Monday, July 14. 2014
Music: Current count 23501  rated (+13), 534  unrated (-4).
I got the news that my aunt Freda Bureman died Tuesday morning and drove to Independence, KS on Thursday afternoon. She had moved there about six years ago, living in Eagle Estates, where she could be closely attended to by her son, my cousin, Ken Brown. The funeral was Friday, with Ken and his older sisters, Lou Jean Fleron and Jan Barnes, giving touching and eloquent testimony to how much Freda meant to them, and really to us all. She was 99, had suffered from increasing dementia over the last few years, and had been unresponsive the last few weeks, essentially wasting away -- a slow fade into oblivion in stark contrast to how engaged I recall her at, say, her 90th birthday party. So I spent most of the week with my cousins, some of their children and many of their grandkids (the great-grand was among the missing), and as a result was pretty much off the grid -- my cell phone carrier didn't even provide coverage for Independence.
Hence, very little music to report below. Also, although I got back early enough today, a long nap and some TV kept me from getting the incoming packages logged. Things should return to normal, or to whatever the new normal is, next week.
I should also note that the dedicated server that I lease from Hosting & Designs was hosed a week ago. It crashed, and when they finally got it running again all of the configuration and data was erased. I've yet to receive an explanation of what happened, and don't have backups in any form that makes it easy to reconstruct, so it will be a while before I get that all running again (if indeed I do). Needless to say, I was very distracted last week. Hopefully I will be able to focus more this week.
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week (does not include end of week):
Tuesday, July 8. 2014
I feel like I've been sleepwalking through the last 2-3 weeks. That hasn't stopped, or even slowed down much, sorting through these records. At least the numbers are strong. Hard to judge whether it has anything to do with the relative shortfall of A-list albums. I currently have 63 A or A- records on the 2014 list, which seems like about right for this time of the year, but it's possible that a couple of the non-jazz HMs might have clicked with more time -- best candidates are Kasai All-Stars, Popcaan, and War on Drugs.
I should note that Rhapsody Streamnotes has now passed the 5,000 album mark. That's a little more than 20% of my total rated count (as of this minute, 23498), and the RS count has been inflated somewhat this year since I started doing actual CDs here, but it shows how much streaming has helped broaden my ability to cover the whole semi-popular music spectrum. Also, as my review copy stream dries up, it keeps me from folding up my tent and quitting: more than half of my A-list records this year (32 of 63) were at least first encountered on Rhapsody or some other digital source. (Actually, the ratio in 2013 was even higher: 76/146. The three previous years were lower: 61/131, 62/132, 60/132.)
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on June 21. Past reviews and more information are available here (5017 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Ab-Soul: These Days . . . (2014, Top Dawg): Rapper from the Black Hippy group, can't say as I can follow him very well, except for the 23:00 "W.R.O.H." -- sort of a beatless bull session, just the rapper with a small audience, probably some kind of bonus. B+(**)
Darren Barrett: Energy in Motion: The Music of the Bee Gees (2014, dB Studios): Trumpeter from Canada, studied and teaches at Berklee, won a Monk prize in 1997, not sure how serious to take him given how bad the idea of jazzing up the Bee Gees is. The melodies can hardly help but come through as muzak, while the disco effects can't help but be cheesy. B- [cd]
Darren Barrett dB Quintet: Live and Direct 2014 (2014, dB Studios): This shows Barrett to be an upbeat, fairly aggressive postbopper, and suggests that "dB" stands for loud as well as his monogram. Myron Walden plays tenor and soprano sax, Takeishi Onbayashi piano. The applause is ambivalent. B [cd]
Beat Funktion: Voodooland (2014, DO Music): Just what you'd expect, except from Sweden, where this probably qualifies as acid jazz. Second-rate disco is more like it, minus any attempts to move the dance floor. B- [cd]
Itamar Borochov Quartet: Outset (2011 , RealBird): Trumpet player from Israel, father a notable musician and brother Avri plays bass here, first record, with Hagai Amir on alto sax and Aviv Cohen on drums. Close to hard bop at the start, varies more toward the end. B+(**) [cd]
Camper Van Beethoven: La Costa Perdida (2013, 429 Records): A very important band in the mid-1980s, broke up in 1990, returned a couple times since 1999, but this was their first since 2004. They get back a fair bit of their sound and some of their nonchalance, and a single called "Northern California Girls." B
Camper Van Beethoven: El Camino Real (2014, 429 Records): Similar artwork to last year's album, but they've made progress in getting their sound back, and have reinforced that with a handful of memorable songs -- a stark one about bigotry in "Sugartown," a good-natured invite in "I Live in L.A.," a tentative farewell in "Darken Your Door." B+(**)
Mark Charig/Georg Wolf/Jörg Fischer: Free Music on a Summer Evening (2010 , Spore Print): Charig plays cornet and alto horn, a brass instrument which pairs with cornet much like the flugelhorn does with trumpet. Both horns are a bit scrawny in a rather scratchy avant context. B+(*) [cd]
Sébastien Chaumont Quartet: Still Walkin' (2011-13 , ITI): French alto saxophonist, backed by piano-bass-drums. Not finding much info, even on the hype sheet -- presumably "Nice" is his home town and not a succinct review, although it would work: he has a rich tone and hits the sweet spot for a mainstream alto sax quartet. B+(**) [cd]
Jeff Colella/Putter Smith: Lotus Blossom (2013 , The American Jazz Institute/Capri): Piano-bass duets, one original each, six covers including the title track from Strayhorn. Rather quiet, unimposing, all the lovelier for that. B+(**)
Ry Cooder/Corridos Famosos: Live at the Great American Music Hall, San Francisco Aug 31-Sept 1, 2011 (2011 , Nonesuch): A live sampler after forty-some years, with some songs dating back to his heyday as a folk revivalist in the early 1970s and others from his strong run of albums since 2005. B+(**)
Davina & the Vagabonds: Sunshine (2014, Roustabout): Minneapolis group led by singer Davina Sowers, who wrote 8 (of 11) songs, finishing with covers of Eddie Miller, Fats Waller, and Patty Griffin. Group has a blues orientation with more jazz feel, the instrumentation including trumpet, trombone, and vibraphone. B+(**) [cd]
Lana Del Rey: Ultraviolence (2014, Interscope): Everything's slow and nothing's much fun, not that she doesn't drop many hints that she might be an interesting person, or at least one unique enough to bear watching. Sonically I should bump this up a notch, but I'm not sure I want to get to know her better. Love guns and roses? Even generically speaking, that's not true. B+(***)
Andrew Downing/Jim Lewis/David Occhipinti: Bristles (2013 , Occdav Music): Bass, trumpet, guitar respectively, makes for low-key chamber jazz group, playing six joint pieces (probably improv) and six standards (Schwartz-Dietz, Mercer-Mandel, Styne-Cahn, Jobim). B+(*) [cd]
East India Youth: Total Strife Forever (2014, Stolen): Alias for William Doyle, young man with a synthesizer, first album, some nice rhythmic runs here but his efforts at ambient are far less pleasant. At best I'm reminded of early Eno, a reference his fans probably don't know, but then I think of the coming dark ages and all the other references being forgotten, as postmodern reverts into premodern. B
Kali Z. Fasteau: Piano Rapture (2014, Flying Note): From a very cosmopolitan (and as she says, "musical") family, Fasteau got into avant-jazz through husband Donald Rafael Garrett (1932-89), who had some connections with AACM and played on several late Coltrane albums. They toured the world together, and after his death she kept recording, playing dozens of exotic instruments and singing some, an eclectic mix that never led to very satisfying albums. But lately she's developed a rapport with a regular band -- Kidd Jordan (tenor sax), L. Mixashawn Rozie (soprano and tenor sax), J.D. Parran (alto flute and clarinet), and Ron McBee (percussion). Here she finally settles into just playing piano and turns in a surprisingly solid performance, centering horns which otherwise like to scatter chaotically. Still has some spots you wonder about, but overall remarkable. A- [cd]
Lee Fields: Emma Jean (2014, Truth & Soul): Soul singer from Georgia, a reissue of his 1979 album Let's Talk It Over showed him to be a worthy chip off James Brown. He's still around, and if the new one has lost a step, that just means more ballads, a strong point anyway. B+(**)
Danny Freyer: Must Be Love (2014, Blue Bend): Crooner, throwback to the 1950s trying to conjure up "That Old Black Magic" and tossing in a bit of "Yardbird Suite" (seguing into "Let's Make Babies Baby"). "Dean Martin looks and a Sinatra voice" sez the website -- one look at the picture makes you wonder if the voice is really as far off the mark. Pleasant enough with a jazz band, but the strings are really awful. B- [cd]
Ben Frost: Aurora (2014, Bedroom Community): Ambient sturm und drang, something else we didn't need, but all the banging around is not without its interesting, even industrial, moments. B+(**)
Future Islands: Singles (2013 , 4AD): Synthpop band based in Baltimore, four albums, singer Samuel T. Herring takes a bit of getting used to but the songs stand up, not as singles so much as album building blocks. B+(*)
Mary Gauthier: Trouble & Love (2014, In the Black): Folk singer-songwriter from Louisiana, always has a finely detailed sense of her subjects. These eight songs move slowly, which gives them all the more resonance. A-
Brian Groder Trio: Reflexology (2013 , Latham): Trumpet player, hangs in avant circles -- trio mates are Michael Bisio and Jay Rosen -- but doesn't sound so far out. Indeed, front cover shows a footprint with various points mapped to musicians, with Oliver Nelson out on a toe, Mingus and Joe Farrell at the arch, and Monk on the heel. B+(***) [cd]
Luke Haines: New York in the '70s (2014, Cherry Red): Former Auteurs/Black Box Recorder namechecks Alan Vega and Jim Carroll and proclaims "Dolls Forever" using tunes picked up wholesale from Lou Reed then dipped in starch and irony. B
Holly Hofmann: Low Life: The Alto Flute Project (2014, Capri): Flute player, 14 albums since 1989, few that I have heard have any appeal to me, but it helps here that she sticks to alto flute, also that in addition to longtime accompanist Mike Wofford (piano) she has a rhythm section that flows and sometimes even swings: Anthony Wilson (guitar), John Clayton (bass), Jeff Hamilton (drums). B+(*) [cd]
Bobby Hutcherson/David Sanborn/Joey DeFrancesco: Enjoy the View (2014, Blue Note): After the three principals, who each contribute two or three originals, we see "featuring Billy Hart." You don't run into many organ-vibraphone pairings but the combination works well here. As for Sanborn, he reminds you that he has the chops to be a well respected alto saxophonist, but you can never quite trust him. B+(*)
B.J. Jansen: Ronin (2013 , ARC): Baritone saxophonist, from Cincinnati, now in New York, has a couple albums, this one backed by piano-bass-drums, fairly mainstream leaning toward quiet storm. B+(**) [cd]
Kasai Allstars: Beware the Fetish [Congotronics 5] (2014, Crammed Discs, 2CD): A large Kinshasa group, their band built with thumb pianos and makeshift percussion shared, at least in this series, with Konono No. 1. I find the vocals a bit rougher and less compelling, and the length wears you down, although disc-buyers will only play one half at a time. B+(***)
Seun Kuti + Egypt 80: A Long Way to the Beginning (2013 , Knitting Factory): Fela Kuti's youngest son seems to have inherited the old band, probably because he's able to keep up the intensity, even more than the old days -- his main innovation is to introduce raps, which cut sharper than the still more common chants. B+(***)
Dawn Landes: Bluebird (2014, Western Vinyl): Singer-songwriter from Kentucky, at one time married to Josh Ritter, mostly quiet and personable guitar-and-vocals. B+(**)
Peter Lerner: Continuation (2014, OA2): Guitarist, from Chicago, second album, lists a large group but in two columns, suggesting that the core group consists of pianist Willie Pickens (listed as "featuring" on the cover) and bass and drums, with the second column -- three horns including Geof Bradfield on saxes and flute plus Joe Rendon on percussion -- supplementary. Still, they all fit together nicely -- I'm tempted to use the word "slick" but that would raise some false connotations. I haven't run across Pickens before, but he earns his feature. B+(***) [cd]
The John A. Lewis Trio: One Trip Out (2014, Valarteri): Pianist, originally from Dallas, studied at SMU, played trumpet in R&B bands, has been a musician "for over thirty years"; website only shows this one record, a nice mainstream piano trio. B+(*) [cd]
Roberto Magris Trio: One Night in With Hope and More, Vol. 2 (2008-10 [2013, JMood): Pianist from Italy, rooted in 1950s bebop styles, which this album (and its predecessor) pay tribute to. Trio, some cuts with Tootie Heath on drums. Terrific bonus track with Paul Carr on tenor sax, and 4:25 of "audio notebook." B+(**) [cdr]
Roberto Magris Septet: Morgan Rewind: A Tribute to Lee Morgan Vol. 2 (2010 , JMood, 2CD): A broad selection of tunes by the hard bop trumpet great plus two African-influenced pieces by the pianist-leader. They work hard to get the rhythmic feel right and build up the harmonics, but don't expect Hermon Mehari to make you recall, much less forget, Morgan. B+(*) [cdr]
Roberto Magris Quintet: Cannonball Funk'n Friends (2010 , JMood): The subject of this tribute is Julian "Cannonball" Adderley, although only one song originates with him -- other sources include Duke Pearson, Frank Rosolino, Walter Booker, Oscar Pettiford, and Eddie Vinson, plus two originals by pianist Magris. Emphasizes funk beats over bebop, and Hermon Mehari's cornet shines more than Jim Mair's alto sax. B+(**) [cdr]
Roberto Magris Space Trek: Aliens in a Bebop Planet (2011 , JMood, 2CD): Concept is an alien discovering bebop and working through it, with covers of Fats Navarro, Sir Charles Thompson, Kenny Clarke, "The Gypsy," and "Giant Steps," and originals venturing as far as fellow space traveller Sun Ra. Magris' piano is up to the demands, but I'm often even more entranced by saxophonist Matt Otto, who has a lock on the cool. Eddie Charles' three vocals are neither here nor there. Paul Collins' "audio notebook" is a fully overblown review. B+(***) [cdr]
MARS 4-Tet: The Blind Watchmaker (2014, Summit): Acronym for Don Murray (bass), Jeff Antoniuk (sax), Frank Russo (drums), and Donato Soveiro (guitar). First album, although Antoniuk has a couple previous efforts, and shares the songwriting with Soveiro. Solid mainstream group, one you'd be delighted with if you walked in on them with no expectations. Covers: Monk, Jarrett, "Black Dog" (a Led Zeppelin blues). B+(**) [cd]
