Thursday, October 30. 2008
Woke up this morning in a motel in or near Princeton, IL. Got here late last night, after slogging through yet another interminable Chicago traffic meltdown. Couldn't see much then, but peeking through the window this morning reveals blue skies over a sea of bright yellow cornstalks, with the occasional John Deere logo in the background. Will drive back through Iowa, so should see more of the same. Will also see dozens of manufacturing plants, since people still build things, as well as grow things, in this part of the country. Michigan was like that too, on an even larger scale. Admittedly, I saw one huge building with a "space available" sign out front (550,000 sq. ft.!), and a few more in worse shape, but most of the factories I saw looked functional.
Taking a leisurely drive. Will be back in Wichita Friday, to face a dead computer and a mountain of mail.
Monday, October 27. 2008
No new news here. Still in Detroit, although I'll be leaving in a day or two, heading back home. Have hardly listened to any music at all -- the new William Parker has been stuck in the boombox for the whole week, and not because I'm thrilled with it, although it's good enough it hasn't sent me searching for something else. No record stores. No book stores. I did finally finish the James Galbraith book (The Predator State), and recommend it highly. Meant to read Thomas Frank next, but in honor of the polls I picked up Robert Kuttner's Obama's Challenge instead. Very nearly done with the work I've been doing, so next month should see some sort of return to normalcy. Just not quite yet.
Monday, October 20. 2008
Still on the road, for at least one more week. No jazz prospecting, or music writing at all. Not even any scuttlebutt to report. Internet access remains very sporadic. Haven't read a newspaper in weeks, let alone watched TV. Haven't been in a record store, or even a book store. Have spent a lot of time in home improvement stores. Getting to the point where I can lay down a pretty decent bead of caulk.
Sunday, October 19. 2008
Still in Detroit, more often offline than on, deprived of news and media of all sorts. But for some reason the New York Observer arrives in the mail -- a final reminder that newspaper hound Kalman Tillem lived in this house. Andrew Sarris has a review of W., and I was struck by the following quote:
Actually, the plunge has been pretty obviously in the cards for quite some time now. Charles Morris' The Trillion Dollar Meltdown was written about a year ago. Kevin Phillips' Bad Money dates from the same period, but was merely an update of his 2006 American Theocracy. Even those problems were evident long before, with Paul Krugman's 2001 book Fuzzy Math the first alert on W.'s economic trajectory. Few speculative bubbles have ever been more plainly obvious than the recent housing bubble: all you had to do was note how property and rental prices diverged. Rising property values were fueled by cheap interest meant to pump hot air back into a declining stock market. With real wages headed downward, all that free money had to go somewhere unreal. Of course, lack of financial regulation and the great Bushist belief that reality could be forged through mere boldness made matters all that much worse. The details may have been hard to predict, but the general outline was always evident. A good, close look at Alan Greenspan should have sufficed to give it all away.
I've seen several pieces on uncanny similarities between the current financial crisis and the 1930s. But another point has been thus far ignored: the role of naked political ambition in setting up the crisis. There is a precedent: Richard Nixon. Both Nixon and Bush won first terms with precariously thin margins. Both were obsessive politicizers: indeed, it's impossible to think of any other politicians so wrapped up in their reelection prospects. Both wasted huge sums on hapless wars. Both soon ran into economic problems. Both responded with extreme measures, including jawboning the Fed to pump up the economy with low interest rates. Both presided over major devaluations of the US dollar. Nixon used wage/price controls to temporarily cover up the dollar losses, setting the stage for a huge inflationary run for the rest of the decade. We can now look back on Nixon's policies, starting with his ending of the Bretton Woods system, as the point from which real incomes started to decline, and America started returning from New Deal equality back to oligarchy. Bush worked through the post-2001 recession by feeding the rich, first with tax cuts then with cheap unregulated money. The result was a housing bubble combined with massive corruption. Like Nixon's schemes, Bush managed to look just plausible enough to hold together his 2004 campaign, but since then we've witnessed one thread after another unravel. How much damage such short-sighted politics will produce remains to be seen. Even in Nixon's case we've never fully accounted for the results.
Of course, the other thing that Nixon and Bush have in common is the two lowest second term approval polls in history. Even if the details of their manipulations slipped past with little notice, their self-absorbed slime elicited revulsion, especially as the results turned so bitter.
Wednesday, October 15. 2008
Andrew Leonard: Consumers vote with their wallets. Several interesting things here, especially a quote from James Livingston:
Leonard adds, underscoring the key point:
This expresses something I've long suspected: that a big part of the growing inequality gap is really just hot air, nothing more than a speculation-fired inflation of asset prices that have no relationship to real (or even normative) values. In saying this, I don't mean to disparage anyone upset over growing inequality, which regardless of its lack of economic substance has been damaging politically, and threatens to get much worse. But this argues for something even more basic: that wealth not based on labor is ultimately illusory, and that our fascination with such wealth is ultimately disrespectful and derogatory to the labor that actually keeps the world working. Moreover, this disrespect of labor threatens to undermine the world working, to an extent that we can hardly conceive of.
It is very important that we recognize how critical labor is to our well-being. If there is a silver lining to our current economic collapse, it's the growing suspicion that capital isn't anywhere near what it's lately been cracked up to be.
Saturday, October 11. 2008
I've been totally offline for seven days now. Drove to Detroit, where I've been working on my late father-in-law's house, trying to convert it into my sister-in-law's house. Several changes are most evident, starting with being in a house with no newspapers. There is TV, but not anything I've been able to, much less cared to, watch. So I was rather shocked yesterday to sit down in a restaurant and notice the TV showing Dow Jones figures down around 8500 -- a drop of a couple thousand since last I noticed. Couldn't touch base with the internet until today, due to a wiring snag we haven't solved so much as worked around. In any event, I've been too busy to worry.
Should be here another week, maybe two. Built a fence. Installed seven vinyl replacement windows. Hopefully the new kitchen floor will go down tomorrow, followed by new base cabinets, counter top, sink, dishwasher, stove. Interesting work. I never understood how chain link fence worked before, but it's pretty obvious once you look at it closely enough to build one. I've watched people install windows before, but not as closely as when doing it myself. Tore down the old kitchen tonight, an act of deconstruction literally as well as semiotically -- not to mention archaeologically. This follows a couple of weeks of working on my own house, and will be followed up by several more.
Needless to say, no Jazz Prospecting this week, nor next week. Couldn't even put up the usual notice last Monday. Packed some stuff, but haven't listened to much: Bobo Stenson's piano record has been good late evening fare; I've dabbled in François Carrier's digital box a bit, enjoying what I've heard; managed to play the new MOPDTK on the way up, and it certainly has strong moments; old Nik Bärtsch records have become comfort fare. That's about all I recall.
Finished Andrew Bacevich's The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism, which was better than I expected. It helps a lot that he gives the left credit for spearheading all movements toward social justice, instead of just carping about how the left were undeserving even when right. He also tees off on the general-admiral ranks of the military. I'd say that the problems go much deeper, but that's a much needed start. Started James Galbraith's The Predator State: How Conservatives Abandoned the Free Market and Why Liberals Should Too. Looks like a tremendous book.
Saturday, October 4. 2008
I meant to feature the Soprano Summit album as my first pick hit, but couldn't find a cover shot in my usual place, and didn't have time to scrounge one up, let alone scan my copy. Release date is Sept. 9, so the capitalists are running a bit slow, not to mention scared. So my fallback was to avoid having to choose the better of the two best entries in the Monterey Jazz Festival series -- actually, two batches thus far.
Justin Time Records 25th Anniversary Collection (1986-2007 , Justin Time, 2CD): Canadian jazz label, with some folk, blues, and world overtones. Got into the business in 1983 with pianist Oliver Jones; has a long list of jazz singers, including the discovery of Diana Krall, and steady work by Jeri Brown and Susie Arioli; scored their biggest coup in landing David Murray in 1996, who led them to Billy Bang, D.D. Jackson, and Hugh Ragin. Sidelines not documented here include their Just A Memory archival series and reissues from Enja's catalog. All this adds up to an eclectic sampler, with high points from great albums and filler from weaker ones, unnecessary except to draw attention to a label that's long been worth following. B
The Soprano Summit: In 1975 and More (1975-79 , Arbors, 2CD): Clarinetist Kenny Davern and saxophonst Bob Wilber, two impeccably backward-looking players, ran into each other in Colorado in 1972, finding common ground as a soprano sax duo dedicated to Sidney Bechet. Their summits continued through the 1970s, with occasional reunions into 2001, sometimes with pianist Dick Hyman and other kindred souls -- guitarist Marty Grosz is prominent here, but Bucky Pizzarelli also played. Dan Morgenstern picked these sessions from the archives, including one from April 1975 focusing on Jelly Roll Morton, and two non-Summit sets: a Davern trio with pianist Dick Wellstood from 1979, and a 1976 Wilber group with Ruby Braff. The album never strays from the soprano range, but lively rhythm sections make up for the lack of contrasting horns. Superb trad jazz. A-
Have franchise, seeking product. First batch came out last year, with the Miles Davis getting some year-end critics poll votes. It skimmed the biggest of the big names, with relative obscurities this time around. Like the archival records that keep coming out on European labels -- TCB's series comes closest, especially given their tie-in with the Montreux Jazz Festival -- these rarely add anything new to well documented careers, but sort of democratize claims on the greats. With few really spectacular performances, and even fewer poor ones, they tend toward the middle grades. The B+ records from top to bottom: Blakey, Horn, Armstrong, Davis, Tjader, Gillespie, Puente.
Louis Armstrong: Live at the 1958 Monterey Jazz Festival (1958 , MJF): Well, if you've heard one Armstrong live set, you'll probably want to hear them all; post-All Stars, so there's less reason to share the stage; late enough that those "good ole good 'uns" include "Mack the Knife." B+
Art Blakey and the Giants of Jazz: Live at the 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival (1972 , MJF): Not a happy period in the drummer's career, but he plays with great physicality here, leading a ragtag crew of superstars in what could pass as a Jazz at the Philharmonic blowout; Roy Eldridge, Clark Terry, Sonny Stitt, and Kai Winding are natural jousters who offers great excitement but no surprises; the mystery is left to the troubled pianist in one of his last performances, but Thelonious Monk comps engagingly and takes a nice feature on "'Round Midnight." B+
Dave Brubeck: 50 Years of Dave Brubeck: Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival 1958-2007 (1958-2007 , MJF): Starts with Paul Desmond for three 1958-66 quartet cuts and closes with three 2002-07 quartets with Bobby Militello on alto sax -- a sense of continuity and balance unlikely in any 50-year span; Gerry Mulligan figures in between, and only one cut lacks a horn, but the unique pacing of the pianist comes through again and again. A-
Miles Davis Quintet: Live at the 1963 Monterey Jazz Festival (1963 , MJF): Early into the second great Davis Quintet, with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams on board, along with George Coleman on tenor sax; compared to the live albums from 1964, this seems tentative and thin, reworking old repertoire, with a few hints of the future. B+
Dizzy Gillespie: Live at the 1965 Monterey Jazz Festival (1965 , MJF): Small group with James Moody (flute, tenor sax), Kenny Barron (piano), and Big Black (congas), running through a mixed bag of bebop, with the calypso "Poor Joe" thrown in for Gillespie's vocal; sound is a little thin, and it's all very slapdash, not least the comedy. B+
Shirley Horn: Live at the 1994 Monterey Jazz Festival (1994 , MJF): Very cost-effective: a singer with such voice and poise a piano trio suits her best, plus she plays a pretty mean piano; just turned 60, at the peak of her fame coming off a series of well-regarded albums on Verve, she nails her whole range here -- "The Look of Love," "A Song for You," "I've Got the World on a String," "Hard Hearted Hannah." B+
Thelonious Monk: Live at the 1964 Monterey Jazz Festival (1964 , MJF): Four terrific quartet tracks, with tenor saxophonist Charlie Rouse in splendid form, and the pianist especially delightful on "Bright Mississippi" -- a Monkified "Sweet Georgia Brown"; five extra horns show up for the Buddy Collette-sketched encores, with hot boppish trumpet and more funky piano. A-
Tito Puente & His Orchestra: Live at the 1977 Monterey Jazz Festival (1977 , MJF): A typical set by the great timbalero and his venerable orchestra, featuring signature tunes like "Oye Como Va" and "El Rey del Timbal," rhumbas and mambos, a dash of riskier Afro-Cuban jazz, and a cha cha take on Stevie Wonder. B+
Cal Tjader: The Best of Cal Tjader: Live at the Monterey Jazz Festival 1958-1980 (1958-80 , MJF): A short set from 1958 with Buddy DeFranco bebop over the vibraphonist's Latin stew, and four choice 1972-80 shots, starting with Dizzy Gillespie and Clark Terry teaching him how to play "Manteca." B+
Sarah Vaughan: Live at the 1971 Monterey Jazz Festival (1971 , MJF): A singer I've never much liked even though sometimes I can hear some of what others hear in her -- the unworldly deep voice, the extraordinary precision and uncanny musican sense in her dynamics; this is not the place to start: her range is narrowed by time and most likely by acoustics, and she scats way too much -- especially in the blistering all-star jam that takes up the last third of the album. B
Jimmy Witherspoon: Live at the 1972 Monterey Jazz Festival (1959-72 , MJF): The last of the Kansas City blues shouters, in a surly mood that could pass for spirit if you cut him some slack; his Jimmy Rushing tribute is heartfelt but not up to snuff; his praise for guitarist Robben Ford is earned but not such a big deal; the bonus track from 1959 towers above the later performance, not just because Messrs. Hines, Herman, Hawkins, Webster, and Eldridge are in the band, but they sure help. B
Cryptogramophone Assemblage 1998-2008 (1998-2007 , Cryptogramophone, 2CD+DVD): Another jazz label sampler, founded by Jeff Gauthier to record a series of tributes to the late Eric von Essen's music, moving on to document work by Alex and Nels Cline, Mark Dresser, Bennie Maupin, Erik Friedlander, Myra Melford, various others; a more useful reference than the Justin Time sampler -- it covers a narrower band of music more comprehensively, with better documentation -- but still a mere sampler. B
Otis Redding: Live in London and Paris (1967 , Stax, 2CD): Two live shows from March of the monumental soul singer's last year, most songs duplicated in both sets, distinguished primarily by the intensity of his performance, a rave-up that can get to be too much, although the rush cannot be denied. B+
Tuner: Totem (2005 , Unsung): King Crimson drummer Pat Mastelotto and guitarist Markus Kreuter mash up some quasi-industrial thrash with scattered and mostly ignorable vocals; first album, remixed and reissued, keeps it simple, which works much better than guest-laden follow-up Pole. B+
Friday, October 3. 2008
Haven't had time to surf much less blog, and picked an inopportune time to do so, given that we're witnessing something like the collapse of the capitalist system. The following are some pieces that piqued my interest, although they're becoming eclipsed by events almost as fast as they're filed. I'm sure there's much more of interest, but I haven't had time to dig, and ultimately decided I should post this now because I'm traveling tomorrow and prospects of adding to it are slim and slimmer.
As of this writing, the bailout bill has been passed by Congress and signed into law by Bush. Paulson got his $700 billion, but not as free a hand as he wanted. I can't say that there's no good reason to help the bankers, but they're hardly the only ones in need, and I also don't blame anyone who feels resentful that only when bankers bully their way to the front of the soup line. Unfortunately, the US has delegated so much of its financial infrastructure to the private sector that their failure can extend way beyond their own limited liability corporate interests. A better solution might be to shore up public sector finances while letting the nonproductive bubbles deflate, but we haven't covered that conceptual distance yet. I'm not a person who holds any hope for revolution, so I can't take any joy in watching the capitalist system collapse. But at least some lessons should be obvious from this debacle, starting with the fact that the push to deregulate and the Reaganesque glorification of greed should by now be completely discredited. (This, by the way, pretty much explains the Republicans who fought the bailout bill: its passage acknowledges the failure of the Reagan Revolution, as such their only excuse for hanging on to power. Having committed themselves so thoroughly to myth, they have little choice now but to stick their heads so snugly up their arses that they lose all sense of reality.)
On the other hand, I've never bought into the Reagan myth. Even at the time I frequently argued that the only boom industry left in 1980s America was fraud. What we saw through a series of asset bubbles was a gross inflation of increasingly imaginary values. In some ways this just looked like old-fashioned rich-get-richer, but it became increasingly rarefied as more money broke loose to chase its own tail. In reality, the chasm widened less than both sides thought, not least becuase the rich wound up holding bags of debt from the increasingly impoverished poor: default on that debt, which we are seeing primarily in the mortgage area right now, is one way of settling the books. But there's a lot more of that in the pipeline -- credit card debt is an obvious case -- so I expect a lot more leveling in the future, even with bailouts for the politically well-connected.
Paul Krugman: Financial Russian Roulette [09-14]. Published 9/14, 14 days ago (and then some), ancient history, at least far enough back that the Paulson bailout plan was still just a future possibility. Reasons to be nervous, part 1.
Final sentence: "Yikes."
Paul Krugman: Cash for Trash [09-22]. More on the bailout plan. Sketches out a four-stage analysis of the crisis. Notes that this only deals with the fourth stage, and that even so it only promises to help things (err, bankers' bottom lines) if the taxpayers significantly overpay for the finance industry's toxic waste. Krugman isn't opposed so much as he feels that any such bailout should be in exchange for equity. Otherwise, the people who caused this problem would simply be imdemnified against their own recklessness.
Krugman's blog has been a good source on this period. He accepts the need to do something like the bailout, largely because he fears the consequences of not acting, but he doesn't like the details of Paulson's proposal, and the whole thing is getting to him. One later post [08-02] he commented that "Joe Stiglitz seems to have the same view on the bailout I have: lousy plan, better to pass it tomorrow than not." More emotionally but less concisely, on [08-01] he put it this way: "So am I for the bill? Yuk, phooey, I guess so. And I'm very angry at Paulson for putting us in this position."
Billmon: Things Become More Serious [09-22]. Not sure who Billmon is, but he claim in everyday life to be some sort of financial writer, and he's got this covered pretty well.
Andrew Leonard: A cry of rage from Wall Street [09-26]. Via Andrew Sullivan, quotes a "distraught e-mail from a money manager":
The Republicans are good at arguing that problems are matters of individual responsibility, not something the public should worry over or bother about. This line is comforting to people who don't actually share the problem. Unfortunately for the Republicans, people who find themselves beset by problems, especially those who can't identify the flaw of personal responsibility, start to lose faith with the doctrine. That's been happening steadily over the last decade, but in small and unobvious dribs and drabs.
James K Galbraith: How Much Will It Cost and Will It Come Soon Enough? [09-29]. Comments favoring passage of the Paulson-Pelosi deal, with reservations and sensible alternative ideas, starting with getting rid of the FDIC cap, which would provide an insured haven for cautious investors, and would help shore up consumer banks.
Glen Greenwald: Bailout follows the 10 normal principles for how our government functions [09-29]. Examples (first line quotes for each of the principles):
Andrew Leonard: Byron Dorgan's warning about risk [10-02]. Quotes Senator Dorgan (D-ND) from nine years ago, when he opposed the Phil Gramm-led repeal of Glass-Steagall's separation of commercial and investment banking. He said: "I think we will look back in ten years and say we should not have done this." Didn't even take ten years. Neither did the S&L deregulation -- the cleanup of which was only ten years earlier.
Leonard has also been superb throughout the crisis. His column is called "How the World Works," which he has a pretty good grasp on, giving him a big leg up on almost everyone else trying to catch up.
Update: Found this in the scratch file, never posted, don't know how old it is, but it seemed to fit in here:
Tom Engelhardt: The Fate of the Bear Market. Or, "The Little Administration That Couldn't." A quick rundown of the ongoing train wreck known as the Bush Administration. A few years back I figured this would be the theme of my book. Even then it was clear that nothing Bush did would work, and that everything they touched would have to be cleaned up and rebuilt by whoever came along after then -- assuming by then we hadn't lost all sense of living standards. My little value added was to be the aperçu that the disaster wasn't just a matter of incompetency, which was much in evidence, but was deeply engrained in their very mode and manner of thinking. That's still true, but even that's becoming a commonplace observance.