. A couple of years back saxophonist Soweto Kinch released a pretty good but deeply flawed album, while trumpeter Abram Wilson dropped a really bad one. Last year they traded places, with Kinch going deeper into hip-hop and getting lost, while Wilson rediscovered his footing in New Orleans. I wrote up Kinch as a dud. Figured I'd soften the blow with this as an HM, but didn't get it done. Sorry about that. B+(**)
Yerba Buena Stompers: Dawn Club Favorites (2001, Stomp Off): The first of five Stomp Off albums I got as background on this fine trad jazz group. Their model is Lou Watters' Yerba Buena Jazz Band, formed in 1939 at the beginning of the first great trad jazz revival, and largely responsible for it. Watters' played in San Francisco's Dawn Club, and this is what he played: same lineup, same arrangements, better sound (of course). In my review of the new The Yama-Yama Man, I singled out this and the following New Orleans Favorites as the best of the back catalog. Makes sense that if you're doing repertoire, you'd start from the top. A-
Yerba Buena Stompers: Duff Campbell's Revenge (2005, Diamondstack): Beyond from the five studio releases on Stomp Off, John Gill sent me two live sets on Diamondstack. They are scruffier sounding, a bit looser, not as articulate, but this one in particular is pretty good anyway, a nice little digest of their first four studio albums, with some stories thrown in about someone named Duff Campbell, a notable patron of San Francisco's trad jazz scene. B+(***)
The full surplus file is here.
Saturday, February 16. 2008
Five years ago George W. Bush made a horrible mistake: he ordered the US military to invade and occupy Iraq. It's never been all that clear why he did it. The military doctrine of preventive attacks against potential WMD threats wasn't a reason: it was invented just for Iraq, and was stretched thin by the lack of evidence that any such threat existed. Bush no doubt expected the invasion to go as swimmingly as he thought Afghanistan had gone. And there's no doubt that he anticipated a big political upside to another big victory. He had grown to relish his Commander-in-Chief role, and figured his record as War President would be his ticket to a second term. Evidence that the war was a mistake came pretty fast, as Iraq descended into chaos, revolt, and ultimately civil war, while US forces proved powerless to reconstruct basic infrastructure, provide essential security, or reconcile local political factions. Not that Bush tried all that hard: he's been preoccupied for five years now denying that what he did was a mistake.
Some of the costs of Bush's mistake are calculable: over 3000 US soldiers have been killed, and many more maimed; an uncounted number of Iraqis have died violently, probably more than a half million; close to five million Iraqis have been driven from their homes, with 1.7 million fleeing the country, the others moving from mixed to segregated neighborhoods to escape death squads; the US has spent something like $500 billion to occupy Iraq, with the long-term costs likely to be 2-4 times as much; nonetheless, most of Iraq remains unreconstructed, with basic services like sewers and electricity still far worse than before the war. Other costs are much harder to calculate, or even imagine. The war spending and its deficit financing have contributed to an economic downturn that can also be blamed on numerous other Bush policies -- much like Bush tried to cover up his Iraq mistake, his cronies tried to prop up a weak post-9/11 economy with a flood of subprime lending, floating the now collapsing housing bubble. The one success Bush could point to was that by taking so much Iraqi oil off the market he's boosted oil prices (and oil company profits) to historical highs, although that hasn't exactly been an unalloyed blessing for Americans.
Even harder to figure is how much damage to our political and moral culture so much dissembling and posturing, deceit and conceit have caused. By never admitting his mistake, Bush encourages his diehard followers to fight on to the end. From the day we invaded we should have known that it would only be a matter of time before we packed up and left. No army in modern times has invaded another country and held on to control it, and there's no reason to think either the US or Iraq should be the exception. Looking back at the Bremer year one may conclude that Bush's people screwed it up even worse than expected, but it's just as arguable that what they did was exactly what they were about: the cronyism, the corruption, the conviction that their crackpot right-wing economic theories produced (rather than stole) wealth, their naive fantasies that the natives would cower under their displays of shock and awe.
That the US is still in Iraq, with more troops than ever, shows how much of the country's resources Bush is willing to save face. He understands that to admit to a mistake discredits everything he stands for. So he hangs on, setting the table for lashing out at whoever does finally find the realism to withdraw with charges of backstabbing perfidy, hoping his followers can ride that line to redeem him and found a third Bush reich. To the American people, this would be the ultimate instance of adding insult to injury.
Some Iraq links follow.
Patrick Cockburn: Is the US really bringing stability to Baghdad? Depends on what you're willing to call stability. The civil war in 2006 created a new equilibrium with whole neighorhoods "ethnically cleansed" and millions of displaced people. To a large extent, violence is down now because people have resigned themselves to the effects of the violence last year.
Michael Schwartz: The Iraqi Brain Drain. The total number of displaced people in Iraq is close to 5 million, almost 20% of the total population. This piece reviews the history and present conditions. Last line: "As long as the United States keeps trying to pacify Iraq, it will create wave after wave of misery."
Helena Cobban: Military Occupations, Sewage, and Governance. After five years of US occupation, Baghdad's sewer system still hasn't been repaired to the state it was in before the invasion. Cobban contrasts that with 40 years of Israeli occupation of Gaza. The health situation in Gaza continues to deteriorate as Israel continues its collective punishment for the insult of last year's elections.
From other reports, it looks like Israel is getting closer to provoking a new round of terrorist attacks. The first Hamas-linked suicide bombing since well before the elections took place recently -- one of the few things, dysfunctional as it is, Palestinians can still do in response to the conditions Israel has imposed, as well as the targeted killings and more/less random shellings. Hezbollah has in turn threatened to play Israel's assassination game. It is not sure that Israel was responsible for the car bomb in Damascus that killed a Hezbollah leader -- Walid Jumblatt has been talking about doing just that sort of thing -- but if so it wouldn't be the first time Israel killed a Hezbollah leader. I don't see how either Hezbollah or Hamas stand to gain anything by getting back in the terror racket. It works for Israel because terrorist attacks grab world attention, giving Israel a free pass not only for its own violence but to avoid reckoning with all the hardship they've caused.
I shouldn't have to add this, but the war-politics axis is not a zero-sum game of morality. Atrocities on one side in no way justify injustices on the other. There's no way to balance suicide bombing or Qassam rocket attacks and the collective punishment that Israel inflicts on Gaza: they are both off the scale of acceptable behavior. But there is one significant asymmetry: if Hamas halts its violence and mistreatment of Israelis, as they have on occasion done, nothing changes; but if Israel were to halt its violence and mistreatment of Palestinians, the whole conflict would change. It's really up to Israel to take the steps necessary to end the carnage. Until they are willing to do that, it hardly matters what Palestinians do.
Friday, February 15. 2008
Jonathan Schwarz: Bill Kristol's Obscure Masterpiece. This starts as a review of Kristol's extraordinary record for screwing up every analysis and prediction he's ever made, then gets more interesting as Schwarz pulls excerpts from a debate between Kristol and Daniel Ellsberg that occurred a few days after Bush invaded Iraq. It includes a synopsis of US-Saddam relationships up to the war, starting with the CIA-backed coups that brought Saddam to power. It includes Ellsberg's prediction that we would wind up betraying the Kurds yet again, then points out how the US looked the other way when Turkey bombed Kurdistan. You don't need this to conclude that Kristol is a fool, but the historical review is worth rehashing. Five years later we still hear people pleading that nobody knew it would all go so wrong. The fact is that some people knew perfectly well. And some others were plain idiots.
Thursday, February 14. 2008
A batch on electoral politics. (I hate it when that happens.)