The Pete McGuinness Jazz Orchestra: Strength in Numbers (2013 , Summit): Trombone player and sometime singer (three tunes here), working with a big band here -- mostly familiar New York names, with pianist Mike Holober (a big band specialist) notable. Many striking passages, the vocals more an acquired taste (e.g., "You Don't Know What Love Is"). B+(*) [cd]
Willie Nelson: Band of Brothers (2014, Legacy): Billed as Nelson's first album of "mostly original" songs since 1996's Spirit, most are co-credited to Buddy Cannon, and 5 (of 14) don't have Nelson's name on them. A while back Legacy included Nelson in their Valentine's Day release of Love Songs, inadvertently showing that no country singer in our memory has pitched less woo or waxed less romantic than Nelson, but he tops himself time and again here -- if "Used to Her" and "Wives and Girlfriends" seem too witty, there's "I Thought I Left You," where he compares his beloved to measles and the whooping cough. The warmest he comes is "I love you because you're crazy like me," but he didn't write that. Nor did he write "it's hard to be an outlaw who ain't wanted any more" -- that's Billy Joe Shaver's line. But he did write "I can't forget the shit you put me through, and of course I can't forgive you because that's just what I do" ("I've Got a Lot of Traveling to Do"). A-
Conor Oberst: Upside-Down Mountain (2014, Nonesuch): Singer-songwriter, has a knack for pop melodies although these are less cut and dry than usual. B+(**)
Beata Pater: Golden Lady (2013 , B&B): Jazz singer, mostly standards but nothing from the standard songbooks save Jobim, not the only nod toward Latin America. B [cd]
Matt Pavolka: The Horns Band (2013 , Fresh Sound New Talent): Bassist, second album, formed this group around three horns -- Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Jacob Garchik (trombone), and Loren Stillman (alto sax) -- with Mark Ferber on drums. Not the brightest sound, but the post-whatever shuffle is worth keying on. B+(**) [cd]
Felix Peikli: Royal Flush (2013 , self-released): Clarinetist (including bass), from Norway, first album, quintet with guitar, piano, bass, and drums, plus guests, some "special," some not. His speed is impressive in a group that can keep up with him, like Ralph Peterson's Fo'tet, but can be overly lush, especially when the guests add vocals and/or flute. B [cdr]
The Ralph Peterson Fo'tet Augmented: Alive at Firehouse 12: Vol 2: Fo' n Mo' (2013 , Onyx): I didn't get Vol. 1, with a group drummer Peterson calls the Unity Project. Peterson's Presents the Fo'Tet appeared in 1989 and that's been rubric for his small group ever since: currently Felix Peikli (clarinet, bass clarinet) and Joseph Doubleday (vibes). The "Mo'" is Steve Wilson (soprano sax) and Eguie Castrillo (percussion), and they help plenty, but the core group is impressive too. B+(***) [cd]
Popcaan: Where We Come From (2014, Mixpak): Jamaican singer, came up doing dancehall although this strikes me as more idiosyncratic than that. B+(***)
Rallidae: Paper Birds (2013 , self-released, EP): Vocal trio, where Angela Morris also plays tenor sax, Scott Colberg bass, and Alex Samaras just sings. Group name refers to the family of coots, crakes, and gallinules (collectively rails), mostly small birds found in wetlands. Four songs, 23:24. The vocals fall out of the classical art-song tradition I generally despise, but the instruments are jazz. B- [cd]
Andrew Rathbun Quartet: Numbers & Letters (2012 , SteepleChase): Saxophonist (credited here "reeds, voice"), from Toronto, lists George Russell and George Garzone among his tutors, a postbop guy. Backed by a veteran piano trio here -- Phil Markowitz, Jay Anderson, Bill Stewart -- with two guest spots for Taylor Haskins on trumpet. Starts off bold, but in going through the various phases and changes loses impresses more than interests. B+(**) [cdr]
Sam Reed Meets Roberto Magris: Ready for Reed (2011 [2013, JMood): Alto saxophonist from Philadelphia, childhood friend and protégé of Jimmy Heath, has been around long enough to have a story about Charlie Parker asking him to hold his horn between sets, but only has side credits to my knowledge: Teddy Pendergrass, but also Odean Pope's Sax Choir. Relaxed, very charming mainstream set with a full band, led by pianist Magris but including a trombone. Record ends with an "audio notebook" -- an interview where you get to know a bit more about Reed. B+(***) [cdr]
Jefferson Rose Band: Feel Like Dancing (2014, self-released): Seattle group led by bassist Rose, second album, describe themselves as "a tightly honed ensemble of world music players," although at first blush they sound like a salsa band -- losing that spell only when singer Alex Kitchen takes up a lyric in English. Upbeat enough to justify the title. B [cd]
Harold Rubin/Barre Phillips/Tatsuya Nakatani: E on a Thin Line (2009 , Hopscotch): Clarinetist, also notable as a visual artist, b. 1932 in South Africa, moved to Israel in the 1960s after running afoul of the Apartheid regime, has at least 10 albums since 1990 (AMG counts 2). This is the first I've heard, and I'm struck by his distinctive avant approach. B+(***) [cd]
Saxophone Summit [Dave Liebman/Ravi Coltrane/Joe Lovano]: Visitation (2011 , ArtistShare): The first such "summit" was in 2004 with Liebman, Lovano, and Michael Brecker -- their Gathering of the Spirits was awful, even with the comic relief of their wood flute special. Coltrane is a more compatible replacement, and the first thing you notice is how tightly the horns fit together, then how ably the rhythm section -- Phil Markowitz, Cecil McBee, and Billy Hart -- help out. Six pieces, one from each, each for all. B+(***) [cd]
Bobby Selvaggio: Short Stories (2013 , Origin): Alto saxophonist, has seven albums over the last decade. Quartet here, with Aaron Goldberg on piano. Reminds me of Donny McCaslin with his fast, swooping, virtuosic sax runs, which dominate this album. B+(**) [cd]
Sonny Simmons: Leaving Knowledge, Wisdom and Brilliance/Chasing the Bird? (2006-14 , Improvising Beings, 8CD): This arrived in a water-soaked plastic bag, the cardboard box destroyed, so it was unclear just what the title was, some web sources suggesting 80th Anniversary Box Set. Other web sources, and the now dry remains of the box, lean toward the title above. Simmons started on alto sax with ESP-Disk in the mid-1960s, recorded little in the 1970s and 1980s, cut a couple major label albums in the mid-1990s (Warner Bros.), and then from 2001 on has had a remarkably productive stretch flittering around avant spots in Europe -- his main labels Norwegian, Polish, and now French. The music here follows from a fairly basic concept even though it's been elaborated into more than seven hours of variations: Simmons plays alto sax and cor anglais, backed by amplified Indian instruments, guitar and/or keyboard, and percussion. Extravagant exotica, randomly replayable. Don't know how I was so fortunate to get a copy, especially at a time when Sony can't be bothered to answer my email. B+(***) [cd]
Sonzeira: Brasil Bam Bam Bam (2014, Talkin' Loud/Virgin): British DJ Gilles Petersen assembled various Brazilian stars for this (as well as ringer Seun Kuti) and mixed the results, an Afro-Brazilian dance tape with attractive quirks. B+(***)
Storyboard [David Boswell/Alex Locascio/Rod MacDowell]: Hello (2014, My Quiet Moon): Guitars/synth, drums, electric bass. Boswell cites Pat Metheny as a formative influence, and McDowell cites Jaco Pastorius, but all they wind up with is a basic groove album. B [cd]
Strand of Oaks: Heal (2014, Dead Oceans): Indiana singer-songwriter Timothy Showalter, second album, don't know if the first is amped up like this one, which starts with a dense guitar scream and rarely descends below heavy, except to declaim something intensely emotional. B-
Sun Kil Moon: Benji (2014, Caldo Verde): Mark Kozelek group, although the extremely personal first person songs and simple arrangements don't allow for much group. Blue collar confessionals, mostly about family, some about work, not much of a love life -- no idea whether this is Kozelek's norm, but I'm touched and fascinated. B+(***)
Swans: To Be Kind (2014, Young God, 2CD): Michael Gira's group dates back to 1982 with a breakup from 1997-2010. Before the breakup they were an obscure postrock/noise band (titles included Soundtracks for the Blind and Public Castration Is a Good Idea). Since regrouping they've become a "critics band" -- this one is currently the top-rated Album of the Year. With one piece topping 30 minutes, others filling out more than two hours. B
Allison Adams Tucker: April in Paris (2012 , Allegato Music): Jazz singer, from San Diego, second album, one original, eight standards including a Jobim and a Beatles song, several in Romance languages (Italian, French, Portuguese; her website also has a Japanese version, as she lived in Japan at some point). She nails "It Might as Well Be Spring" but wanders after that. B [cd]
Paul Tynan & Aaron Lington: Bicoastal Collective: Chapter Four (2013 , OA2): Trumpet and baritone sax, plus their ever-shifting collective, this time just guitar, organ, and drums. The organ gives them a nice little boost. B+(*) [cd]
Sharon Van Etten: Are We There (2014, Jagjaguwar): A critically hailed singer-songwriter although I can't tell you why: slow, heavy, one could even say leaden, presumably effects that set up the melodrama, if indeed that's what it is. B-
Cornelius Veit/Eugen Prieur/Jörg Fischer: Stromraum (2012-13 , Spore Print): Guitar trio, Prieur playing electric bass; second group album, the first in 2005, the trio going back as far as 2000. Even scratchier than Fischer's trio with Marc Charig, but the cohesiveness of the sound helps frame the invention. B+(***) [cd]
Brahja Waldman Quintet: Sir Real Live at Resonance (2013 , self-released): Two-sax quintet, the leader on alto, Adam Kinner on tenor, with piano (Damon Shadrach Hankof), bass, and drums. Live vamp pieces, the repetition easy on the ears but with points to jump off from. [Limited vinyl.] B+(**) [cdr]
The War on Drugs: Lost in the Dream (2014, Secretly Canadian): Currently the number three highest ranked album this year over at Album of the Year (behind Swans and St. Vincent; a while back it was number one). I love the guitar textures, but notice the singer flinging lines out like Dylan, only with none of them sticking. B+(***)
Walt Weiskopf: Overdrive (2013 , Posi-Tone): Tenor saxophonist, 16 albums since 1989, a mainstream player with a lot of drive, gets more help then he needs here -- piano (Peter Zak), guitar (Yotam Silberstein), vibes (Behn Gillece), bass and drums -- a little clutter, which the fast ones only scatter. B
Wild Beasts: Present Tense (2014, Domino): English art rock/deam pop group, fourth album, the slack beats and falsetto vocals conjure up that dream effect and it's pretty tolerable while it lasts. B
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Dexter Johnson & Le Super Star de Dakar: Live à l'Étoile (1969 , Teranga Beat): The leader was a saxophonist, born in Nigeria and based in Senegal at the time, later in Guinea and Côte d'Ivoire. Songs have a crude ska-like feel, more likely derived from soul (there's a Wilson Pickett cover) and boogaloo (the Latin tinge is pronounced), the vocals par for the period but they bounce off the sax in captivating ways. B+(***)
Oscar Peterson/Ben Webster: During This Time (1972 , Art of Groove): Recorded in the NDR studios in Hannover, backed by Neils-Henning Ørsted Pedersen on bass and Tony Inzalaco on drums, this was just a year before the tenor sax great's death, although I find him playing faster than anything I've heard by him in the previous five years, and just slightly off his finest ballad tone -- a pleasant surprise even though you'd expect the pianist to perk up anyone. Packaged with a DVD. A-
Air: Open Air Suit (1978, Novus): An important avant jazz group from the mid-1970s, with Henry Threadgill on various saxes (and too much flute), Fred Hopkins on bass, and Steve McCall on drums. Four pieces, titled as if selected from five, meant to imply something larger. B+(**)
Chris Burn: Music for Three Rivers (1995-97 , Victo): English pianist, records infrequently with avant musicians like John Butcher and Lol Coxhill, plays solo here, two long pieces and a bunch of short ones. Not much momentum, hard to get a handle on this. B+(*)
Gerry Hemingway Quartet: Devil's Paradise (1999 , Clean Feed): The BassDrumBone trio (Mark Dresser, Hemingway, and trombonist Ray Anderson), which date back at least to 1987, plus tenor saxophonist Ellery Eskelin -- a dream group, although the latter fits in awkwardly, the choppiness a trademark of the trio. B+(***)
Joe Henderson: Our Thing (1963 , Blue Note): The tenor saxophonist's second album, a typically strong showing with trumpeter Kenny Dorham sharing the front line and writing half the songs (3 of 6). Pianist Andrew Hill is often the most interesting player here, mixing up what otherwise would be a hard bop outing. A-
Joe Henderson: Joe Henderson Quintet at the Lighthouse (1970 , Milestone/OJC): With Woody Shaw on trumpet and George Cables on piano, these tracks were initially released on several albums and lost a track in the squeeze when they were belatedly reassembled. The trumpet raises Henderson's competitive blood, but that's not necessarily a plus. B+(**)
Joe Henderson: Joe Henderson in Japan (1971 , Milestone/OJC): Tenor sax quartet, the leader picking up a sprightly rhythm section led by Hideo Ichikawa on electric piano (with Kunimitsu Inaba on bass and Motohiko Hino on drums, the latter a name I recognize). Four cuts, the spaced-out solos most impressive. B+(***)
Joe Henderson: Relaxin' at Camarillo (1979 , Contemporary/OJC): Tenor sax quartet, pieced together from two sessions with different bass-drums, but Chick Corea plays sparkling piano throughout, and the leader is in fine form. A-
Joe Henderson: Joe Henderson Big Band (1992-96 , Verve): Riding high on a major label comeback, the fourth (of five) albums Verve released, with three early tracks produced by Don Sickler, the other five by Bob Belden with a huge list of musicians, few common to both sessions. Buries the star, but has some snap as Belden albums go. B+(*)
Art Hodes: Keepin' Out of Mischief Now (1988, Candid): Born in Russia, moved to Chicago as an infant, mastered stride piano and recorded in trad jazz groups from the 1940s. He was 84 when this solo set was cut, a batch of songs he'd spent his life with, nothing fancy, nothing to rush him, all the more poignant. A-
New Air Featuring Cassandra Wilson: Air Show No. 1 (1986 , Black Saint): The "New" signifies that Pheeroan Aklaff has replaced Steve McCall on drums; otherwise, bassist Fred Hopkins and alto saxophonist Henry Threadgill (also flute and banjo) carry on. Wilson is an effective singer here. B+(**)
Oscar Peterson et Joe Pass: À La Salle Pleyel (1975 , Pablo/OJC, 2CD): Piano and guitar, Pass has mostly recorded solo, calling an early album Virtuoso and mostly adding numbers onto subsequent efforts. The record starts with Peterson solo, then adds a solo Pass set, then finally six duets. Peterson is a formidable solo performer too, but even better when socializing. A-
The Michael Jefry Stevens/Dominic Duval Quintet: Elements (1994 , Leo): The leaders play piano and bass, but this is more of a group effort, with all but two Stevens pieces attributed to the group, including Mark Whitecase (alto sax), Dom Minasi (guitar), and Jay Rosen (drums). B+(*)
Monday, July 7. 2014
Music: Current count 23488  rated (+29), 538  unrated (-1).
