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Monday, August 30, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 17052 [17032] rated (+20), 858 [824] unrated (+34). Jazz CG done. Finishing it up requires me to listen to previously rated albums, which inevitably depresses the rated count. Also finally got to the incoming mail, which had piled up considerably over two weeks.

  • Rachid Taha: Rock el Casbah: The Best Of (1986-2000 [2007], Wrasse): Algerian raï great, emigrated to France in 1968 and only looked back to pick up classic melodies for his Diwan and Diwan 2 albums, as good a place to get the hang of raï's electrified dance beats as any. He resurrected the Clash song after Bush invaded Iraq, the odd song out here although his English label took it as the key to reissuing what was originally called The Definitive Collection. What marks it as "definitive" is that it liberally samples albums earlier than his Diwan breakthrough, making it more erratic than his later albums, like the magnificent Made in Medina, which contributes the most powerful song here: "Barra Barra." B+(***) [Wichita Public Library]

Jazz Prospecting (CG #24, Part 11)

Almost blew another week, but in the end enough stuff came together that I can say that Jazz Consumer Guide (24) is done. Initial query suggests it may appear in the Village Voice around September 29, although later dates are possible as well. Draft currently totes up to 1617 words covering 56 albums, so expect the HM list to be long. Leftovers come to 1400 words and 44 albums, so it looks like we'll be trapped in backlog for quite some while. I still have a fair sized shelf of rated, still in need of review albums, so I'll probably focus on them the next week or two, adding to next cycle's draft and kicking some into surplus.

The collected Jazz Prospecting file is here: totals came to 218 albums prospected, plus 97 carryovers from past rounds. Despite my best intentions to rush up the cycle, the prospecting period was almost exactly three months (July 1 to August 30). I still have a fair amount of transitional paperwork to do, but did at least catch up with the incoming mail. Two weeks of Jazz Prospecting notes below, with almost nothing new getting into the final draft -- not even the Joe Locke dud, which is my usual rationale for bothering with Rhapsody this late in the game.

Will post a new "Downloader's Diary" in short course, and rather thin "Recycled Goods" and "Rhapsody Streamnotes" should be out by the end of the week. I'm beat, bothered, bewildered, but hopefully the nastiest summer we've had since 2000 will wind down before long. New cycle begins now, and the queues are overflowing.


Conference Call: What About . . . . ? (2007-08 [2010], Not Two, 2CD): Quartet, on their sixth album since 2000, the core Gebhard Ullmann (tenor sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet), Michael Jefry Stevens (piano), and Joe Fonda (bass), with George Schuller their present and most frequent drummer -- other albums have used Matt Wilson, Han Bennink, and Gerry Hemingway. Ullmann is very prolific, but he seems to perform best when someone else sets the parameters, which Stevens does here -- most likely Fonda too, as the Fonda/Stevens group goes back even further and has been recorded even more extensively. Two live in Krakow sets, the second a bit easier to get into -- Stevens' "Could This Be a Polka?" had me thinking first of tango -- but both satisfying mixes of sour and not-quite-sweet. A-

Esperanza Spalding: Chamber Music Society (2009-10 [2010], Heads Up): Bassist, singer, Downbeat cover girl; b. 1984, Portland, OR; third album since 2005, singing more each time, with a lot more scat here, but also with Gretchen Parlato taking over two vocals, and Milton Nascimento chiming in on a third (a Spalding original -- Parlato takes the semi-obligatory Jobim cut). The chamber effect comes from violin-viola-cello, steadied by Leo Genovese piano, with Terri Lynne Carrington drums, and Quintino Cinalli percussion. "Wild Is the Wind" is a welcome cover, but there's not much else to latch onto. B-

ROVA & Nels Cline Singers: The Celestial Septet (2008 [2010], New World): World renowned saxophone quartet plus world renowned guitar-bass-drums trio, works out to be a pretty full-featured band. The saxophonists -- Bruce Ackley, Steve Adams, Larry Ochs, and Jon Raskin -- are used to orchestrating their own harmony, but assuming the Singers will take up the slack they get to stretch out a bit here. But Nels Cline, bassist Devin Hoff, and drummer Scott Amendola don't harmonize so much as build up the ambient noise level, putting this into Electric Ascension territory, minus the annoyances of the Coltrane script. Closest they come is Ochs's 25:23 paean to Albert Ayler, "Whose to Know," where the noise climax seems well-earned. B+(***)

Judith Berkson: Oylam (2009 [2010], ECM): Vocalist -- "soprano" is how she puts it -- plays piano and various keybs here, accordion elsewhere; studied at New England Conservatory; based in Brooklyn; cantor at Old Westbury Hebrew Congregation Kehilat Shir Ami; also has a band named Platz Machen into Hebrew liturgy. Second album. I've heard the first, Lu-Lu, and, well, didn't like it. This was headed the same way, but little bits started to connect -- fragments of Porter and Gershwin, a slice of German (OK, very probably Yiddish), some piano. Very spare and rather arty. B+(**)

Kneebody: You Can Have Your Moment (2009 [2010], Winter & Winter): Postbop group with a little funk undertow, probably related to their fondness for Fender Rhodes and effects. Adam Benjamin (as I said), Shane Endsley (trumpet), Kaveh Rastegar (electric bass), Ben Wendel (sax, melodica), Nate Wood (drums -- the only one not credited with effects). Cut an eponymous album for Dave Douglas's Greenleaf Music label in 2005, and got their name out front on Theo Bleckman's Twelve Songs by Charles Ives. Played this one too many times and have to move on: the horns are names I recognize but have yet to register strongly, the Rhodes is neither here nor there, and the drummer's a busy guy who has something beyond funk to add. B+(*)

Theo Bleckmann: I Dwell in Possibility (2009 [2010], Winter & Winter): Vocalist, b. 1966 in Dortmund, Germany. Has a rather high voice, which he supplements with various toys to produce odd sounds. Francis Davis raved about him in a recent Village Voice column: "Beckmann is the most startlingly original male vocalist since Bobby McFerrin" -- then thinking further insisted that Bleckmann's "more rigorous intellect" will help him avoid "the same slippery slope into feckless novelty" McFerrin was prone to. This is the most hard core of Bleckmann's records, a solo effort, but not exactly acappella -- his credits read "voice, autoharp, chime balls, chimes, finger symbals, flutes, glass harp, hand-held fan, Indonesian frog buzzer, iPhone, lyre, melodica, miniature zither, nut shell shakers, rotary pan flute, shruti box, tongue drum, toy amp, toy boxes, toy megaphones, vibra tone, water bottle." The songs include James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Kurt Schwitters, Meredith Monk, "I Hear a Rhapsody" and "Comes Love," plus original music to lyrics from Emily Dickinson, Euripides, and the Egyptian Book of the Dead. Rather difficult to hear and/or to pick up on, sometimes cute, no doubt brilliant. B+(*)

Hat: Local (2008 [2010], Hatmusic): Spanish group. I've been listing them under pianist Sergi Sirvent, but this one swings pretty hard to guitarist Jordi Matas, who outwrites Sirvent five to three and plays the crucial instrument here, while Sirvent plays Fender Rhodes and a little trumpet -- not what you'd call brilliant but he's still rather effective. The quartet is rounded out with Marc Cuevas on bass (acoustic and electric) and xylophone and Oscar Doménech on drums and tinaja, each writing one song. All four also enjoy voice credits, although there's not a lot -- part of the opener, and a Matas song called "Money" that may be the first such song not to ring up some cash registers. Matas plays terrific screeching guitar there -- I'd peg it as a rock song but the musicians are way too fancy and the vocals don't get any mileage out of their crudeness. Seems transitional, but no idea to what. B+(**)

Dawn of Midi: First (2010, Accretions): Piano trio: Pakistani percussionist Qassim Naqvi, Indian contrabassist Aakaash Israni, and Moroccan pianist Amino Belyamani. Based in New York and/or Paris. First album. Evenly balanced group, the piano more rhythm than melody, especially setting out various minimalist lines, while the bass covers the whole gamut. Got stuck playing this too many times today, which makes me want to force the grade and move on. Agreeable as background, but really appreciates your full attention. B+(***)

Commitment: The Complete Recordings 1981/1983 (1980-83 [2010], No Business, 2CD): Bassist William Parker was less than 30 when he formed this group, with one self-released album (released 1981; reissued as Through Acceptance of the Mystery Peace by Eremite in 1998), side credits with Frank Lowe and Billy Bang, with Cecil Taylor still in his future. Violinist Jason Kao Hwang was less than 25. The senior member was Will Connell, Jr., b. 1938. He turned to music after an accident in the Air Force nearly blinded him. In Los Angeles in the 1960s he fell into Horace Tapscott's circle, then moved back to New York "because I wanted to be a hermit." He plays flute, alto sax, bass clarinet, wood flutes here. I haven't found any other credits for him, unless he's the "Will Connell" playing bass clarinet on a a 2007 Bill Dixon album -- would have been close to 70, still 13 years younger than Dixon. Fourth member is drummer Zen Matsuura, who went on to play with Billy Bang and Roy Campbell -- not a long credit list, but he's on Campbell's 2007 Akhenaten Suite, deserving of another plug. Parker recorded a piece called "Commitment" in the late 1970s, but the piece doesn't appear here. What we get is the 1981 Commitment Ensemble album (recorded October 13-14, 1980; 36 minutes on the first disc) and a long live set from Germany in 1983 (38 minutes on the first disc and 48 more on the second). One of those records that would have sounded interesting but unfocused at the time, but sounds prophetic now. Hwang, who was born in Waukegan, IL, had yet to develop his mastery of Chinese classical music, so he sounds more like Leroy Jenkins here -- a pretty good deal. Connell is plug ugly on alto, but his flutes hit the right notes in contrast to the violin. Parker and Matsuura keep it all moving at breakneck speed. A-

Bobby McFerrin: Vocabularies (2010, Emarcy): Actually, title is consistently spelled "VOCAbuLarieS" -- a not-so-subtle way of pointing out that most of the sounds are vocal. The balance comes from producer-cowriter Roger Treece's synths and programming, Alex Acuña's percussion, and small doses of Donny McCaslin sax and Pedro Eustache woodwinds. The cover notes Treece's contribution "and over 50 amazing singers" -- not counting a crowd of 2500 in Bergen, Norway. Each song has at least 16 singers, a chorale effect that trivializes any individual -- McFerrin is always credited as "lead vocal," and Lisa Fischer often as "featured vocal," but neither make much of an impression. B

Ismael Dueñas Trio: Jazz Ateu (2009 [2010], Quadrant): Pianist, b. 1975 in Badalona, in Spain up the coast from Barcelona. Fifth album, as best I can reckon, since 2003 -- I've heard the two on Fresh Sound New Talent, both excellent but somehow lost in my shuffle. Joan Matera plays bass and Oscar Domènech drums. For the most part this maintains a steady rhythmic flow, something I'm tempted to call postmodern stride, although it may just come from listening to Jarrett and Svensson. But he doesn't stick to the groove, shifting into melodic passages that work off something familiar, and in at least one case breaking into dissonance that resolves itself into something lovely. A-

Portico Quartet: Isla (2009 [2010], Real World): British group: Jack Wyllie (saxes, electronics), Milo Fitzpatrick (double bass), Duncan Bellamy (drums, piano), and Nick Mulvey (hang drums, percussion). Record also has a string quartet -- two violins, viola, cello -- arranged by Fitzpatrick, but mostly what you hear is soprano sax riffing over percussion, not much as jazz but a very listenable synthesis of postrock minimalism and world fusion. B+(**)

Ergo: Multitude, Solitude (2009, Cuneiform): Brett Sroka on trombone and computer; Carl Maguire on Fender Rhodes, Prophet synthesizer, and effects; Shawn Baltazor drums. I've run into Maguire before -- a fine pianist who pushes the state of the art in postbop compositions, but he's less distinctive here. Sroka has a previous album under his own name. This is the group's second. B+(**)

The Stanley Clarke Band (2010, Heads Up): Bass guitarist, b. 1951, came out of Chick Corea's Return to Forever and established a fusion rep in the 1970s, which I can't say I paid any attention to. This is only the second of 30+ albums under his name that I've heard. The album is a mess, with Ruslan Sirota's keybs and Charles Aluna's guitar standard pieces, along with a lot of guests -- Hiromi gets a shout out on the cover, and her piano does stand out, if garrishly. Some funk, one cut dedicated to Zawinul, one cut is called "Sonny Rollins" but gives you Bob Sheppard instead, some vocals. Hard to sort it all out; not awful, but little reason to. Nor am I sure if the "global warming" song is as dumb as it seems, but could be. B-

Pharez Whitted: Transient Journey (2009 [2010], Owl Studios): Trumpet player, from Indiana, studied at DePauw and Indiana University, two previous albums on Motown (1994 and 1996), based in Chicago now, teaches at Chicago State. Sexet with Eddie Bayard -- Edwin on Mark Lomax's more challenging record -- on tenor and soprano sax, Ron Perrillo on piano/keyboards, Bobby Broom on guitar, Dennis Carroll on bass, Greg Artry on drums, with Broom producing. Freddie Hubbard and Barack Obama inspire pieces. Solid hard bop, nothing spectacular, not much from Bayard, who made such a big impression on the Lomax album. B


These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.

Theo Bleckmann/Fumio Yasuda: Berlin: Songs of Love and War, Peace and Exile (2007, Winter & Winter): Twenty-three songs, most Weill-Brecht or Eisler-Brecht, the few others including several I'm equally familiar with, like "Lili Marleen" and "Ich bin von Kopf bis Fuss auf Liebe eingestellt." Yasuda, Bleckmann's partner in Las Vegas Rhapsody, plays piano and arranges string quartet for that Weimar feel. Bleckmann is German, gay, possesses remarkable facility in the upper registers. This is, in short, his patrimony. One play can't possibly do it justice, but will have to do for now. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Oliver Lake Organ Quartet: Plan (2009 [2010], Passin Thru): Follows an Organ Trio record, adding trumpeter Freddie Hendrix to returning Jared Gold (organ) and Jonathan Blake (drums) -- Lake, of course, plays alto sax. The second horn reminds me of the harmonics Julius Hemphill coaxed out of the World Saxophone Quartet (minus the booming tenor and baritone parts), and Gold does some very interesting things -- I've seen reviews invoke the idea of Monk on organ, but he doesn't just jump around a lot; he gets some positive spin on chaos. Main caveat is that it seems off here and there, a sign of the risks they're taking. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Joe Locke: For the Love of You (2009 [2010], Koch): Instrumentally a fairly snazzy quartet, with Locke's vibes rattling against Geoffrey Keezer's ivories, and George Mraz and Clarence Penn pushing the rhythm. Problem is they added a singer, Kenny Washington, like Jimmy Scott a little guy with a lot of octaves. First song is awful. Second is "Old Devil Moon" -- can't hardly ruin that. Evens out a bit after that. B- [Rhapsody]

Nasheet Waits: Equality: Alive at MPI (2008 [2009], Fresh Sound New Talent): Cover can be parsed various ways: one implication is that Equality is meant to be the group name. Waits is a drummer, best known for driving Jason Moran's Bandwagon, a piano trio with Taurus Mateen on bass. All three are present and accounted for here, and all three contribute songs -- Mateen one, Moran and Waits two each. Moreover, Moran doesn't seem to be too unhappy to see the tables turned. He has his own record and has shown up on several more lately, but this is his most energetic performance in several years. Oh, and there's a fourth guy here: alto saxophonist Logan Richardson. He had a terrific debut album, Cerebral Flow, in 2006, and is in prime form here too. A- [Rhapsody]

Bill Charlap/Renee Rosnes: Double Portrait (2009 [2010], Blue Note): Two pianists; you know that. Husband and wife as of 2007; I didn't know that, and having also not known that vocalist Sandy Stewart is Charlap's mother, I'm glad not to have missed that. Rosnes is four years older, from Canada, more of a modernist and more of a composer -- albeit only one song here among a batch of eight covers -- where Charlap is more retro and more of an interpreter. I have them down for one A- each, out of six Charlap records and three by Rosnes -- both have comparable discographies, but Charlap has been more active lately. Just piano here, sounds more like solo than duets, can't tell you who does what. Attractive, of course, but nothing really enticing. B [Rhapsody]

Scott Hamilton/Alan Barnes: Hi-Ya (2009 [2010], Woodville): I heard an interview with Benny Carter once where a caller asked "what did you learn from Johnny Hodges?" Carter's answer: "never to play any of his songs." Only two of nine songs here don't have Hodges' name on them -- some also Ellington or Strayhorn, but Hamilton gives Barnes some cover with his tenor sax, and Barnes plays baritone as well as alto. Nice, loose, plenty of swing. Still, not Hodges -- I imagine Barnes is as leary of that comparison as Carter was. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Scott Hamilton Quartet Plus Two: Our Delight! (2005 [2006], Woodville): The "plus two" are Mark Nightingale (trombone) and Dave Cliff (guitar); both do nice work, the trombonist roughly comparable to John Allred. Ten standards, starting off in rousing fashion with "Get Happy", ending with "In Walked Bud," some Ellington/Strayhorn along the way, the title cut from Tadd Dameron. Delightful indeed. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Portico Quartet: Knee Deep in the North Sea (2007, Vortex): First album for British quartet, new record Isla reviewed above. This one was nominated for the rock-centric Mercury Music Prize which put it on the UK Top 200 Albums Chart, so I guess we can consider it pop jazz, although it's much more interesting than that. The hang drums at least start out with that shimmering steel drum sound. A bit less minimalist, more pop than the new one, with the sax searching out hooks; otherwise the same basic sound. B+(**) [Rhapsody]


And these are final grades/notes on records I put back for further listening the first time around.