Matt Taibbi: The Chicken Doves. I like his stuff, and his print-edition sidebar on Giuliani is as vicious as the G-Man deserves, but this piece on Reid, Pelosi, et al. is a bit pissy. It's not really true that the Democrats got a mandate in 2006 to end the war. Maybe they would have had they asked for one, but Chuck Shumer and Rahm Emmanuel campaigned for seats and if anything leaned against doves. I mean, if 2006 was so antiwar, how the hell did Joe Lieberman win? The result is that they don't have the votes to shut down war funding, nor do they want to act like Newt Gingrich and try to shut down all funding. I can't fault them for that, but I do agree that they've come up short, especially in terms of launching investigations into the most criminal, most corrupt administration in American history. Instead, they're investigating Roger Clemens? Even if he's an asshole Republican (which I don't know and frankly don't care one way or the other) there are a lot of folks who should be in line ahead of him. One helluva lot.
PS: One thing I was wondering about is whatever happened to the US Attorney purge scandal, but the House did vote today to hold Josh Bolten and Harriet Miers in contempt for their refusal to testify. That's something, although I doubt if we see them in jail any time soon.
Barbara Ehrenreich: Unstoppable Obama. As long as I can remember, change has been a cliché in politics, and rarely as enticing as it's assumed to be. Change, like Rumsfeld's "stuff," happens. The real political problem is usually figuring out how to ride it out. But Bush has trashed our world so thoroughly that almost any kind of change looks preferable. For the wonk set, Obama may be lacking in specifics, but on a superficial level it's hard to believe how lucky we are to have him: "As conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan has written, Obama's election could mean the re-branding of America. An anti-war black president with an Arab-sounding name: See, we're not so bad after all, world!" Another sample (emphasis original):
Paul Krugman: Hate Springs Eternal. Krugman's been sniping at Obama all year, usually over details of proposed policy that Obama has kept nebulous. That's usually been fair play because it lets Krugman keep pushing critical details. Here he trips up, charging that the Obama campaign is "dangerously close to becoming a cult of personality." I can't speak for Obama's supporters -- I'm more of a bemused bystander -- but I can think of plenty of reasons to be wary of Hillary Clinton. (I've listed them in previous posts.) In particular, I'm skeptical that she "is more serious about achieving universal health care" -- admittedly, she has something to prove on that score, but that may just be because she muffed it so badly last time around. Even so, the title seems way over the top. Hate is, after all, a Republican virtue. Rather, what I would feel if Clinton wins out over Obama is exactly what I heard Clinton say back when her health care plan was being chewed up by attack dogs. When asked if she would be angry if the plan was rejected, she said "no, I'd be sad for America." I would have respected her more at the time if she had said, "hell, yes, I'd be angry!" -- would have made me feel she had a stake in the fight. So if Obama's supporters get angry now, I have to respect the fact that they give a damn. But if Clinton does prevail, then fine, we'll settle for being sad, vote against McCain, and get on her case to do the right thing. If Obama wins, we'll still have to do the latter. But I figure, especially in our current poisoned political atmosphere, that Obama has an advantage in not being too specific, in pushing for intangibles like hope and character, instead of a bunch of half-assed plans like John Kerry trotted out on every question. The real problems are worse than the American people can handle right now, and it is those real problems -- not our preferred preconceptions -- that will determine what actually happens in the near future. So there's an advantage in not getting too wedded to what might be easy to sell right now. I score that one for Obama.
Arianna Huffington: End of a Romance: Why the Media and Independent Voters Need to Break Up with John McCain. One to pass along to anyone you know who still believes that McCain deserves any respect whatsoever. (Note that the piece was posted too soon to include McCain's vote in favor of the president's right to torture enemies.) Beyond the words, includes a picture of McCain hugging Bush, while the latter looks like Jesus (or a bible thumping country pastor) welcoming the sinner home. Personally, I think Huffington's too easy on him, but she has a rather checkered past as well. When McCain ran against Bush in 2000 it was McCain who was the neocon superhawk, and he had Paul Wolfowitz in his tent to prove it. McCain lost in 2000 when he didn't have the guts to stand up to the Confederate flag, then tried to make amends after the South Carolina primary. We can go on and on. It's hard to see why he gets any respect at all.
Steve Benen: Meet Mr. Vague Generalities. One more on McCain. Quotes Jonathan Chait: "On economics, he's repeatedly admitted that he knows very little. And on social issues, he doesn't even know what his own positions are." Comments are worth scanning, even though they mostly want to talk about Obama.
By the way, I send out a mail announcement when a Jazz Consumer Guide runs, or very infrequently something else of similar interest. But not often: e.g., I don't send out Jazz Prospecting announcements. The mailings are a courtesy to publicists who send me records. I just sent one out today. If you didn't get an announcement, and would like to get them, please drop me a line (look for Contact on the sidebar). The mailing list is currently hand-hacked and very klugey, so I'm not looking for a lot of recipients. In particular, if you follow the blog closely you'll get all the announcements you need here. But if you want push notices, let me know.
Sooner or later I want to replace this with a real mail list manager, which you can sign up for and manage directly. Until then, I just wanted to point out what I'm doing and give people notice on how to make up for my own clumsiness.
Of course, if you're on the list and want off, let me know.
Wednesday, February 13. 2008
My Jazz Consumer Guide column appeared in the Village Voice this week. This is the 15th such column, going back to July 2004, covering a total of 459 records. Historically, they've been running every three months. The previous one came out on October 23, so this time it's been a little over three months. I have a lot of stuff left over, and should make it a point not to take so long next time. Certainly, there's no shortage of worthwhile jazz records, and no need to take so long to get to them. Many of the records this time have been out close to a year, and have been languishing in my files for much of that time. I really should push to speed up the columns. If we can get them up to a 2-month schedule instead of what we've been doing, the time delays would significantly lessen. As it is, I already have a full column's worth of A-list records piled up (not that I have them all written up yet). The following are A-list leftovers (not secrets if you've been reading my Jazz Prospecting blog):
That's actually more than I can fit into a column, plus I'm already finding more A-list items in this cycle (a couple of these are scoops, as they are part of next week's Jazz Prospecting):
In the cycle for this week's column, I wrote up Jazz Prospecting notes for 259 albums (down from 269 the previous cycle). These notes are collected here.
I don't have the surplus file done yet, but will soon go through my leftovers and cut them back to more reasonable dimensions. Then I'll put up a post and note some of the cuts. The big problem, as always, is space and time -- not enough of either. But there's also a small problem, which is that I always seem to be hurting for pick hits and, especially, duds. Pick hits are probably just a matter of time: I don't spend enough time with good records to get to really love them -- I don't think I've played a record daily for a month since the Pet Shop Boys' Very. The only reason I wound up playing the Chris Byars more than any other last year (by a pretty big margin, in fact) was that I had so much trouble knocking out my short review. That it held up to all those plays is certainly a point in its favor, but in the end I couldn't quite nudge it over the line to a full A. That's really the standard I look for in pick hits, and I haven't been finding it. On the other hand, I've set some pretty strict standards for the grade, which are easy enough to check out by looking at my database Jazz A/A+ List. One thing that went into them is the notion of standing the test of time, which is hard for a new record to assuredly do.
The problem with duds is much knottier. The first problem is that I don't find that I get many bad or even mediocre jazz albums. In 2006 I wound up giving B- or lower grades to 41 out of 502 records, 8.1%. In 2007 I got a bit meaner, picking on 44 out of 511 records, 8.6%. Even if you throw in the grade B records (85 in 2006, 96 in 2007) you only get 25.0% and 27.8%. Due to some psychological quirks, I'm probably better than most people at seeing other people's points of view, and as such in finding merit in things I'm not especially attracted to -- as such I hand out a lot of low but polite B+(*) grades which someone more harshly judgmental might downgrade. It may also be the case that some bad records have been avoiding me. But I'm also convinced that there's not a lot of bad jazz albums out there, probably because there's not enough money to be made on them -- aside from pop jazz, which does do a pretty good job of avoiding me.
But even within this small sliver of records that I think are really not much good, most are by unknowns and are hardly worth writing about. I toyed with dudding Ed Johnson's album just because it's so bad, but wound up not caring. But the effect of weeding out records by people hardly anyone has ever heard of is that the dud slot becomes a big game hunt. I wind up looking for off albums by artists who most folks regard as major figures. I find a few, but there aren't many. Here's the featured dud list to date:
That list pretty much does what I aimed for, and looking back the grades and comments still seem on the mark. Carter, Lovano, Vaché, and Potter have also scored JCG A-list records. Liebman, Corea, both Marsalis brothers (the LCJO dud was for Wynton), Jackson, and Hancock all have A-list records further back in my database. Brecker doesn't, but he got an HM for Pilgrimage, and almost everyone but me regards him as a titan, some as a god. G and Botti are bestselling pop jazz icons. Eigsti, Savage, and Kinch were small fries with a lot of hype, and they each represented something bigger than themselves: Eigsti the Concord marketing machine, which was trying to fashion jazz star breakthroughs like the mainstream pop world does; Savage the notion of genius in the form of child prodigies; Kinch some form of hip-hop fusion. The Turtle Islanders cover a multitude of sins: overdogs with their Grammys, pop panderers, plus they took on some of the sacred texts of jazz repertoire and made a godawful mess of them.
Actually, the success of this list is one of the things that make it so daunting. Would it be de trop to pick on Hancock (The River) or Corea (his Bela Fleck collaboration) again? Mark Murphy's record was truly horrible, but it's not like I've ever liked his work. Maria Schneider has become big enough game, but is that in itself reason enough to go after her? I don't much like any of her albums, but I don't much dislike them either: for me they're just kind of bland and uninteresting, a reaction at odds with what pretty much everyone else seems to be having. Until I have something worth saying, I don't feel up to taking her on -- maybe I'm even a bit gunshy around her. (Francis Davis told me he was "shocked" when I put Concert in the Garden on an extra duds list.)
One thing for sure is that three of the last four Duds were unhappy picks. Vaché and Potter both play well against backgrounds I dislike, Potter especially so. Kinch is a guy I hope will get it together and do well. Looking forward, there's not much I want to get into. Aside from Schneider, Eric Alexander and David Hazeltine have a pair of records that are well off their usual standards, but when I played Alexander I came up empty. I thought about Nicole Mitchell's Black Earth Ensemble: an overwrought B by a talented and charismatic young musician on a weak instrument. She's likely to emerge as a Regina Carter-level star sometime soon, but it's premature to hold that against her. The Kurt Elling record is probably down to my standards, but no worse than anything else he's done -- may even be his best. Sean Jones? Matt Shulman? I've already moved Fathead Newman's latest to the "flush" file, figuring as bad as it is, it's still better than the last one I dudded.
While writing this, I came up with an idea for restructuring the column, and kicked if off to the Voice. Get rid of the big review "dud of the month" and expand what I write in the "duds" list, including grades so the difference between a B and a D is clear. We'll see what they think of the idea. When Robert Christgau first came out with this format circa 1990 he called his idea for the revamped Consumer Guide "The A List" -- the whole point was to spend full time finding good records, which he felt he wasn't getting to because he was having to spend so much time listening to crap. The "Dud of the Month" was added later, at Eric Weisbard's insistence. Weisbard figured that critics should get nasty at least some of the time, if for no other reason than to show they don't fall for everything. Of course, Christgau never had the problems I'm laying out here. I assure you that if I was covering hard rock, singer-songwriters, rap, and Nashville I wouldn't either.
Tuesday, February 12. 2008
Last few months I've been collecting links to interesting pieces, adding comments, and posting them once-weekly. Some lose their timeliness. Sometimes I lose track. The Tom Lantos bit below is a good example of something that should come out sooner, and in general I don't see much value in collecting longer posts without common threads. So we'll try this change. I'll probably queue up and post at the end of the day. (That at least was the theory last night, but I didn't quite get this done then.) And I'm not likely to have things every day (although I do feel a tinge of gratification when I manage to fill in a monthly calendar). But here's a start.
Steve Clemons: Tom Lantos' Israel-Palestine Shift. Congressman Tom Lantos (D-CA) died today, age 80. For decades, at least on matters relating to Israel, he has been one of the most intransigently hawkish members there, pretty much AIPAC's man on the House floor. Clemons argues here that lately Lantos has moderated his positions -- e.g., arguing for diplomatic efforts to reduce tensions with Iran. I can't tell you whether there's any truth to that, let alone whether it might have made any difference. But one thing that strikes me as a repeated theme in Israeli history is how many key Israeli figures seemed to be moving toward some sort of peace position as they faded from the scene and died off. David Ben Gurion, who created the conflict by driving 700,000 Palestinians into exile and establishing the policies preventing their return, had by 1967 opposed any further expansion of Israel, and would certainly have traded the territories captured then for political recognition by the Arab states -- the current official position of the Arab League. Moshe Dayan, who led the expansion in 1967, was key to returning the Sinai to Egypt in 1979, and would have gone further if he had the power (by then Menachem Begin was Prime Minister; by then even Begin had moderated from his 1948 position when he was responsible for the worst massacres of Palestinians). Yitzhak Rabin, who had key roles in 1948 and 1967, was working towards extending his possibly cynical Oslo Accords when he was assassinated. I'm not certain that one can add Ariel Sharon to this list, although he had withdrawn from Gaza before his stroke, and it's unlikely that he would have stupidly invaded Lebanon in 2007 like his successor (or like he himself did in 1982). I suppose this could be taken as evidence that there is a God and that God wants Armageddon. Personally, I'm not so pessimistic about the universe. But it does make me pessimistic about human nature. One thing all of these oldtime warriors believed was that time was on the side of Israel, that all they had to do to win was wait. They were wrong. They waited, they died, they got bupkes, or worse: their lot was inherited by people who would fair even worse.
On the other hand, while Israel may keep drifting to the right, it's unlikely that Americans (Democrats anyway) will keep drifting with them. One reason Lantos was so effective was that no one wants to fight with a Holocaust survivor. The Republican right has its own reasons for supporting the Israeli right, and those reasons are increasingly inimical to values more and more Democrats (more and more Americans) are holding. It's still de rigeur for Democrats to support Israel, but it will make a world of difference whether you support Israel for peace and justice or you support Israel for nationalist domination and war. As such, the idea that Lantos was becoming more moderate may further realignment of the Democrats, whereas the moderation of the Israelis I referred to were literally dead ends.
David Grossman: The blind giant of the Middle East. Actually, I found Grossman's diatribe against Ehud Olmert over the Lebanon war that killed Grossman's son too turgid to get into -- I don't doubt that Israel has lost its way, but I also don't think it was on the right road in the first place. Rather, I want to point out one of the "choice" letters, by Chad Bagley. The other, by Gadi Ben-Yehuda, isn't bad either, but appeals to idealism where Bagley cites good old fashioned pragmatism (I was tempted to say American, but I don't see much of it hereabouts any more):
Two or three points I'd like to add to this. The first is that Israelis are themselves divided over what to do, so the problem is less getting the US to tell Israel what to do than to get the US to line up in ways that support Israelis who are willing to live peaceably and equitably with non-Jews in the region. The US is not sending the right message by structuring so much aid for military purposes, just to take the most obvious example. The US has a bigger problem in understanding that the occupation or any institution of unequal treatment will never solve and will only cause conflict. This should be easy enough to understand: all people can agree to equal treatment; only a part of the people will ever agree to unequal treatment. One need only ask oneself why.
Another point is that the root cause of Israel and all of the strife that has come out of it was the unwillingness of world powers and the world in general to settle displaced Jews in their own lands. In order for Israelis to accept equality Jews must be treated equitably elsewhere. Zionism depends on antisemitism. Take antisemitism away and Zionism has no rationale to exist. It should be quite practical to monitor both that non-Jews in Israel and its subject territories are treated equitably and that Jews outside Israel are also treated equitably, with the powers of the world united to reinforce such behavior. To make that happen the US would have to commit to equal treatment (which is, after all, a fundamental principle of American law) and to build cooperative world organizations to work through (forsaking our own selfish interests for common goals -- aye, there's the rub: the American national religion, after all, is the resolute belief that our pursuit of our individual and national self-interests is ultimately best for everyone).
Monday, February 11. 2008
Spent the whole week listening to new jazz. Started with singers, partly by accident, then by chain of reasoning, or maybe because they go fast. Didn't get much in the mail, so for once the queue shrunk, clearing a couple of annoying piles off my desk. It would still take another three, maybe four, such weeks to catch up, but finally making some progress. I have 60% of the next column written, plus enough identified A-list and honorable mention material to fill up the rest. Also have a couple of possible pick hits, but those aren't locked in. Don't know what to do about the dud slot, which is getting to be a huge pet peeve. I should hold off writing more on that until the pending column comes out, but as usual the hint is on Downbeat's cover. I like the magazine, but I think the only duds they've missed so far have been my bottom feeders (Kenny G and Chris Botti) and a couple of longshot pianists (Taylor Eigsti and Matt Savage). I also don't recall picking any after the cover appeared, so chalk it up to karma somehow.
Jazz CG #15 should be out in the Village Voice mid-week. Don't know what the final cuts are, but I cut down the amount I sent in, so it shouldn't be too bad. I still need to trim back the done list (currently 118 deep; probably should be more like 60) and polish off the surplus file. I figure I could start closing out Jazz CG #16 after as little as two more weeks. Historically, I've run a column every three months and slipped a bit lately (13 to 14 was 3 days short of 4 months; 14 to 15 will also be 3 days short of 4 months). Slips getting slotted into the Voice are the main reason -- one that's unlikely to change, so the only way to speed up would be for me to shorten my cycle. The number of good records to write about would support a two month cycle. I don't know whether the Voice would, but I haven't pushed it hard enough yet to force an answer.
One anomaly below is that I spend a lot of time bitching about Flash websites. I suspect that musicians like Flash because it's good for pushing music out -- same reason they like MySpace, which provides them with a Flash widget for music. That's also one of the reasons I hate Flash: I'm always playing something else when I look up a website, and don't want it to start interfering with my sound. There are lots of other things I hate about Flash, but the reason I got rid of it is that it enables viruses that damage my browser and lose me a lot of work. Since the web was invented, there has been a struggle going on between page designers and users over control of the screen. Flash does offer occasionally useful things, but it tips the balance of power way to the side of the design fascists. A lot of my complaints could be lessened by Flash if they just made their widgets more user friendly: let us turn sound off as a default, let us stop an animation, let us kill and cover up a whole widget, give us some more effective control against untoward behavior. Flash doesn't let us do such reasonable things; the only recourse we have is to disable it. The main reason I go to an artist website is to get some info. That can be done better in HTML than in Flash. It's fine with me if you have straight HTML pages with Flash widgets for only the things Flash is good for. It's also OK to have parallel Flash and HTML paths like Dynamod provides. But this idea that everything has to be Flash hurts me, and ultimately hurts you. It's not browsable, not searchable, and downright irritating. Maybe now that I've said this here, I won't have to repeat it over and over again in the notes, as I did here.
Kat Parra: Azucar de Amor (2008, Patois): Singer, from California, currently somewhere in the Bay Area. Does a mixed bag of Latin music, sambas and mambos, Afro-Cuban and Afro-Peruvian, charangas and danzóns, salsa, with a special interest in Sephardic whatever -- she sings in Ladino, as well as Spanish, Portuguese, French, and (not on her list, but I guess this is a given) English. Second album. It's easier to nitpick the English and/or the slow ones -- she does "Misty" as a bolero but it still sounds like a pretty ordinary "Misty" to me. Her "mystic Sephardic ballad" is appropriately dreamy, something called "Esta Montanya D'Enfrente." B
Libby York: Here With You (2007 , Libby York Music): Singer, from Chicago but spent the 1980s in New York, studying with Abbey Lincoln and Judy Niemack. Started singing professionally at 35, and now had 3 albums in her mid-40s. Sings standards ("You Go to My Head," "But Beautiful," "Azure Te," "Flamingo"). Mid-range voice with precise intonation, able to wrap old chestnuts in fine leather or lace. Guitarist Howard Alden gets credit for arrangements, but yields to Russell Malone on three cuts. Renee Rosnes gets credit as Production Assistant ("the world's most overqualified"), but no piano, a clever omission which leaves plenty of room for Warren Vaché's delectable cornet -- much better than his duet on "Walkin' My Baby Back Home," which is sort of winning nonetheless. B+(***)
Wendy Luck: See You in Rio (2006, Wendy Luck Music): Singer, also plays flute. Third album. AMG classifies her as new age, which indicates the flute came first. Sort of a wispy blonde voice, attractive enough, unmannered and carefree on lightweight Brazilian fare. One long quasi-classical flute feature, "Bachianas Brasilieras No. 5" by Heitor Villa-Lobos, is neither here nore there. B-
Something for You: Eliane Elias Sings & Plays Bill Evans (2007 , Blue Note): For starters, I still find Evans impenetrable, which isn't to say I'm immune to his charms, although he really has to be doing something special to overcome my resistance. Pianist Elias manages to evoke the same conflicted responses, so she must be doing something right. In general, she's a better pianist than singer. (Except when she's doing Jobim. Maybe Astrud Gilberto skewed the field so far that even Elias seems vibrant by comparison, or maybe she's just so much more at home there.) But the paleness in her voice suits the half-plus songs with vocals here, although only "Detour Ahead" really catches my ear. Bassist-husband Marc Johnson played with Evans, and managed to borrow Scott LaFaro's bass for a couple of songs, so he's beyond reproach. Joey Baron is exceptionally quiet, never reminiscent of Paul Motian. No idea whether Evans fans will like this or not. I find it charming, but can't claim I understand why. B+(***)
Katie Bull: The Story, So Far (2006 , Corn Hole Indie): An adventurous jazz singer, citing Jay Clayton and Sheila Jordan as influences, working with mostly avant musicians like Michael Jefry Stevens and Joe Fonda. Fourth album, a very ambitious song suite, with a DVD (unviewed) documenting her performance art. You can use her cover of "Twisted" for calibration: it is looser and quirkier than Annie Ross (or Joni Mitchell, even), and those traits pop up every now and then in her originals. Problem is I don't find myself caring, even when she taunts Bush for not finding any WMD. B
Jamie Leonhart: The Truth About Suffering (2008, Sunnyside): Singer-songwriter, sharing some/most credits with pianist-husband Michael Leonhart. Born in New York, granddaughter of a cantor. Debut album, not counting a self-released EP that AMG lists first. Doesn't sound all that jazzy, but at least one jazz vocal niche is pure marketing accident: a few club dates, a jazz label, who knows? Sounds better when I listen closely, and I can't say that I gave it a fair hearing. Not something I'm much interested in. B
Patrick Arena: Night and Day (2008, Arenamusic): Singer, based in Western PA, maybe from there too, as his CV indicates he studied drama at Duquesne 1970-72, from which I also deduce he's over 50. Spent some time in NYC. Teaches voice. His strikes me as soft-toned, unmannered, with limited range, although he can modulate the volume. A couple of originals and some peculiar covers, like "I'm Always Drunk in San Francisco." C+
Elli Fordyce with Jim Malloy: Something Still Cool (1999-2006 , EF Music): Fordyce is a singer based in NY, b. 1937, with her first album. (I saw one website that had her born in 1974 with 6 albums, but nothing else I see gives that any credence. Scott Yanow's liner notes ask: "How can the singer possibly be 70 when her voice can pass for 40?") She likes the cool jazz of the 1950s, explaining that she hired trumpeter James Magnarelli for his fondness for Chet Baker. Malloy is another singer; has an album of mostly 1950s bop standards called Jazz Vocalist. He appears in duets on 5 songs, and they make a nice pair. Two cuts with just David Epstein on piano. The rest, including all the duets, have Harry Whitaker's piano trio, some with Magnarelli and/or percussionist Samuel Torres added. Good liner notes; solid craftsmanship. B+(*)
Diane Schuur: Some Other Time (2008, Concord): Singer. Has about 20 albums since 1985, but this is the first I've heard. Arguably she's the most famous jazz singer I'd never heard before -- she's had a couple of Grammys and 12 albums on Billboard's Top Ten Jazz Albums lists, but popularity tends to be suspect in this niche and Penguin Guide doesn't acknowledge her at all. Standards, well worn ones at that, like "Nice Work If You Can Get It," "Blue Skies," "Taking a Chance on Love," "My Favorite Things." One cut is rather strangely pulled from a 1964 archive, at which point she would have been 11, and that segues into an apparently new "Danny Boy." Small group with piano (Schuur on two cuts, Randy Porter elsewhere), guitar (Dean Balmer), bass and drums. She's an articulate singer with a finely honed neutral voice, assured. Given surefire songs and sensible, swinging even, arrangements, she makes a strong impression. B+(**) [Feb. 26]
Keefe Jackson's Project Project: Just Like This (2007, Delmark): Jackson plays tenor sax and bass clarinet. He moved to Chicago from Fayetteville, AR in 2001. Has an earlier record I haven't heard by a small group called Keefe Jackson's Fast Citizens. Project Project is a large improv-oriented band: 5 brass, 5 reeds, bass and drums. Loose, rowdy, occasionally rapturous solos, nothing that stands out much from any number of similar configurations. B+(*)
Mike Walbridge's Chicago Footwarmers: Crazy Rhythm (1966-2007 , Delmark): Born 1937 in Los Angeles, Walbridge moved from trumpet to sousaphone in his high school band, moved to Chicago after a stint in the military, joined the Original Salty Dogs, and founded the Chicago Footwarmers Hot Dance Orchestra in 1958, playing tuba. That trad jazz never changes is proven by the near-seamless pairing of a 1966-67 9-track LP with 8 new tracks from 40 years later. What holds it together is fellow Salty Dog Kim Cusack, who plays clarinet and alto sax on both sessions. He goes back even further, recording most frequently with James Dapogny, Ernie Carson, and Bob Schulz, although he also has a nice 1967-2007 pair of credits with Jim Kweskin and Maria Muldaur. While the 1967 sessions have extra piano, the most distinctly satisfying thing about this record is its elemental foursquare structure -- clarinet over tuba, banjo with drums -- as basic as trad jazz gets. A-
Sabertooth: Dr. Midnight (2007, Delmark): A quartet consisting of two saxophonists, Cameron Pfiffner and Pat Mallinger, with Pete Benson on organ and Ted Sirota on drums. Group formed in 1990 and has long held an after hours gig at Chicago's Green Mill Lounge. A previous self-released Live at the Green Mill album came out in 2001. The new one suggests they haven't gone anywhere. The two saxophonists can cut it, but Pfiffner likes to relax with his piccolo, Matlinger prefers a Native American flute, neither strong suits. Mostly originals by the saxophonists, but the best thing here is by "traditional," mostly because Sirota gets to shake a Latin beat. Strikes me as spotty, a problem with gigs: live you recall the good spots, on record you dread the rest. B-
Out to Lunch: Excuse Me While I Do the Boogaloo (2007, Accurate): Gratuitous AMG slam du jour: they label this group/record country. The hype sheet references Medeski Martin & Wood, Groove Collective, Club D'Elf, and others, summing up: "James Brown soul to dub influenced reggae, from jazz to house." I guess "acid jazz" doesn't buy you much these days. Actually, I find them a little soft and wobbly for any of those comparisons. The leader is Brooklyn saxophonist David Levy, who hails from Canada and passed through New England Conservatory. Levy's credit list here starts with bass clarinet and clarinet, which has something to do with the soft touch. Josiah Woodson plays trumpet and flute; Petr Cancura tenor/soprano sax and clarinet; Eric Lane keybs; two bassist alternate, and there are drums and electronics. Debut album, although AMG lists one from 2003 that probably doesn't belong here. B
Free Form Funky Freqs: Urban Mythology: Volume One (2007, Thirsty Ear): Guitar improv from Vernon Reid, with Jamaldeen Tacuma reverbing the funk bass and G. Calvin Weston on drums, with extra beeps, bonks and warps plugged in by Reid, but -- they swear -- no guitar, bass, or drum overdubs. Accept it for what little it is and you'll have a nice time. Don't hold your breath for Vol. 2. B+(*)
Steve Reid Ensemble: Daxaar (2007, Domino): Album cover claims "(recorded in africa)" in small bold print against an outline of the continent. The title is evidently an archaic spelling of Dakar, the capital of Senegal, where Reid picked up trumpet (Roger Ongolo), guitar (Jimi Mbaye), bass (Dembel Diop), kora (Isa Kouyate, also spelled Koyate, while kora is also spelled korah), and percussion (Khadim Badji), studio pros with Youssou N'Dour and Super Diamono and others on their resumes. Kouyate also provides a vocal on the first song, called "Welcome," which is the only thing here that is unmistakably Senegalese. The rest are seductive little groove pieces. While the Africans go with the flow and flesh them out admirably, the real interest is in the keyboards (Boris Netsvetaev) and electronics (Kieran Hebden, who also does business as Four Tet), light and fleeting details in a thick jungle tableau. Reid's a drummer with a Zelig-like list of credits -- Martha Reeves' "Dancing in the Streets," John Coltrane, James Brown, Ornette Coleman, Fela Kuti, Sun Ra, Miles Davis -- despite spending most of his life in obscurity as an exile, now snug in Switzerland. He got some notice in 2006 for The Exchange Session, two volumes of laptop-drums improvs with Hebden, and that paid for his ticket to Africa. Not the first time he's been back, but this time he brought something extra to the party. A-
Drew Gress: The Irrational Numbers (2006 , Premonition): Flash-only website. For a while after I killed off Flash life was good, but I've run into a few of these things lately, and this one pushed me over the edge into complaining. Don't really need to do much research on Gress anyway. He's one of the top bassists in New York, showing up on 6-10 records per year since the early 1990s, including Fred Hersch, Dave Douglas, Tim Berne, John Hollenbeck (Claudia Quintet), Uri Caine, George Colligan, Marc Copland, Tony Malaby, Ellery Eskelin, Steve Lehman, Ralph Alessi, many more -- AMG lists about 130 albums. This is the fourth under his own name: his compositions, with an all-star quintet: Berne (alto sax), Alessi (trumpet), Craig Taborn (piano), Tom Rainey (drums). Not sure why I don't like it more: the free form passages are exciting, but most of it consists of intricate postbop layerings, possibly interesting on paper, but hard to follow or get into. B+(*) [Feb. 19]
Ben Allison & Man Size Safe: Little Things Run the World (2007 , Palmetto): Another Flash-only website. An advance copy with little information; e.g., credits like "Michael Blake (sax on selected tracks)"; no recording date (AMG gives Aug. 17-18, 2007); no song list (AMG doesn't have one either, but I picked up one from Palmetto website; no catalog number (AMG has one but it looks wrong). Presumably Allison wrote all the pieces, since that's something he does. Also, like Gress, he's one of the major bassists of his generation -- not as much session work, but a stronger record as a composer. "Man Size Safe" is a song title as well as the first indication of a group name. Group includes Ron Horton on trumpet, Steve Cardenas on guitar, Michael Sarin on drums, and Blake more or less. Allison was part of a group that called itself the Jazz Composers Collective (along with Horton and Blake, Frank Kimbrough and Ted Nash). They all do sort of left-of-center postbop, but Allison seems to get more kick out of his melodies. This is interesting, thoughtful stuff, but I'll hold off until I know more. [B+(**)] [advance]
3 Cohens: Braid (2006 , Anzic): Another Flash website, but this one at least has an HTML version (a tip of the hat to Dynamod Web Portals; I don't recommend non-free software or anything involving Flash, but at least they produce usable websites). The 3 Cohens are siblings Yuval (soprano sax), Anat (tenor sax, one cut on clarinet), and Avishai (trumpet), playing in front of Aaron Goldberg (piano), Omer Avital (bass), and Eric Harland (drums). All three provide originals (3 for Yuval, 2 Anat, 4 Avishai), plus there is a cover of "It Could Happen to You." The horns tend to wrap around each other, with the higher soprano sax/trumpet pair dominant -- the reference to braiding has some merit. The rhythm section is relatively anonymous, although the few occasions where they get an exotic rhythm to work with help a lot. B+(*) [advance]
Fabio Morgera: Need for Peace (2007, Smalls): Trumpeter, b. 1963 in Naples Italy, moved to Los Angeles in 1985 and on to New York in 1990. Has 7 or more albums under his own name, plus a parallel track since 1990 working with acid jazz group Groove Collective. The key fact here is that half of the 16 songs have vocals, but they are sung by four different singers (Morgera taking one song), none all that distinctive or attractive. The other half are instrumentals, although they are not staged much differently, with smokey cocktail bar piano and Morgera's deftly phrased, eloquent trumpet. I'd like to hear a more instrumental album, or a better singer. B+(*) [advance]
Richard Boulger: Blues Twilight (2005-06 , City Hall): Trumpet player, originally from Massachusetts, then Connecticut. Studied with Jackie McLean and Freddie Hubbard, who penned the liner notes here. Released first album in 1999. Joined Gregg Allman and Friends in 2001. This is his second album, cut over two sessions, the first blessed by John Hicks on piano, the second helped out by Anthony Wonsey. Hard bop, pretty vigorous. One thing I don't like is having the sax (David Snitter or Kris Jensen) shadow the trumpet, and there's a lot of that here. On his own, Boulger cuts a fine figure. B
Thomas Marriott: Crazy: The Music of Willie Nelson (2006 , Origin): From Seattle, plays trumpet and flugelhorn, has 3 albums since 2005 (not counting his Xmas album, The Cool Season). Quintet with Mark Taylor on sax, Ryan Burns on Moog or Fender Rhodes, Geoff Harper on bass, Matt Jorgensen on drums. The process is similar to what Jewels & Binoculars has done with Bob Dylan, but the extra horn and keyboards generate a lot of excess filigree, complicating the melodies and camouflaging the improvisation. "Crazy" itself, of course, is indelible enough to hold up, and there are other sweet spots. B+(*)
Frederic Borey Group: Maria (2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent): French saxophonist, plays tenor and soprano. Looks like his first album. Quartet includes guitar, bass, and drums. Don't know much about him. After some searching, I found a French website, implemented wholly in Flash, and for that matter possibly the most annoying Flash I've ever seen. Example: a bio page is cut up into four pieces which are perpetually animated, sliding around the window. I could probably glean some useful info even in French if only I could get it to hold still. Flash itself doesn't provide any controls for slowing or stopping animation, for turning off the sound, or anything else that would be useful -- killing the process and replacing it with a black window is at the top of my wish list. (Sorry to run on like this, but someone has to say it somewhere.) As for the record, it's soft-toned postbop, especially with the soprano, which tends to be cloyingly pretty. Borey's tenor is more substantial, and it's a pleasure to follow his logic. Much of the backdrop is due to guitarist Piere Perchaud, who does a particularly nice job of setting the sax up. B+(*)
The Paislies (2005 , Fresh Sound New Talent): New York group, six members: Samir Zarif (soprano and tenor sax), Jesse Lewis (guitar), Eliot Cardinaux (nord electro 2 and organ), Miro Sprague (piano), Perry Wortman (bass), Paul Wiltgen (drums). Of these, only Sprague rings a faint bell -- has a couple of albums, but I haven't heard them. Sprague's website describes the Paislies as a cooperative group. Don't see any song credits to indicate otherwise. I'm fond of collectivism in politics and business, but one thing I'm attracted to in jazz is a strong sense of individuality. That's often a problem with larger groups, especially without a strong leader, and I don't hear anyone standing out here. Postbop, soft tones, not a lot of beat, the dual keyboards a bit unusual. Young guys as far as I can tell. Zarif comes from Houston via New Orleans. Lewis is from Boston via New Orleans. Cardinaux has a MySpace page with nothing on it. Sprague has trio and quintet albums, but not much of a biography. Wortman grew up in Tulsa and gigged in OKC. Wiltgen comes from Luxembourg, has his own group, is into Baha'i. Some (or maybe all) of them intersected at Manhattan School of Music. Most have MySpace pages, which I mostly ignore because they're mostly useless, but musicians like them because they can forcefeed you music -- annoying when you're trying to listen to something else. Group has a Flash page: flashier than average, but also not much help. Some of these guys may turn out to be good, but it's pretty early to tell. B-
Ila Cantor: Mother Nebula (2006 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist. Website says she was raised in New York, but also says she moved there after high school. I figured her for Spanish, but website says she moved to Barcelona later, "to experience a new culture, language, and life." Two sources say she's the daughter of an author and filmmaker, but don't give a name. She has several groups/projects, both in Barcelona and in New York, including a cabaret group called The Lascivious Biddies. This is a New York group, a quartet with Frederik (or Frederick, on the front cover) Carlquist on tenor sax, Tom Warburton on bass, Joe Smith on drums. First cut starts with an agreeable funk groove, and Carlquist's sax stands up and comes out honking. That sets up the vibe for the rest of the album, even while it strays further afield. I'm most impressed with Carlquist, but can't find much -- a Fredrik Carlquist has two albums on Dragon, and I've also seen a Frederic Carlquist. [B+(**)]
Giulia Valle Group: Danze Imprevista (2006 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Recorded Nov. 14-15, but doesn't say the year, so I'm guessing 2006. She has another Flash website, totally useless. From Tomajazz (as best I can hack the Italian) I gather she was born 1972 in Sanremo, Italy. Studied in Barcelona and seems to be based there. Plays bass. Wrote and arranged everything here except for a piece by Hermeto Pascoal and a theme from Hindemith she transfigured. Group is definitely Barcelona, with two saxes (Martí Serra and Miguel "Pintxo" Villar), Sergi Sirvent on piano, and David Xirgu on drums. Postbop, arty, but also swings some. I didn't care for the same two sax lineup on her previous Colorista, but this is more winning. B+(**)
José Alberto Medina/JAM Trio: In My Mind (2007, Fresh Sound New Talent): Medina is a pianist, originally from the Canary Islands, now in Barcelona. JAM is presumably just his initials. A previous album, First Portrait, with the same credit used different players at bass and drums. This time they are Paco Weht and Mariano Steimberg. Don't know either of them, but Steimberg has a MySpace page, says he's based in Barcelona, influenced by Miles Davis and Squarepusher, credits include programming as well as drums. One song here has a vocal by Oscar Aresi. Medina has a light touch and lovely tone, and this works nicely within the piano trio format. B+(**)
Hans Glawischnig: Panorama (2006 , Sunnyside): Born 1970 in Graz, Austria; his father Dieter Glawischnig, a pianist and NDR Big Band director; his mother a US native. Plays bass. Moved to Boston to study at Berklee, then to New York for Manhattan School of Music. Second album as leader, following an easily overlooked Fresh Sound New Talent album from 2001, but he's played on more than two dozen albums since 1997, often under Latino leaders (Ray Barretto, Miguel Zenon, Luis Perdomo, Dafnis Prieto). This one will be noticed: he's got a name people have been noticing, and a label that will get him more visibility. It has the air of an overelaborate debut: it deploys nine musicians in groups of 3-5, calling in chits and adding to the star power (only 2 of 3 drummers aren't household names, at least chez moi). The small groups work well enough each on its own, but fit uncomfortably together, partly because shifts like alternating alto saxophonists Miguel Zenon and David Binney wind up sounding so much the same. Another example is piano: Chick Corea leads two trios cuts, while Luis Perdomo fills in the groups, a distinction that could be chalked up to different roles rather than different pianists (who all in all aren't all that different). The one cut with Rich Perry's tenor sax does stand in contrast to the six cuts with alto, but comes as an isolated surprise. The unifying thread is the bassist-composer, which is no doubt the plan. Advanced, interesting postbop, informed by Latin jazz but not really part of it. Bass presence but not much solo space. For various good and not so good reasons this is likely to show up in a lot of year-end lists. B+(**)
Yoko Miwa Trio: Canopy of Stars (2004 , P.J.L): Pianist, from Japan, based in Boston since 1996, has a couple of previous albums. Her website quotes what I wrote about her 2004 album Fadeless Flower: "Young mainstream piano trio aim for clean sound, delicate balance, inconspicuous beauty." Trio this time includes Massimo Biolcati on bass, Scott Goulding on drums (repeating from last time). Not much more to add other than that she mixes it up a bit more, including a tango and a waltz. B+(*)
Matthew Shipp: Piano Vortex (2007, Thirsty Ear): I got this very late, well after the year-end lists were compiled. Not sure why. I get everything else from Thirsty Ear, and asked for and was promised this several times before it finally came through. I've written about Shipp at great length here and here, and two records back he scored a Pick Hit with his jazztronica triumph, Harmony and Abyss. This one turned out to be tough to get into. It's an old fashioned piano trio, with Joe Morris on bass and Whit Dickey on drums. It seemed to just amble quietly then finally detonate about six cuts in. Finally I kicked the volume up a notch, and with Gary Giddins' Jazz Times column as a guide, started paying attention. The ambling quiet title cut does indeed draw you into a vortex. The second and fourth pieces are choppy rhythm things a bit more deliberate than the sixth one ("Quivering With Speed") I've been noticing all along. The odd numbered pieces feature lines that go places you don expect. Morris, who started out as a guitarist, is turning into a sharp bassist, especially with the bow. Giddins writes about others writing about how this is more accessible than other Shipp records. I don't think so. But at least it pays back the attention it demands. A-
Nik Bärtsch's Ronin: Holon (2007 , ECM): Don't have record date, so I'm guessing. ECM usually has those things, although the booklets have been getting more minimalist. Swiss pianist, b. 1971, into zen, funk, martial arts, green tea, most of which are combined here, although possibly misapplied. A ronin is an outcast samurai warrior, a loner. The five-piece band, however, has two albums now, and play tighter than ever. Electric bass, drums, and percussion chug out regular rhythms, similar to Nils Petter Molvaer, maybe more mechanistic, with minor shifts to keep from wearing down. Bärtsch played Fender Rhodes on the earlier Stoa, but goes with acoustic piano here, adding a layer that again shifts subtly. Someone who goes by the name Sha plays bass and contrabass clarinets and alto saxophone, but he blends in and is pretty inconspicuous. Six pieces are titled "Modul" followed by a number. They start simple and build a bit. It's not postbop and not avant-garde and it doesn't fuse anything obvious, but it's got more going for it than dance electronica or experimental rock. A-
Enrico Rava/Stefano Bollani: The Third Man (2006 , ECM): It's hard to make duos work, harder still when the instruments meet like oil and water, although even for trumpet and piano I can think of an exception -- Warren Vaché and Bill Charlap's 2gether (2000, Nagel-Heyer), but in that case both artists go more than half way to meet the other. They are great listeners. Rava and Bollani are pretty good talkers. Despite their mutual admiration, their oratory sails right past each other, giving us interleaved halves of two solo albums. B
Little Annie & Paul Wallfisch: When Good Things Happen to Bad Pianos (2007 , Dutro Jnana): Singer with piano accompaniment, and sometimes a little more. Wallfisch is the pianist, credited with "Steinway upright in a flooded basement, synthesizers, guitars, bass and percussion." Cover has photos of some pretty wrecked pianos. Wallfisch has a tattered list of rock credits: Love and Rockets, Congo Norvell, Firewater, Botanica, Gene Loves Jezebel, Sylvain Sylvain, Silos, Thomas Truax, as well as a previous Little Annie album called Songs From a Coalmine Canary. Little Annie is Annie Bandez, aka Annie Anxiety, or some combination thereof (e.g., Little Annie Anxiety Bandez). She started out in front of a group called Annie and the Asexuals. Don't know how old she is, but she has a long list of solo recordings going back to 1981. Cracked, strained voice, sometimes passing for character, sometimes falling into comedy, often depending on the song: "It Was a Very Good Year," "Song for You," "Private Dancer," "One for My Baby," "Yesterday When I Was Young," "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For," etc. One original. I'm amused, just not sure how far I'm willing to fall. [B+(**)]
Omer Klein: Introducing Omer Klein (2007 , Smalls): Pianist, from Netanya, Israel, studied at New England Conservatory in Boston, moved to New York in 2006. Despite the title here, he has a previous album called Duet with bassist Haggai Cohen Milo on Fresh Sound New Talent -- a nice, quiet, intimate introduction to his style. This is a trio with Omer Avital on bass (and one track oud) and Ziv Ravitz on drums, plus extra percussion by Itamar Doari. One result is that this is much more upbeat. Klein even breaks out in a vocal at one point, not a highlight. Should give it some more time. [B+(**)]
Daniel Barry: Walk All Ways (2007, OA2): B. 1955 Erie, PA; studied at University of California Santa Barbara; now based in Seattle. Plays cornet. Also credited here with melodica and misc. percussion. First album under his own name, but has several more in a big band called the Jazz Police, including The Music of Daniel Barry. He also has a prominent role in the Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra, another big band. This record is also on the largish side, ranging from the delightful conga-powered "Mighty Urubamba" that leads off through some things that slide through classical territory leaning heavily on violin, cello, accordion, and James DeJoie's clarinets, flute, and bari sax. The cornet is always bright and welcome, the arrangements clever and classy. B+(**)
Rob Lockart: Parallel Lives (2006 , Origin): Tenor saxophonist, based in Los Angeles. Looks like his first album, although he has a couple dozen side credits going back to 1989 -- mostly with folks I don't know, but Bob Sheppard returns the favor for a one cut sax duet here, and Larry Koonse drops in for another cut. Otherwise this is a quartet, with Bill Cunliffe on piano, Jeff DiAngelo on bass, Joe La Barbera on drums. They have a big, boisterous hard bop sound. It's fun for a while, but ultimately not all that interesting. B
And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.