Cut this off Sunday night, so I don't have Monday's mail in the unpacking. Main reason I fell short of thirty records was that I spent two days playing almost nothing but the Sonny Simmons box. Main reason I even came close to thirty records was that I went through Album of the Year's The Highest Rated Albums of 2014 and played a lot of things on Rhapsody that I had missed. The notebook has a table of the top 100 records with my grades where I have them. Thus far I've heard 40 of those 100, pretty concentrated toward the top of the list (18 of top 20, 24 of top 30, 27 of top 40, 32 of top 50, only 8 of the next 50 (Sharon Jones, Dolly Parton, Laura Cantrell, Schoolboy Q, Future, Luke Haines, YG, Lykke Li).
AOTY's list isn't very useful for prospecting. Only 6 of those top 100 albums are on my 63-album A-list (Todd Terje, Cloud Nothings, Ought, Parquet Courts, Miranda Lambert, Laura Cantrell -- I haven't heard the UK-only Paul Heaton/Jacqui Abbott record at 56, although Michael Tatum and Jason Gubbells have convinced me I'll love it ), 11 more as high HMs (St. Vincent, The War on Drugs, Sun Kil Moon, Neneh Cherry, Carla Bozulich, EMA, Freddie Gibbs & Madlib, Isaiah Rashad, Tinariwen, Sturgill Simpson, Fear of Men).
Most of my missing A-list is jazz, but skipping the non-vocal jazz records, the following records on my A-list didn't make AOTY's top 100: Lily Allen, The Strypes, Jenny Scheinman, The Hold Steady, Old 97's, Pharrell Williams, Shakira, Barbara Morrison, Rodney Crowell, Deena, Big Ups, Mary Gauthier, Grieves, Catherine Russell, Jon Langford, Wussy, Company Freak, The New Mendicants, Willie Nelson, Dave Alvin/Phil Alvin, Leo Welch, Amy LaVere, and Supreme Cuts. I'm partial, of course, but it strikes me that the difference between these artists and the AOTY ones I downgraded is personality (and maybe brains).
For a second opinion, I checked Michael Tatum's grades, skipping compilations. He has 10 AOTY 100 records graded A- or above (Against Me!, Laura Cantrell, Cloud Nothings, EMA, Freddie Gibbs/Madlib, Paul Heaton/Jacqui Abbott, Bob Mould, Parquet Courts, St. Vincent, Tinariwen -- two records there I haven't heard); and 22 A-list albums not in the AOTY 100 (Lily Allen, Katy B, Toni Braxton/Babyface, Company Freak, Deena, Drive-By Truckers, Hold Steady, Chrissie Hynde, Kool AD, Kool and Kass, Amy LaVere, Steve Malkmus, Modern Baseball, The New Mendicants, Conor Oberst, Old 97's, The Roots, Shakira, Withered Hand, Wussy, Young Thug/Bloody Jay, Young Thug/Gucci Mane -- I had 23).
I didn't bother writing up tweets for many of the AOTY records. Some of them I just played and felt next to nothing, they were so instantly forgettable. Some, like Ab-Soul or Conor Oberst, weren't so bad but left me feeling I had little to say. I've promised in the past to do better on that, but this week I slipped up a bit.
Some personal things are very much up in the air right now. My last remaining aunt, Freda Bureman, appears to be dying. If/when that happens, I'll have to drop whatever I'm doing and take care of some things. Also, the server I lease looks to be dead (and the support staff doesn't seem too healthy or alert either). I had a bunch of work I wanted to do on that machine, so that's totally up in the air. Indeed, I may wind up having to reconstruct everything previously stored there (at best, a lot of unpleasant work; at worst, impossible).
Barring disaster, I should post Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week. (I currently have 77 records in the draft file.) I hope to get through the Roberto Magris records by then. Meanwhile, the incoming queue has dried up so severely I could remove one (maybe two of three) baskets from my floor. Perhaps it's time to buckle down, clean up, put all this crap behind me.
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, July 6. 2014
Short after spending so much time trying to follow what's happening in Israel, but still have some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study:
On June 12 this year three Israeli teenagers -- Naftali Frenkel (16), Gilad Shaer (16), and Eyal Yifrah (19), residents and yeshiva students in Israel's occupied territories -- were kidnapped while hitchhiking from Gush Etzion, an illegal settlement in Area C, the section still under full Israeli military control. One of the three was eventually reported to have been able to call authorities to alert them of the kidnapping, but that was initially treated as a prank call. The three dead bodies were found on June 30, in a field northwest of Hebron. Details are sketchy: I gather that then were shot and killed shortly after their abduction. Piecing information together from news sources is very difficult, but there is a good overview at Wikipedia.
If this was an isolated, atomic event, it would be treated as it should be, as a heinous crime, with the public waiting passively -- aside from the usual media sensationalism -- while authorities sifted through evidence, tracked down, apprehended, and tried and punished the perpetrators. But the crime could not be isolated from its context, and it set off a series of subsequent events -- many of them criminal as well -- that continue to this day and into the future. Someone with a clear vantage and access to all the data could write a book showing the myriad ways the crimes and the conflicts reflect and refract each other, creating a cage which traps anyone and everyone committed to the conflict. The only way out of this cage is to see each crime in its own light, and never justify a new crime on the basis of an old one.
Of course, everyone behaved predictably. In Israel there are two kinds of kidnapping. One is very common, on the order of 1,000 or more instances per year: this is when any of Israel's various security outfits "arrests" Palestinian "suspects." They can be held without charge or legal cause pretty much indefinitely, although in practice they tend to be held a few months then released. As such, the total number of Israeli-held "prisoners" is limited -- in 2008, Adallah put the number at 11,000 -- but many more Palestinian men have been cycled through the system. In the weeks immediately following the kidnappings, Israelis "arrested" another 400 Palestinians, as if they were stocking up for an eventual exchange to ransom the three Israeli teens.
Much rarer are Palestinian kidnappings of Israelis: by far the most famous the kidnapping of an IDF soldier on the Gaza border in 2006, Gilad Shalit. He was held for five years by Hamas operatives and eventually repatriated in a deal that that involved release by Israel of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. With many thousands of more Palestinians locked away in Israeli prisons, there was some sentiment among Palestinians in favor of kidnapping more Israelis, but in fact there have been very few such cases, especially leading to successful hostage exchanges. Still, given the costs of getting Shalit back, it's easy to understand why Israel would overreact to a new kidnapping.
And overreact is precisely what Israel did. Aside from snatching up more than 400 prisoners, Israelis have thus far killed at least 10 Palestinians. Much of this was initially done by the IDF in what they called Operation Brother's Keeper, as they went through various Palestinian villages and refugee camps, searching and damaging over 1,000 buildings. Early on, the Netanyahu government decided to blame Hamas for the kidnappings. They quickly identified two Hebron residents as suspects, and claimed that they had been Hamas operatives. While there is no doubt that Hamas was responsible for the Shalit abduction, Hamas has recently agreed with Fatah to form a "unity government" in the Palestinian Authority, something the Netanyahu government rejects and is very keen on breaking up.
It's very important to understand that Netanyahu in particular (and for that matter nearly all prominent Israeli politicians today and in the past going back to Ben Gurion) has absolutely no desire to negotiate any sort of conflict resolution with the Palestinians. They have at present pretty much what they want: all of Jerusalem and the ancient land of Samaria and Judea, the Golan Heights, a system which keeps Palestinian and Arab violence to a low level despite subjecting the Palestinians to grossly unequal treatment, an absence of credible threats from regional powers, a generous subsidy of their military by the US, friendly alliances with the US and most nations in Europe, and a high standard of living. They may on occasion give lip service to negotiations, but in fact they give up nothing as they continue building on Palestinian land and tightening up their matrix of control. They see negotiation as a losing proposition: to resolve the conflict, they'd have to give up land and money, they'd have to give equitable rights, and for little improvement in security they'd obsolete a military system that defines so much of what Israelis live for -- that is in fact the main path to personal success, in business as well as politics.
Of course, that's a rather myopic view of Israeli success, but one they work very hard at propagandizing. They try to push two contradictory messages simultaneously: to the Palestinians, they emphasize their overwhelming power, trying to drive home the futility of resistance; to Israeli Jews, they reinforce a culture of victimhood, where their only protection is the state; and to the world, they play up every act of violence against them while playing down the much greater violence they perpetrate.
So Israel's security forces react to the kidnapping in several ways: they use the incident to reinforce their propaganda messages, and they use it as an excuse to pursue their political goals. The biggest threat to Israel's propaganda line is Hamas seeking to gain international legitimacy as a representative of the Palestinians, so Israel has used this incident to track down and pick up everyone they know of with Hamas connections. But the IDF also used this as an excuse to raid Mustafa Barghouti's Palestinial National Initiative (BDS) organization and confiscate its computers. And they subjected hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to curfews, and shut down various checkpoints.
By June 20 Israel's operations generated more resistance, which they answered with more violence. Wikipedia:
Until June 26, when the bodies were found, Israeli censorship had prevented publication of suspicions that the three teenagers had been killed. Among other things, this gave a cover of urgency for Israel's widespread military operations. After the bodies were found, Israeli politicians started talking more about collective punishment. On July 1, Israeli jets and helicopters struck 34 locations in Gaza. These were answered by small rockets launched from Gaza, so Israel bombed Gaza again, and again. Collective punishment is nothing new to Israel. The British practiced it to suppress the Arab Revolt in 1937-39, and Israel has made an art of it, from Ariel Sharon's Qibya massacre in 1953 to the sonic boom flyovers of Gaza after Israel dismantled their settlements there in 2005. Israel is reportedly massing troops along the Gaza border again, for a possible attack on Hamas like they did in 2006 after Shalit was abducted, and again in 2008's Operation Cast Lead.
One thing the Wikipedia article doesn't go into much is the widespread eruption of hatred against Palestinians within Israeli civil society, at least occasionally turning to violence. (One 16-year-old Palestinian boy, Mohamed Abu Khdai, was killed by being burning alive.) For a sense of this, see this Haaretz piece by Chemi Shalev:
For an example, Allison Deger (The Aftermath: Home demolitions and dead Palestinian teen follow Netanyahu call for revenge) interviews an 18-year-old Israeli settler, Mier Sh'aribi, at the same hitchhiking spot where the three teens were abducted, then continues:
Anyone who's read Max Blumenthal's Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel will not be surprised by these reactions. The roots of this loathing run deep: the most striking thing about Tom Segev's 1967: Israel, the War, and the Year That Transformed the Middle East is the extreme contrast between Israel's supremely confident military leaders and its intentionally terrified citizenry. That the military was proven justified in the Six-Day War gave them a free hand for subsequent adventurism, always be bolstered by panicking a public that grew up on holocaust stories. More often than not, those ventures -- Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008 are prime examples -- had to be ended early because they had turned into public embarrassments.
