December 2003 Notebook
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Wednesday, December 31, 2003

NME's year-end lists for 2003:

Albums:

  1. The White Stripes: Elephant
  2. The Rapture: Echoes
  3. The Strokes: Room on Fire
  4. Elbow: Cast of Thousands
  5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Fever to Tell
  6. Rufus Wainwright: Want One
  7. Kings of Leon: Youth & Young Manhood
  8. OutKast: Speakerboxx/The Love Below
  9. Radiohead: Hail to the Thief
  10. My Morning Jacket: It Still Moves
  11. Evan Dando: Baby I'm Bored
  12. The Coral: Magic and Medicine
  13. Spiritualized: Amazing Grace
  14. The Distillers: Coral Fang
  15. Hot Hot Heat: Make Up the Breakdown
  16. Dizzee Rascal: Boy in Da Corner
  17. Funeral for a Friend: Casually Dressed and Deep in Conversation
  18. The Sleepy Jackson: Lovers
  19. Muse: Absolution
  20. Jet: Get Born
  21. Blur: Think Tank
  22. The Hidden Cameras: The Smell of Our Own
  23. The Cooper Temple Clause: Kick Up the Fire, and Let the Flames Break Loose
  24. Four Tet: Rounds
  25. The Darkness: Permission to Land
  26. The Kills: Keep on Your Mean Side
  27. Super Furry Animals: Phantom Power
  28. The Mars Volta: De-Loused in the Comatorium
  29. Peaches: Fatherfucker
  30. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: Take Them On, On Your Own
  31. 50 Cent: Get Rich or Die Tryin'
  32. The Thrills: So Much for the City
  33. Mogwai: Happy Songs for Happy People
  34. Jay-Z: The Black Album
  35. Nick Cave: Nocturama
  36. British Sea Power: The Decline of British Sea Power
  37. Bonnie 'Prince' Billy: Master and Everyone
  38. 22-20s: 05/03
  39. Patrick Wolf: Lycanthropy
  40. Devendra Banhart: Oh Me Oh My . . . The Way the Day Goes By the Sun Is Setting Dogs Are Draming Lovesongs of the Christmas Spirit
  41. Soledad Brothers: Voice of Treason
  42. Stellastarr*: Stellastarr*
  43. Ten Grand: This Is the Way to Rule
  44. Basement Jaxx: Kish Kash
  45. Cat Power: You Are Free
  46. The Raveonettes: Chain Gang of Love
  47. Canyon: Empty Rooms
  48. Jane's Addiction: Strays
  49. The Duke Spirit: Roll, Spirit, Roll
  50. Starsailor: Silence Is Easy
Reissues:
  1. Television: Marquee Moon
  2. Neil Young: On the Beach
  3. Jeff Buckley: Live at Sin-E
  4. Gene Clark: No Other
  5. The Beatles: Let It Be . . . Naked
Compilations:
  1. Johnny Cash: Unearthed
  2. Channel 2
  3. Sex: Too Fast to Live, Too Young to Die
  4. Dexys Midnight Runners: Let's Make This Precious
  5. Sympathetic Sounds of London
Here's amazon.com's Top 100 Editors' Picks:

  1. OutKast: Speakerboxx/The Love Below
  2. The Shins: Chutes Too Narrow
  3. White Stripes: Elephant
  4. The Postal Service: Give Up
  5. New Pornographers: Electric Version
  6. Damien Rice: O
  7. The Thrills: So Much for the City *
  8. Rufus Wainwright: Want One (DreamWorks)
  9. Visqueen: King Me *
  10. Drive By Truckers: Decoration Day
  11. Michael Franti and Spearhead: Everyone Deserves Music *
  12. The Delgados: Hate *
  13. Kings of Leon: Youth & Young Manhood
  14. My Morning Jacket: It Still Moves *
  15. The Strokes: Room on Fire
  16. Vic Chesnutt: Silver Lake *
  17. Gillian Welch: Soul Journey
  18. The Jayhawks: Rainy Day Music
  19. Josh Rouse: 1972 *
  20. The Decembrists: Her Majesty the Decembrists *
  21. June Carter Cash: Wildwood Flower
  22. Radiohead: Hail to the Thief
  23. Super Furry Animals: Phantom Power *
  24. Belle & Sebastian: Dear Catastrophe Waitress *
  25. Ted Leo & the Pharmacists: Hearts of Oak
  26. Jet: Get Bom *
  27. Kathleen Edwards: Failer
  28. Beulah: Yoko *
  29. The Sleepy Jackson: Lovers
  30. The Chieftains: Further Down the Old Plank Road *
  31. Stellastarr: Stellastarr *
  32. Grandaddy: Sumday
  33. Long Winters: When I Pretend to Fall *
  34. The Libertines: Up the Bracket
  35. Cat Power: You Are Free
  36. Go Betweens: Bright Yellow Bright Orange
  37. Metric: Old World Underground, Where Are You Now? *
  38. Roswell Rudd/Toumani Diabate: Malicool
  39. Cafe Tacuba: Cuatro Caminos *
  40. Richard Thompson: The Old Kit Bag *
  41. Fountains of Wayne: Welcome Interstate Managers
  42. Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros: Streetcore *
  43. Paul Westerberg: Come Feel Me Tremble *
  44. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Fever to Tell
  45. The Dandy Warhols: Welcome to the Monkey House
  46. Minus 5: Down With Wilco *
  47. Mars Volta: De-Loused in the Comatorium
  48. Godsmack: Faceless *
  49. Murray Perahia: Schubert: Piano Sonatas, D958, 959, 960 *
  50. Thermals: More Parts Per Million *
  51. Caesars: 39 Minutes of Bliss (in an Otherwise Meaningless World)
  52. The Be Good Tanyas: Chinatown *
  53. Okkervil River: Down the River of Golden Dreams *
  54. Divorce: There Will Be Blood Tonight *
  55. Ballboy: Guide for the Daylight Hours *
  56. Pretty Girls Make Graves: New Romance
  57. Cecilia Bartoli: The Salieri Album *
  58. A Perfect Circle: Thirteenth Step *
  59. Staind: 14 Shades of Grey *
  60. Dar Williams: The Beauty of the Rain *
  61. The Decemberists: Castaways & Cutouts *
  62. Leos Janacek, et al.: Jenufa: Complete Opera *
  63. Bob Marley & the Wailers: Live at the Roxy
  64. Idlewild: Remote Part *
  65. Otis Taylor: Truth Is Not Fiction *
  66. Johann Sebastian Bach (composer), et al.: Bach Concertos *
  67. Krishna Das: Door of Faith *
  68. 50 Cent: Get Rich or Die Tryin'
  69. Juana Molina: Segundo
  70. Shelby Lynne: Identity Crisis *
  71. The Bad Plus: These Are the Vistas
  72. Lucinda Williams: World Without Tears
  73. Jane's Addiction: Strays *
  74. A Mighty Wind: The Album *
  75. Kinky: Atlas *
  76. DMX: Grand Champ *
  77. Kid Koala: Some of My Best Friends Are DJ's
  78. Brad Paisley: Mud on the Tires *
  79. Cody Chesnutt: The Headphone Masterpiece
  80. Jesse Malin: The Fine Art of Self Destruction
  81. Johnny Lang: Long Time Coming *
  82. Arvo Part: Passio *
  83. Joss Stone: Soul Sessions *
  84. Nappy Roots: Wooden Leather *
  85. Dashboard Confessional: A Mark, a Mission, a Brand, a Scar
  86. Bembeya Jazz National: Bembeya *
  87. Buddy Guy: Blues Singer *
  88. Caitlin Cary: I'm Starving Out *
  89. Matt Munisteri & Brock Mumford: Love Story *
  90. Warren Zevon: The Wind
  91. Evan Dando: Baby I'm Bored *
  92. George Frideric Handel (composer), et al.: Handel - Rinaldo/Jacobs *
  93. Emmylou Harris: Stumble Into Grace
  94. Fire Theft: Fire Theft *
  95. David Dondero: Transient *
  96. Al Green: I Can't Stop
  97. Dan Zanes and Friends: House Party *
  98. Consonant: Love & Affliction *
  99. Pernice Brothers: Yours Mine & Ours *
  100. Gotan Project: La Revancha del Tango

Monday, December 29, 2003

New York Times year-end lists for 2003.

