April 2013 Notebook


Monday, April 29, 2013

Music Week/No Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 21338 [21302] rated (+36), 615 [618] unrated (-3).

Probably spent more time last week working on Rhapsody Streamnotes (posted) and Recycled Goods (still in progress) than Jazz Prospecting, but got off to a good start when two (of three) Ivo Perelman titles came through, then two more albums got big lifts from their sax players. Result is probably the best quality week of the year so far -- actually even better if I count two Rhapsody A- albums (Allison Miller, already posted, and Roscoe Mitchell, in the file for May). More promising things in the mail, too.

JD Allen: Grace (2012 [2013], Savant): Tenor saxophonist, from Detroit; has a handful of albums since 1999. Originally a hard charger, has backed off quite a bit lately, especially here. Quartet includes Eldar Djangirov on piano, playing with exceptional delicacy. B+(**)

Duo Baars-Henneman: Autumn Songs (2012 [2013], Wig): Ig Henneman on viola, Ab Baars on tenor sax, clarinet, shakuhachi. Henneman tends to lead, pushing the limits of high lonesome. Baars is complementary, especially on clarinet. B+(***)

Michiel Braam: EBraam 3 (2012 [2013], BBB): Dutch avant pianist, just credited with "keys" here, his bassist Pieter Douma on bass guitar, with Dirk-Peter Kölsch on drums, a group he calls "eBraam (in which case the album is just 3). Closes with a Hugh Hopper song -- not sure who does the vocal, but it comes as a surprise. B+(*)

Cristina Braga: Samba, Jazz and Love (2012 [2013], Enja): From Brazil, plays harp and sings, tenth album since 1998 (according to AMG), some classical, but her 2010 Harpa Bossa started to recast classic samba using harp instead of guitar, and this continues in that quest. Group includes trumpet, bass, vibes, and percussion, the harp not all that obvious until your clued in. Voice reminds one of Astrud Gilberto. B+(**)

Kaylé Brecher: Spirals and Lines (2012, Penchant Four): Singer, based in Philadelphia, fifth album since 1992. Don't see song credits but most seem to be originals -- obvious covers are "When Johnny Goes Marching Home" and "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime," but she segues the latter into a corny patriotic anthem ("The House I Live In") and updates a Mingus blues for the white collar world. Long list of musicians, none I had heard of, shuttle in and out, including four trumpet/flugelhorn players and three trombonists but her favorite accompanist is Jimmy Parker on sousaphone -- mine too. B+(***)

Boyd Lee Dunlop: The Lake Reflections (2012 [2013], Mr. B Sharp): Pianist, b. 1926 in North Carolina and spent most of his life in Buffalo, working in steel mills and railyards and playing piano in clubs at night; a local Hall of Famer but only cut his first album after turning 85. This is his second, solo piano improvisations; doesn't try to dazzle you, but keeps the ideas flowing. B+(**)

Ross Hammond Quartet: Cathedrals (2013, Prescott): Guitarist, based in Sacramento, CA; has a handful of albums. Last cut here is a duet with drummer Alex Cline, a good chance to hone in on Hammond's attractive technique. But the rest of the album is dominated by Vinny Golia (tenor and soprano sax, flute) in an amazing tour de force that reduces Cline to keeping metronomic time. Steuart Liebig plays bass. A-

Barbara Morrison: A Sunday Kind of Love (2010-12 [2013], Savant): Singer, b. 1952 in Michigan, got her start opposite Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson in 1974, toiled a couple decades in the Johnny Otis Show, has a dozen records since 1995. I haven't heard any of them, but would be real surprised if any hold a candle to this one. The secret isn't a fine-but-who-are-they pianio trio -- Stuart Elster? Richard Simon? Lee Spath? -- so it must be Houston Person, who is more than just featured here. But it's the singer who hits one softball after another out of the park: "I'm Just a Lucky So and So," "The Green Door," "A Sunday Kind of Love," "On the Sunny Side of the Street," "Let's Stay Together" -- only "I Cover the Waterfront" is out of her zone. Exquisite: the medley of "Smile/Make Someone Happy." I dare anyone not to. A

New York Voices: Live: With the WDR Big Band Cologne (2008 [2013], Palmetto): Long-running vocal group, down to a quartet here -- Darmon Meader, Kim Nazarian, Lauren Kinhan, Peter Eldridge -- with seven albums since 1989. This is a live shot backed by the WDR Big Band Cologne -- a sharp group we've heard with damn near everyone, and here they provide uniformly solid support, a big help for a group where the voices slide all over the place. B-

Ivo Perelman/Matthew Shipp: The Art of the Duet, Volume One (2012 [2013], Leo): The Brazilian avant-saxophonist has been releasing records at a furious pace recently, including two batches of three each last year, and three more recently. All of this batch include Shipp, who played piano in David S. Ware's now-legendary quartet among much else, including a 1996 duet with Perelman (Bendito of Santa Cruz). Over the last two years no one has produced more top flight music than Perelman, but I'm starting to wonder if we're getting too much of the same thing. At least that's where I was stuck on the two new quartet albums, but the duets here are clear and sparkling, both sides coherent and connected. Not that the inevitable Volume Two won't be too much . . . On to the quartets. A-

Ivo Perelman: The Edge (2012 [2013], Leo): Tenor sax quartet with Matthew Shipp (piano), Michael Bisio (bass), and Whit Dickey (drums) -- Dickey goes way back with Shipp, and Bisio is the current bassist in Shipp's piano trio. Perelman indeed seems on edge early on, where the going is rougher than need be, but he does finds himself by the end. B+(**)

Ivo Perelman: Serendipity (2011 [2013], Leo): Another tenor sax quartet, reportedly accidental: session was originally scheduled to be trio with Matthew Shipp (piano) and Gerald Cleaver (drums) -- that trio was recorded a week later as The Foreign Legion -- but when one was late they called in bassist William Parker and wound up with a quartet. Sometimes hard to judge exactly what Parker adds, but Perelman is remarkably relaxed and fluid from the start, and builds up to some of his most impressive blowing ever. A-

Jan Shapiro: Piano Bar After Hours (2012 [2013], Singing Empress): Standards singer, came out of St. Louis and wound up teaching at Berklee. Has at least three previous albums. This one is almost only accompanied by piano, with five pianists in rotation -- one cut has bass and drums. A very precise, disciplined vocalist, she doesn't need much help, but great songs work better than not-so-great ones. B+(*)

Melvin Taylor: Taylor Made (2012 [2013], Eleven East): Guitarist, sings some -- one song here, with another sung by Bernell Anderson, no better -- has a half-dozen albums going back as far as 1982. Band includes bass (a second Melvin Taylor), keyboard, and drums. Six songs, one from Isaac Hayes. Nice little groove record. B+(*)

Uptown Vocal Jazz Quartet: Hustlin' for a Gig (2012, Housekat): Ginny Carr, Robert McBride, André Enceneat, and Holly Shockey, with all but one of the songs penned by Carr ("This Is the Life"). Third group album, but they (Carr and McBride, at least) claim to have been together for twenty-some years. The spirited interplay and cleverness wears on you (or me, anyway). B-

John Vanore & Abstract Truth: Culture (2012 [2013], Acoustical Concepts): Trumpet player, came up in Woody Herman's band, should explain his taste in bright and brassy. Fourth album with his unconventional big band Abstract Truth. Pieces include a 3-part suite and an arrangement of "Footprints." Strong solos, some interesting quirks in the arrangements. B+(***)

Bob Wolfman: Transition (2012, self-released): Guitarist-singer-songwriter, from New York, first album, produced by Larry Coryell with piano, bass, and drums. Aside from the blues cover ("Born Under a Bad Sign") Wolfman's a truly awful singer. Some nifty guitar work here and there -- until proven otherwise, I'd chalk that up to Coryell. C

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Lucian Ban/Mat Maneri: Transylvanian Concert (ECM): advance, May 28
  • Perry Beekman: So in Love: Perry Beekman Sings and Plays Cole Porter (self-released)
  • Jerry Bergonzi: By Any Other Name (Savant)
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert/John Edwards/Steve Beresford: Overground to the Vortex (Not Two)
  • Freddy Cole: This and That (High Note)
  • Steven Lugerner: For We Have Heard (NoBusiness/Primary)
  • Allison Miller's Boom Tic Boom: No Morphine No Lillies (Foxhaven/Royal Potato Family)
  • Sex Mob: Cinema, Circus & Spaghetti: Sex Mob Plays Fellini (The Royal Potato Family)
  • Marlene Ver Planck: Ballads . . . Mostly (Audiophile)
  • Yellowjackets: A Rise in the Road (Mack Avenue): advance, May 27


  • Georg Graewe/Ernst Reijseger/Gerry Hemingway: Sonic Fiction (1989, Hatology)
  • Theo Jörgensmann: Fellowship (1998, Hatology)
  • Manuel Mengis Gruppe 6: Into the Barn (2005, Hatology)

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links I squirreled away during the previous week:

  • Eric Harvey: Writing the Record: Interview with Devon Powers, author of Writing the Record: The Village Voice and the Birth of Rock Criticism, which focuses on Richard Goldstein and Robert Christgau. Lots of stuff here, and I should probably dig into the book. One comment I have, based on this quote:

    When Christgau talks about monoculture, he's talking about the idea that there was a period before fragmentation. A period before audiences were segmented, where all kinds of people were listening to the same thing, some of it out of necessity just because there weren't other options. When you have people who are listening to the same kind of things, they have something in common to talk about that they simply don't when there is more variance in the media landscape.

    Two problems here. One is that monoculture means something else: not a single all-encompassing culture but an isolated stripe of only one thing -- as in agriculture: wheat, soybeans, oranges, etc. -- which may coexist independently with lots of other monocultures. Music has never been that formally constrained, and never will be, in large part because it's always being mediated and deconstructed, and most often as a social activity. The other is that the idea of integrating most musical strands into a common pool of experience was new in the late 1960s, itself a political project rooted in the newfound equal integration of all divisions in a relatively classless society. It didn't exist earlier because people grew up in a divided (segregated) world, and since then the right-wing counterrevolution with its increasing inequality has done all it could to strain the ideal.

    Paul Krugman and others have made a big point recently about "the great compression" which reduced income and wealth inequality and culminated in the 1960s. I must say that it didn't feel like much of a class-free utopia at the time, but the idea was present, and there was a sense of it being progressively realized -- and that sense of progress helped fuel the great upheavals of the decade, including the civil rights and women's movements. Still, that atmosphere of equality was propitious for critics inclined to jump from genre to genre, to poke into music from all over the world, and who believed that popular music could storm the citdels of "high culture" -- the last refuge of the ancien regime.

    Circa 1973, I dropped out of college, stopped reading critical theory, and took up rock crit. Seemed like the way forward, and was practical at the same time.

  • Alex Parrene: Bush Family Furiously Selling Itself to Americans Once Again: As ever, Bush realizes the importance of timing when rolling out a new "product" -- his library, of course, but that's the easy part given that every ex-president (at least from Truman on) has one (and a figure as insignficant as Gerald Ford has two). The harder part is rehabilitating the entire family brand name, but polls indicate the ignorance of the average American is hard to underestimate -- I very much blame Obama and the Democrats for letting Bush off the hook.

    More Bush links:

    My vote for the single worst thing about George W. Bush goes to his instinctive, visceral attrraction to violence as a way of solving problems. Even before 9/11, Bush rejected the Saudi peace plan for Israel-Palestine by saying (as Ronald Suskind reported), "Sometimes a show of force can really clarify things." His green light for Sharon destroyed eight years of fitful progress toward resolving the most intractable conflict in the Middle East. He reacted to 9/11 the same, only with more vigor and ambition, going after Iraq as well as Afghanistan, and threatening wars against Iran and North Korea. Then there was his encouragement of Israel's brutal 2006 carpet-bombing of Lebanon, an act of war that his secretary of state memorably described as "the birth-pangs of a new Middle East."

  • MJ Rosenberg: Time to Admit US Policies Can Cause Terrorism: To prevent something you have to have some concept of causation. The Boston bombings again raise the question of terrorism, but we are stuck within an officially sanctioned blind spot.

    There is one change that the United States could make in response to the terrorism threat that is never discussed. That is to consider the part U.S. policies have played in creating and sustaining it.

    I understand that we are not supposed to say this, as if discussing why we are hated justifies the unjustifiable: the targeting of innocent Americans because of the perceived sins of their government.

    But nothing justifies terrorism. Period. That does not mean that nothing causes it.

    Acts of terror do not come at us out of the blue. Nor are they directed at us, as President George W. Bush famously said, because the terrorists "hate our freedom." If that was the case, terrorists would be equally or more inclined to hit countries at least as free as the U.S., those in northern Europe, for instance.

    No, terrorists (in the case of the Boston Marathon bombings Muslim terrorists) target the U.S. because they perceive us as their enemy.

    One reason they perceive us as enemies is that we regard them as enemies. Nor is this just a matter of opinion: the US has, ever since FDR met with King Saud in 1945, backed the most repressive regimes in the Middle East, training and arming their secret police, their armed forces; we've backed wars, and in a pinch we've jumped in and invaded countries ourselves; and we've fomented civil wars, creating massively destructive contagions, such as the Sunni-Shiite divide in Iraq. (For some of this history, see Tom Engelhardt: Field of Nightmares, on Jeremy Scahill's new book, Dirty Wars: The World Is a Battlefield.) If we don't like this "blowback," the place to start is in reconsidering our own actions.

    But even if there was no terror blowback, the US record in the Middle East has been an unmitigated mess. Most often we've backed forces based on the shabby enemy-of-my-enemy principle: from the Saudi regime to Gulbuddin Hekmatyar in Afghanistan, we've repeatedly backed the most extremely reactionary Islamists because they were anti-communist, only to discover that their anti-communism was part of an anti-western agenda bound to bite the hand that feeds them. We've backed Saddam Hussein's war against Iran, then backed Iranian-backed militias against Hussein. We've backed Israel against everyone, even against our own policies -- we even backed Israel when they attacked and sunk a US Navy ship in 1967. Presumably some arms and oil companies have profited along the way, but what has the average American gotten out of this incoherency? Nothing but the task of fighting a series of useless, hopeless wars.

    Yet the right-wing still clamors for more -- see the recent Cal Thomas rant: "How many more Americans must be killed and wounded before we fight back, not just overseas, but here?" As Mort Sahl said about someone else, "if he were more perceptive, he'd be a happy man." Still, Thomas is as incoherent as anyone. He notes the vast size of America's homeland security force, yet bemoans their inability to stop two disaffected young men from "shutting down a major city." Aside from calling for a more bigoted immigration policy and a fevered, nativist witch hunt mentality, how exactly are we supposed to "fight back"? And is it even justified in a democracy to talk about enemies at home? The Tsarnaevs, after all, were US citizens, Americans, entitled to dissenting opinions. When weren't enemies, and when they set off those bombs, they didn't become our enemies -- just criminals.

  • Tom Engelhardt: The Enemy-Industrial Complex: Or, "How to turn a world lacking in enemies into the most threatening place in the universe." Out of alpha order, but this follows up nicely on the above entry. Consider 9/11 as a "Wizard of Oz" facade:

    The U.S., in other words, is probably in less danger from external enemies than at any moment in the last century. There is no other imperial power on the planet capable of, or desirous of, taking on American power directly, including China. It's true that, on September 11, 2001, 19 hijackers with box cutters produced a remarkable, apocalyptic, and devastating TV show in which almost 3,000 people died. When those giant towers in downtown New York collapsed, it certainly had the look of nuclear disaster (and in those first days, the media was filled was nuclear-style references), but it wasn't actually an apocalyptic event.

    The enemy was still nearly nonexistent. The act cost bin Laden only an estimated $400,000-$500,000, though it would lead to a series of trillion-dollar wars. It was a nightmarish event that had a malign Wizard of Oz quality to it: a tiny man producing giant effects. It in no way endangered the state. In fact, it would actually strengthen many of its powers. It put a hit on the economy, but a passing one. It was a spectacular and spectacularly gruesome act of terror by a small, murderous organization then capable of mounting a major operation somewhere on Earth only once every couple of years. It was meant to spread fear, but nothing more.

    When the towers came down and you could suddenly see to the horizon, it was still, in historical terms, remarkably enemy-less. And yet 9/11 was experienced here as a Pearl Harbor moment -- a sneak attack by a terrifying enemy meant to disable the country. The next day, newspaper headlines were filled with variations on "A Pearl Harbor of the Twenty-First Century." If it was a repeat of December 7, 1941, however, it lacked an imperial Japan or any other state to declare war on, although one of the weakest partial states on the planet, the Taliban's Afghanistan, would end up filling the bill adequately enough for Americans.

    Engelhardt then tries to put 9/11 into perspective by bringing up stats for "suicide by gun and death by car" -- numbers which annually dwarf even the 9/11 death toll. Actually, it would make more sense to write off 9/11 as a fluke and look at more typical terrorist tolls. You don't have to look hard. On the same day as the Boston bombings, a fertilizer plant in West, Texas caught fire and exploded, killing many more people. This doesn't mean that we shouldn't pay attention to terrorist threats -- indeed, one reason we should is that many could be avoided by policy changes that we should implement anyway; but we should keep them in perspective. Even the 9/11 death toll was ultimately topped two times over by the number of US soldiers we sacrificed in post-9/11 wars -- wars meant to do little more than restore the invincible lustre of US imperial power, and perhaps blindly punish people only vaguely related to those who actually planned 9/11.

    Without an enemy of commensurate size and threat, so much that was done in Washington in these years might have been unattainable. The vast national security building and spending spree -- stretching from the Virginia suburbs of Washington, where the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency erected its new $1.8 billion headquarters, to Bluffdale, Utah, where the National Security Agency is still constructing a $2 billion, one-million-square-foot data center for storing the world's intercepted communications -- would have been unlikely.

    Without the fear of an enemy capable of doing anything, money at ever escalating levels would never have poured into homeland security, or the Pentagon, or a growing complex of crony corporations associated with our weaponized safety. The exponential growth of the national security complex, as well as of the powers of the executive branch when it comes to national security matters, would have far been less likely.

    Without 9/11 and the perpetual "wartime" that followed, along with the heavily promoted threat of terrorists ready to strike and potentially capable of wielding biological, chemical, or even nuclear weapons, we would have no Department of Homeland Security nor the lucrative mini-homeland-security complex that surrounds it; the 17-outfit U.S. Intelligence Community with its massive $75 billion official budget would have been far less impressive; our endless drone wars and the "drone lobby" that goes with them might never have developed; and the U.S. military would not have an ever growing secret military, the Joint Special Operations Command, gestating inside it -- effectively the president's private army, air force, and navy -- and already conducting largely secret operations across much of the planet.

    So there is a lot of money at stake on convincing you that we have to fight such unscrupulous enemies. But it also fits a political agenda: conservatism, as Michael Tomasky explains below, depends on fear to promote its political agenda.

  • Michael Tomasky: The Conservative Paranoid Mind:

    The common thread through all of this is the conservative need to instill and maintain a level of fear in the populace. They need to make gun owners fear that Dianne Feinstein and her SWAT team are going to come knocking on their doors, or, less amusingly, that they have to be armed to the teeth for that inevitable day when the government declares a police state. They need to whip up fear of immigrants, because unless we do, it's going to be nothing but terrorists coming through those portals, and for good measure, because, as Ann Coulter and others have recently said, the proposed law would create millions of voting Democrats (gee, I wonder why!).

    And with regard to terrorism, they need people to live in fear of the next attack, because fear makes people think about death, and thinking about death makes people more likely to endorse tough-guy, law-and-order, Constitution-shredding actions undertaken on their behalf. This is how we lived under Bush and Cheney for years. This fear is basically what enabled the Iraq War to take place. Public opinion didn't support that war at first. But once they got the public afraid with all that false talk of mushroom clouds, the needle zoomed past 50 percent, and it was bombs away.

    Conservatism, I fear (so to speak), can never be cleansed of this need to instill fear. Whether it's of black people or of street thugs or of immigrants or of terrorists or of jackbooted government agents, it's how the conservative mind works.

  • Matthew Yglesias: The Koch Brothers Might Be Just What Conservative Journalism Needs: Sometimes smart people can be pretty stupid, especially when they let their logic run away from reality. The Koch brothers are rumored to be in the market for the Tribune Company, which would give them control over the largest newspapers in Los Angeles and Chicago, among other cities. Yglesias writes:

    Certain niches -- talk radio and cable television -- are very friendly to a conservative editorial product but others are not. Which is exactly why what conservative media needs is a couple of extremely rich people to buy a newspaper company and lose a ton of money building a great conservative media product.

    After all, the big problem with right-leaning media in America isn't that it doesn't exist. It's that it's terrible. There is a large audience out there that's so frustrated with the vile MSM that it's happy to lap up cheaply produced content from Rush Limbaugh and Sean Hannity, and you can make lots of money serving that kind of thing up. By contrast, to build a great media company that's top-to-bottom staffed with conservatives is going to be very expensive. The possible talent pool of great reporters is tilted toward liberals. The talent pool of great photographers and graphic designers is probably even more tilted toward liberals. Finding the great conservatives out there and hiring them is going to be relatively costly, and there's no real economic point to doing so. Is your much worse cost structure going to get you a larger audience than Rush? No, it won't. It's a bad bet.

    But the Kochs have plenty of money. If they want to see it happen, they can make it happen. And America would be better off for it.

    The obvious problem here is that there is no latent pool of "great conservatives" ready to move into newspaper journalism at any price, because they simply don't exist. Conservatives in media are hacks, not because they're lazy but because their message is nothing more than a crock of lies and distortions. The net effect won't be "a great conservative media product" -- it will just reduce marginally decent newspapers into ever-deeper hackdom. And America will be worse off on two counts: one is that it increase our current trend toward shoddiness in all manner of work; the other is that it will reinforce the notion that politics is purely cynical -- a fixed game controlled by the rich (the Kochs a particularly egregious example).

    One cautionary note is that the Kochs have never gotten into a business to lose money, which makes it unlikely they would jump on such a losing proposition. On the other hand, they have shown a deep commitment to undermine democracy, both through their political spending and through their use of corporate control as a channel for pushing their political beliefs. Major urban newspapers have a huge "first mover" advantage -- it's impossible to capitalize new competition, so they are effectively monopolies, and as such should be subject to public trust. Allowing them to be taken over by extremist political ideologues like the Kochs will irreparably destroy that trust, and America would be worse off for that.

Also, a few links for further study:

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Over a Barrel

One thing about the gun debate is the lack of specific case examples, especially for arguments that putting more guns into the hands of "good" people will limit the amount of gun violence perpetrated by "bad" people. The contrary argument, that reducing the number of legal guns -- which, by the way, simplifies the task of enforcing prohibitions against illegal guns -- reduces the overall amount of gun violence, can be argued with gross statistics. That argument, by the way, seems convincing, but we aren't just statistical aggregates. We're individuals, and even if more guns in general endanger us, it seems at least possible that there are some cases where a gun could save one's life or thwart a crime. So why don't "second amendment rights" advocates give us more concrete examples? (Aside, of course, from the fact that it's a lot easier to spout pieties, a form of laziness and sloppiness you hear on all sides of virtually every issue.)

Someone could (and should) do some actual research on shootings: map out what kinds of confrontations happen -- e.g., home invasion where perpetrator is shot by home resident (or vice versa, in which case was resident armed or not?) -- and count them all up. (As I understand it, the government is prohibited from undewriting any such study, thanks to the NRA, which seems to fear any actual research into gun use or abuse.) But not every confrontation has an obvious right and wrong side. For example, consider the case of Dustin Cheever, here in Wichita.

What happened was: Cheever suspected that the son of a neighbor, Robert Gammon, had stolen a motorcycle. Cheever didn't take his suspicions to the police. Instead, he and a friend (Steve Grose) searched for the motorcycle in Gammons' backyard -- they entered Gammons' property without his permission or knowledge. Gammons confronted them, pointing a BB pistol (which plausibly appeared to be a real gun) at them, and threatening them. Cheever, however, was carrying a real gun. Rather than backing away, he decided that he needed to defend himself and/or his friend, so he pulled his gun, shot, and killed Gammons. Cheever is currently being tried for second degree murder, which seems about right.

Had Cheever pulled his gun and Gammons killed him, Gammons would have been in a stronger legal position. He was, after all, at home, whereas Cheever and Grose were trespassing. Gammons misjudged twice that his gun would protect him: first, as is so often the case, the gunfight was determined not by right or wrong, good guy or bad guy, but by who was quicker with more deadly aim (a fact which, by the way, tends to favor the more experienced bad guys); but second, had he not brandished the gun, had he instead just threatened to call the police, Cheever would have had no excuse to defend himself with his gun, and most likely the pair would have just left.

That Gammons' gun was actually a non-lethal BB pistol is pretty much irrelevant here: it looked like a real gun and was given extra credibility by Gammons' threats to kill with it, plus Cheever had no reason to doubt that Gammons could have owned a real gun, since guns are pretty much the norm here in Wichita. Also, Cheever may well have belatedly understood that Kansas's Stand Your Ground law gave Gammons a legal excuse to shoot first -- had Gammons realized that Cheever was in fact armed (something he might reasonably have suspected). It is often argued that the expectation that the other person is armed leads to more moderate behavior -- that seems to be a big part of the argument that all "good guys" should carry guns -- in this case such expectations pretty clearly escalated the conflict.

So this case, at least, doesn't provide much support for the notion that we are better off with more guns: one gun owner, attempting to defend his property from trespass, is dead; another, intent on taking the law into his own hand in searching for his stolen property, faces second degree murder charges. Neither of those outcomes would have happened had either (much less both) parties been unarmed, nor would they have happened had either (again much less both) turned to the police to settle their dispute.

There may be other gun confrontations where it's easier to tell who is "good" or "bad," where it's clearer who's right and wrong, but I suspect this sort of mess is more common. Moreover, it's more reflective of the mentality of people who think guns are an answer for their problems dealing with other people: they overestimate the value and grossly underestimate the risks; and they almost never have the skills and judgment they'd need to make the gun work for them, and often lack the self-awareness to realize when they're getting into trouble. Indeed, the police, who are trained both in the law and the proper use of guns, often screw it up. Why would a random individual expect to do better?

There are simple solutions here, but not practicable ones. The statistics are clear, but no one wants to be a statistic. As long as people think they need guns for self-protection, it's awfully hard to take them away. Moreover, it's hard to say "trust in the police" when the police aren't all that trustworthy, nor can one say "have faith in our system of justice" when that system is far from just. Those are, I'm tempted to argue, bigger and more urgent problems than guns. On the other hand, so many of the reasons that people give for insisting on arming themselves are so patently false you have to argue with them just to attempt to open up a space for public sanity.

No such argument is more ridiculous than the one that you need guns to protect yourself from the government -- although the one that the government needs guns to protect itself from you is every bit as specious, not to mention the one -- which costs us about a trillion dollars a year -- that the government needs armies and navies and air forces to protect us from foreigners. War doesn't protect us from war: war is war. Guns don't protect us from gun violence: aside from a few museum pieces, they create gun violence.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Rhapsody Streamnotes (April 2013)

Pick up text here.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Downloader's Diary (29): April 2013

Insert text from here.

This is the 29th installment, (almost) monthly since August 2010, totalling 715 albums. All columns are indexed and archived here. You can follow A Downloader's Diary on Facebook, and on Twitter.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Book Roundup, Part Drei

Still trying to unpack the overhang accumulated up to the March 14 post, with a second installment on March 16, although this one is delayed about as much as I should normally do -- one result is that the queue isn't getting noticeably shorter. So here's another batch of forty more/less recent book titles, with more to follow relatively soon.

Nicholson Baker: The Way the World Works: Essays (2012, Simon & Schuster): Fifteen years of short pieces by the mostly novelist, including a couple I would certainly want to read ("The Charms of Wikipedia," and "Why I Am a Pacifist," the first of three in the section on War). I haven't read his fiction, but Human Smoke: The Beginnings of World War II, the End of Civilization is a great book.

William J Baumol, et al: The Cost Disease: Why Computers Get Cheaper and Health Care Doesn't (2012, Yale University Press): An important subject, although it's not clear that Baumol has got the answer right: health care is a dysfunctional market with a lot of hidden (and frankly cancerous) monopolies. Other factors may add to this, including some Baumol identifies (labor costs, lack of productivity improvements).

William Blum: America's Deadliest Export: Democracy: The Truth About US Foreign Policy and Everything Else (paperback, 2013, Zed Books): Longtime critic of US foreign policy. Previous books include: The CIA: A Forgotten History (1986); Rogue State: A Guide to the World's Only Superpower (2000); West-Bloc Dissident: A Cold War Memoir (2002); Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions Since World War II (2000; revised 2003); Freeing the World to Death: Essays on the American Empire (2004).

David Byrne: How Music Works (2012, McSweeney's): Talking Heads frontman, Luaka Bop honcho, applies his experience to a big topic, although I can imagine lots of different tangents for "works" to take off in. Most likely: how music works for me. Still, a topic of some interest.

Caitlin Carenen: The Fervent Embrace: Liberal Protestants, Evangelicals, and Israel (2012, New York University Press): The US has lots of reasons for being exceptionally sympathetic to Israel, ranging from the founding bond of both being white settler nations to the symbiosis of our overbloated arms industries, but one of the most important is how Israel has played in protestant thought -- both early on with liberal guilt over the Holocaust and later with evangelicals pining for the apocalypse.

Victor Cha: The Impossible State: North Korea, Past and Future (2012, Harper Collins): Former Bush admin NSC Korea hand -- you know, the folks who concocted "the axis of evil" meme -- tries to explain North Korea, something I'm not sure anyone can do. A couple years ago, when Barbara Demick wrote Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (2009) there weren't many books, but that's started to change. Relatively new: Andrei Lankov: The Real North Korea: Life and Politics in the Failed Stalinist Utopia (2013, Oxford University Press); BR Myers: The Cleanest Race: How North Koreans See Themselves and Why It Matters (2010; paperback, 2011, Melville House); Bruce E Bechtol Jr: The Last Days of Kim Jong-Il: The North Korean Threat in a Changing Era (2013, Potomac Books). Still, I doubt if any on these shed much light on the latest round of threats and condemnations.

Noam Chomsky: 9-11: Was There an Alternative? (2001; revised paperback, 2011, Seven Stories Press): Right then, right now. Wish he could write better, but decades of being right and ignored have taken a toll on his patience.

Noam Chomsky: Occupy [Occupied Media Pamphlet Series] (paperback, 2012, Zucotti Park Press): Short (128 pp.) pamphlet, meant to advise the Occupy movement. Looks like there will be a series of these things, with additional titles by Stuart Leonard (Taking Brooklyn Bridge), Mumia Abu-Jamal (Message to the Movement), and Marina Sitrin/Dario Azzellini (Occupying Language).

Noam Chomsky: Power Systems: Conversations on Global Democratic Uprisings and the New Challenges to US Empire (paperback, 2013, Metropolitan Books): Continues a long series of interviews with David Barsamian, a context which draws out his wisdom without cluttering up the page.

Climate Central: Global Weirdness: Severe Storms, Deadly Heat Waves, Relentless Drought, Rising Seas, and the Weather of the Future (2012, Pantheon): Written by Emily Elert and Michael D Lemonick but credited to their "nonprofit, nonpartisan science and journalism organization"; with just-the-facts-style reporting, not that they ignore the applicable science.

Susan P Crawford: Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age (2012, Yale University Press): Argues that the 2011 merger of Comcast and NBC Universal "create the biggest monopoly since the breakup of Standard Oil a century ago." During much of that time AT&T monopolized the telephone industry, but at least it was recognized as such and tightly regulated -- so much so that it begged for breakup. The new monopoly combines content as well as networking, which is what makes it not just too expensive but far more dangerous.

Guy Debord: Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1987; third edition, paperback, 2011, Verso): Debord's original essay was written in 1967. When I first read it (in Radical America, 1970) it illuminated all sorts of things, but the basic idea is simple enough it requires little elaboration. The essay is short, as are the comments (94 pp.); still, I've never figured out what you do with the concept -- more likely than not it just leaves you awestruck.

John De Graaf/David K Batker: What's the Economy For, Anyway?: Why It's Time to Stop Chasing Growth and Start Pursuing Happiness (2011; paperback, 2012, Bloomsbury Press): Good question, one also explored by Robert Skidelsky/Edward Skidelsky: How Much Is Enough? Money and the Good Life (2012); Juliet B Schor: Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth (2010); and Joseph E Stiglitz, et al., Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn't Ad Up (2010). [link]

Ross Douthat: Bad Religion: How We Became a Nation of Heretics (2012, Free Press): Conservative New York Times columnist, tries to appear reasonable and rarely succeeds, wants to bring back that old time religion, or something like that. We would at long last do us a favor if he helps break the binds between religion and partisanship, but the old time religion never was much good at respecting others.

Peter Dreier: The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame (paperback, 2012, Nation Books): Thumbnail biographies, 4-6 pages each (adding up to 512 pp.), political people you should know at least something about, even though one can nitpick the roster coming and going. Only two are younger than me (Michael Moore and Tony Kushner). Three of the last ten are musicians, and two are athletes, so the spectacle seems to have won out, especially over the writers who have provided so much insight and kept the flame going (Chomsky and Ehrenreich are about it since C. Wright Mills).

Jeff Faux: The Servant Economy: Where America's Elite Is Sending the Middle Class (2012, Wiley): Previous book was The Global Class War: How America's Bipartisan Elite Lost Our Future -- and What It Will Take to Win It Back, so presumably this returns to American specifics. Lots of recent books on the destruction of the middle class, the ripe corrollary to the same old, same old of rich-getting-richer and poor-getting-poorer.

Jonathan Fetter-Vorm: Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb (2012, Hill and Wang): Much shorter than Richard Rhodes' epochal The Making of the Atomic Bomb, but they say a picture is worth a thousand words. I've toyed with the idea of writing graphic histories on the Cold War and the Arab-Israeli Conflict -- critical assumption here is that I can get my nephew to illustrate -- mostly because I wish to sharply focus on key understandings rather than to just spew out a lot of narrative, and graphic histories seem to offer a unique opportunity to state and reinforce basic points.

Robert K Fitts: Banzai Babe Ruth: Baseball, Espionage, and Assassination During the 1934 Tour of Japan (2012, University of Nebraska Press): Previously co-edited Remembering Japanese Baseball: An Oral History of the Game and wrote Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball, reports on one of the most famous exhibition tours in history: a key event in Japan's adoption of America's pastime as its own favorite sport, but also cover for Moe Berg's espionage. Not sure who got assassinated.

Stephen M Gardiner: A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change (2011, Oxford University Press): A philospher's take on the problem, seeing ignorance and inaction as a lapse in ethics, looking into geo-engineering, etc.

Brandon L Garrett: Convicting the Innocent: Where Criminal Prosecutions Go Wrong (2011; paperback, 2012, Harvard University Press): DNA evidence has shown that quite a few innocent people have been convicted of serious crimes. Analyzing those cases should help identify how the justice system gets it wrong and winds up creating injustice. Other recent books on this: Jim Petro/Nancy Petro: False Justice: Eight Myths That Convict the Innocent (2011, Kaplan); Daniel S Medwed: Prosecution Complex: America's Race to Convict and Its Impact on the Innocent (2012, NYU Press).

Wenonah Hauter: Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America (2012, New Press): "Local food" farmer, director of Food & Water Watch, explains how agricultural policy has been designed to aid Cargill, Tyson, Kraft, and ConAgra.

Tim Kane: Bleeding Talent: How the US Military Mismanages Great Leaders and Why It's Time for a Revolution (2012, Macmillan Palgrave): Right-wing economist (Hudson Institute, John McCain), former USAF "intelligence" officer, "startup maven" (to quote Bush economist Glenn Hubbard). I suspect his thesis is right, but I have my doubts that "great leaders" is something the we need the military to have, right now, or just about ever. Bean counters and shrinks, that's another story.

Frederick Kaufman: Bet the Farm: How Food Stopped Being Food (2012, Wiley): Starting with Domino's Pizza, hits all the usual stops surveying the contemporary food industry, how it's all related and tied more to finance than to old-fashioned interests like agriculture. Related: Kara Newman: The Secret Financial Life of Food: From Commodities Markets to Supermarkets (2012, Columbia University Press).

George Lakoff/Elisabeth Wehling: The Little Blue Book: The Essential Guide to Thinking and Talking Democratic (paperback, 2012, Free Press): Lakoff thinks we can solve all our problems by coming up with better terminology to frame our arguments -- i.e., something other than what Frank Luntz comes up with. Supposedly this is that.

Chris Lamb: Conspiracy of Silence: Sportswriters and the Long Campaign to Desegregate Baseball (2012, University of Nebraska Press): Previously wrote Blackout: The Story of Jackie Robinson's First Spring Training, digs deeper here into the press attitudes that reinforced the color line in baseball, and a few journalists -- mostly blacks and/or communists, by the way -- who thought differently.

Charlie LeDuff: Detroit: An American Autopsy (2013, Penguin Press): Local journalist, has watched Detroit decline from 1.9 million people to fewer than 700,000, as people left the city for the suburbs or beyond while industry crumbled. I recall that when I was visiting Detroit it was hard to find books on the city, but that at least is looking up. For example, another is Mark Binelli: Detroit City Is the Place to Be: The Afterlife of an American Metropolis (2012, Metropolitan).

Jonathan Lethem: The Ecstasy of Influence: Nonfictions, Etc. (2011, Doubleday): A novelist based in Brooklyn dumps off scattered essays, mostly lit, some about music. Poking around Amazon's "look inside" I can't get a sense of the whole, but one fragment on "Disnial" is certainly sharp.

Jonathan Lethem: Talking Heads' Fear of Music (paperback, 2012, Continuum): Part of their 33 1/3 series of short books, where a writer picks out a single record and riffs on it. This is number 86, a rare case with a celebrity author.

Audrea Lim, ed: The Case for Sanctions Against Israel (paperback, 2012, Verso Books): Twenty essays here, including Omar Barghouti, Naomi Klein, Ilan Pappe, Joel Beinin, John Berger, Neve Gordon. Sanctions are a relatively non-belligerent way of expressing concern over Israel's manifest unwillingness either to free occupied Palestinians or to treat them equitably. Sanctions helped to tip the balance in South Africa to end the apartheid regime. At some point I fear they will be necessary to make any degree of progress toward peace and justice in Israel-Palestine. Also see: Omar Barghouti: Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions: The Global Struggle for Palestinian Rights (paperback, 2011, Haymarket Books).

William Marsden: Fools Rule: Inside the Failed Politics of Climate Change (2011, Knopf Canada; paperback, 2012, Vintage Canada): Canadian journalist, so good chance this focuses more on Canadian politics than on riper targets in the US, not that the anti-science opposition in both countries isn't driven by the same oil and coal companies. Author previously wrote a book on oil shale: Stupid to the Last Drop: How Alberta Is Bringing Environmental Armageddon to Canada (and Doesn't Seem to Care).

GJ Meyer: The Borgias: The Hidden History (2013, Bantam): Of interest mostly, I suspect, if you've followed Neil Jordan's TV series and want to fill in some details, although it looks like this book takes some unexpected turns. Also available, and perhaps more conventional: Christopher Hibbert: The Borgias and Their Enemies: 1431-1919 (2008; paperback, 2009, Mariner Books).

Loretta Napoleoni: Maonomics: Why Chinese Communists Make Better Capitalists Than We Do (2011; paperback, 2012, Seven Stories Press): Previously wrote Rogue Economics: Capitalism's New Reality (2008), and ups the snark quotient here. Certainly is the case that China's economic growth has outpaced ever corner of the capitalist world for at least the last decade.

Mark Owen/Kevin Maurer: No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission That Killed Osama Bin Laden (2012, Dutton): Also subtitled, The Autobiography of a Navy Seal. Second guy up the stairs. First guy to cash in. Isn't that -- making a killing out of a killing -- what America is really all about?

Joel Salatin: Folks, This Ain't Normal: A Farmer's Advice for Happier Hens, Healthier People, and a Better World (2011; paperback, 2012, Center Street): The Virginia farmer who loomed so large in Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma speaks for himself -- not for the first time, either: previous books include: You Can Farm: The Entrepreneur's Guide to Start and Succeed in a Farming Enterprise (paperback, 1998, Polyface); Holy Cows & Hog Heaven: The Food Buyer's Guide to Farm Friendly Food (paperback, 2005, Polyface); Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal: War Stories From the Local Food Front (paperback, 2007, Polyface); The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Farmer (paperback, 2010, Polyface).

Josh Schonwald: The Taste of Tomorrow: Dispatches From the Future of Food (2012, Harper Collins): Enthusiastic survey of speculations about how food will be engineered and manufactured in 2035.

James Gustave Speth: America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy (2012, Yale University Press): Environmentalist, previously wrote The Bridge at the Edge of the World, which questions growth for growth's sake. Should expand on that here.

John Swenson: New Atlantis: Musicians Battle for the Survival of New Orleans (2011; paperback, 2012, Oxford University Press): A rock critic of my generation goes to post-Katrina New Orleans and finds inspiration in the music -- where else would one work?

Gary Wills: Why Priests? A Failed Tradition (2013, Viking): Always an interesting writer, although his commitment to Catholicism has always baffled me, the issue here seeming like someone else's personal fight.

Bob Woodward: The Price of Politics (2012, Simon & Schuster): Another inside-out first draft of history, his second on Obama after four volumes on Bush, the first extolling his genius for leadership and the last wondering where all that went. Focuses on the budget battle with congressional Republicans, not anyone's best hour. New Yorker review: "Woodward, who has here the elements of a devastating study of Washingtonian pettiness, has instead written a book that in many ways exemplifies it."

Luigi Zingales: A Capitalism for the People: Recapturing the Lost Genius of American Prosperity (2012, Basic Books): Chicago economist, argues that American capitalism is dying as the market gets ever more regulated not just by "anti-market pitchfork populism" but by crony corruption he associates with "Europe and much of the rest of the world." Quick fix: trust the markets.

Still don't have the paperback report together. Maybe next time.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 21302 [21275] rated (+27), 618 [606] unrated (+12).

Big week in that I have three -- count 'em, three -- A- records, but the inside story is that two of them took an awful lot of plays (more than a dozen each) before I set aside my usual rule-of-thumb ("if you can't make up your mind, go with the lower grade"). The exception was Halley, which clicked so fast I didn't get around to writing anything substantial about it. His sax has nearly always been so my minor reservations about past his quartet albums concerned the second horn, but they play less in sync here, with the trombone most often either comping or jumping out front, either of which helps.

Eskelin is doing more of a ballad thing this time, so he's not as aggressive as usual, and Versace doesn't push him much, but the record has some really gorgeous passages. Douglas is just being Douglas: fantastic chops, really explosive at times, but his songs can get strange and veer off in unsettling directions. Irabagon, at least, is too much of a scrapper to get boxed up in a harmony role, so this never goes splat like some Douglas albums have done. I've had an advance (and only that) for a long time, so I was tempted to wait and see if a final arrived.

More plays might help push Snidero over the edge. He's very sharp here, as he was on 2009's Crossfire. The other HMs are certainly just that. Wanted to work in the latest batch of Ivo Perelman records, but it's hard to juggle three at once, and thus far they're all sounding pretty much the same. Also held back potentially good records by John Vanore and Craig Taborn.

Should have a Downloader's Diary this week, followed by a (currently short) Rhapsody Streamnotes -- latter may cut into my jazz time, but got a lot of mail this week.

Berserk! (2013, Rare Noise): Collaboration between singer Lorenzo Esposito Fornasari (aka LEF, has appeared in groups Transgender, Litania, Ashes, Costituto, Somma, Owls, Obake) and bassist Lorenzo Felicati. Extra musicians include some jazz names -- Gianluca Petrella (trombone), Jamie Saft (keybs), Eivind Aarset (guitar) -- but record is rockish, veering toward doom near the end. B+(*) [advance]

Jaimeo Brown: Transcendence (2012 [2013], Motema): Drummer, first album, has a few side-credits going back a decade. Front cover shows an old black church, and features two additional names: JD Allen (tenor sax) and Chris Sholar (guitar, electronics). (Geri Allen might have been a better marketing pick, but she plays on only one track, where Sholar is always there.) The sax is a huge asset here, but everything else is swamped in gospel vocals -- Falu, Marisha Brown, Selah Brown, samples from Gee's Bend Singers -- a meditation on Afro-American history (including a side trip to Ghana) that doesn't seem to resolve much. B+(*)

Dave Douglas Quintet: Time Travel (2012 [2013], Greenleaf Music): Same lineup as last year's Be Still -- Jon Irabagon (tenor sax), Matt Mitchell (piano), Linda Oh (bass), Rudy Royston (drums) -- minus the singer and the solemn tone, which gives them space to repeatedly flare out, even if the compositional matrix is the same fancy, slippery postbop Douglas has honed for years. The main thing you get is chops: he remains in a class by himself, so confident he's game to take on the hottest saxophonist he can find -- Potter, McCaslin, Strickland, now Irabagon, who is having one helluva year. A- [advance]

Ellery Eskelin: Trio New York II (2013, Prime Source): Sax-organ trio, with Gary Versace on the B3 and Gerald Cleaver on drums; second album together, the first dedicated to the tenor saxophonist's organ-playing mother. Likewise, this one is all standards, with a Monk piece, ohers like "Just One of Those Things," "After You've Gone," and "Flamingo." Versace stays clear of the usual soul jazz moves, giving this an odd delicacy, undercutting the spark but bringing out some of Eskelin's most poignant ballad craft. A-

Ken Fowser/Behn Gillece: Top Shelf (2012 [2013], Posi-Tone): Tenor sax and vibes, respectively; fourth album together, songs split 7-3 for Gillece. Backed by a sextet, with trombone, piano, bass, and drums. Postbop, runs fast and slick. B

Rich Halley 4: Crossing the Passes (2012 [2013], Pine Eagle): Tenor saxophonist, has recorded since the 1980s, more so since he's approached retirement age. Quartet adds a second horn -- Michael Vlatkovich's trombone -- to bass (Clyde Reed) and drums (son Carson Halley). A-

Curtis Hasselbring: Number Stations (2012 [2013], Cuneiform): Trombonist, studied at New England Conservatory and played in Boston bands like Either/Orchestra, then moved to New York, recorded in groups as disparate as Slavic Soul Party and Ballin' the Jack, finally recording his own album as The New Mellow Edwards. That band name is "featured" here, on his third album, and they're a motley bunch: Chris Speed (tenor sax, clarinet), Mary Halvorson (guitar), Trevor Dunn (bass), Matt Moran (vibes, marimba), and two drummer/percussionists: Ches Smith and Satoshi Takeishi. Compositions have something to do with numeric codings read off shortwave radio broadcasts, but what you get is a mish-mash studded with brilliant solos, much as you'd expect if a band this talented just winged it. B+(***)

Joe Locke: Lay Down My Heart: Blues & Ballads Vol 1 (2012 [2013], Motéma): Vibraphonist, has close to 30 albums since 1983, most paired off with pianists -- Ryan Cohan here, plus David Finck on bass and Jaimeo Brown on drums. Two originals, seven covers, the most immediately appealing the ones that skip around the edges of the familiar, like "Ain't No Sunshine" (Bill Withers) or "Makin' Whoopee." B+(**)

Chuck Owen & the Jazz Surge: River Runs (2011 [2013], Summit): Composer/arranger, has three albums on Sea Breeze (1995-2004), one on MAMA. Jazz Surge is his big band, introduced on the 1995 album, so it's not like he's jumping on a bandwagon. He subtitles this "A Concerto for Jazz Guitar, Saxophone, & Orchestra," and aside from the prominence of guitar (LaRue Nickerson) and tenor sax (Jack Wilkins), this really is contemporary classical music more than jazz, especially with the added orchestra (flutes, oboes, bassoon and harp, three French horns, and a phalanx of strings, the violin solos reserved Rob Thomas). Seems like I should hate it, and I started to, then lots of little things won me over. Nice booklet. B+(*)

Shamie Royston: Portraits (2011 [2013], self-released): Pianist, first record, piano trio, with Ivan Taylor on bass and her father Rudy Royston on drums, plus a Camille Thurman vocal. Nice piano work, with a gentle swing. Can't say the vocal is a plus. B+(*)

Markus Schwartz/Monvelyno Alexis: Vo-Duo Nou La (2011 [2013], Lakou Brooklyn): Drummer, b. in Copenhagen, Denmark, based for the last twenty years "in the heart of Lakou Brooklyn," "learning the wealth and complexity of traditional Haitian religious music." Alexis, born and raised in Haiti, plays guitar, sings, and co-wrote most of the songs. B

Jim Snidero: Stream of Consciousness (2012 [2013], Savant): Alto saxophonist, 17 albums since 1987, generally a mainstream/postbop guy, but looking for "strong, free-spirited younger players" this time, coming up with Paul Bollenback (guitar), Linda Oh (bass), and Rudy Royston (drums). Actually, he winds up running away from them more often than not. B+(***)

Jacqui Sutton: Notes From the Frontier: A Musical Journey (2012, Toy Blue Typewriter): Interpretive singer from Houston, second album, some kind of concept on discovering America. Starts with an interesting banjo-paced take on "Summertime," then segues to something unsingable. Album continues to teeter like that, with some hot trumpet the high spot. B-

The Verve Jazz Ensemble: It's About Time (2012 [2013], self-released): Five musicians are credited, but only four pictured: Tatum Greenblatt (trumpet), Jon Blanck (tenor sax), Matt Oestreicher (piano), and Josh Feldstein (drums) -- odd man out is bassist Chris DeAngelis. First album, six bop-era standards plus three alternate takes, nice job on each. B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • JD Allen: Grace (Savant)
  • Michael Bates/Samuel Blaser Quintet: One From None (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Han Bennink/Uri Caine: Sonic Boom (816 Music)
  • Blue Cranes: Swim (Cuneiform): advance, May 21
  • Marc Cary: For the Love of Abbey (Motéma): June 11
  • Racquel Cepeda: I'm Confessin' (Peonia Music)
  • Michael Dease: Coming Home (D Clef)
  • Jonathan Finlayson & Sicilian Defense: Moment & the Message (Pi): May 28
  • Ross Hammond Quartet: Cathedrals (Prescott)
  • Deborah Latz: Fig Tree (June Moon Productions)
  • Liberation Prophecy: Invisible House (self-released)
  • Matt Parker: Worlds Put Together (Bynk)
  • The Kim Richmond Concert Jazz Orchestra: Artistry: A Tribute to Stan Kenton (MAMA)
  • Wallace Roney: Understanding (High Note)
  • Alex Syndman: Fortunate Action (self-released)
  • Craig Taborn Trio: Chants (ECM)
  • Anna Webber: Percussive Mechanics (Pirouet)
  • Mark Winkler: The Laura Nyro Project (Cafe Pacific)
  • Jon Wirtz: Tourist (self-released)

Expert Comments

I wrote:

I just got a notice that Richie Havens died. I can't mention his name in my house without eliciting moans -- Laura still blames him for her worst concert experience ever. (Same one that haunts Bob? I never bothered to ask.) I went to update my database and see that I never graded any of Havens' albums. I know that I've heard at least one, and it was awful.

decherre replied:

even Coyne never played for more then 45 minutes in open D without a beer run.

Correction: Laura tells me that she never saw Havens perform, so her intense distaste for him comes from elsewhere. (She just came into my office-space and complained about all the love for Havens filling her facebook feed.) I do recall Bob describing a concert he had just seen (Smashing Pumpkins or Nick Cave, don't recall which since they were at the same festival and evidently really bad) as the worst he's seen since Havens.

Jon LaFollette wrote me, asking for a list of 8-10 recommended albums "which feature jazz from A) the New York / East Coast scene and B) the 1920s." I wrote back:

Mostly off the top of my head, although I looked up some titles. What I know is mostly summed up here:


Really just New York, at least up to the 1940s when Philadelphia starts to matter, and Boston in the 1950s, although neither ever come close. The 1920s cutoff is pretty arbitrary, and I've gone beyond it here. A better division would be around 1933, with the advancement of stride piano and the introduction of swing. That's also about the point when New York starts capturing the rest of the nation's jazz stars.

First pick is the Fletcher Henderson 3-CD box, A Study in Frustration (1923-28 [1994], Legacy). Nearly everything that mattered happened first in Henderson's band, including Louis Armstrong's initial arrival (before he went back to Chicago to cut the Hot Fives and Sevens) and Coleman Hawkins' invention of the jazz saxophone. May be out of print, but looks like Essential Jazz Classics has reissued it with some extras, and it's pretty cheap.

Next, you want some Duke Ellington, especially 1926-29, the so-called "Bubber Miley Era." Ellington recorded many of his songs three times, for Bluebird (RCA), Brunswick (Decca/MCA/Universal), and Okeh (Columbia), and they are desirable in roughly that order, and they look to all be out of print, for reasons I find not just unfathomable but criminal. RCA had three Bluebird CDs, of which Early Ellington is absolutely prime (slightly expanded from the Flaming Youth LP which was a big Christgau favorite). The Brunswicks were available in a 3-CD complete edition (Early Ellington) and a single sampler (The Best of Early Ellington), and they sound terrific. The Okehs were in 2-CD The Okeh Ellington, and they're a lot rougher. Jazz Legends issued a single called The Bubber Miley Era: 1924-1929 that is near-perfect. JSP had a 4-CD box called Mrs. Clinkscales to the Cotton Club that loses a bit, especially with the early Washingtonians tracks, but is a bargain. Ellington's 1930s material is generally less well regarded, which is probably unfair. Legacy never reissued this material, so it's only been available on Classics (a French label that issues everything chronologically), at least until the expensive Mosaic 11-CD box set (that I don't have) appeared. (There's also a second 4-CD JSP box, which I don't have and don't know how far it goes.) Ellington's 1940-42 RCAs are his second peak period, but that's beyond your time frame.

Next thing I'd recommend is a Don Redman compilation, Doin' What I Please (1925-38 [1993], ASV), if you can find it. This covers a variety of groups Redman led or arranged for, notably McKinney's Cotton Pickers. ASV is a British reissue label, with a huge number of long (75-80 minute) single-CD compilations, generally good if the subject holds up that long.

Another important group leader is Luis Russell: a good, pretty comprehensive set is The Luis Russell Story 1929-1934 (Retrieval, 2CD), which seems to be in print.

The preeminent NY pianist of the 1920s was James P. Johnson. My favorite there is Snowy Morning Blues (1930-44 [1991], Decca), a little late and out-of-print. In the 1930s the key pianist becomes Fats Waller, followed by Art Tatum. A fine Waller intro is the 3-CD box, If You Got to Ask, You Ain't Got It (1926-43 [2006], Legacy), although The Joint Is Jumpin' [1987] and The Very Best of Fats Waller [2000] try to reduce that to a single CD. Tatum's best stuff wasn't cut until the 1950s, although ASV's The Art of Tatum (1932-44) catches you up.

Coleman Hawkins is mostly covered by the Henderson set and to some extent by the Redman, but there's more, especially after he goes to Europe in 1934 and comes back and revolutionizes jazz improv. The King of the Tenor Sax (1929-43 [2003], Jazz Legends) is a good for its focus. There's also an expensive Mosaic box, which largely duplicates the old 6-CD Affinity box I own.

Henry "Red" Allen is a New Orleans-born trumpet player who was big in New York from about 1929 on. He shows up on the Redman, Russell, and (I'm pretty sure) Henderson boxes, and has some 1933 sessions with Hawkins. The first three volumes of his work on Collectors' Classics are real good.

Jimmie Lunceford (Stomp It Off, For Dancers Only) and Chick Webb (Spinnin' the Web) are important bandleaders from the early 1930s -- those three titles are from out-of-print Decca CDs, all highly recommended. I think there's a Mosaic box of Lunceford. There's a 4-CD Properbox of Webb.

Count Basie moved from KC to NY in 1936 and had a huge impact right away. The 3-CD Decca box is monumental, the 1-CD "best of" a good selection. The 3-CD Columbia box is mostly later, although it starts off with the 1936 Jones-Smith sessions.

Louis Armstrong moved back to NY around 1930, with a big band. Nothing in the 1930s is as important as his late 1920s recordings, but the RCAs are still pretty great, and there's good stuff for Decca if you bother to dig for it. (Again, don't have the Mosaic box of the Deccas.) Sidney Bechet and Jelly Roll Morton probably passed through NY. Both recorded a lot of fine music for RCA. Benny Goodman started in Chicago, but probably wound up in NY, and becomes hugely influential from 1935 on. Artie Shaw appears a couple years later, and John Kirby's 1939-42 band is superb. Benny Carter probably passed through. His most famous pre-WWII work was cut in Europe, including the "Crazy Rhythm" session with Coleman Hawkins and Django Reinhardt and a good album in England with Spike Hughes, but he spent most of the 1940s working in LA on movie soundtracks, and his best stuff came out in the 1950s-60s.

Not sure where to slot folks like Cab Calloway and Stuff Smith. Billie Holiday appeared in the late 1930s, mostly in Teddy Wilson's bands, but all of his tracks are under her name now. Wilson was a very important pianist.

There was a Bluebird CD called The Jazz Age: New York in the Twenties (Christgau liked it) with Red Nichols, Ben Pollack, Phil Napoleon, Joe Venuti and Eddie Lang. The Lang/Venuti stuff is worth pursuing (JSP's Volume 2 is my top pick -- guitar/violin jazz, much like Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli. Retrieval has a good Red Nichols with Miff Mole 1925-1927 set.

Allen Lowe's That Devilin' Tune compilations collect an extraordinary amount of early jazz, not limited to New York but NY increasingly dominates the art, at least up to 1950 when LA and SF start to matter, and he tends to focus earlier than most compilers.

I bought most of this stuff in the early CD era. I'm shocked at how little of the major label stuff is still in print. There is a lot more than is readily obvious from European labels, and I've barely scratched those sources. For instance, Frog Records is regarded as having good sounding transfers. I don't have any of their releases, but they have a Miff Mole comparable to the one I cited, and three volumes of McKinney's Cotton Pickers. Glancing through their catalog, I noticed one called Thumpin' & Bumpin': New York Volume 2: only one I was familiar with there was Bubber Miley -- Ellington's first great trumpet player, died real young, but I never knew he led his own groups -- so I guess I'm not that much of an expert.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Weekend Roundup

Some scattered links of special interest. Caught most of them today, which shows it isn't all that hard to find trouble these days:

  • Joe Conason: Protecting the 'Second Amendment Rights' of Thugs and Terrorists: The NRA used to push the mantra, "if guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns." Now they seem to be saying, if criminals are denied guns, no one will be permitted them.

    As Will Saletan pointed out in Slate last January, the NRA has consistently (and successfully) sought to kill the most basic efforts to keep guns away from convicted criminals and other dangerous characters -- including abusive spouses under court protection orders, drug dealers and even individuals listed on the Justice Department's terrorist watch list.

    In the wake of the Boston bombing, as the nation ponders how to bolster its security, the gun lobby's tender concern for the Second Amendment "rights" of terrorists and thugs ought to permanently discredit them and their political servants.

    Background checks and registration should not prevent people who have legitimate reason for owning guns from doing so, nor establish a "slippery slope" leading to gun confiscation (as is routinely asserted). They would, however, do much to keep guns out of the hands of people who should not have them, and they would help law enforcement track gun violence. There is, after all, enough gun violence in America to warrant precautions, and it should be clear that there are people who should not be entitled to own or use guns. Reasonable people should be able to find some common ground here, but the NRA has taken a position far beyond reason, and it's time to start calling it what it is: their main purpose is to safeguard the gun-owning rights of criminals, because if criminals can't own guns, no one can.

    As near as I can tell, the NRA is mostly a front for gun manufacturers, and their business is booming because they're able to promote fear -- of crime, of terrorists, and of the government -- into ever more gun sales. For an example of his this works, here's a Wichita Eagle letter from Hank Price, of Goddard, KS:

    I need an AR-15. Furthermore, I need several 30-round magazines to go with it.

    Why, you ask? Well, let's put aside the fact that it is none of your business or, for that matter, none of government's business to ask. (The Second Amendment affirms my right to keep and bear arms.)

    I need an AR-15 because the bad guys have them. I need an AR-15 because the police, the FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives have them. If someone is attempting a home invasion with semi-automatic or even automatic weapons, I don't want to wait the 15 to 20 minutes it takes for the police to arrive with their semi-automatic weapons.

    I need an AR-15 because as long as I and other law-abiding citizens have them, the government will think twice before infringing on the other rights affirmed by the Constitution. That is the real reason we have the Second Amendment. Not so we can hunt. Not so we can target practice. Not so we can defend our home and family until the police come to file their reports. But to protect our rights.

    This is a good example of the NRA business plan: let the "bad guys" have X and "good guys" like Price will have to buy the same thing -- an arms race, which certainly won't stop with AR-15s. Moreover, if the "bad guys" include the US government, Price is already way down the technology curve: they already have helicopters, tanks, snipers, noxious gas, and enough firepower to obliterate your house -- no need to merely "invade" it. Also, that bit about using guns to protect your rights, how's that worked out over time? From the Whiskey Rebellion in 1791 up until any recent example you can cite, not very well. To pick one relatively recent example, Leonard Peltier is in jail for life for allegedly defending himself against federal agents. Why should Price expect to fare better? The fact is that the only way to defend yourself against the government is through the courts -- your best friend there, by the way, is the ACLU. Better still, elect a government that will respect your rights -- shouldn't be that big of a problem, if you really are one of the "good guys." If not, at least you have the NRA working for you.

    By the way, here's today's Crowson:

  • David Graeber: There's No Need for All This Economic Sadomasochism: More on austerity politics, piling on the Reinhart-Rogoff debacle:

    The morality of debt has proved spectacularly good politics. It appears to work just as well whatever form it takes: fiscal sadism (Dutch and German voters really do believe that Greek, Spanish and Irish citizens are all, collectively, as they put it, "debt sinners," and vow support for politicians willing to punish them) or fiscal masochism (middle-class Britons really will dutifully vote for candidates who tell them that government has been on a binge, that they must tighten their belts, it'll be hard, but it's something we can all do for the sake of our grandchildren). Politicians locate economic theories that provide flashy equations to justify the politics; their authors, like Rogoff, are celebrated as oracles; no one bothers to check if the numbers actually add up.

    Also on Reinhart-Rogoff: New Tools for Reproducible Results.

  • Glenn Greenwald: What Rights Should Dzokhar Tsarnaev Get and Why Does It Matter?: When I heard Sen. Lindsey Graham insisting that the Boston Marathon bomber should be declared an "enemy combatant" I thought that was the dumbest thing I've heard him say in, well, weeks. As I understand it, the main purpose of the "enemy combatant" designation is to allow the Feds to hold people indefinitely they suspect but don't have any evidence against, at least that wouldn't hold up in court. Assuming they got the right person, the odds that they wouldn't be able to secure a conviction are vanishingly small -- unless they did something really stupid, like waterboarding him in Guantanamo. Tsarnaev is a US citizen, captured in the US after (allegedly) committing a major crime on US territory. Isn't that what the US justice system is about? Then I read that Obama's DOJ decided not to "Mirandize" him, as if not reminding him that he has rights under the constitution strips him of those rights. To get on top of this, I consulted Glenn Greenwald, and he explains it all here.

    Now, the cheers for this erosion of Miranda are led not by right-wing Supreme Court justices such as William Rehnquist (who wrote the opinion in Quarles), but by MSNBC pundits like former Obama campaign media aide Joy Reid, who -- immediately upon the DOJ's announcement -- instantly became a newly minted Miranda expert in order to loudly defend the DOJ's actions. MSNBC's featured "terrorism expert" Roger Cressey -- who, unbeknownst to MSNBC viewers, is actually an executive with the intelligence contractor Booz Allen -- also praised the DOJ's decision not to Mirandize the accused bomber (if you want instant, reflexive support for the US government's police and military powers, MSNBC is the place to turn these days). [ . . . ]

    Just 30 years ago, Quarles was viewed as William Rehnquist's pernicious first blow against Miranda; now, it's heralded by MSNBC Democrats as good, just and necessary for our safety, even in its new extremist rendition. That's the process by which long-standing liberal views of basic civil liberties, as well core Constitutional guarantees, continue to be diluted under President Obama in the name of terrorism. [ . . . ]

    Needless to say, Tsarnaev is probably the single most hated figure in America now. As a result, as Bazelon noted, not many people will care what is done to him, just like few people care what happens to the accused terrorists at Guantanamo, or Bagram, or in Yemen and Pakistan. But that's always how rights are abridged: by targeting the most marginalized group or most hated individual in the first instance, based on the expectation that nobody will object because of how marginalized or hated they are. Once those rights violations are acquiesced to in the first instance, then they become institutionalized forever, and there is no basis for objecting once they are applied to others, as they inevitably will be (in the case of the War on Terror powers: as they already are being applied to others).

    Also see Greenwald's earlier post, The Boston Bombing Produces Familiar and Revealing Reactions. Greenwald also links to an interesting piece by Ali Abuninah: Was the Boston Bombing Really a "Terrorist" Act? Aside from the specialized legal aspects, I have no problem describing any bombing as an act of terror (including those bombs released by US drones in Pakistan and elsewhere), just because of its intrinsically indiscriminate nature. But at this point there is very little that can be said about the motivations and intentions of the perpetrators. But somewhere I read that this was the first "terrorist attack" on US soil since the November 2009 mass shooting at Fort Hood by Major Nidal Hasan -- a statement that overlooks dozens of mass shootings since, many (e.g., the recent murder of schoolchildren in Newtown, CT) truly terrorful. At the very least, we've managed to muddle up the language here: the 9/11 attack were both terrorizing and a radical affront to the image of US power as projected across the world. The Boston bombing and the Newtown shootings were both terrorizing, but what they have to do with US power is still mostly confined to the fevered imaginations of US politicians, who, as always, are happy to use whatever tragedy is at hand to further their own interests.

  • Glenn Greenwald: Margaret Thatcher and Misapplied Death Etiquette: Missed this post from April 8, but still timely. The fact is, when you hear that someone has died, you remember what they did. If what you say then usually seems positive, that may be because we are predisposed to forget or forgive the bad and cherish the good. Or perhaps one feels a tinge of relief that the threat of the bad has passed. But the threat of someone like Thatcher hasn't passed with her, and it would be grossly unresponsible to gloss over much of what she actually did. As Greenwald says:

    This demand for respectful silence in the wake of a public figure's death is not just misguided but dangerous. That one should not speak ill of the dead is arguably appropriate when a private person dies, but it is wildly inappropriate for the death of a controversial public figure, particularly one who wielded significant influence and political power. "Respecting the grief" of Thatcher's family members is appropriate if one is friends with them or attends a wake they organize, but the protocols are fundamentally different when it comes to public discourse about the person's life and political acts. I made this argument at length last year when Christopher Hitchens died and a speak-no-ill rule about him was instantly imposed (a rule he, more than anyone, viciously violated), and I won't repeat that argument today; those interested can read my reasoning here.

    But the key point is this: those who admire the deceased public figure (and their politics) aren't silent at all. They are aggressively exploiting the emotions generated by the person's death to create hagiography. Typifying these highly dubious claims about Thatcher was this (appropriately diplomatic) statement from President Obama: "The world has lost one of the great champions of freedom and liberty, and America has lost a true friend." Those gushing depictions can be quite consequential, as it was for the week-long tidal wave of unbroken reverence that was heaped on Ronald Reagan upon his death, an episode that to this day shapes how Americans view him and the political ideas he symbolized. Demanding that no criticisms be voiced to counter that hagiography is to enable false history and a propagandistic whitewashing of bad acts, distortions that become quickly ossified and then endure by virtue of no opposition and the powerful emotions created by death. When a political leader dies, it is irresponsible in the extreme to demand that only praise be permitted but not criticisms.

  • Ed Kilgore: Fertilizer Explosion Update: Weak Inspections and Strong Kolaches: While the nation's media was fixated on the bombings in Boston, a far larger (and deadlier) explosion occurred in the place where you might most expect it, a fertilizer plant in West, Texas, but nobody was looking there:

    The explosion shone a harsh light on the US fertilizer industry and the weak, toothless regulation thereof. One problem Plumer notes is that, "the Occupational Safety and Health Administration tends to be understaffed and inspections are relatively infrequent. The Texas fertilizer industry has only seen six inspections in the past five years -- and the West Texas Fertilizer Co. facility was not one of them." This was despite the West facility receiving a $2,300 fine from the EPA in 2006 for poor risk-management planning. The last time the facility had been inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration was in 1985. Think Progress reports that the plant had been inspected in 2011 by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), which resulted in a $10,100 fine for missing placards and lack of security plans. The fine was reduced in 2012 after improvements were made at the plant.

    Fertilizer explosions are relatively common in history. There have been 17 unintended explosions of ammonium nitrate causing casualties since 1921. The worst of these was the explosion of a cargo ship in the Port of Texas City that killed 581 people and injured 3500.

  • Mike Konczal: Mapping Out the Arguments Against Chained CPI: Konczal has been linked to by everyone commenting on Reinhart-Rogoff recently (see Researchers Finally Replicated Reinhart-Rogoff and There Are Serious Problems, followed up by Andrindrajit Dube: Reinhart/Rogoff and Growth in a Time Before Debt). Here he analyzes another real bad idea: Obama's budget proposal to cut Social Security by fudging the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA). (If you were really paying attention, you'll recall that this has already been done once before, by Clinton as a favor for Greenspan: in the 1990s, the government changed how the consumer price index (CPI) was calculated, nominally lowering inflation and thereby reducing Social Security COLA increases.) With "friends" like Obama (and Clinton) you enemies are already halfway home.

    If you look into the data, the elderly spend a lot more of their limited money on housing, utilities, and medical care. Health care costs have been rising rapidly over the past several decades, and it is difficult to substitute on other necessary, fixed-price goods like utilities. With the notable exception of college costs, the things urban wage earners spend money on haven't increased in price as quickly as what the elderly purchase. As a result, the CPI-E (the index tailored to the elderly) has increased 3.3 percent a year from 1982 to 2007, while the CPI-W (tailored to wage earners) has only increased 3 percent a year. [ . . . ]

    You'll hear arguments that a Grand Bargain is necessary, so it's better to bring Social Security into long-term balance now, with Democrats at the helm, than in the future, when there will be less time and an uncertain governance coalition. You can get fewer cuts and more revenue than you would otherwise and take the issue off the table for the foreseeable future to concentrate on other priorities.

    But if that's your idea, then this is a terrible deal and sets a terrible precedent, because this deal would accomplish none of your goals. You'd cut Social Security without putting in any new revenue. And it wouldn't be sufficient to close the long-term gap, so the issue would stay on the table. Indeed, the deficit hawks would probably be emboldened, viewing this as a "downpayment" on future cuts, and require any future attempts to get more revenue for Social Security, say by raising the payroll tax cap, to involve significant additional cuts.

    Konczal also points out that the longer you live, the more "chained CPI" eats into your check; also the more likely you are to have exhausted your savings. The net result is to plunge the very elderly into poverty. One thing he didn't mention is that some big expenses, like nursing home care, are means-tested. The effect of this is to first confiscate all of your savings before making you a ward of a state that has never been known for generous welfare policies. Over the last twenty-some years, we've done a lot to lighten estate taxes for the rich, never noticing that for the poor the effective tax rate is 100%.

  • Matthew Yglesias: Banning Late-Term Abortions Reduces the Quality of Late-Term Abortion Providers: Same for extra-legal bans, like murder. Talks about the Kermit Gosnell case in Philadelphia, but he starts with a more commonplace example:

    I used to buy illegal drugs sometimes and in addition to me, personally, not being a huge fan of said substances I really didn't enjoy the purchasing process. The quality of customer service was just deplorable. And the problem, roughly speaking, was that even though it was not in practice all that difficult to obtain marijuana you still had to get it from a drug dealer rather than, say, a highly efficient global retailer operating with industry best practices and huge economies of scale. And for better or for worse, that's one of the goals of drug prohibition in the United States. It's not simply that making something illegal deters some people from use. It inhibits the emergence of above-board providers with strong franchises and brand value and robust competition between multiple high quality providers.

    It also opens up opportunities for police to profit through bribes or other favors, and it makes it easier for criminals to rob drug dealers, and it opens up drug dealers to further crime, etc. But back to medicine: any operation is more likely to be performed competently by someone who does it often, thereby developing skill and experience. One reason universal health care is better even for the people who can afford whatever you call our health care system is that doctors learn from experience.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Burial Rites

Wrote this to Jan, after she vented her displeasure with the decision to ultimately bury Aunt Freda with her second husband, Ralph Bureman, instead of with my uncle, Allen Brown. Freda Shelby was born near Moline, KS in 1915. She dated Ralph before marrying Allen in 1938. They had three children (Lou Jean, Jan, Ken) before Allen was killed in a car wreck in 1951. Meanwhile, Ralph vanished from her life. He got married, have five children. Many years later, Freda and Ralph met through church contacts -- he was a minister in Disciples of Christ. His marriage had fallen apart. After reuniting with Freda, he divorced and they married. They lived together, first in Kinsley then in Newton (both KS), for ten years before he died in 1987. Ken moved to Independence, KS after college. He taught political science and tennis at Independence Community College, retired there, but still runs the high school tennis program. Freda moved from Newton to Independence about five years ago as she started to suffer from dementia, which is currently rather severe.

I know Ken prefers Independence. He goes to the cemetery a lot to remember Yona, and would be better able to take care of things there. I don't relate to cemeteries like that. I don't think I've been to my parents' graves in the last decade; probably only twice since they were buried. I go to the cemetery in Arkansas because it's one of those customary things we do down there, plus it has some deeper family history. (Same for the cemetery in Spearville, although the only time I've been there in many decades was to bury Zula Mae.) I've been to a few other cemeteries -- where Lola and Melvin are buried in Stroud, OK; my grandparents in Marquette, MS; Ruby and Bob in Lincoln, KS; Rebecca in Vienna, OH -- but only once each. Rebecca is buried in her family plot, next to her father, but no one suggested reserving a spot for me and putting my name on the headstone. It would have seemed awfully presumptuous to me at the time, and as it turned out I've been with Laura much longer (and quite a bit happier; her preference, by the way, is to be cremated and scattered; my own view is that when I die my disposal will be someone else's problem).

I don't know why Freda decided to put her name on Allen's tombstone -- I can imagine, but I've always found it to be a little unsettling too. Maybe she felt pressured, or just that it was the normal thing to do, but she certainly didn't make it knowing how the rest of her life would unfold. I do recall her talking about Ralph even before they met up, and also recall her talking about how she sent letters to each of you, and you responding that you only had one question: whether getting together with Ralph would affect her plans to be buried in Arkansas with Allen. At the time she promised no. I hardly ever saw them when they were married. They only time I recall meeting Ralph was when they came to Wichita and he married Rebecca and me. Evidently some time she changed her mind, because her name is on Ralph's tombstone as well. When we talked about it later she said that Independence would be close to Ken, that he would visit more often and take better care of the plot, etc. -- didn't seem to have much to do with Ralph vs. Allen, but she probably didn't want to think of it like that.

As my disinterest in my parents' graves suggests, I don't think of them as being there, or anywhere else, except in memories and imagination. The markers evoke those memories (or in the case of ancestors I never met, imagination), and they'll do that regardless of the contents of the dirt around them. Regardless of what you do with the body or ashes, I'll still recall Freda every time I visit Flutey Cemetery (or drive by the cemetery in Independence). Most likely, you (and Lou Jean and Ken) think differently, so pay me no heed, but it is ultimately your collective decision.

Didn't say this, but my preference would be to cremate the body and not bury it either place -- maybe scatter the ashes, or split them up and let the three widely scattered "kids" (Jan lives in Idaho; Lou Jean in Buffalo) build their own little memorials. On the other hand, my mother always assumed she would be buried, and we more/less automatically just put her down next to dad, following other instructions like burying her barefoot. Similarly, we buried Laura's father in a plot he had purchased for that purpose. (On the other hand, we cremated Laura's sister, and gave her ashes to a childhood friend. No idea whatever ultimately happened there.)

I'd also add the missing dates to Freda's two gravestones. For most people the disposition would remain uncertain, like Schrödinger's cat.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Midweek Roundup

Some links and comments. Originally started last week, then postponed to mid-week, then a bit later:

  • Gerry Adams: Thatcher's Legacy in Ireland: On the late UK prime minister:

    Margaret Thatcher was a hugely divisive figure in British politics. Her right wing politics saw Thatcher align herself with some of the most repressive and undemocratic regimes in the late 20th century -- including apartheid South Africa and Chile's Pinochet. Her description of the ANC and Mandela as terrorists was evidence of her ultra conservative view of the world.

    She championed the deregulation of the financial institutions, cuts in public services and was vehemently anti-trade union. She set out to crush the trade union movement. The confrontation with the miners and the brutality of the British police was played out on television screens night after night for months. The current crisis in the banking institutions and the economic recession owe much to these policies. And she went to war in the Malvinas.

    But for the people of Ireland, and especially the north, the Thatcher years were among some of the worst of the conflict. For longer than any other British Prime Minister her policy decisions entrenched sectarian divisions, handed draconian military powers over to the securocrats, and subverted basic human rights.

    Her most immediate impact on the US came out of the Malvinas (Falklands) War, which played so jolly well on British TV that she got a big popularity boost. She later used it to convince the first George Bush how he could use war in Kuwait to push up his own ratings, a lesson Bush's idiot son not only learned but refined, thus sparking the neverending War on Terror.

    Thatcher has been all over the pundit-world recently. On two succesive days, the Wichita Eagle had opinion pieces that doted on her: one by the Kansas Republican chairman extolling Brownback as a Thatcherite; and one by Cal Thomas on how the left is full of hate for pointing out her supposed faults. One thing that I haven't read about recently was how Thatcher was so extreme in her reactionary views that she eventually became an embarrassment to the Conservative Party, which replaced her with John Major. Now the efforts to canonize her are reminiscent of the much more organized efforts to name things after Ronald Reagan.

  • John Cassidy: The Crumbling Case for Austerity Economics: Starts off with a nod to Thatcher, who put austerity into practice back in 1979, a prescription for national impoverishment that the current Conservative cabal running the UK has embraced, once again disastrously. Cassidy then moves on to "glaring faults and omissions in the widely cited research of Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff" -- turns out that their paper predicting doom when a national debt exceeds 90% of GDP was severely fudged ("omitted relevant data, weighted their calculations in an unusual manner, and made an elementary coding blunder," slanting their results in favor of their thesis). For more on Reinhart-Rogoff, see Mike Konczal (wonkish), and Paul Krugman (although if you rumage through his blog you'll find several more).

  • Maureen Dowd: Courting Cowardice:

    Swing Justice Anthony Kennedy grumbled about "uncharted waters," and the fuddy-duddies seemed to be looking for excuses not to make a sweeping ruling. Their questions reflected a unanimous craven impulse: How do we get out of this? This court is plenty bold imposing bad decisions on the country, like anointing W. president or allowing unlimited money to flow covertly into campaigns. But given a chance to make a bold decision putting them on the right, and popular, side of history, they squirm.

    "Same-sex couples have every other right," Chief Justice John Roberts said, sounding inane for a big brain. "It's just about the label in this case." He continued, "If you tell a child that somebody has to be their friend, I suppose you can force the child to say, 'This is my friend,' but it changes the definition of what it means to be a friend." [ . . . ]

    Charles Cooper, the lawyer for the proponents of Prop 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, was tied in knots, failing to articulate any harm that could come from gay marriage and admitting that no other form of discrimination against gay people was justified. His argument, that marriage should be reserved for those who procreate, is ludicrous. Sonia Sotomayor was married and didn't have kids. Clarence and Ginny Thomas did not have kids. Chief Justice Roberts's two kids are adopted. Should their marriages have been banned? What about George and Martha Washington? They only procreated a country.

    As Justice Stephen Breyer pointed out to Cooper, "Couples that aren't gay but can't have children get married all the time."

    Justice Elena Kagan wondered if Cooper thought couples over the age of 55 wanting to get married should be refused licenses. Straining to amuse, Justice Antonin Scalia chimed in: "I suppose we could have a questionnaire at the marriage desk when people come in to get the marriage -- you know, 'Are you fertile or are you not fertile?'"

    Scalia didn't elaborate on his comment in December at Princeton: "If we cannot have moral feeling against homosexuality, can we have it against murder?"

  • Paul Krugman: Europe in Brief: A good basic summary of what's happened to the Euro:

    The first effect of the euro was an outbreak of europhoria: suddenly, investors believed that all European debt was equally safe. Interest rates dropped all around the European periphery, setting off huge flows of capital to Spain and other economies; these capital flows fed huge housing bubbles in many places, and in general created booms in the countries receiving the inflows.

    The booms, in turn, caused differential inflation: costs and prices rose much more in the periphery than in the core. Peripheral economies became increasingly uncompetitive, which wasn't a problem as long as the inflow-fueled bubbles lasted, but would become a problem once the capital inflows stopped.

    And stop they did. The result was serious slumps in the periphery, which lost a lot of internal demand but remained weak on the external side thanks to the loss of competitiveness.

    This exposed the deep problem with the single currency: there is no easy way to adjust when you find your costs out of line. At best, peripheral economies found themselves facing a prolonged period of high unemployment while they achieved a slow, grinding, "internal devaluation."

    The problem was greatly exacerbated, however, when the combination of slumping revenues and the prospect of protracted economic weakness led to large budget deficits and concerns about solvency, even in countries like Spain that entered the crisis with budget surpluses and low debt. There was panic in the bond market -- and as a condition for aid, the European core demanded harsh austerity programs.

    Austerity, in turn, led to much deeper slumps in the periphery -- and because peripheral austerity was not offset by expansion in the core, the result was in fact a slump for the European economy as a whole. One consequence has been that austerity is failing even on its own terms: key measures like debt/GDP ratios have gotten worse, not better.

    One thing to note is that aside from his concern about the human costs of austerity programs little in Krugman's critique of the euro is political. The euro could easily be seen as a liberal project, and as a failure of liberalism. And while one could argue that the failure had less to do with its liberal intent than with an implementation that was overly controlled by conservative bankers -- regulation of those capital flows would have helped -- Krugman tends not to do so.

    Also see Brad DeLong: The Future of the Euro: Lessons From History:

    How did this come about? Why didn't Maastricht set up a single Eurovia-wide banking regulator and supervisor to align financial policy with monetary policy? Why didn't Maastricht set up the fiscal-transfer funds that would be needed when -- as would inevitably happen -- some chunk of the future Eurovia went into recession while other chunks were in boom? Why did Maastricht leave a good chunk of lender-of-last-resort authority in the hands of national governments that could not print money and so fulfill the lender-of-least-resort function rather than placing all of it in the European Central Bank, which could? And why -- given that one country's exports are another's imports -- does the adoption of policies in deficit countries to reduce their imports and boost their export not automatically trigger the adoption of policies in surplus countries to boost their imports and reduce their exports?

  • Barry Ritholtz: 12 Rules of Goldbuggery: Mostly about gold as a speculative investment, which is easy to see as a psychological disorder. As for tying the economic system to the gold standard, that is the all-time number one stupid idea in the history of economics.

  • MJ Rosenberg: Netanyahu to US: Drop Dead: What's the difference between Binyamin Netanyahu and Yitzhak Shamir? Netanyahu will make a bit of effort to string you along, whereas it was obvious even to Americans that Shamir would never budge on anything. The first Bush administration's displeasure with Shamir led to his downfall, replaced by Yitzhak Rabin, which led to the ill-fated Oslo Accords. Lots of things made them ill-fated, but pride of place went to Netanyahu, who when pushed hard enough agreed to things he'd never get around to implementing. Well, Netanyahu's back, but with Oslo dead and Congress in his pocket, is reverting to his inner Shamir:

    The good news is that Netanyahu has made everything so clear. He has no interest in peace, negotiations, any kind of territorial withdrawal or even freezing settlements. Like Shamir, he just wants to buy time until it will be absolutely impossible to create a Palestinian state, if it isn't already. As for the United States, Netanyahu is not interested in what it wants.

    The only question left is what the Obama administration will do in response. It could follow Baker's example and take a walk. Even better, it could tell Netanyahu that future aid from the U.S. will be linked to its occasional compliance with U.S. wishes regarding the occupation. Or it could say, it won't keep following Israel's dictates on sanctions or Palestine's right to recognition by the United Nations. Or it could, as Bush and Baker did, squeeze the Israeli prime minister until the Israeli public dumps him.

    It could do any of those.

    Will it? I'm taking bets.

    But here is a sure one. There is no possibility of serious negotiation so long as Binyamin Netanyahu is prime minister of Israel.

    I personally thought that was obvious when Netanyahu became prime minister shortly after Obama won his first term. Netanyahu's victory and coalition were so shaky that it wouldn't have taken much to nudge them apart, but Obama did nothing and got nothing (but a second term for Netanyahu).

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Expert Comments

Christgau gave Brad Paisley's Wheelhouse a B+, a pretty modest grade given how hard he fell for Paisley's last two albums. Rod Taylor on Brad Paisley's "Those Crazy Christians":

Both Jason and Robert have expressed admiration for "Those Crazy Christians," a song which pissed me off when I first listened to it. It came across more as a cynical sop to a core part of the country audience rather than a thoughtful reflection of a nonbeliever. I think what bugs me most is that I can see groups of evangelical Christians singing along and walking away thinking how wonderful they are.

"'Those crazy Christians, I was gonna sleep in today
But the church bells woke me up and they're a half a mile away
Those crazy Christians, dressed up drivin' down my street
Get their weekly dose of guilt before they head to Applebee's"

So, Paisley's clearly not one of them, but what's the problem? Church bells and guilt trips. The first is humorous, the second the kind of thing that only seems compelling to outsiders.

"They pray before they eat and they pray before they snore
They pray before a football game and every time they score
Every untimely passing, every dear departed soul
Is just another good excuse to bake a casserole"

Paisley's having fun gently poking at their religiosity, but in the end, with the casserole remark, he slyly pats the Christians in the audience on the back for their good deeds, which sets up the next verse.

"Those crazy Christians, go and jump on some airplane
And fly to Africa or Haiti, risk their lives in Jesus' name
No, they ain't the late night party kind
They curse the devil's whiskey while they drink the Savior's wine"

The first part of this one is the bit that angered me so. There's a whole industry built around mission trips that do very little in terms of humanitarian good and do almost nothing to place the lives of people in danger. I've been on these trips. They are often little more than opportunities to tell Bible stories to kids and give them candy. Not all are like that. I went on one to Honduras where we helped fix up a community school and did none of the evangelical stuff all week. The others were glorified vacations, however. And my life was never in danger. The people who plan these trips are meticulous in making sure that doesn't happen. Yet Paisley makes it seem like you have a bunch of evangelicals putting their lives on the line while nonbelievers like him sit back and do nothing. And I'm pretty sure that's how it will play out to a evangelical Christian audience (again, a crucial part of his audience).

"A famous TV preacher has a big affair and then
One tearful confession and he's born again again
Someone yells hallelujah and they shout and clap and sing
It's like they can't wait to forgive someone for just about anything
Those crazy Christians"

Again, Paisley starts out gently mocking, but the second half turns it around. Now it's admiration. But that "just about anything" is the key. Because while they might forgive one of their own, God forbid you be outside the Jesus camp and be gay or something, because then you are an abomination.

"Instead of being outside on this sunny afternoon
They're by the bedside of a stranger in a cold hospital room
And every now and then they meet a poor lost soul like me
Who's not quite sure just who or what or how he ought to be
They march him down the aisle and then the next thing that you know
They dunk him in the water and here comes another one of those crazy Christians

They look to heaven their whole life
And I think what if they're wrong but what if they're right
You know it's funny, much as I'm baffled by it all
If I ever really needed help, well you know who I'd call
It's those crazy Christians"

The admiration continues, less infuriatingly, and builds to those final words. Sure, he's not one of them, but if the whole world went to hell, well, we know who he'd turn to. And his delivery of the last line, the way his music drops out and the religious music comes in . . . well, I'm pretty confident the evangelical element of his audience will just smile, figuring it's just a matter of time until Paisley has the come to Jesus moment.

What bothers me is the way the song plays into the self-righteousness that does permeate so much evangelical Christianity. Paisley grants them undeserved praise and ignores the limits of their charity. And just to be clear, I'm not bashing Christians. I'm bashing a song that lets them off the hook instead of challenging them. The reason I think the song is cynical, is because it lets Paisley state his difference in such an inoffensive way that you would never guess someone might have more substantive criticisms of evangelical Christianity than noisy bells, casserole brigades and a zeal to convert. Paisley gets to proclaim his difference without ever challenging that segment of his audience or threatening his record sales to them. My two cents.

Christgau responds:

Some of what Rodney says about Those Crazy Christians has merit--the "risk their lives" part is definitely overstated. On the other hand, the idea that evangelicals all hate gays is a serious oversimplification that's becoming moreso as more evangelicals have children or friends who come out; the so-called Biblical prejudice is still a major source of homophobia in this country, but there has been real movement. But what I disagree most with is his characterization of Paisley's motive as "cynical." Two problems: first, his assumption that Paisley shares every detail of his analysis, and second, Taylor's failure to acknowledge that in order to remain a mainstream country artist Paisley has what I called a "God quotient," which I referred to originally (not in that phrase) in my B&N piece on Paisley. The idea that Paisley of all people has an additional obligation to "challenge" his chosen audience is moralistic piffle--no mainstream country artist I'm aware of has ever tried harder to do just that, not even Bobby Bare or Tom T. Hall.

Taylor again:

Actually, Robert, you are right to call me out on the cynicism point. That's a crap argument on my part. I have no idea what's going on in Paisley's head, so it's stupid to jump to a worst-case interpretation. To use language appropriate to the topic, I repent.

But I still think the song fails. Paisley has no obligation to challenge his audience, but if he does, I think it's fair for me to judge whether he does that well or not. If he's challenging his Christian audience, it fails because he dances around why someone like him (not literally just him, but the "him" we are invited to become in the song) might not be on the "crazy" Christian bandwagon. Maybe -- and I didn't think of this earlier -- he's challenging the critics of Christians by pointing out that those "crazy" people do wonderful things. But if that's the case, it still fails because generosity becomes sycophancy. You can challenge bigotry against Christians without losing sight of why they might deserve some of those criticisms.

The three key parts, for me, are those two verses I talked most about and the way he closes off the song. I won't say more about the mission trips (except to reiterate that they are not all bad). I realize Christian attitudes toward gays and lesbians are complex and changing, even among evangelicals. The generational divide is significant on this topic in conservative Christianity as it is in society as a whole. What bothers me is the way Paisley, as I hear it, praises the Christians for mercy while acknowledging the limits of that charity in a throwaway phrase "just about anything" that obscures some serious moral questions. Referring to gays was just an obvious (and perhaps clumsy and stereotypical) way of making that point. (And every community, not just Christians, tends to be more generous to insiders than to outsiders.)

And those final lines -- "If I ever really needed help, well you know who I'd call/It's those crazy Christians" -- give way to the church choir that closes the discussion sonically. Instead of presenting "those crazy Christians" in their ambiguity, the breaking in of the divine, via the choir, at the end tries to overwhelm any lingering doubts.

My being pissed off is a personal response. I live, work and, yes, go to church in this world. And the sentiments in this song are exactly the kinds I wouldn't want my students to take on because -- and this isn't Paisley's fault -- I worry about how the song might play out socio-politically in a context where people think they are first century Christians being persecuted by the wider culture, while failing to reckon with the reality that they are persecutors who are in charge (maybe not in Seattle or NYC, but definitely still so in plenty of places in the States). But I hope, beyond that, I've given some decent reasons as to why I think the song doesn't work.

Me, but this didn't come together well enough to post:

I drove across northern Arkansas a few years ago, and only noticed an endlessly repeating pattern of three kinds of churches: Baptist, Pentecostal, and Church of Christ. My relatives belonged to the latter, and somehow I never thought of them as being the crazy ones. Here in Wichita we have many more varieties of both Christian and crazy, and there's some intersection. . . .

One thing "Those Crazy Christians" made me wonder about was whether "crazy" hasn't become a term of endearment these days. That seems to be the gist of how my nephew and his friends use it, with just a hint of surprise. Back when I was growing up it was more like deranged or even insane -- "crazed" -- . . .

Jacob Bailis posted results of his 1965 albums poll [my grades in brackets]:

  1. Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited 290 (Paul Albone, Jacob Bailis, Richard Cobeen, Peter Gorman, Jeff Hamilton, Paul Hayden, Mike Imes, Thomas Lane, Joe Lunday, Chris Monson, Greg Morton, Cam Patterson, Matt Rice, John Smallwood, Liam Smith, Bradley Sroka, Rodney Taylor, John Tiglias, Tom Walker, Aidan Wylde) [A]
  2. The Beatles, Rubber Soul [U.K.] 217 (Paul Albone, Jacob Bailis, Peter Gorman, Jeff Hamilton, Paul Hayden, Mike Imes, Chris Monson, Greg Morton, Cam Patterson, Matt Rice, John Smallwood, Liam Smith, Bradley Sroka, Rodney Taylor, Tom Walker) [A]
  3. Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home 169 (Paul Albone, Jacob Bailis, Richard Cobeen, Peter Gorman, Paul Hayden, Mike Imes, Thomas Lane, Chris Monson, Matt Rice, John Smallwood, Bradley Sroka, Rodney Taylor, John Tiglias, Tom Walker, Aidan Wylde) [A]
  4. John Coltrane, A Love Supreme 155 (Peter Gorman, Jeff Hamilton, Mike Imes, Thomas Lane, Chris Monson, Greg Morton, Cam Patterson, Matt Rice, John Smallwood, Liam Smith, Bradley Sroka, Rodney Taylor, John Tiglias, Tom Walker) [A+]
  5. The Rolling Stones, Now! 152 (Paul Albone, Jacob Bailis, Richard Cobeen, Peter Gorman, Paul Hayden, Mike Imes, Joe Lunday, Greg Morton, Cam Patterson, John Smallwood, Liam Smith, Bradley Sroka, Rodney Taylor, John Tiglias, Tom Walker, Aidan Wylde) [A-]
  6. Otis Redding, Otis Blue 132 (Paul Albone, Richard Cobeen, Peter Gorman, Paul Hayden, Mike Imes, Joe Lunday, Chris Monson, Matt Rice, John Smallwood, Liam Smith, Bradley Sroka, John Tiglias, Tom Walker, Aidan Wylde) [A+]
  7. The Beatles, Help! [U.K.] 114 (Paul Albone, Jacob Bailis, Richard Cobeen, Peter Gorman, Paul Hayden, Thomas Lane, Matt Rice, John Smallwood, Bradley Sroka, Rodney Taylor, Tom Walker, Joe Yanosik) [A+]
  8. The Rolling Stones, Out of Our Heads [U.S.] 110 (Jacob Bailis, Peter Gorman, Paul Hayden, Mike Imes, Thomas Lane, Joe Lunday, Matt Rice, John Smallwood, Bradley Sroka, John Tiglias, Tom Walker, Aidan Wylde) [A]
  9. The Beach Boys, Today! 67 (Jacob Bailis, Thomas Lane, Joe Lunday, Greg Morton, Matt Rice, Aidan Wylde, Joe Yanosik) [A-]
  10. The Beatles, Rubber Soul [U.S.] 66 (Richard Cobeen, Thomas Lane, Joe Lunday, John Tiglias) []
  11. The Who, My Generation 47 (Paul Albone, Peter Gorman, Paul Hayden, Matt Rice, Liam Smith, Joe Yanosik) []
  12. B.B. King, Live at the Regal 45 (Paul Albone, Richard Cobeen, Mike Imes, Thomas Lane, John Tiglias) [A-]
  13. The Miracles, Going to a Go-Go 43 (Liam Smith, Greg Morton, Cam Patterson Aidan Wylde, Joe Yanosik) []
  14. The Rolling Stones, December's Children 38 (Jacob Bailis, Paul Hayden, Rodney Taylor, Aidan Wylde, Joe Yanosik) [A-]
  15. Herbie Hancock, Maiden Voyage 37 (Jason Gubbels, Mike Imes, Thomas Lane, Joe Lunday) [A]
  16. The Beach Boys, Summer Days 33 (Jacob Bailis, Mike Imes, Joe Lunday, Joe Yanosik) [A-]
  17. The Byrds, Mr. Tambourine Man 32 (Paul Albone, Peter Gorman, Paul Hayden, Joe Lunday, John Smallwood, Rodney Taylor) [A-]
  18. Albert Ayler, Spiritual Unity 32 (Chris Monson, Tom Walker, John Tiglias) [A]
  19. Junior Wells, Hoodoo Man Blues 27 (Cam Patterson, Bradley Sroka, John Tiglias) []
  20. Beatles, VI 21 (Joe Lunday, Joe Yanosik) []
  21. John Coltrane, Ascension 18 (Jason Gubbels, Greg Morton) [B+]
  22. Archie Shepp, Fire Music 18 (Chris Monson, Tom Walker) [A-]
  23. Wayne Shorter, Speak No Evil 16 (Jeff Hamilton, Rodney Taylor) [B+]
  24. The Horace Silver Quintet, Song for My Father 15 (Paul Albone, Richard Cobeen, Matt Rice) [A-]
  25. Miles Davis, ESP 15 (Jason Gubbels, Jeff Hamilton) [A-]
  26. John Fahey, The Transfiguration of Blind Joe Death 15 (Jeff Hamilton, Greg Morton) [A-]
  27. The Temptations, Sing Smokey 15 (Richard Cobeen, Joe Yanosik) []
  28. Them, The Angry Young Them 15 (Jeff Hamilton, Joe Yanosik) []
  29. Albert Ayler, Spirits Rejoice 10 (Jason Gubbels) [B+]
  30. James Brown, Papa's Got a Brand New Bag 10 (Aidan Wylde) []
  31. Marvin Gaye, Stubborn Kind of Fellow 10 (Aidan Wylde) []
  32. Bobby Hutcherson, Dialogue 10 (Jason Gubbels) [A-]
  33. Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Rip Rig and Panic 10 (Jason Gubbels) [A]
  34. Julie London: All Through The Night: Julie London Sings the Choicest Songs of Cole Porter 10 (Cam Patterson) []
  35. Loretta Lynn, Blue Kentucky Girl 10 (Cam Patterson) []
  36. Loretta Lynn, Hymns 10 (Cam Patterson) []
  37. Lee Morgan, Cornbread 10 (Joe Yanosik) [A-]
  38. Jackie McLean, Right Now! 10 (Jason Gubbels) [A-]
  39. Willie Nelson, Country Willie: His Own Songs 10 (Cam Patterson) [A]
  40. Sam Rivers, Contours 10 (Jason Gubbels) [B+]
  41. Wayne Shorter, The All-Seeing Eye 10 (Jason Gubbels) [B+]

Cam Patterson expanded his ballot:

All points equal:

1. The Beatles: Rubber Soul My parents bought me a cassette player in the early 70s, an early handheld cheap-o, and the tapes that came with it were a Petula Clark greatest hits and Rubber Soul. I'd like to hear the Pet Clark again, but how lucky I was that the Beatles' effortless amalgam of folk, soul, and pop (-art) melted my mind. If there ever was a blueprint of all pop music from then til hip hop, this is it.

2. Bob Dylan: Highway 61 Revisited The title is the greatest conceit in 20th century music, with lyrics that can suit any situation that involves being fagged out from (political, sexual, social, personal) oppression and getting hostile about it.

3. John Coltrane: A Love Supreme Such a disservice to this one-day session when jazz naïfs like me heard A Love Supreme inspired the Byrds and Television. Because those bands aren't even close to a gateway drug for this ecstatic meditation. I listened to this album for fifteen years before it fully engulfed me, and it's been revealing ever more in the fifteen years since.

4. Loretta Lynn: Blue Kentucky Girl The title track is (maybe) the one you know, but screw the lazy tripe that country music albums are "hits plus filler." And Lynn's own "Night Girl" is the story that sucks you in -- avoiding the easy rhyme "misery" for the realer and tougher "poverty" in a narrative about a young girl determined not to become a whore is what guts is all about. That this brassy ma can swagger through covers as rich as "I Still Miss Someone" and "The Race Is On" (actually, in her version, "The Race is ON"), that she can pin a note to your heart with originals like "Love's Been Here and Gone" -- in her own way, she did for some Nashville girls what Cassius Clay did for African-Americans in the 60s.

5. Willie Nelson: Country Willie: His Own Songs Well, the songwriter here is Willie freakin' Nelson for one thing, and this is his first and maybe greatest showcase. Instead of ****-kicking honky tonk, he makes his first real record the closing-time saga of our dreams. Goes toe to toe with In the Wee Small Hours in certain parts of the country.

6. The Rolling Stones Now! Of course this is punk rock. Only the Allman Brothers among (mostly) white artists ever created such a transcendentally, earthily Pagan, original permutation of the blues.

7. The Miracles: Going to a Go-Go Yeah yeah yeah screw the lazy tripe that Motown albums were "hits plus filler," since there is no room for filler on albums like this. There is the sense here that every note, every inflection, every beat is intentionally placed to drive some emotional response, some moment of jejune drama, some frisson, some gay bonhomie.

8. Loretta Lynn: Hymns The best country gospel album ever, in part because it lacks the pseudo-reverential piety of Elvis's religious albums. That the first (Lynn-penned) lines are "Everybody wants to go to heaven/but nobody wants to die" just seals the deal.

9. Julie London: All Through the Night: Julie London Sings the Choicest Songs of Cole Porter Oh holy lord, please cuddle up with me right now.

10. Junior Wells: Hoodoo Man Blues A swirling Leslie speaker version of the Chicago blues, well-timed for things that are in the air, like race riots.

Other ballots can be reconstructed from the above, except for the occasional oddball choice. These include:

  • The Beatles: The Early Beatles (Greg Morton) []
  • The Paul Butterfield Blues Band (Greg Morton) [B+]
  • Eddie Palmieri: Azucar Pa' Ti (Bradley Sroka) []
  • Sun Ra: The Heliocentric Worlds of Sun Ra (Volume One) (Jason Gubbels) [B-]

And the 1965 singles poll results:

  1. James Brown, "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag, Pt. 1" 170 (Richard Cobeen, Peter Gorman, Jeff Hamilton, Paul Hayden, Mike Imes, Thomas Lane, Chris Monson, Matt Rice, Rocambole2, John Smallwood, Bradley Sroka, Rodney Taylor, John Tiglias, Tom Walker, Joe Yanosik)
  2. The Rolling Stones, "Satisfaction" 116 (Paul Albone, Jeff Hamilton, Thomas Lane, Joe Lunday, Chris Monson, John Smallwood, Liam Smith, Rodney Taylor, John Tiglias, Joe Yanosik)
  3. Bob Dylan, "Like a Rolling Stone" 102 (Paul Albone, Richard Cobeen, Peter Gorman, Paul Hayden, Thomas Lane, Chris Monson, Greg Morton, Matt Rice, Rocambole2, John Smallwood, John Tiglias, Tom Walker, Joe Yanosik)
  4. The Miracles, "The Tracks of My Tears" 81 (Richard Cobeen, Paul Hayden, Chris Monson, Matt Rice, John Smallwood, Rodney Taylor, Tom Walker)
  5. The Temptations, "My Girl" 63 (Jeff Hamilton, Thomas Lane, Greg Morton, Liam Smith, Joe Yanosik)
  6. The Beatles, "Ticket to Ride" 58 (Paul Albone, Jeff Hamilton, Peter Gorman, Paul Hayden, Chris Monson, Rocambole2, John Smallwood)
  7. The Beatles, "We Can Work It Out" 56 (Paul Albone, Peter Gorman, Joe Lunday, Bradley Sroka, John Tiglias)
  8. The Impressions, "People Get Ready" 55 (Richard Cobeen, Paul Hayden, Greg Morton, Joe Lunday, John Smallwood, Rodney Taylor, John Tiglias)
  9. Sam Cooke, "A Change Is Gonna Come" 55 (Paul Albone, Jacob Bailis, Peter Gorman, Rodney Taylor, Tom Walker)
  10. Wilson Pickett, "In the Midnight Hour" 44 (Richard Cobeen, Thomas Lane, Rocambole2, Liam Smith, John Tiglias)
  11. The Beatles, "Day Tripper" 41 (Mike Imes, Joe Lunday, Liam Smith, Rodney Taylor, Joe Yanosik)
  12. The Lovin' Spoonful, "Do You Believe in Magic" 40 (Chris Monson, Greg Morton, Rocambole2, John Tiglias, Joe Yanosik)
  13. The Beatles, "Help" 40 (Paul Albone, Richard Cobeen, Chris Monson, Greg Morton)
  14. Stevie Wonder, "Uptight" 38 (Richard Cobeen, Peter Gorman, Joe Lunday, Tom Walker)
  15. Martha & the Vandellas, "Nowhere to Run" 36 (Peter Gorman, Jeff Hamilton, Rocambole2, Bradley Sroka)
  16. Bob Dylan, "Subterranean Homesick Blues" 35 (Paul Albone, Jacob Bailis, Chris Monson, John Smallwood, Tom Walker)
  17. The Who, "I Can't Explain" 35 (Jacob Bailis, Richard Cobeen, Joe Lunday, Rodney Taylor)
  18. The Supremes, "Stop! In the Name of Love" 35 (Jeff Hamilton, Liam Smith, Joe Yanosik)
  19. The Who, "My Generation" 34 (Chris Monson, John Smallwood, Rodney Taylor, Tom Walker)
  20. The Rolling Stones, "Get Off My Cloud" 31 (Richard Cobeen, Peter Gorman, Greg Morton)
  21. Sam the Sham & the Pharaohs, "Wooly Booly" 30 (Richard Cobeen, Mike Imes, Rocambole2)
  22. The Beatles, "Yesterday" 27 (Paul Albone, Jacob Bailis, Thomas Lane)
  23. The Beach Boys, "California Girls" 26 (Mike Imes, Rodney Taylor, Joe Yanosik)
  24. The Mamas & the Papas, "California Dreamin'" 25 (Paul Albone, Thomas Lane, Tom Walker)
  25. James Brown, "I Got You" 25 (Bradley Sroka, Mike Imes)
  26. The Beach Boys, "Help Me, Rhonda" 23 (Jacob Bailis, Matt Rice, Tom Walker)
  27. Bob Dylan, "Positively 4th Street" 22 (Paul Albone, Peter Gorman, Joe Yanosik)
  28. Otis Redding, "I've Been Loving You Too Long" 22 (Peter Gorman, Chris Monson)
  29. The Beach Boys, "Kiss Me, Baby" 21 (Jacob Bailis, Joe Lunday)
  30. The Miracles, "Ooh Baby Baby" 20 (John Smallwood, John Tiglias, Joe Yanosik)
  31. Bobby Fuller Four, "Let Her Dance" 20 (Jason Gubbels, Paul Hayden)
  32. The Byrds, "Turn! Turn! Turn!" 20 (Jacob Bailis, Rodney Taylor)
  33. The Rolling Stones, "The Last Time" 20 (Paul Hayden, Joe Lunday)
  34. Them, "Here Comes the Night" 20 (Greg Morton, Matt Rice)
  35. Fontella Bass, "Rescue Me" 20 (Jeff Hamilton)
  36. The Righteous Brothers, "You've Lost That Lovin' Feeling" 18 (Thomas Lane)
  37. The Four Tops, "It's The Same Old Song" 16 (Paul Hayden, Liam Smith)
  38. Jr. Walker & the All Stars, "Shotgun" 15 (Thomas Lane, John Tiglias)
  39. The Beatles, "You Won't See Me" 15 (Matt Rice)
  40. The Who, "The Kids Are Alright" 13 (Matt Rice)
  41. The Beach Boys, "Girl Don't Tell Me" 12 (Bradley Sroka)
  42. The Beatles, "I'm Down" 12 (Jacob Bailis)
  43. Bob Dylan, "Highway 61 Revisited" 12 (Rocambole2)
  44. The Kinks, "Tired of Waiting for You" 12 (Rocambole2)
  45. The Byrds, "Mr. Tambourine Man" 11 (Paul Hayden, John Smallwood)
  46. The Animals, "It's My Life" 10 (John Tiglias)
  47. The Beach Boys, "Please Let Me Wonder" 10 (Joe Lunday)
  48. Bobby Fuller Four, "I Fought the Law" 10 (Mike Imes)
  49. Cannibal & the Headhunters, "Land of a Thousand Dances" 10 (Tom Walker)
  50. The Castaways, "Liar, Liar" 10 (Jason Gubbels)
  51. Count 5, "Psychotic Reaction" 10 (Mike Imes)
  52. The Dovers, "What Am I Going to Do" 10 (Jason Gubbels)
  53. Bob Dylan, "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright" 10 (Mike Imes)
  54. The Four Tops, "I Can't Help Myself" 10 (Jeff Hamilton)
  55. Kim Fowley, "The Trip" 10 (Jason Gubbels)
  56. The Fugs, "Nothing" 10 (Liam Smith)
  57. Marvin Gaye, "I'll Be Doggone" 10 (Jacob Bailis)
  58. Marvin Gaye, "Pretty Little Baby" 10 (Greg Morton)
  59. John Lee Hooker, "Boom Boom" 10 (Mike Imes)
  60. George Jones, "Take Me" 10 (Liam Smith)
  61. Barbara Lewis, "Baby, I'm Yours" 10 (Greg Morton)
  62. The Miracles, "Going to a Go-Go" 10 (Joe Lunday)
  63. The McCoys, "Hang On Sloopy" 10 (Mike Imes)
  64. The Nightcrawlers, "Little Black Egg" 10 (Jason Gubbels)
  65. Ognir & the Nite People, "I Found a New Love" 10 (Jason Gubbels)
  66. Otis Redding, "I Can't Turn You Loose" 10 (Liam Smith)
  67. Otis Redding, "That's How Strong My Love Is" 10 (Matt Rice)
  68. The Righteous Brothers, "Unchained Melody" 10 (Greg Morton)
  69. The Seeds, "I Can't Seem to Make You Mine" 10 (Jason Gubbels)
  70. The Sonics, "Strychnine" 10 (Jason Gubbels)
  71. The Standells, "Dirty Water" 10 (Jason Gubbels)
  72. The Wailers, "Out of Our Tree" 10 (Jason Gubbels)
  73. The Who, "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" 10 (Liam Smith)
  74. The Beach Boys, "Let Him Run Wild" 8 (Bradley Sroka)
  75. The Sonics, "Psycho" 7 (Paul Hayden)
  76. Shirley Bassey, "Goldfinger" 5 (Jeff Hamilton)
  77. The Beach Boys, "You're So Good to Me" 5 (Bradley Sroka)
  78. The Beatles, "I Feel Fine" 5 (Jacob Bailis)
  79. Lee Dorsey, "Ride Your Pony" 5 (Rocambole2)
  80. Marvin Gaye, "Ain't That Peculiar" 5 (Matt Rice)
  81. The Kinks, "All Day and All of the Night" 5 (Jeff Hamilton)
  82. Little Richard, "I Don't Know What You've Got but It's Got Me" 5 (Matt Rice)
  83. Roger Miller, "King of the Road" 5 (Thomas Lane)
  84. The Shangi-Las, "Out in the Street" 5 (Bradley Sroka)
  85. The Toys, "A Lover's Concerto" 5 (Bradley Sroka)

A Random Walk Through the 1960s

Started this post a couple weeks ago. Doesn't look like it's ever gonna get wrapped up.

Paul Williams, the founder of Crawdaddy, died last week, at 64, evidently the delayed result of a 1995 bicycle accident that left him with an increasingly grievous brain injury. He wrote a couple dozen books but the only one I ever read was the first, Outlaw Blues: A Book of Rock Music (1969). I picked it up 4-5 years later, when I shelved my interest in critical theory and spent a couple years reading nothing but rock crit. I read practically everyone at the time, but my touchstones were Williams, Lester Bangs, and Robert Christgau. One thing I liked about Williams' book was the thrill of discovery, and how such surprises correct themselves over time: at one moment he's listening to Hendrix and proclaiming he'll never listen to surf music again, then a new Beach Boys album appears. It's all very subjective, which must have felt liberating to me after hacking my way through Adorno and Benjamin, even Althusser's webs of overdetermination. Bangs and Christgau were hedonists in principle, but with moral and/or ideological streaks, but Williams seemed to indulge his pleasures more immediately.

I had listened to a lot of pop radio in the mid-1960s, watched all the music programs on TV, and even managed to buy a few records, but I lost track of all that when I crawled into my shell a few years later. When I emerged in the early 1970s, one thing I noticed was that everyone liked music. Everyone had record collections, and I found the same music everywhere I went: it was, after all, popular, and as such common, which made it a common interest. So I started by getting into what everyone else was into, then I read and wandered some, then a lot, and wound up into a lot of shit hardly anyone else knew about. Still, my muse started as a social bond, and if it wound up as something else, I never lost the hope that other people would like what I like if only they knew about it.

So when Williams died I thought first on our shared experience of pop music in the 1960s -- and early 1970s, although by the end of the decade that had vanished, dissolved into what we called "adventures in diffusion." But then came Spin's "Top 100 Alternative Albums of the 1960s" (link here: some rock that wasn't very popular at the time (although a few items did crack the Billboard 200 album list), other things further afield, ranging from folk-rock to jazz to postclassical electronica to Kraut rock, with a couple items from France and Brazil to represent world music. I checked my database and found that I had rated only 42 of the records -- maybe 50 if I added in later compilations which more or less cover the cited records. One can quibble with the list on many counts, but one thing it does show is that not everyone was listening to the same things even in the 1960s.

When I was in St. Louis (1972-74), I eventually ran into two guys who significantly broadened my listening -- Don Malcolm and Paul Yamada, founders of Terminal Zone -- but other friends, more casual music consumers, had already turned me on to Fairport Convention, the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, and other list staples. (I found Pink Floyd's debut after everyone got into Dark Side of the Moon, reissued with its sequel as A Nice Pair.)

Monday, April 15, 2013

Music Week/No Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 21275 [21257] rated (+18), 606 [605] unrated (+1).

Not enough Jazz Prospecting to bother with this week -- just three notes in the scratch file. Can't point to the distraction of working on Rhapsody Streamnotes either -- just four records in my draft file there. Actually, most of the rated increase this week came from fixing bookkeeping errors, which I discovered while compiling this year's Downbeat Critics Poll ballot. My notes are here. Thought I'd get around to cleaning them up, expanding them a bit, and turning them into a post, but at this stage I might as well settle for a link. Besides, trying to rank musicians is somewhere between impossible and incoherent (if not quite malicious). I'm mostly looking for names I think could use a little more recognition.

Not sure what all happened last week. The Downbeat poll took a lot out of me. Also spent a couple days out of town, as I went to visit my last living aunt, 98 years old. Her dementia has gotten so bad that the best she can do is to acknowledge that she still recognizes someone in an old picture. She only knew me after prompting. I don't think she recognized her daughters when they showed up a couple days before. She has little physical strength -- is unable, for instance, to adjust her position in a chair. I baked a coconut cake, which she did enjoy. Not much one can do, other than appreciate small moments and gestures, and remember. When she was able to take care of herself she lived closer and I saw her much more often. We threw her a 90th birthday party, had 40-50 guests; she was completely at home with them. She may live to be 100, but that now seems like the last time to celebrate.

Spent more time with my cousins, who are a few years older than I am: they knew me when I was a baby, and remember their father, my uncle, who was killed in a car crash before I was two. I started to cry when I recalled the year one lived in Wichita: seems like her friendship and love was all that held me together that year. Also recall how her older sister guided me through the draft maze, where jail would have been preferable to the army -- again most likely saving my life. This could have been a very poignant week for me, but it seems like I spent the whole thing dumbstruck.

Should return with Jazz Prospecting next week -- probably a short one, but some choice records. Would be longer but it wouldn't be a bad idea to pick up some items for Rhapsody Streamnotes, plus I have ambitious plans for May's Recycled Goods.

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Clipper Anderson: Ballad of the Sad Young Men (Origin)
  • Marc Bernstein & Good People: Hymn for Life (Origin)
  • Geof Bradfield: Melba! (Origin)
  • Joey Calderazzo Trio: Live (Sunnyside): May 21
  • The Jay D'Amico Quintet: Tango Caliente (Consolidated Artists Productions)
  • Hamilton de Holanda & André Mehmari: GismontiPascoal: The Music of Egberto and Hermeto (Adventure Music)
  • Nick Fraser: Towns and Villages (Barnyard)
  • Hush Point (Sunnyside): May 21
  • Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: Somewhere (ECM): advance, May 28
  • Diane Marino: Loads of Love (M&M)
  • Martin Lozano Lewis Wiens Duncan: At Canterbury (Barnyard)
  • Miki Purnell: Swingin' to the Sea (Sweet and Lovely Music)
  • Benjamin Taubkin + Adriano Adewale: The Vortex Sessions (Adventure Music)

Michael Tatum misunderstood what I initially wrote above, so I made an edit, explaining in a letter back to him:

Made an edit there -- whole thing was meant to be oblique, but not that misleading. I didn't go to jail. I hadn't responded to any of my draft notices. LJ convinced me that I could go to the physical and still refuse induction, but might luck out and get disqualified. I had a letter from a shrink I was forced to see after I prematurely dropped out of high school (I was 15), and that got me referred to an army shrink. I had a complete nervous breakdown in his office, and got a 4F deferment for my troubles. Otherwise I would have refused induction, been prosecuted, and most likely wound up in jail.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 21257 [21217] rated (+40), 605 [591] unrated (+14).

The huge rated count is the result of working on May's 1960s-themed Recycled Goods, using Rhapsody rather obsessively to quickly check out items of interest (especially, but not exclusively, from Spin's list). It will be a while before all that appears. In the meantime, I almost forgot to do any jazz prospecting, but it's been a banner mail week, and I finally got inspired at the last minute.

Lots of distractions coming up this week, which will certainly cut into my listening time. Also need to knock off this year's Downbeat ballot, so I'll post my notes on that later this week. New Dave Douglas out this week, Time Travel. I've played the advance a lot, and held it back, as I'm still on the fence. One thing I will say is that it's certainly another feather in Jon Irabagon's cap.

Lot of incoming mail this week, including some things I'm really looking forward to.

Aguankó: Elemental (2012 [2013], RKO): Alberto Nacif, conguero (plays congas), b. in Mexico, based in Michigan, has been in groups like Tumbao and Tumbao Bravo. First album for this group, with Jose Espinosa (b. in Havana, Cuba) on bongos, timbales, and guiro; Paul Finkbeiner on trumpet, Chris Smith on trombone, Wesley Reynoso on piano, and various others. Afro-Cuban jazz, sometimes relaxes a bit but feels plenty authentic to me. B+(***)

Anthony Branker & Word Play: Uppity (2012 [2013], Origin): Composer, originally played trumpet but stopped after a medical problem; studied at Princeton, Miami, and Columbia, and directs the jazz program at Princeton. Sixth album, second with this group: Ralph Bowen (tenor sax) and Jim Ridl (piano) are the names you've likely heard of, plus trumpet (Eli Asher), trombone (Andy Hunter), bass (Kenny Davis), and drums (Donald Edwards). First two cuts are terrific, upbeat things just bubbling over. Less impressive when he gets solemn, with uncredited strings (Hunter also has a keyb credit) and Charmaine Lee's vocal fills on a Nigeria-themed number, but it builds to an impressive swell, whereas his similar "Ballad for Trayvon Martin" goes for elegiac simplicity. A-

Roger Chong: Live at the Trane (2012 [2013], self-released, CD+DVD): Guitarist, based in Toronto, third album, live with a keyboards-bass-drums quartet. Originals plus three covers which provide up moments: "Exactly Like You," "Work Song," "Mo Better Blues." Light fare -- hype sheet cites George Benson and Norman Brown as his influences -- and sometimes the keyb seems in the way (but sometimes it kicks back a soul jazz vibe, or states the melody in a useful way). But it's played loose, always pleasurable, and interesting enough. B+(**)

Giacomo Gates: Miles Tones: Sings the Music of Miles Davis (2012 [2013], Savant): Singer, from Connecticut, sixth album since 1995, but he got a late start and is probably in his 60s. The music, by or more often associated with Miles Davis, is an invitation to vocalese, which he handles ably enough -- he's one of the few singers around who can scat handily. B+(**)

The Kandinsky Effect: Synesthesia (2011 [2013], Cuneiform): Sax trio, based in Paris, recorded this debut album in Iceland. Walter Walker, from California, is credited with "saxophone/effects," writes most of the pieces. Gaël Petrina (bass, effects), from Argentina, and Caleb Dollister (drums, laptop), from Reno or Nashville or Los Angeles and based in New York, complete the trio. Rhythm veers toward jazztronica without being overly electronic, just enough to provide a stable base for Walker to riff over. B+(***)

Daniel Lantz Trio: Plays Bond (2012 [2013], Do Music): Pianist, b. 1976 in Sweden. Has two previous trio records, plus one record with "funk sextet" Beat Funktion. Trio includes Erik Ojala on bass and Daniel Olsson on drums, playing 12 themes from James Bond films. That should be pretty dull, but they make liberal use of two "featuring" artists, tenor saxophonist Roger Nordling and vocalist Sani Gamedze, and both do a fine job of rounding this out. B+(*)

El Niño Machuca: Searching Your South/Buscando tu Sur (2012 [2013], Ozella): Guitarist, from Sevilla in Spain, signs his songs Paco Machuca (about half here). First album, accompanied by Neil Doyle (bass, flugelhorn), Javi Ceballas (Spanish guitar), jaleos and handclaps. B+(**)

Rob Mazurek Octet: The Skull Sessions (2011 [2013], Cuneiform): Chicago-based cornet player, part of Chicago Underground, also São Paulo Underground, combines both angles here and then some. The Brazilian contingent: Mauricio Takara (cavaquinho [a ukulele], percussion), Guilherme Granado (keyboards, electronica), Thomas Rohrer (rabeca [a fiddle], C melody sax), and Carlos Issa (guitar, electronics). From Chicago: Nicole Mitchell (piccolo, flute, voice), Jason Adasiewicz (vibes), John Herndon (drums), and Mazurek. Combination is busy, noisy, chaotic. Helps to focus on the cornet, which usually soars above, or the sheer energy vibe, especially when the cornet is engulfed. B+(***)

Reg Schwager/Michel Lambert: Trio Improvisations (2001-02 [2013], Jazz From Rant): Guitarist Schwager was b. 1962 in Netherlands, moved to New Zealand when he was 3, moved again at 6 to Canada, based now in Toronto. Has a handful of albums since 1985. Drummer Lambert plays with François Carrier and Maïkotron Unit. To make a trio they add Misha Mengelberg (piano), Kenny Wheeler (trumpet), or Michael Stuart (sax, probably tenor) for three improv cuts each. Mengelberg and Wheeler are very famous and acquit themselves well. Stuart isn't famous: b. 1948 in Jamaica, moved to Toronto in 1969, did a tour with Elvin Jones but has scant discography. (AMG gives him a couple dozen credits, but many are for engineering classical recordings, and some are dubious -- e.g., playing percussion on Love's Forever Changes.) His cuts are as strong as the stars', making him someone I'd like to hear more from. B+(***)

Jacky Terrasson: Gouache (2012 [2013], Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1966 in Germany, has about 15 albums since breaking in on Blue Note in 1994. Very eclectic here, trying lots of things -- some electric, a few cuts with bass clarinet (Michel Portal) or flugelhorn (Stephane Belmondo), two vocal cuts (Cécile McLorin Salvant), non-vocal covers of Justin Bieber and Amy Winehouse, a couple pieces that celebrate his own fleetness (one called "Try to Catch Me"). Pretty much all works, too. B+(***)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Duo Baars-Henneman: Autumn Songs (Wig)
  • Tony Bennett/Dave Brubeck: The White House Sessions, Live 1962 (1962, Columbia/Legacy): advance, May 28
  • Michiel Braam: EBraam 3 (BBB)
  • Cristina Braga: Sama, Jazz and Love (Enja): April 26 (Germany), June 11 (USA)
  • Jaimeo Brown: Transcendence (Motema)
  • Cactus Truck with Jeb Bishop and Roy Campbell: Live in USA (Tractata)
  • Eldar Djangirov: Breakthrough (Motema): advance, April 9
  • Eldar Djangirov: Bach Brahms Prokofiev (Motema): advance, May 14
  • Ellery Eskelin Trio: New York II (Prime Source)
  • Ken Fowser/Behn Gillece: Top Shelf (Posi-Tone)
  • Gansch & Breinschmid: Live (Preiser)
  • Laszlo Gardony: Clarity (Sunnyside): May 7
  • Noah Haidu: Momentum (Posi-Tone): May 7
  • Rich Halley 4: Crossing the Passes (Pine Eagle)
  • I Compani: Extended (Icdisc)
  • The Alex Levin Trio: Refraction (self-released)
  • Christian McBride & Inside Straight: People Music (Mack Avenue): advance, May 14
  • Barbara Morrison: A Sunday Kind of Love (Savant)
  • Jackie Ryan: Listen Here (Open Art)
  • Cécile McLorin Salvant: WomanChild (Mack Avenue): advance, May 28
  • Jan Shapiro: Piano Bar After Hours (Singing Empress)
  • Jim Snidero: Stream of Consciousness (Savant)
  • Jacob Varmus: Terminal Stillness (Crows Kin)
  • Thisbe Vos: Under Your Spell (Prime Productions)

Sunday, April 07, 2013

No More Mister Nice Politics

Occasionally I look at No More Mister Nice Blog, and a couple posts on practical politics caught my interest. One asks, Why Gay Marriage and Not Other Issues? Indeed, we're suddenly seeing an astonishing amount of progress on gay marriage at the same time far right Republicans, at least where they've seized power, are passing draconian anti-abortion laws, are restructuring tax bases to even more favor the rich, are underming public employee unions and bankrupting school systems -- all things that are vastly unpopular according to every known poll, but they seem to be able to run roughshod anyway. So, why gay marriage?

One reason, I think, is that LGBT people have fought relentlessly for respect and rights, especially since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. They've shouted and implored and appealed to the rest of the public's better nature. And they've maintained a sense of group identity -- they're very politically active on multiple fronts as an interest group. This really isn't happening anymore regarding abortion rights -- in large part because many people don't see any threat to legal abortion (often because, where they live, there is no real threat), there isn't an impassioned, organized societal bloc fighting to keep reproductive rights alive. [ . . . ]

Again, I think that when people regard themselves as an interest group, and make it known in the political arena that you ignore their group concerns at your peril, things change. On guns, gun-control proponents don't fight relentlessly as a bloc -- whereas pro-gunners absolutely do, which is why they win nearly all the time. Poor and working-class people don't vote and agitate as a bloc -- certainly not across racial lines. And so they're ignored.

I think members of a group need to be politicized, and not easily mollified. If politicians feared that women (or fertile womwen, or fertile heterosexuals of both genders) were highly attuned across the country to the reproductive-rights threat, they might fear punishment at the polls if they pushed for draconian abortion laws. If poor and middle-class voters routinely voted their class interests, politicians would fear crossing them.

Gay people (and their families and friends) have made it clear that they're politically engaged on gay issues. And that makes a big difference.

One can think of a few other reasons: that at least some politically connected big donors are gay or otherwise deeply engaged in this issue, so there's actually money behind this issue; that gay people are often well-regarded, and well-publicized, celebrities; that nearly everyone knows actual gay people and increasingly respects them; that marriage reinforces the conservative "family values" meme; that anti-gays almost always are recognized now (mostly for the reasons above) as ignorant louts. The latter is perhaps the biggest change: perhaps as recently as ten years ago homosexuals were the last group it was respectable to hate. And bigotry is one of those traits that thrives in crowds: it is a chit to join the crowd, and thereby the crowd validates your own base instincts. But as the mob thins out, people become more reluctant to join in. A decade ago right-wing preachers led the assault, but more and more they stand alone, losing their cloak of community leadership and turning into dead-end cranks.

Of course, one other reason is that gay marriage doesn't change anything else that really matters. It does nothing to reverse the slide toward economic inequality. It has nothing to do with the financialization of the economy. It offers virtually no support for job security or social security. It doesn't touch the culture of corruption that pervades politics and the media. It won't stop us from going to war. And the list could go on and on. One reason lack of a marriage option discriminates against gays is that it makes it harder to get health insurance. Gay marriage helps that problem, but only very marginally -- the real solution there is universal health insurance.

But I think the author is right, that the main reason is that there has been an organized political movement to advance equal rights for gays. That also is the case for marijuana legalization, which also in the last decade has gone from something no politician would dare talk about to something that has begun to poll favorably -- one recent poll gives it majority support. Yet other issues (abortion and guns most obviously) trend the opposite way, even against popular opinion, largely because they have intense pressure groups that can be effective given the general corruptness of the political system.

Here's another quote from No More Mister Nice Blog (I guess we'll have to call him NMMN), starting with the observation that there's something like 90% support for background checks for gun sales, but nobody's going to make that happen, because a small number of gun nuts are much more organized than the masses who'd like to keep guns away from the crazy and malicious:

Actually, it's not "almost impossible to manufacture that [action] artificially." In fact, we know exactly how to do it: just do exactly what the right has done for past thirty years. Develop media that politicize citizens with propaganda and get those citizens to seek out that propaganda day in and day out, as entertainment. Pay lots of people lots of money to make that audience increasingly paranoid about their imminent loss of freedom, autonomy, and money because of what the evil bastards on the other side are doing. Repeat as necessary.

Fox News and talk radio have been doing this for decades. So have organizations like the NRA on individual issues. They've learned how to prime people to take action (at least we assume fired-up right-wingers will take action, if only at the polls, and that threat is enough to make us take right-wingers' opinions seriously).The Obama campaign got the Democratic voter base fired up about a lot of issues -- the availability of birth control, for instance. It gave voters a plan of action -- vote Obama -- and they took action.

But right-wingers do this every day of every year, in election season and out. The way Democrats get voters fired up for a presidential election, the right gets its base fired up for everything. That's why Democrats are competitive in presidential elections, but overmatched between them.

I could go into a screed here about how corrupt the political system is, and how we need to get the money out of it, but that still wouldn't account for the intensity advantage that single-issue obsessives have over general interests, or the advantage that private interests have over public concerns. What's needed there is some kind of organization drive to counter all the other organized interests. One can look to a few examples in history. We tend to view unions as a special interest group now, but that wasn't always the case: during their peak period (in the US), they tended to take a broader view. The civil rights movement, and the new left movements of the late-1960s and early-1970s -- anti-war, women's rights, environmental concerns, consumer interests -- each served to unify broad swathes of the populace, and had significant effects at least at the time (not that they've stuck around the defend our gains).

I don't have a full proposal ready to go here, but for me the key issue of our time is reversing inequality and building public goods to increase the general wealth. Back around 1935, Huey Long set up a national network of political clubs to support his run for president, and he came up with a slogan that fits the times today as well as it did then: Share the Wealth. Long's own thinking on this wasn't very well developed -- he mostly came up with redistribution schemes, not that there's no need for that -- but the sentiment is right, plus he hitched the slogan to the organizational drive needed to promote it. This is only the germ of an idea, but it's the right combination.

Friday, April 05, 2013

House Notes

Considering a ductless air conditioner for the master bedroom: 12x20 feet (not counting closets or a little cove that changes length to 24 feet). Ceiling height: 93 inches. Three large windows, plus a storm door to the carport porch.

Contractor A (Custom Heating) proposed 9700 BTU 14.3 SEER heat pump unit (Fujitsu AOU9R2, $2375), attaching a complicated load analysis form that I haven't figured out yet. Contractor B (Home Depot) proposed a 12000 BTU 20.5 SEER a/c-only unit (Mitsubishi MUYGE12N/MSYGE12N, $3387). (Electric included in A, not in B; A is 115V, B is 230V.) First question is whether the load analysis is correct.

Checked Home Depot's room a/c calculator (12x20x8): 7500 BTU. Good Housekeeping's (150-250 sq ft, avg insulation, not sunny, not hitchen): 9100 BTU. (Room could be considered sunny, but we need this for night cool, and keep windows well shaded.) CSG (same inputs): 7800 BTU. This Old House (20x10x8, south, no insulation, top floor): no answer. AHAM (Wichita, 12-32-20, insulated, 8, 240, insulated attic above, 3, windows, door, 2 people: 4100 BTU/hour, 723 hours/year. This also produced an EER cost table, but the EER table only ranges from 8.5 to 12.4 (cost savings of -4 EER: 31% (for 9000 BTU, 723 hours, 8.4 cents/kWh that reduces $64 annual costs to $44). Lennox claims 38% savings for 15 SEER vs. 10 SEER. Carrier shows 33% savings from 8 SEER to 12; 8:14 42%; 8:-20 60%; this suggests a change from 14 to 20 would save about 31%.

Easycalculation (150-250, average, yes, no) returns: 8580 BTU. EnergyGuide (20, 12, neither, no, 2): 6600 BTU.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Recycled Goods (108): March, 2013

New Recycled Goods: pick up text here. Total review count: 3666 (3227 + 439).

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Midweek Roundup

Missed Weekend Roundup on Sunday -- was working on another post that didn't quite work out -- but I hit a few scattered links today that I might as well post now.

  • Chris Hedges: The Treason of the Intellectuals: Excoriates a long list of liberal-or-left-identified "academics, writers and journalists" who supported Bush's invasion of Iraq (missing some key figures like Kenneth Pollack), pointing out not just their complacency but how they labored to discredit all those who didn't join the war effort. Hedges takes this personally:

    Those of us who spoke out against the war, faced with the onslaught of right-wing "patriots" and their liberal apologists, became pariahs. In my case it did not matter that I was an Arabic speaker. It did not matter that I had spent seven years in the Middle East, including months in Iraq, as a foreign correspondent. It did not matter that I knew the instrument of war. The critique that I and other opponents of war delivered, no matter how well grounded in fact and experience, turned us into objects of scorn by a liberal elite that cravenly wanted to demonstrate its own "patriotism" and "realism" about national security. The liberal class fueled a rabid, irrational hatred of all war critics.

    Actually, the "treason" -- really, a lapse both in principles and in judgment that betrayed a secret identification with the powers in Washington as opposed to people all around the world -- that bothered me worse was the even-more-widespread post-9/11 support for attacking Afghanistan. Had Al-Qaeda indeed attacked civilization, wouldn't a civilized response had been more appropriate? Instead, Bush took it as an attack on American power, and responded with more power, the way thoughtless brutes do -- the way Osama Bin Laden expected. In that moment, an awful number of people you would generally regard as good natured, thoughtful, civilized, rushed to side with Bush, as if the only alternative to Bin Laden was a bigger army. Moreover, the liberal hawks of 2001 were far nastier to dissenters than their 2003 Iraq subset was. Without the supposed success in Afghanistan, invading Iraq wouldn't have been an option. While the liberal hawks weren't strictly responsible for the disasters, they gave aid and comfort those who were, and blunted our understanding of why.

  • Tom Engelhardt: The 12th Anniversary of American Cowardice: I slipped this out of alphabetical order to follow up on what I had already written under Hedges. With the 10th anniversary of Bush's Iraq misadventure behind us, that 12th anniversary is still a few months in the future: the Congress's Authorization of Use of Military Force on September 14, 2001 that plunged us into war in Afghanistan, but Engelhardt mentions many other anniversary dates, then asks:

    When it comes to the Marines, here's a question: Who, this November 19th, will mark the eighth anniversary of the slaughter of 24 unarmed civilians, including children and the elderly, in the Iraqi village of Haditha for which, after a six-year investigation and military trials, not a single Marine spent a single day in prison? Or to focus for a moment on U.S. Special Forces: will anyone on August 21st memorialize the 90 or so civilians, including perhaps 15 women and up to 60 children, killed in the Afghan village of Azizabad while attending a memorial service for a tribal leader who had reportedly been anti-Taliban?

    And not to leave out the rent-a-gun mercenaries who have been such a fixture of the post-9/11 era of American warfare, this September 16th will be the sixth anniversary of the moment when Blackwater guards for a convoy of U.S. State Department vehicles sprayed Baghdad's Nisour Square with bullets, evidently without provocation, killing 17 Iraqi civilians and wounding many more. [ . . . ]

    So perhaps the last overlooked anniversary of these years might be the 12th anniversary of American cowardice. You can choose the exact date yourself; anytime this fall will do. At that moment, Americans should feel free to celebrate a time when, for our "safety," and in a state of anger and paralyzing fear, we gave up the democratic ghost.

  • Thomas Homer-Dixon: The Tar Sands Disaster: A Canadian chimes in on the Keystone XL pipeline:

    The most obvious reason is that tar sands production is one of the world's most environmentally damaging activities. It wrecks vast areas of boreal forest through surface mining and subsurface production. It sucks up huge quantities of water from local rivers, turns it into toxic waste and dumps the contaminated water into tailing ponds that now cover nearly 70 square miles.

    Also, bitumen is junk energy. A joule, or unit of energy, invested in extracting and processing bitumen returns only four to six joules in the form of crude oil. In contrast, conventional oil production in North America returns about 15 joules. Because almost all of the input energy in tar sands production comes from fossil fuels, the process generates significantly more carbon dioxide than conventional oil production.

    There is a less obvious but no less important reason many Canadians want the industry stopped: it is relentlessly twisting our society into something we don't like. Canada is beginning to exhibit the economic and political characteristics of a petro-state.

    Homer-Dixon goes on to explain how Canada's ruling Conservative Party is entwined with the oil industry, but he doesn't go quite far enough: he doesn't point out that the very worst thing about the oil industry is the production of oil men. We should know all about them in the US, where they form the most reactionary, extremist crust on the ultra-right: sworn enemies of government despite the fact that their fortunes are totally based on the laws that grant them rights to suck as much oil as they can from the ground -- laws that few countries other than the US and Canada have.

    Also see Sally Kohn: New Spill Reveals How Horrible Keystone Could Be.

  • Dilip Hiro: How the Pentagon Corrupted Afghanistan: This is a big part of the story, but after Homer-Dixon's reference to Canada becoming a "petro state," it's worth pondering whether the windfall in war spending isn't having the same adverse effects in Afghanistan. Certainly it's resulted in tremendous inflation in Kabul, pushing up the cost of living and making exports (other than opium) unviable, thereby stunting an economy that didn't amount to much anyway. Of course, that point may be too subtle, given the gross numbers.

    Corruption in Afghanistan today is acute and permeates all sectors of society. In recent years, anecdotal evidence on the subject has been superseded by the studies of researchers, surveys by NGOs, and periodic reports by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). There is also the Corruption Perceptions Index of the Berlin-based Transparency International (TI). Last year, it bracketed Afghanistan with two other countries as the most corrupt on Earth.

    None of these documents, however, refers to the single most important fact when it comes to corruption: that it's Washington-based. It is, in fact, rooted in the massive build-up of U.S. forces there from 2005 onward, the accompanying expansion of American forward operating bases, camps, and combat outposts from 29 in 2005 to nearly 400 five years later, and above all, the tsunami of cash that went with all of this. [ . . . ]

    Later, the State Department's Agency for International Development (USAID) took over this role. As with the Pentagon, most of the money it distributed ended up in the pockets of those local power brokers. By some accounts, USAID lost up to 90 cents of each dollar spent on certain projects. According to a Congressional report published in June 2011, much of the $19 billion in foreign aid that the U.S. pumped into Afghanistan after 2001 was probably destabilizing the country in the long term.

    Staggering amounts of U.S. taxpayer dollars allocated to aid Afghanistan were spent so quickly and profligately that they circumvented any anti-corruption, transparency, or accountability controls and safeguards that existed on paper. However, those who amassed bagsful of dollars faced a problem. Afghanistan's underdeveloped $12 billion economy -- a sum Washington spent in that country in a single month in 2011 -- did not offer many avenues for legitimate profitable investment. Therefore, most of this cash garnered on a colossal scale exited the country, large parts of it ending up in banks and real estate in the Gulf emirates, especially freewheeling Dubai.

  • Dahr Jamail: "My Children Have No Future": In his intro, Nick Turse reminds us of the costs of invading Iraq:

    According to a recent report from the Costs of War Project at Brown University, at least 123,000-134,000 Iraqi civilians have died "as a direct consequence of the war's violence since the March 2003 invasion." In fact, while the U.S. military left Iraq in 2011 and war supporters have advanced a counterfeit history of success there -- owing to then-General (now disgraced former CIA director) David Petraeus's military "surge" of 2007 -- the war's brutal legacy lives on. Last year, the casualty watchdog group Iraq Body Count tallied 4,570 Iraqi civilian deaths from violence, a small increase over the death toll from 2011.

    And on the day of Obama's 10th anniversary announcement, car bombs and other attacks killed and wounded hundreds in the Iraqi capital Baghdad alone. Add to these numbers the countless wounded of the last decade and the approximately 2.8 million Iraqis who, to this day, remain refugees outside the country or internally displaced within it and the words of both presidents ring hollow indeed.

    Jamail goes into the country and finds out things like this:

    As he said this, we passed under yet another poster of an angry looking Maliki, speaking with a raised, clenched fist. "Last year's budget was $100 billion and we have no working sewage system and garbage is everywhere," he added. "Maliki is trying to be a dictator, and is controlling all the money now."

    In the days that followed, my fixer Ali pointed out new sidewalks, and newly planted trees and flowers, as well as the new street lights the government has installed in Baghdad. "We called it first the sidewalks government, because that was the only thing we could see that they accomplished." He laughed sardonically. "Then it was the flowers government, and now it is the government of the street lamps, and the lamps sometimes don't even work!"

    Despite his brave face, kind heart, and upbeat disposition, even Ali eventually shared his concerns with me. One morning, when we met for work, I asked him about the latest news. "Same old, same old," he replied, "Kidnappings, killings, rapes. Same old, same old. This is our life now, everyday."

    "The lack of hope for the future is our biggest problem today," he explained. He went on to say something that also qualified eerily as another version of the "same old, same old." I had heard similar words from countless Iraqis back in the fall of 2003, as violence and chaos first began to engulf the country. "All we want is to live in peace, and have security, and have a normal life," he said, "to be able to enjoy the sweetness of life." This time, however, there wasn't even a trace of his usual cheer, and not even a hint of gallows humor.

    "All Iraq has had these last 10 years is violence, chaos, and suffering. For 13 years before that we were starved and deprived by [U.N. and U.S.] sanctions. Before that, the Kuwait War, and before that, the Iran War. At least I experienced some of my childhood without knowing war. I've achieved a job and have my family, but for my daughters, what will they have here in this country? Will they ever get to live without war? I don't think so."

  • Ed Kilgore: Bleeding Kansas: Good to see that The Washington Monthly is at least paying some attention to "the state that is trying very hard to outdo all its many extremist rivals, even those steeped in the toxic cultural wastes of my own Deep South." Subject here, as is so often the case, is abortion:

    The dirty little secret of "personhood" initiatives is that they would proscribe not only abortions, or "abortion pills," but IUD's and "Plan B" contraceptives on grounds that such devices and drugs are actually "abortifacients," identical morally to murdering an infant. And indeed, some "personhood" folk would ban the routine anti-ovulant "pill" used by many millions of Americans on grounds that it sometimes operates by interfering with the implantation of a fertilized ovum -- i.e., a "person" -- in the uterine wall.

    If regular Republican-voting Americans had any idea of the radical vision underlying such legislation -- something straight out of the Handmaid's Tale, folks -- the solons supporting it wouldn't even last until the next election. So you'd think they'd be extra careful about supporting efforts to ensure that most of the female population of the state of child-bearing age wouldn't have to worry about being hauled off to the hoosegow and told they needed to get their procreative groove on or put an aspirin between their legs.

    But no: Kansas Republicans consider that sort of concession to the twentieth century a "little gotcha amendment" they find irritating.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Expert Comments

I got prodded into writing something on Wayne Shorter:

I have as high as A- is Night Dreamer -- but it's been a long while since I played any, I was quite pleased by The Classic Blue Note Recordings (a 2-CD comp released in 2002), and he played on many superb records for Art Blakey as well as Miles Davis (though not for Weather Report -- hard to think of any other band that wasted so much talent). I'm also not tempted to describe any of his work as "academic" -- there was no such thing in the 1960s. He basically picked up the modal thing from Coltrane and kept pushing it even after Coltrane moved on. (He also took Coltrane's novelty interest in soprano and turned it into a real style.) If Shorter seems academic, it may be because George Russell pretty much founded jazz studies, as well as inventing the modal thing and much, much more, so what Shorter was doing in the 1960s became a model for contemporary postbop.

Jason Gubbels previously wrote:

This won't be terribly surprising, but 1964's Speak No Evil (Blue Note) gets my vote. Amazing compositions, featuring a band made up partly of his rhythm buddies from the Davis Quintet at the time (Herbie Hancock, piano; Ron Carter, bass) but with Freddie Hubbard taking the trumpet slot and then-Coltrane drummer Elvin Jones sitting in.

But almost as great is Juju, also from 1964. It's funny to think that Shorter was once criticized for sounding too much like a Coltrane clone and that this was one of his big stylistic breakthroughs, but that's how the story seems to go (the rhythm section here was Coltrane's at the time, McCoy Tyner, Reggie Workman, Elvin Jones).

And then there's The All-Seeing Eye, which should show up on my upcoming 1965 poll ballot (although he had two other good albums that year [!], The Soothsayer and Et Cetera).

Bradley has (sort of) noted that Shorter and all of the Davis clan from this period in time can be objected to on the grounds that they were too cerebral, detached in an academic way. I'm positive if I had as good of a grasp on music theory as Bradley does, I'd pick up on these sorts of things more than I do. But what I love about Shorter and Hancock and Davis in this period (1964-1966) is how clearly they offered an alternative to the more frenzied strains of New Thing jazz which was starting to dominate the narrative. 1967's Miles Smiles is probably my favorite release from this period (early 1967, January pretty sure -- as our host once noted in a Miles Davis review, the months matter, because things moved fast in those days) -- it might be one of the most progressive and adventurous albums of the day. But Miles and Shorter and Hancock almost fool you into thinking it's not.

[I'm sure Bradley and Tom Hull and others who are more well-versed in these sorts of things could contribute additional thoughts]

Bradley Sroka:

Concerning Miles and Shorter, I like Miles Smiles and enjoyed Speak No Evil last time I heard it. Jason's referring to a conversation we had about the Complete Plugged Nickel set, which I struggle with and which was the source of my "academic" remark. My biggest problem is how much Hancock loves his adventurous chord substitutions -- so much so that he seems to avoid the tune embedded in the harmony as much as possible. I guess he avoids expectations, too, but over and over again he plays the same kind of ambiguous, atmospheric chord progressions. If you like that sound, there is plenty to love in his work with Miles, and his contemporaneous stuff on Blue Note. But like a lot of twelve-tone music, there's not much affective variety in that compositional plan.

Like Hancock, Shorter tends to run scales over harmony in a way that is theoretically adventurous (as in music theory), but, again, as an affect you get the same kind of sound again and again, and without much tune. All of that said, when Shorter goes for straight up atmosphere, like his more recent Footprints Live, his style makes some sense. But playing 20 minute standards on Plugged Nickel, to me it sounds a little too aimless. Carter and Williams also toy with meter on the studio albums in a way that I don't really get excited about. Of course, every jazz musician I've ever met would disagree with me vehemently, so keep that in mind. And I'd like to add that though I like the songs "E.S.P" and "Nefertiti," last time I listened, I don't really like the albums E.S.P. and Nefertiti.

Monday, April 01, 2013

Music Week/Jazz Prospecting

Music: Current count 21217 [21188] rated (+29), 591 [595] unrated (-4).

Average week. Blah, blah, blah. Some new stuff in the queue may be promising, but the old stuff I've been playing (not to mention the even older stuff I'm still avoiding) hasn't offered much -- minor surprises from Reinmar Henschke and Monica Ramey, steady improvement from Edward Simon, a Chicago avant quartet that has never matched high expectations.

Should have a short Recycled Goods by the end of the week. Don't expect to add much to it, as I've started thinking about doing one on 1960s music, so my mind has already wandered off.

Antonio Adolfo: Finas Misturas (2012 [2013], Adventure Music): Pianist from Brazil, has close to 20 albums since 1992. Half originals, half jazz covers (Coltrane, Gillespie, Evans, Jarrett, Corea), with two guitarists, bass, drums, and Marcelo Martins on tenor sax and flute. B+(*)

Akua Allrich: Live!: Uniquely Standard (2012, self-released): Singer, from Washington, DC; second album, a live one with one-and-a-half originals, the standards doubling up on Nina Simone. Allrich can be a fierce, riveting singer, as the first half of "Black Coffee" shows, but she has no restraints and can scat with the worst of them, as the second half of "Black Coffee" proves, not to mention the worst version of "Afro Blue" I've ever heard. B-

Caswell Sisters: Alive in the Singing Air (2012 [2013], Turtle Ridge): Sara Caswell is a violinist, two albums under her name, more than a dozen side credits. Her solos here are fine, articulate, and get some real lift from pianist Fred Hersch, who does more here than any singer can ask. The other Caswell is Rachel, singer, working a standards songbook. Main complaint with her is the excessive scat, although her lyrics don't stick with you either. B-

The Engines w/John Tchicai: Other Violets (2011-12 [2013], Not Two): Chicago quartet -- Dave Rempis (saxes), Jeb Bishop (trombone), Nate McBride (bass), and Tim Daisy (drums) -- playing live with the soon-to-be-late Afro-Danish saxophonist John Tchicai. Gets off to a rather slow start, perhaps the band too deferential to their guest, or their guest slow to suss out the band, but it picks up significantly toward the end. B+(***)

Lisa Forkish: Bridges (2012 [2013], self-released): Oakland-based singer, originally from Oregon; second album, wrote a little more than half of the songs -- covers include "For What It's Worth," "I Could Have Danced All Night," "No More Blues" (Jobim, of course, and possibly the best thing here). Didn't sink in, but I did enjoy hearing "solidarity" in a song. B+(*)

Reinmar Henschke: On Air (2009 [2013], Ozella): Pianist, b. 1959 in Germany; looks like his eighth album since 1988, although this is the only one AMG lists. Piano and keyb tracked with percussion and electronics, with bits of guest sax, vibes, guitar, percussion, clarinet, flute. Before I could sneer "pop jazz" it started growing on me, the rhythm figures hypnotic, the piano a bit sumptuous. One vocal, in English by Pascal von Wroblewsky (a name to remember) is a plus. B+(***)

Lisa Kirchner: Umbrellas in Mint (2012 [2013], Verdant World): Singer-songwriter, sixth album since 2000, although her musical experience goes back further, all the way to being daughter of classical composer Leon Kirchner, whose work she has produced. Wrote all the songs this time, in contrast to her 2011 album, where she wrote lyrics to pieces by modern classical composers from Ives to Marsalis. Group here includes Xavier Davis (piano), Sherman Irby (sax), Ron Jackson (guitar), and "Bill" Schimmel (accordion). Moves along smartly, the lyrics engaging. B+(**)

The Dave Lalama Big Band: The Hofstra Project (2012 [2013], Lalama Music): Pianist, teaches at Hofstra, pulled this big band together from Hofstra alumni, including tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama (seems to be his brother). Lalama learned his craft with Woody Herman, as should be clear from the punchy section work (not that anyone steps up to play clarinet). Not much more, though. B

Steve Owen: Stand Up Eight (2011 [2013], OA2): Just composer-arranger here, but plays sax elsewhere. Big band, conducted by Dan Gailey, some names I recognize in the reeds -- Todd DelGiudice, Don Aliquo. Owen studied at UNT and University of Northern Colorado, and teaches at University of Oregon. First record, as far as I can tell, although he appears on similar big band efforts by Dan Gailey and Dan Cavanagh -- probably a lot of intersection in those groups. Wrote 7 of 9 pieces, covering Cole Porter and Radiohead. He gets a wide range of effects, many I don't care for, although the spoken word and shadings of "State of the Union" is an exception, and the solo spots are striking. B

Bill Peterson Trio: Ruby Diamond (2011 [2013], Summit): Pianist, teaches at Florida State, first album, a trio with Rodney Jordan on bass and Jamison Ross on drums. Mostly originals (one by Jordan, also "Shenandoah" by trad.), mostly shout outs to fellow pianists ("Thelonious," "Horace," "Oscar," "McCoy," "Bob James," "Mr. Wynton Kelly"; "Marcus" is probably Roberts -- Jordan came from his trio). Solid grounding. B+(**)

Monica Ramey: And the Beegie Adair Trio (2012 [2013], Adair Music Group): Standards singer, second album, rolls out 14 songs, 72 minutes, backed by Adair's piano trio plus horn spots for George Tidwell (trumpet, flugelhorn) and Dennis Soles (saxes, flute). As is often the case, this rises or slips on the songs -- "I Thought About You" caught my ear, then the pairing of "Witchcraft" and "This Could Be the Start of Something Big" -- but she frames them nicely, can turn on the gusto or sass or take a delicate ballad. The band does the job, which is all it really takes. B+(***)

Edward Simon Trio: Live in New York at Jazz Standard (2010 [2013], Sunnyside): Pianist, from Venezuela, a dozen or so albums since 1993, at least three with this trio: John Patitucci (bass) and Brian Blade (drums). Live they stretch out on five long pieces, three Simon originals and covers of Jobim and Coltrane. Bright, lively piano jazz. B+(***)

Dayna Stephens: That Nepenthetic Place (2012 [2013], Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1978, third album since 2007, I recognize him more as a sideman -- looking at his credits list I see few memorable albums, but looking at my notes he was repeatedly the standout musician on those albums. Quartet -- Taylor Eigsti (piano), Joe Sanders (bass), Justin Brown (drums) -- plus guests on scattered tracks: Ambrose Akinmusire (trumpet), Jaleel Shaw (alto sax), Gretchen Parlato (vocals). The vocal feature's slow burn is nice in itself, the horns more dynamic, the tenor again the best thing here. Looked up "nepenthetic" and didn't find anything (else). B+(**)

Michael Webster: Momentus (2011 [2012], OA2): Tenor saxophonist, from Ottawa, Canada; studied at Manhattan School of Music, based in New York. Second album, expansive postbop with Ingrid Jensen's trumpet/flugelhorn for contrast, Jesse Lewis on guitar, Chris Dingman on vibes, plus bass and drums. B+(*)

Unpacking: Found in the mail last week:

  • Curtis Hasselbring: Number Stations (Cuneiform)
  • The Kandinsky Effect: Synesthesia (Cuneiform)
  • Richard Lanham: Thou Swell (Big RL Productions): May 7
  • Ivan Lins: Cornucopia (Sunnyside): May 7
  • Joe Locke: Lay Down My Heart: Blues & Ballads Vol 1 (Motéma): May 14
  • Rob Mazurek Octet: The Skull Sessions (Cuneiform)
  • Rose & the Nightingale: Spirit of the Garden (Sunnyside): May 7
  • Shamie Royston: Portraits (self-released)
  • Vinx: Love Never Comes Too Late (Dreamsicle Arts)

Miscellaneous notes:

  • Leon Thomas: The Creator 1969-1973: The Best of the Flying Dutchman Masters (1969-73 [2013], BGP): In a simpler time, he would have been a classic blues shouter. In the late 1960s he was networking with Louis Armstrong, Johnny Hodges, Don Cherry, Pharoah Sanders, Archie Shepp, and Oliver Nelson. He got his fluke hit with Sanders, "The Creator Has a Master Plan," and a record contract that ran five years and six albums, all long out of print. Early on he tried to continue the cosmic-black-power-funk vibe from Sanders and Shepp, to which he added a yodel that sounds weirder now than it did then, and when he ran out of new ideas he reverted to shouted blues and soft soul moves. I've sampled these records lightly, and always imagined that someone could pull a great compilation out of them. But this isn't it. I don't know whether that's because they avoided both the political cuts -- no "Dam Nam (Ain't Goin' to Vietnam)" -- and the long ones -- no "Pharoah's Tune (The Journey)" and a shorter "Umbo Weti" -- or they just failed to look beyond his headline albums to the side credits where he made his mark. B+(*) [rhapsody]

Mar 2013