Israel's heavy-handed response to the kidnapping and murder of the three teens will also eventually be seen as a public embarrassment, but thus far the hasbara machine has milked the deaths for maximum sympathy while keeping most of everything else under wraps -- most reports of hostilities along the Gaza border focus on toy rockets (invariably attributed to Hamas) as if they are equivalent to F-16 sorties. (Of course, in some moral sense they are, but as a practical matter they are as far apart as any other measurement of relative violence in the conflict: e.g., abductions, house demolitions.) Similarly, the media routinely accepts the legitimacy of Israel's security forces, even when they operate in occupied territories, where they are allowed to invent laws on whim, selectively enforce them, all in support of illegal settlements. No one wants to point out that the three teens were illegal settlers, pawns in a political drama that's meant to dispossess and degrade the Palestinians who have lived on the land for many centuries. That's because no one wants to besmirch the innocence of the victims, but you don't need to deny facts -- that the occupation is illegal and immoral, and that the teens are, perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not, are part of that occupation -- to see the killings as despicable. All one needs to understand is that no crime in the series justifies the next.
Where the story threatens to get out of hand is with the hate mobs and their revenge killings -- as opposed to the casual deaths that inevitably follow IDF operations in Palestinian villages. Israel did finally manage to arrest six Israelis for kidnapping and torturing (burning) Mohamed Abu Khdai to death -- here "arrest" is the right word: they are charged with specific crimes and entitled to the legal rights including a fair trial (although "fair" for whom is open to debate, as the Israeli legal system has been notoriously lax when it comes to crimes committed by Jews against Arabs. One of the first things I noted in reading about the kidnappings was that the two 16-year-olds (and for that matter the bloodthirsty 17-year-old quoted above) are considered to be juveniles under Israeli law, but 16-year-old Palestinians are tried (when they are tried at all) as adults.
A system is racist when it divides the population into two (or more) groups and makes legal distinctions among them, such as the law that treats Palestinian teens as adults while at the same time treating Jewish teens as juveniles. That's just one of dozens or hundreds of cases of legal discrimination practiced by Israel. Another is that Israel has no death penalty for its citizens, but Israeli security forces have assassinated hundreds of Palestinians with no judicial review whatsoever -- some with F-16s resulting in dozens of collateral deaths. One might still debate whether Zionism is intrinsically racist -- certainly some Zionists are not -- but the actual State of Israel clearly is, as is a substantial portion of its citizens (especially concentrated in the settlements in the occupied territories -- for the history of which, see Idith Zertal and Akiva Eldar: Lords of the Land: The War for Israel's Settleements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007, with Blumenthal, op. cit., a useful update).
There is much more one can mention here. (One of the suspects Israel named belongs to the Kawasmeh clan in Hebron, which has some Hamas connections but also has a long history of freelance operations counter to Hamas truces. The guilt of the suspects is presumed because they recently disappeared. Israel went ahead and demolished the suspects' houses rather than stake them out.) As I said, someone should write a book, because the whole conflict is woven into this story, provided you look at it comprehensively enough.
Thursday, July 3. 2014
Last New Book Notes was on April 2, the one before that on February 11, so this is about when I should be coming up with another collection of forty blurbs. If anything, I'm a little late, but then I always seem to be late. Actually, I have another batch of forty in the draft file, so I may well come up with a second post this week.
Anyhow, these are the most interesting titles I've noticed on real and virtual bookstore shelves recently:
Julia Angwin: Dragnet Nation: A Quest for Privacy, Security, and Freedom in a World of Relentless Surveillance (2014, Times Books): A journalist surveys the surveillance nation -- not just the NSA but your phone company and Google too -- senses that the response to surveillance will be self-censorship to the point of losing freedom, and tries to figure out ways to cope, even to carve out some measure of privacy.
Gary J Bass: The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger, and a Forgotten Genocide (2013, Knopf): About the 1971 revolt and war that split Bangladesh off from Pakistan, and how Nixon and Kissinger were so wrapped up in their Cold War machinations they didn't notice (nor did they care) that millions of people were perishing. Bass has a rotten history as one of those liberal hawks who invariably wants the US to jump into wars everywhere there's a chance to save lives, and this is a case that suits him to a T. (As I recall, Noam Chomsky cited India's intervention as one of the very few cases where a war actually did some good.) And it never hurts to be reminded that Nixon and Kissinger were war criminals of the highest order. Still, beware the hidden agenda.
Michael Burleigh: Small Wars, Faraway Places: Global Insurrection and the Making of the Modern World, 1945-1965 (2013, Viking): Given the years covered, most of those faraway wars were revolts against European (and American) imperialism, many of which got caught up in the Cold War as the United States forsake liberalism in favor of any tinpot despot who could be counted as anticommunist. That adds up to a pretty big book (668 pp) with "18 distinct story lines of terrorism, counter-terrorism, intrigue, nationalism, and Cold War rivalry." Good chance he spreads himself thin, as well as missing the upshot -- which is that the Cold War was primarily responsible for undermining democracy and undoing the middle class in America.
Tyler Cowen: Average Is Over: Powering America Beyond the Age of the Great Stagnation (2013, Dutton): New York Times pundit, on the conservative side, does at least approach real problems while denying that they can be fixed (often by reassuring us that the right people are working on it). E.g., his brief on the economic decline of the middle class was The Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better. This book is about how inequality is good because, well, it generates more millionaires.
Robert F Dalzell Jr: The Good Rich and What They Cost Us (2013, Yale University Press): The pictures on the cover depict George Washington, Oprah Winfrey, and two guys in the middle -- I gather one is John D. Rockefeller, who despite the enormous foundation that still bears his name was never much regarded as "good," for the public at least. Probes the contradiction between a public committed to democracy and one that seems to celebrate the rich.
John Demos: The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic (2014, Knopf): A study in racism, really, as Demos examines a school set up by New England evangelists for "heathens" from around the globe -- Henry Obookiah, from Hawaii, was a famous student here -- and how the Connecticut community reacted to that school.
Barbara Ehrenreich: Living With a Wild God: A Nonbeliever's Search for the Truth About Everything (2014, Grand Central): A memoir of sorts, about the search for truth or knowledge or understanding. One of the few people I'd read anything by.
Graham Farmelo: Churchill's Bomb: How the United States Overtook Britain in the First Nuclear Arms Race (2013, Basic Books): One can argue that early in WWII Britain had the best shot at inventing the atomic bomb, and that Churchill for one reason or another ceded that lead to the US -- that seems to be the thrust here, and it would probably be interesting to find out what Churchill did and did not understand about the project, although in the end it's hard to see it mattering much. The British Empire could hardly stand on its own let alone pay for the mother country's disastrous wars, so it was no surprise that Britain emerged from the war reduced to America's loyal (and dependent) sidekick -- something else Churchill may or may not have understood, but ultimately couldn't do anything about.
Carlotta Gall: The Wrong Enemy: America in Afghanistan 2001-2014 (2014, Houghton Mifflin): Longtime war reporter argues that the US war in Afghanistan failed because the "real enemy" wasn't the Taliban. It was Pakistan. That's not exactly news, but it opens up more questions than it answers, and more importantly it leaves unexamined America's contribution to its own failure.
Timothy F Geithner: Stress Test: Reflections on Financial Crises (2014, Crown): Obama's Secretary of the Treasury was already deeply involved in the struggle to save the big banks as head of the New York Fed in 2008. I doubt he has much to say about other financial crises, but for the one he experienced first hand he's happy to take credit for saving not only the banks but the bankers who ran them into the ground. As for the rest of the economy, well, that's more complicated, and as far as I can tell not something Geithner reflects on much, or even cares about.
Malcolm Gladwell: David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (2013, Little Brown): Stories showing how underdogs can leverage their weakness to get ahead, or something like that. I don't have a strong opinion on him one way or the other: he has a knack for making trivial points, and a great fondness of success even when it's pretty superficial, but sometimes he runs across something interesting or important and he's rarely stupid or inelegant about it.
Anand Gopal: No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes (2014, Metropolitan): Focuses on three examples (a Taliban commander, a member of the US-backed government, and a village housewife), showing through each how the occupying Americans are viewed in Afghanistan, and therefore the limits of what they can hope to do.
Glenn Greenwald: No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State (2014, Metropolitan Books): A lawyer, Greenwald reacted to the Patriot Act by becoming a blogger focused on how the security state is encroaching on civil liberties -- a transformation he explained in his book How Would a Patriot Act? Since then he's found more and more to worry about, most dramatically when Snowden passed him leaked info about NSA spying.
David Harvey: Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism (2014, Oxford University Press): English Marxist, has been picking at the scab of capitalism for many years, churning out books like Limits to Capital (2007), A Short History of Neoliberalism (2007), and The Enigma of Capital and the Crises of Capitalism (2010) -- I read the latter and found it tedious but deeply insightful. No surprise that he finds capitalism rife with contradictions -- many are obvious even casually -- or that they periodically crack up but that "end" has proven elusive.
Ann Jones: They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America's Wars: The Untold Story (paperback, 2014, Haymarket Books): Former NGO worker, wrote Winter in Kabul: Life Without Peace in Afghanistan about what she saw in Afghanistan in 2002, and two more books following the casualties: War Is Not Over When It's Over: Women and the Unseen Consequences of Conflict, and now this short book on maimed US soldiers -- the real VA scandal.
Robert D Kaplan: Asia's Cauldron: The South China Sea and the End of a Stable Pacific (2014, Random House): Former travel writer to uncomfortable backwaters, has proven to be useful enough to the US security state he got appointed to the Defense Policy Board, where he's probably regarded as a deep thinker. No doubt he'd like nothing better than to stir up a Cold War with China, giving the Pentagon cover for buying up another generation of war toys.
Harvey J Kaye: The Fight for the Four Freedoms: What Made FDR and the Greatest Generation Truly Great (2014, Simon & Schuster): The Four Freedoms -- "Franklin Roosevelt's vision of a truly just and fair America" -- was war propaganda and thus easily forgotten once FDR died and the war against Germany and Japan was concluded. They are, however, something we can and should aspire to today, especially given the beating at least two freedoms (from want and from fear) have taken from the right in recent decades. Kaye previously wrote Thomas Paine and the Promise of America (2005, Hill and Wang).
Lane Kenworthy: Social Democratic America (2014, Oxford University Press): Argues that the US has been progressing slowly toward the social democracy common in most wealthy nations, but isn't that a stretch given how hard it is to talk about such things in their customary terms? So I expect this is longer on prescription than description, but mapping popular programs like Social Security and Medicare into the social democratic matrix is a step toward realizing what we're missing.
Benjamin Kunkel: Utopia or Bust: A Guide to the Present Crisis (paperback, 2014, Verso): Short "crash course" in the latest Marxist/Leftist thinking on the economy -- names dropped include Zizek, Harvey, Graeber, Jameson. Previously wrote the novel Indecision.
Costas Lapavitsas: Profiting Without Producing: How Finance Exploits Us All (paperback, 2014, Verso): British economist, previous book focused on Eurozone issues, sees "financialization" as the root of most of our current evils. There can be little doubt that most of the profits capitalism produces these days go to the financial sector, and it would be interesting to understand why.
Nathan Lean: The Islamophobia Industry: How the Right Manufactures Fear of Muslims (paperback, 2012, Pluto Press): One of many (mostly but not all critical) books on the fear of and hatred against Muslims that has been cultivated in the US and Europe recently, concurrent with the US War on Terror and the termination of Israel's "peace process." Lean sees a right-wing conspiracy as responsible, with the Israel lobby at least complicit. I suspect it's uglier and dumber than that, in part because the hatred has overshot US neo-imperial goals, turning right-wingers anti-war (as we saw with Syria). Other recent books (no idea if they're any good or not): Chris Allen: Islamophobia (paperback, 2010, Ashgate); Carl W Ernst, ed: Islamophobia in America: The Anatomy of Intolerance (paperback, 2013, Palgrave Macmillan); John L Esposito/Ibraham Kalin, eds: Islamophobia: The Challenge of Pluralism in the 21st Century (paperback, 2011, Oxford University Press); Peter Gottschalk/Gabriel Greenberg: Islamophobia: Making Muslims the Enemy (2007, Rowman & Littlefield); Deepa Kumar: Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire (paperback, 2012, Haymarket Books); Stephen Sheehi: Islamophobia: The Ideological Campaign Against Muslims (paperback, 2011, Clarity Press); John R Bowen: Blaming Islam (2012, MIT Press); Walid Shoebat/Ben Barrack: The Case FOR Islamophobia: Jihad by the Word; America's Final Warning (2013, Top Executive Media). I could also mention: Jack Shaheen: Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People (2nd ed, paperback, 2009, Olive Branch Press); and Martha C Nussbaum: The New Religious Intollerance: Overcoming the Politics of Fear in an Anxious Age (2012, Belknap Press).
Michael Lewis: Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt (2014, WW Norton): A book on high-frequency trading, entertaining and informative no doubt, with something of a moral centre even though the journalist is inordinately fond of rich people.