Stacey Kent: Breakfast on the Morning Tram (2007, Blue Note): An art singer, or perhaps a pop singer in an alternate universe, which may be the England and France that adopted this New Jersey native. Doesn't write, but four songs are originals, written by husband-saxophonist Jim Tomlinson and novelist Kazuo Ishiguro, an often impressive combination. The title track is a richly detailed recipe for putting heartbreak aside. She has an interesting knack for repertoire, taking "Hard Hearted Hannah" and "What a Wonderful World" slow enough to reveal details you missed before. Three songs in French: a samba and two by Serge Gainsbourg. B+(***)
Barbara Rosene and Her New Yorkers: It Was Only a Sun Shower (2007, Stomp Off): A specialist in pre-WWII pop songs, with tributes to Ruth Etting and Annette Hanshaw in her catalog, Rosene rescues "Tip Toe Through the Tulips" from Tiny Tim, and adds 22 more songs only specialists are likely to recognize. The musicians, including Jon-Erik Kellso on cornet and trumpet and Mike Hashim on soprano and alto sax dote on this stuff, and Rosene can brighten any sad day. B+(**)
Nanette Natal: I Must Be Dreaming (2005-07 , Benyo Music): A jazz singer-songwriter who's remained obscure for decades reinvents herself as the new Odetta, as straightforward as any basic blues singer: "tv news makes my blood boil/the mission was to grab the oil"; "the jails are filled to capacity/in the land of the brave and the free"; "a city dies before our eyes/the bursted levees, the broken lies." The line about dreaming is her stab at irony: it's no dream when "living's hard when it doesn't come easy." B+(***)
Sunday, February 10. 2008
Fred Kaplan: Downsizing our dominance. Another piece on the shrinking of American hegemony abroad. Kaplan sees this as the inevitable result of losing a common threat with the collapse of the Soviet Union. I suspect that most former allies never took the military parrying all that seriously, but sought to curry favor with the US to tap into economic power and technological prowess. That position has been eroding for some time now, even if it's only become obvious since Bush took office. Even now nations suck up to us much more than seems warranted, probably because it's cheap to be deferential and our egos demand it. The real fall is still to come. As Kaplan notes, presidential candidates prefer to skirt the issue: the American people would rather hear about dawn than decline and fall. That actually leaves an opportunity open, if anyone is smart enough to take advantage of it. All we'd have to do is ditch the sole-superpower horseshit and take a lead in pushing for multilateral, shared solutions to real problems: to pursue peace and justice through the UN, to seriously tackle global warming and other environmental issues, to restructure free trade along lines that benefit poorer countries most. Didn't Gandhi say something to the effect that he has to follow wherever the people go because he's their leader? The US can't lead selfishly because the world won't follow. An alternative would be to just get out of the way, but that might be even more unpalatably ego-deflating.
William Astore: In the Military We Trust. A former Air Force Lt. Colonel, Astore gives two reasons why the military is still regarded by most Americans as an honorable and trustworthy organization. One is that demographically it is much more like America as a whole than most other organizations -- he picks on Ivy League colleges in particular -- so many Americans find it easy to see themselves in the military. The other is that the notion of public service is engrained and catered to in the military, especially for males who find it a particularly helpful way to define their masculinity:
Astore further argues that antiwar people need to understand these points before they can possibly, well, do what? That part isn't clear. It seems to me that the military is trusted mostly because people are very ignorant about its real skills and liabilities in today's world. That actually has very little to do with the character or discipline of those in the military, even if the romance of atavistic war is what draws them in. Still, the problem isn't how to "engage" the military to make them less harmful and more useful. The whole function needs to be rethought from the policy end down. Maybe that involves building different organizations that tap into the qualities Astore recognizes. But it starts with recognizing what is dysfunctional about the military we have, and that's bound to hurt some egos both in and near to the armed forces.
Robert Kuttner: The Recovery Plan America Needs. Argues that the stimulus package Congress is working on falls way too short of what is needed:
Kuttner's solution to the "Housing Mess" makes a lot of sense. So does more public sector spending on things like infrastructure, although by looking at all government spending as stimulus he fails to note how dysfunctional US war spending really is. As for reversing long-term trends toward inequality, his heart's in the right place, but I wonder whether letting the recession do its damage might not be more effective. Much of that inequality is in the form of bubbled up real estate prices, stock prices, dollars even, and one effect of the recession will be to bring that inflation back toward reality. The poor may suffer more, but the rich have a lot more to lose (which is why they've only started panicking now as stock prices started to fall).
Senator John McCain's tenure as the de facto GOP presidential nominee ran into a little stormy weather in Kansas on Saturday. Huckabee won 60 percent of the vote, to McCain's 24, with Ron Paul third at 11. McCain had the support of both Kansas senators, and had ex-Senator Bob Dole lobbying for him in the national press. One thing the news reports didn't dwell on is the raw numbers: the Republican caucuses drew about half as many voters as the Democratic caucuses did. Weather? The Republicans met on a Saturday morning of a 60-degree day. The Democrats met in the middle of a blizzard. I suppose McCain can take some solace in the thought that it wasn't just him: nobody much gave a shit about any of the Republican candidates. They just cared a lot less about him than the others. But it's also true that the GOP regulars in Kansas have grown so dependent on the Christian right for their grass roots support they don't know how to get their old crowd out. Part of the problem is that the right have been calling any and all Republicans with anything resembling moderate views RINOs (Republicans In Name Only). It's gotten so annoying a lot of them aren't even that any more.
McCain also lost in Louisiana to Huckabee. And he was losing Washington until the GOP honchos rounded up enough McCain votes to squeeze into a temporary lead, then decided to stop counting and go home. Last known margin there was 26% to 24%, which itself smells pretty funny. Talk about buyer remorse.
Meanwhile, Obama's won five of five states since Super Tuesday. Won a Grammy too. Maybe it is his year.
John Burgess wrote in to make the following comment on my notes on Lawrence Wright's The Looming Tower:
I recommended Gilles Kepel's book Jihad: The Trail of Political Islam for its broader and deeper coverage of Islamism, including the Deobandis. Especially since 1980 Saudia Arabia has spent a lot of money on promoting their Wahhabi brand of fundamentalism abroad, and they've found a receptive audience among the Deobandis, who share their belief in the righteousness and completeness of the earliest followers of Muhammad. On the other hand, there are differences -- e.g., the Deobandis follow Hanafi sharia where the Wahhabis follow Hanbali -- and I'm far from competent to sort them out. But it does seem fair to say that both movements are salafist -- a term that embodies much of the same generalizations as fundamentalist does for Christians who nonetheless continue to disagree on sectarian details -- and that both have small subsets that are jihadist. The Deobandis may count for as many as 40% of Pakistani Sunnis. They have an extensive network of madrassas, which are significant given the generally poor state of education in Pakistan. The Taliban is based on and allegedly adheres to Deobandism, although it's also quite possible that some of their more repressive tenets come from Pashtun tribal traditions, and it's likely that whatever their source they've degenerated further due to the brutality of more than 25-years of foreign-engineered war. Holy war has been invoked by adherents of so many varied doctrines that it seems likely to me that its real motivation lies elsewhere.
I'm not sure how this works out. Clearly, Pakistan has been a fertile ground for anti-US jihad, rivaling the Arabs and much more so than any other Islamic countries, and Deobandism may have much to do with that. But also the Afghan mujahideen, especially the Taliban, were actually doing the sorts of things that Al-Qaeda aspired to, setting a practical example in their use of violence both within and against foreign enemies. So it's not surprising that they proved simbiotic. But I'm less sure about who influenced whom and how. This is what Kepel has to say (pp. 222-226):
The Taliban also proved to be attractive to Pakistani politicians including Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, who alternated power in the early 1990s. As the Taliban gained ground in Afghanistan, their imposition of harsh sharia was largely consistent and compatible with Saudia Arabia's own practice, certainly no cause for alarm. The Taliban only crossed a Saudi line with the harboring of Saudi dissidents like Osama bin Laden. There's much more in the book on the rise of the Taliban, but little on their relationship with Al-Qaeda. Kepel's book was originally published in France in 2000 and translated in the US in 2002. It is likely that there has been considerable hybridization between Al-Qaeda and the Taliban since the US drove them into their mountain retreats in 2001-02, and that at least the old core of Al-Qaeda has become ever more dependent on Deobandi good will within Pakistan's Frontier Territories. I doubt that anyone really knows what's going on there, let alone what it may wind up meaning. One thing for sure is that the Deobandis form an awfully large pool for recruiting by jihadists.
Burgess has a blog called Crossroads Arabia which provides a lot of detail on Saudi Arabia ranging from geopolitics to everyday life.