Bryan and the Haggards: Pretend It's the End of the World (2010, Hot Cup): Four of seven songs written by Merle Haggard, a couple more that I was surprised to find credited elsewhere. The band is a second cousin to Mostly Other People Do the Killing, with Moppa Elliott and Jon Irabagon common denominators, guitarist Jon Lundbrom useful for music that originally guitar-dominated, and Bryan Murray the nominal leader, not just because his tenor sax looms the largest. Like MOPDTK, they know their history and run it through hoops, starting with Bird and skittering through Ornette until "Trouble in Mind" bears the holy ghost of Albert Ayler, which frees drummer Danny Fischer to rip off a pretty good Rashied Ali impression. B+(***)

Dave Holland Octet: Pathways (2009 [2010], Dare2): Basically Quintet plus extra horns, not as much as the big band, but plenty for all practical purposes. Recorded live at Birdland, some applause and shout outs. Intermittently terrific, especially when trombonist Robin Eubanks bowls his way to the front. B+(***) [advance]

Scenes [John Stowell/Jeff Johnson/John Bishop]: Rinnova (2009 [2010], Origin): Guitar-bass-drums trio. Stowell is a subtle craftsman, and Seattle's standard rhythm section lay out smartly measured postbop ambience. B+(***)

Brad Mehldau: Highway Rider (2009 [2010], Nonesuch, 2CD): Started out with piano trios, making an impressive debut and sustaining his Art of the Piano Trio series longer than anyone has a right to; dropped the obligatory solo album, but then started moving onto large canvases, more composer than improviser. This one sprawls over two discs, awash in a huge string orchestra, which alternately annoys and soothes me. Joshua Redman also graces the affair, sounding functionally comparable to Jan Garbarek if not quite so sweet or sharp. B+(**)


Some re-grades as I've gone through trying to sort out the surplus:

Angles: Epileptical West: Live in Coimbra (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): [was: A-] A

Billy Bang: Prayer for Peace (2005 [2010], TUM): [was: A-] A

Satoko Fujii Ma-Do: Desert Ship (2009 [2010], Not Two): [was: B+(**)] B+(***)

The Mark Lomax Trio: The State of Black America (2007 [2010], Inarhyme): [was: A-] A


Unpacking: Found in the mail this week (and the week before):

  • Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet: Natural Selection (Sunnyside): Sept. 21
  • Newman Taylor Baker: Singin' Drums: Drum Suite Life (Innova): Sept. 28
  • Lucian Ban & John Hébert: Enesco Re-Imagined (Sunnyside): Oct. 26
  • David Bixler & Arturo O'Farrill: The Auction Project (Zoho): Sept. 14
  • Blob: Earphonious Swamphony (Innova): Sept. 28
  • Hadley Caliman & Pete Christlieb: Reunion (Origin)
  • Andrea Centazzo/Perry Robinson/Nobu Stowe: The Soul in the Mist (Ictus): advance, 2007
  • Nels Cline: Dirty Baby (Crypgogramophone, 2CD): box includes thre 40-page booklets, 66 images by Ed Ruscha
  • Ryan Cohan: Another Look (Motéma): Sept. 14
  • Decoy & Joe McPhee: Oto (Bo Weavil)
  • Joey DeFrancesco: Never Can Say Goodbye: The Music of Michael Jackson (High Note)
  • Denise Donatelli: When Lights Are Low (Savant)
  • Paquito D'Rivera: Tango Jazz: Live at Lincoln Center (Sunnyside)
  • Jean-Marc Foltz/Matt Turner/Bill Carrothers: To the Moon (Ayler)
  • Fond of Tigers: Continent & Western (Drip Audio): Oct. 12
  • Rebecca Coupe Franks: Check the Box (RCF)
  • Joe Gilman: Americanvas (Capri)
  • Jared Gold: Out of Line (Posi-Tone)
  • Goldbug: The Seven Dreams (1k)
  • Conrad Herwig: The Latin Side of Herbie Hancock (Half Note)
  • William Hooker Trio: Yearn for Certainty (Engine)
  • Lena Horne: The Essential Lena Horne (1941-75, Masterworks/Legacy, 2CD)
  • Jon Irabagon: Foxy (Hot Cup): Sept. 14
  • Bobby Jackson: The Café Extra-Ordinaire Story (Jazzman)
  • Tomas Janzon: Experiences (Changes Music)
  • Matt Jorgensen: Tatooed by Passion: Music Inspired by the Paintings of Dale Chisman (Origin)
  • Andrew Lamb Trio: New Orleans Suite (Engine)
  • Anne LeBaron: 1, 2, 4, 3 (Innova, 2CD): Sept. 28
  • Barton McLean: Soundworlds (Innova): Sept. 28
  • Tim Moltzer + Markus Reuter: Descending (1k)
  • The NYFA Collection: 25 Years of New York New Music (Innova, 5CD): Sept. 28
  • Michael Pagán/Colorado Saxophone Quartet: 12 Preludes & Fugues (Tapestry)
  • Ivo Perelman/Rosie Hertlein/Dominic Duval: Near to the Wild Heart (Not Two)
  • Ivo Perelman/Brian Willson: The Stream of Life (Leo)
  • Portico Quartet: Isla (Real World)
  • Mike Pride: From Bacteria to Boys (AUM Fidelity): Oct. 12
  • Tom Rizzo: Imaginary Numbers (Origin)
  • Florian Ross: Mechanism (Pirouet): Sept. 28
  • Scanner with the Post Modern Jazz Quartet: BLink of an Eye (Thirsty Ear): advance, Nov. 2
  • Dolores Scozzesi: A Special Taste (Rhombus): Sept. 7
  • Blaise Siwula/Nobu Stowe/Ray Sage: Brooklyn Moments (Konnex): advance, 2005
  • Blaise Siwula/Dom Minasi/Nobu Stowe/Ray Sage: New York Moments (Konnex): advance, 2006
  • Nobu Stowe-Lee Pembleton Project: Hommage an Klaus Kinski (Soul Note): advance, 2007
  • Nobu Stowe & Alan Munshower with Badal Roy: An Die Musik (Soul Note): advance, 2008
  • Nobu Stowe: Confusion Bleue (Soul Note)
  • Achille Succi/Nobu Stowe/Daniel Barbiero/Alan Munshower/Lee Pembleton: L'Albero delle Meduse (www.vlme.org/ensembles/jelly.html): advance, 2009
  • Trio Ricochet: February 2006 (Trio Ricochet): advance, 2006
  • Helen Sung: Going Express (Sunnyside): Sept. 14
  • Tribecastan: Strange Cousin (Evergreene Music)
  • Tribecastan: 5 Star Cave (Evergreene Music)
  • Doug Webb: Midnight (Posi-Tone)
  • Kenny Werner: No Beginning No End (Half Note)
  • Bruce Williamson Quartet: Standard Transmission (Origin)

Purchases:

  • Arcade Fire: The Suburbs (Merge)
  • The-Dream: Love King (Def Jam)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Link Week

I used to do these extra link collections, then stopped when I decided to comment on links more often. Still, I'm not getting to everything I want to note for future reference, so I'll try it this way on Sundays.

Never Mind Hindsight

Andrew Leonard: "I was wrong again!" What Ben Bernanke meant to say: A pretty apt translation of the Fed Chairman's speech to the choir in Jackson Hole. Most memorable line: "The working class is unbelievably screwed." Followed by the gratuitous, "This is kind of bumming me out." It's not like Obama had no choice but to renominate Bush's top pick for the Federal Reserve chairmanship. The chatter campaign behind giving him a second term was based on his supposed success but any way you slice it we're worse off now than when Bush nominated Bernanke in the first place. It's bad enough when Obama recycles Clinton advisers; it's downright indecent when he keeps Bush cronies in office.

Andrew Leonard: Paul Krugman: "I told you so, again": This was written over a week ago, so it doesn't include Krugman's latest Predictions I Wish Had Been Wrong:

Looking for some other stuff, I found this post from October 2008 in which I predicted a level of right-wing craziness about Obama similar to that facing Bill Clinton, but worse.

But Leonard is right that that "Reading Paul Krugman's blog these days is like looking into a hall of mirrors, infinitely refracting the same message: I told you so." I'm not sure that Krugman's prescription for the stimulus was big enough but he was sure right that Obama's figure was way too small. I see today that Laura Tyson has a New York Times op-ed on Why We Need a Second Stimulus, so maybe that's something that Obama will finally run on even though passing it has no chance in the current Congress. She doesn't note that at least since Nixon Republicans have a perfect record of supporting stimulus spending when in office and only opposing it when they think the Democrats will get blamed for the economic downturn. One thing that Krugman points out is that austerity-minded Germany has actually done more stimulus spending than the US given how Obama's efforts have been eroded by cuts in state and local spending. You'd think they could have thought that through, and moreover that they could have explained the analysis, but they don't seem to have even tried. In fact, Christina Romer's analysis was in Krugman's range, about double what Obama asked for, so you can't even say they didn't have the analysis. They just didn't have the guts to level with the American people, and that at a time when they had virtually nothing to lose.

The old saw is that hindsight's 20/20, but that's clearly wrong here. Even Obama's hindsight isn't that good. On the other hand, people like Krugman and Leonard keep seeing these things as they're happening.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Turf Troubles

Glenn Greenwald: Racial and ethnic exploitation of economic insecurity: Starts with Glenn Beck looking whiter than ever and a packet of Charles Krauthammer lies -- nothing new there. But the following paragraph hit home:

There are few more bitter ironies than watching the Republican Party -- controlled at its core by the very business interests responsible for the country's vast and growing inequality; responsible for massive transfers of wealth to the richest; and which presided over and enabled the economic collapse -- now become the beneficiaries of middle-class and lower-middle-class economic insecurity. But the Democratic Party's failure/refusal/inability to be anything other than the Party of Tim Geithner -- continuing America's endless, draining Wars while plotting to cut Social Security, one of the few remaining guarantors of a humane standard of living -- renders them unable to offer answers to angry, anxious, resentful Americans. As has happened countless times in countless places, those answers are now being provided instead by a group of self-serving, hateful extremist leaders eager to exploit that anger for their own twisted financial and political ends. And it seems to be working.

Seems to be working, but that's partly because the people who are bankrolling the anti-Obama revolt have lots of friendly support from the media, and partly because the Democrats are playing rope-a-dope, certain that no matter how much principle they concede they'll still be viewed come November as the lesser evil.

To put this in perspective, read Jane Mayer's New Yorker piece Covert Operations, on the billionaire Koch brothers. They've been bankrolling libertarian think tanks for decades, but their ideas have never gained much traction, so now they've moved on to mass organizing:

"Ideas don't happen on their own," Matt Kibbe, the president of FreedomWorks, a Tea Party advocacy group, told me. "Throughout history, ideas need patrons." The Koch brothers, after helping to create Cato and Mercatus, concluded that think tanks alone were not enough to effect change. They needed a mechanism to deliver those ideas to the street, and to attract the public's support. In 1984, David Koch and Richard Fink created yet another organization, and Kibbe joined them. The group, Citizens for a Sound Economy, seemed like a grassroots movement, but according to the Center for Public Integrity it was sponsored principally by the Kochs, who provided $7.9 million between 1986 and 1993. Its mission, Kibbe said, "was to take these heavy ideas and translate them for mass America. . . . We read the same literature Obama did about nonviolent revolutions -- Saul Alinsky, Gandhi, Martin Luther King. We studied the idea of the Boston Tea Party as an example of nonviolent social change. We learned we needed boots on the ground to sell ideas, not candidates." Within a few years, the group had mobilized fifty paid field workers, in twenty-six states, to rally voters behind the Kochs' agenda. David and Charles, according to one participant, were "very controlling, very top down. You can't build an organization with them. They run it."

Of course, getting a lot of moderate income people to rush out into the streets and demand tax breaks for the rich, government services cuts for everyone else, an end to regulating pollution by chronic despoilers like Koch Industries, a never-ending spiral of extortionary health care costs. So the Tea Party talk points don't put it like that -- they appeal to conservative personal virtues, and they spice it up with market-tested fear-mongering, jingoism, and good old fashioned bigotry. While enough people respond to this to form crowds and get pictures taken, they're a declining demographic.

Still, I wonder what would happen if someone tried to organize a counter-movement, a populist uprising for equality and a real program of opportunity: education, health care, infrastructure development, small business loans, antitrust, a non-imperialist foreign policy, wring the money out of elections and drive the lobbyists out of Washington.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Ram in the News

Tim Potter: Wichita's graffiti law stirs up worries. My sister's son, Ram Hull, was in the news Monday, stirring up resistance to a new law likely to be approved next week that would criminalize possession of "spray paint, broad-tipped markers and other potential graffiti tools on or within 100 feet of public property." The photo shows Ram violating this law by sketching in a public park. Schools are public property too, although there may be some kind of exception for art students -- at least as long as the city can afford to keep art in the curriculum.

Seems like a parody of other laws which give the police broad discretion to hassle people they take a dislike to. I haven't talked to Ram about this, but one thing I'm struck by is that he has the perspicacity to imagine being the victim of the law -- that he just doesn't see it as something that will be applied to other people. In doing so, he also shows more respect for law than others have who mostly see it as a club for attacking people they don't like.


PS: For much more on this, including some art, goto www.civilmarkers.org.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Enough Already

Frank Rich: How Fox Betrayed Petraeus: I've had nothing to say about the so-called Ground Zero Mosque for the simplest of reasons: it's really none of my business. In fact, that seems like such an obvious position I don't get why anyone is yapping about it. I suppose I can imagine that the backers of the project might like some publicity for some reason, but they weren't the ones who came up with the button-pushing Ground Zero Mosque banner. But as Rich points out, the project known as Cordoba House (or merely as Park51) was ignored by everyone for the better part of a year until Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. propaganda machine jumped in and stirred everyone up. In the old days that used to be called sensationalism, or simply yellow dog journalism, but these days Murdoch doesn't do much of anything without ulterior political motives. Moreover, Murdoch seems to have really hit the jackpot here, getting virtually everyone to take an embarrassing stand on something virtually no one should even care about. You read a lot of charges that so-and-so hates America and is working to destroy our country, our economy, our freedom, our way of life. Well, that's Rupert Murdoch for you, laughing all the way to the bank as he turns his conveniently adopted country into a cesspool of idiocy and hatred.

The most easily excitable Americans are the conservative masses, and Murdoch has been pushing their buttons for decades. It is easy to dismiss conservatives as stupid because they seem incapable of recognizing a fundamental contradiction in their thinking. On the one hand, they revile government for interfering with the private sector, especially for regulations to prevent the private sector from harming itself or others. On the other hand, they demand that the government butt into anything and everything that in any way annoys them. (Sure, some self-styled libertarians are consistently anti-government, but they're statistically insignificant.) There are two ways conservatives manage to bridge this contradiction: one is that they feel specially entitled, that they alone should decide what should be free and what should be suppressed; and the other is that they simply hate everyone else, so they never have to take an opposing view seriously. And nowadays the world is just jammed packed with people they hate: foreigners, Muslims, colored folk who might as well be one or the other, gays, and pretty much anyone liberal enough not to hate any of the people they hate. Wave a mosque in front of them -- any mosque, anywhere -- and they get riled up; add the "ground zero" insult and they go ballistic. And that's no theory: that's what just happened.

Conservatives are wrong on this issue in so many ways people are tempted to argue them all, which is a waste, even though it is certainly true that most Moslems, especially in America, are harmless, that freedom of religion protects believers more than heretics, that much of what we treasure in America is the result of our diversity and our progressive overcoming of prejudice, and that (as Rich points out in his title) all the public diplomacy money can buy, meant to advance our interests and to protect our troops in the Muslim world, is instantly undone by such displays of anti-Muslim bigotry. Such arguments not only don't register with conservatives, they simply make them hate you more than ever. The only argument that stands a chance of prevailing is the simple one: that it's none of their business. You might even add that if they want to blow off steam making fools of themselves, they have that right, but their tantrums aren't going to get us to abandon the constitutionally protected freedoms this country is based on.

Still, there is one conservative argument here that sticks in my craw: all this 9/11 "hallowed ground" horseshit. What happened was horrible -- you know, I was there at the time and lost a loved one, so it was a lot more real for me than it was for 99% of America sitting at home watching the media cheer on the warmongers -- but it's just plain unhealthy to keep picking at the scab, reveling in victimhood without the slightest consciousness that our lust for revenge -- over a crime that hardly any American had the slightest comprehension of -- has since killed 10 (20?) (50?) (who knows?) times as many of them, and profoundly disrupted and deranged the lives of at least ten times more. With no real end in sight as long as we keep picking at it, feeling entitled to, well, act like conservatives: hating people for not submitting to us, feeling the need to strike back at every offense, locking ourselves in a perpetual war of all against all, when in fact we live in a world where there is plenty of everything except mutual respect. I don't mind an occasional nod to history, but real estate in lower Manhattan can be put to better use than to perpetuate our self-indulgent madness. If we can't break out of this death spiral, we'll turn into Israel, a nation doomed to fight on forever, alone, reviled, for no better reason than that they can't imagine a world of equal rights and mutual respect.

Of course, Murdoch is also blindly helped out by chickenshit liberals -- some seeking compromise, some merely sympathizing with the distraught emotions of bigots and crybabies. Murdoch loves them because they legitimize an issue which actually doesn't deserve to be taken seriously, and because ultimately all they do is feed the fury. On the other hand, if there is a silver lining if all this, it will be for yesterday's liberal hawks to realize that their cause is doomed -- that America itself is so broken that there is no way it can fix anything else.

There are lots of real, important, and difficult issues facing the nation. This isn't one of them. Enough already.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 17032 [17019] rated (+13), 824 [825] unrated (-1). Tough week. New server is up and mostly running, but still need to get the old websites up on it. Meant to work on Jazz CG, but didn't get much done there.

No Jazz Prospecting

Thought I might wrap up this Jazz Consumer Guide round last week, but the week didn't cooperate very well. Still have work to do to get the new server sorted out and the legacy websites running. Still have a bunch of other things I'm working on around the house. Have had an exceptionally tough time writing, and haven't managed to get my incoming mail catalogued. Still, I'm close enough that I'm sure I will have it all wrapped up this coming week.

Meanwhile, I thought I'd post this little Downbeat poll item. I still haven't looked at the Downbeat Critics Poll results, even though the August issue is off the newsstands now. I will do a more systematic review of it, as in past years, when I get a bit of time -- sometime after I get this column wrapped up.


I filled out a ballot for the Downbeat readers' poll ballot. Did it off the top of my head, not looking at my notes, so I leaned on their suggested lists except in the rare cases where I didn't find anyone or thing to my taste.

  • Hall of Fame: Lee Konitz. Figured I should pick one from the checklist. George Russell, Anthony Braxton, and Abdullah Ibrahim were equally tempting.
  • Jazz Artist: William Parker. Again, from the list, as is everyone below except those noted as write-ins.
  • Jazz Album (June 1, 2009 to May 31, 2010): Rudresh Mahanthappa & Steve Lehman: Dual Identity (Clean Feed). Write in. Best album I saw on the list is Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Forty Fort (Hot Cup), my other pick hit last column.
  • Historical Album (June 1, 2009-May 31, 2010): Ella Fitzgerald, Twelve Nights in Hollywood (Hip-O Select). Wish I had some of the Mosaic boxes everyone else is voting for, even more so the Stan Getz-Kenny Barron People Time box that unaccountably missed the ballot.
  • Jazz Group: Mostly Other People Do the Killing
  • Big Band: Steven Bernstein Millennial Territory Orchestra
  • Trumpet: Dennis Gonzalez. Surprised he was on the list, also surprised that Randy Sandke -- my first thought -- wasn't.
  • Trombone: Roswell Rudd
  • Soprano Saxophone: Brent Jensen (write in)
  • Alto Saxophone: Rudresh Mahanthappa
  • Tenor Saxophone: Houston Person. Lots of ways one could go here.
  • Baritone Saxophoone: Ken Vandermark. Don't normally pick a second instrument player.
  • Clarinet: Ben Goldberg
  • Flute: Juhani Aaltonen (write-in)
  • Piano: Satoko Fujii. Again, many real good choices.
  • Electronic Keyboard: Craig Taborn
  • Organ: Jared Gold. Not many good choices, but I've just been listening to his work with Oliver Lake.
  • Violin: Billy Bang
  • Guitar: Bill Frisell. I thought of several others, like Anders Nilsson, Wolfgang Muthspiel, and Mark O'Leary, but none on the list.
  • Bass: William Parker
  • Electric Bass: Stomu Takeishi
  • Drums: Lewis Nash
  • Vibes: Joe Locke
  • Percussion: Han Bennink
  • Miscellaneous Instrument: Howard Johnson (tuba). Had to limit myself to the list here otherwise I'd go crazy.
  • Male Vocalist: Freddy Cole
  • Female Vocalist: Sheila Jordan
  • Composer: John Zorn. Don't know if it's cheating to commission recordings of your compositions, but he's done that often enough to gain some focus as a composer.
  • Arranger: Gerald Wilson
  • Record Label: Clean Feed
  • Blues Artist or Group: James Blood Ulmer
  • Blues Album (June 1, 2009 to May 31, 2010): Maria Muldaur, Garden of Joy (Stony Plain). Surprised to find one on the list that I knew and could get behind.
  • Beyond Artist or Group: Youssou N'Dour (write-in). List runs from Angelique Kidjo to Grizzly Bear to Pink Martini to Wilco, including Anthony Braxton for some reason.
  • Beyond Album (June 1, 2009-May 31, 2010): Leonard Cohen, Live in London (Columbia). No question once I saw it on the list, eligible by time frame. (My own lists are annual, so I don't have an easy way to sort on their time frame.)

More on this when I finally get around to doing a Critics Poll review. I'm more struck than ever by the imbalance in the instrumental categories: with Steve Lacy gone, I'd probably name twenty tenor saxophonists before thinking of a soprano; same ratio or steeper for acoustic piano over electric, and acoustic bass over electric, and not much less for drums over percussion. One thing I've done a bit here is to flip back and forth between mainstream and avant players -- there's no real way to compare them, so I decided just to split my own rather catholic interests. Hence Houston Person instead of David Murray or Ken Vandermark, and Lewis Nash instead of Hamid Drake or Paal Nilssen-Love -- any of which would be equally valid.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Francis Davis Pieces

Dug these up while trying to review Theo Bleckmann. Thought I'd post them, but didn't manage it. Davis had been off from the Voice for an extended period up to his critics poll last December. Good to see him back. Curious how few of these records I actually got a chance to hear, and how few of the ones I did I especially liked.

  • Piano Continues Here: On Keith Jarrett's Charlie Haden duet, Jasmine, and Dominic Duval's Cecil Taylor duet, The Last Dance, arguing that the two brought jazz piano back from the dead in the 1970s. Also plugs more recent piano outings: Geri Allen, Flying Toward the Sound and Geri Allen & Timeline Live; John Escreet, Don't Fight the Inevitable; Nasheet Waits, Equality (with Jason Moran on piano and Logan Richardson on alto); Ahmad Jamal's Mosaic box; and Dick Hyman's "multi-disk history of jazz piano from ragtime on." [2010-08-18]
  • Jazz vocalist Theo Bleckmann, Singing Inside Out: A bit on Bleckmann's latest, I Dwell in Possibility, plugs for his Fumio Yasuda collabs, Berlin and Las Vegas Rhapsody, more on Sheila Jordan's endorsement. Key line: "Bleckmann is the most startlingly original male vocalist since Bobby McFerrin, and what figures to save him from rolling down the same slippery slope into feckless novelty is his more rigorous intellect." [2010-06-22] Stan Getz: Improving on Perfection: The seven-disc expansion of People Time, Getz's swansong duet with Kenny Barron -- marvelous in its 2-CD release, where every solo by Getz receives heartfelt applause -- capturing every note from four nights at Café Montmartre in Copenhagen. "As for Getz, it's tough to talk about his work here without gushing. The liquid middle register and quick vibrato, the sudden overblown low notes (his version of a honk, though it's actually more like a Bronx cheer), the melodic fills and casual interpolations as musically complete as entire choruses by most other saxophonists -- all of the familiar Getzian touches are on full display here." [2010-05-25]
  • Less Is More for Paul Motian: Motian's trio, Lost in a Dream, with Jason Moran and Chris Potter, which I've heard, and Motian's Trio 2000+ On Broadway, Vol. 5, which I haven't (sounds more interesting, with Loren Stillman, Michael Attias, and Masabumi Kikuchi). [2010-04-13]
  • Ghost Brand: Dee Dee Bridgewater and Stephanie Nakasian Tackle Billie Holiday: Reviews Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Nakasian's "much more modest" Billie Remembered. [2010-03-02]

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Interesting Times

I'm in the middle of an especially turbulent bout of interesting times right now. That this has kept me from posting is the least of my concerns. Much of my problems are due to those machines that a former boss -- actually, the VP of Software Development at my first engineering job -- insisted on calling the Confusers. I'm in a lull right now, temporary no doubt, so let me unpack this a bit.

I have had a dedicated server since 2003, originally at Rackshack, which eventually got sucked into a company that calls itself The Planet. I never got a lot of good out of it, and never got it to do a lot of the things I thought I'd like to do with a dedicated server, so it's sort of limped along for several years now -- on my long list of things to do. Finally, it fell down a couple weeks ago, so I started shopping for another one. Finally on Monday I ordered a new one from Hosting and Designs in Beaverton, OR. I got a faster machine (E8200 Quad Core), more memory (2GB vs. 1GB), a larger bandwidth allotment (2TB vs. 1TB), for less money, which I immediately threw away by adding cPanel/WHM in the hopes that it would finally put me ahead of the sysadmin curve. Also threw some money into the setup fee for a "Total Security Package" which is so effective that it has not only kept me from logging into the server, it's managed to keep H&D's technical team from fixing the problem. (Or something has, but I'm getting ahead of myself.) While shopping for this, I got some bad vibes from H&D: they were slow responding to questions; admitted they didn't have the "best ping times" and weren't using "Tier 1 providers"; their help desk tools were buggy, and their SSL certificate was self-signed (Firefox didn't like that); they don't provide DNS servers, and I didn't fully understand what that meant or how they figured I could work around it (still don't).

Anyhow, I didn't find anything else that looked better, and I had a slow, annoying burn from Planet, so I ordered their deal on Monday. They promised it up in 24-72 hours, and I was notified it was up mid-Wednesday -- about 48 hours, not fast, but OK. I tried logging in and the machine didn't like the password they gave me. After three tries it banned me. I filed an urgent ticket request, and 24 hours later the machine is still inaccessible (to me, at least). I've complained several times since then. (In fact, could complain again now, but I'm trying to chill out.) In the meantime I raised the DNS question, and got at first a completely evasive answer. When I challenged this, the reply was basically: that's your problem. I've spent a bit of time looking into workarounds -- supposedly they do work, otherwise how could H&D get away with this? -- but not being able to log in and configure my server I'm just guessing (or maybe hallucinating).

Meanwhile, another long-desired computer project has come in. I have a Linux machine that I set up in 1998 and is still the heart of my system. (I'm typing this on a much more powerful machine I built in 2007, although I'm actually just using it as an X-server for a laptop where emacs is running and storing files. But the old machine is the Internet firewall and router, and I've accumulated over 10 years of mail on it, as well as totally clogging its puny disks. The Red Hat Linux on it is ancient, the Mozilla browser doesn't know about certificates issued in the last 5-6 years, and the 512MB RAM is pretty much always overloaded into swap. The migration plan is to move all of its application purposes -- chiefly mail -- onto my other machine(s), and replace it with a small computer running a lightweight Linux firewall/router (like IPCop, or maybe a BSD-based one like pfSense). While shopping for the dedicated server, I got worked up one night and ordered the parts for the new router box.

I wanted something small and specialized. Looked at a lot of rackmount boxes which, despite the small height, are really pretty large and awkward (and expensive). I looked at a lot of boxes before I happened on the idea of a Micro-ITX motherboard with a low-powered Intel Atom CPU. I found an Intel board for $76.99 that should do nicely, then I found an Apex chassis with 250W power supply for a real cheap $38.99. Added 2GB RAM, a D-Link NIC so I'd have two ethernet ports. Could have gotten away with a smaller disk drive, but couldn't find one much cheaper than a 320GB Seagate, and added an ASUS DVD burner, mostly just to install the software. Whole thing came close to $250, about twice what an appliance router would cost, but still a pretty good deal. Put it all together yesterday. Makes a neat little package, smaller than a shoebox. Haven't fired it up yet, mostly because the big issues remain: what distro, and what are all the other things that have to happen to move the old machine out?

Copying the files off the old machine should be easy. Managed to NFS-mount its file systems onto my main machine. Mail would be tougher. Installed Thunderbird on the main machine. Previously had Evolution, but Thunderbird's a successor to the old Mozilla Mail I had been using, so I figured that would be easier. It wasn't: Thunderbird has some wizards for your mail server settings and to pick up old address books, mail, etc., none of which worked, let alone explained their failings. I did get the address book moved by exporting it, copying the file, and importing it (the only time the wizard actually let me select a file). Couldn't pick up any of the old mail, but I was able to manually work out the server settings, so now I can send and receive mail on the main machine.

I then tried installing another mailer, Claws, advertised as lightweight with good import features. I copied all of the old mailboxes, including my big Sent and Inbox files, to places and names I could keep track of, then started feeding them into Claws. It picked them up with only one problem: the old Inbox hadn't been compressed in a long while, so it still had about 30,000 deleted messages in it, all of them restored. (Other mailboxes may have the same problem, but I rarely delete from saved or sent mail.) So I deleted that, compressed the file, copied it, and imported it again, message count now down to 5000. Claws insisted that I set up its mail server settings, but let me get away with tom@localhost, so it's not competing with Thunderbird for the real mail.

Don't know whether I'll wind up using one or the other. For now, Claws manages my mail archive, and Thunderbird is my current mailer. Both have novel features, at least for me. Claws doesn't display HTML, but does a nice job of hacking HTML down to plain text, and a lot of mail looks better that way. Thunderbird formats HTML, but doesn't by default display graphics from elsewhere, so all those shopping and music publicist messages are showing up with big holes in them. I can get the graphics by clicking, and can whitelist certain mail addresses, but it's amusing and not unpleasant to drop them out. Thunderbird also tries heuristics to identify junk mail and scams -- most of what I get from music publicists fall into the latter category -- and presumably adapts to my reports. A lot of squishy uncertainty here, but looks and feels like progress. Only thing I've used the old machine for today was responding to a piece of yesterday's mail.

Also on the confuser front, I saw that there is a new release of Ubuntu (10.4.1) and tried installing it on one of my two Ubuntu machines. The change was from 8 to 10 and it failed -- first time I've seen that happen with Ubuntu. Very little info and no hint of how to work around it, so for now I'm stuck. Will have to dig a lot deeper. (I've had a similar problem with Fedora, and found that the command line tools work better than the window ones.)

Also have a bookcase I need to build, which actually I felt more like doing yesterday than all of this computer stuff. Too hot right now, but I may get the wood cut up for that later this evening. Also got two new books: Andrew Bacevich's Washington Rules and Chalmers Johnson's Dismantling the Empire. Also got Nicholas von Hoffman's Radical: A Portrait of Saul Alinsky and Clay Shirky's Cognitive Surplus out from the library, so the thing I'd most enjoy doing right now is taking the next week and just reading.

The thing I'm least enjoying is trying to finish up the Jazz Consumer Guide column. I play stuff and can't write shit, play more stuff and still come up empty. Play new things and have no space for them. Play old things and can't come up with words. Meanwhile, I have lots of other things I do want to write about. Getting to where I hate this job.

Of course, it will be better when more things work -- and they will start working, much as mail last night bounced around from disaster to hopeless before it kind of came together.


PS: Nagged H&D right after posting this. After a couple minutes thumb twiddling, they came back and said, "try it again." Ping worked. I logged in as root. I logged into cPanel/WHM. Now all I have left to do is . . . all sorts of things I barely understand. Starting, I suppose, with DNS.

PPS: Roughly 24-hours later, I have made some progress. After much confusion and a few failed efforts, the nameserver is resolved and DNS set up for my initial domain. Adding more domains should be straightforward, but I'm trying to think through how I manage accounts and map accounts to websites and all that, which is something that cPanel provides tools for but doesn't offer a conceptual model (as far as I can tell). Also got the Ubuntu upgrade to work: had to delete some packages before upgrade then restore them afterwards. Have one more machine to upgrade, but should be the same deal.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 17019 [16988] rated (+31), 825 [832] unrated (-7). Blew past the 17000-rated milestone like it meant nothing, which it very well may. Decided to try to close out Jazz CG mid-week, which is looking pretty scruffy right now.

  • Next Stop . . . Soweto, Vol. 1 (1969-75 [2010], Strut): Classic South African township jive, the mbaqanga that has already floated anthologies like The Industructible Beat of Soweto, or more precisely, the extra takes that help fill out the picture, featuring a couple well known artists like Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens, and a lot I don't have a clue about; expect two more volumes. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Jazz Prospecting (CG #24, Part 10)

Time kind of got away from me this week. The main distraction was the need to do something about the demise of my dedicated webserver, which is still up in the air -- although I do expect to ink a new deal sometime this week, which will result in a lot more things to do. Meanwhile, I did finally take the first steps toward closing out this Jazz CG round. That isn't much evident in this week's Jazz Prospecting, which has tended to follow my usual random methodology. (Well, not quite random, as I've been focusing on the priority box, aside from some time pretty much wasted on Rhapsody.) Next week the shift should be more evident, with fewer new records -- although some that I have played and didn't write up will likely poke through -- and a final return to the handful of records I've previously left hanging. But mostly I need to play stuff that I've rated but haven't written up. And I still have no idea for pick hits. And the duds list is empty while the HMs are way, way too long. I figure odds of wrapping up are 50-50. Got enough words, but it still strikes me as rather scruffy.


Peter Evans Quartet: Live in Lisbon (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Trumpet player, best known for his role in Mostly Other People Do the Killing, but has two solo albums on Psi (haven't heard either) and a slightly different Quartet on Firehouse 12 -- bassist Tom Blancarte and drummer Kevin Shea return here, but the guitar is replaced here by Ricardo Gallo's piano, at once more traditional and more shocking. AMG describes Evans as influenced by Don Cherry and Lester Bowie, but I don't hear either. In chops and conception, he reminds me of early Freddie Hubbard, when he could cross from avant to hard bop without ever seeming out of place. B+(***) [advance]

Ab Baars/Meinrad Kneer: Windfall (2008 [2010], Evil Rabbit): Tenor sax-bass duets, although Baars occasionally lightens up with clarinet, shakuhachi, or noh-kan (a "high pitched Japanese bamboo transverse flute commonly used in traditional Imperial Noh and Kabuki theatre"). One of Baars' more appealing, more charming efforts, although the real test here is following the bass, which demands and rewards concentration. B+(**)

Myra Melford's Be Bread: The Whole Tree Gone (2008 [2010], Firehouse 12): Pianist, b. 1957, cut a couple of trio albums in 1990-91 that Francis Davis noticed, and gradually worked her way into the front rank of cutting edge jazz pianists. Teaches at UC Berkeley. Be Bread is her most expansive group, previously heard on the 2006 album The Image of Your Body, much advanced here: Cuong Vu (trumpet), Ben Goldberg (clarinet), Brandon Ross (guitar), Stomu Takeishi (acoustic bass guitar), and Matt Wilson (drums). A-

Meg Okura and the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble: Naima (2009 [2010], Meg Okura): Violinist, also plays erhu, b. 1973 in Tokyo, Japan, based in New York. Has a previous album, Meg Okura's Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Ensemble (2006), as well as several in Japan that AMG doesn't have a clue about. Also shows up in side credits on a couple dozen albums, mostly John Zorn circle but also with Dianne Reeves, David Bowie, and Ziggy Marley. Group is chamber-ish, with flutes (Anne Drummond Jun Kubo), piano, cello, bass, drums, and percussion (Satoshi Takeishi), and the pieces tend to be suite-like, the last four under the group title "Lu Chai I-IV." The title track, of course, is an arrangement of Coltrane; everything else original. Striking music when it all clicks, which often it does. B+(**)

The Claudia Quintet + Gary Versace: Royal Toast (2009 [2010], Cuneiform): Last three Claudia Quintet albums rated A- in Jazz CG although they've all been sort of marginal: soft sounds (Chris Speed's clarinet, Ted Reichman's accordion, Matt Moran's vibes, Drew Gress's bass) floating on John Hollenbeck's quirky rhythms. This one is much like those, with Gary Versace's piano adding one more soft touch -- he does take one cut on accordion, but after Reichman that's anticlimactic. But it also slips a bit when soft gives way to slow, and I think that tips this just a bit under. Still a fascinating group. B+(***)

Allison Miller: Boom Tic Boom (2010, Foxhaven): Drummer, from DC, based in New York, second album after one in 2005, substantial list of side credits since 1999, mostly rock (exceptions include Virginia Mayhew, Marty Ehrlich, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Judy Silvano, and Todd Sickafoose). Mostly piano trio with Myra Melford leading, Sickafoose on bass, and some guest contribution from violinist Jenny Scheinman -- just one cut as far as I can tell. Four originals from Miller, two from Melford, one each from Mary Lou Williams and Hoagy Carmichael ("Rockin' Chair"). Slows down for the finale, but Melford is in very fine form -- a better showcase for her piano than her own record. A-

Remi Álvarez/Mark Dresser: Soul to Soul (2008 [2010], Discos Intolerancia): Saxophonist, lists soprano first but cover pic features tenor -- website also lists alto and baritone up front, perhaps alphabetically -- from Mexico City. Website shows this as fifth album since 1996, although it's only the second with his name first. Duet with the veteran bassist, very solid and relatively straightforward here, with the sax working cautiously around the edges. B+(***)

Pete Robbins: Silent Z Live (2009 [2010], Hate Laugh Music): Alto saxophonist, b. 1978, grew up in Andover, MA, studied at Phillips Academy, Tufts, and New England Conservatory; moved to Brooklyn in 2002. Fourth album since 2002. Two quintet variants, half with Jesse Neuman on cornet, the other hand with Cory Smythe on piano; both with Mike Gamble on guitar, Thomas Morgan on bass, and Tyshawn Sorey on drums. Gets a sweet sound out of his horn, working freebop grooves and angles, dicier with the cornet than with the piano, but engaging in all cases. B+(***)

Jim Rotondi: 1000 Rainbows (2008 [2010], Posi-Tone): Trumpet player, b. 1962 in Butte, MT, attended UNT, based in New York, has more than a dozen albums since 1997, mostly on mainstream/hard bop labels Criss Cross and Sharp Nine; also more than 50 side credits since 1992. Sole horn, with Joe Locke on vibes, Danny Grissett on piano, Barak Mori on bass, and Bill Stewart on drums. Hard-edged, bright sound, another very solid record. B+(**)

Dave Mihaly's Shimmering Leaves Ensemble: Eastern Accents in the Far West (2010, Porto Franco): Drummer, plays some piano here, also has a voice credit; based in San Francisco, after starting in NJ and NY; credits Andrew Cyrille, Barry Altschul, and Zakir Hussain as teachers, and reports that he's taught for some thirty years. First album according to AMG, although his website lists several more, including three string quartets and an expanded "Coretet" version of this group. Two-horn trio, with David Boyce on tenor sax and Ara Anderson on brass instruments (trumpet, bass trumpet, sousaphone), both occasionally spelling Mihaly on drums. I recall Anderson from Tin Hat; Boyce has a couple dozen credits, the only one I recognize a hip-hop album, Haiku D'Etat (actually, a pretty good one, with Aceyalone). The two horns twist in interesting ways, with just enough support from drums (and sometimes piano) to tie it together. B+(**)

Bill Frisell: Beautiful Dreamers (2010, Savoy Jazz): Guitarist, has cornered a slice of Americana and keeps working it, in this basic framework with Eyvind Kang on viola and Rudy Royston on drums. His originals fit in neatly enough, but the gems are the covers, including "Beautiful Dreamer," "It's Nobody's Fault but Mine" (Blind Willie Johnson), "Tea for Two," "Goin' Out of My Head," and especially "Keep on the Sunny Side." A-

Ratko Zjaca/John Patitucci/Steve Gadd/Stanislav Mitrovic/Randy Brecker: Continental Talk (2008 [2010], In+Out): Guitarist, studied in Zagreb, based now in Rotterdam; AMG lists 3 records since 2000 (not including this one); website lists 8 but not much detail. Mitrovic, b. 1963 in Belgrade, also based in Rotterdam, plays tenor and soprano sax. The others, better known, play trumpet (Brecker), bass (Patitucci), and drums (Gadd). Mostly modern postbop, with nice sax runs and trumpet blasts, but slips into some skunk funk near the end. B

Kihnoua: Unauthorized Caprices (2009 [2010], Not Two): Larry Ochs group, second his his website's group list after Sax Drumming Core, but then ROVA is on the far end. Ochs plays saxophones (probably sopranino and tenor), rough and rugged as usual, but not as rough as Dohee Lee's vocals -- her attack is barely restrainted. Also on board is Scott Amendola, drums and electronics. Group name "borrowed from ancient Greek might have meant 'the difference.'" Vocals draw on Korean "p'ansori singing" and "sinawi improvisation," but could just as well be avant horn attack. Some guests: Liz Allbee (trumpet + electronics), Fred Frith (guitar), Joan Jeanrenaud (cello). B+(**)

Contact: Five on One (2010, Pirouet): Not what you'd call a supergroup, but well-established veterans -- bassist Drew Gress is the youngest by more than a decade, drummer Billy Hart the elder by much less -- the front-line players easily recognized, each with sweet spots that are undeniably theirs, the rhythm section impeccable, pianist Marc Copland playing both roles. Most prominent, of course, is the sole horn, Dave Liebman on tenor and soprano sax. I've never been a fan of his soprano, but he works it in nicely here -- a sinuous interweaving that is likely inspired by the master of the art, guitarist John Abercrombie. B+(***)

Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra: Mezzanine (2010, Owl Studios): The biggest band in Indianapolis, or at least Bloomington, where this was recorded and Brent trombonist-conductor Wallarab teaches. I thought their previous album, Where or When, was a terrific territory band throwback, but they get all orchestral here, and while arranger fans will find bits to admire, this doesn't really get going until third cut from the end, where they take a break from Wallarab's book. Even then, how often are you tempted to call "Stompin' at the Savoy" and "Cherokee" dainty? B

Correction: Two Nights in April (2009 [2010], Ayler): Piano trio, from Sweden: Sebastian Bergström on piano, Jaocim Nyberg on bass, Emil Åstrand-Melin on drums. First album, drawn from two live sets on two consecutive nights, the piano has a hard edge that leans free but may know a thing or two about rock. B+(***)

Myron Walden: Momentum Live (2009, Demi Sound): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1972 (or 1973?), started on alto, establishing himself as one of the better mainstream boppers around before taking time off to refashion himself on tenor. Got hit with a lot of hype on him last fall, including a bunch of advances for albums that the publicist never followed up on. The first was called Momentum, and it seemed like a pretty decent hard bop outing. This is a live reworking, with Darren Barrett (trumpet) and Yasushi Nakamura (bass) carrying over from the studio album, Edin Ladin (piano) and John Davis (drums) replacing David Bryant and Kendrick Scott. Main diff this time is sonic, where they're going for (or stumbled on) the thin-skinned underwater sound of Charlie Parker boots. The plus side is an engaging looseness, especially the horns sliding to and fro. The piano solos don't do much, and the usual live ballast doesn't add anything. B+(*) [advance]

Myron Walden/In This World: To Feel (2009 [2010], Demi Sound): Last fall's batch of CDRs included two Walden albums promised for Jan. 15 release. I did what I usually do: wait for the real copy, which in this case never came. Looks like everyone else did too. I haven't found a single review of either album, and the only place where it is Amazon, fronting for a retailed identified as Myron Walden. Not clear if "In This World" is a band name or just a logo. One page in the hype package lists the band as: Jon Cowherd (piano), Mike Moreno (guitar), Yasushi Nakamura (bass), and Obed Calvaire (drums). AMG, with no track info, confirms Cowherd-Moreno-Nakamura, but has Brian Blade and/or Kendrick Scott on drums, plus David Bryant on Fender Rhodes and Chris Thomas on acoustic bass. Band doesn't matter much here. Walden's To Feel approach is to run ballads past us, everything slow and soft. B [advance]

Myron Walden/In This World: What We Share (2009 [2010], Demi Sound): Same deal here: don't know anything more about band, recording date (presumed 2009 because I got the advance before 2010 rolled over), etc. Record is a little more energetic, and guitar (Mike Moreno?) does a nice job of framing the tenor sax. Walden is an attractive mainstream player, worth taking seriously, but he's not making any big breakthroughs. I have one more CDR in my pile, a 2-cut thing called Singles, which I assume is just a pure PR fantasy. He seems to have one more album in the pipeline, Countryfied, also on Amazon. Didn't come my way. B+(*) [advance]


These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.

Ivo Perelman: Brazilian Watercolour (1998 [1999], Leo): Several Perelman albums have been reissued in Brazil on Atração Fonográphica and worked their way to Rhapsody that way -- this one under the title Aquarela do Brasil, but aside from a few title translations this matches the release on Leo. One of the few cases where Perelman plays a couple of pop tunes from his homeland, here "Desafinado" and "Samba de Verão" -- the strain and choppiness he adds makes them all the more alluring. With Matthew Shipp on piano, Rashid Ali on drums, Guilherme Franco and Cyro Baptista on percussion and wood flutes. A singular tenor saxophonist, even on a lite samba. Also has a piano credit somewhere, but it's not clear to me where Shipp gives way. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Ivo Perelman with C.T. String Quartet: The Alexander Suite (1998, Leo): The quartet is sharp and jazzwise, led from the bassist: Jason Kao Hwang (violin), Ron Lawrence (viola), Tomas Ulrich (cello), and Dominic Duval (bass). That makes them about as astringent as the tenor saxophonist, who squeaks and squawks above them, pretty much as sharp and bloody as cutting edge gets. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Joe Morris: Colorfield (2009, ESP-Disk): Guitarist, from Boston, with about 30 albums since 1990, has been on a roll lately -- I count three A-list records since 2004 under his own name, a near miss, and a few more under other names, but most of those rode in on the coattails of hard-blowing saxophonists (Ken Vandermark, Jim Hobbs). Missed this one from last year, a trio with pianist Steve Lantner and his usual drummer Luther Gray. Don't know Lantner, but he worked with Joe (and Mat) Maneri, has a half dozen albums since 1997, and provides a consistently interesting contrast to Morris's irrascible guitar. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Lee Konitz/Chris Cheek/Stephane Furic Leibovici: Jugendstil II (2005 [2010], ESP-Disk): Bassist Leibovici, who previously recorded as Stephane Furic, wrote all eight pieces, and acts as music director for the two saxophonists. He sets the ground rules, reining in the saxes as they're mostly yoked to the melody -- not much here for rugged individualists, although the music is pleasantly engaging. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Herbie Hancock: The Imagine Project (2010, Hancock): Recorded in seven countries with guests from even further across the universe, this is a colossal engagement of liberal internationalism, and a pretty good showcase for at least some of the talent. But is the choice of such obvious songs lazy thinking or a real paucity of alternatives. Lennon's "Imagine," sure, but can't you do better than Peter Gabriel's "Don't Give Up" for an encore? (Pink sings both, paired first with Seal then with John Legend.) Lennon-McCartney return later, showcasing quintessential good guy Dave Matthews, almost as wasted as Sam Cooke is on James Morrison. Colombia and Brazil get some respect, but Bob Marley is routed through Somalia and the Sahara to East L.A., faring better than Dylan "Times They Are a Changin'" done by the Chieftains with Toumani Diabate kora. Silly as the others seem, the latter is the album's only real gag moment. High point? The closer with Chaka Khan, Anoushka Shankar, and Wayne Shorter. Plus a pianist who always sounds impeccable no matter how little he does. Not a jazz record, but the finale could be worked that way. B [Rhapsody]


Some corrections and further notes on recent prospecting:

Ivo Perelman/Dominic Duval/Brian Willson: Mind Games (2008 [2010], Leo): Drummer's name is "Willson," not "Wilson" as I had it. In my defense, the label says "Wilson" on the front cover, the back cover, the credits in the booklet, and at least three times in Art Lange's liner notes. The label did get Willson's name right on the newer Ivo Perelman/Brian Willson duo, The Stream of Life -- the one I didn't get and haven't heard. AMG has his name both ways, several times, adding to the confusion. The publicist also has the drummer's name as "Wilson" in the hype sheet, so this looks like an uphill battle.


For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes -- 196 records thus far -- look here.


Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Henry Darragh: Tell Her for Me (Henry Darragh)
  • Matt Garrison: Familiar Places (D Clef)
  • Robert David Hall: Things They Don't Teach You in School (Robert David Hall Music)
  • John McNeil/Bill McHenry: Chill Morn He Climb Jenny (Sunnyside): Sept. 21
  • Myra Melford's Be Bread: The Whole Tree Gone (Firehouse 12)
  • Marc Ribot: Silent Movies (Pi): Sept. 28
  • Joan Soriano: El Duque de la Bachata (IASO, CD+DVD)
  • Paul Tynan & Aaron Lington: Bicoastal Collective: Chapter Two (OA2)
  • Greg Ward's Fitted Shards: South Side Story (19/8): Sept. 28
  • Sarah Wilson: Trapeze Project (Brass Logic)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Superminority Rule

Alex Pareene: Poll: Americans not actually that worried about the deficit: I don't put much stock in polls, which can always be jiggered in all sorts of ways, but this one does help point out that deficit hysteria is a big issue only because it's been chatted up by a couple of special interest groups with hidden agendas: the finance industry, who now that they got theirs don't see any need for further government largess, at leat in favor of anyone else, and the Republicans, who are committed to this idea that if you make government miserly and unresponsive to people needs the masses will give up on the notion that they can use their votes to defend and advance their, and the public's, interest, and will settle for the party that best feeds their prejudices and exploits their fears. Yet for all their frenzied hand-wringing over the issue, they never bother to point out the obvious: that deficits can easily be fixed by raising taxes, that the rich are currently taxed at rates way below historic norms, and that taxing the rich (unlike consumption taxes which hit everybody) wouldn't drag the economy further down -- they're productively investing virtually no money now; indeed, they're mostly parking it in government bonds (even at record low rates) because that's the safest bet they can make (which shows you how little they are really worried about the deficits.

What makes this poll significant isn't the paltry 7% obsessed with the federal deficit. It's the contrasting 58% who say "the most important problem facing the country is either the economy or unemployment." Again, that's a problem that translates into a straightforward solution: the government can pick up the slack by pumping money into the economy, creating jobs directly and indirectly by contracting for services, multiplying as the cash flows throughout the economy. There are smart ways of doing this, and not-so-smart ways, and it can be financed through deficits and/or taxes and/or inflating the money supply. But the argument that you can't fix the unemployment problem because we can't in any case raise taxes or suffer even moderate inflation or cope with long-term deficits comes down to the 7% telling the 58% to forget it: to live with chronic unemployment and underemployment, suppressed wages, greater insecurity, and a persistent unraveling of the social fabric because rich people might be inconvenienced contributing back to a nation that has actually treated them very generously.

That ratio -- 7% to 58% -- actually seems to explain a lot of what's going on in this country. There are a lot of issues that if fairly discussed and evaluated would break down into ratios like that. A well connected but tiny minority -- 7% is probably too generous here -- managed to keep a single-payer health care away from serious consideration, even though it consistently polls at close to 50%. (Actually, among people all around the world who actually have such systems it polls much higher, as indeed it does in the US when we discuss Medicare.) Foreign wars, and defense spending in general, is another matter where a tiny percentage of well connected interested parties has been able to keep fair discussion from every happening.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Nothing's Going to Stop Us Now

One has to wonder why right now there is so much loose talk going around about the urgent need to preemptively attack Iran in hopes of halting or significantly delaying their nuclear program. The US war in Iraq is clearly winding down, with US forces withdrawing to their luxury bases and forces being moved out of country. Afghanistan is in worse shape, but Obama is certainly hoping for a similar result there: the key, as in Iraq, is to tone down the conflict, to improve security and improve the functionality of the Karzai government. On the other hand, Israel's real problem is the international backlash against the occupation, especially the cruel siege on Gaza. Meanwhile, Iran has been locked in its own internal political crisis, doing pretty much nothing else. So why all the war hysteria over Iran?

The centerpiece is Jeffrey Goldberg's broadside in The Atlantic, titled The Point of No Return, or as it's touted on the magazine's front cover: "Israel Is Getting Ready to Bomb Iran: How, Why- and What It Means." Some reactions: Glenn Greenwald discusses "how propagandists function," pointing out how Goldberg himself has changed his story according to whatever line he wants to push. Stephen Walt points out that the main thing Goldberg is doing is getting us accustomed to talking about war; he calls this "mainstreaming war with Iran." Paul Woodward focuses on the gamesmanship between Israel and the US here: the Israelis are saying that if you don't do it they will try, but it's really beyond their capabilities to do it right, so if the US wants to save Israel from fucking it up, better for the Americans to throw their greater firepower at it. Tony Karon explores the question, "Why do people talk to Jeffrey Goldberg?". Gary Sick pooh-poohs the entire proposition, mostly by looking at Iranian reality.

Then there's Trita Parsi: A campaign for war with Iran begins, which adds much more than reaction to the debate. In particular:

Two days after President Obama's election victory in November 2008, then-Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livni expressed her categorical opposition to U.S. engagement with Iran. "We live in a neighborhood in which sometimes dialogue -- in a situation where you have brought sanctions, and you then shift to dialogue -- is liable to be interpreted as weakness," Livni told Israel Radio. Asked if she supported any U.S. dialogue with Iran, Livni replied in no uncertain terms: "The answer is no."

A big part of the problem with Israel and/or the US bombing Iran is that doing so will almost certainly make the problem worse in the future. A show of force would only harden opinion against Israel and the US, and redouble Iran's efforts to develop better defenses and a deterrent against future attacks. So what would reduce or end the threat? The very thing that Obama's election promised, the one thing that Livni was so emphatic about preventing: diplomatic talks. The only possible conclusion is that Israel is against what might work and in favor of what surely will not. Such disinterest in solving the problem makes one wonder whether Israel even considers Iranian nukes to be a real problem.

Indeed, this is hinted at by quotes in Goldberg's article; e.g., where Ehud Barak admits that the problem he sees is demographic: that Jews would be less likely to immigrate to Israel, and more likely to emigrate from. Of course, a much more sensible answer would be for Israel to agree to one of many reasonable solutions to the Palestinian conflict, which would let the hot air out of anti-Israeli passions and reduce Israel to being a normal state. But that's the problem they really don't want to solve.

PS: This has been heating up for a while. Back in July Steven Simon and Ray Takeyh published an op-ed, characterized by Tony Karon as "a how-to-bomb Iran manual, adding that "The idea that you can bomb a country and then 'make sure the confrontation does not escalate out of control' is, quite simply, bizarre." Of course, people need reassurances to keep from thinking these things through -- like, for instance, how Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq would cost no more than $20 billion and how its reconstruction would be "self-financed."

Karon starts his piece off with a photo of Iraq War-enabler Peter Beinart chatting with Hillary Clinton, and titles his piece "On Iran, Liberals Are Enabling Another Disastrous War." Glenn Greenwald has a follow-up today which starts off with Goldberg's own track record of promoting war with Iraq: his piece is called "Does the past record of jouralists matter?" -- he's responding to James Fallows defending Goldberg's "journalism." The one interesting thing about Fallows's post is the paragraph summing up a 2004 piece on the same recurrent threat:

And then there was the previous Atlantic cover story about bombing Iran, which I did back in 2004. It was based on a mock war-game exercise to see what, in practical terms, it would mean to "take out" Iran's nuclear facilities. The conclusion was that, even then, Iran's facilities were too dispersed to eliminate by an aerial attack; that an attack would likely unify and motivate Iranians behind their government and the drive to become a nuclear power; that even if Israel attacked on its own, the United States would still be blamed; and that even the most "successful" attack would exchange a temporary tactical advantage (temporary delay in Iran's plans) for a major strategic setback, namely lasting complications and vulnerabilities for the U.S. around the world. Last year Anthony Cordesman, of CSIS, laid out a similar analysis of an Israeli strike, which came to similar cautionary conclusions.

Fallows goes on to quote Goldberg doubting that bombing Iran would do any good (and then waffling), a neat little bit of deniability in case it all blows up. Does make me wonder why we even stop to take such fantasies seriously, but Greenwald has an answer:

I'm now finishing up a long article for Harper's about America's War Culture: why war advocacy has been and continues to be the reflexive, required perspective of the nation's foreign policy elite. I don't want to say too much about the piece, but one central reason for this is that those who were most spectacularly wrong in cheering for the attack on Iraq have not only faced no accountability, but have thrived, been rewarded, have seen their positions of influence elevated. Conversely, those who were right continue to be marginalized. That's due in part to the ethos implicit in Fallows' defense of Goldberg: it's so unfair to have their prior behavior affect their current status and credibility. As a result, our war policies -- in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, and now Iran -- are all being shaped by the very same war-hungry political and media elites who performed so disgracefully in 2002 and 2003.

I have to admit I share that frustration, but the core reason is certainly simpler. Any time Israel needs to deflect attention from its own deeds and wants to bolster support from Washington, it drums up its bogeyman, which has been Iran since the fall of Iraq and the Soviet Union. So, Israel taps its usual mouthpieces, like Jeffery Goldberg. That he was wrong on Iraq in 2003 is your opinion; as far as his employers are concerned, his record is spotless, because he's always said what he was supposed to say.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

True

Glenn Greenwald, on Jeffrey Goldberg's Atlantic article "Israel Is Getting Ready to Bomb Iran":

If you were an Iranian, is there anything that would convince you of the need for nuclear weapons more than watching Israel bomb your country?

Of course, most Americans won't see that, because we lack the ability to imagine how other people see things. We're not even very good at understanding each other.

Alex Pareene:

Former Mexican President Vincente Fox calls for Mexico to legalize drugs, which would probably help their situation a lot, though not as much as it would help them if we legalized drugs.

This isn't even a case of putting our interests ahead of theirs, as "realist" foreign policy wonks suggest we should do. It's more a matter of forcing our hypocrisies onto others so we can avoid facing up to our own problems.

David Frum (quoted by Glenn Greenwald after Obama press secretary Robert Gibbs said "the professional left . . . should be drug-tested"):

More proof of my longtime thesis, Repub pols fear the GOP base; Dem pols hate the Dem base.

Frum tries to pretty this up a bit. If "Repub pols" so feared the GOP base, they woundn't work so hard to push its buttons, but then the GOP base is usually satisfied to get out and vote then stay out of the way while the pols go about their main job of servicing the rich. The "Dem pols" don't have it so easy because the "Dem base" actually has reasoned interests and concerns in conflict with the interests and concerns all pols face day to day -- the lobbies, the media, etc. -- which often makes the base inconvenient.

Of course, Gibbs wasn't talking about the base. He was talking about pundits who care about actual issues regardless of whatever's most tactically convenient for Obama. Greenwald quotes Bob Herbert: "Policies that were wrong under George W. Bush are no less wrong because Barack Obama is in the White House." That seems like a pretty sober statement to me. There are more than a few examples; even some, like the surge in Afghanistan, where Obama has outdone Bush, and some of these (maybe not Afghanistan) are retreats from his campaign pledges. It shouldn't be surprising that Obama gets some flack from people who supported him in 2008: he's fallen way short of their hopes, he's fallen short of his promises, and he doesn't seem to be doing a very good job of what we desperately need from him, which is to keep the Republicans out of power for the next 2-6 years.

Going back to the top item above, one thing that nearly all of us expected from Obama was to do a better job than Bush of sorting out our differences with Iran. That hasn't happened, and he hasn't excluded the possibility of doing something far worse.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Progressive Consumption Scam

Matthew Yglesias: Progressive Consumption Taxes. I meant to write something about this a few weeks ago, but it slipped out of my consciousness, until Yglesias brought it up again. What he calls a "progressive consumption tax" is actually an opt-out income tax: it lets rich people opt out of paying income tax on any money they choose to save rather than spend. I can think of several things wrong with this.

For starters, consumption taxes should be point-of-sale, since that's precisely when one has the money to pay them -- if the tax pushes the price above what you are willing to pay, then you walk away from the purchase. (Sales taxes depress economic activity a bit, but more often than not you need what you're buying so you pay the tax. Sales taxes also depress profits a bit, since every now and then a seller will settle for a bit less profit rather than losing the sale.) The problem is that point-of-sale taxes can't be progressive unless you can distinguish how much buyers have bought in the past, something that would take a lot of nosey bureaucracy and would still be almost laughably easy to subvert. (You could, of course, tax more expensive items or certain kinds of items at higher rates, which would make a sales tax somewhat progressive, but that gets real complicated real fast.) Robert Frank's scheme gets around this problem by taxing income minus savings, so the rap on consumption is false advertising.

The bigger question is why exempt savings, especially since savings is simply what people who have too much money have left over after they've bought everything they needed. For years and years economists lecture us on the virtue of savings, arguing that the economy depends on investors, that government policy should do everything possible to increase savings. We already bend over backwards to encourage savings, deferring taxes on retirement accounts, deducting taxes on home borrowing, barely taxing dividends and capital gains. One paradox is that with all of this policy favoring savings the nationwide savings rate keeps dropping -- which of course is cited as evidence that we need even more favorable treatment of savings. Also curious is that the rare occasion where savings goes up is precisely when the economy as a whole tanks. So why on earth should we think that savings drives the economy?

Well, the reason some people say that is because pretty much by definition savings is the exclusive defining trait of the rich: people who have more money than they need to satisfy their consumption desires have savings, and people who don't don't. Sure, there are marginal cases where poor people scrimp to save something away, and there are rich people who come up with ever more fanciful ways to squander their money, and you're no doubt right to find the former virtuous and the latter foolish, to expect that the former will improve their lot and the latter will throw it away. But what's good for individuals is often irrelevant to the whole economy or society. (Drug use is often tragic for individuals but is big business coming and going for the economy as a whole.) So whenever you hear someone talking on about how we need more savings, what he's saying is that rich people should be able to dig deeper into your pockets. Encouraging savings is one of the main ways we allow our country to become more and more inequal.

Another big way we make wealth more inequal is by flattening the tax rate. That's what repeated movements to cut "marginal" tax rates have done. Shifting to sales taxes, which are necessarily flat, also favors inequality. And capped payroll taxes and special treatment for unearned income is even more regressive than flat tax rates. The only real way to keep inequality from getting way out of hand -- as it's pretty much done in America, and done even worse in the crony capitalist havens of the developing world -- is to progressively tax excess income, which is to say: what we need to do is to tax savings. Frank and Yglesias imagine they can make up for the inherent shortcomings of their scheme by jacking up the tax rates on extravagant spenders. That might help a little, but the opt-out nature of their scheme is a big and dangerous loophole.


I've written a lot about taxes in the past so let me reiterate a few points:

  • Taxes are necessary to support government spending while keeping the currency reasonably stable. How much spending we need depends on how many services we prefer to be provided equitably through public spending rather than through profit-seeking private enterprise -- we now have many examples of this like education, roads, sanitation, parks, justice, and defense, and one can easily add to this list. We need to raise approximately as much in taxes as we plan to spend for all of these reasons.
  • A government is too big only if it crowds out and doesn't satisfy private economic activity that we actually need. (I doubt that such conditions are actually possible, at least in a responsive democracy.) As long as government spends what it takes in, its effect on the economy should be neutral, except in times when private sector lags, in which case government spending stimulates the economy.
  • Because tax policy distorts economic activities, you generally want to make taxes as invisible and unobtrusive as possible. (This is the exact opposite of most US practice, which is to make taxes appear as ugly as possible.)
  • Sales taxes, like VATs, are a good way to provide the bulk of tax revenues, because they are always available -- their funding is a necessary part of the transaction -- and they can be efficiently collected through businesses. They can be varied by product, which is useful for adjusting prices to reflect externalities. A VAT can be structured to exempt labor costs, thus minimizing its depressive effect on jobs. They can even be seasonally adjusted, and as such can be autotuned to reflect revenue needs.
  • Income taxes should be retained and should be significantly progressive to counterblance the extraordinary advantages that our economic system allows some individuals. Progressivity helps to maintain a fair and equitable society, and expresses a general desire to limit greed even short of confiscatory rates. (We have in the past had marginal income tax rates as high as 90% without damaging the economy. In fact, growth rates during that period were much higher than they have been since the rates were cut.)
  • I would make a distinction between earned and unearned income. Both would be taxed progressively: earned income (wages, small business profits) would be taxed same as now; unearned income (interest, dividends, capital gains, gifts, inheritance) would be taxed at a rate that progresses as your total unearnings accumulate over your lifetime. This has the merit of encouraging poorer people to save to supplement their future income without unduly favoring the rich (who save because they have too much money, and whose money multiples with very little effort on their own).
  • Stiffly progressive estate taxes are necessary to prevent the undemocratic accretion of a hereditary aristocracy. There are countless examples of the harm such people do -- the fact that the new right has been largely funded by heirs is just a particularly odious one. Whatever inheritance that does slip through the tax net would be treated as unearned income as above.
  • Corporate profits should continue to be taxed, but using a progressive rate structure which would encourage competition by undercutting the advantages of scale that large corporations enjoy.
  • Since so many government services are borne at the state and local level, we need a system for uniform tax collection and systematic tax sharing. This would also work to counter political lobbying for local tax preferences which too often these days guides plant location and corrupts local politics. This system should provide automatic countercyclical measures so that state and local government can adjust appropriately to economic cycles. State and local governments which receive a larger tax share than they wish to spend should be able to rebate the excess to their constituents on an equal basis.
  • I would get rid of the current system of property taxes, mostly because it requires a tax to be paid from savings as opposed to sales and income taxes which are paid from available funds -- i.e., if you cannot afford the tax on a purchase, you have the option of foregoing the purchase, but if you cannot afford the tax on a property, you can be forced to liquidate the property. (Estate taxes are like property taxes, but since the owner is no longer with us, he or she isn't distressed by the judgment.)

Most people on the left instinctively reject non-progressive or even regressive taxes, probably because they are tired of losing battles over progressive income and estate taxes. You can have a progressive tax system with a lot of regressive or flat taxes if the progressive component is truly effective. Similarly, people on the left rarely care to cut or eliminate property taxes because taxing property is a straightforward way to soak the rich, but the need to save for property taxes introduces a lot of distortions in the system.

This all seems to self-evident to me that sometimes I think someone should set up a soapbox and campaign on these ideas -- I'm tempted to call them Smart Taxes. (Can't use Fair Tax, which has already been debased to sheer stupidity. How can anyone think that eliminating a one-page rate table simplifies the tax code, as compared to the thousands of pages of FASB rules that try to figure out what is income and deductible expense, a problem that will persist no matter what the rate.) But this sort of jiggering of the tax system is just a nice way to make the system a bit more efficient and sensible. The real question is whether we want to live in a more equitable society, whether we appreciate the core values of mutual respect, openness, fair treatment, equal opportunity, honesty. There is much research, as well as common sense, that shows that more equitable societies are happier, less stressful, more productive societies. If you want that, then devising a tax system to represent those values is straightforward. Meanwhile, the people who don't want that will be screaming bloody murder over any scheme that hints at progressivism, even one like Yglesias and Frank proposed with an opt-out for the superrich.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Rhapsody Streamnotes: August 2010

Pick up text here.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 16988 [16957] rated (+31), 832 [840] unrated (-8). Another week. Another hot one. Have yet to move into closing mode on Jazz CG, mostly because the server down disruption, but also because I've had to get Recycled Goods and Downloader's Diary posted, and keep adding to this month's Rhapsody file. So it goes.

Changed previous grades:

  • The XX: XX (2008-09 [2009], XL): Originally rated from Rhapsody; bought a copy later because so many people were so taken by it, and found it very listenable, but far from earthshaking. [was: B+(***)] A-


Jazz Prospecting (CG #24, Part 9)

Started out the week playing Mike Reed's record (below), and spent a whole day playing it over and over before I eventually concluded it wasn't going to get any better. Then I decided to try something different: play a record once, then hold it back if I wasn't ready to write something. So I spent a couple of days doing that -- Bill Frisell, Portico Quartet, Ergo, Dawn of Midi, Hat will face further plays -- then I lost all discipline. Had to get Recycled Goods and Downloader's Diary up, and spent more time on Rhapsody, padding out tomorrow's post. Sunday wound up being Ivo Perelman day. After having fallen for three straight records, I went to Rhapsody to see what else I could find -- I mean, they can't all be A- records, can they? So I don't have much here, and I'm likely to remain real distracted over the next couple weeks due to the server crash. But closing out this Jazz CG round isn't far off.


Mike Reed's People, Places & Things: Stories and Negotiations (2008 [2010], 482 Music): Chicago drummer. Personnel in this particular group has shifted around depending on what Reed wants to focus on, but the basic theme is 1950s proto-avant-garde jazz in Chicago, which includes pieces here from Clifford Jordan, John Jenkins, Wilbur Campbell, Julian Priester, and (especially) Sun Ra. Art Hoyle (trumpet) and Priester (trombone) are featured here, as is Ira Sullivan, a tenor saxophonist who also hails from the 1950s. The younger set includes Greg Ward (alto sax), Tim Haldeman (tenor sax), Jeb Bishop (trombone), and Jason Roebke (bass), so we get a lot of horns freebopping along. Reed wrote three originals, one for each of his featured guests. In several plays they have yet to resolve -- when I do perk up it's invariably in one or another of the covers. B+(***)

Kali Z. Fasteau: Animal Grace (2005-07 [2010], Flying Note): Eclectic gadfly; soprano sax is probably her key instrument, but she also plays piano, violin, mizmar, nai flute, and sanza here, and uses her voice for something I wouldn't exactly call singing -- actually sounds processed. She first landed in free jazz in the mid-1970s with husband-drummer Donald Rafael Garrett -- cf. Memoirs of a Dream, two discs from 1975-77. Two sets here: 2007 "Live from Harlem" duo with South African drummer Louis Moholo-Moholo, and 2005 "Live in the Alps" with Bobby Few's piano trio. In both Kali Z. makes the rounds, so this has its ups and downs. The ups include Moholo's game drumming, Few's testy piano, and a pretty amazing stretch of soprano sax on the noisy closer. B+(*)

Niklas Barnö/Joel Grip/Didier Lasserre: Snus (2009 [2010], Ayler): Trumpet-bass-drums trio, respectively; Barnö and Grip from Sweden, Lasserre from France. Snus may or may not be group name; also is some kind of tobacco product in Sweden, banned in the EU. Rough free jazz -- the drummer definitely has a knack for it, the bassist harder to hear at all clearly. Barnö goes for a gutbucket sound, more like a trombone, no less dirty but higher and faster. B+(**)

Mike Fahie: Anima (2010, Bju'ecords): Trombonist, b. 1976 in Ottawa, Canada; wound up in New York in 2000. First album, quintet with Bill McHenry (tenor sax), Ben Monder (guitar), Ben Street (bass), and Billy Hart (drums), produced by John McNeil. Postbop, nicely measured, with a lot of space for sax and guitar to lead, the trombone holding the record down to earth. B+(***)

Elliott Sharp: Octal Book Two (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Guitarist, b. 1951. AMG lists him under classical (chamber music) since 1986, although his rather large discography goes back to 1977. I hadn't heard anything until he showed up playing Monk on Clean Feed, and now I'm up to four records, barely scratching the surface. Solo guitar -- having a lot of trouble with the small print here, but the credit actually looks like "Koll 8-string electroacoustic guitarbass." Interesting but marginal, turning ambient toward the end. B+(**)

Sun Ra Arkestra, Under the Direction of Marshall Allen: Live at the Paradox (2008 [2010], In+Out): Sun Ra died in 1993. Alto saxophonist Allen joined Ra's Arkestra in 1958, was a mainstay until the end, and at 86 is the ghost band's undisputed leader. I don't know how active the Arkestra has been since 1993: Allen's website shows three albums including this one, another live album from 2003 and an earlier album dating from 1999. I only count four band members here who also played on 1990's Live at the Hackney Empire, the last of Ra's full Arkestra albums I have listings for: Allen, Noel Scott (as), Charles Davis (ts), and Elson Nascimento (surdo). The nine songs are split 4-4 between Allen and Ra, with Fletcher Henderson's "Hocus Pocus" the odd tune out -- Ra learned his craft arranging for Henderson; don't know if any of Allen's pieces are new. This covers all the bases, most of the planets and quite a few moons, cranking up the space synths, cracking up into cacophony, breaking down with corny vocals, and swinging like hell. You've heard it all before, yet still can't predict it: this is one ghost band that never gets trapped in its past because its past is still so far in the future we can't anticipate it. B+(***)

Food [Thomas Strønen/Iain Ballamy]: Quiet Inlet (2007-08 [2010], ECM): Group originally an album title from 1999, by a quartet: Iain Ballamy (saxophones), Arve Henriksen (trumpet), Mats Eilertsen (bass), and Thomas Strønen (drums), with at least Strønen contributing electronics. The quartet cut four Food albums through 2004, then slimmed down to Strønen and Ballamy for a fifth album in 2007, Molecular Gastronomy. This is number six, taken from two live performances, one with Christian Fennesz on guitar and electronics, the other with Nils Petter Molvaer on trumpet and electronics. First cut, with Fennesz, reminds one of Molvaer's drum machine, but eventually the percussion gives way to ambience, laced with Ballamy's reeds and occasionally fortified by Molvaer's trumpet. B+(**)

Dino Saluzzi: El Encuentro (2009 [2010], ECM): Bandoneon virtuoso, b. 1935 in Argentina, picks up from the tango tradition but usually adds a jazz dimension. Eleventh ECM album since 1982, plus a few others scattered here and there. Cut a duet album with cellist Anja Lechner in 2006, and continues that collaboration here, adding Felix Saluzzi on tenor sax and, most fatefully, the Metropole Orchestra (Jules Buckley, conductor) for a live album. Metropole is a Dutch group, limited here to strings, which pushes all of my I-hate-classical-music buttons. (Not sure how this group relates to the Metropole Orchestra founded in 1945, currently directed as a big band by Vince Mendoza.) The Saluzzis and Lechner are hard pressed to stand out against such dross. B-

Ivo Perelman/Daniel Levin/Torbjörn Zetterberg: Soulstorm (2009 [2010, Clean Feed, 2CD): Recording date just given as "April 18" -- presumably before the March 2010-dated liner notes. Tenor saxophonist, b. 1961 in Brazil, based in New York, has at least 35 albums since 1989, including a few more in the queue that I haven't gotten to yet. Levin plays cello (as has Perelman on occasion), and Zetterberg bass, so they sort of flow together into a backdrop for Perelman's musings, some rough and tumble but most sensitive and eloquent. A-

Ivo Perelman/Gerry Hemingway: The Apple in the Dark (2010, Leo): Hemingway is a drummer with a notable discography under his own name, as well as renown as a sideman, perhaps most importantly in Anthony Braxton's 1980s quartet. Perelman is the tenor saxophonist from Brazil. I have in my notes that he's also played cello (in Strings, a duo with guitarist Joe Morris), but hadn't noticed him playing piano before (the only instance I can find is a 1999 album, Brazilian Watercolor). In these duos, he plays piano about half of the time -- didn't manage to count the cuts -- and tenor sax the other half. He's more assured, and more relaxed, on his main instrument, but I'm even more struck by the piano. James Hall's liner notes described it as "a kaleidoscopic jumber of Erroll Garner and Monk" but I was thinking more of Cecil Taylor, and not just because he makes a lot of noise but because he turns it into something remarkable. A-

Ivo Perelman/Dominic Duval/Brian Wilson: Mind Games (2008 [2010], Leo): Conventional tenor sax trio, with Duval on bass and Wilson on drums. I saw Duval play once, with Cecil Taylor, who ran him ragged for about 20 minutes, then after Duval was worn out Taylor started to play a little himself. Wilson is a drummer. Can't find out much about him, but he's certainly not the ex-Beach Boys singer-guitarist who shows up in his stead for the first million or so Google searches. Pretty good drummer, too. As for the tenor saxophonist, this is billed marking the 20th anniversary of his recording career, and he's in his prime, sticking to what he knows best. Before this string, I had only heard 4-5 of his recordings, the delta there an unrated duo with Borah Bergman, and only had one at A-: 1996's Sad Life. It, too, was a sax trio, with William Parker and Hamid Drake. I wonder whether, had I played the records in some other order, I might have nitpicked one or the other down a notch. After three plays I'm not totally blown away here either, but have no nits to pick. I need to go back the review the others, and figure out what to do with this cluster -- probably a lead and two high HMs. (Also wonder why they didn't send me the Perelman/Wilson duo The Stream of Life -- hard to think of any label I don't get that I'd be more excited to hook into than Leo.) A-


These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.

Ivo Perelman: The Ventriloquist (2001 [2002], Leo): Rhapsody has two copies of this with different artwork -- this one matches Leo's website. With Paul Rodgers on guitar, Ramon Lopez on drums, and either Louis Sclavis on bass clarinet or Christine Wodrascka on piano. The horns squeak more than squawk, but that's the basic range, at a pretty intense level. The piano pieces, especially the long title track, are at least as intense; she throws fits of unbalanced chords, and Perelman has to play his ass off to keep from being buried. Very intense, not comfortable with it myself. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Ivo Perelman & Dominic Duval: Nowhere to Hide (2009, Not Two): Tenor sax-bass duo, a subset of the trio that recorded Mind Games, which benefitted from the accents and dynamics of drummer Brian Wilson. Perelman is close in tone and temperament to the later albums -- much mellower than on the early albums -- but stretches a bit thin here, partly listener fatigue setting in approaching 76 minutes. B+(**) [Rhapsody]


No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.


Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Marcos Amorim Trio: Portraits (Adventure Music)
  • Richie Beirach/Dave Liebman: Quest for Freedom (Sunnyside): Sept. 14
  • Cynthia Felton: Come Sunday: The Music of Duke Ellington (Felton Entertainment): Oct. 5
  • Dave Liebman Big Band: As Always (MAMA)
  • Jacob Melchior: It's About Time (Jacob Melchior): Oct. 1
  • Milton Suggs: Things to Come (Skiptone Music): Sept. 28
  • Benjamin Taubkin: Piano Masters Series Vol. 1 (Adventure Music)

Purchases:

  • African Pearl: Congo: Pont Sur Le Congo (Syllart, 2CD)
  • Cornershop: Judy Sucks a Lemon for Breakfast (Ample Play)
  • Etoile de Dakar: Once Upon a Time in Senegal: The Birth of Mbalax 1979-1981 (Sterns, 2CD)
  • John Prine: In Person & On Stage (Oh Boy)
  • The Whitefield Brothers: Earthology (Now-Again)

Sunday, August 08, 2010

A Downloader's Diary (1): August 2010

Shortly after I built robertchristgau.com in the fateful month of September 2001, a few longtime fans of Christgau's got in touch with me. They offered various forms of help, and over the next few months we put together a substantial chunk of Christgau's pre-1989 (i.e., pre-computer) oeuvre. Some found missing pieces, including old Consumer Guide reviews that had failed to show up in the three decade-summing books. Some found faults with what had been posted -- many my mistakes in transcribing the written sources I had accumulated over the years, some mistakes that Christgau himself had made. (The book pages now have extensive corrigendae.) One of these people was Michael Tatum. He was at the time music editor for Chicago-based webzine Static, and he talked me into writing a monthly column for him. I was especially interested in filling in the cracks in my understanding of history, so the result was Recycled Goods, and that in turn started my return to spending way too much time writing about music. Even after Tatum left Static, he generously helped to edit the column, at least up to January 2008 when I got frustrated and pulled the column from Static. (I haphazardly picked it up again in April 2008, publishing whatever I happened to have accumulated in my blog, but without consulting Tatum for any finishing touches -- consider this the column's shaggy dog years.)

Over the years, we've kicked around various schemes, including a jointly written record guide that'll only happen if he pushes me hard enough to get it done. The last couple of years he hasn't been in touch regularly, but I prodded him to do a year-end list back in December -- a pretty close match to the one Christgau wound up with. After MSN dropped Christgau's forty-one-year run of Consumer Guides, Tatum stepped up to do his part to carry on. He found he could survey a lot of chatted-up records by downloading, and asked me to post his findings. Hopefully, he'll keep doing this and let us know what he finds every month or so. He certainly adds a lot of music intelligence to that thread in this website.

PS: In response to several letters, yes, Tatum plans on continuing this monthly, and I will post his columns. I should also note that I have been and will continue to post monthly notes based on what I glean from Rhapsody, including a big one next week. These will in some cases be redundant and in others will disagree with Tatum, but that's how it goes. I'll also note that Christgau, who isn't involved in either of our efforts, is still listening and writing and will be heard from on many (if not all) of these records in due course.


Insert text from here.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Your Trash Ain't Nothin' but Cash

Maria Glod: Burning trash led to illnesses: Relatively minor in the grand scheme of things, but worth quoting:

Hundreds of military service members and contractor employees have fallen ill with cancer or severe breathing problems after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they say they were poisoned by thick black smoke produced by the burning of tons of trash generated on U.S. bases.

In a lawsuit in federal court in Maryland, 241 people from 42 states are suing Houston-based contractor Kellogg Brown & Root, which has operated more than two dozen so-called burn pits in the two countries. The burn pits were used to dispose of plastic water bottles, Styrofoam food containers, mangled bits of metal, paint, solvent, medical waste, even dead animals. The garbage was tossed in, doused with fuel and set on fire.

The military personnel and civilian workers say they inhaled a toxic haze from the pits that caused severe illnesses. Six with leukemia have died, and five others are being treated for the disease, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow. At night, more than a dozen rely on machines to help them breathe or to monitor their breathing; others use inhalers.

"You'd cough up black stuff, and you couldn't seem to catch your breath. And your eyes were burning," said Anthony Roles, 33, a father and Air Force retiree from Little Rock who was diagnosed with a blood disorder shortly after returning from Iraq in 2004. "I can still smell it to this very day."

Roles said there was a nickname for the symptoms: "Iraqi crud."

Back around 1950, my father built a brick furnace in the far corner of the backyard. He buried organic garbage, recycling it into a large vegetable garden, and he burned trash -- mostly paper and cardboard, probably a little plastic. (Metal was reused: small tin cans washed out and filled with screws or buttons, large coffee cans cut apart and flattened. Glass milk bottles were returned to the deliveryman.) The city banned trash burning in the early 1960s. They were probably more worried about amateur firebugs than toxic fumes, although they were lucky on the latter count. Hardly anyone burns trash in America any more, and when they do they use large, intense incinerators, not open pits doused with gasoline. We know better now, and won't stand for such irresponsible behavior in our own country. We even chastise campers who don't pack all of their trash to dispose of it properly when they get home. Yet when we spend billions of dollars to invade someone else's country, we revert to savagery.

And, of course, we make excuses:

Where and how to get rid of garbage is a difficult problem in wartime. Military officials say open burning was often the best -- if not the only -- option for getting rid of huge amounts of trash. No trash-removal system existed, incinerators are expensive and take time to install, and the military lacked the time and space to build landfills on bases. The burn pits often are close to where soldiers live and work because it's too dangerous to put them far from base.

"Although disposing of certain substances in burn pits may not be ideal from a health standpoint, on an installation in a hostile environment in wartime, there may not be any other viable options," Postlewaite said in court papers.

Well, they could have thought of that before they started the wars. They did, after all, think of all the "comforts of home" they wanted to bring along. I recently read Ann Jones's piece on being "embedded" with US forces in Afghanistan, In Bed with the U.S. Army, and she was especially struck by all the stuff the Army takes to war:

The frontline FOB where I landed and its soldiers, by contrast, are spic-and-span. Credit for this goes largely to the remarkably inexpensive labor of crews of Filipinos, Indians, Croatians, and others lured from distant lands by American for-profit private contractors responsible for making our troops feel at home away from home. The base's streets are laid out on a grid. Tents in tidy rows are banked with standard sand bags and their super-sized cousins, towering Hescos filled with rocks and rubble.

The tents are cooled by roaring tornados of air conditioning, thanks to equipment fueled by gasoline that costs the Army about $400 per gallon to import. It takes fuelers three to four hours every day to refill all the giant generators that keep the cold air coming, so I felt guilty when, to prevent shivering in my sleep, I stuffed my towel into the ducts suspended from the ceiling of my tent.

More permanent buildings are going up and some, already built by Afghans and deemed not good enough for American habitation, are scheduled for reconstruction. Even in distant FOBs like this one, the building boom is prodigious. There's a big gym with the latest body-building equipment, and a morale-boosting center equipped with telephones and banks of computers connected to the Internet that are almost always in use. A 24/7 chow hall serves barbequed ribs, steak, and lobster tails, though everything is cooked beyond recognition by those underpaid laborers to whom this cuisine is utterly foreign.

There's a remarkably speedy laundry and, as for the toilets and showers -- I can speak only for those few designated "Female" -- they were the best I'd seen anywhere in Afghanistan. A sign politely suggested limiting your shower to five minutes, a nod to the expense of paying for-profit contractors to hire truckers to haul in the necessary water, and then haul out to undisclosed locations the copious effluence of American latrines. (At Bagram, that effluence goes into a conveniently nearby river, a water source for countless Afghans.) The other detritus from this expanding FOB is dumped into a pit and burned, including a staggering, but undisclosed, number of plastic water bottles. All this helps explain the annual cost of maintaining a single American soldier in Afghanistan, currently estimated at one million dollars.

Repeat: all that stuff comes packaged, and all that packaging gets "dumped into a pit and burned." As more soldiers get sick and die from the fumes, the military is under increasing pressure to come up with better solutions -- which means expensive incinerators, since backing down is just not in their genes, but spending more money is.

What the article omits is that most of the contractors doing the burning -- the ones presumably most exposed to the fumes -- are foreign contractors, which leaves them out of the lawsuit. Moreover, virtually all of the "toxic haze" settles in the neighboring areas -- the people we claim to want to help are in fact people we unwittingly poison. Of course, they are also the people we unwittingly bomb, shoot, kidnap, torture -- things that get more press because they're more dramatic. And more commonly, they're people we just tick off with our arrogance and sense of entitlement. We're good at excusing all these things as inevitable consequences of war, but where are they factored into the calculus of war? Has Bill Kristol ever worried that when he wanted to bring freedom to some besotten people he'd also be responsible for a big cancer spike (both there and here)?

And the FOB description above is a relatively sanitary one. I'm reminded of a paragraph in Evan Wright's Generation Kill when he's describing the actual invasion of Iraq, before we built all those world-class latrines:

There are nearly 10,000 Marines parked on the road, as well as a sprinkling of British troops who appear to be lost. Everyone defecates and pisses out in the open beside the highway. Taking a shit is always a big production in a war zone. There's the MOPP suit [protecting against chemical weapons] to contend with, and no one wants to walk too far from the road for fear of stepping on a land mine, since these are known to be scattered haphazardly beside Iraqi highways. In the civilian world, of course, utmost care is taken to perform bodily functions in private. Public defecation is an act of shame, or even insanity. In a war zone, it's the opposite. You don't want to wander off by yourself. You could get shot by enemy snipers, or by Marines when you're coming back into friendly lines. So everyone just squats in the open a few meters from the road, often perching on empty wooden grenade crates used as portable "shitters." Trash from thousands of discarded MRE [meals ready to eat] packs litters the area. With everyone lounging around, eating, sleeping, sunning, pooping, it looks like some weird combat version of an outdoor rock festival.

At least that's what it looks like to Wright, who's no doubt been to outdoor rock festival in the US. To Iraqis it must look like something far more horrific. Our chronic inability to see, or even to hazily imagine, what other people see dooms us.


Much more worth reading lately about Afghanistan, especially in the wake of the WikiLeaks dump. Anyone who claims that they reveal "nothing new" is doing nothing more than showing utter disdain for the actual details of war. That such people are concentrated high in the war's administration and their cheering section in the media points out how little they care about facts, at least in comparison to their treasured ideas.

If Obama persists in prosecuting the leakers you might as well conclude that he's abandoned the reality-based side and gone over to the imperial fantasists. He should be handing out medals to the leakers; prosecuting them is unforgivable.

But rather than dwell on the folly in Afghanistan, look at Glenn Greenwald: What collapsing empire looks like. Just a few vignettes, like states shuttering schools and libraries for lack of budgets, and paved roads reverting to gravel. Hits a false note toward the end:

Does anyone doubt that once a society ceases to be able to afford schools, public transit, paved roads, libraries and street lights -- or once it chooses not to be able to afford those things in pursuit of imperial priorities and the maintenance of a vast Surveillance and National Security State -- that a very serious problem has arisen, that things have gone seriously awry, that imperial collapse, by definition, is an imminent inevitability?

Makes it sound like the imperialists might have second thoughts and decide that in order to save their cherished empire they might realize that yes, indeed, we do need schools and roads to keep it all functioning. Personally, I don't see anyone who actually wants to keep an empire going. Rather, I see a lot of right-wing psychopaths who hate most of the people in this country, who can't abide any government that in theory represents them, and who want to bring the whole thing crashing down. For such people, militarism and imperialism is a means toward hollowing out and discrediting the state, and it's working pretty well for just that purpose. For such people unwinnable, self-perpetuating wars are the best of all worlds, draining resources that otherwise might possibly be put to some constructive end, making political leaders look like fools. (You have to wonder whether the real point of impeaching Clinton wasn't to coax him into bombing Iraq. And if draft-dodging Clinton could be turned into an imperial mobster in eight years, well, you saw what happened with Bush, and are seeing the same thing happen with Obama.)

Asking Americans to do the right thing in Afghanistan or Iraq (or even in Louisiana) clearly doesn't compute, but at some point you'd think a survival instinct would start to kick in. Soldiers should realize that even relatively pampered wars are hazardous to their health. Officers should realize that actions bound to fail aren't worth their efforts. Politicians should realize that foreign wars bring little but heartbreak and misery. The rich should realize that living in a country where everything is crumbling from rot will eventually impoverish even themselves. And even the right-wingers should realize that making everyone else miserable won't make themselves happy. But they're playing this game awfully close to the vest, making it seem that the only way anyone can learn lessons is the hard way -- and that evidently the finance meltdown of 2008, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, Katrina, the oil spill in the Gulf, and (at least to date) global warming just haven't been hard enough. Scary to imagine just what it will take.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Rackshackled

I have, or used to have, a dedicated web server, which I initially set up in 2003 at a company named Rackshack. At the time I meant to do more freelance website development work. In particular, I planned to develop a more generalized version of the software I wrote for Robert Christgau's website, and make that available to other writers, especially music critics. I never got much done on that, although eventually the web server wound up hosting about ten small sites. It's been a rather expensive indulgence and persistent headache over the years. In particular, I've been unable to keep the server software up-to-date, which has kept me from updating the PHP-based packages I have deployed, like drupal and serendipity, and from introducing new ones I'd like to use, like wikimedia. I've also been harrassed by hackers, who have occasionally been able to break in and use the machine to add to the world's avalanche of junk mail. (I caught and fixed a number of those problems in the past year.)

Anyhow, the upshot of all this is that the server crashed early this week and we haven't been able to get it up and keep it up for more than a couple hours at a time ever since. Consequently, all of the websites and blogs that I host are down. (I never got around to moving my own website, or Christgau's, away from their original virtual servers, so they fortunately survive.) It's a old, fairly lame machine, running obsolete (2005) software. Reasonable thing at this time is to junk the machine, get another, and rebuild. Rackshack has been sold and resold several times, so the current proprietor calls itself The Planet. I'm not real happy with them, so I'm also looking around for competitors. There are many such, but it's hard to evaluate them. Some I'm intrigued by are: Hosting and Designs, Singlehop, Server Point, iWeb, Hosting Source, Netsonic. My list goes on with 17 less interesting vendors, and 21 more that I dismissed, mostly because they're trawling for bigger fish. Budget is approx. $100/month. Should be Linux (probably CentOS). I've never used Plesk or cPanel/WHM but wonder if they might be worth the expense ($20-40/month) and breach of open source faith. I've never used more than a tiny fraction of my 1TB monthly bandwidth allowance, and I've never had problems with lack of disk space (7% used when the server died) or for that matter performance -- obviously, it's not longer possible not to improve on a 2003 Celeron with 512MB RAM, although I have noticed that most of the low-end server deals use CPUs that are no longer in production.

I figured I'd make a quick decision, but The Planet hasn't been responsive to my questions, and the longer I take the more patient I'm becoming. Should have something decided by sometime next week. Maybe I'll even have a stroke of sanity and give it up (although a fresh start might be refreshing). Meanwhile, I apologize to my few clients -- Carol Cooper, Don Malcolm (2Random4Chance, Deep-Count, Noirvana), Fifth Column Films, the amazing Superartists, the vital and indispensable Wichita Peace Center. Also down are my own projects, Notes on Everyday Life, and Terminal Zone. (No point linking to these as they're down now, although Fifth Column and Superartists have their main websites elsewhere, and Wichita Peace will soon.)

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Recycled Goods (76): July 2010

Insert text from here.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 16957 [16920] rated (+37), 840 [846] unrated (-6). Seems like it's been a lazy week. Fixed a nice dinner on Saturday. Did some work around the house -- slowly getting organized. Working my way through Wawro's book, to slow to have any hope of getting it finished. Recycled Goods, Rhapsody, and Tatum's column coming up this week.


Jazz Prospecting (CG #24, Part 8)

Slogging through. Trying to get organized. Also worked a bit on Recycled Goods -- should get it posted tomorrow -- and added some odd bits to the Rhapsody file. Will also have Michael Tatum's post-CG guest column sometime this week. Finally got the promised "big package" of things Fully Altered had neglected to send to me, plus a few more things that should soon jump to the head of the queue -- the Rova/Nels Cline came today, along with a piece of Tom Johnson minimalism. Didn't feel like working the better prospects this past week, so I tried to chip away at the backlog, which is still more than I ever recall. After this week's music posts, I expect to clamp down and finish the column -- should close out by mid-August. No obvious pick hits or duds yet, but way too many HMs and plenty slightly better.


Sierra Maestra: Sonido Ya (2009 [2010], World Village): Cuban institution, dates back to 1976, started out playing classic son and pretty much stuck that way, the rhythms complex, the horns simplistic, the vocals deeply sincere, the songs scarcely varied in pitch, volume, or temperament -- not that they don't put out. They always put out. B

Ellen Rowe Quartet: Wishing Well (2009 [2010], PKO): Pianist, b. 1958, from Connecticut, teaches at University of Michigan, third album since 2001. Runs marathons, climbs mountains: Aconcagua, Denali -- second album was called Denali Pass. Wrote 9 of 10 pieces, covering "Alone Together." Quartet includes Andrew Bishop on tenor and soprano sax, nice balance since she doesn't push her piano real hard. Higher peaks come from the guests: Andy Haefner (tenor sax) on one cut, Ingrid Jensen (flugelhorn) on two. After playing John Zorn most of yesterday, I found this sublimely relaxing. B+(***)

Adrian Iaies Trio: A Child's Smile (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Pianist, from Argentina, b. 1960, nine albums since 2000; second album I've heard, Vals de la 81st & Columbus a high HM. Piano trio with Exequiel Dutil on bass, Pepi Taveira on drums. Another fine album, although after three plays I'm blocked on how to describe it -- the most memorable cuts for me are the one standard I know, "Just the Way You Are," and "Alfonsina y el Mar," the one cut with Raul Barboza's accordion added. B+(**)

David Weiss & Point of Departure: Snuck In (2008 [2010], Sunnyside): Trumpet player, b. 1964, from New York, in New York, third album since 2001, although I also filed The Turning Gate by New Jazz Composers Octet, a recent HM, under his name. Quintet, what's becoming the standard post-[hard]-bop configuration: trumpet, sax (JD Allen on tenor), guitar (Nir Felder), batt (Matt Clohesy), drums (Jamire Williams). The back end is more freebop, the guitar navigates the open spaces, and the horns slug it out, with Allen frequently making a play to steal the album. B+(***)

Music of the Sphere: Thelonious Monk Songbook [The Composer Collection Volume 5] (1977-2009 [2010], High Note): Continues the label's efforts to pad their product line with samplers. You'd think that Monk's pieces (excepting "'Round About Midnight," natch) are so distinctive they'd provide a unifying theme for an inherently disunified various artist selection, but the compiler seems to have taken that as a challenge to make the selection more perverse. The Arthur Blythe/John Hicks duo is sketchy. The Joel Harrison nonet is one I'd just as soon never hear again. Larry Coryell excels, and Frank Morgan seems refreshingly normal. But I'd still rather hear the whole of the Mary Lou Williams trio I missed than a pastiche like this. B-

Cedar Chest: The Cedar Walton Songbook [The Composer Collection Volume 6] (2000-08 [2010], High Note): This follows compilations based on Silver, Coltrane, Ellington, Davis, and Monk. Walton moves into a slightly younger generation -- he started recording when Coltrane checked out -- and it's gotten much rarer for jazz musicians to cover more recent composers. The label has released six albums by Walton since 2001 -- Seasoned Wood is my pick -- but they must have considered that too easy. Still, they wound up with Walton playing piano on 4 of 10 tracks, and he sets a high standard for the others. Still, the selections are spotty, with two Larry Coryell treats, two by Fathead Newman, two by Sammy Figueroa. B

Hamilton de Holanda Quintet: Brasilianos 2 (2007 [2010], Adventure Music, CD+DVD): Brazilian mandolin player, b. 1976, father a choro guitarist, caught the ear of bluegrass-turned-choro mandolinist Mike Marshall, who's tapped de Holanda repeatedly for his label. Has a bit of bluegrass sting, nothing you'd call "high and lonesome," but with ten strings backed by guitar and bass has a lot of resonance. Better still is Gabriel Grossi's harmonica, which functions as a horn without being easy to peg. Haven't got to the DVD. B+(**)

The Convergence Quartet: Song/Dance (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Artist names listed on front cover alphabetically: Taylor Ho Bynum (cornet, flugelhorn), Harris Eisenstadt (drums), Alexander Hawkins (piano), Dominic Lash (bass). All write, Bynum one song, the others two each. I filed this under Bynum, who has a substantial discography since 1999, but early on Hawkins is the focal interest, with his jumpy, blocky chords chopping up time. B. 1981 in England, based in Oxford, has a new Ensemble record I haven't heard, played organ on two Decoy albums, seems like someone to keep an ear opened for. Lash is also from England, "one of the busiest players on the UK scene." Album ends with a bang-up fractured version of a South African tune, "Kudala." I'm tempted to credit Eisenstadt, who regularly works African music into free jazz contexts, but I also see that Hawkins has played with Ntshuka Bonga, and has played in a trio with Louis Moholo-Moholo and Evan Parker. B+(***)

Billy Cobham/Colin Towns/HR-Bigband: Meeting of the Spirits: A Celebration of the Mahavishnu Orchestra (2006 [2010], In+Out): Songs originally from John McLaughlin, with Mahavishnu Orchestra drummer Cobham employed for quality control. Arranged for big band, directed, and mixed by Towns. HR-Bigband is one of two major outfits in Germany -- WDR Bigband Köln is the other -- that record prolifically under the names of their guest stars. Martin Scales plays guitar, but most of the lines have been shunted off to the horns. The music holds up pretty well, and the drum solos are solid. B+(**)

Dither (2010, Henceforth): Interesting concept, an electric guitar quartet, similar in principle to sax quartets but with chords and electronics thickening the sound. Guitarists are Taylor Levine, David Linaburg, Joshua Lopes, and James Moore. Starts off very quiet as if they're daring you to turn it up, although they can and do get plenty loud when they want. Played it once too loud and once too soft and figured it's not worth fiddling with the tuning, at least at this point. Could develop into something, and I've heard enough that I'm hedging. Elliott Sharp wrote the liner notes. B+(*)

Dave Anderson Quartet: Clarity (2009 [2010], Pony Boy): Saxophonist, lists soprano first, alto second (but shows a tenor on his website); based in Seattle; first album, a conventional quartet with piano, bass and drums, with Thomas Marriott's flugelhorn added for one cut. Nice mainstream group, nothing exceptional. B

Hiroe Sekine: A-Mé (2009 [2010], Sekai Music): Pianist, from Japan, studied at USC. First album, produced by Russell Ferrante, who plays synth on one track. Most tracks are sextet, with trumpet (John Daversa), trombone (Bob McChesney), tenor sax (Bob Sheppard, also soprano and flute), bass (Tony Dumas), and drums (Peter Erskine or Chris Wabich), generating a robust mainstream sound -- Sheppard is typically superb. Half originals, half covers -- Gigi Gryce, Frank Loesser, Jerome Kern, Isham Jones, Milton Nascimento. One solo piece, which I found quite likable. B+(*)

Joel Yennior Trio: Big City Circus (2007 [2010], Brass Wheel): Trombonist, from South Orange, NJ; studied and now teaches at New England Conservatory; first album, although he has side credits since 2000 with Either/Orchestra, Gypsy Schaeffer, Alejandro Cimadoro, and Mulatu Astatke. Trio adds guitarist Eric Hofbauer (Blueprint Project) and drummer Gary Fieldman. Trombone is a little thin for the lead here, but that has its own appeal, and Hofbauer is an interesting player even in small roles. B+(**)

Michael Treni: Turnaround (2009, Bell Production, CD+DVD): Composer-arranger, started out on trombone -- has a side credit on a 1977 Bobby Watson album -- based on New Jersey; has a previous album, Detour! (2007), and a more recent one, America: Land of Opportunity (2010). Big band with some extra percussion and occasional strings. First solo caught my ear, but that's just Jerry Bergonzi for you. Don't care much for the strings, but the brass section work is sharp. Comes with a DVD I haven't watched. Also a political screed about how socialism may be OK for classical music but doesn't work for jazz. B

Justin Janer: Following Signs (2009 [2010], Janer Music): Alto saxophonist, 25 (b. 1985?) from Seattle, grew up in L.A., based there (although he also lists New York on MySpace). Bio talks about his Puerto Rican heritage and Latin jazz interest, but this is postbop, mostly quintet with Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet and Fabian Almazan on piano -- one track adds guitar. Catches my ear when he stretches. B+(**)


These are some even quicker notes based on downloading or streaming records. I don't have the packaging here, don't have the official hype, often don't have much information to go on. I have a couple of extra rules here: everything gets reviewed/graded in one shot (sometimes with a second play), even when I'm still guessing on a grade; the records go into my flush file (i.e., no Jazz CG entry, unless I make an exception for an obvious dud). If/when I get an actual copy I'll reconsider the record.

John Zorn: The Goddess: Music for the Ancient of Days (2009 [2010], Tzadik): Another Zorn-as-composer-only album, the titles casually plundered archaeology, but actually nothing ancient about it; reminds me more of cocktail jazz, exotica with the spurious weirdness supplanted by a higher-powered Riley/Reich minimalist engine. Played on piano (Rob Burger), guitar (Marc Ribot), harp (Carol Emmanuel), vibes (Kenny Wollesen), bass (Travor Dunn), and drums (Ben Perowsky). B+(**) [Rhapsody]

John Zorn: In Search of the Miraculous (2009 [2010], Tzadik): Zorn's promised one record each month this year, which isn't a lot more prolific than his usual pace, but seems likely to involve cutting some corners. Composer-only album, built around the Rob Burger-Greg Cohen-Ben Perowsky piano trio that cut Alhambra Love Songs, with a few extras -- Shanir Blumenkranz (electric bass), Kenny Wollesen (vibes), but focuses more on the piano, adding a bit of dramatic range rather than sinking into minimalist repetition. Gains something toward the end. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

John Zorn: Dictée/Liber Novus (2009 [2010], Tzadik): Two pieces, close to 20 minutes each, one based on Korean-American writer/conceptual artist Theresa Hak-Kyung Cha, the other "a mythic psychodrama inspired by the legendary Red Book of Carl Jung. Keybs (Sylvie Courvoisier and Stephen Goslin on piano, John Medeski on organ), Ned Rothenberg's reeds (shakuhachi, bass flute, clarinet), percussion and sound effects, could be a soundtrack cluttered with random events, not horror but not normal either. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

John Zorn/Fred Frith: Late Works (2009 [2010], Tzadik): Alto sax/electric guitar duo, the latter's screech closely tuned to match the former. Ten pieces, most likely improv, although occasional oblique strategies lurk. Often interesting, but does wear a bit thin. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

John Zorn: The 50th Birthday Celebration, Vol. 1: Masada String Trio (2003 [2004], Tzadik): Looked for the new Masada String Trio, Haborym (Book of Angels, Vol. 16), not available (yet), and found this one from a few years back, one of a big stack of live shots from Sept. 2003 when Tonic put on a series to honor the club's owner. Most are Zorn-less groups picking over his songbook. This trio consists of Mark Feldman on viola, Erik Friedlander on cello, and Greg Cohen on bass. The Jewish themes provide some bounce, lack of violin cuts down on the screech, and the bass adds depth. Could do without the applause. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Ben Goldberg Quartet: Baal: The Book of Angels, Vol. 15 (2009 [2010], Tzadik): First of these I've heard, variations on John Zorn's Jewish-themed Masada songbook. Goldberg's clarinet stays on top of it all, although pianist Jamie Saft gets in some long runs. With Greg Cohen on bass and Kenny Wollesen on drums. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

The Dreamers: Ipos: The Book of Angels, Vol. 14 (2009 [2010], Tzadik): John Zorn group, appeared on his albums The Dreamers and O'o, not that Zorn actually plays in it. Marc Ribot's guitar and Jamie Saft's keybs tend to lead, backed by a groove-happy rhythm section -- Trevor Dunn (bass), Kenny Wollesen (vibes), Joey Baron (drums), and Cyro Baptista (percussion). It occurs to me that Ribot is especially adept at taking up these dress-up roles, like with his Cubanos Postizos. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Mycale: Mycale: The Book of Angels, Volume 13 (2009 [2010], Tzadik): More of John Zorn's new-old Jewish music, this time rendered a capella by a group of four women vocalists: Ayelet Rose Gottlieb, Sofia Rei Koutsovitis, Basya Schecter, and Malika Zarra -- I've run across records under the first three names already. Lyrics picked up from various texts in Hebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, French, and Arabic. The music has some bounce and resonance, sort of a klezmerish barbershop quarter. B+(**) [Rhapsody]


No final grades/notes this week on records put back for further listening the first time around.


Some corrections and further notes on recent prospecting:

Ran Blake/Christine Correa: Out of the Shadows (2009 [2010], Red Piano): I erroneously identified Jeanne Lee as singing on Blake's Short Life of Barbara Monk. She sang on Blake's You Stepped Out of a Cloud. The pairing had stuck in my mind, and looking through my list of Blake's albums I pulled out the one I liked best. Turns out there was no singer on that album, and Ricky Ford played tenor sax. B+(*)


Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Ralph Alessi: Cognitive Dissonance (CAM Jazz)
  • Greg Burk and Vicente Lebron: Unduality (Accurate)
  • Mina Cho: Originality (Blink Music): Sept. 7
  • The Claudia Quintet + Gary Versace: Royal Toast (Cuneiform)
  • Either/Orchestra: Mood Music for Time Travellers (Accurate)
  • Tom Johnson: Rational Melodies (New World)
  • Darrell Katz/Jazz Composers Alliance Orchestra: A Wallflower in the Amazon (Accurate): Aug. 10
  • Klezwoods: Oy Yeah! (Accurate)
  • Rebecca Martin: When I Was Long Ago (Sunnyside): Aug. 31
  • Mercury Falls: Quadrangle (Porto Franco): Aug. 17
  • Allison Miller: Boom Tic Boom (Foxhaven)
  • Nils Petter Molvaer: Hamada (Thirsty Ear)
  • Mike Reed's People, Places & Things: Stories and Negotiations (482 Music)
  • Pete Robbins: Silent Z Live (Hate Laugh Music)
  • Rova & Nels Cline Singers: The Celestial Septet (New World)
  • Thomas Savy: French Suite (Plus Loin Music)
  • Jacky Terrasson: Push (Concord)

Purchases:

  • Nas/Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley: Distant Relatives (Def Jam)
  • Rolling Stones: Exile on Main Street [Deluxe Edition] (1972, Universal Republic, 2CD)

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Mitchell LaFortune: Learning From WikiLeaks: Hallucinating uncontrollably is more like it. Credentials: "LaFortune, a former Army sergeant, was an intelligence analyst with the 82nd Airborne Division from 2006 to 2010." Hard to find a better example of someone stuck in a mental rut because his livelihood give him no better options. Still, he thinks reform is possible:

If we need a model, we should think about what Afghanistan was like in the 1970s. The country functioned relatively well with a weak central government, strong local leadership and a marginalized religious class. The resistance to the Soviet occupation, steeped in radical Islam, overturned that traditional power structure. By the time the Soviets left, the village mullah had a higher social standing than the tribal leader or local political representative. It was not hard to foresee the rise of the Taliban.

But no one in the 1970s would have described Afghanistan as functioning "relatively well": it only achieved that status in comparison to the 30 years of war that followed the US decision to try to roll back a Soviet Union advance that occured because the "weak central government" was prone to coups and ultimately split between two communist party factions. The rise of the mullahs was the direct result of US patronage, the purpose of which was to destroy any secular-progressive political forces in the country, because we would much prefer medieval theocracy over modernity if the latter showed any hint of socialism -- not that we actually gave a shit what anyone on Afghanistan actually wanted. Still, it's pretty quaint to think that all the answer takes is to forget the last 30-40 years. And even if you do think that the past is the answer, isn't that the Taliban's solution?

LaFortune makes a series of astonishing proposals to turn the war around:

The key to turning around the war will be to change that dynamic. In fact, we must clamp down on the three things the Taliban do particularly well: manipulating the news media, intimidating the rural population and providing shadow governance.

Let's take these one at a time:

The Taliban's media machine runs circles around our public information operations in Afghanistan. Using newspapers, radio broadcasts, the Internet and word of mouth, it puts out messages far faster than we can, exaggerating the effectiveness of its attacks, creating the illusion of a unified insurgency and criticizing the (real and imagined) failings of the Kabul government. To undermine support for United States troops, the Taliban insistently remind the people that America has committed to a withdrawal beginning next summer, they jump on any announcement of our Western allies pulling out troops and they publicize polls that show declining domestic American support for the war.

To counter the spin, we need to add the Taliban's top propagandists to the high-value-target list and direct military operations at the insurgents' media nerve centers. A major reason that people in rural areas are so reluctant to help us is that Taliban propaganda and intimidation have created an atmosphere of fear.

This is pretty incredible. Back in early-2001 at the peak of their power, the last thing you'd ever imagine hearing about is how savvy the Taliban's PR operation was. They seemed to be singularly inept and dysfunctional at everything they did. In particular, the Afghan people were utterly dependent on foreign NGOs as the government itself could be bothered with social services -- they were preoccupied with banning soccer and music, and blowing up ancient Buddhas. On the other hand, the US pumps billions of dollars into PR, hiring hordes of talent, saturating every conceivable media. So how did the Taliban get to be so much better, not just compared to their old selves but compared even to the reigning world champions?

I think you have to entertain three theories. One is that most US propaganda efforts are targeted at Americans, partly because we're all we know and care about, but largely because of the perception -- one of the few "lessons learned" from Vietnam -- that the only force that actually threatens the war effort is the disapproval of the American people. That's still a tough sell, but it wouldn't even be taken seriously if not for the huge PR push to keep us upbeat (or terrified or whatever) on the war.

The second is that the facts don't offer a level playing field. Everybody spins, but it's a lot easier to spin an air strike killing dozens at a wedding against the US than for the US. A US-built school or hospital or road should be easy to spin the other way, but when the money's funneled back to US contractors or siphoned off by Afghan cronies and what's left doesn't make much difference anyway, your PR opportunity wastes away -- and besides, what are those infidels teaching in those schools anyway?

The third is that we're just using PR as an excuse for losses elsewhere. We're a bunch of foreigners who invaded their country on a mission of pure revenge; we kill a lot of people, blow a lot of shit up, snatch people and torture them, bribe people and turn them against their community, then can't understand why they don't like us -- why some even go so far as to fight back against us. So we think up rationalizations to comfort ourselves for losing -- hey, better than introspection! Still, it strains credulity to think that our problems are largely the result of the PR gap. For one thing, how many Afghans -- especially in the rural areas where the Taliban is so successful -- plug in to any kind of media?

Another indication that this PR gap is just scapegoating is LaFortune's quick fix: hey, they're better than we are so let's just kill them! Such a prototypically American solution, I have to wonder why nobody thought of that before the problem got out of hand. LaFortune continues:

A second initiative is to bring back the traditional rural power structure. We have to restore the power of the tribal leader, the khan. Afghans are fond of saying that the thing they do best is politics; we must let them do it. This means moving toward a far weaker concept of central government and encouraging local solutions to local problems. American aid should go directly to rural communities rather than to the Karzai government. And we must identify key tribal leaders and local politicians and give them around-the-clock protection with American troops. It's astonishing how much credibility a village leader can gain simply by not being assassinated.

But it's also remarkable how much credibility a village leader loses by being surrounded by American troops, especially when they act like American troops and get a little trigger-happy (or drunk or abusive or sacrilegious). I don't doubt that it would have been better to build up local governments around local leaders -- for one thing it allows each ethnic group its own domain, for another it boxes in the losses due to corruption -- but the US didn't do so because they didn't trust local leaders. They preferred instead to deal through an agent like Karzai and a few trusted warlords, and their attendant sinkhole of corruption. Moreover, the US army hasn't been bashful about bypassing the Karzai government -- every commander has a slush fund for dealing with locals. The problem is more that every occupier has tried to govern through bribed local leaders and the result is that those leaders have steadily lost credibility.

Last, we must destroy the credibility of the Taliban's religious authority. The insurgents' concept of Islam is objectionable to most Afghans, but there is little alternative, as most clerics who rejected the Taliban have been killed or have fled. While creating a network of more enlightened religious figures to compete with the hard-liners will take time, we could jump-start progress by creating a group of "mobile mullahs" -- well-protected clerics who can travel through rural areas and settle land disputes and other issues. These men should come from the general areas in which they will be performing their duties and be approved by community leaders.

When the US decided to overthrow the popular democratic government of Iran in 1953, the first thing the CIA did was to bribe a bunch of imams. When the US invaded Iraq in 2003 we brought along our own pet ayatollah (who was killed practically on sight). In between we watched the Saudi royal family requisition fatwas for whatever political purpose suited them, not least our anti-Soviet mujahideen project in Afghanistan. So there's nothing surprising about the assumption that all we have to do is pay a few tolls to get Allah on our side. Still, the assumption that there's this vast reserve of credible mullahs (and other local leaders) eager to do our bidding if only we can provide them with a phalanx of bodyguards is, well, suspect. Also suspect is the idea that you can bolster the credibility of a mullah by surrounding him with armed infidels. And when all's said and done, a mullah is nothing more than his credibility.

We really don't know whether the Afghan people like or dislike the Taliban ulema, largely because there's no framework where one can speak an honest opinion, but partly because you just can't tell. But if you wanted to reduce the power of the Taliban mullahs, a better solution would be to provide secular alternatives -- civil law, personal rights, honest democracy, something to look forward to, maybe even something to fight for. This idea that the Afghans will follow us if we just line up the right mullahs and village elders to lead them back to the placid 1970s is, well, nonsense doesn't begin to cover it -- it's embarrassing. Shameful. I mean, no wonder the US is losing. Pogo understood: "We have met the enemy and he is us."


Jul 2010 Sep 2010