Isaac Martin: Rich People's Movements: Grassroots Campaigns to Untax the One Percent (2013, Oxford University Press): That would be the Tea Party, the best irate mob money can buy, which gave an air of faux populism to some of the most extremely reactionary ideas of the last few decades, struggling above all against the idea that the government should serve the people who elected it. Title here reminds one of the Frances Fox Piven/Richard A Cloward classic, Poor People's Movements: Why They Succeed, How They Fail (1977; paperback, 1978, Vintage Books).
Mariana Mazzucato: The Entrepreneurial State: Debunking Public vs. Private Sector Myths (paperback, 2013, Anthem): Two myths seem especially prevalent today: that public investment only comes at the expense of private investment, and that that's a bad thing. I can think of others, but that's not necessarily the point here: she seems to be focusing on technology and business subsidies governments give out that are ultimately snapped up by private sector investors -- an obvious case in point is support of "green energy" sectors like wind and solar (efforts so hated by the oil-bound Kochs).
Suzanne Mettler: Degrees of Inequality: How the Politics of Higher Education Sabotaged the American Dream (2014, Basic Books): Until the 1970s public support of higher education tended to make American society and economy more equitable, but that has since changed. Personally, I think education has long been overrated, especially as a panacea, but lately it's higher costs and mountains of debt have turned into a cruel trap. The real roots of inequality are political, and the very suggestion that you can compensate for that by raising an educated caste is itself part of the problem -- maybe even one that prefigured the political shift?
Ian Morris: War: What's It Good For? (2014, Farrar Straus and Giroux): Edwin Starr could answer that in far less than these 512 pages: "absolutely nothing." Morris likes to jump all over the place, as in his previous Why the West Rules -- For Now: The Patterns of History, and What They Reveal About the Future, but his bottom line seems to be "war made the state, and the state made peace." I'm tempted to add: but only after making war unbearable, and even now way too many people haven't learned the lesson.
Ralph Nader: Unstoppable: The Emerging Left-Right Alliance to Dismantle the Corporate State (2014, Nation Books): Given how extensively the "grass roots" right has been underwritten by the same corporations Nader decries, I have to question the wisdom of any such "alliance" -- even when left and right may agree on a point, such as the TARP bailout slush fund, all the two sides can conceivably do is to block something particularly foul. What they can't do is to create something that would work fairly, because the right is fundamentally set on destruction of the public sphere. Still, if obstruction is the sole goal -- as in keeping Obama from bombing Syria, or allowing the NSA to spy on all Americans -- sure, there's some potential there.
Richard Overy: The Bombers and the Bombed: Allied Air War Over Europe 1940-1945 (2014, Viking): Attempts to broaden our understanding of the air war over Europe by including the experiences of the bombed, especially in horrific fire storms like Hamburg and Dresden. The US edition omits a complementary survey of the German bombing of England, some 300 pages from the UK edition (The Bombing War: Europe 1939-1945).
Nomi Prins: All the President's Bankers (2014, Nation Books): Wrote one of the better books on the finance meltdown (It Takes a Pillage: Behind the Bailouts, Bonuses, and Backroom Deals from Washington to Wall Street). This seems to go deeper into the historic relationship between bankers and politics, as if JP Morgan had anything to do with our current mess. Of course, he probably did, and Andrew Mellon and David Rockefeller and Walter Wriston too.
David Reynolds: The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century (2014, WW Norton): One hundred years after the Great War (as it was known at the time, WWI as it was renamed, or the opening of the "30-years war of the 20th century" (as Arno Mayer reconceived it), we're suddenly seeing an avalanche of books on the subject, with much arguing over how it all started, and much detailing of the exceptional gore (WWII was much worse on civilians, but rarely matched the earlier war for pitched battles -- Stalingrad was an exception, but still couldn't match Marne). This book at least tries to make good use of the intervening century. I've noted a fair number of these books separately (Christopher Clark, Geoffrey Wawro), but also: Tim Butcher: The Trigger: Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War; Prit Butlar: Collision of Empires: The War on the Eastern Front in 1914 (Osprey); Charles Emmerson: 1913: In Search of the World Before the Great War (2013, Public Affairs); Peter Hart: The Great War: A Combat History of the First World War (2013, Oxford University Press); Max Hastings: Catastrophe 1914: Europe Goes to War (2013, Knopf); Paul Jankowski: Verdun: The Longest Battle of the Great War (Oxford University Press); Philip Jenkins: The Great and Holy War: How World War I Became a Religious Crusade; Nick Lloyd: Hundred Days: The Campaign That Ended World War I (Basic Books); Margaret MacMillan: The War That Ended Peace: The Road to 1914 (2013, Random House); Gordon Martel: The Month that Changed the World: July 1914 (7/1, Oxford University Press); Shawn McMeekin: July 1914: Countdown to War (2013, Basic Books); William Mulligan: The Great War for Peace (Yale University Press); Michael Neiberg: The Military Atlas of World War I (Chartwell); TG Otte: July Crisis: The World's Descent into War, Summer 1914 (Cambridge University Press); William Philpott: War of Attrition: Fighting the First World War (Overlook); Ian Senior: Invasion 1914: The Schelieffen Plan to the Battle of the Marne (8/19, Osprey); Gary Sheffield: Morale and Command: The British Army on the Western Front (Pen and Sword); David Stone: The Kaiser's Army: The German Army in World War I (7/24, Conway); Kristian Coates Ulrichsen: The First World War in the Middle East (7/25, Hurst); Alexander Watson: Ring of Steel: Germany and Austria-Hungary in World War I (10/7, Basic Books).
Amanda Ripley: The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way (2013, Simon & Schuster): Like TR Reid in The Healing of America: A Global Quest for Better, Cheaper, and Fairer Health Care, Ripley travels around the world searching out what seems to work and offering it as an alternative to what doesn't work in the US: an easy approach that avoids theory but also misses many of the pitfalls theory introduces. I doubt however that the process will work as well, because it's easier to define what a good health care system is -- one where fewer people get sick and stuck in that system -- than what would make for a good education system: indeed, much of the "theory" out there is really a dispute over what education should do (e.g., make people smarter vs. train people better to fill assigned slots).
Dana Roithmayr: Reproducing Racism: How Everyday Choices Lock in White Advantage (2014, NYU Press): Examines how racial advantages and disadvantages have persisted despite the establishment of supposedly color-neutral legal rights and systems.
Jake Rosenfeld: What Unions No Long Do (2014, Harvard University Press): Have much political clout for one thing, which is a problem given how much our system depends on countervaling powers to keep from going insane in favor of one interest group -- mainly business. But also they don't seem to care as much about the broader groups of people who aren't unionized, effectively leaving them without political representation. (Arguably, American unions have always been weak there, but still.)
Daniel Schulman: Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty (2014, Grand Central): Much in the news recently for their efforts to destroy democracy in the US (err, to safeguard the freedom of second-generation oil billionaires), this gives you some background on who they are, where they and all their money came from, and how they've evolved from John Birch Society paranoids to Tea Party astroturfers.
Rebecca Solnit: Men Explain Things to Me (paperback, 2014, Haymarket Books): Short (100 pp) collection of essays, the title one about male mistakes in talking to women, and others about war, Virginia Woolf, and the IMF.
Joshua Steckel/Beth Zasloff: Hold Fast to Dreams: A College Guidance Counselor, His Students, and the Vision of a Life Beyond Poverty (2014, New Press): The author left his job at a ritzy private school to try to guide poor kids into college, and illustrates that task with profiles of ten students, the innumerable problems they faced, and some measure of success, sometimes.
Matt Taibbi: The Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap (2014, Spiegel & Grau): Defines "the divide" as: "the seam in American life where our two most troubling trends -- growing wealth inequality and mass incarceration -- come together . . . what allows massively destructive fraud by the hyperwealthy to go unpunished, while turning poverty itself into a crime." So this expands upon his previous fraud-focused book, Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America (2010), broadening the context, and probably looks back to his earlier work on politics.
Elizabeth Warren: A Fighting Chance (2014, Metropolitan): I don't put much stock on books by politicians, but before she ran for office she co-write The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents Are Going Broke (2004), a timely issue if ever there was one. This one is more of a memoir, but the path from where she came from to where she is now feels authentic, and her grip on how policy affects ordinary people is smart and shrewd.
Geoffrey Wawro: A Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire (2014, Basic Books): Focuses on Austria-Hungary, which gambled on its ability to seize Serbia and lost everything in the first world war -- a failure he finds rooted in the previous decline of the empire.
John F Weeks: Economics of the 1%: How Mainstream Economics Serves the Rich, Obscures Reality and Distorts Policy (paperback, 2014, Anthem): Uh, sure. Even if economics somehow managed to only study the actual workings of the economy it would be most useful to the rich for uncovering opportunities to profit, but in fact most economists not only study capitalism but are in thrall to it and more than willing to propagandize on behalf of the rich, even making arguments that contradict well known maxims. Weeks is far from the first author to notice this.
Some books previously mentioned that have since come out in paperback. Normally I'd write a bit on each, but I've had trouble researching this section, and it turns out that my draft file is mostly stubs (some rather old), so for this time (at least) I figure I should just flush it:
Maybe with a fresh start I'll write more next time. Usually there's an implied recommendation in the paperback listings -- I don't go out and look to see if books I have no interest in have been reprinted -- but the only ones above I have read are: Louisa Thomas' fine book on her ancestors (most famously Norman Thomas); and three books on Israel (Rashid Khalidi, Shlomo Sand, and Patrick Tyler). I do, however, have Corey Robin, Christia Freedland, and Breaking the Silence on the shelf and mean to get to them sooner or later. Several others are things I'd like to read if I can find the time.
Monday, June 30. 2014
Music: Current count 23459  rated (+36), 539  unrated (-20).
Highest rated count in some time, although a couple of those came from catching bookkeeping omissions. With nothing (of note) coming in, I took a big bite out of the jazz queue -- but still haven't gotten into the stack of Roberto Magris albums, or the Sonny Simmons box. I had one reader ask why I haven't said anything about the Miles Davis bootleg, but despite asking for it I didn't receive, and I'm not in any hurry to try to judge three discs on Rhapsody with none of the doc that is essential for "historical" releases.
Knocked out five tweets while wrapping this up, skipping the Joe Henderson albums from nearly a week ago. They'll be in the next Rhapsody Streamnotes, along with the previous week's Hendersons. My twitter feed is now up to 50 followers, so I guess that's a milestone, but it doesn't seem like much of one. Those who have signed up have seen 238 tweets.
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, June 29. 2014
Some scattered links this week:
Also, a few links for further study:
Saturday, June 28. 2014
Tweeted this today:
The book is Daniel Schulman: Sons of Wichita: How the Koch Brothers Became America's Most Powerful and Private Dynasty. B&N has it on sale for 35% off -- a much better deal than Amazon offers (looks like the publisher is one of those Amazon's been trying to shake down). B&N's website lists is as the 7th best selling book in politics & current events, just ahead of Elizabeth Warren's A Fighting Chance and Glenn Greenwald's No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the US Surveillance State. Wichita is the home turf of the Koch family and their company, probably the second (or third) largest employer in town, so you'd think their would be more than average interest in the book here -- certainly not zero. So you don't have to be paranoid to wonder whether someone's arm's been twisted a bit.
I've seen a couple excerpts from Schulman's book in Mother Jones, and they strike me as basically fair:
I've also seen a piece (don't have link) where Schulman speculates that the Koch's libertarianism could help steer the Republicans back to more moderate positions on "culture war" issues. I've never seen any evidence of this. Presumably, for instance, as libertarians the Kochs support abortion rights, but no enough to break with any Republican who comes close to them on money issues. And they should be against drug prohibition and every aspect of America's military presence in Asia and Africa, but those issues never seem to factor into their political patronage.
Monday, June 23. 2014
Music: Current count 23423  rated (+29), 559  unrated (-9).
Most of what follows showed up on Saturday's Rhapsody Streamnotes column -- Mary Gauthier's lovely little record is an exception, as are several of the "old music" entries, including two Joe Henderson sets. (More Henderson next week -- such splits are what you get with arbitrary cutoffs.) With Henderson, I've started to go beyond Penguin Guide 4-stars (Our Thing) to pick up a few 3.5 stars (Relaxin' at Camarillo, which by the way I think is the better of the two, probably because he's more comfortable as the sole horn). The unrated 4-star list was already 950 long and I was in no worry about running out (even with Rhapsody's omissions cutting that list way down). It just seemed likely that I would find some of the 3.5-star records more appealing -- indeed, I know that's often the case. I've started to put an unrated 3.5-star record list together, and it will have a bit more than 4000 records. I doubt that I'll put much effort into tracking them all down, but when I hit an artist I'm inclined to explore further (like Henderson, or the late Horace Silver) I'm likely to delve a bit deeper down the list.
Finished painting my basement steps, and that looks like a real improvement. Probably the next step is to paint a segment of basement wall that I want to build some new storage in and around. At some point I want to cover up the cement floor with something nicer, but it will take a number of steps to get there, and that wall is the start. On the other hand, the real critical project is reducing the clutter around my workspace -- a bummer, I'm afraid, every time I enter and try to work on something. Not just hideous but ridiculous.
Note that the incoming mail practically dried up this week. Indeed, only two (of five) records were by names I recognized -- one of those by a recently deceased flute player. Sorry I haven't been able to keep up with tweeting all the old music grades. I need to hit them more in real time to avoid clustering.