Jon Pareles:

  1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Fever to Tell
  2. OutKast: Speakerboxx/The Love Below
  3. Radiohead: Hail to the Thief
  4. Annie Lennox: Bare
  5. Warren Zevon: The Wind
  6. Cabas: Contacto
  7. Fountains of Wayne: Welcome Interstate Managers
  8. Alicia Keys: The Diary of Alicia Keys
  9. Mars Volta: De-Loused in the Comatorium
  10. Missy Elliott: This Is Not a Test!
Neil Strauss:
  1. OutKast: Speakerboxx/The Love Below
  2. The Thrills: So Much for the City
  3. Johnny Cash: Unearthed
  4. R. Kelly: Chocolate Factory
  5. The Postal Service: Give Up
  6. The Sleepy Jackson: Lovers
  7. Otis Taylor: Truth Is Not Fiction
  8. Basement Jaxx: Kish Kash
  9. Oi Va Voi: Laughter Through Tears
  10. AFI: Sing the Sorrow
Kelefa Sanneh:
  1. R. Kelly: Chocolate Factory
  2. Dizzee Rascal: Boy in Da Corner
  3. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Fever to Tell
  4. 50 Cent: Get Rich or Die Tryin'
  5. Brand New: Deja Entendu
  6. Death Cab for Cutie: Transatlanticism
  7. Coheed and Cambria: In Keeping Secrets of the Silent Earth: 3
  8. Blur: Think Tank
  9. Hollertronix: Never Scared
  10. David Banner: MTA 2: Baptized in Dirty Water
Ben Ratliff:
  1. Bebo Valdes and Diego El Cigala: Lacrimas Negras
  2. Wayne Shorter: Alegria
  3. Anthony Hamilton: Comin' From Where I'm From
  4. White Stripes: Elephant
  5. R. Kelly: Chocolate Factory
  6. Missy Elliott: This Is Not a Test!
  7. Café Tacuba: Cuatro Caminos
  8. The Bad Plus: These Are the Vistas
  9. El Gran Silencio: Superriddim Internacional Vol. 1
  10. Miroslav Vitous: Universal Syncopations

Sunday, December 28, 2003

Music: Initial count 8730 rated (+9), 930 unrated (unchanged). More year-end mop-up: the "good progress" claimed last week came to a halt over the holidays, capped by two big meals I cooked this weekend. The visitors are starting to wander off, so I expect to get back to work this week.

  • The Bad Plus (2000, Fresh Sound New Talent). The first album by this group, although the principals had played together for most of their short careers. They became news in early 2003 when Columbia released These Are the Vistas, reprising their take on "Smells Like Teen Spirit" from this album. Two other covers here: Abba's "Knowing Me Knowing You" and Rodgers & Hart's "Blue Moon." Both build on their well-known melodies, but the take on "Blue Moon" is far more radical. Reid Anderson and Ethan Iverson contribute two originals each, and Dave King one. King's piece is a heavy, repetitive rhythm beat out on Iverson's left hand, which overcomes its purposive clunkiness. A-
  • The Bottle Rockets: Blue Sky (2003, Sanctuary). This seems like their most countryish album to date -- loose in all the right places. A-
  • James Carter: Gardenias for Lady Day (2003, Columbia). Sure, he's sold out. Got a new big label contract. Got a quartet going that is much more mainstream than his Detroit homeboys were. Absolutely top drawer talent, too: John Hicks (piano), Peter Washington (bass), Victor Lewis (drums). Got a buttload of strings. Got a singer, Miche Braden, for two songs. "Gloria" (a Don Byas piece, from 1946; hard to tell when Holiday did this; thick with strings); "Sunset" (a Cab Calloway piece, from 1940; AMG doesn't show Holiday as having done this; even thicker with strings, which work a bit better here due to the slightly latino rhythm); "(I Wonder) Where Our Love Has Gone" (credited to B. Johnson, which would appear to be Buddy [as opposed to Budd], who first recorded it in the early '40s; it shows up on a 1944 Holiday comp; more strings, some major league tenor sax); "I'm in a Low Down Groove" (credited to R. Jacobs; Holiday did this in 1940; finally, no strings, just the quartet, including some room for Hicks); "Strange Fruit" (an emblematic but very atypical song for Holiday, more of a political message than a song; starts to set up a melodramatic mood, with strings, bass trombone, and wind machine building to a nasty crescendo over Braden's vocal; the stop is effective); "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" (Billy Strayhorn's pretentious little piece, long a showcase for Johnny Hodges; no record of Holiday ever doing it; Carter plays it on baritone, with strings, two french horns, and vibes; I find myself watching the clock, waiting for its 5:53 to end); "Indian Summer" (credited to V. Herbert; a standard that's been recorded hundreds of times, but for Carter is associated with Coleman Hawkins; don't know whether Holiday ever played it; Carter takes it on soprano, but the strings predominate; there is a long stretch where Carter lays out, giving Hicks some space; Carter returns for a stretch, then they kick the tempo up, which has the virtue of losing the strings; but when they slow down a bit toward the end, the strings return); "More Than You Know" (a well-worn standard, recorded so often that AMG only lists versions down to Tommy Dorsey, but includes a dozen or more Mildred Bailey records; just the quartet, with Carter on baritone, and Braden taking the vocal -- including a very un-Holiday scat). No info on Braden in AMG, but a google search turns up a news article headed "Miche Braden of East Orange, NJ Crowned Winner of Washington Mutual's Big Shot Talent Contest at Richard Rogers Theater." Another article has her starring in a 2001 off-Broadway play based on Bessie Smith, called "The Devil's Music." I don't doubt but that she deserved to win that talent contest, nor that she can sing Bessie good enough for the stage, but I don't see her as anything special, and she's way out of her league here. I'll be writing more about this record later -- for now I just want to peg it roughly for year-end purposes. Carter is a brilliant performer, a guy who is both humbled by the weight and beauty of the history that he has studied, yet who is so convinced by his own talent that he intends to leave his mark all over it. I think that his intent here is to take off from and modernize Holiday much the way he did Django in Chasin' the Gypsy, although perhaps in the back of his mind he also wants to add another chapter to The Real Quiestorm. I think this record fails in both regards. You might counter that it fails only in terms of its titanic ambitions, but I would counter that its titanic ambitions are its failure. I've suspected for a long time that Carter has been spreading himself too thick -- that he should get out and record more. His first four records came in a three year stretch. After that he took two years to do In Carterian Style, two more to double up with Chasin' the Gypsy and Layin' in the Cut, and now three for this one. That's especially sparse when you consider how many different saxes Carter plays -- even though he plays soprano (a notoriously difficult horn) like a master he barely averages 1 cut per year on it. B+
  • Cooper-Moore, Tom Abbs, Chad Taylor: Triptych Myth (2003, Hopscotch). The reclusive pianist -- word was out a while back that he would only play with William Parker, which I suppose could also be interpreted as spoiled -- seems to have come out of his shell. Finally, this year we have a solo album I haven't heard yet, this trio, and a duo with Assif Tsahar. Don't know the bassist or drummer here, although the drummer's name sort of rings a bell. Only way I'm going to straighten this out will be to pick it apart cut by cut: "Stem Cell" (full trio, full blast; Cooper-Moore's piano cascades over the splayed, unphased rhythms of bass and drums); "Nautilus" (relatively quiet, mostly piano in little fragments and filligree, with a hint of cymbal for color); "The Fox" (ah, a melody! rhythm too, terrific piece); "Stop Time #1" (on paper this is only 0:51, but it goes on further -- back into fully engaged avant-garde mode; reminds me a bit of Horace Tapscott); "Ricochet" (the overflow from the previous; I didn't notice this actually happening, but the sleeve calls for 5:24); "Harare" (percussion solo, sounds like muted vibes in repetitive rhythm, with drum overlays); "Stop Time #2" (abstract piano break); "Raising Knox" (bass solo, at 6:14 a bit on the long side, but not without interest); "Spatter Matter" (); "Stop Time #3" (); "Spencer's Eyes" (); "Susan" (again, this is based on a rhythmic piano figure). A-
  • Cooper-Moore, Assif Tsahar: America (2003, Hopscotch). This one has very little piano: Cooper-Moore plays banjo, diddley-bo, mouth bow, drums, and sings the title song, which nails America for its legacy of slavery and racism, and vows "we're gonna put you on the homebound train" -- a remarkable piece. Tsahar plays reeds and a little guitar, mostly for atmosphere. The banjo and bass clarinet "Back Porch Chill" is perfectly named. The drum skins and tenor sax "No Cracklin No Bread" is a lovely setup for Tsahar. The rest is a mixed bag, which happens when such talents experiment. B+
  • Electric Six: Fire (2003, XL). This is crap, but sometimes it's great crap -- "She's White" is as hilarious as anything I've heard all year, (falsetto chorus: "she couldn't be whiter"). They're so full of dancefloor cliches that the bass player is named Disco, but they're a rock band of surpassing simplicity -- they sound just barely post-punk, like the Dictators might've had they boned up on KMFDM. A-
  • Fountains of Wayne: Welcome Interstate Managers (2003, S-Curve/Virgin). Named after NJ's tackiest statuary shop, I found them moderately hooky but ultimately boring the one time I saw them live (c. 1996, when they released their first album), and I've resisted reports of their progress ever since. This is their third album -- reportedly their best. I can believe it, even though they often sound derivative: their "Bright Future in Sales" is an inferior retread of Timbuk 3's "My Future's So Bright (I Got to Wear Shades)," but the difference is that they don't really believe in such a bright future; "Stacy's Mom" is a cliche I can believe; and when you think they're hung up on becoming New York's answer to the Undertones, they evoke Gram Parson on "Hung Up on You" and the Everly Brothers on "Halley's Waitress." "Little Red Light" may be the best song yet about being stuck in traffic. "Peace and Love" is trite, but on purpose. "Brought for a Song" seems to be their true sound. Guess they're not boring, but the bar I heard them in was. A-
  • Michael Hashim: Green Up Time (2001, Hep). Hashim is the best songbook musician in jazz. His previous excursions into Billy Strayhorn and Fats Waller were not just worthy -- they were flat out brilliant. I've been trying to get my hands on this one, his take on Kurt Weill, for several years now, and I can't say that it's been worth the weight -- what I'd rather say is that I could kick myself for not breaking the bank and getting it sooner. Hashim plays soprano saxophone on two tracks, alto on the rest. He's always been an amazingly fluid player, with a keen sense of rhythm and gorgeous tone. Here he teems up with Kenny Washington (drums) and Dennis Irwin (bass), with additional musicians coming and going -- never missed, always welcome. The latter include Will Holshouser on accordion (5 tracks), Eddy Davis on banjo and mandolin (5 tracks), the Axis String Quartet (5 tracks), and Wayne Barker (piano, one track). The strings are deployed where they're most welcome -- e.g., on "Tango Ballad." They're never soupy or merely pretty -- they carry their weight. The songs are smartly arranged with the more obscure ones up front and the unmistakable ones closing out -- they last two are "September Song" and "Alabama Song," and they've never sounded richer or more profound. Four pieces from "Threepenny Opera," none of which are "Mack the Knife" -- although "Love Song" sets the mood. A
  • Kelis: Tasty (2003, Star Trak/Arista). The first three songs are the freshest, brightest opening hand I've heard since Stankonia: "Trick Me" is even a song, with a message even; "Milkshake" isn't, it's just a fuzz confection; "Keep It Down" splits the difference, with a twist in the music which hooks you where you least expect it. Then it gets better, with her cooing "let's get it on in public" over a spartan fuzz beat, with a Nas rap for a break. Then you get two more pieces of Neptunes ear candy, then Andre 3000's silly "Millionaire," Raphael Saadiq's "Glow," more Neptunes, more Saadiq. Finally, she thanks "the Lord for putting all the right people in my life." She's right that the right people make it happen. But give her credit for not oversinging -- the last thing this hippie-hop needs is a diva. A
  • Chris Knight: The Jealous Kind (2003, Dualtone). Actually, the title song goes "but then again, I've never been the jealous kind." It's as great a song as the title song on his last one, A Pretty Good Guy. Another great song is "A Train Not Running" -- the train is one that used to haul coal, which counted for jobs. A-
  • Jesse Malin: The Fine Art of Self-Destruction (2003, Artemis). One correspondent called this "Ryan Adams with songs" -- a reference to the producer. I've never noticed Adams' songs closely enough to judge, but I note two other differences: 1) Malin has a thick, mealy voice, much more constrained and emotional than Adams' finer-grained, more plastic voice -- offhand, Malin sounds quite a bit like Bruce Springsteen, shorn of whatever it is (resonance?) that makes Springsteen instantly recognizable; 2) Malin rocks a lot harder. This drags on the ballads, where Malin frequently trips up on his couplets. But the fast ones have an agreeably non-specific rock crunch, and I like this best when he doesn't sing. B+
  • NOFX: War on Errorism (2003, Fat Wreck Chords). I've heard plenty of punk rock like this before, but the intro about how the kids want to go to the punk rock show is welcome. And the lyrics put their politics on the line. "There's no point for democracy when ignorance is celebrated . . . the idiots are takin' over." Best song here: "Anarchy Jam." Lots of good ones. Probably the best white rock band album I've heard all year. (Well, maybe not better than the Drive-By Truckers, but better than Rancid.) A-
  • Leo Parker: Let Me Tell You 'Bout It (1961 [1990], Blue Note). Parker was a baritone saxophonist who came up through Billy Eckstine's transitional bebop band. But he also dabbled in jump blues, and counts Illinois Jacquet as an influence. His late '40s recordings have started to surface in European comps. Aside from that, the only records in his name seem to be two 1961 dates for Blue Note, cut just before he died at age 37. This is the first one, cut with a sextet including no one else I've heard of: John burks (trumpet), Bill Swindell (tenor sax), Yusef Salim (piano), Stan Conover (bass), Purnell Rice (drums). Perhaps it is the case that the bebop and jump blues cancel each other out, leaving this as a typical period mainstream work: it jumps and bops, but mostly it swings. Good, solid work. B+
  • Sam Rivers: Fuchsia Swing Song (1964 [2003], Blue Note). This was Rivers' first album, which I suppose helps explain why is is relatively straightforward. Little of his early Blue Note work is in print these days -- one called Dimensions and Extensions has been available, but is out of print now. Rivers was actually in his 40s when he cut this (although reports of his age at the time were that he was younger). A
  • The Wrens: The Meadowlands (2003, Absolutely Kosher). Christgau singled this one out in his alt-rock column, as "a real winner and a magnum opus." Tatum referred to it as "the best rock album I've heard in months." Given that they hail from NJ, most critics see links to the Pixies and Pavement, but they sound like Coldplay to me. Pretty good Coldplay -- fancier, far more diverse than the original. One cut that goes beyond formula (or beneath) is "Per Second Second," which is a fuzz guitar beat thing with no meat on the bones at all. It appeals to me because it's simple; most of this is anything but. I'm impressed, but I'm also perplexed and annoyed. B+
  • Neil Young & Crazy Horse: Greendale (2003, Reprise). Seems to be one of those albums which reminds you how much you like Neil Young without engendering any specific affection for this particular album. It does, after all, sound so perfectly Neil Young. B+

Sunday, December 21, 2003

Music: Initial count 8721 rated (+24), 930 unrated (-16). Doing year-end mop-up, and making good progress on that.

  • Mark Dresser: Force Green (1994, Soul Note). This is a moody thing, its darkly European artsong flavor typified by the piece called "Bosnia," which develops a compelling level of grief. The oddest thing here is vocalist Theo Bleckmann, who scats like a spare horn -- disorienting at first, annoying in the long run. The first horn is Dave Douglas, best heard on "For Miles" -- Douglas too has a weakness for artsong, which perhaps is part of the reason he fails to freshen up the joint. Penguin Guide has this as a 4-star, which no doubt means that there is more here than I've managed to latch onto. But I dislike the vocal schtick here so much that I doubt that I'll get to it. B-
  • Al Green: I Can't Stop (2003, Blue Note). I remember, back when Have a Good Time came out, hearing the record playing at E.J. Korvettes in NYC, and knowing that it wouldn't be one of his better ones, still feeling compelled to buy it. Same thing happened one other time, with Van Morrison. Such is the power of their voices. Green's voice held up through his long string of gospel albums, but the will to indulge each nuanced iteration faded over time -- in no small part because the repertoire didn't deserve him. I also missed his last return to the secular (Your Heart's in Good Hands and/or Don't Look Back), but I'm glad I didn't skip this one. Five songs with the word "you" in the title seem a little deliberate, but the songs are solid enough to support his performance, and the performance is more spectacular than anything he's done since The Belle Album. A-
  • Wayne Hancock: Swing Time (Bloodshot). With a voice straight out of Hank Williams, he sounds country all the way down to the marrow in his bones. He doesn't need to start with Hank's "Lose Your Mind" to make the point, but since when have live albums been subtle? He heads down "Route 66" and out on "Highway 54," and trots out gems from his own songbook like "Thunderstorms & Neon Signs" -- the first inkling I had that I might one day move back to Kansas was the night I got nostalgic over a rare east coast thunderstorm, so I relate. And, it's just a live album after all, he rocks out. Uncredited bonus of sorts: an over-the-top take on "Summertime" -- love the trombone. As good an intro (or diversion) as any. B+
  • Susie Ibarra & Mark Dresser: Tone Time (2003, Wobbly Rail). What can you do with a bass and drums duo? B
  • Glenn Miller: Platinum Glenn Miller (1939-42 [2003], Bluebird, 2CD). He's remembered as the most popular bandleader in America, but his reign was brief -- less than four years. I have an older comp which covers the same years, The Essential Glenn Miller (1939-42 [1995], RCA, 2CD), which I graded B-. This sounds like it should be graded higher, so I wanted to look at the deltas. The biggest thing is that the old one had 47 songs, whereas this is limited to 40. But the song changes are substantial. The new one adds 13 songs: "The Woodpecker Song," "Beat Me Daddy, Eight to the Bar," "Blue Rain," "Give a Little Whistle," "The Boogie Wooglie Piggy," "My Blue Heaven," "The Story of a Starry Night," "Blueberry Hill," "Ding-Dong! The Witch Is Dead," "Bugle Call Rag," "Blue Orchids," "I'll Never Smile Again," "Rhapsody in Blue." That means 20 songs are dropped: "Wishing (Will Make It So)," "Sunrise Serenade," "Runnin' Wild," "My Isle of Golden Dreams," "Indian Summer," "It's a Blue World," "Gaucho Serenade," "Say 'Si Si' (Para Vigo Me Voy)," "When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano," "Million Dreams Ago," "Yes, My Darling Daughter," "Anvil Chorus," "Perfidia," "I Know Why (And So Do You)," "You and I," "Adios," "(There'll Be Bluebirds Over) The White . . . ," "Skylark," "Always in My Heart," "That Old Black Magic." The obvious difference is that they added on a few songs that are better known from subsequent rock remakes. I think Miller's legacy breaks down into several more/less separate things: 1) his instrumental numbers had a slick, professional, mechanical sheen to them; it's often said that whatever kind of music Miller was doing, it wasn't jazz -- and that's born out not only by the lack of improvisation, but by the lack of the potential for improvisation; Miller was too tight for all that jazz; 2) his vocal number, which include half or maybe a bit more of the songs collected here, are hopelessly dated; consequently, they break down into: 2a) things that are merely archaic, and 2b) things that are downright campy. As time goes by, we tend to remember the great black jazz bands of the era better than the white bands who were more popular at the time -- Benny Goodman is merely an exception that proves the rule, because he did have a great jazz band -- but Miller, almost alone, seems to be able to keep gaining new fans. (Tommy Dorsey still rides on Frank Sinatra's coattails; Woody Herman and Artie Shaw still have jazz bona fides.) Miller's sudden, tragic death -- familiar through the movie -- has something to do with this, but so does the music. This was a crack big band, and Miller's legacy lived on in the big bands that backed Sinatra in the '50s: Billy May (a Miller alumnus), and especially Nelson Riddle. And there's the camp factor. Note that none of these cuts feature the Andrews Sisters -- those have been shunted off to some other compilation. B+
  • La Peste (1978-79 [1996], Matador). A punk rock band from Boston, they cut a single "Better Off Dead" in 1978 that was a lot tougher and smarter than anything the Dead Boys ever yearned for. I had a copy back then, and remembered it fondly enough that I picked up this CD in a closeout sale. I don't think they ever released an LP. To get 21 cuts here, they had to delve into various demos and live tapes -- 15 cuts from a July 1979 appearance at the Rat. The band was a guitar-bass-drums trio, but three cuts here have a keyboard player added, and were produced by Ric Ocasek. Along with the single, that makes 5 studio tracks. I've seen a review of three volumes of CDRs, the first of which doesn't intersect with this. You'd have to be obsessive to care, but this is actually very consistent musically. Can't speak for the lyrics, since I didn't notice any, except for the out about not wanting to die. But I'm not a lyrics guy anyway. B+
  • The Rough Guide to Latin Jazz (1976-2003 [2003], World Music Network). This genre, at least, is close enough to home that we might be able to straighten out its discography. Songs: Mamborama, "Es Solo Musica" (2000; bright, ebullient mambo junction); Jimmy Bosch, "Speak No Evil" (1999; trombone player, loses some volume and vibrancy from the previous cut); Tito Puente & His Latin Ensemble, "Spain" (1986; overly large orchestra, music ascending to symphonic grandeur, but nothing congas can't help); Snowboy & the Latin Section, "Puente" (2002; the British acid jazz guy, for whom this sounds very traditional); Mongo Santamaria, "Princess" (1976; as salsa this seems dated and dull, but the conga solo in the middle is fine, and it's followed by some good sax, so it's mostly the section horns that I don't care for); Roland Vazquez, "Palladium" (1988; he's a drummer, and that seems to be the strong suit here; it certainly isn't the horn section work); Havana Flute Summit, "Maraca's Tumbao" (1996; this is a Jane Bunnett project, working with three Cuban flutists and percussion; on top of this rhythm the tweety wind instruments are diverting, and the lack of brass is a temporary relief); William Cepeda Afrorican Jazz, "Ponte Pa'L Monte" (1998; a Puerto Rican trombonist); Eddie Palmieri, "Our Routine" (2002; one of the most consistent artists in the genre, and this is a group where everyone excels; presumably the trumpet here is Brian Lynch, a highlight); Poncho Sanchez, "Joseito" (2000; the leader plays congas, but the most distinctive sound here is the organ -- don't know who plays that; some good sax too); Manny Oquendo's Libre, "Little Sunflower" (1983; Oquendo plays timbales, Andy Gonzalez plays bass; this develops a very nice undestated groove); Michael Philip Mossman, "The Guardian of the Crossroads" (2003; a trumpet player with a background that includes Lionel Hampton, Art Blakey, Roscoe Mitchell, and Anthony Braxton, as well as Machito, Mario Bauza, and Eddie Palmieri). Seems like a solid, attractive introduction, although I can think of other examples -- especially Cuban -- that might hold up better. The usual problems with the documentation persist. B+
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Turkey ([2003], World Music Network). Another solid, attractive introduction. Another puzzle where it all comes from, where it's going, and what it means. B+
  • Assif Tsahar, Tatsuya Nakatani: Come Sunday (2003, Hopscotch). Tsahar plays tenor sax and bass clarinet; Nakatani plays drums and percussion. "Rap Race Slot" (typical Tsahar ts); "J Walk" (bcl, moves gracefully while Nakatani plays toms for atmosphere); "Closed News" (ts played like bcl, percussion has metallic feel, like he's beating on a washing machine, which sometimes beats back; volume grows as it goes on); "Sawing Clouds" (atmospheric drones); "Street Cleaning" (starts off with a little squiggle of ts, wood-on-wood percussion; again, this grows in complexity, sounds more like bcl later on); "Come Sunday" (Ellington song; starts so slow it's unrecognizable, with Tsahar playing melody and Nakatani decorating with percussion effects; short too -- don't mean a thing 'cause it ain't got no swing); "West 4th" (kicks it up several notches into hyperdrive ts, with similar percussion except faster; short too); "NY Moment" (patently avant-garde, whines, shrieks, dorking around); "Low Lov" (slow-mo avant-garde, less of the same); "Circling the Cube" (not the lightning rapple of "Rap Ace Slot" or "West 4th," but feels more powerful, more subtly muscular); "Missed Rehearsal" (bcl, effectively toning down the previous movement). B+
  • Warren Zevon: The Wind (2003, Artemis). I wasn't in any big hurry on this one -- thought My Ride's Here was overrated (great title song, admittedly), that the only real good (A-) albums that he ever did were Excitable Boy and The Envoy -- and those got by not on consistency but on their few extraordinary flights of fantasy. And this one has been in the hype mill since he got diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, so I figured the positive reports were tainted by sentiment. And the reports of famous guest stars piling onto his wake didn't bode well, either. But now that I've heard it, I'm feeling a bit sentimental myself. The thing I'm most struck by is how good the filler is -- these are mostly small songs, mostly understated. He's never made a consistent album before, but this never fails. A-
  • The Wire Tapper 10 ([2003], The Wire, 2CD). This is a sampler that came with the Oct. 2003 issue of The Wire. This is a not-for-sale item that I probably shouldn't waste my time with, but I will note that Faust & Dalek's "Telectronique" is underground rap that appeals strongly to me, and Four Tet's "Spirit Fingers" is a guitar and effects instrumental that reminds me of Fripp & Eno but goes further. Things like this, where I've heard of maybe 5 of 30 artists, are what notebooks are for.

Saturday, December 20, 2003

I started to write this in response to a request to formulate a position for opponents of the Bush War in Iraq. I didn't finish, and it suffers from overly fastidious wordsmithing.

With the capture of Saddam Hussein, the US has achieved practically all of its military goals in Iraq. However, the US has failed utterly to achieve its political goals in Iraq, and has no hope of reversing its losses. Sooner or later real power in Iraq will have to revert to the Iraqi people, and will necessarily favor Iraqi interests over the interests of the US. How severely this eventuality will rebound against the US depends in large part on how much pain Iraq endures before the Iraqis are free of US domination.

The mere fact that a significant number of Iraqis have taken up armed resistance against the US occupation has made that occupation untenable. Sure, the US military can easily kill any insurgents that challenge it. But the US military cannot limit its destruction to the insurgents, so its repression just serves to bind the resistance to the population, and build up resentment to the US occupation. Even if the US were able to significantly suppress the insurgency, the pressure behind resistance will continue to build.

The other question is how much resistance the American people can stand. Iraqi resistance costs the US in lives, in money, in good will, and in self-esteem. It provokes the US to heinous acts, and implies that the ideals we claim for outselves and promote for others are hypocritical and callous. Support for the war among the American public is shaky, and only likely to sink as the war slogs on with no hope in sight. The war has damaged the US economy, which has only avoided severe recession due to low interest rates and major deficit spending -- strategies that are unlikely to be sustainable. The war also risks further isolating the US from the other powers and peoples of the world, who have over the past two decades been willing to subsidize US debts.

Clearly, the US has no practical option but to extricate itself from Iraq. The main argument against a quick, unilateral exit is that the risk that it would create a power vacuum that would result in bloody civil war within Iraq.

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Sunday, Dec. 14, 2003, with the capture of Saddam Hussein, was the second feel good day of the Iraq war. The first, of course, was the day the US entered Baghdad, resulting in the staged toppling of Saddam's statue. Both were days when Saddam's tyranny fell; both were days when the fall of Saddam at least temporarily eclipsed the tragedy of Bush's war. Of course, that says as much about the media as it does history: we focus so much on immediate tangible events that the broader context, "the big picture," gets lost, much as the moon doesn't actually set each morning -- it just gets overwhelmed by the relative brightness of the sun. Still, the sun does inevitably set, returning us to the dim light of the moon. What's left for Saddam Hussein is just to pick over the bones, of which there are plenty. Removing Saddam Hussein from power is the one positive accomplishment of the Bush War. It's not a justification, just a welcome respite.

The local paper had several pieces, plus one of Randy Schofield's me-too editorials and even a Crowson cartoon, on how best to bring Saddam to justice. Or more precisely, who gets to execute him. One of the pieces was a chart of possible courts, which were mainly distinguished by which have the option of capital punishment. That seems to disqualify the World Court. (One option missing from the list is turning him over to Iran, which can safely be counted in the pro-capital punishment camp.) I don't care much one way or the other. After some twists and turns, I finally came to the opinion that I'm opposed to capital punishment -- ultimately because I don't want to give governments the option of killing citizens, and I don't want to deny citizens the right not to be killed by their government, even when they have seriously transgressed against their fellow citizens. Abuse is obviously a worry here, but even if somehow abuse could be guaranteed against, the mere option of capital punishment distorts discussion over how to punish and how to secure against further crimes.

But that's just the general principle. In the matter of Saddam Hussein, I don't care much one way or the other. In defense of not executing him, I'll point out that there are many other people who have committed comparable crimes without even getting prosecuted -- Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger are good cases in point. (George W. Bush is another, and his father wasn't much better -- merely less foolish.) Stalin was another, and the list goes on and on. For such people, the most critical thing we can hope for is exposure -- and ironically, keeping Saddam alive is more likely to facilitate exposure than summarily killing him. On the other hand, Saddam has been pretty much exposed already, and he is pretty much history at this point. Killing him is not likely to make much difference one way or the other. Maybe it would make him a martyr, but it's hard to make much of a martyr out of such an unprincipled lout. Certainly it would close one door on history -- the finalitude that argues against most capital executions is a plus here. Back when I was kicking the principle around in my mind, I conceded that there was one case where I did approve of capital punishment: when Romania revolted against Ceausescu, they executed the dictator and his wife, then outlawed capital punishment. That put a stake in the heart of Ceausescu's cult of personality, depriving his diehard supporters of any reason to continue the war, and no doubt saving many lives. It also put an end to any temptation to further purge Romania's communist leadership. And it set a clear standard that separated the true monsters from even their rank and file supporters. I'm willing to accept that Saddam was such a monster that he should be singled out for execution. But it is a sobering thought that the ultimate price he might pay is no more than that paid by thousands of ordinary Iraqis mowed down in Bush's quixotic effort to remake the Middle East in the image of West Texas. And whereas killing Ceausescu brought Romania's revolution to a definitive close, killing Saddam will have no real effect on Iraq's resistance to US occupation -- the killing will continue there, even though the prime reason why the US started this war is no longer in play. The only hope we have for a third feel good day in Iraq is if Bush decides that Saddam's skull is victory enough.


Just one more point here: when we were visiting relatives in Oklahoma, they were all abuzz about a manhunt for a murderer there which over the course of a couple of weeks had cost the authorities more than a million dollars. I wondered, at the time, what the cost of the hunt for Saddam Hussein was costing the proverbial US taxpayers -- must be in the billions.

Sunday, December 14, 2003

Music: Initial count 8697 rated (+15), 946 unrated (-8). Working on my 2003 wrap-up piece, occasionally throwing items into another Recycled Goods.

  • Tim Berne: The Sublime And: Science Friction Live (2003, Thirsty Ear, 2CD). Berne's quartet recorded an album in 2001 called Science Friction, which I haven't heard but which seems to be regarded as damn near the best thing he's ever done. I've never been much of a fan, but parts of his previous Thirsty Ear release, The Shell Game, blew me away. Few saxophonists play such unreconstructedly difficult music, but when it does mesh the power is undeniable. Berne himself was a protege of Julius Hemphill, who had a real knack for making music that was at once impossible to lisen to and magnificent to behold. The group here consists of Berne (alto sax), Tom Rainey (drums), Marc Ducret (guitar), and Craig Taborn ("Rhodes, laptop, virtual organ and virtually"). The six pieces are long: "Van Gundy's Retreat" (10:43); "The Shell Game" (23:59; for a long stretch here, I'm hearing Berne reiterated, like his single line is cloned to add resonance if not harmonics; around 11 minutes in Ducret cuts loose with a savage guitar solo, driving the piece for several minutes; 15 minutes in we get a drum solo); "Mrs. Subliminal/Clownfinger" (30:18); "Smallfry" (6:17); "Jalapeno Diplomacy/Traction" (20:15; good example here of what I'm tempted to call Berne's pointillism -- he builds his melodies out of discrete notes without bending them together, so they juxtapose rather than flow; drums necessarily function the same way, so the duet with Raney emphasizes that tendency; Rainey's play continues with the organ replacing Berne to identical effect); "Stuckon U (For Sarah)" (19:14; this closes strong with Ducret guitar). I suspect that the studio album is clearer -- at least the pieces I have played from Berne's website are. I also suspect that other people might like this better than I do -- especially anyone who is hep to Julius Hemphill's harmonics. B+
  • Sonny Clark Trio (1957 [1987], Blue Note). With Paul Chambers (bass) and Philly Joe Jones (drums). One of the finest jazz pianists of the '50s, in a superb trio outing from relatively early on. Three cuts are doubled up with alternate takes, which effectively make them similar in length to the 9:53 version of Dizzy Gillespie's "Be-Bop" -- effectively the centerpiece of this album. A-
  • Guy Davis: Chocolate to the Bone (2003, Red House). Davis is the most consistent of the "Baby Tajs" -- young bluesmen whose roots dedication follows Taj Mahal's footsteps -- perhaps because he's the least adventurous. His sixth album is much like its predecessors, but his voice is getting thicker and more authoritative, and his use of history keeps expanding: he reaches back past Howlin' Wolf to Ishmon Bracey for "Saturday Blues," and past Zora Neal Hurston to the crucible of slavery for "Shortnin' Bread," while rewriting Sleepy John Estes' "Limetown" and penning a new tribute to his Armitron watch. B+
  • Dominic Duval, Mark Whitecage: Rules of Engagement, Vol. 1 (2002 [2003], Drimala). Duval is a bassist who has been active recently in the northeast. I saw him in Cambridge, MA a few years back, in a trio with Cecil Taylor, and Taylor wore him down to a pulp within 20 minutes. Mark Whitecage plays clarinet, alto sax, and soprano sax here -- mostly clarinet. His discography starts around 1996, but he was born in 1937, so got off to a very late start. But his CIMP albums are rated highly in the Penguin Guide, and he's recorded extensively on his own Acoustics label. I haven't heard any of those, nor any albums in Duval's name -- though I'm sure he has been a sideman or co-leader a few times. A-
  • EG Kight: Southern Comfort (2003, Blue South). This is her third album. The inner spine -- I guess that's as good as any description: clear CD cases have an extra space on the front where the hinges are connected, and designers have started to exploit that bit of space, usually with type reading top to bottom -- dubs her "The Georgia Songbird." Actually, she's a blues singer -- white, female subdivision. Blues is the most conservative form of music in America -- comparatively, country is a tower of polymorphuous perversity, but I have to admit I'm not expert enough in re heavy metal to rule it out completely. The dominant blues paradigm, at least since the advent of Albert Collins (if not Albert King), is the black male guitar slinger, and they number in the hundreds, with their interchangeable licks and complaints. So in such a conservative medium, white females have little trouble distinguishing themselves. Or "had" might be more accurate -- there are dozens now, and by the time you get down to the Joanna Connors and Susan Tedeschis the same sameness starts to set in. A-
  • Lee Konitz With Alan Broadbent: Live-Lee (2000 [2003], Milestone). The duo framework allows virtually no dynamics, and given the two players -- I'm tempted to contrast this to Stan Getz and Kenny Barron -- there's damn little interplay there too. What you get then are relatively discrete performances intercut. Broadbent's piano doesn't do a lot for me. It's probably unfair to blame this on his fondness for classical music, but it comes off as static, delicate, maybe even a bit contrived. The same sort of things can be said about Konitz, but they'd be even further off the mark. At least with Konitz we know that his idea of classical music is Tristano. He plays very deliberately here -- of course, he always plays deliberately, so maybe it's just more conspicuous without having bass and drums to move things along. But somehow it works this way -- the more I listen to this, the more I find myself hanging on every note, the deliberate construction of Konitz's solos fading into the certainty of their rightness. B+
  • Lyrics Born: The Day After . . . (2003, Quannum Projects). Aka Tom Shimura. He came out of the UC Davis underground that also produced DJ Shadow and Blackalicious, and previously cut a good album with Lateef the Truth Speaker called Latyrx: The Album. This solo work has evidently been percolating for quite a while -- 13 years is a figure quoted in "Nightro," which may or may not mean anything. Some superb pieces here, but it's hard to characterize what unifies them -- indeed, whether anything unifies them. What they don't have is consistent sound or groove. But they do have brains; the raps are dense and wordy; the guests mix things up (cf. Altered Egos on "One Session," Lateef on "The Last Trumpet," Joyo Velarde on "Love Me So Bad." Strangely, the best thing is a skit ("U Ass Bank"). Almost a great album; maybe, in fact, if I could just puzzle it out, or just go with what I feel. A-
  • Madonna: American Life (2003, Maverick/Warner Bros.). Title song is OK, maybe a bit better than OK. "Hollywood" is better. In fact, song after song sounds quite good. At least until #6, "Nothing Fails," which goes "I'm not religious" then breaks into prayer and ecclesiastes -- sort of touching, in a weird way, a bit like the song on Like a Prayer. A couple more songs flirt uncomfortably with religion; whether this is why the music tapers off is hard to say -- maybe she just ran out of her budget on the first half? "Die Another Day" has a better beat. Play it a few more times and it evens out a bit. B+
  • John McLaughlin: Thieves and Poets (2003, Verve). The title cut is 25 minutes (in three parts) with an overblown symphony orchestra. It has a few rough spots -- whence overblown -- but for the most part is grossly beautiful, with some nice acceleration from the guitarist. Afterwards, the albums closes with four standards, each dedicated to a pianist, done with another (smaller) classical group. These, too, are pretty. B
  • OutKast: Speakerboxx / The Love Below (2003, Arista). I had a friend once who had never really studied anything in his life. He went to grade school like he was doing time. But when Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti first came out, I found him studying it. He was trying his best to concentrate, staring straight ahead, gritting his teeth. He insisted on absorbing every little details, every nuance of Zep's sprawling, less-than-fully-coherent double LP. As far as I was concerned, it was obvious from the start that Physical Graffiti was a sloppy mess, that whatever discipline they had brought to bear on their previous five albums had been shot to shit. Maybe they were too big for anyone to rein them in. Maybe they were always full of shit. By that point I didn't much care, but my friend did. I doubt that he ever found the holy greil there, but I don't doubt that he could eventually ID every detail. And since the one thing I readily concede about Physical Graffiti is that it does have the sort of details that are usually found in great albums, I've long suspected that he got a lot more out of it than I ever would. I bring this up because I'm sure that there are people who've put the sort of time into the latest OutKast album that it no doubt takes, and most likely they'll wind up convinced that it's as great as . . . well, the long history of sloppy doubles goes back past Physical Graffiti at least to The Beatles. For my part, ever since I started hearing about this double-barrel solo album, following up what was probably the only rap record ever that everyone loved, I've been figuring this as this year's record most likely to disappoint. Given that, I'm not really disappointed, but I am overwhelmed -- at least whelmed beyond all the enthusiasm I can muster to sort this out. I will say that Andre 3000's disc has one great song ("Spread"), some good ones, and somewhat amusing skits; also that Big Boi's disc keeps up a suitable funk groove. At least I think that's the breakdown of who did what. Given a long stretch of nothing better to do I may go back and spend more time, at which point I'll no doubt find more to say. But just as quick impressions go, I doubt that I'm far off the mark here. B+
  • Sarah Pierce: Love's the Only Way (2003, Little Bear). Yet another singer-songwriter -- hard to be more specific than that, since she isn't especially countryish or bluesy or alt (except in the obscure sense) or punk or any other category I can think of. AMG lists two albums, but their review of this one identifies this as her fifth. Her website shows five albums, going back to 1991. She's based in Austin. One review describes this as a "nice mix of country, folk and rock." Again, it's not my idea of country or folk, and while it does rock, that doesn't mean much here. B
  • Pink: Try This (2003, Arista). She's doing what Madonna did, rather than trying to be the next Madonna. In particular, she works on her image, while hiring top-flight talent to build up the music. But she also has good enough taste in the music to make sure it works, which means works for her. The move this time is toward punk, away from teen-pop dance beats. The talent includes Tim Armstrong (Rancid, the Transplants), which pays off in the first few songs, which rock harder than anything she's ever done, and connect vocally better than anything Rancid has released. But "Waiting for Love," another Linda Perry collaboration, is utter crap -- bad heavy metal [well, maybe not so awful, but not a smart step]. The Linda Perry section as a whole feels musically clumsy here, and when the record starts to right itself again, with "Humble Neighborhood" and "Walk Away," the key collaborator is Tim Armstrong again. Last song is credited to Damon Elliott, a ballad called "Love Song" that fades out around 2:30, after which (with a minute of dead time) an uncredited track starts up, going "you ain't nothing but a hooker/selling your fucking soul." Not as good as the first half of the last one; better than the second half. Not as good as she could (and probably will) do sometime. Not an oracle. Not a fad, either. A-
  • Bud Powell: Parisian Thoroughfares (1957-61 [2003], Pablo). This is the second installment in Pablo's repackaging of the tapes that Francis Paudras made of Powell during his last years in Paris -- more choice pickings from the ten Mythic Sound discs; like its predecessor, Paris Sessions, this jumps around a bit, mixing trios with guest horns -- Zoot Sims and Barney Wilen stand out; the sound is a bit dicier, but anyone who thinks Powell was done in the '40s has serious ear problems. A-
  • Rancid: Indestructible (2003, Hellcat). They started off as scholars of the early days of punk -- on an album like . . . And Out Come the Wolves I could ID almost every riff, and they came not just from the Clash but from all over the scene. But the more they progress, the fewer models they have, until ultimately they have to face up to London Calling. This is, indeed, their London Calling. It is long, richly varied, pointed. Most of the songs are instantly memorable, and the record as a whole is a tour de force. Which is not to say that it is as good, let alone as great, as London Calling. It misses by a fairly large margin. But part of that is that they're no longer mere copycats. They've become a major band in their own right, and they even have a unifying sound to go with their cornucopia of songs. I liked The Transplants more because it had more rhythmic integrity, but I'm duly impressed here, too. A-
  • The Raveonettes: Chain Gang of Love (2003, Columbia). They've got a sound, but the Jesus and Mary Chain had it before them. They've got a look too, but for all I know that dates back to James Dean. They sell their records cheap. There's an old business axiom which warns against selling something too cheap because it suggests that the product isn't really worth it. They probably even believe that, but cheap is their aesthetic. Inspirational verse: "my girl is a little animal/she always wants to fuck/I can't find a reason why/I guess it's just my luck." Might as well grade them on the cheap as well -- that's my little contribution to their project. B+
  • The Red Stick Ramblers: Bring It On Down (2003, Memphis International). AMG classifies them as country, although the description sounds more cajun. (Their website classifies their music as "authentic cajun gypsy swing.") They hail from Baton Rouge, and have various cajun connections. This is their second album. It has a couple of songs in French, a couple more from the Bob Wills songbook, "Dinah," "16 Tons," a couple of originals by guitarist Josh Caffery. Linzay Young plays fiddle, piano, and sings; he seems weak-voiced. B
  • The Rough Guide to the Music of Indonesia ([2000], World Music Network). This strikes me as an exceptionally good general intro to Indonesian folk/pop music, but what do I know? Damn little, I'm afraid. Lots of little flute-things, tinkles, etc. Much of it is quaintly charming, but it's a world that I've never really connected with. B+
  • Dino Saluzzi: Responsorium (2001 [2003], ECM). Saluzzi is an Argentine bandoneon player, which automatically marks him as a tangoista. But tango mostly lurks in the background here, surfacing as flashes of rhythm to move the pieces along, but nothing that might push you toward the dancefloor. Like much ECM jazz, this gravitates toward the seam between New Age and World, its unconventional rhythms and instruments aimed at setting a mood that functions nicely as background. But it works beautifully: Saluzzi's sound is fleshed out by son José Maria Saluzzi's classical guitar and Palle Danielsson's acoustic bass, adding a wealth of delicious detail. A-
  • Tomasz Stanko: The Soul of Things (2001 [2002], ECM). The most famous trumpet player ever to come out of Poland, in a quartet with three more Poles I've never heard of (admittedly, an assumption, but the surnames are Wasilewski, Kurkiewicz, and Miskiewicz, which sure sound Polish to me; from the pictures, I'll add that they all look a lot younger than Stanko, who was 60). A lot of this is slow, darkly intoned. It's set up as 13 pieces sequenced under the same title. I've been playing this a lot lately. Not easy to describe, but I find it lovely, deeply satisfying in a somewhat obscure way. A- Earl Thomas: Soul'd (Memphis International). Thanks to the magic of recorded music, nothing old ever dies. Now that the blues circuit has become the final resting place for pioneering '60s soul singers like Solomon Burke, it's also home for young 'uns who think that the music never progressed beyond Otis Redding. Thomas was born in 1960, so he's gotten his schtick from records and aging legends. He's way too late to ever become a legend himself, but if you wonder why they don't make soul records like they used to, you just haven't been looking hard enough. B+
  • Triple R: Friends (2002, Kompakt). All the booklet has to say about this microhouse mix disk is "für meine Freunde." Twelve cuts by twelve artists, none distinct in any obvious way, each ticking along in a similar little microgroove. There must be dozens, hundreds even, of comparable but marginally differentiated variants on the same schemata, but I glommed onto this one only because Michaelangelo Matos -- by far the best guide I know of when it comes to electronic dance music -- recommended it. Judging from his review, he hears much more detail here than I do. But I still find it to be every bit as seductive as he claims -- a soothing, cleansing monotony. A-
  • Loudon Wainwright III: So Damn Happy (2003, Sanctuary). Another live one, which of course lets him pad the new ones with proven old ones. And not so proven old ones. B+
  • Yellowjackets: Time Squared (2003, Heads Up). I never considered this long-running (since 1981) group to be worth spending time with -- one of those smooth/crossover jazz groups, right? So this is my first intro -- just something new that showed up at the library, so why not? First thing I was struck by was Bob Mintzer's saxophone tone, which is nothing to quibble over. First time through, it seemed to hold up nicely at least a third of the way through, though it did dull down toward the end. Worth another play. . . . OK, I'm impressed by the fundamental competence of the group. I especially like the tone and dynamics I hear from Mintzer. I'm far less impressed with piano/keyboardist Russell Ferrante. But as sharply professional as this often sounds, I never quite find what they're doing to be interesting. B
  • Zu: Igneo (2001 [2002], Amanita). Looking at the geological maps on the elegantly crafted packaging reminds me that igneous rocks are forged under intense heat and pressure -- some, like granite, cooling beneath the surface; others erupting violently. Clearly, this Italian free jazz band knows the fire and fury of the rock they stand on. They also know kindred spirits half-way around the globe: they traveled to Chicago to make this album with punk avatar Steve Albini, with guest shots from saxophone colossus Ken Vandermark and his trombone sidekick, Jeb Bishop. Not that they are really necessary -- saxophonist Luca Tommaso Mai sent me back to the book several times to make sure that it wasn't Vandermark playing. This is noisy alright -- a volcanic eruption of freedom. A-

Sunday, December 07, 2003

Music: Initial count 8682 rated (+28), 954 unrated (-3). November's belated Recycled Goods is very nearly done -- got all the main reviews, just looking for last-minute things I want to tack onto Briefly Noted. Plus I've already pushed some of the excess into December's Recycled, which I want to get back onto my (who knows about Static's) schedule. Also coming up fast is the need to write up a year-end list and my year-end catch-up for Static.

  • The Beat: Go-Go's Fusion of Funk and Hip Hop (1979-2001 [2001], Liaison, 2CD). Don't know much about this DC funk scene -- it has the sort of anonymity (or unfamiliarity) that is easy to come by in the "local music" section of record stores. But the first disc, ranging from 1979 to 1991, is first rate, starting with Chuck Brown's "Bustin' Loose" and cranking it up to EU's "Da Butt." The second disc, dating from 1994 to present, is less impressive, but continues the hard funk beats. A-
  • The Blue Series Continuum: The Sorcerer Sessions Featuring the Music of Matthew Shipp (2003, Thirsty Ear). Working off an advance here. Group: Gerald Cleaver (drums), FLAM (programming and synth), William Parker (bass), Matthew Shipp (piano and synth), Daniel Bernard Roumain (violin), Evan Ziporyn (clarinet and bass clarinet). I've always assumed that these are remakes of earlier Shipp compositions, but I can't find any of the titles in Rich Lopez's discography, which is pretty complete on such things. Engineered by FLAM at Sorcerer Sound. Songs: "Pulsar" (starts with slow-mo piano solo, adds violin); "Keystroke" (piano plus little blips, clicks, pops, squiggles, what have you); "Lightforms" (piano plus whooshy electronics); "Urban Shadows" (drums -- sounds synthetic at first, then acoustic; synth swooshes, the most distinctive sound of which turns out to be Roumain's violin; Ziporyn finally makes an appearance with a bit of clarinet; train signals and more clarinet); "x6" (composed by Roumain, whose violin starts it; doesn't amount to much); "Fixed Point" (another fragmentary piece, with a bit of Parker on bass, but nothing special; piano pokes around); "Invisible Steps" (piano, clarinet); "Particle" (piano, bass, sound effects; false stop, then more of the same); "Reformation" (buzzsaw violin, overtones, do I hear a cymbal?); "Modulate" (more tiny piano, more sound effects); "Last Chamber" (march drumming, piano chords, melody; after the drought this sounds loaded); "Mist" (more atmospherics, occasional piano chords, with a little fill). Trying to follow this album turns out to be a chore, whereas the 6-10 times I've played it and didn't manage to pay adequate attention to write about it sounded much better. Shipp is known to be a big admirer of David Bowie's Low. The first side of Low is tuneful, but the second side is full of atmospherics with little beat; this makes me wonder whether it's the second side that he admires. Yet having enjoyed this 6-10 times in the background, I have to credit it with a bit more going for it than I've described above. B
  • Regina Carter: Paganini: After a Dream (2003, Verve). This album of lite classical kitsch, from Ravel and Debussy to Piazzolla and Bonfa to Morricone, at least avoids cloying symphonic trappings, but by sticking to the downright gorgeous it eventually slips into stupor. Pianist Werner Gierig has a light touch and is usually more fun than Carter here. The bass and drums are also commendable, and Ettore Strata's string orchestra doesn't intrude much. So, yep, I'm surprised that it isn't worse than it is. B-
  • Jean Grae: The Bootleg of the Bootleg EP (2003, Babygrande). Harder than before -- older, wiser, more daunted by reality, quicker to tell it/you to fuck off. Despite the EP notice, the "bootlegs" at the end push it out toward an hour. They don't all work, but they're not throwaways either. A-
  • Vince Guaraldi: The Charlie Brown Suite and Other Favorites (1968 [2003], Bluebird). My impression is that Guaraldi is a competent but not especially interesting jazz pianist -- I group him loosely in the same bag as George Shearing and Andre Previn without really knowing much about any of them. He probably did his critical standing a permanent blow by tying into the Peanuts franchise, but it no doubt helped his bank account. This item came in the mail, which makes it the first Guaraldi record that I've actually heard. The good news is that the jaunty little themes are pleasant enough. The bad news is that he decided to move uptown in orchestrating them for a classical music ensemble. If you like that sort of thing, you might find this amusing. I don't, which means I find that this meanders in and out of tediousness, especially when the strings kick in. But I like the little latin kick on "Charlie Brown Theme." B-
  • Salif Keita: Moffou (2002, Decca). The simple arrangements here let the singer show off his stuff, but at a distance it rolls gently. Functional as easy-vibe mood music. B+
  • Salif Keita: Papa (1998, Metro Blue). I've played Moffou half-a-dozen times in the last 3-4 weeks, always enjoying its gentle roll and wondering what more there should be. Keita's an impressive singer, projects a lot of power. However, this doesn't roll gently -- it seems piled on real thick. B
  • Steve Lacy Nine: Futurities Part I (1984 [1989], Hat Now). Part II, in particular, is often regarded as one of the high points in Lacy's catalog. The front cover says: "Music: Steve Lacy/Words: Robert Creeley." The real problem with words on Lacy albums is usually his singer/wife, Irène Aebi. She has a deep operatic voice, without the slightest hint of swing, so everything she does hardens into euroclassical art-song. She's been the bane of many a Lacy album, but I'm not sure that she's the real problem here: in struggling to wrap Creeley's words up in music, much of Lacy's part here gets real convoluted. It's not without interest -- cf. George Lewis on trombone -- but it is plenty tough to warm up to. B-
  • Metallica: St. Anger (2003, Elektra). Another thing from the library -- never managed to hear them before. Always liked the name, but no one I trust ever recommended them. I'm not adverse, in principle at least, to heavy metal; on the other hand, I don't expect much. First cut here sounds OK. Second (title cut) is awful -- the overwrought anger welling up from simple incompetence. Third cut starts out with a good bass rhythm -- heavy metal is really a bass & drums thing, isn't it? -- but then the singer croaks and it goes downhill from there. "Dirty Window" is crap -- should have caught some lyrics, but you can probably look 'em up. "Invisible Kid" is OK -- most of it, anyway. "My World" is peurile, egocentric trash -- probably the best they can do, but again they stretch it out too long. I managed to lose consciousness somewhere around "Sweet Amber," but when I snapped too they were still playing, and were worse than ever. Long fucking record, much too long. Package comes with a DVD and a big booklet with all those lyrics you may have missed while unconscious. C-
  • Abdoulaye N'Diaye: Taoué (2001 [2003], Justin Time). More fruit from David Murray's Senegal connection, first formed around the Fo Deuk Revue album. This is another America-meets-Africa setup. The Americans present are Murray, Dave Burrell (piano), Jaribu Shahid (bass, you know him from James Carter's old group), and Hamid Drake (drums) -- a dream team. The Africans form "a traditional quintet", with percussion, bolong, kora, and djembe, plus a griot vocal by Tidiane Gaye. The notes suggest that the two groups perform separately, but doesn't give us cut-by-cut details, other than the info that everyone plays on the lead cut. The first four cuts are clearly rooted in Senegal, with the fourth one, "Xarrit Sama," particularly pleasing for its extended kora with N'Diaye adding color. The fifth cut, "Cobb's Cat," is attributed to Sam Sanders, who is identified as N'Diaye's jazz teacher. It's a bebop piece, with strong support from Burrell. "Wakhtane" is an N'Diaye composition, but again it feels like the Americans playing something post-bop, and the sax sure sounds like Murray to me. A-
  • Sonny Rollins + 3 (1996, Milestone). Actually, two separate quartets, both with old standby Bob Cranshaw on bass, who is joined by: Stephen Scott (piano) and Jack DeJohnette (drums) on two cuts; Tommy Flanagan (piano) and Al Foster (drums) on the other five. Rollins rarely has the patience for pianists, but when he does it's often Flanagan -- who was also at his side in 1956 for Saxophone Colossus. This is terrifically robust saxophone, with a take on "Mona Lisa" that will be considered definitive. A-
  • Shout, Sister, Shout! A Tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe (2003, MC Records). Songs (the Holmes Brothers back many of these tracks): "Nobody's Fault but Mine" (Joan Osborne; Osborne continues to impress, belting this one out as strong as anything she did on the Funk Brothers documentary); "My Journey to the Sky" (Maria Muldaur [vocal] / Bonnie Raitt [guitar]; this is clearly Muldaur's kind of thing); "Rock Me" (Toshi Reagon [from Sweet Honey in the Rock]; clunky rhythm); "Two Little Fishes and Five Loaves of Bread" (Odetta; a great song; Odetta has an odd voice that I've never found attractive, but this works fine); "Strange Things Happening Every Day" (Michelle Shocked; done with an accent on strange); "This Train" (Janis Ian; done very minimally, with just a hint of guitar); "Shout, Sister, Shout" (Maria Muldaur / Marcia Ball / Angela Strehli / Tracy Nelson; with a jazz band, a sort of pop-swing thing c. Andrews Sisters); "Beams of Heaven" (Phoebe Snow; with church organ); "Precious Memories" (Sweet Honey in the Rock; voices, many voices); "I Want a Tall Skinny Papa" (Marcia Ball; another jazzy take, with stride piano, guitar solo, sax solo, Nelson and Strehli singing backup); "My Lord and I" (Victoria Williams; wacked out voice, sounds very affected, but every time she come around the point; wacked out guitar, wacked out rhythm); "Stand by Me" (Rory Block; bluesy vocal, a little slide on the guitar); "Up Above My Head" (Maria Muldaur / Tracy Nelson; duet, strong voices); "Don't Take Everybody to Be Your Friend" (Joanna Connor; straightforward blues); "That's All" (Angela Strehli; good); "I Looked Down the Line (And I Wondered)" (Maria Muldaur; another good performance, mostly due to the singer); "Didn't It Rain" (Marie Knight [a former singing partner of Tharpe's]; probably the most conventional piece here, which is a fitting close). B+
  • The Skatalites: Foundation Ska (1964-65 [1997], Heartbeat, 2CD). The booklet isn't much help on dates, but the first instantiation of this seminal ska band only lasted from 1964-65, so that's presumably where these cuts came from. The lion's share here were engineered and produced by C.S. Dodd, but six tracks here are attributed to Duke Reid. At least four band members are household names: Tommy McCook (sax), Rolando Alphonso (sax), Don Drummond (trombone), and Jackie Mittoo (piano). They backed many of the period's great hits, and cut instrumentals under their own name. A few of these cuts have vocals -- "Simmer Down" with Bob Marley and the Wailers, "World's Fair" with Stranger Cole and Ken Boothe. One thing I didn't expect was a gorgeous sax ballad (baritone?), "Ringo's Theme (Version Two)." A couple of Jackie Opel vocals on the second disc. A-
  • Mal Waldron: Soul Eyes: The Mal Waldron Memorial Album (1955-62 [2003], Prestige). When he was young Waldron was best known for his work accompanying Billie Holiday, and 40+ years later that was still what he was best known for. Anyone with more than a passing familiarity with his work will find the persistence of this reputation odd -- surely it is a tribute to Holiday, but it also shows ignorance of Waldron's own substantial work. The most striking thing about this collection is the sheer variety of the tracks -- the intent is no doubt to provide a broad view of Waldron's work. So we need to survey this song by song: "A Portrait of Bud Powell" (Waldron; solo piano, from 1955; good move to start with the piano, his composition, and the nod to Powell); "Soul Eyes" (Waldron; a lovely ballad, set up for two trumpets [Idrees Suleiman, Webster Young] and two tenors [John Coltrane, Bobby Jaspar]; Kenny Burrell adds some nice guitar; long piece: 17:29, so everyone gets a shot at a solo -- sounds like Coltrane for the first tenor solo; don't know the trumpet players well enough to recognize them, but the tones are markedly different); "Potpourri" (Waldron; sextet with Jackie McLean and Coltrane); "Dakar" (Teddy Charles; the title track from Coltrane's album, where they are joined by two baritone saxes [Cecil Payne, Pepper Adams]); "While My Lady Sleeps" (Kahn/Kaper; another cut from a Coltrane album); "God Bless the Child" (Herzog/Holiday; from Webster Young's 1957 Holiday tribute, with Paul Quinichette; Waldron played for Holiday from 1957-59, her last years); "Dear Elaine" (Waldron; from an album led by vibist Teddy Charles, another thoughtful ballad with a lovely piano theme; Charles' addition is minor, a slight accenting on a beautiful piece for Waldron's piano); "Splidium-Dow" (Waldron; previously unreleased alternate take from a 1958 Waldron trio); "Bye-Ya" (Monk; this comes from Steve Lacy's 1958 album, a quartet with Buell Neidlinger and Elvin Jones, the first of a career's worth of Monk exploration by Lacy; Waldron and Lacy cut several more albums together, mostly in the early '90s, mostly duets); "Fire Waltz" (Waldron; with Eric Dolphy [alto sax], Booker Ervin [tenor sax], Ron Carter [cello], this 1961 record gave Dolphy major supporting credit; Waldron later played on several Dolphy records); "Light'n Up" (Waldron; a quartet with tenor sax, the saxophonist needs no introduction: couldn't be anyone but Gene Ammons, and it's gorgeous work even by his standards; Waldron played on ten or so Ammons albums from 1955-62). A-
  • Once Upon a Time: The Best of Delroy Wilson (1967-74 [2003], Sanctuary/Trojan). First, there is no intersection between this best-of and the twelve Coxsone Dodd songs on Wilson's Heartbeat best-of. Don't have firm dates on either: it seems likely that Dodd's Studio One cuts are earlier -- Wilson was 13 when he started working with Dodd (which would be 1961-62), and the latest possible date for Heartbeat's Original Twelve would be 1969. The leadoff cut here, a rocksteady version of "This Old Heart of Mine," dates from 1967. Working through the scant notes here, I gather that "What Is a Man" and "Ain't That Peculiar" date from 1973, and the closer, "It's a Shame," comes from 1974. The latter is first-rate; "This Old Heart of Mine" seems deconstructed. Several notable originals here, including "Cool Operator," which seems like his epitaph. Terrific singer. Hard to know just where to peg this. B+


Nov 2003 Jan 2004