March 2011 Notebook
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Thursday, March 31, 2011

In the Morning Paper

Another Wichita Eagle front page for the times. Not the big story, which celebrated Wichita State's advance in the NIT college basketball tournament, looking forward to tonight's showdown with Alabama (which, wow, WSU won, 66-57). Nor the story about Google picking Kansas City, KS as the test site for their gigabit ethernet project. But the other three stories are representative of the times (and the people in this state supposedly running them):

  • County cuts felon program funding: this is a program going back to 1983 which helps released prisoners get back into open society. The county cut it because the state cut their share of the funding, and the county commissioners figure if they drop it the state will wind up having to pay for all those prisoners to stay in jail, which will be, well, more expensive, but their problem -- that is, until the state decides that's too expensive so just dumps them on the street, at which point some extra share of them will commit new crimes, have to be caught and tried and locked up again, which will all cost even more money.

  • House OKs removing price caps on AT&T: this isn't the long distance company; this is the former Southwestern Bell, the local phone monopoly, getting deregulated because the state legislature doesn't believe it's a monopoly any more -- we, in fact, get our phone service from the cable company (which knows a thing or two about exploiting markets it can monopolize). But if phone service is so competitive it doesn't need regulation, then why will deregulation raise prices? Doesn't that mean there isn't any effective competition? Couldn't they just let AT&T lower prices to be more competitive while leaving the caps in place? It's not impossible the Republican legislators are doing this for reasons of ideology (or idiocy), but it mostly smells like money.

  • Number of homeless jumps 65% in Wichita: Maybe that explains it: more homeless people means fewer landlines, so AT&T has to shift their fixed costs onto those who still have homes. Too bad there isn't some variant on Ricardian equivalence at work here: if we're supposed to buy the idea that in hard times wages should shrink to the level where we return to full employment, shouldn't rents shrink to the level where everyone has a home? Someone thinks the explanation here is that they've gotten better at counting the homeless. Still, it might have something to do with the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.


Laura complained on Facebook about our Democratic state rep Nile Dilmore crossing over to vote for the Republicans's Voter ID bill. She got a lot of comments from Democrats making excuses. I added my own comment:

Bottom line is I voted for Dilmore but he didn't vote for me. More importantly, he didn't even vote for himself and his party. It's not that big a deal for me personally, just a minor nuisance, but it will cost him and other Democrats votes coming and going. I wrote more about this on tomhull.com yesterday, although I didn't single out Dilmore.

The main reason for voting for Democrats these days is to throw up obstacles against the Republicans' campaign to destroy civilization, but even that doesn't work if they don't bother to resist. I've never expected much out of Dilmore, but never had any real complaints either. Still, this time he let us down.


Expert Comments

We turn to baseball:

Baseball story, sort of. In the early 1970s, I had a friend of a friend named Don Malcolm, who wrote a college paper column called Mainline. One day he decided to collect a bunch of his columns and print them up as Overdose. He got me to typeset and lay it out, and as compensation I got an insert to publish some rock crit. I wrote a review of Any Old Way You Choose It where I basically said, "hey, anyone can do this," and to prove my point knocked out a couple CG-style columns. Eventually, we sent a copy to Christgau. He evidently thought there was more to it than I claimed, because he asked me to write for him at the Voice. But that's not where this story is going.

Before long, Malcolm and I joined forces to publish a thing called Terminal Zone. We got one issue out before I moved to New York. When we met up to do another, it turned out badly; lot of hard feelings on both sides. A year or two later our mutual friend tried to heal the breech by forming a correspondence club he called Baseball Maniacs. Malcolm and I were by far the most maniacal of the group. He started publishing a newsletter called Foul Tips, and I wrote things for it. My own interest was more historical, and I got to where I knew virtually everything about the history of baseball. Eventually he went on to write and publish the Big Bad Baseball annuals. I was crazy enough about baseball that when I worked in England I arranged for my company forward my Baseball Weekly in their overnight pouch. Then the major league lockout happened, and I was so disgusted I gave up all notice of baseball.

I haven't followed it since, and have no clue what's going on, or who any players under the age of 35 are. On The Baseball Project Vol. 2 I loved the reference to Bob Ferguson (only identified as "death to flying things" but it's hard to slip an 1880s infielder past me) but didn't recognize some Japanese name. (Used to know the names of many stars in the Japan League but can't recall many now -- mostly oddities like Viktor Starfin, the Russian pitcher taken as booty in the 1905 war.)

My favorite cousin was a big Yankees fan way out in Kinsley, KS, so I naturally became one too. Came in handy when I moved to New York; less so when I moved on to Boston.

Samethingbackwards had several boxes ("ABC to Bowie") of LPs flooded. He wrote, and I quoted back:

Thanks for the support, guys. I realize that damaged records are a silly thing to bitch about when other people here are losing loved ones.

In my experience, hits you in the same spot, even if it doesn't seem appropriate to complain. When I moved from MA to NJ, we boxed up all the LPs and deposited them in the basement for months before I got around to opening them. When I did, I found a small leak that the cardboard in the boxes and album covers had just wicked up. Net damage was several hundred LPs. Plastic sleeves protect the vinyl OK, but paper ones turn to pulp and dissolve into the grooves, so they're a lot of work to clean up. Also got some mold growing. I bought blank jackets, plastic sleeves, cleaned the most precious items up, threw some of the junk away, just dried out and flattened and shelved the less damaged. Never felt good about the records again -- felt like I didn't deserve to own them if I couldn't take better care of them, which obviously I couldn't. Next time we moved, to KS, I sold off 90% of the vinyl.

The packaging matters.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Another Day on the Lonesome Prairie

The Wichita Eagle was full this morning of the wonders the Republicans in Topeka are turning out. They've passed two new anti-abortion bills -- they sure want to make sure the fetuses of Kansas realize they feel their pain. They also passed the bill requiring photo ID to vote and a birth certificate or passport to register. They want to make voting as intimidating as possible, you know, lest the wrong kind of people try to do it. Not sure why they're so worried about that in Kansas, but they no doubt have more tricks up their sleeves.

When I got up I figured I should post something on all this. Now that the day is shot, I still figure I should, but don't have time or energy to track down all the links. I'm not big on the notion that the world is full of evil, so I really don't understand the Republicans. I mean, part of it I can understand -- they're greedy, power hungry, short-sighted, fond of received ideas that are actually nonsense. But why are they so obsessed on taking rights away from people? Is there any limit to how much they'll strip away from the poor? Why are they so hellbent on wrecking government? preventing people from getting an education? How can they really want to live in a world run by people like themselves?

Life's tough enough without having to spend all your day fighting back against spoiled idiots who just want to spread ruin.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The Ghost of Imperialism Past

Juan Cole: An Open Letter to the Left. Another chapter in the long saga of when peace-loving people let themselves get seduced by war. Happens most to people who think a lot, enough to want to differentiate themselves from people who simply believe that all war is bad -- pacifists, you know. Also happens to people who feel so close to the immediately visible victims that they lose track of the big picture. Susan Sontag was the classic example, whining endlessly about how the US, NATO, anyone should step up and intervene in Bosnia and put a stop to the killing. The logic escaped me; they I found out she had actually moved to Sarajevo to put herself into the middle of the experience, something I found brave and touching and batshit insane. Cole isn't that far gone, but he clearly identifies with and cares a lot about the rebels in Libya, so he's trying to pitch his concerns as a matter of solidarity. That's a classic leftist pitch, but it's also a fool's trap.

I don't want to take the time to explain that last point either. What I really want to complain about is buried way down in the last paragraph:

It is now easy to forget that Winston Churchill held absolutely odious positions from a Left point of view and was an insufferable colonialist who opposed letting India go in 1947. His writings are full of racial stereotypes that are deeply offensive when read today. Some of his interventions were nevertheless noble and were almost universally supported by the Left of his day.

Cole's a historian so he should know better than this. (And it's no excuse that Cole's specialty isn't England; Churchill was a worldwide plague, a name that should be very familiar to any historian who's ever done work on Iraq, Iran, and/or Egypt.) At best, Churchill was a stuck clock, right once in his long life, on Nazi Germany, although it should be recalled that the roots of his hatred for Germany date back to the intraimperialist Great War of 1914-1918 -- a war that leftists at the time blamed on all sides. Otherwise, Churchill spent his entire career denying freedom to British colonies, expanding the empire into places like Palestine and Mesopotamia, fomenting sectarian hatreds that would lead to further wars after Britain gave up; innovating the use of air war, weapons of mass destruction, systematic blockades aimed at starving the enemy (or most successfully, his own colony in India); then, out of power, he conceived and campaigned for the Cold War, a legacy continuing long after his death. If the 20th century was the Century of World War, that's to no small extent because it was the Century of Churchill. It was sheer dumb luck that he managed to hate Hitler, and even that only happened because Hitler was willing to give him one more jolly good war. The only thing that kept Churchill out of the pantheon of the century's greatest monsters -- Hitler, Stalin, maybe Mao, or Hirohito -- was that he was stuck in a democracy which had the good sense to periodically strip him from power. Had he been able to run England like he tried to run India, Ireland, and Palestine, well, one shudders at the thought.

Personally, I have some real reservations about all the principal allies in WWII, but even if you chalk that up as one good intervention, pray tell me about another? Sudan? The Boer War? The Boxer Rebellion? Ireland? Gallipoli? Iraq in 1920? Pallestine in 1937? He came along too late to crush the Sepoy Rebellion in 1857, but he carried on from there. Iran (he was back in power to overthrow Mossadegh in Iran in 1953)? Malaya (the so-called success of the ink spot counterinsurgency theory)? Kenya? You don't need to dig into his private papers to find a racist and a warmonger. His whole career was built on the blood of others.

And even in death, Churchill lives on as an inspiration to others -- not just Cole here, but as I recall one of the first things George W. Bush did when he moved into the White House was to install a bust of Churchill. Everyone likes to argue with historical analogies. Most are bogus, but appealing to Churchill as a positive example is one of the worst. Pretty bad even to use him as an example at all: lots of characters from the 19th century seem hopelessly antiquated now, but few more clearly show how much the world has changed. When Cole cites Churchill favorably, he should remind us of the whole package, the self-glorifying conceit of "white man's burden," the machinery of massacre that so thrilled Churchill in the Sudan, the gift for twisting fancy words around 19th century racism. With allies like that, you are the enemy.


Cole's later piece on Obama's Monday night speech is a more reasonable piece, and has an easy time of rebutting various stupid things stupid Republicans say. One quote is worth expanding upon:

Our temporary good luck is that we have a president who knows what he is talking about, knows how to assemble a complex international alliance, and has the moral vision to do the right thing even if it is unpopular. It wasn't so long ago that none of those things was true, and you can't count on them being true much longer.

That sounds to me like a pretty good reason to oppose Obama on Libya. If you would oppose it if someone like Bush was president, then it would be consistent and more persuasive to oppose it as a general principle than to try to carve out some special exception for an exceptional and unreproducible president. (If indeed that's what Obama is; one could certainly argue otherwise.) In particular, if you had the choice of supporting Obama's intervention and keeping the US war machine in place through the end of his term(s) or dismantling the war machine so that neither Obama nor any future president could intervene in Libya or elsewhere, the latter would be preferable by far.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 17941 [17930] rated (+11), 863 [853] unrated (+10). Working on Jazz CG. Not doing much else, other than going crazy. Secretly hoping the new music editor at the Voice kills the damn thing.

Added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • Brinsley Schwarz: Brinsley Schwarz (1970, Liberty): B-
  • Brinsley Schwarz: Despite It All (1971, Liberty): B
  • Brinsley Schwarz: Please Don't Ever Change (1973, United Artists): B+
  • Brinsley Schwarz: Original Golden Greats (1970-73 [1974], United Artists): A-

Jazz Prospecting (CG #26, Part 11)

Had a horrible week slogging through all this . . . stuff. Didn't get the column done. Have 77 albums and 2474 words, but no pick hits or duds -- just miles and piles of honorable mentions, some of which I'm going to throw away before I get it all sorted out. Actually wrote more into my surplus file than I wrote into the column: trying to operate on the rule that previously rated HMs get one play then either get written up in an HM line or get shunted off to the surplus file, where I can write longer, more descriptively, and more indirectly (like moaning about how little I actually have to say about this or that pretty good record). I figure I'm so far behind I should just try to clean house as much as possible. The one thing I can assure you is that the surplus file will be a monster this time.

The space crunch is insane. Boiled four Ivo Perelman records down to a single review. Same for three Gerry Hemingways (cutting one loose altogether). Currently have ten A- records push down into the HMs: some are old, some obscure, Anthony Braxton and Jerry Bergonzi are more of things I've written about in previous Jazz CGs. Although there is some new jazz prospecting below, almost all of it dates from the previous week. Woke up this morning expecting to write yet another "no jazz prospecting" post, then decided there was no good reason for keeping this much back -- some good records below, two from the Netherlands. Anyhow, the column will be done sometime this week. The delay hasn't had any practical damage since the Voice is still awaiting its new music editor. Unpacking below is incomplete. I'll stop whining now and get back to work.

By the way, I was invited to vote in Downbeat's critics poll this year. (Guess they appreciated me not making fun of them last year, breaking a 5-6 year annual tradition.) I took notes and will post them later this week. A weird and rather horrid experience.


Ben Holmes Trio (2009, self-released): Trumpet player, based in Brooklyn, first album, trio with Dan Loomis on bass and Vinnie Sperrazza on drums. Four originals, two trad. (one Romanian, the other Turkish, I think), plus a piece called "Lev Tov" by H. Schachal. B+(***)

ICP Orchestra: ICP 049 (2009 [2010], ICP): Cover lists the musician names, alternating black and gray; under that ICP Orchestra in red; at bottom ICP 049 in black and gray. Spine reads: ICP (049) Orchestra. Pretty sure this is the ICP Orchestra record Francis Davis picked as last year's best. The group -- ICP stands for Instant Composers Pool -- dates back to 1967, founded by Misha Mengelberg, Han Bennink, and the late Willem Breuker. Current lineup is named on the cover: Mengelberg (piano), Bennink (drums), Tristan Honsiger (cello), Ab Baars (reeds), Ernst Glerum (bass), Michael Moore (reeds), Thomas Heberer (trumpet, Mary Oliver (violin, viola), Tobias Delius (tenor sax) -- at least four expats settled in Amsterdam (Moore, Oliver, and Honsiger from US; Delius from UK; not sure about Heberer, from Germany, does play with a lot of Dutch musicians). Have a lot of catching up to do, especially on Mengelberg, but this sums up the usual virtues of the Dutch avant-garde: continental culture, with a delirious twist. A-

Ernest Dawkins' New Horizons Ensemble: The Prairie Prophet (2010 [2011], Delmark): Saxophonist, alto and tenor, b. 1953, based in Chicago. Group adds two trumpets, trombone, guitar (Jeff Parker), bass, and drums. The prophet is the late Fred Anderson, the patron saint of the Chicago avant-garde. Dawkins has long had a thing for South African music -- his previous albums include Jo'burg Jump and Cape Town Shuffle -- and he starts this off by reworking an Abdullah Ibrahim title, "Blues for a Hip King," into "Hymn for a Hip King." He also remembers Lester Bowie, and titles his last two pieces "Mesopotamia" and "Baghdad Boogie" with snatches of old war songs. The horns come hot and heavy; Parker's guitar is superb throughout. A-

David Binney: Graylen Epicenter (2010 [2011], Mythology): Alto saxophonist, b. 1961, also plays soprano (especially well on this record); AMG lists 16 albums since 1989, many more side credits, a dozen or so as producer. This runs long (73:43), has a bit of kitchen sink feel -- a second sax (Chris Potter), trumpet (Ambrose Akinmusire), both piano (Craig Taborn) and guitar (Wayne Kravitz), bass (Eivind Opsvik), two drummers (Brian Blade, Dan Weiss) sometimes doubling up plus Kenny Wollesen (percussion, vibes), and occasional vocals (Gretchen Parlato) mostly in spare horn mode. Postbop largesse, plenty of dazzling passages. B+(***)

Roxy Coss: Roxy Coss (2009 [2011], self-released): Tenor sax, soprano sax, flute. From Seattle, based in New York, first album. Money quote from someone at AAJ: "just like Coltrane, Coss achieves a perfect balance of lyricism and intensity in her improvisations through a superb sense of timing, rhythmic and harmonic structure." Not "just like Coltrane"; not remotely near. Much of the album is wiped out by a pop jazz rhythm section, and the flute adds no significant weight. When the drummer drops down to brushes she finally gets a chance, shows some poise and taste. Just not like Coltrane. B-

Majid Khaliq: The Basilisk (2010 [2011], self-released): Recording date presumed -- got this so early it couldn't have been recorded this year, but it could have been recorded earlier. (Website says he "will release" this record in late 2010, but publicist gives 2/15/2011 as the release date.) Violinist. Grew up in New York, cites Ray Nance as an inspiration, but mostly cites Wynton Marsalis. First album, with trumpet (Charles Porter), piano, bass and drums. Wrote 5 of 8, with "Polka Dots and Moonbeams" plus one each by McCoy Tyner and Charlie Parker. Flows along nicely. B

Margaret Noble: Frakture (2010, Amnesty International): Sound artist, former DJ, some press suggests she started in Chicago, is now in San Diego, plays turntables and analog synths. Website lists three albums, but this is the first one cited by places like AMG. This is presented as George Orwell's 1984 "remixed into sound art album." The music is intriguingly electronic, with lots of spoken word samples. I'm not making a lot of sense out of the Orwell thing -- a book I've largely managed to avoid -- but the electronic collage is interesting. Proceeds go to Amnesty International. B+(**)

Brian Lynch: Unsung Heroes (2008-09 [2011], Hollistic Music Works): Trumpet player, b. 1956, 15-plus albums since 1986, started out as a hard bopper, then made a big splash in Latin bands. Pays tribute here to trumpet players, mostly from 1950s and 1960s: Tommy Turrentine, Idrees Sulieman, Louis Smith, Claudio Roditi, Kamau Adilifu, Joe Gordon, Ira Sullivan, Donald Byrd, Howard McGhee, Charles Tolliver -- mostly adapting their songs, sometimes writing new ones. Lynch has done this before, in 2000's Tribute to the Trumpet Masters, where he picked off the more obvious names (Freddie Hubbard, Thad Jones, Lee Morgan, Booket Little, Woody Shaw, Kenny Dorham, Blue Mitchell, Tom Harrell, and Tolliver again). Crackling trumpet, helped out by Vincent Herring on alto sax; congas on two tracks. B+(***)

Delfeayo Marsalis: Sweet Thunder (2008 [2011], Troubador Jass): Subtitled "Duke & Shak" -- Shakespeare, which Ellington flirted with a bit on his album Such Sweet Thunder. Long section in the fold-out booklet sheet "On the Music" -- have to admit I didn't read it (fit of bad eyesight) so I don't know how much of this is Ellington as opposed to Marsalis playing Ellington or what any of it has to do with the Bard. A lot of work went into the packaging -- unwraps to four panels, lots of details, plus the booklet, all lavishly produced. Musicians vary, but run between 5 and 8 per song, more often 8, with piano-bass-drums, Tiger Okoshi on trumpet, Marsalis on trombone, and three reeds -- Mark Gross, Mark Shim, Victor Goines, Jason Marshall, Branford Marsalis (just soprano on 4 cuts). Does a nice job of getting the Ellington look and feel. B+(*)

De Nazaten & James Carter: For Now (2009 [2011], Strotbrock): The Offspring, formerly of libertine Prince Hendrik, a mixture of Dutch and Surinamese musicians, have been around since 1995 -- I had the Dutch muddled in my memory and started to refer to them as the Bastards, which they probably wouldn't find offensive. The apinti drum and skratyi are not just exotic; they make for fine party instruments, accenting the comic potential of a group that already had sousaphone and bass sax before teaming up with a world class baritone saxophonist. Back cover shows them all hopping, with no one getting a bigger kick than Carter. 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.

Agustí Fernández Quartet: Lonely Woman (2004 [2005], Discmedi): Spanish pianist, b. 1954, hangs in avant-garde circles; AMG credits him with 7 albums since 2000, which is way short -- doesn't include this one, or two recent ones I was looking for, or, well, his website lists 32 solo, duo, trio, and leader albums since 1987, plus 9 collaborations. Rhapsody gave this one a 2010 date, fooling me into putting it on, and it was good enough I let it spin. Quartet with sax (Liba Villavecchia), bass and drums; don't have song credits but some (most? all?) come from Ornette Coleman -- "Lonely Woman" and "Virgin Beauty" I recognize, and "Latin Genetics" is irresistible. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Charlie Haden Quartet West: Sophisticated Ladies (2011, Decca): Just a quick impression here -- I'm rather surprised not to have been serviced on this, something that no doubt can be remedied easily enough. New drummer in Quartet West, Rodney Green, doesn't have much to do. Ernie Watts' tenor sax is as delicious as ever, but 6 of 12 tracks are given over to pianist Alan Broadbent's string orch, and 6 of 12 (the same save one) have guest vocalists, spread out with instrumentals. The ladies: Melody Gardot, Norah Jones, Cassandra Wilson, Ruth Cameron, Renee Fleming, Diana Krall. The one I did a double take on and had to look up: Fleming. Which isn't to say that I didn't prefer Jones and Krall. Ends with the quartet alone playing "Wahoo" -- something I could have used a lot more of. Not sure how many Quartet West albums this makes -- at least a half-dozen, plus a best-of, since 1986. At best a terrific group, given to gimmicks, like patching vocals by Billie Holiday and Jo Stafford into Haunted Heart. Haden's a soft touch, and he's never been mushier than with this group. I could see loving this, as I do Haunted Heart, or not. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Heikki Sarmanto: Moonflower (2007, Porter): Finnish pianist, b. 1939, discography at Wikipedia lista 38 albums since 1969 but misses this one (AMG has 7 including this); his website claims 30 and shows 21 (but not this). I ran across him on a fusion album by Eero Koivistoinen, but that seems to have just been a 1970s phase. Porter, which reissued Koivistoinen's 3rd Version, has several albums by Sarmanto, so I was expecting more of the same, but this appears to be a new recording. Quartet, with Juhani Aaltonen on tenor sax, brother Pekka Sarmanto on bass, and Craig Herndon on drums -- just plays acoustic piano here, nicely setting up Aaltonen, who makes his usual big impression. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Heikki Sarmanto/The Serious Music Ensemble: A Boston Date (1970 [2008], Porter): Parsing the cover: "The Serious" is in much smaller print than "Music Ensemble" so maybe I shouldn't take that so seriously; the title is also followed by "1970" which is useful but far enough off I omitted it from the title. Other references vary. Quintet, led by Juhani Aaltonen's tenor sax, really superb free bop. Cover appears to show Sarmanto on an electric, but his piano sounds more acoustic, with sharp accents and smart bridges. Guitarist Lance Gunderson also helps connect the dots. Not sure where in Boston this was recorded, but starts with a piece called "Top of the Prude" -- I'm guessing that means the Prudential Center. A- [Rhapsody]

Heikki Sarmanto Quintet: Counterbalance (1971 [2008], Porter): Nearly the same group as on A Boston Date -- Pekka Sarmanto plays bass replacing George Mraz (who was probably a one-shot replacement in Boston; he was a student attending Berklee at the time) -- but the sound and gestalt is markedly different, with the leader playing tinkly Fender Rhodes and Juhani Aaltonen forsaking his saxophone for flute. I should have cited his flute on my Downbeat ballot -- by any fair measure he's one of the best jazz flute players ever -- but I'd rather he give the instrument up. B+(*) [Rhapsody]


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


Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last two weeks (incomplete):

  • Eric Alexander: Don't Follow the Crowd (High Note)
  • Eliane Amherd: Now and From Now On (ELI): May 3
  • Arrive: "There Was . . ." (Clean Feed)
  • Come Sunday: Crosscurrents (self-released): May 3
  • Marc Copland: Crosstalk (Pirouet)
  • Lars Dietrich: Stand Alone (CDBaby)
  • Jack Donahue: Parade: Live in New York City (Two Maples)
  • Five Play Jazz Quintet: Fie of Hearts (Auraline)
  • Jared Gold: All Wrapped Up (Posi-Tone): Apr. 19
  • Noah Haidu: Slipstream (Posi-Tone)
  • Pablo Held: Glow (Pirouet)
  • Darren Johnston/Aram Shelton/Lisa Mezzacappa/Kjell Nordeson: Cylinder (Clean Feed)
  • Etta Jones & Houston Person: The Way We Were: Live in Concert (2000, High Note)
  • La Cherga: Revolve (Asphalt Tango)
  • Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord: Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! Quavers! (Hot Cup)
  • Susie Meissner: I'm Confessin' (Lydian Jazz): May 3
  • Joshua Redman/Aaron Parks/Matt Penman/Eric Harland: James Farm (Nonesuch): advance, Apr. 26
  • Júlio Resende Trio: You Taste Like a Song (Clean Feed)
  • Claire Ritter: The Stream of Pearls Project (Zoning)
  • Mort Weiss: Mort Weiss Meets Bill Cunliffe (SMS Jazz)
  • Kenny Werner: Balloons (Half Note)
  • Nate Wooley Quintet: (Put Your) Hands Together (Clean Feed)

Purchases:

  • Drive-By Truckers: Brighter Than Creation's Dark (New West)
  • New York Dolls: Dancing Backward in High Heels (429)
  • Martha Reeves & the Vandellas: The Definitive Collection (Motown)

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:


  • Glenn Greenwald: Billionaire Self-Pity and the Koch Brothers: Mostly about what the title says, but the middle section setting the context is worth quoting at length:

    Since Obama was inaugurated, the Dow Jones has increased more than 50% -- from 8,000 to more than 12,000; the wealthiest recieved a massive tax cut; the top marginal tax rate was three times less than during the Eisenhower years and substantially lower than during the Reagan years; income and wealth inequality are so vast and rising that it is easily at Third World levels; meanwhile, "the share of U.S. taxes paid by corporations has fallen from 30 percent of federal revenue in the 1950s to 6.6 percent in 2009." During this same time period, the unemployment rate has increased from 7.7% to 8.9%; millions of Americans have had their homes foreclosed; and the number of Americans living below the poverty line increased by many millions, the largest number since the statistic has been recorded. Can you smell Obama's radical egalitarianism and Marxist anti-business hatred yet?

    Then there are those whom Obama has empowered. His first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, is a business-revering corporatist who made close to $20 million in 3 short years as an investment banker, while his second, Bill Daley, served for years as JP Morgan's Midwest Chairman. His Treasury Secretary is undoubtedly the most loyal and dedicated servant Wall Street has ever had in that position, while Goldman Sachs officials occupy so many key positions in his administration that a former IMF and Salomon Brothers executive condemned what he called "Goldman Sachs's seeming lock on high-level U.S. Treasury jobs." Obama's former OMB Director recently left to take a multi-million-dollar position with Citigroup. From the start, Obama's economic policies were shaped by the Wall Street-revering neo-liberal Rubinites who did so much to serve corporate America during the Clinton years. Meanwhile, the President's choice to head his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness -- General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt -- heads a corporation that "despite $14.2 billion in worldwide profits -- including more than $5 billion from U.S. operations -- did not owe taxes in 2010": an appointment the White House still defends.

    Some of these trends pre-date Obama, but few have been retarded during his presidency, while many have accelerated. Whether one finds this state of affairs desirable or not, no rational person can describe them as the by-product of a Marxist, business-hating egalitarian. Quite the opposite. The political power of America's richest has never been greater, and the level of their responsibility and collective burden has never been less. Meanwhile, for ordinary Americans, the remaining remnants of their financial security and middle class comforts rapidly erodes. It's true that the U.S. Government has little regard for the free market: they intervene constantly in the free market on behalf of the nation's wealthiest and most powerful business interests; it's crony capitalism, corporatism: government run by corporations (or, as Dick Durbin said of the Congress in which he serves: "the banks own the place").

    For billionaires to see themselves as the True Victims, to complain that the President and the Government are waging some sort of war against them in the name of radical egalitarianism, is so removed from reality -- universes away -- that's it's hard to put into words. And the fiscal recklessness that the Kochs and their comrades tirelessly point to was a direct by-product of the last decade's rule by the Republican Party which they fund: from unfunded, endless wars to a never-ending expansion of the privatized National Security and Surveillance States to the financial crisis that exploded during the Bush presidency. But whatever else is true, there are many victims of fiscal policy in America: the wealthiest business interests and billionaires like the Koch Brothers are the few who are not among them.

  • Paul Krugman: Ignoramitocracy: Talking about how Obama's nominations of highly qualified experts like Peter Diamond, Donald Berwick, and Elizabeth Warren can't get ratified by the Senate:

    Part of what's going on here is simply opposition for the sake of opposition. But as Pollack says, the underlying problem is that anyone with actual expertise and any kind of public profile -- in short, anyone who is actually qualified to hold a position -- is bound to have said something, somewhere that can be taken out of context to make him or her sound like Pol Pot. Berwick has spoken in favor of evaluating medical effectiveness and has had kind words for the British National Health Service, so he wants to kill grandma and Sovietize America.

    So what lies down this road? A world in which key positions can only be filled by complete hacks, preferably interns from the Heritage Foundation with no relevant experience but unquestioned loyalty.

    In short, we're on our way to running America the way the Coalition Provisional Authority ran Iraq.

  • Andrew Leonard: Wisconsin's Most Dangerous Professor: About historian William Cronon, who wrote an op-ed (Wisconsin's Radical Break) that deep enough under the (admittedly thin-skinned) GOP legislators that they demanded to comb through his email account -- he is, you see, a professor at the state-owned University of Wisconsin, and therefore likely to be using the taxpayer's money to promote his political beliefs (unlike, I suppose, the governor's PR staff). To see why the GOP is so upset with Cronon, just look at how he paints the party's history:

    Republicans in Wisconsin are seeking to reverse civic traditions that for more than a century have been among the most celebrated achievements not just of their state, but of their own party as well.

    Wisconsin was at the forefront of the progressive reform movement in the early 20th century, when the policies of Gov. Robert M. La Follette prompted a fellow Republican, Theodore Roosevelt, to call the state a "laboratory of democracy." The state pioneered many social reforms: It was the first to introduce workers' compensation, in 1911; unemployment insurance, in 1932; and public employee bargaining, in 1959. [ . . . ]

    But while Americans are aware of this progressive tradition, they probably don't know that many of the innovations on behalf of working people were at least as much the work of Republicans as of Democrats. [ . . . ]

    When Gov. Gaylord A. Nelson, a Democrat, sought to extend collective bargaining rights to municipal workers in 1959, he did so in partnership with a Legislature in which one house was controlled by the Republicans. Both sides believed the normalization of labor-management relations would increase efficiency and avoid crippling strikes like those of the Milwaukee garbage collectors during the 1950s. Later, in 1967, when collective bargaining was extended to state workers for the same reasons, the reform was promoted by a Republican governor, Warren P. Knowles, with a Republican Legislature.

    The policies that the current governor, Scott Walker, has sought to overturn, in other words, are legacies of his own party.

    But Mr. Walker's assault on collective bargaining rights breaks with Wisconsin history in two much deeper ways as well. Among the state's proudest traditions is a passion for transparent government that often strikes outsiders as extreme. Its open meetings law, open records law and public comment procedures are among the strongest in the nation. Indeed, the basis for the restraining order blocking the collective bargaining law is that Republicans may have violated open meetings rules in passing it. The legislation they have enacted turns out to be radical not just in its content, but in its blunt ends-justify-the-means disregard for openness and transparency.

    I cited Leonard's piece because it provides further links, including this blog post by Cronon, Who's Really Behind Recent Republican Legislation in Wisconsin and Elsewhere? (Hint: It Didn't Start Here). Cronon identifies The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a right-wing think tank that specializes in drafting legislative proposals for Republican state legislators all over the country to introduce and promote. This certainly helps explain why the right-wing attack is so viral all across the nation. Leonard adds:

    In an earlier post today, I quoted another blogger noting how humiliating it was that progressives didn't even realize that efforts to restrict striking workers from eligibility for food stamp programs dated all the way back to 1981. We've been asleep on the job. But if there's one good thing to come out of the aggressive ultra-conservative agenda so visible since the 2010 midterm elections -- with special attention to events in Wisconsin -- it is that we are all paying more attention than ever to what's been going on in this country for the last 30 years. It's not just that issues like "collective bargaining" are suddenly part of mainstream debate. We are also looking harder at the laws that are getting passed and more closely examining the institutions -- like ALEC -- that have been so instrumental in moving reactionary agendas forward.

  • Alex Pareene: The Single Stupidest Right-Wing Reaction to the Libya Campaign: Actually, I doubt that a title like that can be more than momentarily true: someone is bound to come right along with something even stupider. Still, the first line here is precious:

    The conservative press has not yet coordinated its official position on the United States' military actions in Libya. They dislike Obama and Gadhafi almost equally. They love wars but consider Democrats feckless at waging them. The "good guys" in this particular fight are disconcertingly Islamic. A sign of the confusion: Rush Limbaugh's position a few days back was "it's a tricky situation." That's not exactly the clear-cut message his listeners have come to expect. (Though Rush did argue that our president is fighting to establish sharia law in Libya.) [ . . . ]

    And Mark Krikorian says . . . well, Krikorian examines the issue quite creatively. It is actually about uppity women. Our "enemies" have "learned," he says, "that our commander-in-chief is an effete vacillator who is pushed around by his female subordinates." His problem isn't with women, he clarifies. His problem is that Obama looks like a weakling and those awful women "nagged him to attack Libya until he gave in." [ . . . ] So there you have it. This war is a bad idea because Barack Obama isn't manly enough to stand up to his emasculating staff of harpies. Women!

    That's pretty stupid, but the stupidest? Steve Benen already has a quote out from Rep. Allen West (R-FL) saying:

    "When you look at what's happening in Libya, I don't care what anyone says; you can't win away from 30,000 feet. I've been on the battle field before. I don't know why we're shooting $567,000 a piece Tomahawk cruise missiles into Libya. You know, back two or three weeks ago, we could have taken care of this situation if we had done the exact same thing that Ronald Reagan did back in the early 80's to Muammar Gaddafi, when he dropped the bomb in his back yard. Muammar Gaddafi didn't say a word for the next 30 years."

    Discount that "next 30 years" a bit; more like 2 years, if that. Reagan bombed Libya in 1986. In 1988 Gaddafi responded by blowing up an airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland. But where that part is flat out wrong, and the reasoning that an isolated bombing run "two or three weeks ago" would have worked better than systematic air domination now is pretty specious, what's got me most perplexed is King's use of the word "win"; even if the operation is effective, which is far from a certainty, I can't imagine any way to spin it as a win. At best you're still trading one set of deaths for another, one set of victims for another, one set of vindications for another. Maybe the numbers balance off differently, but any way you figure it all of the action is going to be in the loss column. It's too late for anyone to win anything.

    Pareene later tried to map all this out in his A Conservative's Guide to Responding to Libya. Meanwhile, Maureen Dowd heard about the "henpecked Obama" theory and ran with it (see Pareene again).


Aside from the "stupid things people say" critiques, I have yet to read anything on Libya I find in any way useful. I really can't get bent out of shape over anything Obama has done regarding Libya thus far. That should not be construed as an endorsement: I have very real worries that he (or "events") could turn out far worse. I also don't agree with the tactical steps along the way, but in the context of everything else that he has done (or not done) I don't feel compelled to nitpick on Libya. I've been very critical of Obama for his escalation in Afghanistan and for his recklessly imperial approach to Pakistan. I'm bothered by signs of US military involvement in Yemen. I really want to see the US pack up and get out of Iraq, Afghanistan, the Persian Gulf, all of CENTCOM. If we weren't in any of those places, I would be much more bothered about US entry into Libya than I am. But we are in all those places so I don't see how drawing the line at Libya makes any real difference.

To explain, it's worth starting with something the editors at The Nation wrote:

In many respects, Obama seems to have learned this lesson. He resisted calls from right and left for unilateral US intervention in Libya. Instead, the White House favored a series of UN Security Council-mandated measures to weaken Muammar el-Qaddafi's hold on power and prevent him from slaughtering his own people. It wasn't until it was clear that those actions would fail -- and the potential for a massacre of civilians had increased -- that the administration began to consider military action.

Moreover, the president did what Bush did not do in 2003: he insisted there would be no US military action without Security Council approval and regional involvement, in particular from members of the Arab League. Obama also took steps to try to limit America's military footprint and ruled out sending ground troops into Libya -- indeed, the Security Council resolution explicitly forbids foreign occupation forces. The resolution also makes clear that its goal is the protection of civilians rather than regime change. Thus, the administration's decision to support the UN action is an important defense of a multipolar world that operates according to international law.

I'm not going to claim that the UN or the Arab League makes anything right. They are political organizations where wheeling and dealing occurs and they've made plenty of mistakes in the past. The UN resolution does place some significant restrictions on US intervention, but they seem to be there mostly because Obama wanted them -- his desire to minimize the US presence, to neutralize the threat of violence from both sides in what is now a Libyan civil war, and to lead to a negotiated solution appears to be genuine and uncommonly (at least by the standards of his predecessors) well reasoned. On the other hand, the UN and Arab League resolutions will prove to be toothless if (and some would argue it's only a matter of when) the US and its allies get impatient and more actively back anti-Gaddafi forces. It is pretty much unprecedented for a foreign power to intervene in any state's internal conflict without taking sides. (In Kosovo, for instance, pretense of neutrality was plainly a farce. The cards are even more stacked against Gaddafi in Libya.)

One thing we've already seen is that, like every other war in history, Libya has already turned into a cesspool of shameless propaganda. There is little reason to believe anything any side presents, and there is every reason to expect anyone with a stake in the conflict to mislead you in any way they can imagine. That is basically why so little that has been published is of any value at all. And, of course, I have my own peculiar take on it all, which may be suspect to, but please hear me out:

  1. Gaddafi has had a troubled relationship with outside powers (mostly the US) ever since he came to power (and ordered the US to abandon up Wheelus Air Force Base, established during WWII, and regarded as a relic of the colonial era and an affront to Libyan sovereignty). Both Libya and others have made tragic blunders in this relationship, and one can argue ad nauseum over over whom to blame for what, but all that has no bearing now -- except in that it should help us understand why Gaddafi cares so little about world opinion.
  2. The Libyan people have the right to peaceably protest, to free speech and assembly; Gaddafi violated that right by suppressing their protests with violence. The subsequent breakup of the country into armed camps is a consequence of Gaddafi's decision to use violence rather than to address the protests with peaceable and democratic means. Gaddafi is, in short, culpable for allowing Libya to fall into a state of civil war and chaos.
  3. The international community should recognize Gaddafi's delegitimacy and take steps to limit Gaddafi's power short of punishing the Libyan people. How one can do this is rarely (if ever) clear or inarguable; steps that are relatively uncontroversial are rarely effective.
  4. Gaddafi's opponents within Libya have no more legitimacy than he has. Any attempt by outsiders to help the opponents to defeat Gaddafi and take over Libya would be as much an affront to the sovereignty of the Libyan people as outside support of Gaddafi to help suppress the revolt.
  5. The only solution fair and proper to the Libyan people is one where all sides agree to submit to fair and peaceable democratic elections. The only way to justify an outside intervention would be to show how it leads to this goal. This means that the only goal of any such intervention is a negotiated agreement for democracy.

Two parts of this are hard to do, especially for the US foreign policy clique since they've made their careers out of ingoring them for the past sixty years. The hard one is to be neutral. As far as I know, the US has never intervened in a country without having a favored side. (Reportedly the reason the US didn't intervene in Rwanda was we "didn't have a dog in that fight.") But if the goal is a negotiated ceasefire leading to elections, the intervention should be willing to lean against either side if and when it looks like that side might win. The fact is that it is very easy for a propagandist to rile up the American people against Gaddafi, but allowing that to happen leads to a lot of bad outcomes, both for the Libyan people (whose sovereignty our taking sides sacrifices) and for the US (which once again will be seen as meddling in other countries for selfish reasons).

The other problem, of course, is how to intervene without causing additional harm. One can certainly argue that even relatively mild acts like blockades and sanctions harm innocent people more than they undermine regimes. As for bombing, there's no escaping the fact that bombs inevitably kill innocent people. That's why interventionists are so eager to invent hypothetical people "saved" by bombing to balance off against the real people killed by it. (That's also why those same interventionists are so keen on calling themselves and their acts "humanitarian"; one thing you must understand is that there is no such thing as a humanitarian military intervention -- that's a simple impossibility, and the very use of the word should clue you in to the deceit it's meant to shroud.)

So is there a calculation which can justify the US/UN going in and bombing Libya? It can't be humanitarian concern for the Libyan people -- for one thing the US/UN has no right to speak for the Libyan people, especially not for the unknown individuals killed by the bombing. The only calculation I can imagine is this: that Gaddafi's forces are already killing people, so if you pointedly attack their wherewithal to project violence, you might degrade and deter their ability and will to do further violence. Or you might not -- there are cases, and they are far from rare, where attacks, especially by foreign forces, increase one's resolve to fight on. There is some evidence over the last few days that this calculation is working, but there is no guarantee that it will hold out. The best evidence would be for a ceasefire to stabilize current positions, then lead to negotiations and resolution.

On the other hand, the intervention has meant a reversal of fortune: welcome in that it halted Gaddafi's forces, disturbing in that it let the insurgents regain the offensive. There will be a lot of propaganda coming on how the US/UN should deviate from neutrality and actively back the insurgents, both to shorten an expensive conflict and because deep down we just plain hate Gaddafi. The fact is we have no idea who the Libyan people might prefer in charge of the government, and because we are not Libyan we have no right to an opinion. The only thing we can maintain is that Libyans should be given the opportunity to express their preferences in free and fair democratic elections, and that the best way to do that is to get all parties to agree to participate. Letting the insurgents storm Gaddafi's strongholds won't achieve this goal. In fact, it will taint the insurgents by associating them with foreign invaders and outside interests. So while I'm not too worried right now seeing the insurgents move bit by bit closer to Tripoli -- Gaddafi's people should be more willing to negotiate if they feel more at risk -- it would be a dangerous policy change to bomb the way for them to close in.


There are several threads of antiwar opposition to Obama's Libya policy, and I'm not here to argue against them. I don't support or approve of Obama's policy for far more basic reasons: I don't believe that war is a proper or acceptable means of resolving disputes, and I don't believe that my country or any other should have a warmaking capability and especially that they should not position it abroad. Obviously, if the US had no such capability, Obama would not be able to implement this policy, and I would be opposed to him developing any such capability. Obviously, if the US was committed to pacifism, we wouldn't be having this discussion. (Indeed, we wouldn't have had the air force base in Libya, we wouldn't have broken relations, we wouldn't have bombed Libya in 1986, Gaddafi wouldn't have had the pretext to blow up that airliner, and so on.) I'm not "bent out of shape" here because Libya is a relatively minor and thus far relatively benign offense; I'd rather argue both the general principles and more egregious cases, like Iraq and Afghanistan.

There are legitimate worries that if Obama's Libya policy can be painted as successful -- and judging from past adventures like Bosnia and Kosovo, such interpretations can be pretty loosey-goosey -- it will lead to further and most likely more reckless interventions (as, e.g., Afghanistan led to Iraq; in computers we call this "second system complex"). If there's an answer to that objection it's not to be found in history. Nor is it terribly satisfactory to point out how unlikely any real form of success is. Gaddafi has already declared his intent to die a martyr, so the fairy tale solution of him panicking and suing for peace real soon now doesn't seem to be in the cards. As with all wars, the longer this drags on, the more people we kill, the more we blow up, the worse it all gets -- and the more likely the relatively cautious and balanced terms of the UN resolution are swept aside in favor of a full-blown invasion.

Obama has also been castigated for bypassing Congress -- Kucinich has gone so far as to argue that Obama should be impeached. Normally I'm in favor of anything that makes it harder to go to war, and I wouldn't mind Congress rising to the occasion to force that principle, but I shudder to think of this Congress getting wrapped up in that debate (let alone actually trying to figure out Libya). Besides, as I recall Kucinich blew his big chance back in 1998: when Clinton was impeached, I urged voting against him not because of the specific charges but because his recklessly insane pummelling of Iraq would eventually lead to war there, but Kucinich gave him a pass.

There are more isolationist antiwar positions that I can't fault, and more realist antiwar positions -- why do we care what happens in Libya? -- that I don't quite understand. (Isn't it in America's, as well as civilization's, interest for all nations to give up war and to refrain from attacking their own people?) One thing that I haven't seen any commentary on is the probability that Libya is primarily a European concern and that Obama got dragged into the conflict in order to keep his primary NATO relations from falling apart. (France and England are the bulldogs of Europe here, since they have the most firepower and they have all of that imperialist legacy and culture to draw on, but they are most likely assuming a generalized European concern.) The US doesn't need Libyan oil, but Europe does. Libya has a history of terrorist attacks against Europe, but only indirectly against the US. The US would be just as happy to shit can Libya for the next thirty years, as it did in 1981, but Europe can ill afford doing so, and certainly doesn't want to have to fend off a bitchy US when they're trying to work out basis business with Libya. On the other hand, the US still needs NATO in Afghanistan, and that deal only works if there is some two-way value exchanged.

I suppose that if all that's true (and I think it is, although I haven't read anything to corraborate it), opposing US intervention in Libya might be seen as a positive step toward breaking up NATO, but NATO's always struck me as the tail, not the dog. There are plenty of reasons to shut it down, so why not deal with them more directly?


There are also lots of theories about how the various Arab revolts will turn out: whether intervening in Libya will make other countries more or less likely to revolt, other governments more or less likely to try to forcibly repress revolts, whether the revolutionaries will be more or less pro-American, and whether that's a good or bad thing. I find it real hard to know, let alone to generalize.

The US has already taken a wide range of hypocritical positions, encouraging revolt in some countries, welcoming violent repression in others (chiefly Bahrain and Saudi Arabia). No matter how violent the Saudis get I don't expect the US will have anything to do with a no-fly zone there. And as for the one place that most desperately needs a no-fly zone, Gaza, about all you can do is work that into a stand-up routine. The country most analogous to Libya right now is Syria. It is an effective dictatorship controlled by a minority clique which can be presumed to be fairly unpopular -- again, it's hard to say, and harder to believe whoever's saying -- and they have at least one past incident where they suppressed a revolt with massive firepower (in Hama, in 1982, killing upwards of 10,000; Israeli military theorist Martin van Creveld was quite impressed). The US has large adjacent air bases in Iraq, as well as a fleet in the Mediterranean, and Israel would be more than happy to chip in, so a no-fly zone is pretty doable. So maybe Libya changes the odds in Syria, but it's hard to say how.

Whether these revolts turn violent is virtually always decided by the government. I've seen arguments that we shouldn't intervene in Libya because the protesters themselves turned violent so readily, but I find that hard to credit. Alternatively, I've heard is said that the revolution in Libya was premature -- that the protesters weren't ready to take over the government. It looks to me like in every case the protesters pushed, the government responded rather violently, the protesters consolidated and pushed back harder. In Tunisia and Egypt the military held together and shifted power, sending the existing regimes into exile. In Libya the military itself cracked, immediately militarizing the protests, but that's mostly a function (or dysfunction) of the government, nothing that the protesters could have prepared for.

No one can know how this will play out. At this point we don't even have the promised new governments in Tunisia and Egypt, which once they exist will become models for the region. So my advice, if anyone cares, is to slow down and chill out on Libya; get a ceasefire, figure out a process to unify the country democratically, and get it functioning again as a normal state interacting with the rest of the world. Obama's done a lot of things that seem no better than what Bush did, but thus far he hasn't screwed Libya up much worse that it already was. If he's lucky, he might get out of it without too much embarrassment, but for that to happen he's going to have to ignore a lot of stupid advice he's certain to get.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Expert Comments

On Brinsley Schwarz:

On Brinsley Schwarz, the first ones weren't much but the albums got steadily better, with Nervous on the Road real good and New Favourites -- well, if I did a top 10 of the 1970s (which were my decade) it's probably be there (certainly top 20). BGO reissued those two on the same twofer, so that's one to look for. BGO also has the first four albums on two twofers, plus the Original Golden Greats/15 Thoughts set that Milo recommended. I don't have the latter (although I used to have Original Golden Greats on vinyl), but I do have another compilation, Surrender to the Rhythm, released by EMI in 1991, and just comparing the song list I'd say the EMI beats the BGO by quite a bit (cheaper too, at least at CDConnection). Haven't seen any of the more recent reissues on Hux.

That whole "pub rock" movement was something I was very into at the time, and I had about everything you could get out there. The other big group was Ducks Deluxe, which we named out one-shot zine for. I have an Edsel twofer of their two albums but they dropped two songs to squeeze them in. Looks like BGO has a twofer now with the dropped songs restored.

On Steve Lacy:

I have close to thirty Steve Lacy records. Part of his story is that he started out in Dixieland on soprano sax emulating Sidney Bechet, then jumped straight to Cecil Taylor -- he was on Jazz Advance -- without ever touching, or being touched by, bebop. He did pick up a major interest in Thelonious Monk -- has whole albums of/on Monk, many more songs -- and a minor in Herbie Nichols. An early album of special note is School Days, a quartet with trombonist Roswell Rudd -- Ken Vandermark named one of his best groups after that album, less because he imagined himself as Lacy than he like to think of Jeb Bishop as Rudd. If you go through my rated list, you'll find that my take on Lacy's records varies quite a bit. That's mostly because his wife, Aebi, sings on quite a few, at least from the 1990s on, and I simply can't stand her voice -- I usually find she costs him about one grade per song. That's a very personal reaction, but I'd be surprised if I'm the only one who feels that way. Lacy's a major figure; hardly anyone else like him.

Joe mentioned a duo album with Mal Waldron, one of the really great pianists. Siempre Amore is another one.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 17930 [17911] rated (+19), 853 [850] unrated (+3). Trying to close out Jazz CG column, which means spending more time on previously rated records and less on unrated. Didn't do a very good job on almost any aspect of this.

  • Neil Diamond: The Bang Years 1966-1968 (1966-68 [2011], Legacy): B+(*) [Rhapsody]

No Jazz Prospecting

Still stuck in the middle of cleaning up my overdue column for print. Do have a reprieve of sorts, in the sense that Rob Harvilla has left the Village Voice and his replacement as music editor, Maura Johnston, doesn't start until April. Harvilla's been supportive over the years. He's done me some favors, especially at year-end time, but he's also been chronically short of space. I can't possibly put everything I want to cover in a timely fashion into the space I get. I've tried to cope by writing tight and cryptic, by sloughing off worthwhile records, and (mostly) by letting things slip out in time, so that it's not at all unusual to find records appearing in Jazz CG that are more than a year old. A big part of closing this column is figuring out what to do about old and obscure records. I really don't know what the answer should be, in part because I don't know what the future will hold. I've heard good things about Johnston -- was told that she was editor at Idolator "when it was good" -- but I don't know her at all.

Slow getting going last week, but I've finally split the file and started trying to mop up the previously rated but unrevieweds. I have enough new prospecting to publish, including a surprising knot of A- records, but it's all so up in the air I'll hold off until next week. Don't have any A records for pick hits, but there are plenty of good ones just below that level. Still haven't settled on any duds. As usual, have way too many honorable mentions, and given the space/time crunch I find myself pushing marginal A- records into the HM list. Pretty certain I will get this wrapped up this week. No idea when (or at this point even if) the Voice will publish, but it looks like between my foot-dragging and external factors this one has slipped a month, maybe more.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Weekend Rundown

Got to the end of the week and found that I hadn't saved off any links -- most weeks I come up with 5-8. Laura spent the week in Detroit, so I didn't get any encouragement from her. But mostly I'm extremely bummed at the state of the world. Electing all those Republicans back in November seemed like the dumbest, most self-destructive thing you could imagine. Now, well, it is; you can see that now, can't you? You don't need me to say, "I told you so!" Yet what else can I add?

I thought about linking an AP piece on the House vote to defund NPR. It turns out that is no mere spending cut deal. It's meant to block any local media from spending any money on NPR. It's like sanctions against trading with North Korea. Cal Thomas coughed up a column this week arguing that NPR is biased. That of course is the easy part: anyone can argue that anyone else is biased, and Cal Thomas is especially easy pickings there -- the main reason he gets his column published in papers like the Wichita Eagle is that he makes for a pretty far out right-wing basket case. The deeper point is that instead of letting all viewpoints battle it out in the "marketplace of ideas" Thomas and the GOP goons in the House want to stamp out any ideas but their own. There is a term for this: "thought control."

But it also shows how desperately cynical the GOP is to secure power by means of manipulating purse strings. One reason we keep hearing about why Republicans want to crush public worker unions is that they want to throw obstacles in the way of workers making political contributions. It isn't enough for them to get unlimited corporate contributions; they also insist on choking off each and every source of support their opponents might be able to tap. It isn't enough that they spend government money on their favored contractors; they want to make sure government can't spend money on their opponents -- since that includes most poor people, most single people, most workers, that means they want to keep the government from doing anything that benefits the public. Why, for instance, support the arts when most of the people who enjoy art are Democrats? Why regulate nuclear power plants when most of the people at risk of radiation poisoning are Democrats? Why not rush into every imaginable war when the beneficiaries are Republican contractors and most of the risks fall on ordinary citizens? The Republicans have embarked on what we should call the War Against Civilization.

If it were just the Republicans, it would be easier to see a way clear of these threats. Most people rather like Civilization. They like food to be regulated so it doesn't poison them, and airlines to be regulated so planes don't crash. They like knowing that when they're too old to work they'll have an income and medical bills paid. They'd like having an educational system that anyone who has the brains and discipline to succeed can attend. They'd like to be able to join a union that would stand up for their rights then the bosses get all huffy. Lots of them like museums and other public art forums, and the costs are so trivial the grouches can hardly claim to be harmed by their fellow citizens' happiness.

But rather than defend Civilization, the Democrats keep tossing bits aside to appease the ever ravenous Republicans. For instance, just this week Obama gave in to another war. This one is styled as a light Bosnia-style air cover mission, intended to tilt a civil war slightly against a guy we've loved to hate for decades, so figure a lot of expensive fireworks (good for those warmongers who favor Republicans even when its Democrats overpaying them, and very little risk, except of course to people who live on the targeted ground. I noted one article that pointed out how officials in France and the UK see this "splendid little war" as a means to avoid budget cuts to their otherwise bloated and useless war bureaux. Obama held out for some nominal UN cover, which presumably makes his decision seem more considered (at least as compared to his predecessor's). And he promises "no ground troops" which somewhat limits the amount of self-damage he can inflict, but no organization on earth is more capable of screwing this up than the USAF, especially if they believe anything the CIA says.

One could imagine Gaddafi's forces so intimidated by ex-imperialist firepower that they fold and end this quickly, but they could just as plausibly solidify their stance as the ones opposed to imperialism, and if they do so this could drag out horribly. The most tactful stance for Obama is to deny that the US wants anything in return, which begs the question of why such greedheads would wager so much with no hopes for a positive return. Of course, Republicans won't be tempted to question Obama here, because intuitively they understand that war always helps the Republicans -- increases their patronage for defense contractors, increases risks and fears of blowback terrorism, pinches parts of the budget that could be used to actually help people, and drives a wedge between Democratic politicians and their despised base. (David Frum has once again weighed in with his maxim that whereas the Republicans fear their base, the Democrats despise theirs.)

There are many other ways the Democrats give ground -- the most obvious is their failure to fight back against the death spiral of cutting taxes and starving public services, but they wind up nearly as doubtful of science and knowledge, as submissive to the rich and powerful, as blithely ignorant of the real risks and challenges we should be facing, as are the Republicans. Their failure to fight back, even to think through their options, dooms them to failure rather than giving us reason for hope.

The massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan should give us pause. It is just one of myriad possible events due to shock a system that is nowhere near up to the challenge. We can't even take refuge in the idea that it is a natural disaster -- human habitation has so overwhelmed the planet that there is no nature anymore. Earthquakes are beyond our control, but they reverberate through the artifacts of our construction, adding complexities we can scarcely imagine. The nuclear reactor failures are merely the most obvious example. How careless of Japan to build such vulnerable and hazardous plants! Yet how else does a nation with no fossil fuels stay abreast of an economy -- a lifestyle, a worldview -- that can only exist by mining energy? Clearly they are damned one way, damned the other. Arguably Japan is the most advanced nation in the world -- rich, skilled, disciplined, cohesive, dedicated, yet today they are already facing limits that lurk everywhere but which our political culture cannot speak of, cannot even contemplate.

So that's that I draw from this past week. Not much to go on.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Expert Comments

New Christgau piece on Lucinda Williams, kicked off several things:

Fyi: new news on the website [robertchristgau.com]. Go there for details.

Other matters: I'm pretty sure I didn't originate the term, but isn't it Christgavian? But also I can't vouch for Doug Simmons' priority. Virtually every idea -- good, bad, or irrelevant -- has been derived independently multiple times. All the more reason Proudhon would have said "intellectual property is theft" had he been able to imagine such a thing (intellectual property, that is).

On the other hand, I'm pretty sure it never occurred to me that Marcus, or even his followers (which evidently do exist) might be Marcusian. I'm no expert [on Marcus, that is] but I'm not aware of him ever coming up with an idea as deep as "repressive tolerance" or even coining a term as suggestive as "polymorphous perversity." It used to be fashionable to attack the Frankfurt School for failing to see the liberatory potential in pop culture, but where exactly is all that progressive political energy? Seems more like sour grapes now -- not that their analysis was wrong but that it was too easy for them, being old-worlders never seduced in the first place.

Looks like my facebook status was premature. Went to bed last night finding the new Cornershop lacking, but the narrower palette and Punjabi-only just makes it more work for more marginal returns, but they're there. Next up: Dave Binney. Odds are slim but he earned another play, another chance.

Finally, thought I would mention the Stampfel recording nobody seems to have, "Antonia's 11" (2006), which was packed as a bonus in a booklet, Blue Navigator 9. Includes the oft-requested "Chinatown."

Facebook status: earlier wrote (I think the first time I had used "status" as opposed to sharing links):

Rated three straight new records yesterday A-: ICP Orchestra, Ernest Dawkins, New York Dolls. Usually don't get 3 out of 25 in a week.

Later had to add comment:

Make that four straight over two days: got to where I like the new Cornershop too. Played Lucinda Williams in the car today, which might make five, but I should do something about Dave Binney first.

Later still Christgau pointed out that he had made some edits to his Lucinda Williams piece, so I tracked them down and updated the piece. Then wrote:

Unfortunately, I did get to the Lucinda Williams piece before the edits, so had to reverse engineer them. I found two:

  1. one word (in brackets) added to: "conveyed the sense of sincerity that [makes] declarations of faith signify"
  2. "Williams had gained a few pounds since I last laid eyes on her, but seemed comfortable with them" restructured as "Williams seemed perfectly comfortable with the few pounds she'd gained since I last laid eyes on her"

If there's anything more someone should tell me.

Christgau sends me things sometimes, notifies me more often (but not always), and I usually scrape the pieces off the net, changing some format things (like italicizing titles) on the fly. It's generally easier to work that way than to work off Christgau's files -- aside from formatting issues he has a system for marking revision changes that I've never fully understood -- but it does occasionally result in me missing things or making the occasional error. (The Williams piece cites her last two albums and the title songs from those two albums; the album titles get italicized and the song titles remain in quotes, and sorting out which is which is pure context.) This is why I always notify people on updates and ask them to look at what I've done. Judging from how few complaints I get, I suspect that isn't being done rigorously enough.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 17911 [17878] rated (+33), 850 [841] unrated (+9). Went to Independence on Wednesday. Saw Aunt Freda, 96; she had a hard time hearing, better when Ken joined us and replaced her hearing aid batteries. Her memory is worse than ever. Flesh just sort of hangs on her arms.

Didn't get much else done last week. Jazz CG still looms over me -- something to get out from under, not that I'm making any progress. Haven't heard back from MSN about Recycled Goods. Laura in Detroit this week. If history is any guide, I don't do well when she's gone.

  • Chris Connor: He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not (1956, Atlantic): B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Chris Connor: I Miss You So (1956 [1958], Atlantic): B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Chris Connor: A Jazz Date With Chris Connor (1956, Atlantic): B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Chris Connor: Chris Craft (1958, Atlantic): B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Chris Connor: Witchcraft (1959, Atlantic): B+(***) [Rhapsody]


Jazz Prospecting (CG #26, Part 10)

Time to get serious about finishing this thing. All I managed to do last week was to play some strong prospects off the top of the queue, and mostly got honorable mentions for my trouble. Not what I needed -- not by any stretch of the imagination. Lost a day in the middle of the week when I drove to see my aunt in Independence, KS. Took along the new ICP Orchestra album, plus the new Lucinda Williams. Didn't get far with either of those, but did greatly enjoy Alexander McCabe and Benjamin Herman, two records I prospected but still need to write reviews of. A few years back a publicist wrote to ask me if I was feeling OK because I'd been writing lousy reviews of her records -- one of them actually wound up with a crown in Penguin Guide, so maybe she had a point. I wasn't, but I still thought I could hear straight. Not sure I am now either, but after listening to so many near misses, it did feel good to hear something I actually liked. Eventually the De Rosa record below clicked, too, so maybe this dry patch is letting up. In any case, I plan on spending the next two weeks listening to the things I've rated and put up for review, instead of rooting through the unplayed stuff (although I'll do some of that too). As of now, I have 192 records prospected this round, a bit less than my recent norm (207-226 over the last five rounds). I have 1772 words written where I need 1300. I have no pick hits and no duds written up, but chances are that something I've heard will move up, and I really don't care much about the duds -- they're supposed to establish my credibility but I mostly find them sad. This week doesn't look like it's going to be real productive, so I figure it will take two to finish this thing. Will see how it goes.


Mostly Other People Do the Killing: The Coimbra Concert (2010 [2011], Clean Feed, 2CD): Already forget where -- think it was that Spanish poll I forgot to vote in -- but I recall MOPDTK named as best live jazz group, something I have no opinion on not least because I can't recall the last time I even saw a live jazz group. I suppose I could try to form an opinion on the basis of live records, but then you'd have to compete with something like the Vandermark 5's Live at Alchemia -- 12-CDs that just grow and grow on you. MOPDTK sail through the first one here in dazzling fashion, but stall a bit on the second. And where their studio exercises are full of surprises -- and nicely documented in the liner notes so you don't miss them -- recycling their past deconstructions leaves them a bit short in their strong suit: the unexpected. B+(***)

Tim Berne: Insomnia (1997 [2011], Clean Feed): Note first that this has been kicking around for a long time. I was asked a while back to write something nice about Clean Feed for the label's 10th anniversary, and I utterly failed to find any way to structure that -- in large part because I've always been so defensive, and so rebellious, about getting boxed in to anyone else's notion of what I ought to write. But one thing I can say about Clean Feed -- one of the things that distinguishes them from virtually every other jazz label -- is that they won't hesitate to take a flier on something everyone else has passed over. And while one might suspect that a label with their demographic would leap at the opportunity to add Tim Berne to their catalogue, more likely it's that Pedro Costa has heard something he wants to give a chance. Berne has released a superb string of records starting around 2003 -- my pick hit is Pre-Emptive Denial, attributed to Paraphrase, from 2005 -- but I rarely cared for his earlier works: he emerged around 1980 as a Julius Hemphill protégé and often seemed to be biting off more than he could chew, making music too complicated to finally come together. That's sort of the problem here, except that the final quarter does come together, and the more you listen to the complex noodling up front the more its incoherent strands take on their own logic. Big, and actually very talented, group: Baikida Carroll (trumpet), Michael Formanek (bass), Marc Ducret (guitar), Dominique Pifarely (violin), Erik Friedlander (cello), Chris Speed (clarinet), Jim Black (drums), Tim Berne (alto and baritone saxes). The core of the group -- Berne, Speed, Formanek, Black, sometimes Ducret -- was working as Bloodcount at the time, and their excellent Seconds spent ten years on the shelf before Berne released it himself. Someday I should go back to Berne's early records and try to figure out whose fault it was that I didn't like them. B+(***)

Scott Fields/Matthias Schubert: Minaret Minuets (2010 [2011], Clean Feed): Guitar/tenor sax duo. Guitarist Fields has a couple dozen albums back to 1993. Schubert has four albums since 1992, including the well-regarded Blue and Grey Suite from 1994. They previously played together on Fields' 2006 album Beckett. They're careful here to match up their tones, so you get close listening and interaction, even balance. Does run on rather long. B+(**)

Jane Ira Bloom: Wingwalker (2010 [2011], Outline): Soprano saxophonist, one of the few specialists; b. 1955, thirteenth album since 1980. Quartet with Dawn Clement (piano, Rhodes), Mark Helias (bass), Bobby Previte (drums). Eleven originals, ends with "I Could Have Danced All Night." B+(***)

Vijay Iyer with Prasanna & Nitin Mitta: Tirtha (2008 [2011], ACT): Piano-guitar-tabla. Prasanna's guitar propels the flow, the most distinguishing feature here, very attractive at times with the soft tap of the tabla. Iyer elaborates but rarely breaks loose. B+(***)

The Cookers: Cast the First Stone (2010 [2011], Plus Loin Music): Supergroup -- Billy Harper (tenor sax), Craig Handy (alto sax), Eddie Henderson (trumpet), David Weiss (trumpet), George Cables (piano), Cecil McBee (bass), Billy Hart (drums), with Azar Lawrence joining on 4 of 7 cuts (3 on tenor sax, 1 on soprano). Second group album, after 2010's Warriors, which got a lot of favorable notices but didn't come my way. Weiss is probably the least well known, but he's the arranger, that's his specialty. I recall Harper and Henderson teaming up before, on Harper's Live on Tour in the Far East series (Volume 2 is exceptional), so no surprise that the horns are roaring. Good to hear Cables, not just comping but weaving it all together. B+(***)

Angelica Sanchez: A Little House (2010 [2011], Clean Feed): Pianist, b. 1972, moved to New York 1994, third album since 2003; has a list of 13 groups she is "a regular member of" -- nearly everyone mention is someone I want to hear everything by, and while I've never heard of Kevin Tkacz, "Kevin Tkacz's Lethal Objection w/ Paul Motion & Ralph Alessi" has got to be a winner. This one is solo piano. Doesn't amount to much as background, except for the bit on toy piano, but when I sat down at the computer to dismiss it I started hearing things that intrigued me. Takes focus. B+(**)

Daniel Levin Quartet: Organic Modernism (2010 [2011], Clean Feed): Cellist, b. 1974 in Burlington, VT; seventh album since 2002, plus such notable side credits as Soulstorm with Ivo Perelman. Quartet with Nate Wooley on trumpet, Matt Moran on vibes, and Peter Bitenc on bass. This feels very compressed, with Wooley in particular working inside the cello lines. B+(**)

The Warren Vaché/John Allred Quintet: Top Shelf (2009 [2010], Arbors): Cornet and trombone for the leaders, piano (Tardo Hammer), bass (Nicki Parrott), drums (Leroy Williams). Vaché followed Ruby Braff in keeping the swing revival going, reverting from trumpet to cornet, with dozens of albums since 1976. Allred is a decade younger, the son of a similar-minded trombonist, Bill Allred. Vaché, of course, isn't the first cornet player to appreciate the value of keeping a trombonist on tap -- Louis Armstrong never went anywhere without one. Only thing unusual here is that while nearly half of the songs are Tin Pan Alley standards, the rest come from the bop-era -- Thelonious Monk, Bud Powell, Clifford Brown, Benny Golson, Cannonball Adderley, the title track from Blue Mitchell. But in these hands the once radical break from swing to bop has blurred to nothing. Booklet credits Vaché with the vocal on "East of the Sun (and West of the Moon)" but sounds like Parrott to me. B+(***)

Carlo De Rosa's Cross-Fade: Brain Dance (2009 [2011], Cuneiform): Bassist, b. 1970, moved to New York 1993; first album, although I see scattered side credits -- Luis Perdomo, Amir ElSaffar, Samo Salamon, Rudresh Mahanthappa, Arturo O'Farrill. Quartet with Mark Shim on tenor sax, Vijay Iyer on piano, Justin Brown on drums. Shim is a guy I'd pretty much forgotten about: two quite good albums for Blue Note 1998-2000, only scattered side credits since then, 2-3 per year. Shim is, however, superb here, right on the edge. Brown's drums shift the beat all over the place, opening up vast spaces for Shim and Iyer to work in. A-

The Brian Landrus Quartet: Traverse (2010 [2011], Blueland): Plays baritone sax and bass clarinet, b. 1978, grew up in Reno, NV; studied in Boston, based in Brooklyn. Has a couple previous albums on Cadence, but doesn't seem that far out -- at least he not with this group: Michael Cain (piano), Lonnie Plaxico (bass), Billy Hart (drums). B+(**)


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


For this cycle's collected Jazz Prospecting notes to date, look here.


Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:

  • Muhal Richard Abrams: SoundDance (Pi, 2CD): duos with Fred Anderson and George Lewis
  • Art Blakey & the Jazz Messengers: The Sesjun Radio Shows (1978-83, T2, 2CD)
  • The Chris Byars Octet: Lucky Strikes Again (SteepleChase): May 10
  • Fredrik Carlquist: Playing Cool (FCJazz)
  • Brian Carpenter's Ghost Train Orchestra: Hothouse Stomp: The Music of 1920s Chicago and Harlem (Accurate)
  • Chuck Deardorf: Transparence (Origin)
  • Yelena Eckemoff: Grass Catching the Wind (Yelena Music)
  • Shane Endsley and the Music Band: Then the Other (Low Electrical)
  • Orrin Evans: Captain Black Big Band (Posi-Tone): Mar. 29
  • Peter Evans Quintet: Ghosts (More Is More)
  • Carlos Franzetti/Allison Brewster Franzetti: Alborada (Amapola): May 1
  • Bill Frisell: Sign of Life (Savoy Jazz)
  • ICP Orchestra: ICP 049 (ICP)
  • Eartha Kitt: The Essential Eartha Kitt (1952-57, RCA/Legacy, 2CD)
  • Low Cut Connie: Get Out the Lotion (self-released)
  • Thomas Marriott: Human Spirit (Origin)
  • Native Soul: Soul Step (Talking Drum)
  • Mark O'Connor Quintet: Suspended Reality (OA2)
  • Django Reinhardt: The Essential Django Reinhardt (1949-50, RCA/Legacy, 2CD)
  • R|E|D|S: Sign of Four (Origin)

Purchases:

  • Hayes Carll: KMAG YOYO (& Other American Stories) (Lost Highway)
  • Far East Movement: Free Wired (Interscope)
  • Lucinda Williams: Blessed (Lost Highway, 2CD)

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:


  • Paul Krugman: What I Read: Quick rundown; feature quote couldn't be more true:

    There's a lot of information out there; if the world weren't going to hell, it would be a great place.

  • Andrew Leonard: The Value of the Wisconsin Union Timeout: Some details here on anti-union laws Republicans are pushing not just in Wisconsin but all across the nation.

  • Andrew Leonard: Can Someone Tell John Boehner What "Broke" Means? Quotes a Bloomberg report by David Lynch on how the financial market values US government debt: if the country really was broke, interest rates on short-term debt would cost a lot more than 0.68 percent:

    Let's repeat that in clear language. Of all the rich economies in the world, financial markets consider the U.S. the safest. We are able to borrow money at rates far below historic averages. And if we wanted to, we could make a huge dent in our deficit simply by raising taxes, without doing undue long-term harm to our economy.

    The Republican response to these facts are instructive.

    "Markets can make mistakes," [said Tony] Fratto, [former White House and Treasury Department spokesman in the George W. Bush.]

    "If an American family is spending more money than they're making year after year after year, they're broke," said Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner.

    It does my heart good to finally hear a Republican admit that markets can make mistakes. Because, after all, this is one reason we need governments around, so we can fix things when markets fail. In fact, that's precisely why we have so much red ink at the state and federal level right now, because the government has been on the hook for a massive market failure, requiring huge outlays in social welfare spending at exactly the same time that tax revenue has plummeted.


The above were actually collected early in the week -- note that the ever-prescient Krugman already thought the world was going to hell back on Monday before the rest of this week happened. Since then Walker has managed to sign his law banning public employee unions in Wisconsin, and similar efforts have made headway across the country. (Here in KS, Sam Brownback signed an executive order cutting over $60 million in state expense, over $50 million of that from public schools. He, of course, sends his children to private schools.) Gaddafi seems to have reversed the tide of revolution in Libya and is battling back to kill his enemies, otherwise known as the Libyan people. (Meanwhile the chorus calling for a US/NATO/UN-imposed "no fly zone" has managed to sweep up even Paul Woodward at the usually reliable WarInContext.) Then there was the earthquake and tsunami in north Japan, with enormous immediate destruction and the extra struggle to keep damaged nuclear power plants from adding to the toll. I've been expecting for some years now that we will repeatedly be stressed by disaster, both natural and man-made (or both if you want to get into anthropogenic weather change), and further examples keep piling up. I'm generally impressed with how well Japan has handled a disaster of this magnitude; I imagine that the US would fare far worse -- in part because I've read Marc Reisner's A Dangerous Place: California's Unsettling Fate, but since then we've witnessed events like Katrina and the BP Gulf blowout, not to mention the government's utterly inept handling of its self-created war disasters in Afghanistan and Iraq. But bad as the government is, when disaster strikes there is no one else to turn to. And bad as the US is, it's possible to point to worse examples (although at the moment only Haiti jumps to mind). And looking at Wisconsin, indeed at Republicans all across the nation, it's all too easy to imagine our government getting far worse, far more inept. In a world increasingly beset by epic disasters -- which really has more to do with the complexity of our technology and economic systems than with the stressed state of nature -- the last thing we need is a gang of politicians attempting to wreck government, but that's what we are faced with.


One thing no one (that I know of) has pointed out about Libya is that a big reason why Gaddafi is fighting back violently whereas Ben Ali and Mubarak exited more or less gracefully is that the US has spent most of the last forty years demonizing and isolating Gaddafi and Libya, so they never developed the economic and political ties that would reinforce civil behavior. Although the US has nominally been friendly to Libya since Bush forgave Lockerbie, one thing we've seen in the last few weeks has been how readily we slipped back into villifying Gaddafi. But another is that his regime is steeped in the paranoia exclusions breeds -- North Korea is the prime example, not least because North Korea is the most friendless country on the face of the earth. It costs the US very little to shun a Libya (or Cuba or North Korea or Myanmar or Iran) but it costs those nations a great deal to be so cut off.

For what it's worth, I think Gaddafi has crossed a line where he should be villified. Citizens of every nation should be able to speak, assemble, and protest, without fear of getting shot or gassed or thrown into prison. However, Libya is not the only nation with that problem. In the last week we've seen both Bahrain and Saudi Arabia shoot into protesting crowds, but I haven't heard anyone who wants the US to impose a No-Fly Zone over Libya argue we should do the same thing over Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, nor can I imagine the US doing so. You might argue that the Saudis aren't attacking crowds with aircraft, but that's a sentence that demands one more word: yet. One could imagine protests spreading in Saudi Arabia to the point that the predominantly Shiite Persian Gulf region broke off, much as eastern Libya has broken free of Gaddafi. But if the degree of air threat was your consideration, the one place on earth that really needs a No-Fly Zone is Gaza. Can you really imagine the US intervening there to protect the people from Israeli air strikes? And while we're at it, shouldn't someone impose a No-Fly Zone over Pakistan's Frontier Territories, where people are routinely slaughtered from the sky?


I could imagine an international military response to Libya that might work, although I'm also pretty sure that one cannot trust the Americans to make it work. The first thing you want to do is clearly establish a reasonable goal, which is for the Libyan government and protesters to declare a cease-fire and agree to democratic elections so the Libyan people can select whatever government they want. Then you threaten the use of air strikes against any side that violates the cease-fire and/or uses violence to suppress the rights of free speech and assembly, with the intent to degrade the powers behind such use of violence, such that no side can hope to win by force. In theory this could involve attacking anti-Gaddafi militias, but as a practical matter the threat would focus on Gaddafi and his loyalist forces. The extent of such air strikes would be determined according to how long the sides refuse to negotiate, how much force they apply, and how good intelligence is at identifying targets; it should mostly be proportional to the use of force. The international force would declare no specific standard, like a no-fly or no-drive zone. Humanitarian aid would be available to both sides, contingent on nonviolence. The outside world could freeze Libyan assets and/or block trade, but no effort would be made to starve either side into concession. No outside effort would be made to influence elections. Gaddafi could conceivably agree to elections, campaign, win, and stay in power, within the normal framework of democracy.

Such a strategy is only possible because the outside world can dominate Gaddafi militarily. Such a strategy could not be used to push some other non-democratic states around, like China, or for that matter pseudo-democracies like Iran and Israel, so it's not a generally useful approach: it's pretty discriminatory against Libya, which will undoubtedly produce a backlash, no matter how carefully managed. The best possible scenario is that the threat leads directly to negotiations and a fair democratic outcome with no violence on any side (unlike a No-Fly Zone, which is generally understood to involve pre-emptive strikes against airfields and radars). However, because of Libya's long-standing isolation (my point above), Gaddafi is likely to resist, so the violence will be compounded. One can argue that if it is fast and precise, it will save lives in the long run, but the longer it takes the more specious that argument becomes.

The nation with the best technology to implement this policy is the United States. However, the US has a poor track record of doing anything remotely like this -- for technological reasons, like inability to gather correct intelligence on targets, and for political reasons: the US has intervened in many countries but never without an ulterior reason, e.g., having a dog in the fight. The long-standing historical enmity between the US and Gaddafi makes him less likely to negotiate, and makes Americans more likely to demonize him in order to sell the program. The US political system is pretty well poisoned at the moment, so while Obama (unlike Bush) might understand the concept, he may also find it politically perilous. Moreover, anyone who has been critical of US foreign/military policy over the last decade (or for that matter 65 years) must be leery about adding another country to America's Free-Fire List; a much better solution to the problem would be to mothball the bombers and cruise missiles and drones and return all the troops to US soil, giving up the conceit that we should be the world's gendarmes (effectively what this policy would enroll us to be).

So having thrown this scheme out, I'm inclined to shoot it down. It would be a shame if the Libyan revolution failed. It would be worse if the "no fly" boys were given carte blanche to bomb anywhere they could think of a humanitarian reason to do so. As much as I wish peace and democracy could come to Libya, they are needed even more desperately here in the US of A.


Expert Comments

Joe Yanosik listed how many records he has the most of by artist, with Monk at 20, Neil Young at 19, Dylan and the Rolling Stones at 17 each, Miles Davis at 16, etc., down to Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane, Buck 65, Lucinda Williams, and others at 7. I responded:

Joe: Looking at your counts list, I'm struck by how much Monk you have compared to other comparable jazz artists. For instance, no Mingus. Anyone with a fairly broad interest in jazz should have about a 1-to-1 Mingus-to-Monk ratio. (In my database, I have 38 Mingus to 39 Monk; there's a lot of redundancy on both sides, but more on Monk's.) A reasonable Davis-to-Monk ratio could be as much as 2-to-1. (I have 76.) Coltrane about 1.25; Rollins a bit more (I'm actually a bit short there, 46) -- Coltrane and Rollins are a more uncertain because they both have prolific periods you can easily ignore, which is less true of the others. These ratios would vary depending on whether you're completist, looking for a good historical overview, or just looking for the high ground, but Mingus-to-Monk should be about 1-to-1 regardless. You must have Monk nailed by now, but you're missing some truly great Mingus.

Yanosik asked for recommendations. Christgau wrote:

Just as a point of information, it is perfectly possible for intelligent person to adore Monk and never develop a taste for Mingus no matter how many times he (or she?) tries. The crucial factor is how elaborate you like your arrangements.

I respond:

For Mingus, start with Mingus Ah Um -- my desert island disc, pulls together all of jazz history up to that point. Blues and Roots is nearly as good, also 1959. Pithecanthropus Erectus is a bit earlier (1956), more avant, and the later Black Saint and the Sinner Lady (1962) is more challenging still, a major work. Two live sets offer sheer excitement: Live at Antibes (1960), with a terrific Bud Powell guest spot, and Mingus at Carnegie Hall (1974), which takes two Ellington tunes and rocks the house. Changes One (1974) introduces the George Allen-Don Pullen band with a couple of especially memorable songs. I should also mention Tijuana Moods (1957), and Money Jungle (1962), the latter a piano trio with Duke Ellington named first (and Max Roach last). Longer list on my website. Penguin Guide lists Charles Mingus Presents Charles Mingus (1960) as essential; it barely missed my list, the highest of a long list I rated mere A-.

Nostalgia in Times Square (1985) is the post-Mingus Mingus Big Band, a devoted group that never came close to the real thing. Three or Four Shades of Blues (1977) is reportedly one of the last Mingus discs you should seek out -- I could be wrong because I haven't got that far myself. The "MCA double" Joe mentions probably combines Black Saint with a fine album from the same year, Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus Mingus (1963).

Coltrane will have to wait, aside from the universally revered A Love Supreme (1964). In general I'd stay away from "best of" jazz compilations in favor of the better LPs, at least once you get into the 1950s and have that option.

Also on George Jones (another Yanosik list) and Buck 65 (since his record was initially on review):

I wrote the Rolling Stone Encyclopedia piece on George Jones, so there's a list (not ranked, but with stars) there: http://tomhull.com/ocston/arch/rs/jones,george.php

I haven't heard the 3-cd Time Life set; probably as good as anything that size, but their more recent The Great Lost Hits is close to fraud.

You might also want to follow the link there to my Buck 65 piece. I dug up the WEA Canada reissues of all of his early stuff. Not in the Christgau CG file but still worth checking out if you're into him: Vertex (1999); Synesthesia (2001); and Weirdo Magnet (2002, a compilation of 1988-96 material).

More:

Sharpsm:

Looks like I need directions to the longer list on your site, but one rather glaring omission here is The Clown (with Haitian Fight Song)--oversight? Overrated?

I have The Clown rated pretty low, mostly because I didn't like the title cut -- disjointed circus music with a Jean Shepherd narration. "Haitian Fight Song" is terrific when they light it up; "Reincarnation of a Love Bird" is Mingus at his most slippery, a great piece but an acquired taste. Two great songs out of four can be remembered as a landmark album, but I found it inconsistent and wasn't all that impressed by the band.

Can't recall where now but somewhat recently I heard a cover of "The Clown" that I was surprise to enjoy -- let's see, must be that lousy LCJO Mingus tribute (to quote myself: "What's missing from all the remakes is Mingus himself -- the virtuoso bassist, of course, but more importantly the leader who drove small bands to play huge. Here fifteen musicians play small. At the end of the tricky title piece about the clown, they even laugh small.")

All the ratings are tucked below http://tomhull.com/ocston/nm/intro.html -- Mingus would be in Jazz ('40s-'50s) along with his contemporaries. That's where I started thinking about ratios, since my coverage there is pretty close to canonical -- arguable, I'm sure, but more so than anywhere else (except maybe blues).

Continuing next day (but I'll continue it here):

Joe: Looks like you have a pretty good start on Coltrane, and good Ellington up to 1930, which isn't very far. Sroka's recommendations are pretty good. I've never cared for Coltrane's terminal avant period, including Ascension, something I need to revisit, but it's hard to go wrong with the Quartets on Impulse -- Crescent, Live at Birdland, Plays, and I do adore Ballads. I also love Ole on Atlantic. Soultrane is one of the better Prestiges.

The party line on Ellington is to get something from 1927-29 (which you have on Flaming Youth), the 1940-42 peak period (the 3-CD Never No Lament covers this, but also look for the 1940 Fargo concert), and Ellington at Newport (1956). I'd minimally add The Far East Suite (1966) to this, but there is a lot more, especially in the 1960s. You might seek out something like Anatomy of a Murder (1959) which has the most stratospheric trumpet crescendo ever. (Great scene in the movie, too, when Jimmy Stewart enters a stuffy bar in Michigan's UP and finds Ellington playing.) Alongside the big band, from the late 1930s Ellington spun off all sorts of small group side projects. Some of the best were reissued as Passion Flower under Johnny Hodges' name. Ellington and Hodges are co-credited with Back to Back and Side by Side (1958-59), informal and utterly gorgeous blues sets. Duke Ellington Meets Coleman Hawkins (1962) couldn't be more sublime. (Hawkins, by the way, is my main guy.) The Armstrong/Ellington sessions from 1961 are also delightful.

If you care for a more scattershot approach to the 1930s-40s, ASV has a long single disc each of Hodges and Ben Webster that weave back and forth between Ellington and small groups (including the occasional Billie Holiday vocal): real bargains (also the Lester Young, which does the same thing with Basie).

stb: Your Kirk imbalance is clinically interesting. I have 2X Coltrane partly because he's so influential I feel I have to cover him even though I keep banging into early and late (and Johnny Hartman) stuff that doesn't do much for me. Kirk is every bit as spotty, but definitely more fun.

PS: While writing this, Cobeen and gubbelsjp scooped at least a quarter of this post. As for DW on The Long Goodbye, all I can say is: Amen. I also found Pullen's Ode to Life in my travel case recently and enjoyed it immensely.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Music Week

Music: Current count 17878 [17839] rated (+39), 841 [845] unrated (-4). No idea what happened last week.

Changed previous grades:

  • Free Form Funky Freqs: Urban Mythology: Volume One (2007 [2008], Thirsty Ear): Vernon Reid, Jamaaladeen Tacuma, some drummer I'll have to look up (Grant Calvin Weston). While writing up the new Tacuma, I noticed this and dialed it up on Rhapsody thinking I had missed it. Limited concept -- Reid's guitar riffs over Tacuma's funk grooves -- but impressive as far as it goes. Not quite enough to make me bring it back as an HM, but I did toy with the idea. [was: B+(*)] B+(**)


Jazz Prospecting (CG #26, Part 9)

Last few weeks I've been posting an album cover as a sort of pick hit, although the real reason is that when I post a link on facebook it automatically grabs an image, and if I don't provide an album cover I'll get an unrelated book cover instead. On the other hand, nothing below strikes me as worth the effort. It's been a lousy week. Records I had hopes for flopped. The biggest surprise was a saxophonist from Spokane with a Mozart background, and I decided to hold that one for further play (that's what the bracketed grades mean).

The Rhapsody reviews are a matter of curiosity. I put together a list of things that got year-end list votes that I hadn't heard and that were available there, so I knocked a few of them off. Policy is to prospect them but not include them in Jazz CG unless I get real copies -- sometimes I seek them out, sometimes they find me, most never get noticed one way or another -- or I decide they're dud-worthy: Eigsti and Elling are candidates there, but thus far I haven't written them up. They are, after all, perennials; we've already been there, done that.

Goal now is to close this round out over next two weeks. Lot of records in the queue. Few looking promising, and most I won't get to this time, but I already have more than enough written up to fill the Voice's shrinking space allotment.

BTW: Should have a fairly lengthy helping of Rhapsody Streamnotes tomorrow.


Jamaaladeen Tacuma: For the Love of Ornette (2010 [2011], Jazzwerkstatt): Bass guitarist, b. 1956 as Rudy MacDaniel in Hempstead, NY; played on a couple of essential Ornette Coleman records -- Dancing in Your Head (1976) and Of Human Feelings (1979) -- back when Coleman was incorporating electric guitar and bass and putting forth his harmolodic theories (Tacuma also appeared on James Blood Ulmer's Tales of Captain Black. Tacuma's own records start in 1983 as he attempted to build on his free funk patterns. AMG lists this as his 17th album, not counting things like his Vernon Reid collaboration as Free Form Funky Freqs. Here he returns to Coleman, or maybe one should say Coleman returns to him -- the great man plays alto sax here, as unmistakable as ever, but strangely subdued, with Toni Kofi's tenor sax more often up front, and bits of piano and flute floating in the ether. B+(***)

Dollshot: Dollshot (2010 [2011], Underwolf): Group, or project, or something like that: Rosalie Kaplan (voice), Noah Kaplan (sax), Wes Matthews (piano, sometimes prepared), Giacomo Merega (bass, sometimes prepared). First album. Noah Kaplan has a previous album with Merega and guitarist David Tronzo. Rosalie Kaplan has one of those operatic soprano voices I can't stand, all the more so with so many songs by Arnold Schoenberg, Francis Poulenc, and Charles Ives. One original by Matthews, one by Noah Kaplan, an uncredited "Postlude." The instrumental passages are more intriguing, and I do like the dusky sax leads. [B]

The David Liebman Trio: Lieb Plays the Blues à la Trane (2008 [2010], Challenge): With Marius Beets on bass, Eric Ineke on drums. Three Coltrane pieces, sandwiched between Miles Davis's "All Blues" and Duke Ellington's "Take the Coltrane" -- all ruggedly blues-based, with snakey soprano sax twists and more muscular tenor sax. Liebman has well over a hundred records since the early 1970s, when he came up in Miles Davis's group. It used to be that saxophonists would strive to establish their own unique sounds, but Liebman is still a fan, wearing his heroes on his sleeves -- he's done a Homage to John Coltrane, his own version of John Coltrane's Meditations. Recently took a shot at Ornette Coleman too, but this is closer to his heart, and really the whole reason for his soprano. I still much prefer to tenor, but he makes both work here. B+(***)

Joel Harrison String Choir: The Music of Paul Motian (2010 [2011], Sunnyside): Guitarist, has a lot of half-baked ideas like Harrison on Harrison, where he plays George Harrison songs. This one is, well, different. Paul Motian's songs are much more difficult and much more intriguing. Arranging them for string quartet draws out the abstractness and sharpens the edges. No doubt it helps that his string section is made up of jazz musicians: Christian Howes and Sam Bardfield on violin, Mat Maneri or Peter Ugrin on viola, and Dana Leong on cello. He also plays guitar, as does Liberty Ellman. Two non-Motian compositions: "Misterioso" (Thelonious Monk) and "Jade Visions" (Scott LaFaro), both completely appropriate. B+(*)

Laura Harrison: Now . . . . Here (2010, 59 Steps): Vocalist, from Canada, studied at University of British Columbia, got a DMA from University of Southern California. First page of booklet mostly talks about crooked lawyers and how much pain and expense it took to get a Green Card. First album. Classically precise voice, although she starts out with credible scat on "Shulie A Bop" (misspelling Sarah Vaughan on the credit). Three originals, nine covers ranging from Bizet to Ellington to Sting. B+(**)

Noah Preminger: Before the Rain (2010 [2011], Palmetto): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1986 (not in current "long bio" but in my previous notes), based in Brooklyn, second album (AMG only has one, but I have two, and recall that his first won the Voice Critics' Poll's debut section). Quartet, with Frank Kimbrough on piano, John Hébert on bass, Matt Wilson on drums. Wrote 4 of 9 songs, picking up 2 from Kimbrough, 1 from Coleman (pretty sure that's Ornette), two standards ("Where or When," "Until the Real Thing Comes Along"). Preminger has a lot of potential, but the more I play it the more I suspect he's awed by his band, who try to be supportive but tend to stand out. B+(**)

Chris Parrello: + Things I Wonder (2010 [2011], Popopomo Music): Probably should attribute whole title to group name and consider album eponymous but I didn't want to write both twice (the style I've been leaning to lately) or italicize it all (a style I've long used). Parrello plays guitar, composed the songs; Karlie Bruce wrote and sings the lyrics. Other people I've never heard of play trumpet, sax, cello, bass, drums, and pedal steel. (Hype sheet just mentions five names: Parrello, Bruce, Ian Young [tenor/soprano sax], Rubin Kodheli [cello], and Kevin Thomas [bass]. Website shows one photo, a lineup of five.) They're probably easier to take as a rock band than as a jazz group: Bruce sings wordlessly on several occasions, but she's better when she has something to say; while the sax and cello avoid rock usages, the guitar and bass don't, and they seem to be happier playing a groove and riffs. B+(*)

Todd DelGiudice: Pencil Sketches (2010 [2011], OA2): Saxophonist, alto then tenor, also clarinet and bass clarinet; grew up in Florida, studied University of Miami; moved to New York, then on to Eugene, OR for more classical study, playing clarinet in the Oregon Mozart Players and joining symphony orchestras wherever he landed -- currently teaching near Spokane, WA. First album, quartet with piano, bass, and drums, all originals except for "All the Things You Are." Mainstream, gorgeous alto tone, effortless swing. I haven't been holding many records back for future consideration because I'm so jammed I often just want to check things off, but I want to hear this again. [B+(***)]

Will Swindler's Elevenet: Universe B (2010, OA2): Saxophonist, alto then soprano, studied at UNT, teaches at Colorado State. First album. Eleven-piece ensemble, shuffling some of the 14 credited musicians in and out, but basically breaks down to 3 reeds, flute, 2 trumpets, trombone or euphonium, French horn, piano, bass, drums. Five originals, covers from Miles Davis (arr. Gil Evans -- a key influence), Billy Strayhorn, and George Harrison. Took me a while to get used to the harmonics, but the arrangements have a silky flow -- not much solo and not much mass. B+(*)

Andy Farber and His Orchestra: This Could Be the Start of Something Big (2009 [2010], Black Warrior): Conventional big band, just the way Count Basie intended -- four trumpets, four trombones, five reeds (plus the leader, so make that six), piano, guitar, bass, drums; one-cut guest slots for Mark Sherman on vibes and Jerry Dodgion on alto sax, plus two vocal tracks with Jon Hendricks. B+(**)

Billy Bang/Bill Cole: Billy Bang/Bill Cole (2009 [2011], Shadrack): The violinist you must know by now. He had my jazz record of the year last year, and that wasn't the first time he did that. Cole you should know: I credit him with two A- records, 2002's Seasoning the Greens and 2008's Proverbs for Sam, both group albums. His duo albums, like this one and previous work with Bang and William Parker and others, are a bit sketchier. He was b. 1937 in Pittsburgh; wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on Coltrane; teaches at Syracuse; mostly plays non-Western wind instruments. He faces off Bang's violin here with digeridoo, nagaswarm, sona, flute, and shenai, ranging from deep throated background to even squeakier than Bang's violin. Takes off slow, wanders a lot; while Cole eventually comes up with some interesting flurries, Bang pays close attention but never really takes charge. B+(*)

Mike DiRubbo: Chronos (2010 [2011], Posi-Tone): Alto saxophonist, b. 1970 New Haven, CT, studied under Jackie McLean, six albums since 1999, starting with mainstream mainstays Sharp Nine and Criss Cross. Sharp player, runs very fast postbop races, lovely tone and soulful touch on ballads. This one's a trio, with Brian Charette on organ and Rudy Royston. Six DiRubbo originals, three by Charette. I don't find the organ all that interesting, but DiRubbo's one to keep an eye on. B+(**)

Darius Jones/Matthew Shipp: Cosmic Lieder (2010 [2011], AUM Fidelity): Avant alto sax/piano duo. Jones emerged with a most impressive album in 2009, Man'ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing), then followed it up last year with Throat, attributed to Little Women, which crossed my threshold for how much ugly bleating I can stand, but turns out to have been admired elsewhere -- the record got six votes in the Pazz & Jop poll, third best among jazz albums (behind Jason Moran and Mary Halvorson). I'm caught in between here, finding Jones a bit awkward, doing nothing naturally and getting by forcing it. Shipp too, although what he does fits in as comping, even if it's exceptionally brutal. B+(*)

Marhaug: All Music at Once (2007-08 [2010], Smalltown Superjazz): Lasse Marhaug, b. 1974 in Norway, has ten or so albums since 2001, does electronics -- at least that's the credit on 3 of 6 cuts here; others are piano on 2, scrap-metal on 2, and noise on the title track, not that I notice much difference between electronics, scrap-metal, and noise, or recognize much in the way of piano. More evident are the guitars of Jon Wesseltoft (4 cuts) and Stian Westerhus (the other 2), although they're more electronics than strings, and can pass for noise as well. Interesting stuff, but I'm not very acclimated to it. B+(*)

Bob Wilber: Bob Wilber Is Here! (2010, Arbors): Trad jazz player, plays clarinet, soprano sax, and alto sax; b. 1928 in New York, played in a high school band with pianist Dick Wellstood, studied with Lennie Tristano, but broke in playing with Eddie Condon and Buddy Hackett, was a protégé of Sidney Bechet's who he has long honored in his Soprano Summit group with Kenny Davern. Clarinetists Antti Sarpila and Nik Payton are introduced here as Wilber's protégés, and I can't begin to sort out who's playing what when here. The rhythm section supplies the necessary swing: Jeff Barnhart on piano, Nicki Parrott on bass, and Ed Metz on drums. Mostly delightful, although it seems a bit diluted. B+(**)

Paolo Fresu: Mistico Mediterraneo (2010 [2011], ECM): Italian trumpet player, b. 1961 in Sardinia, has 30-some albums since 1985, mostly on small Italian labels; second release on ECM, or third if you count Carla Bley's The Lost Chords Find Paolo Fresu. The idea here seems to be to come up with a sunnier version of Jan Garbarek's Officium collaborations with the Hilliard Ensemble. The vocal ensemble here is A Filetta Corsican Voices -- seven voices, lead by Jean-Claude Acquaviva, who wrote 5 of 13 pieces. Also playing is Daniele di Bonaventura on bandoneon. The other pieces, from Bruno Coulais, Di Bonaventura, and Jean-Michel Giannelli (using texts by Corsican poet Petru Santucci) appear to be contemporary. Lovely, of course. B+(**)

Markku Ounaskari/Samuli Mikkonen/Per Jørgensen: Kuára (2009 [2010], ECM): Subtitle "Psalms and Folk Songs"; Jørgensen appears after the title on the front cover line, on the second line of the hype sheet preceded by "with" but the spine merely lists him last (although AMG parsed this backwards and credits the album to "Jorgenson"). Drums, piano, and trumpet/voice respectively. Ounaskari (b. 1967) and Mikkonen (b. 1973) are Finnish, and don't appear to have much prior discography; Jørgensen (b. 1952) is Norwegian, has a couple of albums, and appears on at least ten more (Pierre Dørge, Jon Balke, Anders Jormin, Marilyn Mazur, Michael Mantler, etc.). The psalms are Russian; the folk songs Finno-Ugric: Vespian, Karelian, Udmurtian. Ounaskari and Mikkonen wrote three originals. Much of this is very captivating, but once again I get thrown off by the occasional vocal. B+(**)

Andrea Centazzo/Perry Robinson/Nobu Stowe: The Soul in the Mist (2006 [2007], Konnex/Ictus): Part of my Nobu Stowe backlog, but the pianist plays a relatively minor role here. Centazzo wrote the pieces, plays percussion, also credited for "Mallet Kat Keyb., Sampling"; record feels like the work of a percussionist, jumpy abstractions with everything else reduced to color, especially Robinson's clarinet. B+(*) [advance]

The Lynn Baker Quartet: Azure Intention (2010, OA2): Saxophonist, opens with soprano but also plays tenor, b. 1955, grew up in Oregon, teaches in Denver at Lamont School of Music. First album, sax-piano-bass-drums quartet, lively postbop, gets a lot of mileage out of pianist Reggie Berg and gives bassist Bijoux Barbosa some quality time. 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.

Artvark Saxophone Quartet: Truffles (2010, Challenge): Dutch sax quartet: Rolf Delfos (alto), Bart Wirtz (alto), Mete Erker (tenor), Peter Broekhuizen (baritone). Delfos appears to be the oldest, with about 20 years experience vs. 10 (9-12) for the others. Covers include one by Corea and two by Ibrahim, plus one trad; originals include one called "Ornat 'King' Coleman." The altos tend to lead, and the others keep the bounce clean and stress-free. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Mike Clark: Carnival of Soul (2010, Owl Studios): Drummer, b. 1946, got a fusion rep playing in Herbie Hancock's Headhunters. Here he reaches back deeper, mostly to the organ-fueled soul jazz circa 1960, rotating three organ players, with honking sax from Rob Dixon, and a "Cry Me a River" vocal by Delbert McClinton. Seems like basic stuff, but "T's Boogaloo" is irresistible. And for his finale, he namechecks a drummer great from further back. Calls that piece "Catlett Outa the Bag." B+(***) [Rhapsody]

David Hazeltine: Inversions (2010, Criss Cross): Pianist, wrote a song here "For Cedar" (Walton) which helps establish his niche, although there have been days when I'd take him for a bit less florid Oscar Peterson. Runs a quintet here which provides too many distractions to focus on his piano, but Eric Alexander is back in typical form at tenor sax, and Steve Nelson has a particularly bright and sunny day on vibes. With John Webber on bass and Joe Farnsworth on drums, natch. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Kenny Dorham: The Flamboyan, Queens, NY, 1963 (1963 [2010], Uptown): Hardbop trumpeter, had a strong run 1955-64, sliding off to a premature death in 1972. Live set, picked up from a broadcast tape with three stretches of MC Alan Grant talking between six songs -- two Gershwins, two Dorham originals, "Autumn Leaves," and one from pianist Ronnie Mathews. Dorham is in fine form; tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson lays back a bit at first, but earns his "featuring" cover credit. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Avishai Cohen: Introducing Triveni (2009 [2010], Anzic): Anat Cohen's trumpet-playing, third-world loving brother -- not the bassist of the same name, although it's worth knowing that Rhapsody has this under the wrong guy -- leading a trio with Omer Avital on bass and Nasheet Waits on drums. Wrote four originals. Covers Don Cherry, Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, Cole Porter. Puts his chops on fine display. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

Soweto Kinch: The New Emancipation (2010, Kinch): Alto saxophonist, b. 1978 in London, parents from Barbados and Jamaica. Has an Ornette-ish twist to his alto, something he could build on, but he's got this idea of doubling up as a rapper and spinning complex story lines about life in his 'hood -- interesting idea, but hard to follow, tripping up both on accents and beats. B [Rhapsody]

Taylor Eigsti: Daylight at Midnight (2010, Concord): Pianist, b. 1984, got one of those prodigy hypes cutting his first album in 2001; Concord picked him up in 2006, releasing his third album, one annoying enough I singled it out as a dud. Haven't heard much from Concord since then, although Eigsti's only one of many possible explanations. It's not that he can't play, but he doesn't have very interesting ideas: here, some trio, occasional electric keybs, some Julian Lage guitar, five songs handed over to vocalist Becca Stevens -- a wet blanket on an otherwise ordinary set. B- [Rhapsody]

Howard Alden: I Remember Django (2010, Arbors): Of course, being b. 1958 Alden has no direct connection to Django Reinhardt -- the title comes from a song, mixed in with "Nuages" and "For Django" and other things less obvious. Swing-oriented guitarist, lots of records since 1986, coached Sean Penn for Woody Allen's Django-inspired Sweet and Lowdown. Seems a bit off the mark here, with Matt Munisteri's second guitar and Jon Burr's bass but no Grappelli. On the other hand, we are treated to five cuts with Anat Cohen on clarinet, plus four with Warren Vaché on cornet. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Kurt Elling: The Gate (2010 [2011], Concord): Male vocalist, automatic pick for Downbeat's polls. Between his hipsterism and penchant for slipping in unnecessary notes I've never cared for his records. This is less idiosyncratic than most, less defined, quieter. Not the worst "Norwegian Wood" I've heard. Not much else either. B- [Rhapsody]

Joe Morris/Luther Gray: Creatures (2010, Not Two): Guitar-drums duo, both based in Boston where they frequently play together, especially in an explosive trio with Jim Hobbs; Morris quite prolific since 1990. Starts out so slow that it takes Gray a while to come up with something to do, but this come together, intimate, interactive, interesting. B+(**) [Rhapsody]

Joe Morris: Camera (2010, ESP-Disk): Much like the guitar-drums duo with Luther Gray, except that here the group is expanded to four, with Katt Hernandez on violin and Junko Fujiwara Simons on cello. The strings blend well enough with guitar, but have a sharper sound, and Morris tends to slip into the background. Thoughtful avant noodling, interesting as long as you can focus on it. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Vinicius Cantuária & Bill Frisell: Lágrimas Mexicanas (2011, E1): Brazilian singer-songwriter, b. 1951, has more than a dozen albums since 1983, a name I've often run across but never before managed to check out. Plays guitar and percussion, sings all the songs, light and lyrical, naturally. Frisell, of course, also plays guitar. He presumably adds something, but for once it's hard to pick out. B+(*) [Rhapsody]

Walt Weiskopf: See the Pyramid (2010, Criss Cross): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1959, grew up in Syracuse, has taught at Eastman School of Music and Temple University, co-wrote a book on Coltrane; 14th album since 1989, most on Criss Cross. Quartet with piano (Peter Zak), bass (Doug Weiss), drums (Quincy Davis). Wrote 5 of 10 tracks, including the first four, but the record only takes off with "Call Me," the first cover, which dispenses with postbop ideas and peels back the delicious theme like old-fashioned bebop. B+(*) [Rhapsody]


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


Unpacking: Found in the mail over the last week:

  • The Ambush Party (Doek)
  • De Nazaten & James Carter: For Now (Strotbrocck)
  • Harriet Tubman: Ascension (Sunnyside): Apr. 19
  • Lisa Hilton: Underground (Ruby Slippers)
  • I Compani: Mangiare (Icdisc)
  • Lee Konitz/Brad Mehldau/Charlie Haden/Paul Motian: Live at Birdland (ECM): advance, May 17
  • Brian Lynch: Unsung Heroes (Hollistic Music Works): Mar. 29
  • Ken Peplowski: In Search of . . . (Capri)
  • Alex Pinto Quartet: Inner State (self-released): Mar. 22
  • Pitom: Blasphemy and Other Serious Crimes (Tzadik): advance
  • Premier Roeies: Ka-Da-Ver (Vindu)
  • Dan Raphael/Rich Halley/Carson Halley: Children of the Blue Supermarket (Pine Eagle)
  • Sufis at the Cinema: 50 Years of Bollywood Qawwali and Sufi Song 1958-2007 (Times Square)

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:


  • Helena Cobban: Libya: What Can and Should Outsiders Do? Discusses no-fly zones, decapitation missions, friendly invasions, incapacitation, Hillary Clinton. Certainly true that the longer the civil war drags on, the worse for all concerned. Not least because it gives stupid foreigners more time to come up with really lousy ideas.

  • Helena Cobban: Pro-Democracy Activism Arriving in Saudi Arabia: With deep pockets that include the nation's clergy and Islam's holy places, Saudi Arabia appears relatively well positioned to hold against the democratization tide sweeping the Middle East, but no nation there needs it more.

    And now, it seems that some of those chickens of increasingly gerontocratic and sclerotic monarchy, easy access to unearned oil wealth, and the virulent anti-Shiite sectarianism of the Saud family's longtime allies, the Wahhabis, are coming home to roost.

    I do feel some sympathy for individual Saudis, including Saudi princes and princesses, who, having been cosseted and pampered from their infancy with the availability of lavishly flowing oil money, the service of indentured and completely rights-less household help and the services of very rights-restricted contracted professional advisers, may have grown up with the idea that they somehow "deserved" all this while Yemeni nationals or those "Godless Shiites" somehow only deserved much less.

    But life ain't like that. All human persons are, it turns out, equal. Maybe it's time that the Saudi kingdom's rulers, faced with sudden unexpected challenges from all around, finally figured out how to deal with that?

  • Glenn Greenwald: Bradley Manning's Forced Nudity to Occur Daily: I haven't been following this case closely, one reason why I find this report so shocking. I've long felt that the main purpose of torture isn't to obtain information; it's to impress the victim with the total power of the state and the victim's utter powerlessness. So while the physical routines of torture are the most obvious, the real battleground is psychological. Most of all the torturer wants to obliterate the victim's mind. That certainly seems to be the case with the military's treatment of Manning.

    The entire Manning controversy has received substantial media attention. It's being carried out by the military of which Barack Obama is the Commander-in-Chief. Yes, the Greatest Moral Leader of Our Lifetime and Nobel Peace Prize winner is well aware of what's being done and obviously has been for quite some time. It is his administration which is obsessed with destroying and deterring any remnants of whistle-blowing and breaches of the secrecy regime behind which the National Security and Surveillance States function. This is all perfectly consistent with his actions in office, as painful as that might be for some to accept (The American Prospect, which has fairly consistently criticized Obama's civil liberties abuses, yesterday called the treatment of Manning "torture" and denounced it as a "disgrace").

    This kind of treatment would be appalling under any circumstances. In Manning's case it's even worse: if indeed he is the one responsible for leaking documents to Wikileaks, he should be treated as a national hero, not as a criminal. He should, if anything, have been promoted to a position where he could do even more good work.

    Also see Greenwald's: Bradley Manning Could Face Death: For What? Again, death threats are one of the primary psychological tools of torture. Aside from the possibility that the people in charge of Manning are pure sadists (which I should hope would be regarded as some sort of breach of professional ethics), the main thing this suggests is that those people must have an awful lot of reasons to fear exposure, which in turn means that they are aware of having done things that if exposed would deeply embarrass themselves and the country they unfortunately represent.

  • Chris Hellman: $1.2 Trillion for National Security: Add up the numbers. Factor in a little more for veterans and interest. Do the math.

  • Andrew Leonard: How to Think About the Public Pension Mess: Interview with Dean Baker: why defined benefits always made sense, what's underfunded by irresponsibility and what's underfunded by bad luck, most likely temporary; what underfunding means. Could use more on the political angles.

  • Andrew Leonard: Wisconsin: The Tea Party's Waterloo?: With Gov. Walker's poll numbers falling hard, it's beginning to look like his union-crushing efforts may fall apart.

    Two things to note about Stephen Moore's hand-wringing in the Wall Street Journal.

    First, there's the brilliant headline, "The Wisconsin Wobblies." Whoever came up with the idea to smear wavering Republican senators with a name that immediately recalls the infamous radical union activists who joined together nder the name Industrial Workers of the World (a.k.a The Wobblies) -- should get a special award. A sane person might argue that Republican senators are actually paying attention to the will of the people, but to the Wall Street Journal, their lily-liveredness is cause for a total blacklist. Why not just call them Bolsheviks and be done with it?

    Then there is this panicked quote, along with accompanying analysis from Moore:

    "Republicans can't turn back in Wisconsin," says Mark Mix of the National Right to Work Foundation. "This will only embolden the unions and weaken efforts at reform all over the country." It's foolish to believe that backing down will satisfy the unions. If history is any guide, more than 90 percent of union money will be used to defeat Republicans no matter what happens.

    I have to echo Jonathan Chait here: Wait just a minute -- wasn't this fight supposed to be about balancing the budget? Aren't Republicans supposed to be a little more discreet about admitting that the real goal in Wisconsin was to break the knees of a political opponent?

  • Robert Scheer: Boeing Boondoggle: Pork Can Fly:

    So, faced with major problems in developing the next generation of civilian aircraft, Boeing has been blessed with a massive Defense Department contract that will allow it to use an old, about-to-be-discarded assembly line to refurbish the 767 at enormous cost to the taxpayer so that it is fit to haul fuel and serve as a gas station in the sky for planes that no longer have a pressing strategic mission requiring such refueling.

    This is the same plane that Republican Sen. John McCain killed some five years ago when his staff sparked an investigation that sent to federal prison Boeing's chief executive officer and a former Pentagon official who had been given a $250,000 vice president's job at Boeing; the company also hired her daughter and son-in-law. Boeing's CEO resigned and Boeing's contract to build the plane was cancelled. The Pentagon had not asked for the refueling tanker, but top Air Force officials in collusion with Boeing lobbyists did an end run to Congress that resulted in passage of an appropriation to lease the planes. [ . . . ]

    At that time, post-9/11 hysteria was the fuel that drove this egregious waste of taxpayer dollars. Today it is the stalled economy and the jobs and profits that military contractors spread throughout the land. But the result is the same; for all of the talk by politicians from both parties about cutting waste, the military boondoggles remain sacrosanct and hardly provide the tempting target for savings afforded by a schoolteacher's salary.

  • Paul Woodward: Obama Conspires with Mideast Despots to Slow the Advance of Democracy: I figure Obama figured that Mubarak was expendable because the US had deep links with the Egyptian military and the military was seen as ensuring a favorable balance of power. However, Bahrain is seen as going too far, as would any of the Persian Gulf states and especially the prize, Saudi Arabia. The US depends on oligarchs in those countries to send surplus dollars back to the US through imports -- the Saudis, in particular, buy an awful lot of military hardware they don't actually use -- and investments. New governments responsible to their citizenry might insist, instead, on investing those dollars locally, or at least regionally. As it stands, US trade deficits work like a conveyor transferring wealth from the majority of Americans to the very rich. China is already stressing that system. You may wonder why the Arab oligarchs go along so meekly, but clearly they are oligarchs first, Arabs last.

    From Washington's perspective, the people in Bahrain, the other Gulf states and especially in Saudi Arabia cannot be trusted with the power to determine their own futures.

    Saudi Arabia is preparing to launch a ruthless crackdown on dissent and when pro-democracy demonstrators get slaughtered, as they probably will, if President Obama has anything to say we can be sure he will go no further than issue one of his usual mealy-mouthed appeals for restraint. The House of Saud has already been given the green light to do whatever it must in the name of preserving "stability."

Saturday, March 05, 2011

A Whiff of Reality

Wichita Eagle ran an AP article today titled "Ex-Joint Chiefs head discusses 9/11" (no link). Filed from Garden City, KS. The Chief was Gen. Richard Myers, who presided over the Iraq War under George W. Bush. Addressing a Chamber of Commerce banquet in Garden City, KS, he said:

"It's nice to be out here where there are real people doing real things, trying to solve real issues and make your community better. . . . This is what America's all about, right here in this room. This is what makes America great."

The speaker, on the other hand, spent his whole career in the fantasy world of the US military, trying to invent problems that can supposedly be solved by blowing shit up, poisoning the world community and making America a symbol of blundering stupidity, ill will, and incredible waste.

As for Garden City, of course they are preoccupied with real problems. Surrounded by feed lots, their problems are so real you can't help but smell them. Of course, in the Chamber of Commerce conclave the only thing anyone can smell is money, which must seem even sweeter than the perfume routinely sprayed around the outskirts of town to confuse the stench.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Recycled Goods (83): March 2011

Pick up text here.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

A Downloader's Diary (8): March 2011

This is the eighth installment of Michael Tatum's cutting edge column. The others, along with an index to the 207 albums he's covered in the last eight months, are archived here. He also manages a Facebook page with more info and further thoughts, including some audio/video links I can't be bothered with here.


Pick up text here

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Post-Oscars

Had thought about skipping the Oscars this year, figuring it would all be all too predictable, as indeed had a couple other awards shows I wound up watching. Still, was feeling pretty lethargic Sunday night, so that's where I wound up. The show itself was pretty dreadful, even with a couple of innovations to minimize the damage, like moving the director's award away from best picture -- look at how often the two are redundant -- and grouping the usual awful songs into two short segments. Other bright ideas didn't pan out so well. James Franco and Anne Hathaway showed why they'd always used comedian-emcees in the past. (Roger Ebert: "Incredibly, when former host Billy Crystal came onstage about two hours into the show, he got the first laughs all evening.") Not even the stunt with Franco in a red dress came with a punchline. (I would have settled for styling it as a Tony Curtis tribute.) Having last year's director winner give out this year's prize reminds you why they always used actors for that job. Even more egregious were the wedding vows between the Academy and ABC. Setting the best picture nominees to the climactic speech from The King's Speech either proved that they had peeked into the envelope or that they didn't care. Having Celine Dion sing over the deathwatch prevented anyone from getting a word in edgewise. The best actor and actress toasts weren't as bad as last year, but mostly because Jeff Bridges was talented and sane enough to read them straight and dispose of them quickly.

As for the movies what won or even placed, they're a pretty sad set. I thought The King's Speech was very smartly done, but it is a pretty trivial travail, much like the constitutional monarchy itself. If you believe that bloviating in front of a radio microphone was the key to winning WWII, you're certainly aware that Britain didn't need much of an effort from King George -- Timothy Spall's small role as Churchill easily covered that base. I've seen people complain about Oscar's predeliction for "Merchant-Ivory costume dramas" but The King's Speech was silly compared to films like Howard's End or The Remains of the Day. Same thing if you tried standing True Grit up to Unforgiven. About the only contending movie that doesn't have an obviously superior referent in the near past is The Social Network. I particularly liked the detail of when what's-his-name had some serious hacking to do and invoked emacs. Still, in the end the movie's about people with money running roughshod over people with less money, with no interest in wishing otherwise.


It's been getting difficult to get out to movies here in Wichita, partly due to the local monopoly and partly due to our own habits. Among the winners, didn't see The Fighter, Inception, Alice in Wonderland, or Toy Story 3 -- all of which were here for ample runs, although lots else came and went fast, or didn't come at all. I've mostly stopped trying to write up notes on movies seen, but will try to at least list them here. (I think I did the same thing last year.) Scrounged through my notes, looked at Wikipedia's 2010 in film page, racked my brain, and came up with this, pretty much in rank order as best I can recall:

  • The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009): A
  • The Social Network: A-
  • Winter's Bone: A-
  • Hereafter: A-
  • The Girl Who Played With Fire: A-
  • The Secret in Their Eyes (2009): A-
  • Up in the Air (2009, tv): A-
  • True Grit: A-
  • The King's Speech: A-
  • Made in Dagenham: A-
  • Cyrus: A-
  • The Ghost Writer: A-
  • The Invention of Lying (2009, tv): A-
  • The Messenger (2009): A-
  • Get Low: A-
  • Crazy Heart (2009): B+
  • Fair Game: B+
  • Red: B+
  • Another Year: B+
  • Greenberg: B+
  • The Hurt Locker (2009, tv): B+
  • The Town: B+
  • South of the Border (dvd): B
  • Never Let Me Go: B
  • In the Loop (2009, tv): B
  • What's the Matter With Kansas (dvd): B
  • Yes Man (2009, tv): B
  • Green Zone: B
  • Black Swan: B-
  • Shutter Island: C+

Some more we wanted to see but didn't manage (*like because they never came here): Alice in Wonderland; Barney's Version*; Biutiful*; Blue Valentine; The Fighter; Inside Job; The Kids Are All Right; Mao's Last Dancer; Rabbit Hole; Somewhere*; The Tempest*; Toy Story 3; You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger.

Some other reputable films we never seriously considered: 127 Hours; Casino Jack; Despicable Me; The Illusionist; Inception; Jack Goes Boating; Love and Other Drugs; Morning Glory; Restrepo; Robin Hood; The Runaways; Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

Expert Comments

On Carter Family reissues:

JSP actually has two 5-CD Carter Family sets, so Cam's prayers are answered. I don't have either -- I have most of the 1993-95 Rounder reissues of the RCA sides, now out of print, and a few other things, but as a general rule JSP's sets are very well mastered, generous, erudite, and cheap. I would expect the early set (1927-34) to be first choice over the later (1935-41).

There's also a 4-CD Proper Box that covers 1927-41, a little thinner, also a little cheaper. You couldn't go wrong with it either. They also have a 1-CD "Proper Introduction" -- strikes me as a great gift idea. They are deeper than that, but it would be extremely extravagant to seek out the 12-CD Bear Family box, even if you got a much better deal than the $410 list.

Avoid anything on Universal -- those are 1936-38 Deccas, not bad but so-so. I also haven't heard any radio transcriptions worth hearing again -- especially Arhoolie, which is usually a pretty useful label.

Milo Miles wrote back, saying "I keep hearing terrible things about Proper (esp. versus JSP) concerning royalty payments and suchlike. What do you know, Tom?"

I don't know anything about how royalties apply to the archival material Proper and JSP and a dozen or so other European labels specialize in. My impression is that Europe has a 50-year copyright limit, beyond which they don't have to pay royalties. That would explain why 90-95% of all of the pre-1950 American music that is in print is in print on European labels. On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised if US copyright holders tried to hold up those labels, especially for copies sold in the US, but I don't know any details. I think Chris Drumm told me that Daedelus dropped Proper because of some copyright hassle.

One case I know of where Proper released more recent material was a Willie Nelson set where they were pretty ingenuous about where it all came from. Usually they produce useful booklets, at least as good as JSP.

After Christgau reviewed the Carolina Chocolate Drops EP, Tom Walker wrote:

Tom Hull, every time he reviews an EP, includes the caveat that he does not understand EPs. I've never understood the lack of understanding. This group of three songs sounds great in one bundle, this group of seven belongs together, as does this group of seventeen. And this one song demands to be played over and over all by itself.


Feb 2011 Apr 2011