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:
Sunday, June 22. 2014
Let's start with Richard Crowson's cartoon of the week for a little dose of Kansas politics:
Mike Pompeo is the current two-term Republican congressman from the greater Wichita area. He is generally regarded as a Koch crony, although he's extremely hawkish, a first-line defender of the NSA. Todd Tiahrt is his eight-term predecessor, a Tom DeLay disciple, closer to the Christian right, closer still to Boeing (Bush nicknamed him "Tanker Todd"), and he feels entitled to reclaim his House seat, so they're fighting it out in a big money primary. And being Republicans, that means they're trying to out-asshole one another, something both have real talent for (although I have to give Tiahrt the edge there, ground Pompeo will try to make up with money). And, of course, the shifty-eyed guy on the right is Gov. Sam Brownback, who's actually done the sort of damage that Pompeo and Tiahrt only dream about.
Some scattered links this week (mostly on Iraq):
Also, a few links for further study:
Saturday, June 21. 2014
Seems like a lazy, lackadaisical summer. At least I haven't felt up to much, nor gotten much done. Took me more than three weeks to reach the usual seventy records below, and that was largely due to the long troll through Dylan's dark ages -- done because I thought it might help me with the Dylan in the '80s tribute (praised, excessively I think, by Tatum and Christgau), and partly because I could. I didn't expect to find much there, and didn't. I had, after all, been warned away from them by trusted critics, and in the end my grades don't waver much from Christgau's.
The other "old music" entries include a couple items from the Penguin 4-star search (Miles Davis, Terrell Stafford) and a couple more that weren't: the Gil Evans records I was curious about (the Lacy duo was an old unrated LP although I took the easy route and streamed it from Rhapsody), and the Horace Silvers were checked out on his death. Both exercises in completism (Dylan and Silver) are accompanied by lists of previously rated records. It's no accident that those are the ones to check out first, as they include the ones I was advised to check out first. Dylan, of course, I was conscious of from nearly the beginning -- at least from my singles purchase of "Rainy Day Women" -- but I didn't get to Silver until the 1990s. He was especially important to me as the guy who broke the ice on hard bop.
New records are down to 39 this time -- 50 seems to be the norm, although the April 15 Rhapsody Streamnotes only had 40. I'm still maintaining my 2014 tracking list, but not finding much there that I feel like chasing down. So most of my new records (24 of 39 this time) come from my jazz queue. Like I said: lazy.
Next time will be sometime in July. Good chance that column will top 5000 albums. (I am currently 62 short.)
These are short notes/reviews based on streaming records from Rhapsody. They are snap judgments based on one or two plays, accumulated since my last post along these lines, back on May 29. Past reviews and more information are available here (4938 records).
New Releases (More or Less)
Jason Ajemian/Tony Malaby/Rob Mazurek/Chad Taylor: A Way a Land of Life (2006 , NoBusiness): Two-horn avant quartet -- bass, tenor sax, cornet, drums, both Ajemian and Mazurek also credited with electronics -- most evident when they slow down. Otherwise, the horns impress, as expected. B+(***) [cdr]
Jason Ajemian: Folklords (2012 , Delmark): Not the avant-jazz record I was expecting, even though the first two suites are built around Monk and Mingus. Reportedly the first of a series titled Mythadors, the nearest analog I can think of for the vocals is John Lydon in Public Image Ltd., but the singer (presumably Ajemian) doesn't have quite the range or presence, and the rhythm is a lot knottier. Quartet: Kid Bliss on alto sax, Owen Stewart-Robertson on guitar, Jason Nazary on drums. Lyrics in the booklet, but I can't say as I've read much less followed. A- [cd]
Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin: Common Ground: Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy (2014, Yep Roc): Broonzy had a light touch which suited the folk blues idiom and you won't get that here -- seek out the originals -- but his songs could handle some extra muscle, as Muddy Waters proved on Sings Big Bill Broonzy in 1960. This just pushes them a little harder, with Phil's voice adding a tartness that Dave's dry drawl can't provide. A-
Angles 9: Injuries (2013 , Clean Feed): Martin Küchen's superb group continues to grow -- I last heard them as Angles 8 in By Way of Deception: Live in Ljubljana but I missed an intervening release that was vinyl-only or something like that. Nonet, new drummer but the the main change adding Magnus Broo on trumpet (Goran Kajfes moves to cornet). Superb ensemble work, marred only by a couple spots of uncertainty. B+(***) [cd]
Tigger Benford & Party: Vessel of Gratitude (2014, self-released): Percussionist, has three previous albums, mostly plays amadinda here, a Ugandan xylophone, with various musicians but usually Todd Isler on drums, Arthur Kell on bass, and David Schulman on violin, for a seductive little groove album. B+(*) [cd]
Boogaloo Assassins: Old Love Dies Hard (2013, Sicario, EP): LA-based salsa group, looks back to NYC boogaloo in the 1970s, a moment when salsa started to make sense to rock-and-rollers. Seven cuts (counting the radio edit of the opener), 29:53, including a fun "Do You Wanna Dance" in English and an instrumental "Evil Ways." B+(***)
François Carrier/Michel Lambert/Alexey Lapin: The Russian Concerts (2013 , FMR): Canadian alto saxophonist Carrier and drummer Lambert have been playing together since the 1990s, and recently have been traveling to Russia to play with pianist Alexey Lapin: this is their fourth album together, and they seem to be getting better -- the pianist is more fully engaged here, and the saxophonist probes ever deeper. A- [cd]
Tom Chang: Tongue & Groove (2012 , Raw Toast): Guitarist, from Toronto but has passed through LA and NYC, first album but seems to have been around a while. Postbop, works off two adventurous saxes (Greg Ward and Jason Rigby), has a hot rhythm section (Chris Lightcap and Gerald Cleaver), plus a couple guys who realize his interest in South Indian Carnatic classicism. B+(**) [cd]
Mac DeMarco: Salad Days (2014, Captured Tracks): Young singer-songwriter, '70s vibe but a little slack, like Jimmy Buffett with no humor, or Boz Scaggs with no sex appeal. B
Digital Primitives: Lipsomuch/Soul Searchin' (2011 , Hopscotch, 2CD): Group named for their 2007 debut album, with Assif Tsahar on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Chad Taylor on drums, and Cooper-Moore on a variety of homemade string instruments, notably his diddley bo -- covers about three times the normal bass spectrum, warping time and space for long stretches. And the tenor is always searching and soulful. A [cd]
Dave Douglas & Uri Caine: Present Joys (2013 , Greenleaf Music): Trumpet and piano duets, with Douglas providing the bulk of the songbook. You couldn't ask for more brilliant musicians, but you might wonder why they're generating so few sparks. B+(**) [cd]
Bob Dylan in the 80s: Volume One (2014, ATO): Nominally a tribute album, that peculiar genre where various artists serenade some sage songwriter, although the choice of 1980s-vintage Dylan is odd in several respects, not least that you're unlikely to recognize a single song here. Nor do I recognize more than a handful of the artists, at least as anything more than mere names (e.g., Dawn Landes, Glen Hansard, Carl Broemel). And while I find it credible that they do more with the songs than Dylan did, that's scant praise given how much of the decade was spent in self-parody. But at least this reiterates a point I learned from Jewels & Binoculars (the marvelous Michael Moore-Lindsey Horner-Michael Vatcher jazz trio with three albums of Dylan songs): he is a remarkably resilient melodist. B+(**)
John Fullbright: Songs (2014, Blue Dirt): Oklahoma singer-songwriter, third album, aims for plainspoken simplicity and if anything overshoots his target. B+(*)
Paul Giallorenzo's GitGo: Force Majeure (2013 , Delmark): Chicago pianist, has a couple previous albums, group name reminds me of Mal Waldron and the piano reinforces that. Quintet includes two horns from the original Vandermark 5: Jeb Bishop on trombone and Mars Williams on various saxes. They were the fun guys then, the ones who threatened to cross over while tripping over the edge of the avant-garde. Closes with an irresistible bit of reggae. B+(***) [cd]
Hat: Twins (2012 , Hot Blues): Spanish quartet, third album by my reckoning, the eponymous first recommended. This one, with electric keybs, guitar, and bass, moves far enough into jazz-rock it's tempting to call it fusion but that would pigeonhole it too much. B+(***) [cd]
Chrissie Hynde: Stockholm (2014, Caroline): After ten records with (or as) the Pretenders, first in 1979, last in 2008, she goes under her own name with Björn Yttling producing. Unmistakable, but nothing especially grows on me. B+(*)
Ideal Bread: Beating the Teens: Songs of Steve Lacy (2013 , Cuneiform, 2CD): Third album for the quartet -- Josh Sinton (baritone sax), Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Adam Hopkins (new on bass), and Tomas Fujiwara (drums) -- all focused on Steve Lacy tunes. Sinton avoids the obvious by transposing the same tricks to the heavier horn. Seems like a formula they can run with a long time, but maybe they shouldn't bite so much off at once. B+(***) [cd]
José James: While You Were Sleeping (2014, Blue Note): A jazz singer from Minneapolis, leans toward soft soul or what's lately been dubbed "neo-soul" -- his limits never clearer than when he tries to close with an Al Green tune. B
Beat Kaestli: Collage (2013 , B+B Productions): Swiss jazz singer, favors trad French chanson, even the inevitably soupy "Frere Jacques." B+(**) [cd]
Miranda Lambert: Platinum (2014, RCA Nashville): Fifth album, tempting to say she's achieved preëminence in a major Nashville niche -- she only has credits on half the songs, nearly all on the back half, only one exclusively hers, so the song mills are pitching her stereotypical fare like "Smokin' and Drinkin'" and "Old Sh!t" -- but she's still the only one in it. And if she seems to be coasting, it's not like anyone is catching up. A- [cd]
Joe LoCascio and Woody Witt: Absinthe: The Music of Billy Strayhorn (2011 , Blue Bamboo Music): Piano-sax duets of nine Strayhorn compositions (only one Ellington co-credit), Witt playing tenor, alto, and soprano. Houston-based LoCascio has at least ten albums since 1988. Witt seems to be a good deal younger. B+(**) [cd]
Tony Malaby Tamarindo: Somos Aqua (2013 , Clean Feed): Avant tenor saxophonist, tends to shine especially bright as a sideman but has a couple dozen albums under his name, including one this trio is named for. Trio, with William Parker on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums, who do what you expect. Malaby is often terrific as well, even on his soprano, featured a bit too much. B+(***) [cd]
Alon Nechushtan: Venture Bound (2012 , Enja): Pianist, based in New York, has a couple previous records, this one a quartet with John Ellis and Donny McCaslin alternating at tenor sax. B+(**) [cd]
Parquet Courts: Sunbathing Animal (2014, What's Your Rupture?): Brooklyn-based band of ex-Texans, debut album made my P&J ballot mostly on the basis of impeccable post-Velvets sound, something this adds to, subtracts from, and mostly fucks around with. A-
Dolly Parton: Blue Smoke (2014, Sony Masterworks): Still a bankable star, but this time she takes some of her advance and reinvests it the way only stars can, recruiting Kenny Rogers and Willie Nelson for duets, covering Bob Dylan and Bon Jovi and "Banks of the Ohio," slinging some French merdre. Some of it works -- the bluegrass Dylan is terrific, the French is amusing, and the Rogers duet sounded good enough I thought it was Guy Clark -- and some of it doesn't. B+(*) [cd]
Lenny Pickett With the UMO Jazz Orchestra: The Prescription (2012 , Random Act): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1954, played with Tower of Power 1972-81, has mostly toured with rock acts, and held a regular gig with Saturday Night Live since 1985 (musical director since 1995). Lots of side credits, but only the second album to feature his name -- the other came out in 1987. Backed by the famed Finnish big band, a smarter choice than the usual European big bands, although the main thing is to let the leader show off his chops. B+(***) [cd]
Cene Resnik Quartet: Live: From the Sky (2013 , Clean Feed): Tenor saxophonist from Slovenia, quartet adding violin (Emanuele Parrini), bass, and drums. Resnik has half a dozen albums since 2000, but this is the first I've heard. Stealthy avant moves, not exceptional but group is tight. B+(**) [cd]
Röyksopp & Robyn: Do It Again (2014, Cherrytree, EP): Five tracks, 35:26, could just as well call it an album, but it feels like the title single plus filler, some helping, some less so. B+(***)
Samo Salamon Bassless Quartet: 2Alto (2012 , SteepleChase LookOut): Slovenian guitarist, has put together a solid discography since 2004, most notably last year's Stretching Out. Here he goes with two reputable alto saxophonists (Loren Stillman and John O'Gallagher), has Roberto Dani on drums, and dispenses with the bass. The saxes hit the center of the guitar range, so they all occupy the same space with minimal harmonics and not much drive. B+(*) [cd]
Adam Schroeder: Let's (2013 , Capri): Baritone saxophonist, second album, figure him for a mainstream guy by the company he keeps, but Anthony Wilson's guitar is a fine contrast to the big horn, and John Clayton and Jeff Hamilton are a solid rhythm section -- actually fun to hear without the big band baggage. B+(***) [cd]
Sturgill Simpson: Metamodern Sounds in Country Music (2014, High Top Mountain): Country singer from Kentucky, second album, wise to the postmodern totality of his chosen art but aside from some rockish feedback doesn't let that distract himself from the basics of the craft. B+(***)
Spiral Mercury Chicago/São Paulo Underground Feat. Pharoah Sanders: Pharoah & the Underground (2013 , Clean Feed): Live at Jazz em Agosto in Lisbon, no idea what "Spiral Mercury" means as only the title is on the spine, but the idea was to combine Rob Mazurek's Chicago Underground duo (Chad Taylor) with his São Paulo Underground and top it off with the tenor saxophonist. Half the cast dabbles in electronics, which makes for some quirky effects, but the star has trouble emerging from the mix. B+(*) [cd]
Assif Tsahar/Gerry Hemingway/Mark Dresser: Code Re(a)d (2011 , Hopscotch): BassDrumSax, if you know what I mean -- of course, Tsahar's tenor sax is more agile than any trombone (even Ray Anderson's), reeling off one long searching sequence after another, a fusion of Ayler and Coltrane, what you might get if both were pushing the same instrument at the same time. A- [cd]
Assif Tsahar/Tatsuya Nakatani: I Got It Bad (2014, Hopscotch): A short snatch of the Ellington classic, followed by 19 sax-drums improvs, many impressive but some don't quite get off the ground. B+(***) [cd]
François Tusques: La Jungle du Douanier Rousseau (2013 , Improvising Beings): French pianist, b. 1938, cut an album called Free Jazz in 1965, another called Le Piano Préparé in 1977 -- a couple dozen in all, although this is the first I've heard. Some solo stretches, some add tenor sax, Alexandra Grimal or Sylvain Guérineau or both. B+(**) [cd]
The David Ullmann 8: Corduroy (2014, Little Sky): Guitarist, has a couple albums, recruited a mix of postbop players here -- the horns are Loren Stillman (sax), Mike McGinnis (clarinet), Kirk Knuffke (cornet), Brian Drye (trombone); vibes instead of piano. B+(**) [cd]
Peter Van Huffel's Gorilla Mask: Bite My Blues (2013 , Clean Feed): Alto saxophonist, from Canada, based in Berlin, several previous albums, this an avant-grunge trio with Roland Fidezius on electric bass and Rudi Fischerlehner on drums. Rough and relentless from the very start, not pure ugly but plenty ugly. Then there's a stretch near the end where they almost pull it off. B+(*) [cd]
Jack White: Lazaretto (2014, Third Man): Would-be blues rootsman, starting off with a Willie McTell credit and morphing into Led Zeppelin, which is older than the auteur. But while he can quote the quote, he can't leave well enough alone as song after song flies off the rails, wreckage we should be inured against from watching video games, except that I don't. B-
Neil Young: A Letter Home (2014, Third Man): Mostly solo, covers of old folkie songs played out in a refurbished 1947 Voice-o-Graph vinyl recording booth and produced by Jack White, who adds a bit of piano and voice. There are points where this strikes me as sweeter and more deeply felt than Americana, but it also risks being slighter -- and triter. B+(**)
Reissues, Compilations, Vault Discoveries
Jaki Byard: The Late Show: An Evening With Jaki Byard: Live at the Keystone Korner, Vol. 3 (1979 , High Note): Solo piano, with some live patter and "thunderous applause." B+(**)
John Coltrane: Offering: Live at Temple University (1966 , Impulse, 2CD): Previously unreleased, very late, well into Coltrane's avant phase, although the song list is dominated by his standard fare -- "Naima," "Crescent," "My Favorite Things" -- five tracks in all, all but the title track topping 16 minutes. The side credits are as difficult to find in the booklet as they are to hear on record: Pharoah Sanders is on hand but the only thing I'm sure is his is the piccolo; Alice Coltrane on piano, Sonny Johnson on bass, Rashied Ali on drums, and several others (including three conga players) take part, but this starts off with a long stretch of solo sax, searching on a quest that never really gets anywhere. Last cut has an episode of Coltrane ululating at the mic. It all seems a bit off. B+(**) [cd]
Sleepy John Estes with Hammie Nixon: Live in Japan (1974 , Delmark): An old blues whiner from Tennessee, cut his most memorable sides 1929-41 (cf. I Ain't Gonna Be Worried No More: 1929-1940 on Yazoo, or Brownsville Blues: His 23 Greatest Songs on Wolf), is 75 here, a couple years short of his death. Nixon is a hometown harmonica player, a close and genial fit, for a rough but remarkable set. B+(***)
The Rough Guide to the Music of Mali [Second Edition]
(1996-2013 , World Music Network, 2CD): A landlocked slice of
Saharan desert and western Sahel including a stretch of the Niger River,
population 14 million (50% Mande with Fula, Tuareg, and Songhai also
prominent), Mali has probably produced more significant music stars per
capita than any other African state, but has fallen into chaos lately
as Libyan arms have fed Tuareg and Islamist rebellions, and the French
have intervened. This leans more to the lately fashionable arid blues
and Saharan rock of the north, with Oumou Sangare the exception in all
Miles Davis: The Complete Birth of the Cool (1948-50 , Capitol Jazz): Gil Evans doesn't play but is the closet leader of this nonet, roughly half of Claude Thornhill's big band. The group included Davis, Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan, Bill Barber (tuba), J.J. Johnson or Kai Winding (trombone, John Lewis or Al Haig on piano, French horn, bass, and drums, with Kenny Hagood singing "Darn That Dream." The twelve studio cuts weren't collected until 1971, when the idea that the then-unknown musicians had invented something -- specifically the west coast "cool" sound that Mulligan had indeed a significant role in -- took root, partly because it made Davis seem like he had a hand in everything (except avant-garde). Still, they feel half-baked to me. The CD doubles the length with live shots of the nonet at the Royal Roost putting a bit more emphasis on Lewis. B
Miles Davis: In Person: Friday Night at the Blackhawk, San Francisco: Complete Volume 1 (1961 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): With Coltrane and Adderley moving on to their own spectacular careers, the sax slot goes to Hank Mobley, who only lasted one studio album but opens up more in this live context -- as does Davis and the stellar Wynton Kelly-Paul Chambers-Jimmy Cobb rhythm section. Originally the two days were fileted into two LPs, but here each night grows to 2-CD, and this is one of those dates where more is more. A-
Miles Davis: In Person: Saturday Night at the Blackhawk, San Francisco: Complete Volume 2 (1961 , Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Possibly a slight drop from Friday Night although you sure can't blame pianist Wynton Kelly, especially superb at driving the band through the fast ones. A-
Miles Davis: In Person: Friday and Saturday Nights at the Blackhawk: Complete (1961 , Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): Penguin Guide grades this higher than either of its 2-CD parts (4 stars to 3.5), suggesting some kind of greater organic whole, or that the critics simply appreciate the big box payola more. Having approached this box one night at a time, I'm just averaging: hard to quibble with music this uniformly excellent, but I doubt if this will keep adding up like, say, the 7-CD The Complete Live at the Plugged Nickel. A-
Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits, Vol. II (1962-71 , Columbia): Four years after Dylan's initial Greatest Hits, stretching out to 2-LP by claiming nine songs from the previous period vs. six from newer albums, five previously unreleased tracks, and a new single ("Watching the River Flow") that tops anything on Vol. III. Still, it's like a random set from his better albums, plus an attempt to reclaim a few songs that were hits for others. A-
Bob Dylan: Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid (1973, Columbia): Soundtrack for the Sam Peckinpah film, which included a minor acting role for Dylan. One notable new song ("Knockin' on Heaven's Door"), some minor vocals, and strummed filler that makes me imagine vast desert tableaux. B-
Bob Dylan: Dylan (1973 , Columbia/Legacy): Outtakes from his 1970 covers album, Self Portrait, dumped on the public in 1973, presumably as revenge for Dylan signing with Asylum, a minor blip to be ignored with his 1975 return to Columbia -- bypassed when even more outtakes were rolled up into the Bootleg Series Another Self Portrait but necessarily remastered for The Complete Columbia Albums. How bad are they? Two (maybe three) songs initially strike you as amusing trivia, until they don't. The rest don't get that far. C-
Bob Dylan: Hard Rain (1976, Columbia): A live souvenir from Dylan's much hyped Rolling Thunder Revue, recorded with the thin, brittle sound common to 1970s live rock doubles (although they limited themselves to one 51:06) LP. None of the frantic revisualization of Before the Flood, and it says little that I prefer this battered "Shelter From the Storm" over the maudlin studio original. ("Idiot Wind" too.) C+
Bob Dylan: Bob Dylan at Budokan (1978 , Columbia): Third live album in the decade, with Dylan again eager to try new angles and treatments, like burying "Mr. Tambourine Man" in flutes or playing "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" as reggae. C
Bob Dylan: Street Legal (1978, Columbia): Gradually in the late-1970s Americans lost touch with reality -- how else can you explain Ronald Reagan? -- so in retrospect it makes sense that Dylan should have too. I date this back to 1974 and "Forever Young," but at least then he articulated a common fantasy. Here he's moving toward incoherence, with the big band and backing singers conspiring in the cover up. B-
Bob Dylan: Saved (1980, Columbia): The confusion deepened when Dylan announced his conversion to Christianity, which led to a minor uptick (Slow Train Coming, not that I've played it in over a decade), then to this one, where both word and music are reduced to a single-minded concern with salvation -- something his phalanx of backup singers can't help with (though I'm can't be sure he knows that). B-
Bob Dylan: Shot of Love (1981, Columbia): Frequently touted as the third album in Dylan's "Jesus trilogy," but only "Property of Jesus" lives up (or down) to that billing. His "Lenny Bruce" starts out like "The Death of Emmett Till," making me wonder about how limited the clichés Dylan draws on in dealing with the recently deceased. But the music is more focused around the organ, a return to the Band in spirit even if the actual band is a strange mix of LA hacks and guest stars (Ron Wood! Ringo Starr!). At least songs like "Dead Man, Dead Man" come alive. B
Bob Dylan: Infidels (1984, Columbia): After three albums mired in "born again" Christianity, I suppose we shouldn't be surprised that Dylan's next turn would be to Zionism (celebrating Israel as the "Neighborhood Bully"). How much further off the deep end he goes is something I can't bother focusing on, nor can I argue against Christgau's conclusions that Dylan's become "a self-serving hypocrite" and "a hateful crackpot." Despite all this, he still comes up with songs that appear vaguely Dylanish. B-
Bob Dylan: Real Live (1984, Columbia): Yet another live album, this one recorded in England and Ireland, with Mick Taylor, Ian McLagen, and a guest shot by Carlos Santana. Six vintage songs, "Tangled Up in Blue" from the '70s, "I and I" and "License to Kill" later -- a normalization of his career that moves him one step closer to a jam band. B-
Bob Dylan: Knocked Out Loaded (1986, Columbia): Skipping Empire Burlesque (1985, not on Rhapsody) gets us to this mixed bag: the 11:00 rap/ballad "Brownsville Girl," co-credited to Sam Sheppard, is vastly entertaining despite the almost cartoonish horns-and-choruses -- Dylan was developing a real fondness for clutter and kitsch, which often got the best of him. B
Bob Dylan: Down in the Groove (1983-87 , Columbia): Two new Dylan songs, two co-credits with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, an arrangement of "Shenandoah," plus five covers -- wouldn't want anyone thinking Self Portrait here although the "odds and sods" effect is the same, recorded over several years with thirty-some musicians, many famous but none worth recognizing. B-
Bob Dylan/Grateful Dead: Dylan & the Dead (1987 , Columbia): Another live album, with the tour's co-headliners reduced to a backup band because they neither have the songbook nor a competitive singer. But they're a pretty decent backup band, free of the circus claptrap that has dogged Dylan since Rolling Thunder, although they're as far devolved from Live/Dead as Dylan is from John Wesley Harding. B-
Bob Dylan: Greatest Hits, Vol. 3 (1973-90 , Columbia): Hits are relative in these things, but even so the unreleased outtakes and the single B-side are stretches. But he never much of a singles artist -- the last of his four top-tens was "Lay Lady Lay" in 1969 and only four songs here cracked top-forty (the last "Gotta Serve Somebody" from 1979). At least this doesn't cheat and reach back into the pre-Vol. II era -- not even for his uncollected "George Jackson" (number 33 in 1971), which would have been a plus -- nor does it double-dip any of the albums (not even the overrated Blood on the Tracks). So this is close to useful as a period survey, and is fairly evenly listenable, but no better than it is, you could also take it as a hint to avoid the whole series. B+(**)
Bob Dylan: Playlist: The Very Best of Bob Dylan '80s (1980-89 , Columbia/Legacy): Fairly generous with 14 cuts including the 11-minute "Brownsville Girl," but the main effect is to underscore what a barren wasteland the 1980s were for Dylan. B+(*)
Bob Dylan: MTV Unplugged (1995, Columbia): Mostly old songs (two from the '80s, one from the '70s, none from the '90s) done in a nice, clear, even-tempered style, as if little is riding on the outcome, although he does swell up a bit on "Knockin' on Heaven's Door." B+(*)
Gil Evans: Gil Evans & Ten (1957 , Prestige/OJC): Evans plays piano on his first album, so the musician count is eleven. Most famous are Steve Lacy and Lee Konitz in the sax slots, up against two trumpets, trombone, French horn, and bassoon -- a maudlin sound for standards from Leadbelly to Bernstein with one Evans original. B
The Gil Evans Orchestra: Into the Hot (1961 , Impulse): Evans' masterpiece was his 1960 Out of the Cool, so this title makes sense as the next step, but the album itself is schizo, with two dull orchestral tracks led by trumpeter John Carisi (they do seem to wake up for the third), and three slices of something else by Cecil Taylor's quintet (Archie Shepp, Jimmy Lyons, Henry Grimes, and Sunny Murray, adding Ted Curson and Roswell Rudd on the closer). [The Taylor tracks were later reissued along with a Rudd session as Mixed.] B
Gil Evans/Steve Lacy: Paris Blues (1987 , Owl): Evans' last album, bringing him back to piano for duets with the soprano saxophonist who had appeared on his first album. Ellington title track, three Mingus tunes, Lacy's "Esteem," an extra tracks from each on the CD. Mostly of interest to Lacy fans, but count Evans among them. B+(**)
The Horace Silver Quintet: The Tokyo Blues (1962 , Blue Note): The Japanese effects make sense because they are stereotypical, but otherwise they're woven into melodies that are pure Silver -- no one in jazz could write catchier tunes, let alone accentuate them with bits of Latin rhythm and church piano. Blue Mitchell's trumpet and Junior Cook's tenor sax are the horns, not that Silver needs them for the ballad. A-
Horace Silver: Paris Blues: Olympia Teater, Paris, 1962 (1962 , Pablo): Later in the year, the same quintet repeats two songs from The Tokyo Blues, adding "Where You At," "Filthy McNasty," and "Doin' the Thing," each running 10-16 minutes. B+(**)
Horace Silver: The Hardbop Grandpop (1996, Impulse): This doesn't start his 1990s comeback -- there were two 1992-93 albums on Columbia -- but it does kick it up a gear with an all-star septet (Claudio Roditi, Steve Turre, Michael Brecker, Ronnie Cuber, Ron Carter, Lewis Nash). Silver's music remains distinctive, but the stars don't do much more than play it. B+(*)
Horace Silver: Jazz Has a Sense of Humor (1998, Verve): Last album, with Silver returning to his classic quintet lineup, with younger players as was his wont in the old days -- Ryan Kisor (trumpet), Jimmy Greene (tenor/soprano sax), John Webber (bass), Willie Jones III (drums). B+(***)
Terrell Stafford: Centripetal Force (1996 , Candid): Mainstream trumpet player, second album, working with similar-minded but notable players, the core band including Stephen Scott (piano) and Victor Lewis (drums), with a raft of guests not that the ballad-heavy menu needs much help. B+(**)
Additional Consumer News:
Previously graded Bob Dylan (studio albums):
Previously graded Bob Dylan (live albums and "bootlegs"):
Previously graded Bob Dylan (compilations):
That leaves only two ungraded albums: Empire Burlesque (1985), and Christmas in the Heart (2009). For some reason, Rhapsody doesn't have the former. (There is no The Traveling Wilburys, Volume 2.)
Previously graded Horace Silver:
Everything streamed from Rhapsody, except as noted in brackets following the grade:
Friday, June 20. 2014
I read Jill Lepore's The Disruption Machine: What the Gospel of Innovation Gets Wrong with great interest and a little nostalgia. Her subject is Clayton M. Christensen, who became an instant business guru with his 1997 book The Innovator's Dilemma: The Revolutionary Book That Will Change the Way You Do Business. From 1980 through 2000, I worked in a variety of businesses -- two large typesetting equipment manufacturers, a prepress software startup, and an operating systems spinoff -- as a software engineer and product manager. Almost from the beginning, I had unusually close access to top management, in part because I always tried to look at the big picture, at how the business worked and what it needed to survive and grow. In this I was often informed by reading business management books, although I often took them with a grain of salt.
The first big fad book I ran into was In Search of Excellence: Lessons from America's Best-Run Companies (1982), by Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman Jr. The executives at my company at the time, Varityper, were much taken with the book, taking great pains to list out all the areas where their own management could be rated excellent. There was, in fact, little evidence for their conceit. I spent a great deal of time trying to figure out how they even managed to stay in business, and eventually came up with an understanding of how a company with mediocre products and service could muddle through. But the relevant lesson here was realizing how fickle top management could be, how readily they could fall for the flattery of self-appointed business gurus.
Christensen's book had a similar impact when I was working for SCO much later. Like In Search of Excellence, The Innovator's Dilemma attempts to promulgate a set of general lessons from a handful of carefully selected case studies. Lepore goes back and reviews those cases, showing how arbitrarily they were selected and how systematically they were misanalyzed, effectively demolishing the book's research claims. But like Peters, who parlayed his fame into a lucrative consulting business (and continued to churn out increasingly ecstatic books, including: Thriving on Chaos, Liberation Management, The Pursuit of WOW!, and after Christensen came around, Re-Imagine! Business Excellence in a Disruptive Age), Christensen moved to cash in almost immediately.
The notion of "disruption" made a certain intuitive sense to anyone in the computer industry. The essential fact of electronics since the advent of integrated circuits has been radically falling costs and increasing capacity. The central challenge that high-tech companies faced was to find new markets for newly cost-effective technology, and often as not this was done by startup companies. By definition, their success was innovative, and that contrasted with the staid "cash cow" management strategies popular in "mature" industries. Christensen's innovation was to add the word "disrupt" to management vocabularies, which made him a big hit with managers flattered by this swashbuckling identity.
Christensen's book set off a great snark hunt for "disruption." SCO's business was selling UNIX operating systems ported to Intel microprocessors. They mostly sold OS licenses for about $1000 per machine through VARs, who would combine relatively inexpensive PC hardware, UNIX, and their own applications software into some kind of turnkey system which would be price/performance competitive against offerings from Sun and other UNIX-based "workstation" vendors. You could make an argument that SCO's business model was disruptive, and indeed companies like Sun would lose a good deal of business in the following decade. Moreover, SCO's business plan called for them to continue to profit as ever-faster-and-cheaper Intel chips powered larger-and-larger "enterprise" computers. SCO's management hired Christensen to speak at one of their gatherings, and sure enough he blessed their business plan as "disruptive."
However, when I read the book, I drew a different lesson. I saw that SCO was increasingly vulnerable to Linux, the "open source" UNIX-like operating system that anyone could use and work on for free. Companies that adopted it could add features that they needed. They just couldn't keep those features exclusively, but sharing the code reduced their costs and helped Linux grow rapidly for larger and more powerful computers. (At the time, I often quipped that SCO could sell UNIX to people who were too smart for Microsoft, or to people who were too dumb for Linux, but not both at the same time.) Needless to say, despite their endorsement from Christensen, SCO got disrupted before they could disrupt anyone. They enjoyed record revenues leading up to the Y2K drop dead rate, then collapsed and were effectively out of business a couple years later.
I don't really think that Christensen's original research and thesis were as bad as Lepore makes out. I did get several useful insights from the book: particularly, a reminder of how desperately managers cling to existing margin models. (Not really news to me: I recall Varityper's VP of Marketing explaining to me that he would like to sell a publishing front end based on Apple's $10k Lisa computer but couldn't afford to sell one based on Apple's then-forthcoming $1.5k Macintosh. The former turned out to be an overpriced stepping stone, while the latter turned out to be the desktop publishing platform that ate the entire typesetting industry. We were, by the way, fully aware of DTP start-ups like Aldus, but we were petrified by our business model.) But what I find indefensible about Christensen is how he turned his research into a business, and how easily he perverted that research into paid advertising.
My academic background was in sociology, and my focus there was in understanding how sociological research is perverted to reproduce the assumptions of its practitioners. Happens all the time, even when the researcher isn't the least bit corrupt or deceitful. But sociology at least aims at being a science. The same can't be said of whatever you call what business departments do: like, say, seminaries, they train people to fulfill a function (e.g., CEO) and to that end provide some common cultural information, scattered skills, and contacts. I don't know what all goes into the making of an MBA -- I imagine one popular course would be "Sports Clichés for Managers" but it could be that everyone in the program would test out of that -- but the essential insight MBA programs aim for seems to be that money is everything (at least all that matters). That's the environment that produces con men like Christensen.
Some other posts commenting on Lepore's piece:
Krugman makes the best point, which is that not only does the cult theory of disruptive innovation flatter rich high-tech entrepreneurs, it lets them be more insensitive to the plight of others (the people commonly known as losers. Krugman also recalls how Schumpeter's famous definition of capitalism as "creative destruction" has the same effect, hence its popularity among capitalists.
Thursday, June 19. 2014
I was thinking about doing a roundup of Iraq/Syria war posts, but despite finding some useful links -- cf. Juan Cole: Who are Iraq's Sunni Arabs and What Did We Do to Them?; Bob Dreyfuss: How Iraq's Crisis Got Started, and How It Didn't -- they seemed to be coming in rather scattershot. Then I ran across the following Obama quote in a comment and it pretty well sums up the essential incoherence of the American position(s). Obama's quote was from November 2010 on occasion of "The Erbil Agreement" which secured a second term as Prime Minister for Nouri al-Maliki:
Maliki got his first term in 2006 when the Bush administration conspicuously meddled in Iraq's political process to get rid of then-Prime Minister Ibrahimi al-Jaafari, an intellectual who was considered too socialist and too timid when it came to controlling the Sadr Movement militia (the Mahdi Army), perceived by the US as a major threat to its occupation. Maliki proved to be an effective strong man, but that was partly because the US could offer Sunni Awakening groups protection against Shiite assassination squads. With the departure of US troops, the protection and bribes that the US had provided vanished behind a thin cloud of rhetoric such as Obama spouts above.
Obama's speech is doubly dangerous. The obvious problem is that what he's describing is pure fantasy: Maliki is a sectarian, and the entire basis for his government, indeed the very structure of that government, was a set of tradeoffs designed to cultivate and reward sectarian parties. It may be obvious to Obama that what the Iraqi government needs to do is to is to become more inclusive and fair, but there was no reason to think that any politician in Iraq would put the public interest above his own pocketbook (and that of his own family, clan, etc.). That just wasn't in the cards, and that wasn't an accident: the US built Iraq that way.
Beyond the obvious problem of its fantasy lies a deeper problem in Obama's speech: he's trying to use Iraq's progress toward stability and prosperity as something vindicating Bush's invasion and occupation of Iraq. For someone who gained a large chunk of his credibility for his early opposition to the Iraq War, his stance is stupid and insane. It's stupid because it wasn't true and it's falsity would become clear as soon as Iraq's government faltered -- which is what just happened. It's also stupid because it shifts the blame for Iraq's failure from Bush (who was solely responsible for the war) to Obama (casting away the credibility he gained from his antiwar stance). What Obama should have done is to remind people that this was Bush's war each and every time the subject came up, that it was a disaster, and what the real costs have been. Instead, Obama's legacy is littered with speeches like the one above, where he not only lies to us, he lies to himself. That's insane.
Many commentators (e.g., see Dreyfuss above) have pointed out that the Sunni Islamist insurgencies in Syria and Iraq are joined together. That is, after all, embedded in the name ISIS. They've also pointed out that while Iran and Qatar are consistent in supporting their co-religionists, the US is confused, backing Maliki while opposing Assad. It's certainly hard to see either government as worthy of support, nor is there any reason to think that either insurgency would solve anything. Indeed, the only sensible lesson that one can derive from either war is that all those who resort to violence should be condemned. But Obama isn't drawing that lesson, and you have to wonder why. The simplest explanation is that Maliki is "our" guy while Assad isn't, but that assumes continuity between the Bush administration (which was responsible for empowering Maliki) and Obama. Then there's the notion that the US can't help but choose sides and back one with military power -- there's simply no one in power who can think differently.
Still, that's hardly reassuring for the guy who campaigned on how he wanted to change the way we think about war.
Monday, June 16. 2014
Music: Current count 23394  rated (+24), 568  unrated (-6).
Everything down this week, myself especially. The hardest blow, of course, was the death of Alice Powell. The obit describes her as a "Hollywood liberal activist," but I recognized her as a Jewish "red diaper baby" with with the resilience and rock-solid political principles of those who expect nothing more than a lifetime of struggle -- an creed I could map to the old "protestant ethic" I admired but could never quite believe in. She was first and foremost an activist, working the masses from her first day in Wichita, not just through the venerable Wichita Peace group but through anyone who would have her -- notably, she organized a speaker program for an ad hoc group of liberal Republican women. With more than a little Hollywood glamor -- she was married to screenwriter Dick Powell, and before that to folksinger Cisco Houston -- she was exotic for Wichita, but she put on no airs. She was not just committed, she was genuinely interested in the people she met -- I'm tempted to say "everyone she met," but what I'm most certain of was that she took a special interest in me. I spent very little time with her on picket lines, but we wined and dined each other -- her parties were plainly meant to broaden our social horizons -- and we exchanged books. She cajoled me into giving a lecture on jazz to "the group" -- I dreaded it but it turned out not to be a disaster. She sent me Otmar Ottolenghi's Jerusalem cookbook, which I used for a fancy dinner the night before she died. We saw her last in March in Florida, when she had partly recovered from an initial round of cancer treatments -- possibly the one sweet spot in her ordeal. We were very lucky that she dropped into our lives. It doesn't seem like it was only five years.
And, of course, there's other stuff, not worth talking about. I only caught up with my tweets last night. The two A- records this week are marginal: Tsahar's is not as impressive as his Digital Primitive album last week, but after I wrote my line comparing him to Ayler and Coltrane I listened to the recent Coltrane vault dig -- while the sound was as expected, it turned out to be far more tedious than expected, something Tsahar never is. Ajemian's probably runs too long, and I doubt many rock crits will prefer it to PIL's Metal Box, but that's only the obvious comparison because there's so little like it.
Not a lot on Rhapsody this past week. (In fact, when I tried last night it wouldn't run for me.) Would probably be a good idea to run Rhapsody Streamnotes later this week -- I think I'm up to about 50 records, still well below recent averages in the 70s but enough to go around. I'll also work on that Pazz & Jop Product Report spec -- got a good start on that, then haven't found time to get back into it.
Recommended music links:
New records rated this week:
Recent reissues, compilations, and vault discoveries rated this week:
Old records rated this week:
Unpacking: Found in the mail last week: