October 2007 Notebook


Wednesday, October 31, 2007

The Disaster File

One more little item for the disaster file (Nafeesa Syed, Associated Press):

An explosion and fire Monday at a chemical plant northeast of Des Moines sent plumes of thick smoke into the sky and forced officials to close two interestate freeways. [ . . . ]

The explosion at the Barton Solvents plant was reported at 1:15 p.m., and nearly two hours later was burning out of control, said A.J. Mumm, coordinator for the Polk County Emergency Management Agency.

Flames and clouds of black smoke soared above the plant, and exploding barrels could be seen jetting intothe sky. Mumm said 55-gallon barrels and 300-gallon tanks were exploding and that there were concerns about loaded rail cars and truck tanks on the site.

Police closed I-80 and I-235 near the fire.

"There is thick smoke and they're concerned drivers can't see," said Dena Gray-Fisher, a spokeswoman for the Iowa Department of Transportation. "There's also toxic fumes associated with chemicals and they're going to do some testing of the area."

Another Barton Solvents plant in Valley Center, KS -- about 10 miles north-northwest of where I live in Wichita -- exploded and caught fire earlier this year. Terrorism is not suspected in either case. Incompetence suffices. In America's post-2000 disaster file, acts of terrorists are few and far between -- 9/11/2001 now looks like an anomaly, even though the Bush gang has worked overtime to provoke potential enemies into further strikes. That we worry so much more about terrorism may reflect a subliminal, uninspected guilty conscience over what we do (or is done in our name) abroad. But real disasters here are due to ordinary things: development that pushes the limits of our resources, natural events that are made worse by that development (or possibly unnatural ones given our contributions to global warming), cutting corners to scratch out short-term profits, and a general dumbing down of everything.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Poor Students

The Wichita Eagle carried an article today by Halimah Abdullah of McClatchy Newspapers, titled "Majority of students in South are poor":

For the first time in more than 40 years, the majority of children in public schools in the South are poor, according to a report released today. [ . . . ]

Twenty years ago, Mississippi was the only state in the country with such a high percentage of poor public school students. However, as textile mills shut down in the Carolinas, Appalachian coal mines cut workers and a recession swept the nation, families in the South were especially hard hit, the Southern Education Foundation report found.

Also hitting the South disproportionately were federal cutbacks in anti-poverty programs, the region's higher rates of underemployment and the increased birth rates of Hispanic and African-American children, who are statistically more likely than their white peers to be born into poverty.

Now, a majority of public school students are considered low income in a total of 14 states, including 11 in the South. The South shows tremendous variability, with 84 percent of students considered low-income in Louisiana, 75 percent in Mississippi, 62 percent in Florida, 49 percent in North Carolina, but only 33 percent in Virginia.

According to the report, public schools in the West may face similar problems in the next five to seven years. Already, 51 percent of public school children in California and 62 percent of those in New Mexico are considered low income.

All told, the report said, 54 percent of students in Southern states are judged to be poor, a significant increase from the 37 percent so classified in the late 1980s. Nationally, 46 percent of public school students are low-income.

This isn't much of a surprise. All my life it's been clear that the people who run Mississippi would rather be part of a third world banana republic than a developed first world democracy, and probably for no better reason than spite: having lost the Civil War, they resolved to keep blacks as poor as they were during slavery, and wound up treating most whites little better, lest anyone get the idea that progress was possible. I've been reading Ira Katznelson's When Affirmative Action Was White: An Untold History of Racial Inequality in Twentieth-Century America, which has many examples of this. Katznelson quotes a letter to Mississippi Senator Theodore Bilbo in 1944, which displays the basic sentiment (p. 81):

I am a typical American, a southerner, and 27 years of age, and never in the world will I be convined that race mixing in any field is good. All the social "do-gooders," the philanthropic "greats" of this day, the reds and the pinks . . . the disciples of Eleanor . . . can never alter my convictions on this question. I am loyal to my country and know but reverence to her flag, but I shall never submit to fight beneath that banner with a negro by my side. Rather I should die a thousand times, and see this old glory trampled in the dirt never to rise again, than to see this beloved land of ours become degraded by race mongrels, a throwback to the blackest specimen from the wilds.

For whatever it's worth, the author was Robert Byrd, who became (and still is) a Senator himself, representing West Virginia. I picked out Katznelson's book because it follows up on a main theme in Paul Krugman's The Conscience of a Liberal: the single most important reason why America abandoned the New Deal welfare state was race hatred. In doing so, the white middle class created in "the Great Compression" of the New Deal and WWII has allowed itself to dissolve into inequality and uncertainty for no better reason than spiteful resolve to keep blacks from joining in the same benefits. As Katznelson points out, the white south took the lead, especially in turning against organized labor in the 1940s. The crippling of the south then (and now) cannot be attributed to diminished political power. Rather, in both cases it is the fruit of the south's political ascendency -- abetted, of course, by alliance with the Republicans, which finally have been remade in the confederacy's image.

Lack of education is nothing new to the south. Katznelson writes (p. 101):

The 1940 Census had revealed that some 10 million Americans had not been schooled past the fourth grade, and that one in eight could not read and write. This, primarily, was a southern problem. A higher proportion of blacks living in the North had completed grade school than whites in the South.

To blame the current rising figure on "federal cutbacks" ignores the fact that southern politicians have agitated for those cutbacks, and that southern states do little if anything on their own to make up for them -- unlike northern states, which are consistently better off precisely because their state governments take some interest in the welfare of their citizens.

Most likely, the trends noted are due to more than increasing poverty, although that's certainly the tide that lifts the entire region. The numbers are also increased by whites withdrawing from the public education systems their political power has wrecked. Backlash against immigrants (illegal and otherwise) is also a likely factor, especially in the west. But all three trends are squarely the fault of the political right and the wrath they take out on the poor. Not realizing that we all depend on each other for our overall welfare, they, like Byrd, would rather perish than share. The numbers show that they are succeeding.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Jazz Consumer Guide Surplus

One of the chores I face each time I end a Jazz Consumer Guide cycle is the need to cut back my ever-growing file of hopefuls for the next column. I can only slot about 30 records per column, and only manage to get columns published every three months or so. Most low B+ and lower records (excepting a few dud candidates) get cut as soon as I rate them, but that still leaves more than I can possibly fit in. By the end of this latest cycle I had 108 records languishing in my "done" file. I've trimmed them back to 67, which still leaves a lot of records that will never make it, but helps to make my paperwork more manageable. In most cases, I don't have much to say beyond what I've already said in my jazz prospecting notes, but in a few cases I thought I'd add a few parting words:

Alvin Batiste: Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste (2006 [2007], Marsalis Music/Rounder): Released along with a Bob French tribute, which nabbed an honorable mention right with a slight edge over this. Then Batiste, a veteran New Orleans clarinetist who had rarely been recorded well, passed away, making this all the more valuable. B+(**)

Stefano Bollani: Piano Solo (2005, [2007], ECM): An attractive, eloquent album, well crafted, patiently executed, enough to overcome my congenital resistance to solo piano, but still didn't quite inspire me to write about it. B+(**)

Harry Connick Jr.: Chanson du Vieux Carré (2003 [2007], Marsalis Music/Rounder): A big band album of old New Orleans, dusted off post-Katrina and sloughed off on Connick's B-label, where he had to get others to take the vocals. I ultimately decided that the A-label Oh, My Nola (2006 [2007], Columbia) was slightly better overall, then wound up using neither. B+(**)

Joel Futterman/Alvin Fielder/Ike Levin Trio: Live at the Blue Monk (2006, Charles Lester Music): An old-fashioned avant-garde trio, which is to say they like to make a racket in additional to wheeling and dealing freely. Futterman is a pianist of the Cecil Taylor school; Levin a saxophonist who can get dirty; Fielder has his AACM credentials. I always dig their records, but somehow never get around to writing about them. B+(**)

Gold Sparkle Trio With Ken Vandermark: Brooklyn Cantos (2002 [2004], Squealer): The Trio already has a fine saxophonist in Charles Waters, as well as a superb drummer in Andrew Barker. Adding Vandermark doubles the fun, but this was old when I got it and kept slipping behind newer records. B+(***)

Dave Holland Quintet: Critical Mass (2005 [2006], Dare2/Sunnyside): Seems like Holland is such a big name this should have been dealt with in a more timely fashion, but I was real slow on the uptake, or maybe just fascinated with the idea of cutting it down. Ultimately, there's just too much talent here for that. B+(***)

Jerry Leake: The Turning: Percussion Explorations (2005 [2006], Rhombus Publishing): Nine out of ten jazz musicians claim to be educators these days, but Leake really is one, and this is a world-class textbook on percussion. B+(***)

Abbey Lincoln: Abbey Sings Abbey (2006 [2007], Verve): Aside from We Insist -- Freedom Now, under husband Max Roach's name, I've never found a record by her that I've really cared for. At first these were disappointing; over time they became annoying. She does have her fans, including critics I rarely argue with, so I figure my resistance to her is just one of those weird personal quirks. For whatever it's worth, I think this is her best record, at least of the half-dozen or so I've heard. The songs are field-tested, the arrangements cleverly developed. Her voice is rougher than it used to be, and I think that helps. Francis Davis wrote a rave in the Voice already. I don't see much value in adding my lukewarm consent. B+(***)

Roswell Rudd & Yomo Toro: El Espíritu Jíbaro (2002-06 [2007], Sunnyside): One of Rudd's world music match-ups, with Bobby Sanabria reinforcing Toro's Puerto Rican country beat, and Rudd just being the great trombonist he's always been. Better than his beatless Mali album; not as intriguing a mix as those Mongolian throat singers. Francis Davis reviewed this among a bunch of Rudd records in the Voice, and I wrote plenty on this in RG. B+(***)

David Smith Quintet: Circumstance (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Young Canadian trumpet player gets a nice coming out party, with a strong assist from saxophonist Seamus Blake. B+(***)

Toph-E & the Pussycats: Live in Detroit (2004 [2006], CD Baby): Basically a funk band, not all that special, but fun enough I was long tempted to slip them in somewhere. B+(**)

Lars-Göran Ulander Trio: Live at the Glenn Miller Café (2004 [2005], Ayler): Swedish saxophonist, a local legend from the 1960s, given a shot at a headline album, which he aces. Between the obscurity and the competition, I never got back to this. The label has since moved into a new download-only business model, which is a shame given the nice packaging. Also given the distaste I have for downloading. B+(***)

The complete list of surplus cuts for this cycle is here.

Music: Current count 13725 [13697] rated (+28), 818 [797] unrated (+21). Some distractions this week, including my birthday dinner and housework, but the main focus was on November's Recycled Goods column, which isn't quite done but bursting with goodies. Jazz prospecting suffered. The new stuff is piling up.

  • J.J. Cale: Rewind: Unreleased Recordings (1973-83 [2007], Time Life): Initials stand for Jean Jacques, evidently a thing one keeps discreet while growing up in Tulsa; everything about Cale is understated, most obviously his drawl and his twang, making most of his work -- not just these outtakes -- unnotable, although his gentle "Rollin'" is hard to resist. B-
  • The Best of Elvis Costello: The First 10 Years (1977-86 [2007], Hip-O): I count 6-8 recommendable albums from Costello's decade, with Armed Forces and Trust my top rateds and the gone-Nashville Almost Blue a personal fave, he has never produced a compilation that improved on his best individual efforts; this one at least skips the trivia, but the tricky ballads bog down in the homestretch before he miraculously makes some like "Indoor Fireworks" blossom. A-
  • Elvis Costello: Rock and Roll Music (1976-86 [2007], Hip-O): Should be more consistent, but maybe he never was that much of a rock and roller? Three songs repeat from Best Of, only the extra cuts off his best albums compete, and trivia abounds -- spare live cuts, Dave Edmunds covers, nothing from the 1950s which provided his namesake and initial look. B
  • Ani DiFranco: Canon (1993-2007 [2007], Righteous Babe, 2CD): She tramped around Buffalo as a teenager, living by her wits, a folksinger because that came cheap: she worked solo with guitar -- barely a prop at first, but in a few years she learned to attack it as expertly as she took on the whole world. She was so uncowed by power she built her own label, feeding it a record-plus per year whether the new songs were up to snuff or not. Mostly they were: underrepresented (uncanonical?) early records like Imperfectly and Puddle Dive won her a young lesbian cult, which expanded to grrrls of all bents with Not a Pretty Girl and Dilate. But the Canon gives equal time to the reckoning and revelling of her second decade. Age and entrepreneurial success didn't lessen her politics, but they did shift from the personal to the social -- she announces "i've got everything i want and still i want more," like salvaging an old church in Buffalo, and working to rebuild ravaged New Orleans. The first disc is all high points, skipping as many as it hits; the second tries to make a case for the later work, and mostly succeeds, with growing musical sophistication and critical insights. Five old songs are given "brand-spanking-new studio versions" -- fancier than the originals, but packing the same old punch. A-
  • Hakim: Lela (2004, IRS World): No info on this, which makes it hard to evaluate. Title cut features James Brown, who seems to be following his own path alongside Hakim's song. Second cut has a Stevie Wonder intro and, evidently, harmonica. Could use more info on both. Rest of the album, up to the close which reprises radio edits of the first two songs, is typical upbeat funky Hakim. B+
  • An Introduction to Texas Blues (1948-92 [2007], Fuel 2000): No early touchstones like Blind Lemon Jefferson or Henry Thomas, this starts with the postwar juke joints, including some interesting boogie before settling down into T-Bone Walker's electric guitar groove; booklet isn't bad, but any introduction should include discographic details. B+(*)
  • Elton John: Rocket Man: Number Ones (1970-94 [2006], Mercury): No chart info in the booklet, so I'm not sure what accounting tricks they're playing -- my Billboard Top Forty book credits John with 9, including two not here; most of the 12 "number ones" here topped the Adult Contemporary chart, but so did other songs not here; figuring 12 seems short, they tacked 5 "other favorites" (all 1970-74) onto the end; the DVD gussies 5 repeats up for Las Vegas in 2005 and adds 5 dubious "bonus videos." B-
  • Elton John: Greatest Hits (1970-74 [1974], Polydor): 11-cut LP-length compilation of his greatest novelties -- inconsistent, often inspired. Despite a long career he only had one more year that was consistent enough to crack this line-up. A-
  • Let's Put the Axe to the Axis: Songs of World War II (1941-45 (1981), Smithsonian/Folkways): Got this from the library, thinking it might add something to my review of The War, but I got sidetracked in discographical hell and figure I might as well pass on it. It looks like Smithsonian Folkways will burn and sell you a custom CD of any out-of-print album, and that's what this is, without original artwork, with laser-printed pages sufficing for the liner notes and cover info, and a slip-cover honoring Moses Asch. The songs here are explicitly war-themed, like "Goodbye Mama (I'm Off to Yokohama)" and "The Sun Will Soon Be Setting (For the Land of the Rising Sun)"; three songs by C&W singer Carson Robinson -- two pieces of mail between Hitler and Mussolini, the other "Get Your Gun and Come Along (We're Fixin' to Kill a Skunk)"; plus your basic war gospel, "Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition." I've argued elsewhere that war is bad for music; this counts as further evidence. B-
  • George Lewis: Trios & Bands (1943-45 [1991], American Music): Eleven trio tracks, mostly clarinet with banjo and bass, provide sort of a distilled essence of trad jazz. The band tracks includes two with Kid Shots, two with the same band less Shots, three with the New Orleans Stompers. The rhythm runs from marches to polyphony; the clarinet sweet and light and stunning. A-
  • Teddy Thompson: Upfront & Down Low (2007, Verve Forecast): Son of Richard and Linda Thompson -- good breeding, good singer, beneficiary of a lot of networking. Third or fourth album. Reportedly his songwriting is suspect, but his one song here is fine, and the rest show good taste, lots of guests, including pleasant surprises like Iris DeMent. Hidden song at the end worth waiting for. Seems minor, but that's part of its charm. A-
  • Why the Hell Not . . . The Songs of Kinky Friedman (2006, Sustain): Some confusion on the album title here: the cover has the first half on top with ellipses, the second half on the bottom, a face outline with a question mark of smoke in between. The advance lacks the graphic and the question mark. Don't know what the spine shows, but the title as I have it seems to be the consensus, even though it makes little sense. B+(*)

Jazz Prospecting (CG #15, Part 5)

Jazz Consumer Guide appeared in the Village Voice last week, so this week should have kicked the prospecting for the next one up a gear. But as it turns out, I have little to report below. I'm still working on finishing up November's Recycled Goods column. Working on that took most of my time, and skewed what little follows. Also played another That Devilin' Tune box. That looks to be December's "In Series" feature, but will take a sizable chunk of time to even partially digest.

I've made a pass on culling the surplus in preparation for next Jazz CG. I knocked the "done" file down from 108 records to a more manageable 67. A lot of good records got knocked out there, but the pending file is up to 188 records. I've also moved the print/flush notes to the notebook, mostly to make them easier to find in the distant future. I'll do a follow-up post on the surplus later today, at worst tomorrow. November Recycled Goods is a day or two away from going to the editor. Just looking at the shelves, next week should see a lot of new jazz prospected.

Choro Ensemble: Nosso Tempo (2007, Anzic): Anat Cohen, on clarinet, fronts a Brazilian group, with Gustavo Dantas' 6-string guitar, Carlos Almeida's 7-string guitar, Pedro Ramos' cavaquinho and tenor guitar, Zé Mauricio's percussion (pandeiro, zabumba, surdo). Aside from the clarinet, the choro is felt and authentic. The clarinet isn't authentic, to choro at least; the exultant uplift Cohen brings to the proceedings sounds much like the stock-in-trade worldview of klezmer. B+(*) [advance]

Wendy Fopeano: Raining on the Roses (2006 [2007], Outside Shore): Vocalist, originally from Kansas City, now based in Denver. Second album. Likes vocalese, writing her own lyrics to David Murray and Kenny Barron pieces, as well as using some of Jon Hendricks' lyrics. Likes to scat. Does two Jobim songs, several standards, one co-credit with pianist-husband Marc Sabatella. Gives one song slot up to fellow KC vocalist Carol Comer. Recorded live with a pretty upbeat group. B

Julie Hardy: The Wish (2006 [2007], World Culture Music): Vocalist, from New Hampshire, now in Brooklyn after studying in Boston. Second album, after A Moment's Notice (2005, Fresh Sound New Talent). Wrote half or a bit more, including three pieces subtitled parts of "The Wish Suite." Also does a Beatles song, some standards, and added lyrics to a Wayne Shorter piece. Band includes some minor names -- guitarist Ben Monder is probably the best known. I didn't care much for the voice or the arrangements, thought "All or Nothing at All" was especially clunky; but I was working on other stuff at the time, wasn't paying enough attention to get technical, and gave her the benefit of my doubts on the grade, seeing little prospect in pursuing this further. B-

Marsha Heydt: One Night (2007, Blue Toucan): Plays sax, flute, clarinet. Grew up in Pennsylvania Dutch country, tracing her family back to the eighteenth century. Moved to Los Angeles in 1991, then to New York in 1992. First album. Wrote four songs, including one done both as an instrumental and with a nuanced Carla Cook vocal. That's the only vocal. The rest, with the marginal exception of a Monk piece, is rather schmoozy easy listening music, often with quasi-Latin rhythms, three with a string trio, six more with Erik Friedlander's cello. Booklet doesn't specify what Heydt plays where, but her website gives the breakdown as: alto sax 6, soprano sax 3, flute 4. Heydt's alto sax sounds rather wobbly, although her "Georgia on My Mind" has some charm. In fact, quite a bit of this is likable, but it's hard to see much point to it. C+

Ella Fitzgerald: Love Letters From Ella (1973-83 [2007], Concord/Starbucks): I don't really know what's going on here. I just have an advance copy and a PR sheet that's more concerned with hyping Starbucks than any of the music here. Plus I figured I'd put it off until some Verve reissues showed up, but they never did. Now I'm just cleaning up. What we have here are ten previously unreleased vocal tracks from Fitzgerald's 1973-83 Pablo period. They are strong performances of familiar material. Eight are presented as featuring special guests: Count Basie, the London Symphony Orchestra, Joe Pass, André Previn, and/or Scott Hamilton. Some have been merged in the editing -- LSO and Hamilton for sure, Pass and Basie are dead although the latter retains a ghostly form, especially at Concord. I'm only partly inclined to reject such adulteration out of hand -- for instance, I don't have a big problem with remixes and mash-ups, but there the shoe is on the other foot. But I do like to know what I'm dealing with, and there's a whiff of dishonesty here that may or may not be dispelled in the final product -- the reviews I've read add some info suggesting it is, but not enough to be sure. In any case, "Our Love Is Here to Stay" with André Previn is a choice cut -- holds up even though my mind keeps interjecting snatches from her duet with Louis Armstrong. B [advance]

Pablo Ziegler-Quique Sinesi: Buenos Aires Report (2006 [2007], Zoho): Artist credit includes, in smaller type, "with Walter Castro." Castro plays bandoneon. Haven't found much on him; he's the youngest of the trio, but due to his instrument is a large part of the group's sound. Ziegler and Sinesi hail from Buenos Aires. Ziegler was born in 1944, plays piano, and was part of Astor Piazzolla's group from 1978-89. He composed all but two of the pieces here. Sinesi was born in 1960, plays guitar, composed one song. The last is by Piazzolla, and it seems significant that it is a much livelier, more fully realized piece. By comparison, the others feel like sketches -- maybe studies is the better word. B+(*)

Cique (2007, Capri): Cover explains: "cique (sik) -- (n) post retro trans genre hippy trippy spank a lank; (adj) really totally happening; (adj) not at all well." Latter sounds like "sick." Denver group, with Jeff Jenkins on keyboards (rhodes, organ, synths), Bijoux Barbosa on bass (electric & acoustic), Matt Houston on drums. Steve Holloway guests on bodhran (a celtic frame drum) on one track. John Abercrombie plays guitar on four tracks, rating a "with special guest" honorific. Abercrombie's easy-going fusion is probably the main interest here, but Jenkins contributes some tasty funk as well. B

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


  • Dave Allen: Real and Imagined (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Gregg August Sextet: One Peace (Iacuessa)
  • Patricia Barber: The Premonition Years 1994-2002 (1994-2002, Premonition, 3CD)
  • Frederic Borey Group: Maria (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Ila Cantor: Mother Nebula (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • John Chin: Blackout Conception (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Chick Corea and Bela Fleck: The Enchantment (Concord): advance
  • Bob DeVos: Playing for Keeps (Savant)
  • Kurt Elling: Nightmoves (Concord)
  • Bruce Eskovitz Jazz Orchestra: Invitation (Pacific Coast Jazz)
  • Scott Fields Ensemble: Dénoument (Clean Feed)
  • The Best of Von Freeman on Premonition (1998-2006, Premonition, 2CD+DVD)
  • Satoko Fujii Quartet: Bacchus (Onoff)
  • Jostein Gulbrandsen: Twelve (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Charlie Hunter Trio: Mistico (Fantasy)
  • Carla Kihlstedt/Satoko Fujii: Minamo (Henceforth)
  • Meinrad Kneer/Albert van Veenendaal: The Munderkingen Sessions: Part 1 (Evil Rabbit)
  • Mário Laginha Trio: Espaço (Clean Feed)
  • João Lencastre's Communion: One! (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • David Liebman/Roberto Tarenzi/Paolo Benedettini/Tony Arco: Dream of Nite (EmArcy): advance
  • Jason Lindner: Ab Aeterno (Fresh Sound World Jazz) %
  • Wendy Luck: See You in Rio (Wendy Luck Music)
  • Jose Alberto Medina/JAM Trio: In My Mind (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Roger Mas 5tet: Mason (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Jane Monheit: Surrender (Concord): advance
  • The Paislies (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Putumayo Presents: Tango Around the World (2001-07, Putumayo World Music)
  • Greg Ruggiero: Balance (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Poncho Sanchez: Raise Your Hand (Concord Picante)
  • Jesús Santandreu: Out of the Cage (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Christian Scott: Anthem (Concord)
  • Jim Snidero: Tippin' (Savant)
  • John Stein: Green Street (1996-98, Whaling City Sound)
  • Curtis Stigers: Real Emotional (Concord)
  • Tuxedomoon: Vapour Trails (Crammed Discs)
  • Tomas Ulrich/Elliott Sharp/Carlos Zingaro/Ken Filiano: T.E.C.K. String Quaret (Clean Feed)
  • Guilia Valle Group: Danza Imprevista (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Luther Vandross: Love, Luther (1980-2005, Epic/J Records/Legacy, 4CD)
  • Peter Van Huffel Quintet: Silvester Battlefield (Fresh Sound New Talent)
  • Albert van Veenendaal/Fabrizio Puglisi: Duets for Prepared, Unprepared and Toy Pianos (Evil Rabbit)


  • Neil Young: Chrome Dreams II (Reprise)

The following are the notes for records reviewed in Jazz CG #14:

  • Maria Anadon: A Jazzy Way (2006 [2007], Arbors): Anadon turns her back to her native Portugal and takes a bite of "Old Devil Moon" and a dozen more show tunes and vocalese skits. Her Women of the World band, with Japanese Tomoko Ohno on piano and Israeli Anat Cohen on clarinet and tenor sax, are no less at home. More proof that sometimes immigrants, discovering wonders we have come to take for granted, make the best Americans. A-
  • Fred Anderson & Hamid Drake: From the River to the Ocean (2007, Thrill Jockey): With all due respect, the principal artist here is Drake. His steady, even-tempered drums are the central thread everything else connects to. He sets up such a comforting groove that he finally coaxes Anderson into a new level of his game -- I think the word, strange as it may sound, is serene. The artist credit reminds us that Anderson and Drake have recorded duets before, but these aren't duets. Jeff Parker plays guitar, taking solo space and setting a sonic level that Anderson tries to match. Harrison Bankhead and/or Josh Abrams play bass, with Bankhead switching to cello and piano for one cut each, Abrams playing guimbri on two. Drake doesn't get a credit for the last cut, but he's there anyway. Drake doesn't claim vocal credit either, but he's audible. No session info on this. For the record, this makes five straight A- records for Anderson. When he turned 70, I didn't expect we'd see even one. A-
  • Pablo Aslan: Buenos Aires Tango Standards (2006 [2007], Zoho): The bassist's second album approaches tango from another perspective. Where Avantango pushed it to extremes, this one eschews the signature bandoneon and violin in favor of a straight jazz quintet -- trumpet, sax, piano, bass, drums. The standards are more orthodox, but subtler, less jagged, emphasizing the melodies over the twists and turns, opening them up. After all, that's what jazz does. A-
  • Billy Bang Quintet Featuring Frank Lowe: Above & Beyond: An Evening in Grand Rapids (2003 [2007], Justin Time): They pulled this out of the files, recognizing it as the last time Bang and Lowe played together, but regardless of context it is simply fabulous. If Lowe seems uncharacteristically mild, Bang explains that Lowe was only operating on one lung, and in Cleveland "he was so out of breath at the end of the gig that the lady who promoted it wanted to call an ambulance." Lowe looks awful on the back cover here, and finally succumbed to cancer less than five months hence. But the word for his sound here is sweet. Andrew Bemkey's piano adds a contrasting sharpness, and Bang flat out swings. Some spots get rough, including an awkward, ugly close on one piece where all you can do is laugh it off. A-
  • Phil Bodner: The Clarinet Virtuosity of Phil Bodner: Once More With Feeling (1960s-70s [2007], Arbors): Born 1917 and evidently still alive, with scads of studio albums but precious little under his own name, this offers a bit of well-deserved recognition -- something Arbors is frequently inclined to do. The small groups swing, and the clarinet stays up front, unifying six sessions with quite a few different pianists, guitarist, bassists and drummers. Great songs, much fun, often quite lovely. B+(***)
  • Kenny Burrell: 75th Birthday Bash Live! (2006 [2007], Blue Note): Advance had a different title, mentioning Yoshi's in Oakland, where some of this occured. However, other tracks were cut at Kuumbawa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz -- maybe the lawyers figured that out. Six tracks, mostly from Santa Cruz, feature the Gerald Wilson Orchestra, sounding hoarse and wheezy. Joey DeFrancesco (3 cuts) hardly picks up the slack, especially when Hubert Laws (5 cuts) joins on flute. Burrell sings two, no help either. Early in his career Burrell established himself on solid albums with Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane; here the best he can do is Herman Riley, and it takes "A Night in Tunisia" to get Riley going. At least they didn't include any patter, but I'm too annoyed at the black-on-blue booklet print to cut them any slack over that. C+
  • Frank Carlberg: State of the Union (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): I reckon if you want to make a political statement you might as well come out and say it, but singing it, against a free jazz backdrop, can get sticky. The first three cuts form "The Presidential Suite," starting with "The Word Is" -- a "nostalgic piece" about Bill Clinton's parsing problems -- and ending with the gloomy title assessment. In between, the title is "We Much Prefer," but the lyric you hear repeated infinitum is the word "stupidity," which about sums up the transition from then to now. The singer is Christine Correa, whose deep diva voice reminds me of Aebi, except much more listenable. The remaining pieces move from politics to more abstract poesy -- one on a red piano is appealing, and one on disemboweled babies seems almost as disheartening as all that stupidity. Carlberg plays piano, leading a group including Chris Cheek on tenor sax, John Hebert on bass, and Michael Sarin on drums -- all superb, the somber pacing at least forcing them to think. B+(***)
  • Chicago Tentet: American Landscapes 1 (2006 [2007], Okkadisk): Peter Brötzmann's name has dropped from the masthead, but he's still here, and this is still his band, with Ken Vandermark in the background arranging the Chicago base. (Actually, Brötzmann's name appears in a logo-like thing on the front cover, but not on the spine.) The band is long on loud horns: Brötzmann, Mats Gustafsson, Vandermark (various reeds for all three), Joe McPhee (trumpet, alto sax), Hannes Bauer (trombone), Per-Åke Holmlander (tuba); with two drummers (Paal Nilssen-Love, Michael Zerang), and Kent Kessler's bass matched by Fred Lonberg-Holm's cello. One piece, 43:39, with a long front movement, a squeaky interlude for the strings, and a rebound. Play it at low volume, like I do, and it's easy enough to sort out the multiple waves of undulating rhythm, with the horns compressing into static noise. I'm sure that's not the plan, but I appreciate the sense of structure and the bare tightness. I can only speculate about what happens when you crank it up, but even at my volume level there are parts that pick me up. B+(***)
  • Chicago Tentet: American Landscapes 2 (2006 [2007], Okkadisk): Same deal, only longer at 52:48, louder too, which I don't necessarily regard as a plus. For one thing the rhythmic structure is less clear, and that's the thread that all the noise hangs off of. This just makes you work harder, but as free jazz big bands go, this group has gotten remarkably tight. B+(**)
  • Avishai Cohen: As Is . . . Live at the Blue Note (2006 [2007], Razdaz/Half Note): The bassist, not the trumpeter, leading a quintet with Diego Urcola on trumpet and Jimmy Greene on various saxophones through a selection of his consistently impressive songbook, closing with a funked up Middle Eastern take on "Caravan." It all works pretty much as it should, with the bright, light informality of a live recording. Comes with a DVD, still unseen. A fine introduction, calling card, resume. B+(***)
  • Kahil El'Zabar's Infinity Orchestra: Transmigration (2005 [2007], Delmark): Infinity Orchestra is a 39-piece big band based in Bordeaux: the 5 trumpets, 3 trombones, and 7 saxes don't seem all that extravagant, and indeed they don't sound as brassy as units half their size. Much of the bulk comes from a 12-person percussion section -- 7 on djembe and balafon. There are also two DJs, two singers, and two rappers. El'Zabar's involvement began with an appearance at the Bordeaux Jazz Festival in 1980. Since then he has kept coming back, teaching two-month workshops each year, touring. In 2000 he was inaugurated as Master of the annual Carnival. The featured musicians here are El'Zabar, Ernest Dawkins on alto sax, and Joseph Bowie on trombone -- a group otherwise known as Ethnic Heritage Ensemble, and in many ways this is the album of their dreams. Dawkins (presumably) has some terrific sax runs, and El'Zabar gets all the percussion he wants. The big band fleshes the group out with innumerable details. For example, it took me a while to realize that the wobbly rhythm at the start came from turntables. And that the harmony that fills in behind the sax was a lot more than Bowie's trombone. A-
  • Ethnic Heritage Ensemble: Hot 'N' Heavy (2006 [2007], Delmark): Live at the Ascension Loft. Percussionist Kahil El'Zabar's group is now a quartet, with Corey Wilkes on trumpet, Ernest Dawkins on sax, and Fareed Haque on guitar, each having stellar moments, especially when it does indeed get hot and heavy. Tails off a bit toward the end, where the threat of a vocal looms, but is ultimately unrealized. B+(***)
  • Kenny Garrett: Beyond the Wall (2006, Nonesuch): I've been griping for years now about Nonesuch not sending me their jazz records, and this was one I had in mind, especially when it started showing up in year-end lists. Found a copy at my local public library, so I thought I should give it a spin. Starts heavy-handed, tightening up around itself to build up tension, riffing Coltraneisms in search of mystic aura, which is ultimately provided by a chorus on two songs, after Tibetan samples and erhu proved little more than flavoring. Garrett has pursued Coltrane before, and dedicates this one to McCoy Tyner. (I've read that Tyner was the intended pianist, but unavailable; Garrett reacted with the obvious move, hiring Mulgrew Miller.) But the real heavyweight here is Pharoah Sanders, whose claim on Coltrane is more organic and more singular. I found this more than a little irritating at first, and still find much I don't care for. But it's good to hear Sanders wail, and Miller and Bobby Hutcherson fill in admirably. B
  • Tord Gustavsen Trio: Being There (2006 [2007], ECM): Bankrolled by Keith Jarrett, ECM has cultivated a range of pianists who seem to be converging on a serenely peaceful style, one that is neither swing nor bop nor avant, that moves slowly with assurance, that supplants new age while reducing its avatars to shlock. There are a dozen or more ECM pianists who fit this bill -- even utterly different players like Paul Bley and Marilyn Crispell gravitate that way under Manfred Eicher's production -- but none more so than Tord Gustavsen. B+(***)
  • Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid: Tongues (2006 [2007], Domino): Further exchanges, although drummer Reid's contribution seems diminished. Hebden's ability to synthesize remarkable music on his laptop or whatever is as impressive as ever, especially on the first two tracks. Whether this should qualify as improv or not is impossible to say, but the only thing keeping from passing the Turing Test is the lack of real improvised competition. B+(***)
  • Jewels and Binoculars: Ships With Tattooed Sails (2006 [2007], Upshot): The group comes from a line in a Bob Dylan song. The group -- Michael Moore on reeds and melodica, Lindsey Horner on bass, Michael Vatcher on bass -- plays Bob Dylan songs. This is their third album, which still doesn't get them very far through the songbook, although the stuff that a non-Dylan fan like me can recognize is thinning out. That in itself matters little: one thing they've already proven is that Dylan is quite a melodist, even blanking out his legendary lyrics. One I do recognize is "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," even though they turn it into a fantastic improvisatory platform. Bill Frisell joins in on three cuts. Haven't noticed them yet. A-
  • Soweto Kinch: A Life in the Day of B19: Tales of the Tower Block (2006 [2007], Dune): It's just a matter of time before hip-hop seeps into jazz, unless this shotgun wedding spoils the idea forever. Kinch's previous album had a lot of blowing interrupted by a few raps; this is the opposite, with the raps not only predominant but also saddled with the full weight of a narrative concept Prince Paul isn't even ambitious enough to tackle. Moreover, it's so British it doesn't travel well -- like, what are "benefits" that one might worry about losing? And the surfeit of rap is set on grime beats, which seep into the jazz breaks like an oil spill. B-
  • Jason Lindner: Ab Aeterno (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound World Jazz): A piano trio with many twists and turns -- the pianist also plays melodica and mbira, bassist Omer Avital switches to oud, and drummer Luisito Quintero employs all manner of exotic percussion. Still, the piano itself seems fixed in the postbop jazz tradition, a fixed point the constellations whirl around. Closes with a gospel called "New Church" -- a stately, sober finish. B+(***)
  • Charles Mingus Sextet With Eric Dolphy: Cornell 1964 (1964 [2007], Blue Note, 2CD): A cause celebre, a newly discovered tape with what on paper at least looks like one of Mingus's most promising groups: Dannie Richmond on drums, of course; Jaki Byard on piano; Johnny Coles on trumpet; Clifford Jordan on tenor sax; and elevated to near-headliner status, Dolphy on alto sax, flute, and bass clarinet. Dolphy's last year is worth examining under a microscope -- his masterpiece, Out to Lunch, was recorded a month earlier, and he died three months later, barely 36. Mingus was a year beyond one of his own masterpieces, The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady. Ever since the promo arrived, I've been reading rapturous reviews: "his greatest small ensemble"; "most adventurous sextet"; "at the apex of its brief yet astonishing collaboration"; "a relaxed maestro at the height of his imaginative powers"; "it truly needs to be heard to be believed"; "the most talked-about jazz album of the year." Or as Gary Giddins summed up in his liner notes, "It doesn't get much better than this." Actually, it does. The most direct comparison is the same band's Town Hall Concert, recorded 17 days later: much shorter, but it captures the two essential new pieces in fuller flower, with more imposing sound. Then there's the Paris concert two weeks hence, given an official release as Revenge! by Sue Mingus in 1996, fuming over the bootleggers who made the European tour the most intensively documented Mingus group ever. Still, for sheer exuberance and panache, nothing by this sextet rivals Mingus at Antibes (1960) or Mingus at Carnegie Hall (1974). So don't believe the hype. On the other hand, this is about as good as, and somewhat more amusing than, the rival boots, and will at least spare you Sue's wrath. It starts with Byard doing his Art Tatum impression, and ends throwing out "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" and "Jitterbug Waltz"; the serious stuff in the middle includes a long "Fables of Faubus" serving as an introduction to the similarly inspired "Meditations"; and best of all, the first side ends with a rousing "Take the 'A' Train," with a monster bass clarinet solo -- Dolphy established the instrument for jazz, and here you can hear why. B+(**)
  • Nicole Mitchell/Harrison Bankhead/Hamid Drake: Indigo Trio: Live in Montreal (Paperback Series Vol. 3) (2005 [2007], Greenleaf Music): Bankhead and Drake have another trio record out this year, with Fred Anderson. The rough tumbling rhythm is the same. The only difference is sassy young flute in place of wizened but still grizzly tenor sax. Mitchell also adds the chant to "Stand Strong" -- she does. B+(***)
  • Joe Morris/Ken Vandermark/Luther Gray: Rebus (2006 [2007], Clean Feed): Six pieces, each called "Rebus," with no composer credit -- at least that I can find in the weird and, in this case, severely mangled promo packaging -- so I figure this is pure improv, built around a Morris theme. I've tried focusing on the guitarist throughout: his solos sparkle, and he's played enough bass elsewhere in his career that he fills that role when Vandermark takes over -- which is most of the time. Vandermark sticks to tenor sax here -- he plays all sorts of reed instruments in his conceptual contexts, but the tenor sax is his native language, and I can listen to him spin its stories endlessly. Gray helps out on drums. A-
  • Mark Murphy: Love Is What Stays (2007, Verve): The Penguin Guide described Murphy's previous Till Brönner-produced Once to Every Heart as "a slightly strange one-off," but this one's another. Slow, lush, wrapped in strings, almost talked through. Murphy's been recording for fifty years now, during which I've scarcely paid him any attention. Didn't like him when he was hip, but even then he had some tolerable music. The half where he is backed by the Deutsche Symphonie Orchester Berlin is deadening; the other half too, with sensory deprivation replacing the torture. Lee Konitz plays on one track, but I was too bummed out to notice. D
  • David Murray Black Saint Quartet: Sacred Ground (2006 [2007], Justin Time): This record does not mark the return of David Murray to church. The title piece and a closer called "The Prophet of Doom" are based on texts by Ishmael Reed, sung by Cassandra Wilson, with little or no gospel reference. Five pieces in between are instrumentals, Murray originals played by his quartet. Just to single out one of them, "Pierce City" has the most intense, uplifting, overpowering tenor sax solo I've heard in this young century, followed by a piano run that flows from the comping and is good enough to forgive Lafayette Gilchrist's last album. Murray returns on bass clarinet to tone down the next cut. I'm not done with this -- the grade here is a minimum, and could rise. Given that my other favorite record this year is Powerhouse Sound, we could wind up with another Vandermark-Murray pick hit billing. I hate being so predictable, and hope someone else steps up to the plate. But this makes that a tall order. A-
  • William Parker & Hamid Drake: First Communion + Piercing the Veil (2000 [2007], AUM Fidelity, 2CD): Not missing a marketing angle, this is subtitled "Volume 1 Complete," with a new Parker-Drake duo album, Summer Snow, sporting a "Volume 2" note. Volume 1 is what Universal would call a Deluxe Edition or Sony/BMG a Legacy Edition, where the 2001 release of Percing the Veil is now padded out to fill two discs. The padding in this case is a live tape from two days before the studio date. It is the sort of broader context that adds depth to a classic album even when the filler isn't on the same level -- rarely in this case. It pays to focus on Drake here. Parker spend a fair amount of time off-bass -- especially in the studio sessions, where he indulges in exotic wind instruments (bombarde, shakuhachi) and percussion -- but that just gives Drake more variations to respond to. But he's so attentive that he provides a prism for interpreting Parker. And he shows you his whole range, including tabla and frame drum. A-
  • (((Powerhouse Sound))): Oslo/Chicago Breaks (2005-06 [2007], Atavistic, 2CD): I've never been sure what some Ken Vandermark group names really mean -- Territory Band, Free Fall, FME all suggest something more/less different from reality -- but this one couldn't be more literal. Vandermark has a batch of songs, half dedicated to JA stars (Burning Spear, Lee Perry, Coxsonne Dodd, King Tubby), half to others distinguished mostly by hardness (Miles Davis, Bernie Worrell, Hank Shocklee, the Stooges). He took them to Oslo to record with his School Days crew (Ingebrigt Haker Flaten, Paal Nilssen-Love), Lasse Marhaug's electronics, and doubled up on the bass by bringing Nate McBride along -- both bassists play electric. Then he returned to Chicago with McBride and added Jeff Parker on guitar and John Herndon on drums for more/less the same set. Vandermark sticks to tenor sax, and is the sole horn on both, a setup that by now promises powerhouse avant-honk. He's on spot almost as much as with Sound in Action Trio, or for that matter the McBride-driven Triple Play, although there's more going on here -- particularly with Parker. Not done with this yet, but grade is minimal. Could be a Pick Hit. A-
  • Joshua Redman: Back East (2006 [2007], Nonesuch): Before East takes over with two originals and Coltrane's "India" -- the latter a last session with father Dewey -- Redman has some fun with the West, including a rollicking "I'm a Old Cowhand." He earns his right to play soprano sax on three cuts, and his tenor is more robust than any time since he landed that Lester Young role in Altman's Kansas City. A-
  • Logan Richardson: Cerebral Flow (2006, Fresh Sound New Talent): The debut album from a Kansas City alto saxophonist starts accapella, then takes flight over free rhythms strongly accepted by Mike Pinto's vibes. Next up is a wry-toned ballad with Mike Moreno's guitar filling in. Step by step, Richardson works around the edges, showing everything you can do with an alto sax except sit on it. A-
  • Sonic Liberation Front: Change Over Time (2006, High Two): Kevin Diehl's Afro-Cuban percussion continues to amaze, especially when Dan Scofield's avant-rooted sax skips and skids over the complex beats. If this fails to live up to the previous one, Ashé a Go-Go, it's because the two vocal pieces are more mojo than magic. A-
  • Tierney Sutton: On the Other Side (2006 [2007], Telarc): Her pursuit of happiness bags eight songs with "happy" in the title, plus "You Are My Sunshine," "Smile," and "Great Day!" -- more fascinated with the search than the attainment, which she has reservations about anyway. Maybe that explains the odd song out, "Haunted Heart" -- the whole album feels haunted, from its tentative opening exhortation ("Get Happy") to its wistful end. I never thought she had a good album in her, much less a great concept. Last time all she aspired to was to be with the band; this time the band's with her. A-
  • Albert van Veenendaal/Meinrad Kneer/Yonga Sun: Predictable Point of Impact (2006 [2007], Evil Rabbit): Dutch pianist, born 1956, leans avant, likes to work with prepared piano, in a trio with bassist Kneer and drummer Sun. Van Veenendaal's website lists 36 records, some credits pretty marginal; first is a 1981 LP, then a 1986 cassette, then a few side appearances from 1990; first with his name on marquee was a sax-piano duo in 2002. As far as I can tell, AMG only lists one of these records, with his name misspelled. Has one previous trio recod with this group, and two more prepared piano records on this label. I keep saying that I'll know a piano trio I like when I hear it, and this is it. Mostly hard rhythmic stuff, which bass and drums are clearly up for. One slow stretch shows off the prep very nicely, giving the roll a guitar-like sound. Elegant, low budget package, too. A-

The following are the notes for records flushed with the publication of Jazz CG #14:

  • Muiza Adnet: Sings Moacir Santos (2006 [2007], Adventure Music): Another spinoff from Ouro Negro, the project that brought Afro-Brazilian composer Santos some small measure of fame. Santos roughs in some vocals shortly before his death, but producer Mario Adnet is in charge of the delicate arrangements, and his sister Muiza is featured in what strikes me as an overly proper framing. Milton Nascimento and Ivan Lins also appear, as do guitarists Marcos Amorim and Ricardo Silveira. B
  • Don Aliquo: Jazz Folk (2006, Young Warrior): Tenor saxophonist, plays rock solid hard bop, based in Tennessee, but helped out by New Yorkers Clay Jenkins and Rufus Reid here. B
  • Rodrigo Amado/Carlos Zíngaro/Tomas Ulrich/Ken Filiano: Surface: For Alto, Baritone and Strings (2006 [2007], European Echoes): Leader plays both alto and baritone sax, so don't expect much interplay there. Strings are violin/viola, cello, and double bass. The strings can be difficult, both to follow and to stand, but I've gotten used to them and even admire their arch abstraction. I do wish the saxophonist would put out more, which from other records I know he is capable of. B+(*)
  • Anjani: Blue Alert (2006 [2007], Columbia): Young pianist-singer from Hawaii, wrote this batch of songs with Leonard Cohen, who co-produces. Sometimes his cadences come through, and you can imagine his croak too. The songs are slow, the arrangements rough; they seem to old for her -- "I danced with a lot of men/Fought in an ugly war/Gave my heart to a mountain/But I never loved before"; "Every night she'd come to me/I'd cook for her, I'd pour her tea/She was in her thirties then/Had made some money, lived with men" -- but she looks up them and through them. Maybe too young for him, too, but that seems more like luck than a problem. B+(*)
  • The Leonisa Ardizzone Quartet: Afraid of the Heights (2006 [2007], Ardijenn Music): She has an M.Ed. in Science Education, an Ed.D. in International Educational Development with a "doctoral concentration . . . in Peace Education," and a day job as Executive Director of Salvadori Center, which "introduces children to the beauty, wonder and logic of architecture and engineering as a way of helping them to master mathematics, science, arts and the humanities." She also moonlights as a jazz singer, in a duo with guitarist Chris Jennings, here augmented with bass and drums. Standards-oriented, but not ready for cabaret: starts with a scat on "Anthropology," adds new words to "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat," adds a yarn to "Autumn Leaves," deftly navigates one by Jobim, offers a couple of songs by group members, winds up with a wispy "You Go to My Head." Like her voice, phrasing, and wit. The band is never intrusive and the guitar is a plus when I notice it. LP length, short and sweet. B+(***)
  • Lynne Arriale Trio: Live (2005 [2006], In+Out/Motema): Of all the recent piano trios I like -- Anders Aarum, Dave Burrell, Frank Hewitt, Enrico Pieranunzi, John Taylor, I'm probably leaving someone out -- this strikes me as the strongest crossover prospect. Part of this is that she picks standards that are recognizable and easy to hook into: "Iko Iko" and "Come Together" are two pop songs here, with "Bemsha Swing" and "Seven Steps to Heaven" working the jazz tradition the same way. Her originals, at least here, tend to be genre studies -- "Braziliana," "Flamenco." And she plays with them much like you expect jazz to work, tearing the songs down, rearranging them, teasing new melodies offset from the old. Or I should say they: Jay Anderson and Steve Davis have played in this trio for over a decade now, and the tightness pays off. Recorded at a jazz festival in Germany, with a matching DVD for the audio CD. I actually watched -- or mostly listened to -- the DVD for once. One thing I was struck by was how often all three played with eyes closed. B+(***)
  • The Bad Plus: Prog (2006 [2007], Heads Up): The usual mix of covers and originals, or unusual, given that Tears for Fears and Rush mean nothing to me, which makes them more difficult problems than the originals. On the other hand, David Bowie's "Life on Mars" means the world to me, so the climactic rise to its chorus towers above its surroundings like Denali. Still, the best thing here is Reid Anderson's "Giant," and I'm more impressed than ever by drummer Dave King. But I don't have any idea how to fit this into "prog" -- maybe they see it as stunted progress. If so, they're too modest. B+(**)
  • Chet Baker: Chet (Keepnews Collection) (1958-59 [2007], Riverside): The original back cover touts "the lyrical trumpet of CHET BAKER," but the more descriptive term is "slow"; in Baker's day, that also passed for romantic -- even if you're unsure whether the cover girl draped over Baker's shoulder is in love or merely asleep. B+(*)
  • Alvin Batiste: Marsalis Music Honors Alvin Batiste (2006 [2007], Marsalis Music/Rounder): First non-drummer in the series; second New Orleans denizen. I never doubted the good intentions behind this series, but it seemed to me that the first batch (Michael Carvin, Jimmy Cobb) steered them too far into the mainstream to be of much interest. But that doesn't matter with the second batch: the party in New Orleans is meant to be accessible, and Branford Marsalis just works to heat it up even more. Batiste is a clarinetist, born 1937, with just a handful of albums, including one on India Navigation I heard and didn't think much of. This one takes a while to engage, but it seems like each of Edward Perkins' four vocals kicks in a higher gear, so by the end Batiste is soaring. An honor indeed. B+(**)
  • Stefano Battaglia: Re: Pasolini (2005 [2007], ECM, 2CD): That would be Pier Paolo Pasolini (1922-75), best known for but by no means limited to his films. Battaglia is a pianist and composer who pays homage at great length, writing material that would no doubt work as soundtrack. The two discs have different groups with Battaglia the only common player, but cello dominates both, with violin added on the second, trumpet and clarinet on the first. I'm torn here, impressed by the stately, magisterial music, but anxious to move on. B+(*)
  • Andy and the Bey Sisters: 'Round Midnight (1965 [2007], Prestige): Sisters Salome and Geraldine complement brother Andy Bey, producing a tricky mix of harmonies that works sometimes -- the light "Squeeze Me" and the heavy "God Bless the Child" are two for different reasons -- but can also drag and stall, especially 'round the title tune. Andy Bey staged a comeback in the late '90s, leading to this and the 1964 Now Hear bundled together as Andy Bey and the Bey Sisters ([2000], Prestige), priced steeply ($18.98 list; this one lists at $11.98). B
  • The Birdhouse Project: Free Bird (2006 [2007], Dreambox Media): As one of the few who likes Charlie Parker's tunes better than his playing, I should be relatively favorable toward this project. However, I can't much see the point. The group is a trio: Randy Sutin on vibes, Tyrone Brown on bass, Jim Miller on drums. The vibes should be the lead instrument, but actually Brown's bass sets the pace -- an unfamiliar one for Parker. Brown also manages to hold my attention, which doesn't say much for Sutin. Does have some novelty value, and certainly isn't dislikable. Just not much there. B-
  • Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers: Caravan (Keepnews Collection) (1962 [2007], Riverside): One of his greatest bands -- Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Curtis Fuller, Cedar Walton, Reggie Workman -- but a rather sloppy and indifferent set, perhaps thrown off by the ill-fitting title track. Still, Hubbard, who recorded his own Caravan on Impulse, makes a game showing. B
  • Theo Bleckmann/Ben Monder: At Night (2005 [2007], Songlines): Bleckmann may be the most interesting jazz vocalist to appear in the last 10-20 years, at least in the sense that he is doing things no one else has ever done, sounding like no one else has ever sounded. His high-pitched voice can sound fey or winsome, but it's less pleasing without appropriate words. Here he mostly exercises it as instrument, aided and abetted by live electronic processing, Monder's guitar, and Satoshi Takeishi's percussion. Monder gains traction when he goes heavy. Interesting, of course, but that's an odd form of praise, or dismissal. B
  • Boca Do Rio (2007, Vagabundo): Unfair to make fun of these hard-working Brasil wannabes to point out that their rio is the Sacramento; the percussion is pretty sharp, and saxophonist Larry de la Cruz is always welcome, so I guess the problem is the vocals, and not just that Kevin Welch has swallowed way too much US pop harmonizing. C+
  • Stefano Bollani: Piano Solo (2005, [2007], ECM): The label gave this a big push, and it's easy enough to see why. If I'm less enthusiastic, it's for the usual personal reasons: I just have trouble hearing clearly, and therefore concentrating on, the solitary instrument. When I do force myself to tune in, I find this thoughtful, resourceful, shy -- it makes me come to it, unlike the few solo pianists on my A-list: James P. Johnson, Art Tatum, Earl Hines, who else? No easy way to check -- Keith Jarrett's The Köln Concert is one, Jim McNeely's At Maybeck is another, and there are probably a few more, but damn few. B+(**)
  • Luigi Bonafede/Pietro Tonolo: Peace (2005 [2007], ObliqSound): Two Italians: Bonafede plays piano, Tonolo tenor and soprano sax. Tonolo played on the label's Elton John tribute. I know even less about Bonafede -- AMG credits him with a dozen or so albums, including one with Guido Manusardi in 1986 and one with Massimo Urbani in 1994 (Dedications to Albert Ayler and John Coltrane, a good one). An Italian website has more like 40 albums, mostly on Italian labels AMG never notices. Half of the cuts are duos, moderately paced, played with great care and feeling. The other half add guests playing marimba and/or cello, which fit in nicely. B+(**)
  • Anthony Braxton/Joe Fonda: Duets 1995 (1995 [2007], Clean Feed): This is a reissue of 10 Compositions (Duet) 1995, previously issued on Konnex. Braxton plays C melody and alto sax, contrabass and B flat clarinet; Fonda plays double bass. Composition count doesn't quite add up: 8 pieces here, one of which is called "Composition 168-147"; two are covers, one from Cole Porter, the other from Vernon Duke. Elemental free jazz interplay, just Fonda's bass circled by Braxton's saxophones or clarinets; measured, thoughtful, too carefully planned and executed to be pure improv, but rarely what you expected. B+(***)
  • Tad Britton: Black Hills (2006 [2007], Origin): Drummer, from Sturgis SD, now based in Seattle, leading a trio with bassist Jeff Johnson and pianist Marc Seales. One original each by Britton and Johnson. Interesting cover pairing: "Fire & Rain" and "Ring of Fire"; opening sequence is Bill Evans followed by George Duke -- "Time Remembered" is done nicely. B
  • Brian Bromberg: Downright Upright (2006 [2007], Artistry): After a career of hacking out pop-funk, Bromberg's new pleasure in the upright acoustic bass is heartening. This starts off with a suggestion that it might be possible to work a funk groove into something of jazz interest, but settles into routine as it goes along. Not sure whether to blame this on Bromberg's circle of friends: Rick Braun, Kirk Whallum, and Boney James play with more vigor and range than they'd ever risk on their own albums. A more likely clue to the slide is that the first three pieces were written by Herbie Hancock, Joe Zawinul, and Les McCann, whereas the rest were written by Bromberg. B
  • Peter Brötzmann Group: Alarm (1981 [2006], Atavistic): A radio shot from an exceptional nine-piece band of troublemakers, cut short by a bomb threat. The two-part title piece is punctuated by siren blasts, clipped down so firmly they hardly rise above the saxophones (Brötzmann, Willem Breuker, Frank Wright) and brass (Toshinori Kondo, Hannes Bauer, Alan Tomlinson). While the noise level is about average -- i.e., a couple notches below Machine Gun -- the rhythm section stands out: South Africans Harry Miller and Louis Moholo keep it all moving, while Alexander Von Schlippenbach's piano crashes against the waves. Wright sings a bit at the end, giving the whole thing a revival flair. B+(***)
  • Marc Broussard: S.O.S.: Save Our Soul (2007, Vanguard): Peace, love, and chicken grease -- the signature of a Louisiana man with Cajun credentials as he dives head first into vintage soul -- "Inner City Blues," "I've Been Loving You Too Long," "Respect Yourself," "Love and Happiness," "Yes We Can Can," "You Met Your Match"; overly familiar, marginally distinguished, monumental. I like the closing ballad, "Come In From the Storm," the one original here. B+(*)
  • New Wonderland: The Best of Jeri Brown (1991-2006 [2007], Justin Time): Canadian jazz singer, with nine solid albums providing plenty of choice material, but it's the players who shine -- especially Kirk Lightsey on "Orange Colored Sky" and David Murray on "Joy." On the other hand, they gamble with four previously unreleased cuts, which are anything but choice. B
  • Dave Brubeck: Indian Summer (2007, Telarc): Solo piano, again, even slower than Previn, and far less idiosyncratic than the work that made him famous. Still, I'm more sympathetic, although it could just be sympathy. Recorded in March, at age 86. Hank Jones is a couple of years older, but their seniority shows just how completely the pre-1945 jazz generation has passed from the scene. B+(*)
  • Bruford: Rock Goes to College (1979 [2007], Winterfold): An Oxford concert, broadcast by the BBC, two albums into prog-rock's premier drummer's solo career, still pretending his last name was a group, not quite ready to call the music made of Allan Holdsworth's guitar and Dave Stewart's keybs fusion, let alone the jazz that got there first. Added attraction: two Annette Peacock vocals, but little more than perfunctory. B
  • Donald Byrd: The Cat Walk (1961 [2007], Blue Note): Versatile, prolific trumpet player, leading a group with baritone saxophonist Pepper Adams and pianist Duke Pearson that would just as soon boogie as bebop; Byrd goes both ways, indecisively, to mixed effect. B
  • Joey Calderazzo: Amanecer (2006 [2007], Marsalis Music/Rounder): Mostly solo piano, with Romero Lobambo's guitar creeping into the background on three songs, Claudia Acuña vocals on two of those plus one more. The solo material is appealing, no doubt because I detect traces of stride in the originals, but also because "Waltz for Debby" is so surefire. Acuña's contribution is arch and dreary, while Lubambo is so supple you barely notice him. B
  • Michel Camilo: Spirit of the Moment (2006 [2007], Telarc): Dominican pianist, although even with Puerto Rican Charles Flores on bass and Cuban Dafnis Prieto on drums, this hardly counts as Latin jazz. The covers draw on the Miles Davis songbook, including Coltrane and Shorter, and the originals fit in. A skillful group, and an appealing piano trio record. B+(**)
  • James Carney Group: Green-Wood (2006 [2007], Songlines): Pianist, originally from Syracuse NY; studied in Los Angeles, where he was based until moving to NYC in 2004. Fourth album, widely spaced since 1994, and little side work, suggesting he sees himself primarily as a composer. Wrote or co-wrote everything here, including two pieces commissioned for the Syracuse International Film Festival. I'd never run across him before, but I recognize and have been impressed by everyone in his septet. The four horns -- Peter Epstein and Tony Malaby on reeds, Ralph Alessi and Josh Roseman on brass -- are especially formidable, but they also strike me as too much. But there are strong stretches here, and sterling individual play, not least from the pianist. B+(*)
  • Amanda Carr: Soon (2007, OMS): Singer, from Boston, second album; standards, like the Gershwins' title tune, "Flamingo," "Squeeze Me," "Good Bait," obligatory sambas (from Jorge Ben as well as the usual Jobim). Website says she currently stars in "A Tribute to Peggy Lee and Benny Goodman"; also says she "frequently is the featured vocalist with The Artie Shaw Orchestra, Harry James Band and has appeared with the Glenn Miller Band, too." Don't know how old she is, but Miller died in 1945, Shaw quit cold in 1954; James held on at least into the 1960s and died in 1983. The oldest date I find on her website is 1998, so it's tempting to say that she only sang with those bands in her dreams. But they do follow her dreams, and had she sang with those bands she would have done fine. I also like Arnie Krakowsky's sax appeal. B+(**)
  • Daniel Carter & Matt Lavelle: Live at Tower Records (2006, Tubman Atnimara): A CDR, part of a series of items Lavelle sent me for background. Just a duo, eight pieces, both musicians moving from instrument to instrument: Carter plays tenor sax, alto sax, clarinet, piano, flute; Lavelle plays piano, pocket trumpet, bass clarinet, flugelhorn, trumpet. By far the most interesting is Lavelle's bass clarinet, but overall not a lot of chemistry or action. B-
  • Ron Carter: Dear Miles, (2006 [2007], Blue Note): Well, he's got a right, and he's still commanding with his bass. The group is a quartet -- actually, a piano trio plus percussion. The pianist is Stephen Scott, a good fit. The songbook is mostly associated with Miles Davis, but only "Seven Steps to Heaven" has even a co-credit to Davis. Two pieces are by Carter, who's also associated with Davis. B+(**)
  • André Ceccarelli: Golden Land (2006 [2007], CAM Jazz): Drummer, from Nice in the south of France, been around since the mid-'70s, working with Jean-Luc Ponty, Didier Lockwood, Michel Legrand, Birelli Lagrene, Martial Solal, Michel Portal, Stephane Grappelli, Eddy Louiss, Dee Dee Bridgewater -- a few names further afield, like Aretha Franklin. Has several albums under his own name, going back to 1977. This one is a pan-European quartet, with Enrico Pieranunzi on piano, Hein van de Geyn on bass, and David El-Malek on saxophone. Pieranunzi has an especially good outing here, both on fast and slow pieces, but El-Malek is also a discovery. His sax has a deep, rich tone, and he plays with great ease. Born in France, has several albums I haven't heard, with side interests in Jewish folk music and electronics. Together they make impressive, slightly mainstream postbop, but two cuts add a singer I don't find the least bit appealing. Her name is Elisabeth Kontomanou, also born in France, of Greek and African heritage. I can imagine her as the sort who can be mesmerizing in a smoky bar, but here she slows the album down and takes the air out. B
  • Bill Charlap Trio: Live at the Village Vanguard (2003 [2007], Blue Note): Recorded September 2003; not sure why it's coming out now, but the promo package seemed to be pushing the Village Vanguard more than Charlap and Washingtons Peter and Kenny. The latter are the best mainstream rhythm section in the business -- Charlap is lucky to have them, but not undeserving. This adds little of great import, but "The Lady Is a Tramp" stands out. B+(**)
  • Don Cherry: Live at Cafe Montmartre 1966 (1966 [2007], ESP-Disk): One annoying thing here is that the booklet doesn't provide the actual date of the performance, and I can't find any secondary sources (like a gigography or even a detailed sessionography) that help narrow it down. The Cherry discographies don't even get down to the song level, but it does appear that this is a different recording from the ones released by Magnetic in two volumes as Live at "Café Montmartre", although all three discs include Bo Stief on bass. Cherry appeared in Copenhagen a number of times in 1966, early on with Jean-François Jenny Clark on bass, then on March 31 with Stief on a 69-minute radio broadcast, which also doesn't match this song list. Musically this may not matter, but part of the reason behind issuing rare historical recordings is to provide the history. This has a non-trivial booklet, so the omission is glaring. The group is a quintet with Cherry on trumpet, Gato Barbieri on tenor sax, Karl Berger on vibes, Stief on bass, and Aldo Romano on drums. The play is red hot, on the cusp of breaking into chaos, and the sound is tuned to rattle your cage. The centerpiece is a 13:20 "Complete Communion," followed by something called "Free Improvisation Music Now" which most likely just combusted on the spot. I have mixed feelings: as a document, the main thing this shows is how ragged they were willing to run to pump up the excitement; still, there are spots where it works, Cherry much more than Barbieri, but the real revelation here is Berger, whose vibes provide a shimmering undertow. B+(*)
  • Frankie Cicala: Frankie Plays! (2006, 3B's): Guitarist, says he was in the Marines in the '70s when George Benson inspired him. Did a couple of albums in the '90s as Frankie and the Burn. This is the first under his own name. Pop groove thing, has much of Benson's tone, doesn't sing (a plus), wrote most of the songs. B-
  • Circus (2006, ICP): Dutch avant-garde group, with four more/less well known names -- Han Bennink, Ab Baars, Misha Mengelberg, Tristan Honsinger -- and vocalist Alessandra Patrucco. The fractured music is often interesting, but not enough to carry the fractured vocalizing -- at times shrill, often just thin. B
  • Nels Cline/Wally Shoup/Chris Corsano: Immolation/Immersion (2005, Strange Attractors). Starts out sounding absolutely hideous, and periodically returns to that state. The noisemakers are electric guitar, alto sax, and drums. Each can be interesting when not flailing insanely against the other, and there are some quieter moments when they're merely edgy. Moreover, not all of the noise bursts are unlistenable. But most are. For what it's worth, Cline is the biggest offender. C+
  • Nels Cline: New Monastery: A View Into the Music of Andrew Hill (2006, Cryptogramophone): This takes Hill's compositions and substitutes Cline's guitar for Hill's piano, giving them a steely resonance and more of a rock kick -- which pays off especially well on the closing "Compulsion." But Hill himself rarely wrote just for piano, so Cline augments his usual trio -- Devin Hoff on bass, Scott Amendola on drums -- with cornet (Bobby Bradford), clarinet (Ben Goldberg), and accordion (Andrea Parkins). Each of these have their moments when you think it's all coming together, but overall this is a mixed bag, interesting ideas that are hard to sort out. B+(**)
  • Club D'Elf: Perhapsody: Live 10.12.06 (2006 [2007], Kufala, 2CD): The paper insert where you might expect a booklet merely explains the "biodegradable/no plastic/no chemicals/no toxins" packaging -- not that you'll really be in much hurry to throw this away. The diversity shown on their one studio album, Now I Understand, was the result of networking and taking eight years to record the thing. On any given night, they're likely to be much more specialized. On this one the absence of Ibrahim Frigane means no Middle Eastern charms, and the presence of John Medeski means lots of boogie groove. Indeed, it all sort of flows together. Only by the end does one start wondering why Medeski can't keep his own group motoring so effortlessly. Most likely, the answer is bassist and clubmaster, Mike Rivard. B+(**)
  • John Coltrane: Stardust (1958 [2007], Prestige): Two sessions toward the end of Coltrane's tenure with Prestige, each yielding two stretched out nice-and-easy standards, with Wilbur Harden on the first set, and 20-year-old Freddie Hubbard on the second; the sense of accomplishment is earned, but nothing here suggests the giant steps to come. B+(*)
  • John Coltrane: Fearless Leader (1957-58 [2006], Prestige, 6CD): Trane's claim to genius conventionally starts with his aptly named 1959 Atlantic debut, Giant Steps, and extends through his universally acclaimed 1964 Impulse! masterpiece, A Love Supreme, or possibly up to his death in 1967, depending on how far out you're willing to go. In the early '50s Coltrane tended to be written off as a Dexter Gordon wannabe, but in 1956 he made a series of appearances that could eventually be seen as prophetic: playing in the Miles Davis Quintet, the Thelonious Monk Quartet, and sparring with Sonny Rollins on Tenor Madness. Between '56 and '59, Coltrane recorded massive amounts for Prestige -- the sessions were eventually collected in a 16-CD box, which by all accounts is a minimally interesting hodgepodge of leader and side sets. It's easy enough to blame Prestige: they may be viewed as a major independent label of the era, but at the time they specialized in quick and dirty: just round up a few guys and reel off some standards, often holding them on the shelf and raiding them after the artist had gone on to greener pastures -- Coltrane's 1957-58 records kept appearing through 1965. Coleman Hawkins and Sonny Rollins managed to record great albums on Prestige anyway, but Coltrane didn't join them until later, when he figured out modal improvisation, found his distinctive eternal search sound, and felt the full brunt of the avant-garde. Searching his Prestige records for that post-1959 development is unrewarding, the big box de trop and the individual titles too slight. But this far more selective box, packing 11 LPs into 6 CDs, gives us a chance at last to savor his post-1956 plateau: at this point he's still a straight shooter, with fast and assured bebop riffing and an authoritative voice for blues and ballads. He still can't tear a standard apart like Hawkins or Rollins, but he's just a tier down. And frequent collaborator Red Garland gives him steadying support. Another big plus is the booklet, especially the indexes by session and album -- as useful as any box booklet I've seen. A-
  • Harry Connick Jr.: Chanson du Vieux Carré (2003 [2007], Marsalis Music/Rounder): Connick did the arrangements, but handed the two vocals off to Rodney Jones and Lucien Barbarin. The songs are mostly trad New Orleans fare, with a couple of Connick originals added to Armstrong, Bechet, Barbarin, Pollack, and a close from Henry Roeland Byrd, Dr. Professor Longhair to you. But the arrangements are postmodern: you don't feel the polyphony, nor the swing that arrived later and took over. Instead, they're projected into some other realm, where they find new life. B+(**)
  • Harry Connick Jr.: Oh, My Nola (2006 [2007], Columbia): Careful study of the booklet leads me to use initial caps on "Nola" rather than treat it as an acronym, even though New Orleans LA is the admitted reference. Of course, it could be argued differently, given that the booklet doesn't capitalize anything. I must admit that I'm getting tired of New Orleans tributes, but if this isn't the best record I've heard from Connick, the other one just edges it out. The theme gives him great material to work with, and he doesn't just sit on it. The Allen Toussaint songs come close enough to risk comparison, but pieces by Chris Kenner and Dave Bartholomew are uncovered gems, his "Jambalaya" breaks into joyous swing, and his nods to Armstrong and Prima leave plenty of elbow room. Three originals hang in there, as do three songs by trad. B+(***)
  • Introducing Kenny Cox and the Contemporary Jazz Quintet (1968-69 [2007], Blue Note): A no-name hard bop crew from Detroit, cut two albums sandwiched together on one disc here, then mostly vanished -- a couple showed up on an MC5 record, and hung out with Phil Ranelin's Tribe, and much later Cox appeared on James Carter's Live at Baker's Keyboard Lounge; actually, they're sharp and lively, especially trumpeter Charles Moore. B+(***)
  • Todd Dameron/John Coltrane: Mating Call (1956 [2007], Prestige): In retrospect, as the only horn working with a set of Dameron's songs, Coltrane makes an especially strong show of his early, Dexter Gordon-influenced style, exhibiting a rough hewn muscularity that gets the best of Dameron's usually refined taste. B+(**)
  • Steamin' With the Miles Davis Quintet (1956 [2007], Prestige): The fourth LP carved from the two sessions that marked Davis's move from indie Prestige to major Columbia, a kiss-off of quickly recorded standards that in retrospect were recognized as his first great Quintet, with John Coltrane, Red Garland, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones emerging; a random mix of songs, each standing out on its own. A-
  • Dick De Graaf Quartet: Moving Target (2006 [2007], Soundroots): Dutch saxphonist, tenor plus a bit of soprano, in a piano-bass-drums quartet. De Graaf has been recording under his own name since 1986, and lately is listed as leader in two groups: Trio Nuevo, whose Jazz Meets Tango is in my que, and Istanbul Connection, which isn't. Website brags about his "hip big tone" and gives a lot of play to him being selected to replace the late Bob Berg, and that pigeonholes him pretty well. Straight Hawkins-style on tenor, works around the melodies, loves how the sax sounds, group swings. B+(**)
  • Hamilton de Holanda: Íntimo (2006 [2007], Adventure Music): Solo 10-string mandolin, by a Brazilian mixing originals with Jobim and other standards; he doesn't stretch out or break new groups, just delivers on the honorably modest title. B+(*)
  • Ron di Salvio: Essence of Green: A Tribute to Kind of Blue (2005 [2007], Origin): Jazz pianist, from New York, lives and teaches in Kalamazoo, author of a book called The Marriage of Major and Minor, the Synthesis of Classical and Jazz Harmony. The booklet has some interesting theory about how this relates to the Miles Davis classic, but I'm just reacting to what I hear. Group is a septet, with Derrick Gardner's trumpet fronting three saxophones, and original band member Jimmy Cobb on drums. That affords a lot of harmonic options, a combination I find unappealing. Some pieces add a quartet of voices, arranged for vocalese. Some of this sails along marvelously, but too many things turn me off. B-
  • Bruce Eisenbeil Sextet: Inner Constellation: Volume One (2004 [2007], Nemu): Another guitar record just below my line, this one well to the avant side of the spectrum. The bulk is in the 47:28 title track, a multi-movement mass improv thing with violin, trumpet, alto sax, bass and drums conflicting with the leader's electric guitar. It works about as well as those things do, but not much better. The tail end offers three short pieces where the guitar is clearer. No idea about a Volume Two. B+(**)
  • Kelly Eisenhour: Seek and Find (2007, BluJazz): Jazz singer, originally from Tucson, graduated from Berklee, currently based in Salt Lake City, teaching at Brigham Young -- has an entry at "Famous Mormons in Music," along with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Osmonds, the Killers, Warren Zevon, and Arthur "Killer" Kane. Third album. Terrific voice, clear, sharp, arresting. Wrote the title cut and some vocalese lyrics, but mostly takes standards and gives them distinctive readings. Bob Mintzer gets a "featuring" on the cover, and repays it with tasty sax accompaniment. B+(*)
  • Eldar: Re-Imagination (2006 [2007], Masterworks Jazz): Eldar Djangirov, from Bishkek in Kyrghyzstan (his parents are ethnic Russians, father a mechanical engineer, mother a music teacher), emerged a couple of years ago as one of a bunch of teenaged piano prodigies. Born 1987, still a teenager on this his third album, he has the usual classical education and the usual tendencies to show off. On the other hand, anyone who can speed up Oscar Peterson is entitled to flaunt it a bit, and he is beginning to develop a distinctive style on electric keybs, especially when aided by DJ Logic. B+(*)
  • Liberty Ellman: Ophiuchus Butterfly (2005 [2006], Pi): English guitarist, hangs in avant circles in downtown New York. Leads a six piece group here, often just directing traffic between the three horns -- Steve Lehman on alto sax, Mark Shim on tenor sax, and Jose Davila on tuba -- which is all the trickier because the rhythms are so hacked up: "body-moving" is what he aims for, but that doesn't seem to mean all the body moving in the same direction. Don't think it quite comes together, but there's no shortage of interesting ideas here. B+(**)
  • Robin Eubanks + EB3: Live Vol. 1 (2006 [2007], RKM): The basic architecture is trombone-keyboards-drums, but all three players are credited with keyboard bass, and Eubanks provides extra loops and beats. The electronics set the whole thing in motion -- a more technologically advanced take on the old organ trio formula. In that context, a trombone lead just adds to the novelty, and fun. Comes with a DVD, thus far unseen. B+(**)
  • Bill Evans: Everybody Digs Bill Evans (Keepnews Collection) (1958 [2007], Riverside): Second album, with plugs on cover from Miles Davis, George Shearing, Ahmad Jamal, and Cannonball Adderley, names that carried even more weight then than they do now. I dig the upbeat stuff and respect but never quite warmed to the quiet meandering, extended on the bonus cut. B+(***)
  • Booker Ervin: The Freedom Book (1963 [2007], Prestige): Short-lived Texas tenor, seems like most of his titles were plays on "Book" -- this followed The Song Book and The Blues Book; this doesn't qualify as free jazz, but it does open up and range beyond hard bop, with Jaki Byard's piano challenging the sax. A-
  • Eye Contact: War Rug (2006 [2007], KMB Jazz): Musician credits in booklet are: "Cuica-Wind," "The Cuica-Earth," "Lone Wolf-Tree." Elsewhere they've been identified as Matt Lavelle (trumpet, bass clarinet), Matthew Heyner (bass), Ryan Sawyer (drums). Looks like there have been two previous Eye Contact albums, on Utech. Seems understated compared to the other Lavelle records, which may be a help but allows for some dull spots. B+(*)
  • Art Farmer: Farmer's Market (1956 [2007], Prestige): Bright, joyful hard bop from a rhythm section that includes Kenny Drew and Elvin Jones, but Farmer on trumpet and Hank Mobley on tenor sax don't mesh all that well, nor does either threaten to run off with the record. B
  • Michael Fein: Four Flights Up (2005 [2006], Dreambox Media): Tenor saxophonist, from and/or in Philadelphia, first album, in a six piece group with alto sax, trumpet, vibes, bass, drums, but no piano or guitar. Mostly originals, but the two covers are the most interesting things here: an elegant "Bye Bye Blackbird" and a solo "Days of Wine and Roses" that shows off Fein's attractive tone. The three-horn front line doesn't do much of interest, but vibraphonist Behn Gillece has some nice moments. B
  • The Essential Maynard Ferguson (1954-96 [2007], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): Trumpeter, from Quebec, made his rep in Stan Kenton's band for his piercing high notes, enjoyed a long run as a popular bandleader; the '50s sides tend to dissolve into white light, the '60s and '70s add schmaltz and fad -- "Maria" and "MacArthur Park" are the worst, at least until he discovers disco; "Caravan" and "Manteca," from his endgame on Concord, aren't bad. B-
  • Sonny Fortune: You and the Night and the Music (2007, 18th & Vine): The veteran alto saxophonist sounds great, making giant swipes at familiar songs, with pianist George Cables and rhythm inclined to swing madly. Still, it may be that by making it look so easy they undercut our sense of their accomplishment. Or maybe it just is too easy. B+(*)
  • Frank Foster: Manhattan Fever (1968-69 [2007], Blue Note): The 6- and 7-piece groups here sound larger than that -- Foster's apprenticeship with Count Basie skilled him at sharpening the edges of the arrangements, and he never wastes an instrument, typically riffing against sharp blasts of brass, then parting the waters for a deft solo with a bit of piano; Duke Pearson produced, and must have pushed him hard. A-
  • Bud Freeman: Chicago/Austin High School Jazz in Hi-Fi (1957 [2006], Mosaic): Small world, that so many of Chicago's trad jazz greats came out of the same high school, but the lineup here is actually broader, with Jack Teagarden among the ringers. Freeman was an easy swinging tenor saxophonist, emerging in the late '20s as a prototype for the lighter, looser Lester Young sound, and lasting into the '80s. The three sessions collected here didn't have to look too far back to find the camaraderie, the freshness, and the excitement the Austin High Gang grew up with. An early entry in a promising series of "limited edition" -- 5000 copies, big deal -- single-disc reissues: a record I've known about but couldn't find for a long time now. A-
  • Satoko Fujii Min-Yoh Ensemble: Fujin Raijin (2006 [2007], Victo): Her folk music group -- that's how Min-Yoh translates. Two trad pieces, plus originals. Quartet with Curtis Hasselbring's trombone complementing Natsuki Tamura's trumpet, with Andrea Parkins' accordion matched up against Fujii's piano. No drum, no bass, not much groove. Starts slow, gets loud. At one point someone -- Fujii, presumably -- sings. Another aspect to an amazingly varied oeuvre. B+(**)
  • Joel Futterman/Alvin Fielder/Ike Levin Trio: Live at the Blue Monk (2006, Charles Lester Music): Little to distinguish this one from their previous, Resolving Doors, an honorable mention a while back. Futterman is a pianist of the Cecil Taylor school while Levin follows up on the new thing saxophonists of the '60s, and Alvin Fielder recalls Rashied Ali. In other words, these guys are old school avant-gardists, unafraid of a little noise, the challenge of winging it, or occasionally fucking up. Futterman plays a little soprano sax as well, which complements where his piano clashes. Levin's most interesting parts are when he switches to bass clarinet. B+(**)
  • Rob Garcia's Sangha: Heart's Fire (2005 [2007], Connection Works): Drummer, based in New York (I think), plays Latin, mainstream, free, dixieland, whatever. This one leans Latin, and I'm impressed as long as I focus on the drummer. But I'm more dubious about all the flute and soprano sax, and simply don't care for the singer, who moves this into unappealing prog territory. B-
  • Red Garland: Soul Junction (1957 [2007], Prestige): The pianist manages to sound bluesy and soulful on his own, taking "I've Got It Bad" slow enough to make the point. The horns work best when they stay in character, as on the long title piece, with both Donald Byrd and John Coltrane contributing blues-tinged solos. When they get out front, as on "Woody'n You" and "Birks' Works," the pace quickens and the piano struggles a bit to keep up. B+(**)
  • Stephen Gauci Trio: Substratum (2006 [2007], CIMP): Tenor saxophonist, from New York, plays avant, in a trio with Michael Bisio and Jay Rosen -- same group as Bisio's Circle This minus Avram Fefer, but working on Gauci's material rather than Bisio's. Seems like an interesting player, but the record is often inaudible over the ambient hum of my antiquated computers -- he can play hot, feverish runs, but also favors quiet stretches that can be annoying when they drop below my hearing threshold for any appreciable spell. CIMP does this on purpose: they want to create a perfect live sound with a full range of dynamics, but to get the full benefit you have to own the sort of high-end audiophile gear they also hawk, have a perfect room, and sit properly in front of the speakers, volume cranked up, ears cocked for minute details. I don't live like that, which doesn't kill all CIMP records for me, but hurts in cases like this. I like what I can hear, and would like to hear more. B
  • Lafayette Gilchrist: Three (2007, Hyena): Acoustic piano trio, a fairly conservative form, but played with such regular rhythm you'd think they're after a groove record. To show they can do it? That's a rather odd form of artistic ambition. B
  • Gold Sparkle Trio With Ken Vandermark: Brooklyn Cantos (2002 [2004], Squealer). Gold Sparkle is Andrew Barker (drums), Adam Roberts (bass), and Charles Waters (reeds, mostly alto sax with some clarinet), with Barker and Waters splitting the writing chores. The addition of Vandermark here adds a second set of reeds (tenor sax, clarinet, bass clarinet) -- I'm reminded of an old gum jingle that goes, "double your pleasure, double your fun." Free shenanigans open, but the record closes with a straight and lovely ballad ("Autumn Ever") and a New Orleans-style party romp ("Carpet Quarterbagger"). B+(***)
  • The Essential Benny Goodman (1934-46 [2007], Columbia/Bluebird/Legacy, 2CD): The Sony-BMG merger unites most of Goodman's discography, especially from his peak popularity period; this carves the bounty up into evenly balanced slices: live performances, and studio recordings featuring arrangers, singers, and small groups; they provide a useful introduction to the King of Swing in his prime, but if anything slight his still remarkable clarinet. A-
  • Dexter Gordon: Clubhouse (1965 [2007], Blue Note): The end of Gordon's Blue Note period, this sat on the shelves until 1979. Quintet session, with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Barry Harris on piano, Billy Higgins on drums, and Bob Cranshaw on bass -- replaced by Ben Tucker for his own piece, "Devilette." Hubbard makes a splash early on, and takes a striking solo on the ballad "I'm a Fool to Want You." Gordon is even better on the slow stuff, reminding you that he's one of the instrument's great stylists. The more upbeat pieces are merely typical. B+(***)
  • Darrell Grant: Truth and Reconciliation (2005 [2007], Origin, 2CD): Title from a Nelson Mandela quote: "Truth is the road to reconciliation." Grant is a pianist, also employing Fender Rhodes. Born Philadelphia, grew up in Denver, studied in Rochester and Miami, worked in New York, finally moved to Portland in 1997, where he teaches. Six albums since 1993, starting with two on mainstream Criss Cross; couple dozen side credits, including Greg Osby, Craig Harris, Tom Harrell, and Don Braden; early on worked with Betty Carter and Tony Williams, but evidently not on record. I don't get a strong sense of Grant's piano here. Rather, we have a long series of sly pieces, some songs with lyrics, Grant vocals, and more/less political themes. Bill Frisell and Adam Rogers play guitar, which tends to add silky shades to piano; Joe Locke adds some vibes, to similar effect. Steve Wilson's saxophones provide the only horns. They're unspecified, but soprano and alto would be his norm. John Patitucci plays bass; Brian Blade drums -- so it's possible that the leader is the least widely known player here (certainly he is to me). Two pieces provide settings for speech excerpts from Nelson Mandela, John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, working quite nicely. B+(*)
  • Maria Guida: Soul Eyes (2007, Larknote): Singer. Studied with Jay Clayton, who is credited with arrangements here, and Sheila Jordan, who praises Guida on the cover. Don't know how old she is, but she drops hints like "I've known bassist Dean Johnson for 20 years" and "the turning point of her professional life occurred when she saw pianist Bill Evans play live." First album, pop and jazz standards, with some vocalese bridging them. Scott Yanow describes her as "a very appealing singer with a warm voice and the ability to express the hidden beauty found in superior lyrics." Actually, she's much better than that: able to hold your attention on a dull ballad, deftly navigate the treacherous "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing," and surefooted when she speeds up "Let's Get Lost" and "Four" -- two choice cuts here. B+(**)
  • David Haney & Julian Priester: Ota Benga of the Batwa (2006 [2007], CIMP): Piano-trombone duet, the second match for Haney and Priester. Haney is a pianist, born 1955 Fresno CA, grew up in Calgary, studied in Portland OR; has several records since 2001, but this is the first I've heard. Priester is better known, in his 70s now, with a career that straddles avant and mainstream. Duos are an avant staple, a chance for two players to feel each other out with a minimum of preconditions and distractions. They demand such close listening that I often have trouble with them. This, at least, is a good mix of instruments, and Haney adjusts well to the limits of the trombone. The dedication is to Ota Benga (1884-1916), a Batwa pygmy exhibited at the 1906 St. Louis World's Fair. He wound up working at the Bronx Zoo, at first ending to the animals until crowd interest inspired the management to make an exhibit of him. After protests, he was sacked, sent away, and finally committed suicide, hoping to return his spirit to Africa. B+(*)
  • The Jon Hemmersam/Don Minasi Quartet (2006 [2007], CDM): Two guitarist above the line; the other two are bassist Ken Filiano and drummer Kresten Osgood. Hemmersam comes from Denmark, plays Spanish guitar and electric; he has a previous album called Abakvarian, another record with Michael Jefry Stevens and Karen Valeur as the Jazzic Trio, and some other credits I don't quite understand (e.g., "Fusion Energy is a musicschool band leaded by Jon"). Minasi is from Queens, had a brief fling on Blue Note in the 1970s, reappeared with an album in 1999, and has been recording himself steadily ever since. I tend to think of him as a Joe Pass-type who somehow fell into an avant-garde crowd. He plays 12-string here, adding to a density that is all but definitive when they pick up the pace. The Spanish stuff is more ornate and less satisfying. Filiano is a plus, as usual. B+(*)
  • Tom Harrell: Light On (2006 [2007], High Note): A somewhat slick but fairly conventional postbop quintet, with Danny Grissett playing Fender Rhodes as much as acoustic piano, and Wayne Escoffery's tenor sax matching up against Harrell's trumpet and flugelhorn. Each player has his moments, but in the end they don't add up to critical mass. B+(*)
  • Joel Harrison: Harbor (2006-07 [2007], High Note): Most jazz musicians these days describe themselves as x-composer, where "x" is their main instrument. I usually leave the composer tag off here because it seems like such a cliché, but I'll mention it here because Harrison is more composer than guitarist. That's not a hard call. His bread and butter appears to be soundtracks, which may be why this album runs toward long set pieces -- groove things and mood things with a slightly metallic taste. But also he employs guitarist Nguyên Lê on 6 of 8 cuts. I don't know either well enough to sort them out, but if I tried it'd probably be on the basis that Lê has a Jimi Hendrix tribute on his resume where Harrison's tribute is to George Harrison. I've heard both and don't care much for either. I'm not all that interested in this one either, but I'm impressed by its dense complexity and get a charge out of Dave Binney's alto sax, even though it's mostly layering. B+(*)
  • Roy Haynes/Phineas Newborn/Paul Chambers: We Three (1958 [2007], Prestige/New Jazz): Bop piano trio with a nice, evenly balanced feel, with drummer Haynes and bassist Chambers holding their own despite the fact that Newborn was one of the slickest, most voluble young pianists working then; presumably Haynes got top billing as the oldest; fifty years of steady work eventually made him the most famous. B+(***)
  • Jimmy Heath: Really Big! (Keepnews Collection) (1960 [2007], Riverside): When Blue Note launched their RVG Editions they at least promised a sonic face lift by handing the reissues back to original sound engineer Rudy Van Gelder. The series was successful enough that Van Gelder cut a deal with Concord too. It's less obvious what the Keepnews Collection offers. Orrin Keepnews was producer and co-owner of a series of important labels: Riverside and Milestone in Concord's portfolio, Landmark in limbo. He's credited as producer here, but the 24-bit sound has been remastered by Joe Tarantino -- Keepnews' main contribution is to revisit his liner notes. Still, list price is the same as the previous Original Jazz Classics series, and occasional bonus tracks -- one here, an alternate take of "Nails" -- don't hurt. The choice of records within the Riveside and Milestone catalogs thus far seem completely arbitrary. Still, this one is an overlooked gem: a ten-piece band with Clark Terry, two Adderleys, three Heaths, and plenty of low-pitched horns to flesh out the acrobatics. A-
  • Helena: Bang! Dillinger Girl and "Baby Face" Nelson (2006 [2007], Sunnyside): The pictures are more suggestive of Bonnie and Clyde, but bank robbers in America are as interchangeable, not to mention boring, as anyone else. Dillinger Girl is Helena Noguerra, who has two previous albums of French pop under her first name. Baby Face Nelson is Federico Pellegrini, who had something to do with a group called Little Rabbits, and who has more recently styled himself as French Cowboy. This album was cut in Tucson with little if any French accent. I don't really know what to make of it. B
  • Todd Herbert: The Path to Infinity (1999-2003 [2007], Metropolitan): Tenor saxophonist, originally from Chicago area, moved to New York in 1997. Has played with Charles Earland, Freddie Hubbard, and Tom Harrell, although AMG doesn't give him any credits. Six cuts date from a 1999 session with George Colligan on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass, and Darrin Becket on drums, showing a straight shooter with some fire -- reminds me of Eric Alexander speeding. The odd cut out came later with David Hazeltine on piano, John Webber on bass, and Joe Farnsworth on drums. The rhythm there is more slippery and the sax less straight, more Prez than Hawk. Might be fruitful to follow up in that direction. B+(*)
  • Andrew Hill: Compulsion (1965 [2007], Blue Note): Despite the horn firepower -- Sun Ra's John Gilmore smoldering on tenor sax and bass clarinet, Freddie Hubbard firing away on trumpet -- Hill's piano has rarely loomed larger or more critically. He stamps out dense chords and skitters off with abstract fills, his rhythmic eccentricity prodding Cecil McBee and/or Richard Davis on bass, Joe Chambers on drums, with an extra layer of Afro-exotica from Nadi Qamar and Renaud Simmons. A-
  • Andrew Hill: Change (1966 [2007], Blue Note): The fine print notes that this, minus two alternate takes, was originally issued under Sam Rivers' name as half of the 1976 2-LP Involution. That it should now revert to Hill's catalogue reflects the changing fortunes of the principals. Hill was a pet project of Francis Wolf in the '60s, but much recorded then went unreleased at the time, including this quartet with Rivers. From the late '90s, Hill mounted quite a comeback, with two much admired albums on Palmetto and a return to Blue Note, Time Lines, which swept most jazz critic polls in 2006. I'm not a huge fan of the late albums, but they've led to a massive reissue of Hill's 1963-69 Blue Note period, which has if anything grown in stature. Rivers' career actually parallels Hill's quite nicely, with Blue Note in the '60s, a long stretch in the wilderness, and a comeback in 1999, with two large ensemble albums, Inspiration and Culmination, released on RCA. Hill died in 2007, but Rivers carries on in his 80s, with an exemplary trio album, Violet Violets (Stunt) in 2004. Still, it is appropriate to restore this session to Hill's ledger: he wrote all of the pieces, and once you get past the ugliness of an 11:04 opener called "Violence" the sax calms down and the piano emerges, as impressive as ever. A-
  • Lisa Hilton: The New York Sessions (2007, Ruby Slippers): Pianist, from Southern California, relationship to Paris unknown, but better looking, for sure. Has 10 self-released albums since 1997, most with b/w photos on the cover and titles like My Favorite Things, one with a cocktail glass on the piano. Just a blue vignette this time, with the title and a list of the musicians: Christian McBride / Lewis Nash / Jeremy Pelt / Steve Wilson. That's a lot of talent, but the horns are severely underused, and the rhythm section is likely to fool a blindfold test. Hilton wrote a little more than half of the pieces, adding covers of Monk, Ray Charles, Johnny Mandell, and Joni Mitchell ("Both Sides Now," reprised at the end). Pleasant. B-
  • Dave Holland Quintet: Critical Mass (2005 [2006], Dare2/Sunnyside): My idea of doing a bass special with Allison and Lane as pick hits and Holland bring up the rear is officially dead: this has managed to escape the dudhouse. Holland just has too much firepower and too many options in his book to completely slip up. Two cuts are choice here, excepting the closing bars of the latter -- "Lucky Seven" and "Full Circle" -- and it's Robin Eubanks on trombone who put them over the top, although he couldn't have done it without the leader's bass moving things along. You don't hear much trombone period these days, let alone a guy who can run off with the lead without even cheating like J.J. used to do. Vibraphonist Steven Nelson is another guy here who plays a strong hand from a weak suit. Drummer Nate Smith can jump in and out of time with the best of them. And Chris Potter wouldn't be so overrated if he wasn't so damn talented. What threw me off at first is shrinking, but still present -- little bits that seem off color or out of place, plus the suspicion that this is just too damn fancy. But I guess those who can like to flaunt it. B+(***)
  • Bruce Hornsby/Christian McBride/Jack DeJohnette: Camp Meeting (2007, Legacy): Hornsby is a Berklee-educated pianist who emerged in the late '80s as a platinum-selling rock star, creating a mix of Americana, schmaltz, and Elton John. I never bothered listening to him until 2006, when Legacy sent me his 4-CD box set, which I played through twice and accorded a polite B. My only other encounter with him was one of Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz sessions in 2005 that Concord's new owners put out when they were trolling for names they've heard of -- Steely Dan and Elvis Costello were the others. It turns out that Hornsby's long been a jazz nerd. Now that his career has coasted to where he's got nothing better to do, he's indulging himself. I don't know whether to encourage him or not. On the one hand, this is a pretty useless piano trio album -- a mix of bop standards that he doesn't add much to and originals that don't take much away. On the other, it's pretty consistently enjoyable. Hornsby himself is more than proficient, and the Bud Powell pieces especially shine. And the bassist and even more so the drummer are superb, as you'd expect. Even the marketing folks figured that out: the advance only has Hornsby's name on it, but the final copy lists all three. Makes sense to me: in this niche, McBride and DeJohnette sell Hornsby much more than the other way around. B+(*)
  • François Ingold Trio: Song Garden (2006 [2007], Altrisuoni): Swiss pianist, first album, sounds impeccable, like what you'd expect in a first rate piano trio while hoping for a miracle. Don't have much to say beyond that, which is why I'm sweeping it under the rug. Not impossible that he'll come back and make us pay attention. B+(**)
  • Joseph Jarman: As If It Were the Seasons (1968 [2007], Delmark): The arty 23:47 title cut was done by a trio plus voice, the sort of thing that AACM could do when imagining great black classical music. But when the gang -- including Muhal Richard Abrams, Fred Anderson, and John Stubblefield -- showed up for the 20:58 "Song for Christopher" all hell broke loose. You already know whether you can stand this or not, but if you can, focus on the percussive thrash, credited to Everybody. B+(**)
  • Tomas Janzon: Coast to Coast to Coast (2006, Changes): Another good mainstream guitar record just below my line, its virtue in simple and elegant lines, uncomplicated by horns -- just bass and drums, and on a few cuts marimba or piano. Cool. B+(**)
  • The Jazz O'Maniacs: Sunset Cafe Stomp (2005 [2007], Delmark): The group is a German trad jazz band, founded in 1966 by then-18-year-old cornet player Roland Pilz. He had Louis Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke on his mind, but the group name derives from a 1924-27 group led by trumpeter Charles Creath. Eight-piece band, with sax, banjo, tuba, and washboard, as well as the more standard cornet, clarinet, trombone, piano. Pilz sings a bit, in a style blatantly patterned on Armstrong, his accent more pointed in the introductions. Much fun. I don't get anything from the several labels that specialize in trad jazz these days, so it's hard to compare beyond that. B+(**)
  • Ed Johnson & Novo Tempo: The Other Road (2007, Cumulus): Back cover exclaims: Brazilian Jazz. Website explains: Original Brazilian Inspired Jazz. I would have insisted on a hyphen: Brazilian-Inspired. Johnson plays guitar (mostly nylon-string) and sings; based in or near San Francisco or San Jose (Palo Alto?); has five albums, two with this band, but previous albums were evidently similar. The band (horns and percussion, anyway) aren't bad, but the leader's guitar is nothing special, and the vocals are somewhere between inept and awful -- the constant bubbling of the background voices is especially annoying. C-
  • Etta Jones/Houston Person: Don't Misunderstand: Live in New York (1980 [2007], High Note): Jones only appears on three tracks -- "Exactly Like You," "Ain't Misbehavin'," "I Saw Stars" -- revealing nothing beyond her usual competency, so no point seeking this out on her account. Organist Sonny Phillips is perfunctory at best, and the longer he holds the spotlight the duller the record gets. So that leaves Person -- his tenor sax all honey, so sweet he turns "Blue Monk" out as a natural standard, even managing to elevate Phillips' blues jams. B+(*)
  • Thad Jones: Detroit-New York Junction (1956 [2007], Blue Note): Eventually the middle Jones brother became well known for his compositions, his arranging, and his band co-leadership with Mel Lewis, while his '50s small group records remained out of print. This sextet, mostly Detroit musicians moved to New York, offers a little bit of everything: bebop trumpet, three original compositions and two Rodgers-Hart standards, clever arrangements. B+(***)
  • Barb Jungr: Bare Again (1999 [2007], ZC): Reissue of her first album Bare, named for its minimal piano-only accompaniment, with three extra cuts to grow the title. Jungr has some jazz flair, and picks songs come from '60s-'70s pop, with Jacques Brel's "Sons Of" a revelation, Ian Dury's "What a Waste" a surprise, and Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee" a dud. B
  • Fred Katz: Folk Songs for Far Out Folk (1958 [2007], Reboot Stereophonic): About all I know of Kabbalah is that it seeks to peel off the illusions of G-d, only to find more illusions. I'm tempted to add that's because there is no God, so the only things you can possibly find are illusions. The peeling off metaphor is one we can apply to history. The most nominal categorization of Katz is anthropology professor, a post he used less for science than as a license to indulge his own interests -- mystical religion, political radicalism, ethnomusicology, the "oneness of man." But strip all of those back to their roots, and you find a boy playing classical music on his cello. That at least validates the metaphor, inasmuch as we've found a seed from which all else grows. But peeling off could just as well leave us with an uncomfortable void, as in seeking God, or in peeling off the history of knowledge, where each new achievement reveals a previously held falsehood. The most striking thing about Folk Songs for Far Out Folk is how much our evolving view has change the meaning of those words over the 50 years since the record was conceived. Katz takes three sets of folk songs -- African, Hebrew, and American -- and arranges them for three different orchestras. The African tunes get West Coast brass and Jack Constanzo's bongos for the drums we now know should be there. The Hebrew psalms get flutes and reeds, but nothing suggesting klezmer. The American songs get vibes and guitar. They're interleaved to juxtapose rather than flow, but what they all share is the arranger's classical fix on control. That the albums was marketed as jazz is an artifact of the time, much like the notion that these are still folk songs, and that we are far out folk. B+(*)
  • Chris Kelsey Quartet: The Crookedest Straight Line Vol. 1 (2006 [2007], CIMP): For some reason I find the sound of soprano sax and trumpet played in unison to be highly irritating. When the two horns -- the leader's soprano sax and John Carlson's trumpet -- diverge, as is most often the case, each takes an interesting path; all the more so when drummer Jay Rosen picks up the pace. B+(*)
  • Roland Kirk/Jack McDuff: Kirk's Work (1961 [2007], Prestige): Soul jazz, a sax-organ quartet, albeit with a few surprises, like the cover picture of Kirk blowing into three saxophones; Kirk's flute work is also novel, emphasizing the instrument's hollow depth. B+(***)
  • Guy Klucevsek/Alan Bern: Notefalls (2006 [2007], Winter & Winter): I looked Klucevsek up in Wikipedia and saw that they have a link to "Avant-garde accordionists"; clicked that, and discovered that Klucevsek is the only one listed. That seems appropriate. I can think of some avant-jazz accordionists, but no one he's unique in having come out of the what I guess is called "modern composition" these days -- his early discography includes work with Lukas Foss, Virgil Thomson, Pauline Oliveros, people like that. Bern plays accordion as well, but his background is more common, coming out of the klezmer group Brave Old World. In the long run Klucevsek has ranged far and wide, including a fair amount of klezmer and polka, a lot of jazz, and an occasional appearance with someone like Laurie Anderson. This is his second duo album with Bern, who doubles up on accordion on several pieces, but more often plans piano, and in one case melodica. This is another record I'm cutting corners on. It feels composed through, and loses my interest in spots, but the upbeat cuts "Don't Let the Boogie-Man Get You" and "March of the Wild Turkey Hens" are choice. B+(*)
  • Mark Knox: Places (2006, Dreambox Media): Knox is credited throughout with keys, and on various tracks with percussion programming, samples, and vocals. His keys and beats are light and frothy. The places straddle the map, with an extended sequence in Japan followed by a Vietnamese folk song. Most of it is attractive enough. The only standout is John Swana, whose trumpet burns brilliantly on four cuts. B
  • Kreepa: Inside-A-Sekt (2006 [2007], Monium): Abstract electronics, mostly, although any sort of instrument can be employed to similar effect, and trombone can occasionally be discerned. While the sounds themselves seem disconnected, they do on occasion add up to something vaguely resembling melody. But most of the attraction is in the minimalist junkyard jumble, a distinctly limited but real pleasure. B+(*)
  • David Lackner: Chapter One (2006, Dreambox Media): Alto/soprano saxophonist, in a Philadelphia quintet drescribed as "the Dreambox house band." I know very little about Lackner, other than that he's very young (20, I hear) and this is his first album. He wrote all but two of the pieces, covering "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise" and "Cherokee." Has a very nice, warm tone on alto, playing fairly mainstream post-bop. B+(*)
  • Matt Lavelle: Trumpet Rising Bass-Clarinet Moon (2004, 577 Records): Recorded live, with a quintet. If guitarist Anders Neilson isn't a typo, he's as obcure as the rest -- Atiba N. Kwabena on djembe, flute, percusion; Francois Grillot on bass; Federick Ughi on drums. They provide a more varied background than the duo/trio albums, but the focus is still on Lavelle's trumpet and bass clarinet -- both distinctive. Lavelle describes this as "a summation of my work from 1990-2000," and dedicated it to the late Sir Hildred Humphries, his formative link back to the pre-bop era. B+(**)
  • Matt Lavelle and Daniel Carter (2006, downtownmusic.net): Another duo, just a CDR in a plastic scallop case, recorded at Downtown Music Gallery. Four pieces, much further developed than the Tower Records set. Still, typical of avant duos, limited pallette of sounds, a lot of feeling each other out, but strong performances if you pay attention. B
  • Matt Lavelle: Cuica in the Third House (2007, KMB Jazz): Solo project, with spoken bits I didn't really follow, and blasts of trumpet or flugelhorn and bass clarinet, as interesting as ever. Limited edition CDR, hand packaged. B
  • Nguyên Lê: Purple: Celebrating Jimi Hendrix (2002, ACT): Vietnamese guitarist, based in France, with ten or so albums going back to 1989. This is somewhat old, inexplicably showing up in the mail. A trio with guitar, electric bass, and drums, plus guests, including vocals and North African percusion. The vocals have a soft fuzziness, framing the words without really grabbing them, let alone cutting them off as Hendrix did. The guitar also lacks definition, although in the end the purple smudge does have some appeal. B
  • Nguyên Lê Duos: Homescape (2004-05 [2006], ACT): Home studio recordings, made at leisure with Lê on various guitars with various electronics and either Paolo Fresu or Dhafer Youssef. Fresu plays trumpet/flugelhorn; Youssef plays oud and sings. Not actually specified who played which tracks, but it wouldn't be hard to figure out if I had taken more careful notes. I could also point out choice cuts -- there are some, but not enough to draw another play right now. B+(*)
  • Jerry Leake: The Turning: Percussion Expansions (2005 [2006], Rhombus Publishing): The label looks to be unrelated to Rhombus Records, a jazz label I run into occasionally. It is run by Leake, and called Publishing because Leake's books outnumber his records by a margin of 16 to 3. Leake teaches at New England Conservatory and Tufts. His books are mostly about percussion, and his expertise centers on West Africa and North India, although his appetite for percussion instruments seems endless: he lists 42 of them in his credits, with vibraphone, balafon, metallophones, and tabla most prominent. The pieces are a mix of traditional themes (mostly African or Indian), elaborations, and jazz pieces (Bill Evans is favored). Several songs employ voice, which plays out as another form of talking drum. There's a bit of extra guitar on one track, bass on two, but the 22 tracks are mostly solo. The result is a bit scattered, like an encyclopedia -- a set of exercises and experiments, all interesting, some quite enchanting. Educational fun. B+(***)
  • Joélle Leandre/Pascal Contet: Freeway (2005 [2007], Clean Feed): Duo improv, with Leandre on bass, Contet on accordion. Record split into 12 pieces, titled "Freeway 1" to "Freeway 12." In short, scattered stuff that demands a close ear, and returns somewhat more than passing interest. B+(*)
  • Abbey Lincoln: Abbey Sings Abbey (2006 [2007], Verve): Francis Davis raved about this in the Voice. I suspect that anyone else already in love with her will feel much the same. I've long been a disappointed skeptic, so the best I can say is that listening to her old songs redone here fails to remind me of whatever it was that annoyed me about her in the past. One possibility is that her voice has coarsened her voice, taking it off that pedestal I never cared for. But also, the arrangements are refreshing. The group is string-oriented, with Larry Campbell playing acoustic and electric guitar, National resonator guitar, pedal steel guitar, and mandolin; he's backed with cello, bass, drums, and accordion for color. The pedal steel is the biggest surprise, with "Blue Monk" played as a cowboy tune. The rest of the songs are originals, selected (I assume) for strong melodies that fit the framework -- a "greatest hits" effect, but given my ignorance without regrets. A couple of songs in I thought about suspending my skepticism, but the record runs long and isn't always convincing. B+(***)
  • The Jason Lindner Big Band: Live at the Jazz Gallery (2005 [2007], Anzic, 2CD): Mainstream pianist, the young potential star Impulse favored over old Frank Hewitt when excavating Jazz Underground: Live at Smalls. Lindner manages to straddle advanced postbop and scattered world music interests -- his record on Fresh Sound World Jazz, Ab Aeterno, is on my Honorable Mention list. His Big Band dates back to 1995 at Smalls, so this particular event was touted as a 10th anniversary celebration. The line-up is notable, with Israelis and Latin Americans in abundance -- Omer Avital, Anat and Avishai Cohen, Rafi Malkiel, Miguel Zenon, Yosvany Terry Cabrera (limited to one track on chekere). Liner notes refer to similar large ensembles -- Maria Schneider, Guillermo Klein, Magali Souriau -- but this group is both simpler and more powerful, at least when they open up. That doesn't happen much on the first disc, but two cuts on the second ("Freak of Nature" and "The 5 Elements and the Natural Trinity") get off on more interesting Latin rhythms; they're also the ones that start with piano leads. B+(*)
  • Charles Lloyd: Of Course, Of Course (1964-65 [2006], Mosaic): On his second album, Lloyd opens with flute over Gabor Szabo's sweet guitar, with Ron Carter and Tony Williams shuffling along. Lloyd's main instrument was tenor sax, and he soon garnered a following by taking Coltrane to the masses, but this album was more varied and idiosyncratic: his sax reminds me of Warne Marsh, but the flute suggests the more flamboyantly eccentric Roland Kirk, tuned more tightly to the melody, without the special effects. The reissue adds three later tracks, trying out an appealing tropic groove. A-
  • Fred Lonberg-Holm Trio: Terminal Valentine (2006 [2007], Atavistic): The latest -- perhaps the title means the last -- of a series of Valentine albums by the Chicago cellist. Sounds sad to me, which may be inevitable given the cello-bass-drums lineup and that they never get out of low gear. B+(*)
  • Frank London's A Night in the Old Marketplace (2006 [2007], Soundbrush): Alexandra Aron conceived this "tragic carnivalspiel" based on a 1907 Yiddish tale, tapping playwright Glen Berger for the words, klezmerist London for the score, and a dozen or so singers -- best known are Susan McKeown and Lorin Sklamberg. The drama unfolds with Brechtian flair, but I distrust a shady character called "G-d" -- leaving me in doubt as to what it all means. B
  • Russ Lossing/Mat Maneri/Mark Dresser: Metal Rat (2006 [2007], Clean Feed): Abstract avant-chamber music, with Maneri's viola occupying the sonic center and providing most of the squeak. Still, it's likely that pianist Lossing is the one providing the bulk of the interest. B+(*)
  • Lucky 7s: Farragut (2006, Lakefront Digital): Chicago group, led by two trombonists: Jeff Albert, who also plays tuba, and Jeb Bishop, better known from his tenure with the Vandermark 5. When it all comes together -- cornet, tenor sax or bass clarinet, Jason Adasiewicz's vibraphone accents -- as on the last two cuts ("Farragut" and "Bucktown Special") they cook up a tasty polyphonic gumbo. But this starts off slow, with some weak spots along the way. B+(**)
  • Gloria Lynne: From My Heart to Yours (2007, High Note): Jazz (or pop or soul) singer, recorded a lot for Everest 1958-66, after which her discography thins out. Second record on High Note, after one in 1992 on predecessor label Muse. Interesting reading of "My Funny Valentine," like she's trying to build on Chet Baker's affectuations but can't make herself frail enough. Nothing else caught my interest, but there's no doubting her strength or skill. B
  • Robert MacGregor: Refraction of Light (2006 [2007], Black Tri): Young tenor saxophonist with a distinctive sound and plenty of chops, leading a young postbop group with a pretty good pianist named Miro Sprague. B+(*)
  • Billy Martin/John Medeski: Mago (2006 [2007], Amulet): I.e., Medeski, Martin & Wood minus bassist Chris Wood, released on drummer Martin's boutique label instead of major Blue Note. All three principals have had their side projects -- Martin has quite a pile of drum solos and duets, break beats, and DJ mixes; organist Medeski shows up on Thirsty Ears and at Club D'Elf and dabbles in gospel; Wood has the Wood Brothers, which I can't describe off the top of my head, proving how forgettable the album was -- but this seems dangerously close to their meal ticket, with the inevitable groove loss offset by greater freedom and more individual play. The analogy that occurs to me is David Byrne-Brian Eno, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts, which felt like a rough draft for a Talking Heads album but stood on its own because it drew out the limited idiosyncrasies of the key players. This is the same idea, but not really on the same level. B+(**)
  • Martirio: Primavera en Nueva York (2006, Calle 54): Without grokking the Spanish, I'd take this "bolero suite" for torch song -- slow, steady, packing emotional weight regardless of the words. The bonus is in the New York musicians, including two cuts each with Paquito D'Rivera and Houston Person, one with Claudio Roditi, and exceptional piano support from Kenny Drew Jr. B+(***)
  • Bill Mays/The Inventions Trio: Fantasy (2001-05 [2007], Palmetto): Well-known, well-regarded postbop pianist, originally from Sacramento CA, Mays has more than a dozen albums starting around 1982, including a Maybeck Recital. First time I heard him was in 2005 on Live at Jazz Standard, an impressive piano-bass-drums trio recording. This is a totally different trio, with classical specialists Alisa Horn on cello and Marvin Stamm on trumpet and flugelhorn. The centerpiece is a three-movement original, "Fantasy for Cello, Trumpet and Piano." Other credits include Bach, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Gershwin ("Prelude #2"), and Charlie Parker. Meant to explore the intersections of chamber music and jazz, this slipped and fell into the chamber. B-
  • Donny McCaslin: In Pursuit (2007, Sunnyside): Dedicated to his mentor, Michael Brecker, offering a ready explanation why I can't get into him even though he's beyond any doubt a tremendous saxophone player, but I doubt that it's so simple. For one thing, he's much better than Brecker. In fact, I can't think of anyone who plays with more assurance at breakneck speed. He writes ambitious, difficult pieces. He plays with first class musicians. He's stepped into Chris Potter's shoes more than once and bumped the energy level up. So I really don't know what the reason is. Maybe he's just too much. Or maybe when he does let up I feel he's letting us down. B+(**)
  • Erin McKeown: Sing You Sinners (2006 [2007], Nettwerk): Counted as a folk singer, a point reinforced by listing the dates of the songs -- aside from a new one, they range fromn 1930-56, clustered toward the ends. Still, it's no stretch to consider this as jazz: half or more of the songs are standards jazz singers like to work on, she approaches them with interpretive imagination, and the backing swings and shines with horns -- nowhere more so than on "Melody," her original. B+(***)
  • John McLaughlin/Jaco Pastorius/Tony Williams: Trio of Doom (1979 [2007], Columbia/Legacy): A faint record of a lost opportunity, a dream trio assembled for a rare State Department-sponsored show in Havana, nicknamed "the bay of gigs"; the trio's slice of the released Havana Jam had to be recut in a New York studio, but McLaughlin has finally salvaged the original tapes; no relevations: the guitar comes through strong, the bass remains an enigma. B+(*)
  • The Essential John McLaughlin (1963-2006 [2007], Columbia/Legacy, 2CD): By the time the second cut finished my mind was entertaining comparisons between McLaughlin and Jimi Hendrix. They were both born in 1942. By 1970, when Hendrix checked out, McLaughlin had reached a pinnacle in jazz guitar, both denser and fancier than anyone else around, Hendrix included. The first disc here, with one oldie from 1963 and an intense flurry of activity from 1969-72, makes the case, although numerous other selections would have done just as well. The rest of McLaughlin's career wandered idiosyncratically, embracing Indian music, going acoustic, hooking up with symphony orchestras, and occasionally returning to heavy metal fusion. The second disc neither shapes nor makes sense of 35 years. Rather, it just lays out samples and challenges your ears to pick out the guitar. Turns out that works better than expected, too. A-
  • Jackie McLean: New and Old Gospel (1967 [2007], Blue Note): Charlie Parker's teenage go-fer developed as a great alto saxophonist only after he digested Ornette Coleman's sense of ordered chaos. Here he pays tribute on two gospel-themed Coleman pieces, adding a complementary suite. Coleman, in turn, defers to McLean's superior saxmanship by switching to sloppy trumpet, reaffirming that genius has nothing to do with chops. A-
  • Steve Miller/Lol Coxhill: The Story So Far . . . Oh Really? (1971-74 [2007], Cuneiform, 2CD): This Steve Miller was a pianist from Canada who enjoyed a brief spell in Canterbury's jazz-rock underground, playing with Alexis Korner, Caravan, and bald soprano saxophonist Coxhill. This rescues two albums with the latter and as many relevant spare parts as they can fit: mostly duos, sometimes augmented by bass, drums, and/or guitar from Miller's slightly more famous brother Phil -- uh, Hatfield and the North, Matching Mole, National Health, 6-8 albums under his own name. Also very brief appearances by relative superstars Kevin Ayers and Robert Wyatt. Coxhill has a long discography going back to the 1950s, one I'm almost totally unfamiliar with. But they come up with an appealing mix of abstract dithering and tone-poem minimalism, and the historical interest makes up for the incongruities. Miller died in 1998, so this is one of his few souvenirs. Coxhill is pushing 75, still working, a subject for future research. B+(*)
  • Andy Milne: Dreams and False Alarms (2006 [2007], Songlines): Canadian pianist; studied with Oscar Peterson; moved to New York in 1991, working with M-Base; more lately formed a group called Dapp Theory. This is solo piano, mostly folk-rock tunes, with fellow Canadians Joni Mitchell and Neil Young the most frequent sources. Didn't readily ID familiar songs without listening closely, and wasn't able to manage that, although I found the deliberate pacing attractive as background. Life's not fair, but I'm pretty sure that if I stuck with it this is where I'd wind up. B+(*)
  • Andy Milne + Grégoire Maret: Scenarios (2007, Obliqsound): Maret plays harmonica. He's already won a Downbeat Rising Star poll, and seems likely to replace Toots Thielemans from his Misc. Inst. perch a year or two after he dies. He adds a complementary voice to Milne's piano, but perhaps a bit too complementary: interesting ideas, but not enough range to make for much of a contrast. Two cuts have a guest: Anne Drummond on alto flute; Gretchen Parlato singing "Moon River." B+(*)
  • Charlie Mingus: Tijuana Moods (1957 [2007], RCA Victor/Legacy): With Pithecanthropus Erectus in 1956 Mingus started to make his move as a composer and arranger, drawing together his experiences with Kid Ory, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, and his own experimental workshops into a synthesis that spanned the length and breadth of jazz history with his unique daring and grandeur. A trip across the Mexican border inspired these sessions, producing four Spanish-tinged originals and an arrangement of "Flamingo" that Ellington could be proud of, but the tapes languished until 1962, a mess of false starts and derailments. When Mingus finally patched them into an album, he was pleased enough to proclaim it his best ever. That would be an exaggeration, but he anticipated world-swing moves that Ellington took another decade to match. Reissues in 1986 and 2002 swept up more and more -- the former, dubbed New Tijuana Moods, filled out a CD-length disc with alternate takes, and the latter tacked on a second disc. This time they swing back the other way, sticking with Mingus's edits for a non-redundant 36:00, but adding on a 10:57 bonus track with Lonnie Elder rapping over a Mingus vibe. A
  • Brian Stokes Mitchell (2000-06 [2006], Playbill/Legacy): First album by Broadway theatre actor/singer, evidently a notable star with credits going back at least to 1988. Most of these songs are show tunes, smartly arranged for a large orchestra with various soloists, and dashingly sung. Not my thing at all, although I only lost interest toward the end when the drama drowned the finesse, and only gave up when Broadway Inspiration Voices took their toll. B
  • Thelonious Monk Trio (1952-54 [2007], Prestige): Monk recorded four 10-inch LPs for Prestige, released in 1953-54, reissued as 12-inch LPs in 1956-57, and eventually spun into all sorts of confusing packages, culminating in the 3-CD Complete Prestige Recordings. One source of confusion is the naming, where Monk, Thelonious Monk, and Thelonious Monk Trio have all been used to describe the same music -- I'm going with the spine and back-cover title here, as opposed to the front cover, with its small "thelonious," large "MONK," and clear "PRESTIGE LP 7027." Like the cover art, this faithfully reproduces a 1957 12-inch LP that combined a 1953 10-inch LP and two (of four) cuts from a 1954 10-incher. It's hard to see why they didn't restore the missing cuts given that the album only runs 34:27, a limit of '50s technology that is at least sonically transcended here: the effect is to consolidate most (but not all) of Monk's trios in a handy package, separate from the quintets featuring a young and brilliant saxophonist, now available as Thelonious Monk/Sonny Rollins. Classic Monk tunes here like "Bye-Ya," "Monk's Dream," "Blue Monk" -- but the covers may be even more impressive: a solo "Just a Gigolo," Art Blakey's percolating rhythm on "Sweet and Lovely," Monk's own radical take on "These Foolish Things." A
  • Monk's Music Trio: Monk on Mondays (2005 [2007], CMB): Si Perkoff on piano, Sam Bevan on bass, Chuck Bernstein on drums, the latter always listed first -- he's also producer, executive producer, etc. Songs by Thelonious Monk. Group has been together since 1999, playing two or three Mondays per month at Simple Pleasures Cafe in San Francisco. This is their fifth album -- the third one I've heard. Mondays sounds like their usual grind. B
  • Pink Martini: Hey Eugene! (2005-06 [2007], Heinz): Morris Berman's Dark Ages America makes a case that Portland, Oregon is untethered to American culture without even citing this faux French band. I won't try to claim them for jazz, but their "Tea for Two" puts all the standards interpreters I can think of to shame. So cosmopolitan they sing in a half-dozen languages, and even more styles. I'm tempted to call what they do world cabaret. It's always been rather hit and miss, but this time they have enough high points to carry the rest. In fact, I wonder whether the stuff I don't get isn't just over my head. A-
  • Maria Muldaur: Naughty Bawdy & Blue (2007, Stony Plain): She sizzles when her handy man greases her griddle, but for a singer who's often put her libido first, this is less risqué than the title promises. The booklet includes respectful sketches of the first wave of what's now called classic female blues: Ma Rainey, Victoria Spivey, Sippie Wallace, Bessie Smith, Mamie Smith, Ethel Waters, Alberta Hunter, and Sara Martin. Spivey is remembered as mentoring young Maria D'Amato in the '60s, recording her first jug band, and urging her to step out and strut her stuff. Wallace offers another direct connection, but all these women who made their mark in the 1920s are long dead now, and the girl Spivey discovered is into her 60s -- perhaps that realization and respect blunted her edge? On the other hand, James Dapogny's band backs up these songs with more flair than anyone since Fletcher Henderson. And Muldaur is still a terrific blues archivist, able to warm up any creaky old song. And it's worth recalling that Hunter came back with her dirtiest album ever at age 84. B+(***)
  • Nordic Connect: Flurry (2005 [2007], ArtistShare): Led by Canadian trumpeter Ingrid Jensen and her lesser-known alto saxophonist sister Christine Jensen, with two-thirds of the rhythm section from Sweden -- pianist Maggi Olin and bassist Mattias Wellin; drummer Jon Wikan was born in Alaska, grew up in Washington, lives in New York. Shiny, luxurious postbop. I go back and forth on it, savoring it when I pay close attention but finding it slips into the background with the slightest distraction. Alas, distraction seems to be the order of the day. B+(**)
  • Miles Okazaki: Mirror (2006 [2007], CDBaby): Plays guitar, but also did the graphics on and in the package, which provide a nice analog to the music, which suggests new age and/or fusion without ever falling into either rut. Also suggests jazz with his reliance on reeds: Christof Knoche is a steady presence on bass clarinet, alto and soprano sax, and harmonica, complemented by guest stars David Binney, Miguel Zenon, and Chris Potter. B+(**)
  • Oregon: 1000 Kilometers (2006 [2007], CAM Jazz): The '70s vogue for naming groups (mostly rock) after places warned me away from these guys for a long time -- don't think I bothered until the late '90s, by which time they seemed to have faded into history. Even after I realized that they weren't pop jazz, I still tended to think of them as new agey. In fact, AMG's list of styles reads, unappetizingly: New Age, World Fusion, Fusion, Folk-Jazz, Chamber Jazz, Progressive Jazz. The World Fusion part could have been laid on Collin Walcott, who played sitar and tabla and died in 1984. The other three players -- 12-string guitarist Ralph Towner, oboe/English horn player Paul McCandless, and bassist Glen Moore -- are hard, maybe impossible, to classify. But after Mark Walker's drums settled into the percussion slot, the fusion analogies fell away. Still, such a sui generis act easily baffles me, and four straight plays tell me when to give up. Isolated bits, including Moore's bass solos, are fascinating, but I'm unable to get much further than that. B+(**)
  • Evan Parker: A Glancing Blow (2006 [2007], Clean Feed): A trio with bass and drums, Parker playing tenor and soprano sax on two long pieces. Typical, or at least what I imagine as typical -- Parker is a long-term project for me, but some things, like his circular breathing, are becoming familiar. B+(**)
  • William Parker & Hamid Drake: Summer Snow (2005 [2007], AUM Fidelity): A "volume 2" five years after their previous duo, Piercing the Veil. The bass and drums sets are much the same, with Parker perhaps a bit more grooveful, but the exotica is harder to follow, perhaps because their growing expertise is making it more exotic. It's also making it subtler, quieter, and harder to follow. Also possible that the drummer who had so much to prove first time has grown comfortable with his laurels, or is merely letting Parker set the pace instead of meeting him more than half way. B+(**)
  • The Essential Jaco Pastorius (1976-81 [2007], Epic/Legacy, 2CD): This seems suspiciously thin, ending in 1981 six years before the bassist's young death. It draws seven cuts from his eponymous 1975 album on Epic, and ends with four cuts from 1980-81 albums on Warner Brothers. In between we get 10 Weather Report cuts, 3 with Joni Mitchell; one each with Pat Metheny, Michel Colombier, and Herbie Hancock; with no trace of the numerous live albums that document his later years. I've never managed to figure out what all the fuss was about, and this ill focused, sporadically interesting survey helps little. Rhino has an apparently more definitive compilation called Punk Jazz: The Jaco Pastorius Anthology. Haven't heard it either. B-
  • Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen/Ulf Wakenius/Jonas Johansen: The Unforgettable NHØP Trio Live (1999-2005 [2007], ACT): Two sets, the first five cuts recorded in Denmark in 1999, the other six in Germany in 2005, a little more than a month before the great Danish bassist died at age 58. From the early '60s on he was the first choice bassist for Americans visiting Copenhagen, or for Ben Webster, Dexter Gordon, and Kenny Drew, relocating there. AMG has five credits pages for him; I haven't tried to weed out the dupes, but that must credit him with more than 300 albums. The first page alone ranges from Count Basie to Anthony Braxton, although most are securely within the bop mainstream. He recorded more than two dozen albums under his own name -- Trio 2, with Philip Catherine, and Friends Forever, his Kenny Drew tribute with Renee Rosnes, are two I especially like, although there are many others I haven't run into yet. This one's a nice souvenir of the bassist's most basic group, with guitarist Wakenius feeling especially frisky, doing standards and folk songs and fast groove pieces, with typical aplomb. This did, however, send me back to Those Who Were, a 1996 d record languishing on my unrated shelves, where I found the closer here, "Our Love Is Here to Stay," opening: much slower, very poignant. Of course, he could play it any way he wanted. B+(**)
  • Susan Pereira and Sabor Brasil: Tudo Azul (2006 [2007], Riony): Brazilian singer working in New York, where her crack band is able to sustain the golden age samba they grew up on -- light, airy, the easy lilt enriched by guests like Claudio Roditti on trumpet, Hendrik Meurkens on harmonica, and Romero Lubambo on guitar. B+(*)
  • Misha Piatigorsky: Aya (2007, Misha Music): I haven't started penalizing musicians for offensive websites yet, but entering this one felt like being assaulted. Probably would have been even worse if I had speakers hooked up -- I don't have speakers on my computer to avoid occasions like this. End of rant. Pianist, born Moscow, moved to US in 1981, studied under Kenny Barron at Manhattan School of Music, lives in NYC, has seven albums since 1996, does some producing and soundtrack work. This one pretty much pulls it all together. He's fast and can swing. Some cuts add horns -- Omar Kabir on trumpet and trombone, Boris Kurganov on alto sax -- and they lift the temperature. But most songs have words, and he uses four very different vocalists: Barbara Mendes (Brazilian bombshell), Judy Bady (soul diva), Ayelet Piatigorsky (classical chorale), and Rahj (spoken jive). It's all mixed up, which is no doubt the point. B+(**)
  • Play Station 6: #1 (2006 [2007], Evil Rabbit): A sextet of more/less well known Dutch avant-gardists: Maartje Ten Hoorn on violin, Eric Boeren on clarinet, Tobias Delius on clarinet/tenor sax, Achim Kaufmann on piano, Meinrad Kneer on bass, Paul Lovens on drums. Strikes me as par for the course, with each player taking interesting but even-tempered shots without coming together into a more cohesive whole. Nothing wrong with that. B+(**)
  • Jimmy Ponder: Somebody's Child (2003-06 [2007], High Note): Guitarist, has a couple of dozen albums going back to 1946, plus a vast number of side appearances, mostly for High Note and its predecessor Muse. These are various quartets with piano, bass, and drums, recorded over several years; the exception is a duet with Douglas Malone playing violão, a Brazilian nylon-string guitar. Nice, tuneful album; consistently interesting leads, not much more to say about it. B+(**)
  • Porter-Di Castri-Sferra Trio: Italian Encounter (2006 [2007], Altrisuoni): The leader of this piano trio appears on his website as Dr. Lewis Porter, and is identified in his bios as "PhD, Brandeis, 1983." He seems to have more books than records, including studies on Lester Young and John Coltrane. He edits a series of books on jazz published by the University of Michigan Press, and has written a substantial "Encyclopedia of Jazz Musicians" that I am delighted to find on line. The record is elegant, measured, thoughtful, but other than that I don't have a lot to say about it. B+(*)
  • Tineke Postma: A Journey That Matters (2007, Foreign Media Jazz): Dutch saxophonist, b. 1978, credited with alto, soprano, and tenor, in that order. Third album; first I've heard. Three Ellington/Strayhorn songs, the rest originals. Works with bass, drums, scattered pianists; three cuts have guitar; three have a wind section of flute, clarinet/bass clarinet, bassoon, and French horn. Studied postbop, elegantly crafted, with a lovely tone where appropriate. Can't get excited, but have to respect what she's done. B+(*)
  • André Previn: Alone (2007, Emarcy): Veteran pianist, born in Germany in 1930, escaping to France and then to the US in 1938. Probably best known for film and Broadway and for conducting various orchestras, including the London Symphony Orchestra, but he has a long list of jazz records going back to the early 1950s -- mostly trios or less, many keyed to songbooks. I have no idea how they sort out, but this is about what I expected: mild-mannered, elegant, thoughtful, too slow and too straight to overcome my natural resistance to solo piano, but otherwise impeccable. B
  • The Puppini Sisters: Betcha Bottom Dollar (2005-06 [2007], Verve): The WWII-era pieces that set the stage here refer these figurative-sisters -- Marcella is the only Puppini; Kate Mullins and Stephanie O'Brien were added to the act in London -- back to the Andrews Sisters. Pieces like "Mr. Sandman," "Bei Mir Bist Du Schön," and "Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy" always appealed to me, and here they're as bright and perky as ever. More recent fare, including Kate Bush and Morrissey, are harder sells, but at least I'll take their "Heart of Glass." B+(*)
  • Flora Purim: Butterfly Dreams (Keepnews Collection) (1973 [2007], Milestone): Sort of a Stanley Clarke groove, George Duke funk album, with mild spicing mostly from fusion percussionist Airto Moreira; the singer aspires more to Ella Fitzgerald than to her Brazilian heritage, resulting in something fast and light but neither here nor there. B
  • Putumayo Presents: Latin Jazz (1973-2006 [2007], Putumayo World Music): Big subject, but fair enough: aside from one ringer from Iceland, this plots a triangle spanning Havana, San Juan, and the Bronx, name-checking the obvious -- Machito, Tito Puente, Ray Barretto, Poncho Sanchez, Eddie Palmieri -- plus a couple of pleasing surprises in Chocolate Armenteros and Hilton Ruiz. Not classic, but not skimmed from the latest hype either. Choice cuts by Ruiz and Palmieri/Brian Lynch. B+(**)
  • Queen Mab Trio: Thin Air (2005 [2006], Wig): Rather difficult music: Ig Henneman's viola is apt to squeak, or squawk even. Lori Freedman's bass clarinet isn't enough to overwhelm it, and is prone to squawking as well. Marilyn Lerner's piano provides what passes for rhythm, but only occasionally. But while this is unlikely to convince doubters, I'm finding it coherent, and the discomfort just stimulating enough to want to follow. B+(**)
  • Boots Randolph: A Whole New Ballgame (2006 [2007], Zoho): Tenor saxophonist, did some pop instrumentals in the early '60s which got classified as country because he was born in Paducah and based in Nashville. No idea what the title means -- there's nothing remotely new here, just a bunch of swing standards like "Stompin' at the Savoy" plus a couple of weak takes on Parker and Monk. Not much impressed by his tone, but I can't get too down on him. [Just noticed that he passed away on July 3, at age 80.] B-
  • Duke Robillard's World Full of Blues (2006-07 [2007], Stony Plain, 2CD): Journeyman blues jockey, sings a little, plays a lot of guitar; stretches to two discs, not because he has a lot to say, more like he don't know what to leave out; then calls the second disc a free bonus because he's not arrogant enough to expect you to pay double for mere encyclopedia; surprisingly, second disc actually kicks in quicker. B+(**)
  • The Rodriguez Brothers: Conversations (2006 [2007], Savant): The brothers are Michael on piano, Robert on trumpet and flugelhorn. A third Rodriguez, Ricardo, plays bass on four cuts, but doesn't get any mention in the booklet. Father Roberto Rodriguez, born in Cuba, produced. Album dedicated to late grandfather Roberto Rodriguez Nieto. David Sanchez guests on two tracks. I'm tempted to describe this as hard bop, but the beat isn't hard enough -- on the other hand, it isn't notably Latin, although there is a whiff. In any case, both piano and trumpet/flugelhorn stay within conventional forms, even if often fast and fluid bop. B
  • Daniel Bernard Roumain: Etudes 4 Violin & Electronix (2007, Thirsty Ear): Been holding off on this advance expecting a final copy to appear and clear some things up, but release date was June 26. I've gotten nothing but advances from this label in quite a while, and the advances and PR packages are severely lacking in information. I do know that DJ Spooky, Peter Gordon, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Philip Glass, and a couple of others appear here because they get "feat." plugs next to titles. Could be duets. One with no "feat." is relatively interesting, with at least three instruments, repeating patterns on piano, a synth (or maybe a horn), and the leader's violin wailing background. Roumain, a Haitian-American violinist, has classical education, long dreadlocks, and hip-hop interests. Not sure if this is considered a jazz release or not -- no indication that it's part of Matthew Shipp's Blue Series, although Roumain has appeared there in the past -- but it is notably lacking both in jazz musicians and in any sort of swing. (I almost said "rhythm," but Glass and DJ Scientific do contribute something there, just nothing jazz-friendly.) Also, the violin tends to appear in sheets, without much bite or spunk. B
  • Roswell Rudd & Yomo Toro: El Espíritu Jíbaro (2002-06 [2007], Sunnyside): Robert Palmer once called Yomo Toro "the Puerto Rican Jimi Hendrix," but from what I've heard -- and his solo "Inspiración" bears this out -- he's comes closer to John Fahey. Rudd, playing with Steve Lacy and Archie Shepp and leading his New York Art Quartet, was the great trombonist of the avant-'60s. He had a second wind as a Herbie Nichols interpreter, and a third as a world music sojourner, hooking up with musicians from Mali, Mongolia, and now Puerto Rico. Percussionist Bobby Sanabria is a third name on the cover, likely the most responsible for taking such a broad swath of Latin jazz here -- bolero, guaracha, marcha, merengue, cumbia, tango, son (of course). Toro's jíbaro is usually considered a country music, but he swings plenty here. B+(***)
  • Samo Salamon NYC Quintet: Government Cheese (2004 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Guitarist, from Slovenia, where I believe he's still based, although he hangs out enough in New York to have developed some powerful connections. Clearly, he favors fast crowds. His previous FSNT album, Two Hours, featured Tony Malaby, Mark Helias, and Tom Rainey. This one goes with Dave Binney, Josh Roseman, Helias, and Gerald Cleaver. He's got a tour set up now with Donny McCaslin, John Hebert, and Cleaver. Also has two albums I haven't heard on Splasc(h) with mostly Italian groups, but Binney appears on one and Tyshawn Sorey on the other. What I have heard is high-powered, exciting stuff. Only caveat is that his preference for crowds hasn't given him a lot of space to stretch out, so it isn't clear yet how distinctive he is. But he sure likes to play. B+(**)
  • Saltman Knowles Quintet: It's About the Melody (2007, Blue Canoe): Mark Saltman, bassist; William Knowles, pianist. They met in 1994 at University of Massachusetts. This is their fourth album, the first three released as Soul Service. Group includes Mark Prince on drums, Charles Langford on sax, Lori Williams on vocals. For all intents and purpose this is a vocal jazz album, with Williams up front on every song, shaping the melodies, slipping around them, the sort of thing jazz singers do -- some spots remind me a bit of Sheila Jordan, but not so immediately arresting. Langford has a good accompanying sound. B
  • Dino Saluzzi Group: Juan Condori (2005 [2006], ECM): Argentine bandoneon player, working with three younger Saluzzis and a percussionist named U.T. Gandhi. Never got the final copy of this advance, unlike the later duets with Anja Lechner -- a puzzle and an annoyance. Saluzzi recorded an exceptional album in 2001 called Responsorium, which does a lovely job of summing up his brand of jazz-tango. Since then the records I've heard have seemed like broken fragments of the same picture. The larger group here, led by Felix Saluzzi's reeds, suggests a similar richness of vision, but I also hear stretches where it slows down and descends to the merely pretty, or maybe even the merely dull. B+(*)
  • Dino Saluzzi/Anja Lechner: Ojos Negros (2006 [2007], ECM): Bandoneon-cello duets. Drags in spots -- where you'd expect the tango rhythms to quicken the blood, the cello dampens it. Not that there is a lot of rhythm. But every time this starts to get me down, something interesting, intriguing, or just plain lovely hapens. B
  • Bobby Sanabria: Big Band Urban Folktales (2007, Jazzheads): Drummer-percussionist, Puerto Rican parents, from the Bronx, graduated from Berklee in 1979, IAJE's expert on Afro-Cuba jazz, a guy who (counter the standard joke) can teach and do. Big band, throws a lot of everything at you -- more than I can handle, especially when they break out the kazoos for Frank Zappa's "The Grand Wazoo." But more manageable fare like "Bésame Mucho" works for me, as does Chareneè Wade's guest vocal on "Since I Fell for You" and a lucumi-inspired piece called "El Aché de Sanabria en Moderación" where everything seems to work even when none of it suggests moderation. B+(**)
  • Sten Sandell Trio + John Butcher: Strokes (2006 [2007], Clean Feed): Sandell's avant-leaning piano trio plus Butcher's sax -- the latter is also credited with "amplification/feedback" as if he isn't normally this loud. Very rough, with little gemstones of piano embedded in the matrix. B+(**)
  • Arturo Sandoval: Rumba Palace (2007, Telarc): The percussion section is up to snuff, but can't salvage the slow ones. The trumpeter can burn white hot or negotiate tricky changes, but by now that's expected. He's turned me off more in the past, but he's also turned me on more. So this is a good example of what Christgau calls Neither. B
  • Paul Scea: Contemporary Residents (2005 [2007], BluJazz): Plays flute, soprano and tenor sax, wind synth, etc. Teaches at West Virginia University (Morgantown WV). Has co-led groups with guitarist Steve Grismore (present here) and drummer Damon Short (absent; Marc Gratama is the drummer here), but this is first album solely under his own name. Reports describe him as heavily influenced by the '60s avant-garde, with his flute coming out of a line from Eric Dolphy through James Newton. Hard to tell. There's some edginess in the soprano sax, but the three horns -- Eric Haltmeier plays alto sax and clarinet, Brent Sandy trumpet -- do a lot of bobbing and weaving, and in any case the electric guitar and bass -- Grismore and Anthony Cox -- run on fusion lines. Sounds promising at times, but each of three plays left me with no net impressions. B
  • Lalo Schifrin & Friends (2007, Aleph): Pianist, originally from Argentina, 75 now, mostly known for 100+ soundtracks, but he studied classical music under Messiaen in France in the 1950s and, more importantly, jazz under Dizzy Gillespie in the 1960s. This takes a half-dozen of his songs including "A Tribute to Bud" [Powell, I presume], adds in "Besame Mucho," "Tin Tin Daeo," and Oscar Peterson's "Hymn to Freedom." The booklet has a lot of words, and generally good bios on the Friends, but doesn't actually have any credits. One assumes that Schifrin plays piano, James Morrison trumpet (or any other brass instrument that appears), James Moody saxes (and maybe flute), Dennis Budimir guitar, Brian Bromberg bass, and Alex Acuña drums/percussion. It's a good group, relaxed, generous, warm, enjoyable. B+(*)
  • Kendrick Scott Oracle: The Source (2005-06 [2007], World Culture): Young (b. 1980) drummer, attended Berklee, works in postbop veins, appears on Terrence Blanchard's latest. First album, ambitious, complex, rather impressive set of musicians -- e.g., saxophonists are Seamus Blake, Walter Smith III, and Myron Walden; Robert Glasper plays some piano; Lionel Loueke some of the guitar -- yet I find it dissolving into texture and failing to hold my interest, except, say, when Blake takes a solo. B
  • Seattle Women's Jazz Orchestra: Meeting of the Waters (2005-06 [2007], OA2): Not all female -- lead trumpet Dennis Haldane, drummer Jeremy Jones, musisic director/arranger Daniel Barry are the main exceptions, with some Mikes and Chads on the credits list but not listed on the website roster. Second album. Seems unexceptional for a big band, although not without its attractive moments. Sound quality is a bit iffy. B
  • David Sills: Green (2006 [2007], Origin): Tenor saxophonist, based in Los Angeles, with a handful of albums since 1997, both under his own name and as the Acoustic Jazz Quartet. He has a big, smooth mainstream sound, the sort of thing I easily fall for. Also plays a little flute; nothing to complain about. Could be characterized as neo-cool, both in tone and in artful arrangement. Six-piece group, with Gary Foster's alto sax kept close, and both piano and guitar for chords. I don't find such complexity all that useful, but it's worth noting that this is the third appearance by guitarist Larry Koonse in my logs over the last two weeks, and again he adds something special. B+(*)
  • Ricardo Silveira: Outro Rio (Another River) (2005-06 [2007], Adventure Music): Brazilian guitarist, mostly acoustic, mostly working in small groups with bass and drums -- two cuts add piano, one clarinet, one tenor sax, one cello, several percussion, one voice, not that the extras really add much of anything. Delicate; nice, easy flow; very pleasant as background; as artful but not as tuneful as his Nascimento album. B+(**)
  • Just Like a Woman: Nina Simone Sings Classic Songs of the '60s (1967-78 [2007], RCA/Legacy): Strong voice, can be a powerful stylist, has no problem convincing you that she's entitled to interpret anything she wants, which makes her inconsistencies and flat out muffs all the more annoying. Four Dylan songs here, two -- "I Shall Be Released," "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues" -- worth keeping. B
  • Carol Sloane: Dearest Duke (2007, Arbors): Jazz singer, first emerged in late 1950s with Les Elgart's orchestra, moving on to replace Annie Ross in Lambert, Hendricks, Etc., with a comeback on Concord in the 1990s, and a 2001 album for High Note insisting I Never Went Away. I never heard her before, but my first impression is that she's a complete pro. The songbook here is Ellington's, which isn't all that easy for a singer. The accompaniment is Brad Hatfield on piano and/or Ken Peplowski on clarinet or tenor sax -- strictly minimal stuff, which doesn't make it any easier either. She does fine, and Peplowski has some especially nice moments. B+(**)
  • David Smith Quintet: Circumstance (2005 [2006], Fresh Sound New Talent): Seamus Blake plays tenor and soprano sax, comes from Vancouver, has seven albums under his own name (two on Fresh Sound, five on Criss Cross), and has shown up as a sideman on a half-dozen releases per year since 1992. He fits into mainstream records but has a knack for elbowing his way to the outside, as he does here. Smith is a Canadian trumpet player, and they make a fine pair, with Nate Radley's guitar along with bass and drums. Exemplary postbop, bright, lively, full of fire and finesse. Sounds just like it's spozed to. B+(***)
  • Jimmy Smith: Straight Life (1961 [2007], Blue Note): A simple organ-guitar-drums trio, as restrained as anything he's ever done, which makes the eloquence of his phrasing on such a crude instrument all the more impressive. This has actually been a remarkable installment in Blue Note's Connoisseur Series: five albums, all so obscure I've never heard of them, each surprisingly close to my A- cusp. The series are nominally limited editions, although those that sell out have been known to return as RVG Editions. B+(***)
  • Mark Solborg 4: 1+1+1+1 (2007, ILK): Danish guitarist, also associated with groups Mold, Revolver, and Ventilator. This is a quartet with Anders Banke on tenor sax and clarinet, Jeppe Skovbakke on bass, Bjørn Heebøll on drums. Banke plays in Piere Dørge's New Jungle Orchestra and also plays in Mold. He has an attractive hard-edge sound, matching well with Solborg. B+(*)
  • Golda Solomon: First Set (2002, JazzJaunts): Solomon describes herself as a "one-of-a-kind 'Medicine Woman of Jazz'"; alternatively, "poet, and Professor Mom." Writes words. Speaks them over jazz -- or actually, with her violin-tuba-drums trio, this sounds a bit like old-timey pre-bluegrass. Has a book Flatbush Cowboy good for an excerpt here. Other bits on meeting Dolphy and "The Etiquette of No." Good diction -- reminds me of Tom Verlaine's pronunciation of that word. Short, EP length: 20:30. B+(**)
  • Somi: Red Soil in My Eyes (2005-06 [2007], World Village): Singer-songwriter, born in Illinois of parents from Rwanda and Uganda. She calls what she does Holistic New African Jazz-Soul, aiming at "introspective bliss and inspiration" -- noble sentiments for music that goes nowhere. The jazz is nu, although musicians like Lionel Loueke and Jeremy Pelt are recognizable, at least on the credits list. The songs are half in an unidentified African language, half in English. B-
  • Spark Trio: Short Stories in Sound (2006, Utech): Another limited edition CDR, a trio with saxophonist Ras Moshe, drummer Todd Capp, and Matt Lavelle on trumpet and bass clarinet. Energetic thrash, especially from the drummer, who strikes me as overly busy. The horns are in your face throughout. I find them bracing and sometimese exciting, but this is not the sort of thing I can easily recommend to non-believers. B
  • Martin Speicher/Georg Wolf/Lou Grassi: Shapes and Shadows (2006 [2007], Clean Feed): Free jazz trio; alto sax/clarinet, bass, drums, respectively. Speicher is German, did a couple of records in the '90s, but otherwise I don't know anything about him. I know even less about Wolf. Grassi is an American drummer; runs a group called PoBand with 10 or so records, and has side credits going back to Roswell Rudd's Numatic Swing Band. Another fine record, although after a handful of these I'm hard-pressed to sort them all out; this one winds up as something people who like this sort of thing will like, but probably not much more. B+(*)
  • Russ Spiegel: Chimera (2006 [2007], Steeplechase): Good mainstream guitar record, with all sorts of bells and whistles -- trumpet, sax, vibes, but no piano. Among the options, the guitar stands out. But given my space and time issues, not to mention interests tuned elsewhere, this falls just shy of my scratch line. That should be the definition of an honorable mention, but under current formulas, it's the definition of a near miss. B+(**)
  • The Chip Stephens Trio: Holding On to What Counts (2006 [2007], Capri): Piano trio, with Ken Walker on bass and Todd Reid on drums. Stephens teaches jazz at Urbana-Champaign, after spells in Boulder and Youngstown -- this was recorded in Denver, where Walker is based. His web page there claims "nearly 40 records and compact discs" but AMG only counts 9, with this the second under his name. Five original pieces, plus covers of Cole Porter, Horace Silver, Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner, and a Miles Davis medley. I'm tempted to write this off as textbook stuff, but Stephens' dynamism and flair raises the ante on the standard fare -- the Monk really jumps, the Silver sizzles, a bit of "Sweet Georgia Brown" swings. B+(*)
  • Helen Sung: Sungbird (2006 [2007], Sunnyside): A pianistic tour de Spain, slow on the solo uphill stretches, fleet on the well oiled downslopes when percussionist Samuel Torres joins the trio, and soaring when Marcus Strickland adds his saxophone -- a rare context where the soprano proves more interesting than the tenor. B+(**)
  • Art Taylor: A.T.'s Delight (1960 [2007], Blue Note): Hard bop drummer, did a lot of session work and occasionally got an album out under his own name, often with titles like Taylor's Wailers or Taylor's Tenors. The two horns here weren't well known: trumpeter Dave Burns had been around since the '40s, mostly working with Dizzy Gillespie and James Moody without making much of a name for himself, but the young tenor saxophonist turned out to be Stanley Turrentine. Both are fine here; Wynton Kelly and Paul Chambers are dependable as usual; a shmear of Patato doesn't hurt, either. B+(**)
  • Third World Love: Sketch of Tel Aviv (2005 [2006], Smalls): There is something going on here that I don't get, and don't expect to get in the near future. Website claims the band "organically blends African, Middle Eastern, rock and jazz . . . a poetic journey of rhythms, songs, dance and joyful celebration." There's some of that, but it's hard to sort out, which may be the point. The group is a quartet, with two fairly well known players (bassist Omer Avital and trumpeter Avishai Cohen) and two lesser knowns (pianist Yonatan Avishai and drummer Daniel Freedman). Two songs with vocals -- one a trad Jewish-Yemenite piece sung by Avishai, the other sung by guest Eviatar Banai -- strike me as out of step, but the way Cohen is playing, anything that takes away from the trumpet seems like a bad idea. With their desire to more asses as well as minds, chances are there's a great album in their future. B+(**)
  • Thomas Storrs and Sarpolas: Time Share (2005 [2006], Louie): Rob Thomas justly gets top billing here, even if doing so leads to confusion. He is the latest in the series of violinists to work in the String Trio of New York, and he sets the tone here. Dave Storrs is a drummer based in Oregon or thereabouts. I've noticed him elsewhere as a guy who plays with the band, and he adds a lot to the violin here. Dick Sarpola plays bass; George Sarpola adds some extra percussion, hence the Sarpolas. B+(***)
  • Tied + Tickled Trio: Aelita (2007, Morr Music): German electronica group, dating back to 1994 when brothers Markus and Micha Acher spun off from Notwist. Advance copy, lists three additional musicians -- Caspar Brandner, Andreas Gerth, and Carl Oesterhelt -- but doesn't map them to instruments ("xylophone, glockenspiel, melotrone dismal sounds"). The named instruments add a toy sound to the ambient beats, which are pleasing enough. I would rather like to see more electronica coming my way, but much of it does strike me as anticlimactic. B
  • Tin Hat: The Sad Machinery of Spring (2007, Hannibal): Up to five players now, with most playing multiple instruments to keep the mix off kilter -- exception is Zeena Parkins, whose harp is odd enough she sticks to it. I never made any sense out of this -- near as I can figure, a bunch of interesting motifs that don't quite add up to pieces. B
  • Pietro Tonolo/Gil Goldstein/Steve Swallow/Paul Motian: Your Songs: The Music of Elton John (2007, ObliqSound): Don't know Tonolo except by name, as he has mostly been confined to Italian labels -- a dozen albums on Splasc(h) and EGEA, twice that in side credits, of which Paul Motian's Electric Bebop Band is the exception. He plays soprano and tenor sax -- soprano is usually listed first, but tenor predominates here. Goldstein plays piano and accordion -- seems like I run across him most often on accordion, but these songs feature piano. Swallow and Motian you know. Same group got together in 1999 for Portrait of Duke (Label Bleu). This one was producer Michele Locatelli's idea, and they make a game effort, respecting the melodies but playing around them, much like Motian drums. B+(*)
  • Toph-E & the Pussycats: Live in Detroit (2004 [2006], CD Baby). No evidence of a label name, so I'll go with the e-retailer. The leader is drummer Chris Parker, who also produced and painted the cover art. The band includes David Mann (tenor sax, soprano sax), Clifford Carter (piano, synth), Will Lee (bass, vocals), and Ralph MacDonald (percussion). Don't know any of the, but I'd say, and the photo doesn't disprove me, they've been around. The booklet puts it this way: "a Who's Who of the greatest Jazz Funk Soul and Rock session players on the planet." In other words, journeymen, but damn good ones. Only one piece here originated in the band, but they stretch out delightfully on Miles Davis and Don Grolnick. Lee sings two -- one each from Bill Withers and Gene McDaniels -- and nails both. He's also the source of the DigiTech vox on "Rockin' in Rhythm" -- less impressive, but a hot warm-up. B+(**)
  • Trio Nuevo: Jazz Meets Tango (2006 [2007], Soundroots): Tenor saxophonist Dick de Graaf meets tango more than half way. The trio includes Michael Gustorff on violin, Hans Sparla on accordion. The violin-accordion is pretty thick, with the sax not much evident except for harmony. Vocalist Sandra Coelers joins for four songs. I don't really know what they're shooting for here. I suppose what attracts me in tango is the rhythm, at least when the dancers are light enough to flow with it. But the spectrum also extends to the heavy, the operatic even, and that's where this seems to go. If someone told me that this was an attempt to conjure up an old-style tango, something free of modernist impulses, I'd likely believe them. But this group makes no such claims. So I mostly find it lumbering, especially the vocal pieces. B
  • Gianluigi Trovesi/Gianni Coscia: Round About Weill (2004 [2005], ECM). Kurt Weill's most unmistakeable music only comes around at the end, a fitting resolution to the circling fragments from the start, plotted simply and elegantly by Trovesi's clarinets and Coscia's accordion. A distinctive reading, respectful but still convinced that the music is meant to continue drawing breath. B+(***)
  • Gianluigi Trovesi/Umberto Petrin/Fulvio Maras: Vaghissimo Ritratto (2005 [2007], ECM): Title translates as "beautiful picture," or is it "vague impression"? Clarinet, piano, percussion. Starts slow, never really picks up speed. Lovely work, for which I'm short on words. B+(**)
  • Akiko Tsuruga: Sweet and Funky (2006 [2007], 18th & Vine): Claims to be the "only Japanese female organ player in New York," which can't be much of a stretch. Blurb also quotes Dr. Lonnie Smith observing that "she can play!" True enough, plus she has a great smile. This is a trio with guitarist Eric Johnson and drummer Vince Ector, with percussionist Wilson "Chembo" Corniel added on half the cuts. The guitarist is good for this sort of thing, which is cheery more than bluesy. Mostly standard fare, with four originals. No great shakes, but a good deal of fun. B+(*)
  • Stanley Turrentine: A Bluish Bag (1967 [2007], Blue Note): Two big band sessions, with 6-7 horns and 3-4 rhythm each, the former chopped up for two 1975-79 albums, the latter stuck in the vaults until now. Mr. T doesn't get a lot of solo space, but Duke Pearson's arrangements give everyone a lot to do, and several cuts really swing together. B+(***)
  • Lars-Göran Ulander Trio: Live at the Glenn Miller Café (2004 [2005], Ayler). The booklet includes Ulander's discography: seventeen records, all on tiny Swedish labels, most from 1963-77, all sideman roles even though he plays alto sax, only two leaders I've heard of (Phil Minton, Per Henrik Wallin). Jan Ström has made a specialty out of releasing albums under the names of semi-legendary musicians who have rarely (if ever) led groups before -- Arthur Rhames and Mongezi Feza from old tapes, more opportunistically Henry Grimes on a recent visit with Hamid Drake and David Murray in tow -- and he insists that Ulander deserves a little spotlight too. Sure does. The trio features veteran bassist Palle Danielsson and hot shot drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, both superb. Ulander is less spectacular, but he picks his way through the free improvs with considerable aplomb. B+(***)
  • John Vance: Dreamsville (2007, Erawan): Singer, based in Los Angeles, second album, also has acting credits. Has a soft, dreamy voice which is effective and quite appealing on straight standards like "Darn That Dream" and "My Foolish Heart." Has trouble reaching for a note or improvising against the grain. Good, low-key support from the band, including guitarist Larry Koonse on three tracks. He's getting to be a clue of hidden quality, kind of like Harry Dean Stanton in low-budget movies. B+(*)
  • Hope Waits (2007, Radarproof): Singer, co-wrote three of twelve songs, so not really a songwriter, nor much of a jazz interpreter, but she has an arresting, world-weary voice that is especially effective on blues -- "Drown in My Own Tears" is the most striking piece here. Peter Malick, of Norah Jones fame, produced and co-wrote those three originals. Some horn arrangements, and a bit of moody trad jazz background. B+(*)
  • Torben Waldorff Quartet: Brilliance: Live at 55 Bar NYC (2006, ArtistShare): Guitarist, born in Denmark although his home turf seems to lap over into Sweden. Two previous albums with Danish/Swedish groups, unheard by me. The guitarist does a nice enough job here, but the main interest will be McCaslin, who throttles back from his usual overwhelming performance and carries the album anyway, always seeming to be in the right place at the right time. B+(***)
  • Bennie Wallace: Disorder at the Border: The Music of Coleman Hawkins (2004 [2007], Enja/Justin Time): When I first heard about this, I was expecting something more intimate. At nine pieces (four reeds, two brass), the opportunity to compare and contrast Wallace to Hawkins is much diminished. But this was staged live on Hawkins' 100th anniversary, so you can imagine the clamor to get in on the act. Six pieces: two Hawkins originals, "Honeysuckle Rose," "Body and Soul," "La Rosita," and a 16:40 "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho" to close. What it lacks in revelation it makes up for with good cheer. B+(**)
  • Alexa Weber Morales: Vagabundeo/Wanderings (2007, Patois): Singer-songwriter, from Berkeley CA, on her second album; I find her command of Latin idioms completely convincing, entrancing even, but I can't say the same for her Afro-funk, 6/8 gospel, or ballad, and have the usual reservations about that goddess of war. B
  • Danny Weis: Sweet Spot (2007, Marshmellow): Guitarist, from Southern California; father played "country jazz" guitar, was friends with Barney Kessel, but Weis turned to heavy metal early in his career, founding Iron Butterfly, then Rhinoceros. AMG lists scattered side-credits over the years: David Ackles, the Everly Brothers (Stories We Could Tell), Lou Reed (Sally Can't Dance), Iain Matthews, Burton Cummings, Bette Midler (Rose). Pushing 60, this is the first record under Weis' own name -- easy grooving pop-jazz, something I'm rather fond of even though it's hard to make any claims for it. B
  • Robin Williamson: The Iron Stone (2005 [2007], ECM): English folk singer, first made his mark with a group called Incredible String Band, now in his 60s. This is something of a departure for ECM, but the band has solid jazz credentials: Mat Maneri on viola, Barre Phillips on bass, Ale Möller on accordion, flutes, etc. I'm not much of a fan, and might not have given this much of a chance, but a song called "Political Lies" caught my ear, and the accompaniment is hard to deny. On the other hand, many pieces do little more than crawl at a spoken word pace, and the deep lonesomeness can be alientating. B+(*)
  • David Witham: Spinning the Circle (2006 [2007], Cryptogramophone): Pianist, works with electronics, plays accordion, all prominent here. This is only his second album, following the self-released On Line from 1988, but he has a fairly broad albeit scattered resume: studied with Jaki Byard and Alan Broadbent; worked as George Benson's "musical director" since 1990; produces a community TV show called "Portable Universe"; current projects with Ernie Watts, Jay Anderson, Jeff Gauthier, Luis Conte; dozens of credits, although there isn't much overlap between the obscure names AMG lists and the better-known ones listed on his website. This album pulls several of those threads together, but not into a clear picture. The record opens with a synth percussion rush, but rarely returns to it. There is a lot of texturing with guitar -- Nels Cline's electric on two tracks, Greg Leisz's steel on three more, the latter affecting a Hawaiian twist -- and reeds, with an occasional oasis of clearly thought-out piano. Most of the eight pieces have ideas worth exploring further, but few are followed up on. I've played this tantallizing album five times, and doubt that I'm going to figure much more out. B+(**)
  • Dept. of Good and Evil Feat. Rachel Z (2007, Savoy Jazz): Z is Nicolazzo to her mother, a charming name if you ask me. Good pianist. So-so singer. Group is a trio with guests, including some fine Eric Naslund trumpet. Impressive talent. Less sure about the identity issues. B+(*)

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Weekend Roundup

TomDispatch: Mark Danner: The President at Peace With Himself. A new set of documents on deliberations between Bush and Spanish Prime Minister José María Aznar from February 22, 2003, leading up to the Iraq War. This just adds to what we already know.

TomDispatch: Tom Engelhardt: Do We Already Have Our Pentagon Papers?. Goes over a long list of now-public documents from the Bush administration, primarily relating to the use of torture. I haven't followed this thread, nor for that matter the complementary one on NSA spying -- probably because I don't expect much more from the US government (Bush or no Bush). But the following quote struck me, probably due to how it shows the Bush regime's sense of its own culpability:

In the process of twisting arms, the administration suspended over $47 million in military aid "to 35 countries that ha[d] not signed deals to grant American soldiers immunity from prosecution for war crimes." In this attempt to get every country on the planet aboard the American no-war-crimes-prosecution train before it left the station, you can sense once again the administration's obsessional intensity on this subject (especially since experts agreed that the realistic possibility of the ICC bringing Americans up on war crimes was essentially nil).

Also, their paranoia: the ICC should be flattered that the US takes them so seriously.

TomDispatch: Chalmers Johnson: 12 Books in Search of a Policy. A review of Stephen Holmes, The Matador's Cape: America's Reckless Response to Terror (Cambridge University Press), which in turn surveys a dozen other books by the architects and fans of Bush's GWOT. I've pulled most of the details out for a future post on Holmes' book. (Even if I don't get around to reading it, it's useful reference info.)

John Brady Kiesling: Getting Real About Iran. Starts with a discussion of legitimacy; specifically why Americans treating Iran's Presient Ahmadinejad rudely hurts us but not him. The idea that if we treated him with respect we'd "legitimize" him only plays to our own egos (which is, incidentally, the only thing that seems to matter in our political discourse).

One odd thing is that delegitimizing Ahmadinejad is not really in our best interest, even if we knew how. We are asking Iran to renounce a sovereign right to a full nuclear fuel cycle. No current U.S. politician could make such a renunciation and survive in office, no matter how money and praise foreigners showered on him for doing so. Gorbachev, who nobly relinquished an oppressive Soviet empire, is despised by his own people.

Tony Karon: Jewish Glasnost Update: Zionist Panic! Evidently Daniel Pipes and CAMERA have found a new major threat to Israel's existence: the English-language edition of Haaretz.

Legal Briefs

The New York Times ran an article today by Adam Liptak on the early cases presidential candidates handled as lawyers. Giuliani and Thompson worked as prosecutors; Obama handled civil rights cases, and Edwards defended the little guys in personal injury cases. All of those were indicative of future political careers, although the prosecutorial stepping stone isn't so interesting. But the story of Hillary Rodham Clinton's case is down right prophetic:

The first jury trial Mrs. Clinton handled on her own, for instance, concerned the rear end of a rat in a can of pork and beans. She represented the cannery, and she argued that there had been no real harm, as the plaintiff did not actually eat the rat. "Besides," she wrote in her autobiography, describing her client's position, "the rodent parts which had been sterilized might be considered edible in certain parts of the world."

The report goes on to say that she was "amazingly nervous" in front of the jury. Of course, she's gotten much more assured at defending corporate scum since then.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Birthday Dinner

Made birthday dinner tonight. I don't recall clearly when this tradition started -- sometime in the mid-'90s, although I must have missed a year or two along the way. The early ones were meant to give me a chance to explore interesting cuisines in some depth, usually with a dozen or more dishes. This one was just based on the recollection that I hadn't had mariscada in green sauce in quite some time. That's a Spanish dish, so it was tempting to pile on the tapas. I usually fix potatoes with it -- fried is what I'm used to in restaurants, but I usually slice them thin like chips and roast them. I wound up fixing rice instead -- felt like it would be easier than fried and better than roasted. Originally thought I'd fix green beans as a side vegetable, but they looked awful, so I picked up some asparagus and mushrooms, figuring I'd find a recipe. Thought I'd have a chopped or mixed salad, but didn't get to either. Did find a jar of piquillo peppers, a chunk of rather tough chorizo, and some manchego cheese, so tried to work them in. The recipes come from Penelope Casas, mostly from Delicioso! The only new ones for me were the asparagus and mushrooms. Menu looked like this:

  • Clams in almond sauce -- augmented with shrimp, scallops, lobster; green with parsley
  • Saffron rice with pine nuts
  • Asparagus in almond sauce -- this one is red with tomato
  • Mushrooms in sherry sauce
  • Roasted vegetable canapes with anchovy/olive paste (toasted garlic bread, garum, escalivada)
  • Garlic shrimp
  • Piquillo pepper salad with raisins and pine nuts
  • Cheese pate with walnuts and peppers -- chevre and gorgonzola
  • Sliced Spanish chorizo and manchego cheese
  • Orange yogurt cake

I'm way behind in updating my recipes section, but half or so of these recipes are posted already.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Jazz Surplus (#14)

Simple point of fact: I only managed to cite 14 Honorable Mentions in the latest Jazz Consumer Guide. That's down from 17 the time before, 16 before that, 17 before that, 16 before that. On the other hand, I have 80 records rated (or tentatively rated) B+(***), plus another 68 at B+(**). If you want a definition of the B+(star) ratings, a simple one is that all B+ records are good, solid, worthy efforts, just not consistently exceptional enough to garner a higher grade. Within those, a 1-star record is one I recognize the worth of but don't feel much in the way of personal interest in; those records get a polite kiss-off almost immediately. The 3-star records are ones that I think highly of and enjoy; they all should be honorable mentions, but a few fall out, maybe because I can't think of something to write about them, or after a bunch of time I realize I don't remember them well enough and figure that's a sign to let them go. The 2-star records are in between, with a mix of both reactions. A few do get listed under honorable mentions, usually because I quickly think of something clever to say, sometimes because they have some interest beyond their quality -- the Mingus Cornell 1964 album is an unusual example: everyone else who has written about it likes it much more than I do, so my listing it at the bottom of the honorable mention list is meant as to signify dampened enthusiasm.

Anyhow, the point I'm moving towards is this: unless the frequency of Jazz Consumer Guide changes, I don't see any way I can use more than about 50 of those 80 B+(***) albums -- that would be three CGs worth -- or more than about 15 of those 68 B+(**) albums -- average is about three per column, so the actual number is less. It's always been hard to purge records that should be in the honorable mention list, but if I don't do it, I'm just living in excess clutter while I keep working. So that's the point of this exercise.

I'll also mention that I have 22 A- records (including tentatives), which is about two CGs worth. They're harder to cut, mostly because they're superior albums. Some I actually slip down into the honorable mention list, just to get them noted without spending a lot of space. But there are criteria that lead me to make cuts there -- primarily old music that I can review in Recycled Goods. I've also been known to skip records Francis Davis has reviewed in the Voice -- although I've been remiss in checking lately, so I had already committed to Jewels and Binoculars and Joshua Redman before I realize they'd been done.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Jazz Consumer Guide (#14)

My Jazz Consumer Guide column appeared in the Village Voice today. This is the 14th such column, going back to July 2004. Historically, they've been running every three months. The previous one came out on June 26, so this time it's been close to four months. There's no simple explanation for the slowdown. I run infrequently enough that the Voice doesn't give me a schedule, so I don't have to work against deadline pressure, then we get long delays once I do have something to hand in. I think we should be able to speed up the process, but I tend to let down after each cycle, then have trouble getting to the close again. Whether the Voice would run columns more frequently isn't clear. Until I produce them, I probably won't get an answer.

One thing for sure is that I'm not hurting for records worth writing about. The Jazz Prospecting file for this cycle has notes on 269 different albums. This Jazz Consumer Guide reviews 29 albums -- not sure why, but that's actually down 5 albums and 120 words from the previous column. (Actually, I was told that the cuts included Joshua Redman's Down East and Nicole Mitchell's Indigo Trio/Live in Montreal, but they're both in the web column. That would change my figure to down 3 albums and 27 words, not so bad.) By the time I closed down, I had a lot more prospected than I could fit in. The following is the list of A- records that I've prospected but didn't get into the column:

  • Chris Byars: Photos in Black, White and Gray (Smalls) *
  • The Claudia Quintet: For (Cuneiform)
  • The Neil Cowley Trio: Displaced (Hide Inside)
  • Steve Lacy-Roswell Rudd Quartet: Early and Late (Cuneiform) **
  • Adam Lane/Ken Vandermark/Magnus Broo/Paal Nilssen-Love: 4 Corners (Clean Feed) *
  • Matt Lavelle Trio: Spiritual Power (Silkheart)
  • Hugh Masekela: Live at the Market Theatre (Times Square/4Q)
  • William Parker/Raining on the Moon: Corn Meal Dance (AUM Fidelity) *
  • Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. 1: The Complete Abashiri Concert (1981, Widow's Taste) **
  • Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. II: The Last Concert (1982, Widow's Taste) **
  • Alvin Queen: I Ain't Looking at You (Enja/Justin Time) *
  • Louis Sclavis: L'Imparfait des Langues (ECM)
  • John Sheridan and His Dream Band: Swing Is Still the King (Arbors)
  • Joan Stiles: Hurly-Burly (Oo-Bla-Dee)
  • Assif Tsahar/Cooper-Moore/Chad Taylor: Digital Primitives (Hopscotch)
  • Fay Victor Ensemble: Cartwheels Through the Cosmos (ArtistShare)
  • David S. Ware Quartet: Renunciation (AUM Fidelity)

That's more than I managed to fit into the top section of this column. Some of those aren't written yet (* or **, the latter having appeared in Recycled Goods are lower priorities), but I'm probably not far short right now -- don't have clear pick hits here, and don't have the obligatory dud written. The backlog on Honorable Mentions is even worse -- I can't begin to list the unwritten ones, many of which will regrettably never get written, but the following are ready to go, presumably next time:

  • Slavic Soul Party!: Technochek Collision (Barbès)
  • Frank Morgan: A Night in the Life (High Note)
  • Sonic Openings Under Pressure: Muhheankuntuk (Clean Feed)
  • Matt Chamberlain/Bill Frisell/Tucker Martine/Lee Townsend: Floratone (Blue Note)
  • Paul Zauners Blue Brass: Soil (PAO/BluJazz)
  • Quadro Nuevo: Tango Bitter Sweet (Justin Time)
  • Charlie Haden/Antonio Forcione: Heartplay (Naim)
  • The Rocco John Group: Don't Wait Too Long (COCA Productions)
  • The Phil Woods Quintet: American Songbook II (Kind of Blue)

I didn't get the surplus file done yet, and right now working on Recycled Goods is a higher priority. But I'll try to figure out the surplus soon, and get a bead on the next column soon. It should be well within reach.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Music: Current count 13697 [13676] rated (+21), 797 [806] unrated (-9). Did some jazz prospecting first half of the week. Don't have much to show for the second half of the week; not even a good explanation, although I vaguely recall some housework and cooking a substantial dinner Sunday. Jazz CG should be out this week. No real plans, and not much else to report.

  • Clifford Brown: The Complete Blue Note-Pacific Jazz Recordings (1953-54 [1995], Blue Note/Pacific Jazz 34195, 4CD): Includes sessions under JJ Johnson and Art Blakey, as well as one co-lead by Lou Donaldson. All are distinguished primarily by the trumpet player. Does not include anything with Max Roach -- those came in the following year, property of Verve nowadays, and they are even better. A-
  • Johnny Cash: The Great Lost Performance (1990 [2007], Mercury/Chronicles): A neatly packaged career in a single set: "Ring of Fire," a couple of gospels, "Folsom Prison Blues," a Kristofferson, a couple of obscure originals, a talkie train ride sequence ending with "Hey Porter," a salute to "Ragged Old Flag" I could do without, a plug for his kids, "Ghost Riders in the Sky," two duets with June, "I Walk the Line"; something new, lots old, some borrowed, most true; unlike At San Quentin, he has no worries about having to prove himself -- he has it down pat. B+(***)
  • Johnny Cash: The Legend of Johnny Cash, Vol. II (1956-2003 [2006], Island): Six cuts each under Sam Phillips early and Rick Rubin late span his whole career while minimizing the middle -- cross-licensing is expensive when all you really want is to exploit your back-catalog; this middle -- including joints with Dylan, Waylon, and Hank Jr. -- is more idiosyncratic than need be, maybe because this is the second helping, or because the ends are odd too. B+(**)
  • The Decemberists: The Crane Wife (2006, Capitol): Major label debut after three Kill Rock Stars albums, starting in 2002. Not enough time to really sort it out, but midway the riddim riff songs started to win me over, a sound that should count as basic in alt-rock but isn't all that common. B+(**)
  • The HighTone Anthology: Rockin' From the Roots (1976-2006 [2007], Time/Life, 2CD): Founded in 1983 by Larry Sloven and Bruce Bromberg, HighTone started as a progressive blues label -- Robert Cray, Joe Louis Walker -- but soon moved into left-field country, which now dominates a catalog of 150 (or so) titles. In 2006 they chronicled their own history in a 4-CD+DVD box called American Music: The HighTone Records Story. That turned out to be easy pickings for the folks at National Holdings LLC, the venture-backed spinoff that licenses the right to do business as Time Life Records. They cut the big box down to this 2-CD, 30-song, $19.99-list affair. HighTone has done an admirable job of rescuing major label discards like Gary Stewart, Rosie Flores, and post-Blasters Dave Alvin, as well as providing opportunities for folks who didn't get that far yet, like Jimmie Dale Gilmore or Buddy and/or Julie Miller. They've made a home for folkies like Tom Russell and Chris Smither, and sometimes have pulled d a fave from deep in the past, like Dick Dale or P.F. Sloan. This spot-checks everyone mentioned plus some easy-picking obscurities, covering a range of American music, from B to C, anyway. B+(***)
  • Hot Chip: The Warning (2006, Astralwerks): Christgau recommended this, but I haven't found it beatwise enough for techno -- good techno, anyway. May depend on the songcraft, of which there is some -- just don't know/care how much. B+(**)
  • Oscar Peterson: Time After Time (1986 [1991], Pablo): Quartet, with Joe Pass on guitar adding some tasty breaks to the leader's voluble piano. B+
  • The Stooges: The Weirdness (2007, Virgin): The regrouped band sounds pretty great. Still, the repetetive refrains are neither too smart nor too dumb, and my sense of irony has been too taxed to recognize it in "My Idea of Fun" (is to kill everyone). Better is "Free and Freaky" (in the USA); take what you can get, I guess. B+(**)
  • Art Tatum: The Complete Capitol Recordings Volume One (1949-52 [1989], Capitol Jazz): Ten solos from 1949, four trios from 1952 with Everett Barksdale on guitar, Slam Stewart on bass, no drums. I've never really figured out what to do with Tatum, whose work is often marvelous, even more often showy, and pretty consistent no matter what he chews into. This seems slightly better than average, and I like the boppish guitar. A-
  • Art Tatum: The Complete Capitol Recordings Volume Two (1949-52 [1989], Capitol Jazz): Same deal: ten solos from 1949, four trios from 1952. Not quite as choice, I think; maybe the lack of pyrotechnics on the slow ones up front works against him; maybe the trio pieces just seem a bit sloppier. With Tatum I'm never sure. B+

Jazz Prospecting (CG #15, Part 4)

Jazz CG #14 should be in the Village Voice later this week. I got details on the layout -- Matt Lavelle, Joshua Redman, and David S. Ware got cut from the top section; Slavic Soul Party, Frank Morgan, Paul Zauner, and Nicole Mitchell from the HMs. They'll run next time, as well as a bunch of stuff I wrote but didn't bother handing in -- #15 is currently over half-written. Still need to surplus purge, which I'll get to next thing -- "done" file is currently 108 deep, which isn't exceptional by historical standards, but could still stand some pruning. Pending file is a bigger concern at 158, and that's short -- I've fallen a bit behind on my paperwork, even before I got a package of Fresh Sounds from Spain this morning.

I've complained a lot about stripped-down promo advances lately, so let me note here that I received final copies of two new Cryptogramophone releases (Myra Melford, Alan Pasqua) and one of the ECMs that follow (Keith Jarrett). I also got a package with seven recent Concord releases, including a couple I didn't bother asking for. They're among the stuff I still need to catch up to. Next week looks likely to be split between Recycled Goods and Jazz Prospecting.

The Karl Denson Trio: Lunar Orbit (2007, Bobby Ace): From San Diego, plays sax and flute, more funk than jazz. Got his break in 1989 with Lenny Kravitz. Other credits include Fred Wesley, Blackalicious, the Allman Brothers, Steve Winwood, John Scofield, and a couple of organ grinders I like: Robert Walter and Ron Levy. The trio here is an organ-drums thing, but it's not really a trio: he uses three different organ players and three different drummers (counting Steve Haney on congas). This leads off with a flute piece, awful really, and he returns to flute several more times -- "That Other Thing" is a tolerable example, but it still seems like a pretty silly funk instrument. The sax, of course, works better -- cf. "Dingo Dog Sled," probably the most retro piece here, easily the funkiest. B-

Amy London: When I Look in Your Eyes (2005 [2007], Motéma): Can't glean much from her bio: born somewhere in Ohio, got a BA from Syracuse, been in New York since 1982 (at least), took time from her career for children -- presumably she's recovered from that. Discography shows nine albums: this one, a duo with guitarist Roni Ben-Hur (who plays here), the rest without her name on the cover -- Broadway cast recording City of Angels, movie soundtrack Radioland Murders, something based on Rainer Maria Rilke, Tom Browne's Funkin' for Jamaica, more Ben-Hur. She has a Broadway voice: precise control, projects well, able to exploit a nuance to tell a story. She's also managed to assemble an admirable band, including the late John Hicks on piano, Rufus Reid on bass, Richie Vitale on trumpet, and Chris Byars on sax, as well as Ben-Hur and others -- they don't stand out so much as they fit in. Choice cut: "The Best Is Yet to Come." Evidently she's taught voice for quite a while; she does a whole textbook on that one. B+(**)

Tony Adamo: Straight Up Deal (2007, Urban Zone): Smooth jazz vocalist, or so he claims. I find he's got some grit to his voice, and his studio musicians are agreeably funky -- a couple of spots with Eddie Henderson and Ernie Watts even show some jazz cred. Could use better songs. B

Freddy Cole: Music Maestro Please (2006 [2007], High Note): Nat's brother, 14 years younger, although he seems like a generation removed, recording his first album 13 years after Nat's death, and his second 12 years later. The latter was called I'm Not My Brother, I'm Me, and they've come out steadily ever since. He's never been in the same league, but the family resemblance is real enough -- perhaps too much so to avoid unfavorable comparison. Still, this holds up well on its own. He's older now than Nat ever got -- it moves him into new territory, and he seems comfortable there. Of course, the Bill Charlap Trio helps, a lot. [B+(***)]

Eric Alexander: Temple of Olympic Zeus (2007, High Note): A mainstream tenor saxophonist with a strong, clear tone, plenty of chops, the whole kit. I've liked most of what I've heard from him before, but this runs straight into one of my pet peeves. There must be a technical explanation for this: what happens is that when two horns -- tenor sax and trumpet or, more often here, flugelhorn -- lock onto each other they create these harmonics that sound really polluted to me. This happens a lot in postbop contexts -- seems to be something taught in jazz school nowadays -- but this yokes the horns to old-fashioned bebop, which used to know better. Still, that only explains the four of eight cuts Jim Rotondi joins in on. Alexander sounds much cleaner on his own, but he's still stuck in the same damn rollercoaster ride. A dud. C+

Houston Person: Thinking of You (2007, High Note): Eddie Allen plays trumpet on four cuts. Unlike Alexander-Rotondi, he plays clean and distinctly, even though he has little to add. Person is aging beautifully -- the more he slows down, the better he sounds. [B+(***)]

Steve Nelson: Sound Effect (2007, High Note): Vibraphonist, from Pittsburgh, only has a half-dozen albums since 1987, but has a huge list of side credits -- AMG's count is 134 albums, including compilations I wouldn't normally count, but for the list stops in 2003, surely a glitch; it's safe to say he pops up on 6-8 albums per year, sometimes more. That means he doesn't write much -- three tracks here. But this quartet is a marvelous way to frame his work. Vibes often mesh well with piano, and pianist Mulgrew Miller gives Nelson a lot to bounce off of. The bass-drums combo: Peter Washington and Lewis Nash. [B+(***)]

Funky Pieces of Silver: The Horace Silver Songbook (The Composer Collection Volume 1) (1997-2005 [2007], High Note): An unnecessary label sampler, but it's hard to go wrong with Silver songs. Six of nine feature the Hammond B-3, including four by Charles Earland, three from the same album. The only surprise is that I like Joey DeFrancesco's trumpet more than his organ. Everything is tight, and funk is its own reward. B+(*)

Manu Katché: Playground (2007, ECM): ECM has gone to a system of distributing promos via downloads. Universal, which distributes ECM in the US, has used this for a couple of years, but I've only managed to put aside my chagrin in the last week, using it for Recycled Goods -- like Elvis Costello and Bo Diddley releases that complement ones they actually sent to me, and a Police set I knew backwards already. I haven't bothered with the ECM downloads, because I've been sitting on a pile of advances that I got before the new policy went into effect. Originally I was wating to see what would happen. This one his the shelves Sept. 25, and nothing happened. ECM has been generous in their support in the past, and would probably respond now if I made a stink. I don't mean to do that here. I'm trying to work with the new system, and explain how it works. Anything marked [advance] here with no date has already been released, but I'm working off a CDR with no booklet or cover art. At least thus far I have press releases, which with ECM have more info than the picture-oriented booklets have, and I'm trying to make up what's missing by searching the internet. (One problem with Universal's download system is that it doesn't provide useful collateral documentation -- lack of discography is a big problem, more so for Recycled Goods than ECM.) So much for that. As for this record: Katché, from France, has a handful of albums since 1992, and has done sideman work notably with Jan Garbarek. Garbarek and Tomas Stanko's band appeared on Katché's Neighbourhood, which came out in 2006 and got a Jazz CG A- rating. This one has Trygve Seim for Garbarek and Mathias Eick for Stanko -- interesting players, but they lose a lot of presence. A couple of pieces tighten up the groove to where it seems to have some potential; otherwise this is lax and fluid, attractive, but not all that compelling. [B+(**)] [advance]

Eberhard Weber: Stages of a Long Journey (2005 [2007], ECM): German bassist, been with ECM since The Colors of Chloe in 1973. Most of his albums are fairly minimal, but this is a live recording built around the SWR Stuttgart Radio Symphony Orchestra -- the group pictured on the cover is massive, with Gary Burton (vibes), Jan Garbarek (soprano and tenor sax), Rainer Brüninghaus (piano), Marilyn Mazur (percussion), and Weber added to the Orchestra. The Orchestra itself takes a background role, sloshing back and forth like an uneasy sea, while the group vies for your attention. The saving grace, unsurprisingly, is Garbarek. B+(*) [advance]

Miroslav Vitous: Universal Syncopations II (2004-05 [2007], ECM): All this shares with its precedessor is title, bassist, and painstaking assembly. But what made Universal Syncopations remarkable was the individuality of its superstars' performances -- Jan Garbarek, John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Jack DeJohnette. They're replaced by a committee here, maybe several, but this could just as well have been assembled from Vitous's legendary library of digital samples -- indeed, the sole voice credit, one Vesna Vasko-Caceres, only hints at how he uses voice to whitewash a heavenly aura over what sounds like a throwback to the Czech's Communist (err, classical) education. The funk horns and multiple drummers only exist on paper. Their syncopations are anything but universal. B- [advance]

Paul Bley: Solo in Mondsee (2001 [2007], ECM): Released for Bley's 75th birthday. Touted as his first solo piano on ECM since 1972's Open, to Love. He's recorded numerous solo albums elsewhere -- Penguin Guide mentions 12, most recently Nothing to Declare (2003 [2004], Justin Time), recorded after but out before this one. This one is slower, of course; per Dr. Eicher's Rx, no doubt. I also like it a shade better, although with solo piano I'm not much of a judge. Ten Roman-numeraled variations, on what I'm not sure, but consistently interesting, never dull. Bley has had quite a career, starting in 1953 with the marvelous Introducing Paul Bley, a trio backed by guys named Blakey and Mingus. A couple of years later he hired an unknown alto saxophonist, Ornette Coleman. He also married a pianist, Carla Borg; after she took his name and went her own way, he married vocalist Annette Peacock. He moved into free jazz in the 1960s, most notably with Jimmy Guiffre's trio. He has a vast discography, which I've only occasionally sampled and barely grasp, but often find intriguing. B+(**)

John Surman: The Spaces in Between (2006 [2007], ECM): Started recording for ECM in 1979, which by now makes up the bulk of his career. The more I listen to his pre-ECM stuff, the more I wonder about why he wound up dedicating himself to intricate, composerly postbop chamber music when he seemed early on to have both fusion and avant-garde by the balls. With a full string quartet, known as Trans4mation, plus bass (Chris Lawrence) as the sole accompaniment to his bass clarinet, baritone and soprano sax, this seems more chamberish than ever. But all the strings do is flesh out the reeds, which intrigue and never lose interest. [B+(**)]

Christian Wallumrød Ensemble: The Zoo Is Far (2006 [2007], ECM): Norwegian pianist, b. 1971, has four albums now, all on ECM. This is a sextet, but it seems much more minimal, with percussion, baroque harp, cello, violin (viola, Hardanger fiddle), and Arve Henriksen's vanishing trumpet. Some of the piano fragments remind me of Another Green World, with acoustic instruments somewhat complicating the sound and the melodies. The string bits are scarcely more complex, but don't have the same elegance. Textures mostly, probably related to Norse folk and baroque and such. Small pleasures, or maybe just pleasantries. B+(*) [advance]

Frode Haltli: Passing Images (2004 [2007], ECM): Norwegian accordionist, second album, both on ECM. This one with Arve Henriksen on trumpet, Garth Knox on viola, and Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratkje singing (or vocalizing -- there's not a lot of conventional singing). Songs are evidently folk based, including one by good ole' trad. Dense, dark, minimal sounds; any other trumpet player would bust out of this, but Henriksen provides little more than harmonic overtones to the accordion. Might be worth another play, but the pickings look pretty slim. [B] [advance]

Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: My Foolish Heart: Live at Montreux (2001 [2007], ECM, 2CD): This trio, introduced here as The Trio, debuted circa 1983 as The Standards Trio, but has been fixed ever since, perhaps from habit, possibly, well, if you're Jarrett, who else would you rather play with? I don't know how many albums they've done together -- pretty much everything in Jarrett's catalog for the last score-plus years except for the numerous solos. Given my relatively thin and unnuanced bandwidth for processing piano trios, they've long since achieved a plateau where they all pretty much sound the same. I'm not sure whether this is the exception, or it just started off so brightly that I kicked back and let myself enjoy it. It is a standards exercise, with two Fats Waller pieces unexpected pleasures in the middle -- I'm not sure how distinctive they are, but I'm glad to have them. [A-] [advance]

Sinikka Langeland: Starflowers (2006 [2007], ECM): Norwegian father, Finnish mother, sings the Norwegian words of lumberjack-poet Hans Børli -- like Langeland, hailing from the Finnskogen, the "Finnish Woods" of northeast Norway -- while playing santele, a Finnish table harp. She has several previous albums, probably more authentically folkish. For ECM, Manfred Eicher hooks her up with his favorite Nordic jazzers, most notably Trygve Seim on sax and Arve Henriksen on trumpet -- his third appearance in this batch, finally making a memorable appearance. Most of this is slow, cold, a little arch, but now and then they crank up the tension, and interest. B+(*) [advance]

Miles Davis: The Complete On the Corner Sessions (1972-75 [2007], Columbia/Legacy, 6CD): I had a day when I wasn't able to sit at the computer, so figured I'd give this a preliminary spin, just to get acquainted. I don't have notes on who played what when or anything like that. The hype sheet describes this as "the eighth and final deluxe 'metal-spine' multi-CD box set in the Miles Davis Series." This collects all of the 1972-75 studio sessions, resulting in the albums On the Corner, Big Fun, and Get Up With It, but it isn't actually the end of Davis' Columbia records -- that would be Aura, in 1985, ten years later, but evidently not part of the box plan. There are also live albums from this same period, including Dark Magus (1974), Agharta (1975), and Pangaea (1975). The group was exceptionally fluid, with bassist Michael Henderson the constant presence along with Davis. Henderson's electric buzz permeates everything, with everything else -- guitars, electric keyboards, saxes, trumpet -- stacked on top. On the Corner itself has a reputation as one of the few weak spots in the discography. My first impression doesn't find me disliking any of it, although this is certainly a mixed bag. Will work on it more later. It may come down to historical import: this is likely as far as Davis was able to push his funk-fusion aesthetic; surprisingly, no one since has managed to push it further. [B+(***)]

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


  • Jay Azzolina: Local Dialect (Garagista)
  • Andy Bey: Ain't Necessarily So (12th Street)
  • Ron Blake: Shayari (Mack Avenue): avance, Jan. 29, 2008.
  • Miles Davis: The Complete On the Corner Sessions (1972-75, Columbia/Legacy, 6CD)
  • Keith Jarrett/Gary Peacock/Jack DeJohnette: My Foolish Heart: Live at Montreux (ECM, 2CD)
  • Kitka: The Rusalka Cycle: Songs Between the Worlds (Diaphonica)
  • Steve Kuhn/Steve Swallow: Two by Two (1995, Owl/Sunnyside)
  • Trio M [Myra Melford/Mark Dresser/Matt Wilson]: Big Picture (Cryptogramophone)
  • Dolly Parton: Coat of Many Colors (1971, RCA Nashville/Legacy)
  • Dolly Parton: My Tennessee Mountain Home (1972, RCA/Legacy)
  • Dolly Parton: Jolene (1973, RCA Nashville/Legacy)
  • Alan Pasqua: The Antisocial Club (Cryptogramophpne)
  • Frank Rosolino/Carl Fontana: Trombone Heaven (1978, Uptown)
  • Linda Sharrock/Eric Watson: Listen to the Night (1994, Owl/Sunnyside)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Weekend Roundup

Tony Karon: Rice-Olmert-Abbas: End of the Affair. On the dim prospects for Bush's mideast summit. I read this, then added the following comment:

Reading this article tempts me to play devil's advocate. Bush has switched tactics on occasion, e.g. viz. North Korea. He backed Sharon unconditionally from the start, and what good has that done him? The single biggest problem he faces is the meltdown in Iraq, and Israel is more liability than asset there. Lately he's been leaning towards the Sunnis in Iraq's civil war, fulminating against Iran -- less, I suspect, because he sees Iran as a threat than because he needs to keep the pro-Iranians in Iraq's government on their heels. So why shouldn't he change tactics and use Annapolis to impose a two-state settlement on Israel? He's on record favoring a Palestinian state. He owes it to Abbas, who's a complete political criple without it. The Saudis laid the foundation for pan-Arab support for it. Olmert will have a cow, but the only thing that's propping him up in power is US support -- can he risk losing that? He'd have to get some face-saving adjustments -- not quite 1967 borders, some sort of lease-back on the settlements, stuff that has been floated around so long even the Bush administration must be cognizant of it. Much of the bluster on the Israeli right is based on the unconditional US support they've grown accustomed to; take that away and they'll crawl back to fringe minority status. The Israel Lobby will pop a vein, but are they really as powerful as they claim not to be? Are they willing to buck Bush if he decides his interests are elsewhere? This Bush is as tight with the Saudis as his father was, and as Karon has argued elsewhere, the Saudis are in the driver's seat now. No doubt they're telling Bush that a settlement on Israel will neutralize Hamas and Hezbollah, flip Syria, isolate Iran, and shift the playing field in Iraq. It would also recast Bush's legacy, which currently is pretty tarnished.

Of course, this makes too much sense to be something the Bush administration would actually do. The cards are all in place, and it's pretty straightforward how to play them, but you have to think their instinct for destruction will get the best of them. Still, look at the picture. How deluded can such political basket cases really be?

If this were to go in the direction I'm suggesting, the Mearsheimer-Walt book will play an interesting role: first by putting the Israel Lobby on the defensive, but also by setting up the opportunity for Bush to threaten to expose differences between American and Israeli interests. The success of the Lobby depends on their ability to merge the two, and they're probably in a much weaker position than Bush if push comes to shove.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Conscience of an Economist

I've just started reading Paul Krugman's The Conscience of a Liberal (2007, WW Norton). Which, by the way and contrary to my initial guess, is not an old column collection, although it does reiterate points made in recent columns. Also, the title is an explicit reference to Barry Goldwater's movement-defining The Conscience of a Conservative. So figure the book as a political manifesto, but it also looks like it'll work pretty well as a political history of the last 30 years -- basically, the rise of the political right and the decline of many other things, ranging from political civility to most folks' living standards. Consider the following quote (pp. 12-13):

Republicans won a stunning victory in the 2002 midterm election by exploiting terrorism to the hilt. There's every reason to believe that one reason Bush took us to war with Iraq was his desire to perpetuate war psychology combined with his expectation that victory in a splendid little war would be good for his reelection prospects. Indeed, Iraq probably did win Bush the 2004 election, even though the war was already going badly.

But the war did go badly -- and that was not an accident. When Bush moved into the White House, movement conservatism finally found itself in control of all the levers of power -- and quickly proved itself unable to govern. The movement's politicization of everything, the way it values political loyalty above all else, creates a culture of cronyism and corruption that has pervaded everything the Bush administration does, from the failed reconstruction of Iraq to the hapless response to Hurricane Katrina. The multiple failures of the Bush administration are what happens when the government is run by a movement that is dedicated to policies that are against most Americans' interests, and must try to compensate for that inherent weakness through deception, distration, and the distribution of largesse to its supporters.

As far as it goes, this is pretty much exactly what I've been driving at in my own scratchings toward a book: the conservative movement has been able to exploit America's political system, but its thinking and practice are so inherently flawed that whenever they manage to take power they prove to be dysfunctional, often disastrously so -- as we can see in virtually everything that the Bush administration has done since 2001. As Krugman's book shows, mine isn't a unique, or even far-out, understanding. Will read more and report more. Meanwhile, note that there is a long interview with Krugman here.

Friday, October 19, 2007


Kansas Senator Sam Brownback is dropping out of the race for the Republican nomination for president. He's consistently trailed all the other candidates both in opinion polls and in the more important matter of fundraising. His failure is pretty remarkable. He failed to rally the religious right in any meaningful way, which in itself raises a number of questions: whether the fundamentalist protestants actually feel any kinship with ultraconservative roman catholics; how single issue the religious right really is; how influential the religious right actually is in the Republican party. Whatever the answers to those questions are, Brownback wasn't able to convert his abortion obsession into any meaningful measure of support. His efforts to distinguish himself as compassionate and saintly did him no good. He also found few takers for his middling break with Bush on Iraq -- he came out backing Joe Biden's dangerous and foolish partition plan. Nor did his mostly pro-immigration stance win him any rank and file Republican support. Going into the race I figured he'd lose in the end for his extremism, but within the Republican field it now looks like he lost for his moderation. The idea that Republicans vote to kill still holds sway.

One thing Brownback's failure shows up pretty clearly is how tightly controlled the Republican Party is by the money people at the top, and how little prospect the rank and file -- especially the Christian right -- has of bucking their masters. The Christians exist to serve, mostly by stuffing ballot boxes. They get a bone every now and then, but their agenda is secondary and incidental. The money people have evidently decided that they want a candidate shifted far away from Bush, which explains why they've kept Romney and Giulliani in the lead. Both will say whatever they need to placate the Republican right, just as they said whatever they needed to say to get elected in Democratic turf. Their dance to the right will no doubt be followed by a dance back to the left after the nomination, as they try to recover the middle ground that Bush left scorched. They only thing consistent about them is their devotion to the rich, which seems to be all the GOP elites really require. Beyond that, anything that works will work well enough for them. Brownback never stood a chance in their world.

Kansas was also in the news today for rejecting plans to build two major coal-fueled electric power plants, mostly in recognition of how much the plants would contribute to global warming. A few weeks back it looked like the fix was in to approve the plants, even though they had little popular support and much opposition.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Chain of Deceit

I thought I'd follow up Studs Terkel's "The Good War": An Oral History of World War II with something on Vietnam. Since Terkel hasn't gotten around to writing "The Bad War", the closest thing looks to be Christian G. Appy's Patriots: The Vietnam War Remembered From All Sides, which for starters comes with a Studs Terkel quote on the blurb. However, for now I backed off, going for Tom Bissell's The Father of All Things: A Marine, His Son, and the Legacy of Vietnam (2007, Pantheon). I'll write more about this when I'm through it. But for now I want to focus on one quote: the beginning of a section that starts with a subhead: "Query: Why did officials at all levels of the U.S. military and government lie so often during the war?" (p. 184):

A journalist named Murray Marder coined the term "credibility gap" during the Vietnamese War's early years, and this shattering of the public trust is probably the war's most profound and seemingly irreversible bequest. But any serious discussion of the war must consider the argument, made by some revisionists, that the lies told by those waging the war were, in many cases, understandable. After all, the appropriateness of "telling the truth" is always mutable in the face of higher imperatives. During times of conflict, one can hardly expect governments to behave with complete transparency, since a major component of every war is secrecy of action and misdirection of intent.

Especially in a war that saw the United States constantly playing catch-up. However one regards Vietnam's Communists, it is hard to deny that they were on the verge of winning power in 1945 when a multilateral fiat blew out that verge from beneath them. Or that the Communists were again on the verge of winning power in 1954 when another multilateral fiat blew out that verge from beneath them. Or that the Communists were on the verge of winning power a third time in 1964 when the United States slammed down its foot to roadblock the verge once and for all. For the U.S. officials responsible for widening the Vietnamese War, anti-Communism as a practice had become synonymous with freedom as an ideal, and if one had to lie to ensure that freedom, so be it. Lying often and enthusiastically became not only desirable but absolutely crucial to keep hidden the various miscalculations of U.S. policy.

We need to look here at the justification for lying both in principle and in fact. The question of whether "higher imperatives" justifies lying should be examined both in theory and in practice. In principle, the first thing lying does is to distort and corrupt public understanding of the circumstances -- in this case, affecting the decision of how to fight a war, including whether to enter into one in the first place. In a democracy, it should be axiomatic that war is a decision that must be debated in public; therefore, all information pertaining to the debate must be public. But lying not only misinforms the debate. It taints the decision and all of the results that come from it -- a problem that grows in importance the more unfortunate the consequences.

Iraq and Vietnam are good examples. Iraq, of course, you remember. The lying leading up to the war was shameful, misleading not just the public debate but also the planning and execution of the war. But at least there was a debate on Iraq, and something resembling a straight up or down vote in Congress, even if more than a few didn't realize what they were voting for at the time. US support for the critical decisions listed above -- for France to recolonize Vietnam in 1945; for dividing Vietnam and installing Ngo Dinh Diem in 1954; for the coup that overthrew Diem in 1963 and the subsequent escalation in 1964 -- were never debated in public in the US, and were barely, and often incoherently, given consideration in the deepest recesses of government power. (The best documented is the coup against Diem, which was based on signs that Diem would negotiate a deal with the NLF, was debated inconclusively by Kennedy's cabinet but effectively given the green light by ambassador Henry Cabot Lodge, who set it up then washed his hands of it.)

Bissell continues (pp. 184-185):

According to the historian Fredrik Logevall, Paul Kattenburg, the State Department's leading expert on Vietnam, announced in 1963 that the war was hopeless, that the South could never win, and that the only option left for the United States was withdrawal. Within a year the State Department's resident Vietnam expert had been excluded from all policy decisions involving Vietnam. Years later, with the oral historian Christian G. Appy, Kattenburg would have words for th emen who had pushed him out: "[W]hat struck me more than anything else was just the abysmal ignorance around the table of the particular facts of Vietnam, their ignorance of the actual place. They didn't know what they were talking about. It was robot thinking about Communism and no distinctions were being made." The meeting in which he voiced his career-ending objections ended with Kattenburg thinking to himself, "We're walking into a major disaster."

That's a good example of the sort of information not only the public but pretty much everyone in the chain of command was denied by the willingness of a handful of insiders to raise their "higher imperatives" above considerations of fact and truth. Of course, the lying is still going on: once you start lying, and once it starts to go bad, what else can you do but keep lying? That really depends on what your "higher imperatives" really are. The anti-communism that drove us into Vietnam was never honestly, openly debated in the first place -- otherwise we might have worked to help leaders who wanted the progressive opportunities for their countries that we expect for ourselves, instead of letting us get pinned into war by dictators like Syngman Rhee and Ngo Dinh Diem who first made enemies of their own people. If our "higher imperative" was really a functioning democracy, we would never have let that lying get out of hand. Instead, we settled for a chain of deceit that dogs us today.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Cynthia Stokes Brown: Big History

Cynthia Stokes Brown's book aspires to cover everything. The title is Big History: From the Big Band to the Present (2007, New Press). Part I covers what we think of as pre-history, in four chapters: the universe from the big bang to the formation of our solar system; Earth from the early emergence of life to 5 million years ago, when the ancestors of humans and our nearest relatives (chimpanzees) diverged; the evolution of humans up to widespread dispersion of modern homo sapiens 35,000 years ago; development of hunting and gathering cultures in humans up to the appearance of organized agriculture 10,000 years ago. Part II adds eight chronological chapters (with some overlap) from early agriculture to industrialization, followed by a brief "What Now? What Next?" All this is covered in less than 250 pages.

The book starts off with the Big Bang, the expanding universe, the formation of galaxies, stars, on through the formation of Earth and our solar system (p. 12):

On the three smallest planets -- Mercury, Venus, and Mars -- all activity came to a halt within a billion years with the formation of rocks. On the four largest planets -- Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune -- the boiling gaseous activity continues today, similar to what it was at the beginning of the solar system. Only Earth has a size that produces a gravitational and electromagnetic balance, which allows a solid rock crust to form around a burning core. Only Earth has a position in respect to the sun, a mean distance of 93 million miles, that establishes a temperature range in which complex molecules can form. Within our solar system, only here on Earth does chemical activity continue in constant change.

Then on to the evolution of life (p. 17):

Every human life begins as a single cell, replaying the fact that all life on Earth began as a single cell. The first cells were bacteria, and our bodies contain ten times more bacteria cells than animal cells. Our cells contain three structures (mitochondria, plastids, and undulipodia) that evolved as separate bacteria before they were incorporated into our more complex cells.

Our blood still has the salt content of seawater; we cry and sweat seawater, testimony to the fact that all life began in the seas. Our children grow and develop for nine months in a watery environment; no life on Earth can develop its initial stages except in a wet place. As embryos, our babies still develop temporary gills -- which look like tiny scars behind an embryo's ears -- as a step toward developing lungs for breathing. Our bodies, like the surface of the planet, are 65 percent water. We belong to Earth in the deepest and most fundamental ways.

Brief coverage of the evolution of plant and animal life through the geologic ages, focusing down on primates leading to homo sapiens, initially a hunting and gathering animal, eventually to master agriculture (p. 86):

The advantage of agriculture -- more food per unit of land -- meant that people had to figure out how to store and preserve food. They had to defend their towns against large animals and other people, since they had too much to lose to pull up and move on. They needed people who specialized in creating storage (pottery, baskets, and storage bins) and in defending the town. Surplus food could be used to support these specialized people. It could also feed babies; with cereal available, they could be weaned earlier, and women could produce more children closer together.

Cultivation, however, also meant that people had to work harder. They had to learn to exercise internal restraints on themselves, such as working long hours when they would rather be sleeping or socializing, or not eating the best seeds on long winter nights because the seeds had to be saved for spring planting. People had to spend long hours grinding seeds and weaving cloth, possibly not their favorite activities. Once they had domesticated animals and plants, they, too, had become domesticated in a mutual exchange.

The growth of agriculture carried with it the potential for collapse (pp. 123-124):

The people added by agricultural success came at a cost, both natural and human. The natural cost consisted of the human degradation of the environment that sustained them -- principally deforestation, soil erosion from deforestation, and salinization of the soil from irrigation. Deforestation, caused by the pasturing of sheep and goats and by the need for fuel for heating and cooking and for charcoal for pottery and metallurgy, is the background for the development of all human society.

These environmental impacts were strongly in evidence in Afro-Eurasia by 200 CE. The plains of Sumer had become completely barren. The complex society that emerged in the Indus Valley lasted only about 500 years due to deforestation and salinization. The loss of trees in China caused flooding by the Yellow River, which came to be known by the color of soil carried in it. The cedars of Lebanon, prized for their height and straightness, were a mainstay of Phoenician commerce; only a few small groves remain today. The Mediterranean shores lost their natural vegetation of oaks, beech, pines, and cedars; only olive trees would grow on badly eroded hillsides, their roots strong enough to penetrate the limestone rock. The Roman provinces of North Africa were reduced to vast deserts. These areas never recovered from the degradation of their environments from 800 BCE to 200 CE. Only Egyptians reached a sustainable balance, for 7,000 years, with a river that naturally renewed the soil downstream each year (with soil eroded from up-river locations) until, in the twentieth century, irrigation and dams stopped the flooding and destroyed the natural cycle.

China under the Tang dynasty, 618-907 CE (p. 134):

Imports changed China. Men shifted from wearing robes to the pants favored by horse-riding Turks in central Asia. As the Chinese learned how to produce cotton, it replaced hemp as the most commonly worn fabric. Grape wine, tea, sugar, and spices modified the Chinese diet. All this trade was conducted with no central banking system; the Tang were wary of great accumulations of wealth. Individual scholars and landholders loaned money at interest.

The Tang capital at Changan became the largest urban center in the world with nearly 2 million people, 1 million within the walled area of thirty square miles. China had twenty-six cities with a population of over half a million. Twenty percent of its citizens lived in cities, the most urbanized society of its day.

Europe's ascendency after 1500 was rooted in a greater interest in learning that gradually developed over 500 years, in large part begun by acquaintance and rivalry with the Muslim world (pp. 184-185):

During the period 1000 to 1500, learning expanded dramatically in Europe from the days when people lived with just the Bible and reminders of Roman achievements. In the eleventh century Latin Christians took Toledo, Spain, and Sicily back from the Muslims, and they regained southern Italy from the Byzantines. In doing so they acquired the manuscripts of Greek and Arabic monks. In the twelfth century papermaking arrived in Morocco and Spain, having spread from Baghdad to Egypt by 900.

After 1200, new colleges arose in Europe that may have been patterned after the madrassas, the endowed places of study spreading in the Muslim world that provided subsidized housing for students and paid the teachers' salaries. Teachers for the new colleges often came from two new religious orders, the Dominicans and the Franciscans. Europeans, moreover, added to the idea of college, by forming universities, which were defined as degree-granting corporations specializing in research and advanced teaching -- a significant invention.

Before 1300, Europeans had created twenty universities; they added sixty new ones between 1300 and 1500. In all of them, Latin was used as the language of instruction. Sometimes students banded together to start a university; more often guilds of professors did. The university in Bologna specialized in legal training; those in Montpellier and Salerno focused on medicine; those in Paris and Oxford excelled in theology. Abelard (1079-1142) and Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274), famous professors in Paris, used logical reasoning to find answers to religious and philosophical questions.

After 1450 three improvements revolutionized printing, and hence learning: moveable metal type of individual letters, new ink suitable for paper, and a modified wooden screw press that pressed inked type onto paper. Johannes Gutenberg printed his first Bible in 1454, a book whose beauty testified to his years of experimentation. By 1500 printing presses in Europe were printing annually 10 to 20 million volumes, both ancient texts and contemporary political and religious tracts, in more than a dozen languages.

In Europe private persons could buy guns (power) and books (knowledge). Governments were not able to control change or the continuing commercialization in their societies. This set Latin Europe apart from other Eurasian societies, where more controlling governments were more nearly able to enforce traditional patterns and conduct. In Japan, for example,the manufacturing of guns was restricted and, after 1637, the ruling samurai allowed guns to disappear as not worthy of a gentleman.

On Europe's conquest of the Americas (pp. 196-197):

Why were the Spanish conquistadors able to conquer the empires of the Americas so quickly with so few men? Why did the encounter between cultures isolated from each other for over 15,000 years result in one dominating the other with such swiftness? This drama of human history, recent enough to feel directly connected to us, haunts our imagination.

The answer seems to lie in the fact that the Spanish had the advantage of living on the Afro-Eurasian continents where people had gotten a head start on cultural specialization and invention. This happened because domesticatable plants and animals were much more abundant than in the American hemisphere, and agricultural techniques could be spread laterally in similar climates. The surplus food enabled complex societies to develop earlier, producing the skills and attributes that made the difference; guns, horses, swords, cannon, ships, immunity to disease, literacy for communication, centralized political organization for resources, and scholarship for maps and navigation. The Spanish had enjoyed the benefits of exchange with all the complex societies of Afro-Eurasia that had risen and fallen since Sumerians made the transition to urban life.

Of all the advantages that accrued to the Spanish and Portuguese, the one that many historians believe made the most difference was their relative immunity to the human diseases that came from animals: measles, smallpox, influenza, diphtheria, bubonic plague, and, from tropical Africa, malaria and yellow fever. Native Americans, with no exposure to domestic animals, had never before encountered these bacteria and succumbed in overwhelming numbers without being able to fight. The smallpox epidemic of the Columbian Exchange proved one of the two worst population disasters in recorded history; the other was the plague pandemic in the fourteenth century. At least half, and perhaps as much as 90 percent, of the Amerindian population was lost between 1492 and 1650 to repeated epidemics. The Indians encountered by the Europeans were often the traumatized survivors of intricate civilizations collapsing suddenly from overwhelming diseases.

On the "Columbian exchange" (pp. 201-202):

It is difficult to imagine culinary life before the Columbian Exchange. What did Italians put on their pasta before tomatoes came from America? Likewise, chocolate came from the Americas; no one in Afro-Eurasia had any before 1492. Corn and potatoes, new to Europe, helped keep many people alive. Cassava, or manioc root, a highly caloric root crop of tropical America (native to Brazil) that thrived in poor soil and drought, became a lifesaver in tropical Africa. Beans, squash, sweet potatoes, peanuts, chilies, dyes, tobacco, and medicines all flowed to Afro-Eurasia as gifts from the Americas.

Flowing back to the Atlantic coast were the European crops -- wheat, olives, grapes, and garden vegetables. Also, Europeans took the Afro-Asian crops -- rice, bananas, coconuts, breadfruit, sugarcane, citrus fruit, melons, figs, onions, radishes, and salad greens. The Spanish took horses, which had originated in the Americas but had died out there during the last ice age, cows, pigs, sheep and goats, rats, and rabbits. The enslaved Africans took okra, black-eyed peas, yams, millet, sorghum, and mangoes.

On the end of slavery (pp. 217-218):

With the harnessing of coal, which made labor less scarce, slavery and forced labor gradually became less attractive or economical. Right at the height of slavery and serfdom in the world, these two ancient arrangements were, rather rapidly, mostly abolished worldwide.

The peak of slavery and serfdom came in the first half of the nineteenth century. Slavery quintupled between 1800 and 1860 in the U.S. South to produce cotton. It expanded in the Caribbean and Brazil to produce more sugar. In southeast Asia slaves on plantations produced sugar and peppers. In Russia millions of serfs raised wheat; in Egypt they formed the army and raised cotton; in North Africa slavery increased during this time, especially to raise palm oil, used as an industrial lubricant.

Agitation to abolish slavery began with the Quakers in England and with the enlightenment philosophers in France in the late eighteenth century. Printing and travel circulated the idea. By 1807 in England and 1808 to 1830 in France the selling of slaves was abolished. In the 1820s Chile and Mexico abolished slavery itself; England did so in 1833. Other Atlantic countries followed: the United States in 1865, Spain in 1886, Brazil in 1888. In 1861 Russia abolished private serfs, who had to work at least nine more years to own their land communally; government serfs were freed in 1866. The Ottomans succumbed to European pressure and banned slave trading but never slavery itself, since it was recognized in Muslim law. In Africa trading ceased by 1914, and abolition came in the first third of the twentieth century. On the whole, the abolition of slavery and serfdom represented a historic liberation for humanity; 50 million serfs in Russia alone gained their freedom. The use of fossil fuels helps explain why slavery has officially if not completely vanished.

On European domination and the rise of racism (p. 219):

By 1870 Europe had about 70 percent of all world trade. By 1914 it occupied or controlled 80 percent of the world's area. In 1900 China had only 6 percent of the world's output, falling from 33 percent in 1800, and India had only 2 percent, falling from 25 percent in 1800. Africa had been parceled out to the European powers.

In Europe and the United States the peak of racist thinking and policies based on racism marked this period. Racism exists ". . . . when one ethnic or historical collectivity dominates, excludes or seeks to eliminate another on the basis of differences it believes are hereditary and unalterable," while at the same time professing to believe in human equality. Racism seems to be mainly, if not exclusively, a product of Europe and the United States; its logic was fully worked out and implemented in three societies in the twentieth century: in the South of the United States against African Americans (1890s-1950s), by European colonists in South Africa against Africans (1910s-1980s), and in Hitler's Germany against Jews (1933-1945).

On the expansion of science in the 20th century (pp. 224-225):

The achievements of science in the last half of the twentieth century reached astonishing proportions. Antibiotics, developed during World War II, became available to save lives regularly. Scientists continued to find other life-saving medications; by 1987 the world's highest life expectancy was reached in Japan at seventy-eight years. Russians put the first artificial satellite (Sputnik) into orbit around Earth in 1957. U.S. astronauts landed on the moon in 1969, while in 1977 the Voyager I spacecraft was launched to travel past the outer limit of our solar system. In the 1950s U.S. scientists unraveled the genetic code in DNA molecules, nailing down Darwin's theory of evolution by showing the random mutations in genes. In the 1960s cosmologists found concrete evidence for their big bang theory that the universe began in a single explosive instant. Chemists produced plastics from oil residues in the 1940s. New strains of wheat, rice, and corn increased crop production two to four times from about 1960 to 1980.

(pp. 225-226):

The last half of the twentieth century witnessed a spectacular sixfold growth of the world's economy. This seems normal to those who have lived through it, but such economic growth is historically unprecedented on a global scale and depended on science and technology as noted above, population growth, and increased energy use. The world population grew from 2.5 billion in 1950 to 6.1 billion in 2000. Oil production soared six times from 1950 to 1973. In the 1900s the average world citizen used energy equal to the power of twenty slaves, but that figure obscures the inequality in distribution of energy. The average U.S. citizen directed more than seventy-five "energy slaves," while a citizen of Bangladesh directed less than one. Nevertheless, between 1950 and 1975 inequality between the richest and the poorest regions narrowed, as well as inequality within industrial societies. The ancient gulf separating the rich and the poor in all previous urban societies actually decreased during this twenty-five year period.

Since the 1970s, however, the inequality between the richest and poorest areas, and between the richest and poorest people, has started to widen. After the 1980s the richest one tenth of people grew much richer, while the lowest one-tenth grew slightly poorer. By 2000 the income per capita of six nations containing almost half the world's population could hardly be plotted on a graph with that of the wealthiest nations. In 1985 the independent democracies, with a sixth of the world's population, enjoyed five-sixths the world's wealth. In 2000 the richest 20 percent of the world's population controlled more than 80 percent of the world's gross product.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Reality Doesn't Go Away

Richard Rhodes opens his new book, Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race (2007, Knopf), with a quote from Peter Viereck that was true enough I had to copy it down:

Reality is that which, when you don't believe it, doesn't go away.

Viereck was a name I recognized but had to look up: 1916-2006, poet, history professor, regarded by some (including himself) as a conservative political theorist. Wikipedia has several quotes from him, mostly contra other conservatives -- in this he may be seen as a forerunner of Kevin Phillips, John Dean, Andrew Sullivan, and others who have lately (much too lately) tried to rescue conservatism from today's conservatives. For instance, in 1962 Viereck wrote about "that whole inconsistent spectrum of Goldwater and right-radical magazines":

Most of them are so muddled they don't even know when they are being 19th-century liberal individualists (in economics) and when they are being 20th-century semi-fascist thought-controllers (in politics). Logically, these two qualities are contradictory. Psychologically, they unite to make America's typical pseudo-conservative rightist.

In 2006, Viereck added:

I think McCarthy was a menace . . . because he corrupted the ethics of American conservatives, and that corruption leads to the situation we have now. It gave the conservatives the habit of appeasing the forces of the hysterical right . . . and appeasing them knowingly, expediently. I think that was the original sin of the conservative movement, and we are all suffering from it.

I actually think the original sin goes back further: first, to American triumphalism coming out of WWII, which convinced a whole generation of would-be conservatives to love rather than fear war -- the euphemism they often used was "military strength"; and deeper, to the threat to their privilege (or the privilege of their betters) they felt from Bolshevism, which they saw as a scourge that had to be exterminated.

The deep definition of conservatism is the instinct to side with and defend the status quo, which for all practical purposes means the powerful against the powerless, the rich against the poor. The other ideological traits are historical: conservatives were every bit as happy to defend the bourgeoisie against the proletariat as they were to defend the aristocracy against the bourgeoisie. (For further proof, cf. the Soviet Union, where conservatives supported the old guard against any and all reformers. Or Fascist Italy, Nazi Germany, Apartheid South Africa, Islamist Iran, Imperial Japan -- it's hard to imagine a regime conservatives couldn't grow to love, unless they were categorically excluded.)

Viereck's father, George Sylvester Viereck, was born in Germany, emigrating to the US in 1897. Like his son, he was a poet, historian, and had political interests -- unlike the son, he was famous as a Nazi apologist, spending 1942-47 in jail under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. That may have predisposed Viereck to conservatism, but he also justified it as an alternative to contemporary creeds: "He claimed communism and nazism were utopian and would sanction the murder of oppositions (as in anti-semitism) and that liberalism shared a naive belief in progress and humanity's essential goodness." The latter point is another conservative signature: conservatives tend to argue that human nature is inherently inclined to mischief if not flat-out evil, and that this can only be contained by the imposition of order (cf. Hobbes). This view fits the psychological divide between left and right: leftists tend to hold generous views of other people, being respectful of and generous to others, while rightists hold harsh views, based on projecting their own ill-will to others. The argument that utopianism equals murder is itself a rightist view under this same psychology; a leftist would point to the acceptance of murder as a separate problem, one unfortunately embraced by some nominal leftists as well as many on the right.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Music: Current count 13676 [13648] rated (+28), 806 [803] unrated (+3). No real news to report this week, for me anyhow. My brother's moving truck left Monday morning for the Portland OR area. I hear he closed on a house in Vancouver WA (across the river from Portland) and they were able to unload on Thursday/Friday, but that's about all I know. October's Recycled Goods appeared. I kept working on November Recycled Goods early in the week, currently up to 42 titles. Switched to jazz on Thursday, and have a healthy prospecting report ready to go.

  • Clinic: Visitations (2006 [2007], Domino): Alt-rock group, from Liverpool, four albums, seem to have a reputation for sameyness and/or inscrutability, which seems to be the strong point here. Guitars too. B+(***)
  • John Fogerty: Revival (2007, Fantasy): The high point is when he latches into "another fortunate son" -- his voice has thickened to the point I originally heard that as "unfortunate son," a twist that also makes sense. That's the fastest and hardest song on the album, but at least three antiwar anthems jump out, and the rest fit (not that I think we need that gunslinger). Nearly 40 years ago Fogerty tapped into a vein of Americana so deep it seemed like his new songs had been there forever. These songs you know weren't there, but the spirit was, and once again he's tapped it. A
  • Fountains of Wayne: Travel and Weather (2007, Virgin): Bob Christgau dragged me along to see them and another similar band around the time of their first album (Sloan?), which would have been around 1996. They played straightforward guitar rock with that sweet guitar tone that puts them on the pop rather than the metal side of the divide. They outhooked their billmates, but I didn't catch any lyrics, or more likely none were clear enough to overcome my general annoyedness at the whole ordeal. Over the years, the band's gotten somewhat better, at least judging from albums as far as I've bothered to tell -- this is the first I actually owned, after borrowing two ones I begrudgingly admired enough to slip into the lower reaches of my A-list. This one is more/less in the same mold -- softer rock, sharper words, four strong hooks up front, several notable songs further on. "Planet of Weed" could be anthemic, but is undersold, especially with "New Routine" following. The sort of record that if I cared about I could convince myself was important. On the other hand, I've played it 6-8 times, and if that's not enough to convince me it's an A-list record, maybe it isn't. B+(***)
  • The Isley Brothers: The Definitive Collection (1959-2005 [2007], Hip-O): First three cuts are as expected -- "Shout, Pt. 1," "Twist and Shout," "This Old Heart of Mine" -- but from there on catalog bias takes over, with two more Motowns (1966-67) welcome, two T-Necks (1969-83) way short, and ten cuts from 1987 on merely competent; the missing T-Necks are compiled elsewhere, but the later cuts don't justify a best-of, nor does this justify its pretensions. B
  • The Police (1977-83 [2007], Polydor, 2CD): Trio founded by drummer Stewart Copeland, who set out the basic ska groove that floated most of Sting's songs on the first two or three of five albums. They started out aiming at CBGB's and wound up with the eightfold platinum Synchronicity, with a couple of near-perfect singles like "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" and "Every Breath You Take." I've never made any sense of the group name, but Copeland's father is a pretty shady character who has owned two record labels: IRS and CIA, Group split after their peak, with uneventful solo careers -- although Sting recently topped Blender's list of rock's 40 all-time worst lyricists. This preps novices for their 30th anniversary reunion, providing more than half of their studio output -- a useful survey, but they haven't held up all that well, and now seem more peripheral than ever. B+(***)
  • Randy Sandke: The Music of Bob Haggart (2002, Arbors): Full subtitle seems to be "Under the Direction of Randy Sandke Featuring his Classic Porgy and Bess Arrangements and Other Greatest Hits." Haggart was a bassist and arranger who worked with Bob Crosby from the 1930s and later co-led a band with Yank Lawson rather immodestly annointed The World's Greatest Jazz Band. AMG files this under Haggart's name, and one can point to a 1995 "bonus cut" with Haggart and Tony DeNicola, but Sandke has a serious of similar projects, so he gets my vote, organizing a long list of Arbors all-stars into a crack band. The Gershwin stuff up front is superb, starting with a haunting, teasing "It Ain't Necessarily So"; fare like "At the Jazz Band Ball" also can't miss. B+(***)
  • Bruce Springsteen: Magic (2007, Columbia): I've seen this co-attributed the E Street Band, who are much in presence except on the cover. Formally, this is a return to the wall-of-sound aesthetic from Born to Run and Darkness at the Edge of Town, aging seems to have worked out the full-of-shit histrionics that marred (and in the latter case sunk) those albums. The slow ones are for pacing. The hot ones ring with all the grandeur he can muster, which is a lot. The antiwar song, a John Kerry shout out called "Last to Die," is nothing special, except in these times every vote counts, and we'll count his. His best since Tunnel of Love (1987). A-
  • Kanye West: Graduation (2007, Roc-A-Fella): This is, technically speaking, good enough to be graded higher. He has major talent at putting his samples together; he's likable enough, and occasionally deep even. But after 3-4 plays with it sounding good but nothing clicking, I found the last play mildly annoying. Then I realized that there's no song here that is going to draw me to pick this over either of his first two albums. B+(***)

Jazz Prospecting (CG #15, Part 3)

Skipped posting my jazz prospecting last week, even though I had a couple of relevant recycleds that lead off this week. Continued working on Recycled Goods early last week to try to get a jump on November (which currently looks to be in pretty nice shape). Then on Thursday I finally started playing some new jazz, starting with Dave Tofani below. Nothing new to report on Jazz CG #14. Next week looks pretty clear for me for once, so I'm thinking it'll be a good time to do the purge. Maybe even play some of those advances I've been avoiding. Or I could decide to finally tackle That Devilin' Music, which I'm looking forward to, but know will take a whole week all to itself.

Albert Ayler Quartet: The Hilversum Session (1964 [2007], ESP-Disk): This is the sort of session that would make an ideal complement to some sort of "Deluxe Edition" reissue of Ayler's 1964 landmark Spiritual Unity. The former album's trio, with Gary Peacock on bass and Sunny Murray on drums, reappear, reprising "Ghosts" and "Spirits" and adding other Ayler pieces. But this does more than reiterate: the fourth member is Don Cherry, whose cornet shadows Ayler's lines and lifts the band's spiritual exultation heavenward. A-

Sunny Murray (1966 [2007], ESP-Disk): The problem with adding interview segments to CDs is that no matter how interesting the interview may be to hear once, its long-term value diminishes faster than the music. Even if you figure out how to program the buttons, the interviews wind up being annoying make-work. On the other hand, do you suppose the folks at ESP-Disk figured you'd only want to play the music once, too? This is Murray's eponymous first album, cut with a loud quintet with Alan Silva on bass and relative unknowns -- Jacques Coursil's trumpet is the only real point of interest, when he's able to break loose from the two alto saxes (Jack Graham and Byard Lancaster). Murray mostly sticks to his martial beats, rapid machine gun bursts where he's neither playing with the band nor they with him. It's not without interest, but you have to scratch and dig for it. The interviews are much easier: 23 minutes up front of name-checking "Early History"; some short bits in the middle, one a "Recap Session" by someone else; and a closing segment on magic and musicians getting screwed by record companies. Seems like I've heard that one before. One point of interest is that Murray describes his own music as avant-garde -- a phrase that most musicians seems to be at pains to avoid. B

Billie Holiday: Lady Day: The Master Takes and Singles (1935-42 [2007], Columbia/Legacy, 4CD): Her early Brunswick singles were credited to Teddy Wilson & His Orchestra, but only the most arcane European labels still credit them to Wilson. One proof that Holiday is the most bankable name in pre-WWII jazz is that the major label custodian of Wilson's Brunswick and Holiday's Vocalion singles, currently d/b/a Sony/BMG, has kept them consistently and extensively in print throughout the CD era, even while they've let works by Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington, not to the Wilson cuts that didn't feature Holiday. The first CDs were The Quintessential Billie Holiday, released as nine separate volumes. In 2001, Sony came up with 35 unreleased alternates and packaged it all together in a 10-CD box, Lady Day: The Complete Billie Holiday on Columbia 1933-1944, which they broke down to six CDs of master takes and four of alternates. All along, they've spun off smaller samplers, which are almost impossible to screw up -- unless they drag in a 1958 Columbia horror show, Lady in Satin, where her voice is shot and drenched in dreadful strings, about the only possible complaint is that they cut her short. If the big box seems de trop and the still-in-print Quintessentials seem too arbitrary, this 80-song box is perfect. The subtitle is misleading in that it contains nowhere near all the master takes and singles, but the selection is canonical, faultless. It smoothes over the arcs of her story -- her emergence from being in the band to stardom, the wear and tear of a troubled life. On this evidence, she took charge of a band of superstars from day one and was a model of consistency at least as far as the box goes -- her voice limited in range, her technique straightforward and uncluttered, her phrasing definitive. A+

Frank Sinatra: A Voice in Time (1939-1952) (1939-52 [2007], Columbia/RCA Victor/Legacy, 4CD): Sinatra is as great a singer as Billie Holiday, and for many of the same reasons: the precise control and authority of his phrasing. Both were born in 1915, but he got off to a slow start -- so much so that he seems like a generation behind, missing the swing era peak, hanging on with straggling bands that were passé before he turned forty. Holiday attracted great jazz musicians who often backed her with hushed reverence -- I'm reminded of a perfect little curlicue of clarinet in "Pennies From Heaven," delivered by Benny Goodman, who could just as well have been showboating in front of the most popular band in America. Sinatra had to make do with Tommy Dorsey early, and went on to even more anonymous bands with Capitol in the 1950s, but in between he was treated even worse at Columbia -- Axel Stordahl? Mark Warnow? Harry Sosnick? At least I've heard of Percy Faith. Compared to this company, one cut with Harry James blows through like a tornado. The Sony-BMG merger has managed to unite the first two segments of Sinatra's career, but it hasn't improved them. Even careful selection only goes so far: the 5-CD box with Dorsey is reduced to one here, and the 12-CD Columbia box is cut down to three. Still, this is spotty. There are points where Sinatra overcomes the orchestra, and there are odd numbers out like the one with James. But you have to work to get down to the Voice. That was never a problem with Holiday. B+(*)

The War (A Ken Burns Film): The Soundtrack (1938-2005 [2007], Legacy): Don't bother filing this under Wynton Marsalis. He wrote a couple of connective background pieces, and may have had a hand in selecting the standards (Basie, Ellington, Goodman, Crosby; best of all Kay Starr with a band featuring Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins, and Nat King Cole) and classical filler. It seems slight for 15 hours of film, but at least omits the shots and explosions that fill as much screen time as the voiceovers. Further proof that war is bad for music. B

The War (A Ken Burns Film): Deluxe Edition (1930-2005 [2007], Legacy, 4CD): The soundtrack plus two CDs of Sony/BMG catalog music to flesh out the period (most actually prewar) and one CD of the dull classical music that saws along backgrounding the voiceovers. The first three discs -- not sure about the fourth -- are available separately, packaged same as here: in shrink-wrapped jewel boxes with short credits-only booklets. The extra box booklet adds nothing on the music -- just more on the film(s). The catalog sets are quality samplers, with the "dance hits" (I'm Beginning to See the Light) predictably better than the plain "hits" (Sentimental Journey), although the latter has such must-have items as Teddy Wilson's (i.e., Billie Holiday's) "Pennies From Heaven" and Coleman Hawkins' "Body and Soul." Still, anyone looking for a thematic meditation on WWII and popular music should look elsewhere -- Rhino's Songs That Got Us Through WWII (two volumes, II better) and Smithsonian's We'll Meet Again: The Love Songs of World War II are the obvious ones, with Proper's Swing Tanzen Verboten! a shot from right-field. B

Memphis Slim: Boogie Woogie (1971 [2007], Sunnyside): I'm no aficionado of boogie woogie records, and I've never been much impressed by the former Peter Chatman, but this late arrival covers all the ground worth covering, and makes up in grace what it sacrifices in speed. No vocals (that I recall). Just lots of piano, accompanied by drummer Michel Denis, who I scarcely noticed but must have made a difference. A-

Memphis Slim & Roosevelt Sykes: Double-Barreled Boogie (1970 [2007], Sunnyside): Two old blues pianists, shooting the shit between singing and playing old blues songs, some with stories. Neither are noteworthy singers, but both can boogie, and the history is good for something. B+(*)

Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown: Bogalusa Boogie Man (1975 [2007], Sunnyside): Texas bluesman goes native in Louisiana, creating a mess of swamp pop that is campy gumbo at best and slimy okra at worst, with "Dixie Chicken" a repast of both; five bonus cuts show off some respectable blues guitar, out of place here. B-

Dave Tofani Quartet: Nights at the Inn (2007, SoloWinds): Saxophonist, from Williamsport PA, moved to New York to attend Juilliard, and stuck around. Evidently does a lot of studio work -- website claims over 600 albums, including over 100 soundtracks; Donald Fagen's The Night Fly stands out among the website's "small sampling"; this is reportedly his fourth release on SoloWinds, although I can only identify three. Mainstream tenor sax quartet, with standards from Ellington, Kern/Hammerstein, Porter, Thad Jones, "I Hear a Rhapsody," and originals to match. Nice tone and range. A real pro. B+(*)

Mark Weinstein: Con Alma (2007, Jazzheads): Flute player, got into Latin jazz in Larry Harlow's orchestra in the late 1960s -- Harlow wrote the liner notes here. Other credits include Herbie Mann, Cal Tjader, Eddie Palmieri, Maynard Ferguson, Alegre All Stars. Also has some Jewish and/or Balkan music in his resume. This is a quintet with piano, bass, drums, and congas, with the flute and congas providing the Latin gloss on what's mostly a set of bop standards -- Coltrane, Shorter, Hutcherson, Monk, Gillespie's title piece. I was more impressed by Weinstein's previous Algo Más, which showed real Cuban roots. This, in comparison, seems superficial. B

The McCoy Tyner Quartet (2006 [2007], Half Note): This may be the least ambitious album of Tyner's career: just a set from his huge songbook, done live, in a standard quartet with nothing to prove. Just talent: Jeff Watts on drums, Christian McBride on bass, Joe Lovano on tenor sax. Only reservation is that they make it look too easy. [B+(***)]

Claire Ritter: Waltzing the Splendor (2006 [2007], Zoning): Pianist, long-based in Boston, but currently teaching in Charlotte NC. Has 8 or 9 records, only four listed at AMG. Website describes what she does as "American/New Music" -- studiously avoiding the J-word. With its waltz moves and string suites, this sounds more classical than jazz. I'm inclined to dislike it, but don't. The early going, including the suite inspired by Georgia O'Keefe, is quite charming, with Jon Metzger's vibraphone a nice plus. Some solo piano later on strikes me as roughly sketched. B+(**)

Ryan Cohan: One Sky (2007, Motéma): Chicago pianist, b. 1971, two previous albums, has worked with Orbert Davis and Ramsey Lewis, evidently as an arranger. He does have a passion for arranging, keeping three horns busy. Indeed, he's much more likely to fall down when he cuts back to the piano setting up a theme than when he's running full bore. The saxophone is often impressive -- don't know whether it's Bob Sheppard or Geof Bradfield or both -- and Tito Carillo has good moments on trumpet. Indeed, much of this album is impressive, but I also find it annoying, pretentious, overblown, and I have no desire to try to sort it out -- it's like jazz has finally come up with its analogue to the Rachmaninoff era. If this gets hyped enough I may have to come back and decide whether to list is as a dud. It could be, but I probably won't. B

Leslie Pintchik: Quartets (2007, Ambient): Pianist, based in New York, bios don't provide any early dirt until she put aside her English lit studies to form a piano trio in 1992 -- bassist Scott Hardy is still with her. This is her second album, following a good piano trio from 2004 called Glad to Be Here. This one has Mark Dodge on drums, with the trio augmented by Satoshi Takeishi on percussion (five tracks) or Steve Wilson on alto/soprano sax (four tracks). Takeishi had been the drummer on the first album. He fits in tightly here. In fact, I find myself preferring his tracks to Wilson's, at least on soprano, even though he does his usual fine job. B+(**)

Arturo O'Farrill: Wonderful Discovery (2007, MEII): The spine actually credits this to Eugene Marlow, who is listed as producer, composer (with a couple of exceptions, like "Summertime"), arranger, but isn't listed as a performer. He also seems to be the controlling interest in the label, which has released three other albums of his music. Front cover expands to: "Virtuoso Pianist Arturo O'Farrill & Friends Play the Music of Eugene Marlow." The Friends, including four percussionists, give Marlow's music the Latin treatment, which is pretty exhilarating early on, most of all when Luis Bonilla's trombone bowls its way to the fore, but runs down toward the end, especially once the flutes take over. As for the virtuoso, I find his networking more impressive than his piano. But this is a big improvement over the two previous albums I've heard. B+(*)

Gerald Wilson Orchestra: Monterey Moods (2007, Mack Avenue): I suppose Gil Evans got there first, but Wilson seems like the founder of the post-big-band modern jazz orchestra, centered on an arranger, assembled from time to time from spare musicians, often of stellar quality. Wilson got his break long ago, replacing Sy Oliver as Jimmie Lunceford's arranger, but he didn't emerge in his own right until the early 1960s, when he cut a series of albums for Pacific Jazz, drawing on west coast musicians who were particularly adept at carrying big band harmony into the bebop era. He vanished during the 1970s, but in the 1980s came back and has come up with commissions and albums every few years, lately with some really high-powered bands, peaking well into his 80s with In My Time. This one is less immediately persuasive, and there are still things I'm unclear about, and don't feel like forcing right now. [B+(**)]

Westchester Jazz Orchestra: All In (2007, WJO): First time through I liked this relative no-name unit, presumably based in the Westchester suburbs although most likely there are a few ringers from the city present, more than I do Gerald Wilson's (not to mention Maria Schneider's) expensive all-stars. (For the record, I recognize 7 of 17, some barely.) So maybe it doesn't just come down to money (except come Grammy Time). Music director here is Mike Holober, who turned in a nice big band record a few years back called Thought Trains (Sons of Sound). But the arrangements come from all over, including non-members, and the one cut I don't care for is Holober's Beatles arrangement ("Here Comes the Sun"; hard to imagine that one ever working). Otherwise, the horns snap, the band swings, they have a lot of fun. [B+(**)]

Vince Norman/Joe McCarthy Big Band: Words Cannot Express (2005-06 [2007], OA2): These guys, recording in Springfield VA, I don't recognize at all. The big band plays on seven cuts, including a 3-part suite. The other three cuts are done by a sextet, with Norman moving from piano to reeds and Harry Appleman taking over at piano. McCarthy plays drums on both. He's based in DC, teaching at Georgetown. Has two more records listed under Afro Bop Alliance. Norman wrote everything here except the Tadd Dameron opener. His father played sax with Claude Thornhill, Charlie Barnett, and Bob Wills in the late 1940s/early 1950s. He was schooled in Oklahoma, currently works on the "arranging staff for the U.S. Army Field Band," "as well as playing drums at church each week." This has all the basic virtues of modern big band recordings -- the warm bath of overtones, the feeling of completeness, that everything is taken care of, nice and secure. Doesn't have much beyond that, to make it stand out in a niche that has been overdone, that requires a lot of skill but doesn't offer much inspiration. B

David Hazeltine: The Inspiration Suite (2007, Sharp Nine): One of the very best mainstream pianists working today, consistently engaging in his trio -- cf. The Classic Trio (1996, Sharp Nine) -- and a dependable support player. This whole group looks sharp, with Eric Alexander on tenor sax, Joe Locke on vibes, John Webber on bass, Joe Farnsworth on drums, and Daniel Sadownick on percussion (three tracks). But the first time I played it I was little more than annoyed; second time it just flopped lamely, marking time before it expired. I suppose I could give it a third spin to see whether to add it to the dud list, especially if I can figure out why. I'm not real sure why this doesn't work -- Alexander sounds thin, way off his usual game; Locke solos well but otherwise is disconnected; the 26-minute title thing straddling the middle is impossible to distinguish from the before and aft; the leader rarely gets space to stretch out -- but it probably doesn't matter much. B

Tardo Hammer: Look Stop & Listen: The Music of Tadd Dameron (2007, Sharp Nine): Pianist, from New York, on his fourth album, mostly trios -- this one with John Webber and Joe Farnsworth. Deeply rooted in bebop, all the more evident on this program of Tadd Dameron tunes. He does a respectable job, here as elsewhere, but I find this of rather limited interest. B+(*)

Marty Ehrlich & Myra Melford: Spark! (2007, Palmetto): One of those razor-thin slipcase specials that got lost on my shelves, discovered only when I reached for the next record over and it fell out. Duos. Melford plays piano; Ehrlich alto sax and clarinet. Both are important figures who should by now need no introduction. Pieces are evenly divided, with one extra each by Robin Holcomb and Andrew Hill. This suffers the usual duo problems -- the instrument imbalance, uncertainty and the resultant tendency to slow down, erratic flow -- but comes through often enough to suggests it may be worth the time to sort out. Hope I can find it again. [B+(**)] [advance]

Trio M [Myra Melford/Mark Dresser/Matt Wilson]: Big Picture (2006 [2007], Cryptogramophone): Another slipcover deal which took a lot of shuffling and scanning to dig up, although here at least it's still in advance of the release date. Melford's combos all have names, and this one isn't hard to decipher. Three songs for Melford; two each for Dresser and Wilson. Without paying close attention, I'd guess that the complex ones are Melford's, the bouncy ones are Wilson's, and the weird arco stuff is Dresser's. No need to sort it all out now. Very interesting stuff. [B+(***)] [advance: Oct. 23]

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


  • Baker Hunt Sandstrom Williams: Extraordinary Popular Delusions (Okka Disk)
  • Michael Blake Sextet: Amor de Cosmos (Songlines)
  • Paul Bollenbeck: Invocation (Elefant Dreams)
  • François Carrier/Michel Lambert: Kathmandu (FMR)
  • Cyrus Chestnut: Cyrus Plays Elvis (Koch)
  • Tim Collins: Valcour (Arabesque)
  • Deep Blue Organ Trio: Folk Music (Origin)
  • The Dynamic Les Demerle Band: Cookin' at the Corner, Vol. 2 (Origin)
  • Amir ElSaffar: Two Rivers (Pi)
  • The Engines (Okka Disk)
  • Alèmayèhu Eshèté: Éthiopiques 22: More Vintage! (1972-74, Buda Musique)
  • Chris Gestrin: After the City Has Gone: Quiet (Songlines, 2CD)
  • His Name Is Alive: Sweet Earth Flower: A Tribute to Marion Brown (High Two)
  • Todd Isler: Soul Drums (Takadimi Tunes)
  • Featuring Norah Jones (Blue Note): CDR of Jones guest appearances on albums/soundtracks; "will not be released as a cd and is not intended for review."
  • Lee Konitz-Ohad Talmor Big Band: Portology (Omnitone): advance
  • New Percussion Group of Amsterdam: Go Between (1986, Summerfold)
  • Normal Love (High Two)
  • Ben Patterson Trio: Breathing Space (OA2)
  • Kim Richmond Ensemble: Live at Café Metropol (Origin)
  • Doug Beavers Rovira Jazz Orchestra: Jazz, Baby! (Origin)
  • Slow Poke: At Home (Palmetto): "digital only release"
  • Territory Band-6 With Fred Anderson: Collide (Okka Disk)
  • Gebhard Ullman: New Basement Research (Soul Note)
  • Upper Left Trio: Three (Origin)
  • Stevie Ray Vaughan & Friends: Solos, Sessions & Encores (1978-88, Epic/Legacy): advance, Nov. 6.
  • Howard Wiley: The Angola Project (CDBaby)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Weekend Roundup

Paul Krugman: Same Old Party: "Well, I don't know what true conservatism is, but while doing research for my forthcoming book I spent a lot of time studying the history of the American political movement that calls itself conservatism -- and Mr. Bush hasn't strayed from the path at all." I thought I was going to write a book on that, but Krugman looks to be the faster writer, and to have more stomach for the research. His examples are all well-founded. The only one I wasn't familiar with just reminds me that Barry Goldwater's real talent was cloaking his opportunism in ideology, a far cry from the notion that he drew policies from principles. The common tendency to find saving graces in yesterday's conservatives -- Goldwater's libertarianism, Nixon's liberalism, Ford's simple-mindedness, Reagan's charisma, the previous Bush's pragmatism -- ignores the fact that each pushed a conservative agenda more/less as far as was palatable at the time, and each laid the foundation for the next. This Bush is very much in the same line. That some of the people who were conned by the conservative juggernaut along the way have come to have second thoughts just goes to show what con jobs they've pulled. The definition of a true conservative is one who believed them all, regardless of glaring contradictions and massive disconnects from reality.

Tariq Ali: Pakistan at Sixty. A fairly long report, including much on Musharaf's efforts to keep control of both the army and the government, and the Red Mosque uprising. The following quote struck my fancy:

The liberal press depicted the anti-vice campaign as the Talibanisation of Pakistan, which annoyed the Lal Masjid clerics. "Rudy Giuliani, when he became mayor of New York, closed the brothels," Rashid said. "Was that also Talibanisation?"

Well, yes, more or less. Ali has a book on Pakistan coming out next year.

Trita Parsi: Iran, the Inflatable Bogey. This piece reviews Israel's schizophrenic relationship with Iran, which was remarkably friendly during the revolution's most aggressive years, especially when Iran was at war with Iraq, but has lately turned sour with Israeli political figures wailing about Iran as a pathological threat to their (and America's) security. Parsi focuses on Netanyahu, one of the loudest of late, who when he was Prime Minister had downplayed the Iranian threat. Parsi has a book out which looks interesting: Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the U.S. Some of the Israeli material is also in Scott Ritter's Target Iran. I'm most curious how the U.S. relationship plays out.

Paul Krugman: Sliming Graeme Frost. This type of thing is usually below my radar -- when I did see two or three references to Frost my reaction was: who?

All in all, the Graeme Frost case is a perfect illustration of the modern right-wing political machine at work, and in particular its routine reliance on character assassination in place of honest debate. If service members oppose a Republican war, they're "phony soldiers"; if Michael J. Fox opposes Bush policy on stem cells, he's faking his Parkinson's symptoms; if an injured 12-year-old child makes the case for a government health insurance program, he's a fraud.

Note that Krugman has a new collection of old columns out, The Conscience of a Liberal (WW Norton). I haven't looked at it, but would assume it follows the form of The Great Unravelling -- including the likelihood that the paperback another year ahead will include revisions and expansions. I'd normally wait, but Krugman has become a unique critic, able to speak from the authority of what Lester Thurow dubbed "the establishment" but not afraid to tangle with the right-wing bullies. (His other recent book is the $139.95 Economics, his bid to replace Paul Samuelson as the standard textbook. Samuelson has been quoted as saying he'd rather be the guy who wrote the textbook every economist is taught than be president. If Krugman hasn't used that quote, he certainly knows it.) Two words in the new book's title elicit my gag reflex -- "liberal" is still tainted by the liberal support for the Vietnam War, although many of those liberal warmongers have recently rebranded themselves as neoconservatives; "conscience" because it seems like a sinking ship word, a last lonely beacon of principle. Actually, Krugman has done well for himself during the Bush years, starting with his Fuzzy Math: The Essential Guide to the Bush Tax Plan, published well before 9/11. When the fog lifts, he's one of the first beacons any future political leader will have to notice. That's he's chosen to rally behind the thoroughly disparaged liberal brand is a typical show of daring.


I watched some TV news last evening. Al Gore won the Nobel Peace Prize. It says a lot about the state of the media today that the news pundits reacted in two (and only two) ways: 1) to speculate that this was the Nobel Committee's way of snubbing Bush; and 2) to speculate on whether Gore would run for president now. (Similar articles showed up in the Wichita Eagle today, as well as at least one letter showing us the flak Gore would have to weather if he did run.) To some extent the reaction reflects the extraordinary concentration of political power in the White House, but even so it has at least as much to do with the media's desire to simplify politics for the stupid. And what can be simpler or stupider than investing all political interest in whoever's president?

It hasn't completely come down to that. Senators and a few representatives can grab a headline without running for president, but running for president adds considerably to one's news quotient. (Even Dennis Kucinich does much better being a candidate, although he's still far below the media's power standard for someone to take seriously.) But it's come real close. One guideline is the story quality: Bush can get top headline for a colonoscopy; when thousands of people die in an earthquake or tsunami somewhere, the number two story is Bush's reaction. And none of this is because there's anything intrinsically interesting about Bush. It's just that he's the president.

Consequently, the focus on Al Gore and the presidency is double edged. There are plenty of citizens concerned about global warming, including ones with much stronger scientific credentials, who can't get a sliver of the attention that Gore gets. And Gore gets it not just because of his past; he also gets it for his future potential, and he also gets a certain rather unique factor for being uniquely paired with Bush -- in particular, as Bush's standing tanks, Gore is ever-present as the alternative we could have/should have had. On the other hand, Gore achieved this stature by stepping outside the domain of presidential politics -- by becoming a non-politician, in stark contrast to Bush. (And, for that matter, to Bill Clinton, who won't be able to wash off the slime as long as Hilary is running for office.) A big part of the problem here is that not only has politics been stupefied to being just about who's president, the politicians have dumbed down to match. (The Republicans are way out front in this regard, but hardly alone.) In escaping presidential politics, Gore has become free to actually use his brain, and that just adds to his stature viz. every actual candidate. The thing I'm not sure of is whether the people who want Gore for president think his new stature qualifies him for the job, or by luring him back into the ring they mean to reduce him to the stupidity expected of all presidential candidates. (Cf. Matt Taibbi's book on the 2004 election, The Stupid Season.)

The most interesting thing about Gore is that he's managed to use the system to buck the system; i.e., to use the media's pedestrian obsession with political power to become a uniquely prominent issue advocate. This has put him in a position where he can move politics based on his moral authority -- it's especially unlikely that any Democratic Party presidential candidate will feel the urge to buck him. The closest analogous figure I can think of is Martin Luther King, but even King was as much the creation of his movement as its leader. Gore seems to have created his role from whole cloth, with much popular sentiment but no real popular movement. Of course, his biggest boost in all this has been Bush's counterexample. One thing that will be interesting to watch is how people react when Gore pushes his weight around on issues beyond global warming -- his book has quite a few, and Bush's failures suggest more.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Claude S Fischer/Michael Hout: Century of Difference

Andrew Hacker's "They'd Much Rather Be Rich" essay in the New York Review of Books (Oct. 11, 2007) covers several interesting-looking books, including Claude S. Fischer and Michael Hout, Century of Difference: How America Changed in the Last One Hundred Years (2006, Russell Sage Foundation). This strikes me as an essential subject. Pushing 60 myself, I have no great trouble thinking back to my grandparents' generation, a world that is now more than one century removed from the present. Clearly, so much has changed in that period that some sort of systematic assessment would be most interesting.

Hacker writes:

Claude Fischer and Michael Hout have written an imaginative chronicle of the century that just ended. While there are palpable differences in how the country looked in 1900 and 2000, they point to some striking similarities. Thus they show that in 1900, the top one fifth of families took in 55 percent of overall household income. By 1950, thanks to New Deal tax rates and public hostility to high salaries, for the most elite workers, that group's share had declined to 43 percent of the total. But in 2005, the most recent figures, the top fifth's share had risen to 50 percent, suggesting we're approaching a new Gilded Age.

Even so, it's worth noting that much of this upward flow is to the top 20 percent, so it means a fairly large stratum -- some 23 million households with incomes starting at $92,000 -- is benefiting not just the very rich. In fact, something similar was happening around 1900.A tier of professionals and managers was emerging, and their status was rewarded by higher pay. Most cities still have townhouses from that time, which included floors for live-in servants. Our current version of that class -- corporate lawyers, cosmetic surgeons, hedge fund traders -- make up today's market for multi-million condominiums. The lower taxes for the highest tiers also resemble the McKinley era. Indeed, we're outdoing that era: recent years have seen a larger share of the nation's income accruing to the top 1 percent. And more affluence for them means less for others; the bottom fifth's share has been declining for a generation. This is a disgraceful fact about which few of our leading politicians have anything to say.

Hacker then goes on to consider education -- the subject of other books in his essay. I guess I'd be more inclined to focus on technology and its impact on work, standard of living, communications, sense of community and identity, etc. The expansion of education is part of this, but it's also a necessity given our growing dependency on technology. The 20th century saw profound changes in every aspect of everyday life. Mapping those out, getting some kind of grip on them, is essential to clearly seeing ahead, where the challenges of changes already wrought, not to mention changes unimagined, lies in wait.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Avner Offer: The Challenge of Affluence

In his Oct. 11, 2007 New York Review of Books piece ("They'd Much Rather Be Rich"), Andrew Hacker writes of Avner Offer's book, The Challenge of Affluence: Self-Control and Well-Being in the United States and Britain Since 1950 (2007, Oxford University Press):

"I've been rich, and I've been poor," the cabaret entertainer Sophie Tucker was once heard to say, famously adding, "and believe me, rich is better." Avner Offer disagrees. In his view, the spread of affluence not only corrupts character, but has caused al these disorders and discontents:

family breakdown, addiction, stress, road and landscape congestion, obesity, poverty, denial of health care, mental disorder, violence, economic fraud, and insecurity.

He cites surveys in which today's Americans declare themselves unhappier than their parents were. Young people who earlier heeded their elders are now prone to "intoxicating short-term dissipation." Offer argues that advertising, by flaunting what we don't have, is a major cause of malaise. His book's most vivid examples come from the research at Duke University's Hartman Center for Sales, Advertising, and Marketing. Recurrent pitches, for example, have insidious effects: "By saturating the public domain with false sincerity, advertising makes genuine sincerity more difficult."

Moreover, he writes, "affluence breeds impatience," whereas more modest degrees of wealth fostered "reciprocity and commitment." Modern marriages are like products purchased at the mall: turn them in if they don't work out. Using statistics from Nigeria and Lebanon, he finds a link between low incomes and family bonds. But he can also get the figures wrong, as when he writes that cohabiting couples have less sex than their married counterparts. In fact, the study he cites found the former to be considerably more active, which is what most of us might expect.

While Offer doesn't define "affluence," his book focuses on how rising income affects ordinary people. The average American family now has two and a half times the purchasing power of its 1947 counterpart. Affluence for such a family isn't wealth; many have heavy debts and are unprepared for calamities. But they frequent suburban malls, crowd the nation's airports, and are helping their children through college. Offer's statistics suggest that at least two thirds of Americans are in this pool, whereas in 1947 only one in three were.

Early in The Challenge of Affluence, a predictable thought arises: weren't indigence and diseases common in pre-affluent periods? Yet Offer, who is Oxford's Chichele Professor of Economic History, says little about the past. In New York City, at the start of the last century, one fifth of all babies died before reaching the age of six. Tuberculosis was rampant in the tenements, and very often fatal. Altogether, fewer than 2 percent of New Yorkers survived to celebrate their seventieth birthday -- the kind of fact Offer fails to consider. Yet on one count, Offer is correct: nuptials were taken seriously. The 1910 Census found only 8,292 divorced men and women, against the 1,805,335 who were married. Today's divorce ratio is forty times higher.

Offer's chief concern isn't with the very rich who have always lived lavishly. Rather, he focuses on how a half-century of abundance in the United States has fomented a "self-regarding individualism" in the new majority who now share in its largess. He concludes, contra Sophie Tucker, that more money in more pockets hasn't increased the gross domestic happiness, although he grants that better-paid men and women exercise more and smoke less. [ . . . ]

Rising real incomes, Offer concludes, lead to "self-defeating choices." His examples range from undersaving and gambling to obesity and infidelity. He cites the less-affluent British, who show more patience and restraint, owing to their "class barriers," which restrain personal aspirations. His basic criticism of Americans is that they have a greater sense of entitlement than their British cousins do. In fact, those feelings -- coupled with a propensity for purchasing -- have been around for a long time, including during the less prosperous periods Offer cites. Alexander Hamilton urged citizens to take a second job, "as a resource for multiplying their acquisitions or their enjoyments." Somewhat later, Alexis de Toqueville noted prosperity's untoward effects, especially in "that strange melancholy which often haunts the inhabitants of democratic countries in the midst of their abundance." Offer is convincing when he argues that the emphasis on acquisition serves to accentuate the poverty of the minorities left behind, whether in New York in 1900 or more recently in New York in 1900 or more recently in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. If American affluence goes back a long way, it also remains the overriding reason why so many people want to come here.

While psychology may be less methodical than economics, an analysis of the urge to spend needs to delve into people's minds. I wish Offer had tried to say more about motives. All this purchasing involves more than keeping up with neighbors or impressing rivals we don't like. Rather, Hamilton's "acquisitions and enjoyments" help us to delineate who we are. Most of us, including philosophers and poets, use what we wear or where we take vacations to express or confirm our identities. But does this mean the richer we are, the more dimensions of experience we discover? Offer would say no. But of course he can't know about the inner lives of many citizens. Who can?

This doesn't quite inspire me to run out and buy a $45 hardcover book, and not just because I'm still stuck in the mindset that we're not really as affluent as people seem to think -- maybe something due to habits my parents developed during the Great Depression and WWII. The bigger problem is likely to be the confusion in the book, but I'm still intrigued, because the relationship between affluence and, for lack of a better word, happiness does seem to be fitful. Moreover, it suggests further problems: if we're unable to convert ascending affluence into happiness, how much worse is it going to be when we bumps up against material limits?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Crime and Punishment

One more brief note on impeachment. I think it's really hard to punish politicians with anything commensurate to their crimes. The old eye-for-an-eye rule only gets you so far when you're talking about a Saddam Hussein or an Augusto Pinochet, to pick two well known and relatively uncontroversial cases. Capital punishment seems inadequate to the task, not to mention that it reflects so poorly on the executors. But even less monstrous political crimes seem to fall on some other scale of punishment. Irving Libby, for instance, was basically just a two-bit liar trying to cover up a broader conspiracy involving much bigger fish -- successfully, in fact, as Cheney, Rove, et al. have thus far avoided prosecution, and in that he's managed to avoid jail time despite his felony convictions. One can argue that he should do more time or pay less fines, but it seems inarguable that justice was not fairly dispensed among his circle of conspirators.

I don't see any way to reconcile this with my own sense of right and wrong. With Hitler and Stalin disposed of before I knew who they were, the greatest political monster in my lifetime was Richard Nixon. (Mao Tse-Tung may ultimately have been responsible for killing more people, but that was less clear at the time, and in any case bear with me.) Nixon's worst crime was the extension, both in time and space, of the Vietnam War, resulting in thousands of dead American soldiers, and millions of dead Vietnamese and Cambodians, but the Watergate coverup was the crime he got nabbed for, and by the time he resigned the presidency few Americans doubted that he was guilty of serious, treacherous crimes against our most hollowed traditions of government. Yet he basically got away scot free, retiring to his plush Upper East Side abode, spending the rest of his life writing self-serving books, in the end rehabilitated enough that President Clinton -- who should have known better -- eulogized at his funeral. This outcome was a far cry from justice, but ultimately mattered little. What really mattered with Nixon was that he was banished from power and discredited. Once that happened, he ceased being a monster, and little more mattered. To my taste, it could have been done more thoroughly, but it's not clear how much difference that would have made.

The thing about political criminals is not just that they work on a much vaster scale than ordinary criminals. It's also that they through the tacit support of many others. Hitler may have been singularly responsible for 50 million deaths in WWII, but he had a lot of help along the way, including the support of millions of Germans (and others, mostly anti-semitic fascists in Eastern Europe), and they all more/less share in his guilt. But that level of participation is impossible to punish. Indeed, trying to do so almost inevitably piles new crimes on top of old. (The folly of this can be seen in the rare cases anyone tried to implement it, such as the civil war that grew out of the Debaathification program directed against Saddam Hussein's supporters in Iraq.) The only way political criminals can be prosecuted is if they have become isolated from the political context that gave them support. (Milosevic is a rare example, which only became possible after the Serbs voted him out of office.)

In my mind, George W. Bush has become a criminal of Nixonian stature, but he still manages to head a political movement with substantial (although certainly nowhere near majority) popular support. The sequence of events that would allow him to be prosecuted for his crimes are almost impossible to imagine. The likelihood that he will ever be punished in any meaningful way appears to be quite small. But at least one thing about that isn't too bad: what makes Bush so dangerous is partly that he's an unstable leader, but mostly that he leads a profoundly misguided and dangerous movement. Prosecuting Bush may solve the former problem, but not the larger problem: his movement. So I'd say that the real political task isn't to get Bush so much as it is to undermine his support.

It seems to me that impeachment is a perfectly reasonable way to articulate just these issues, but without a substantial political realignment it has no chance of actually removing Bush from power. So the key becomes what does it take to make that realignment happen? Unfortunately, the only things that have resulted in political realignments in US history have been disasters. The good news, I guess, is that Bush left in power is producing one.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


I got roped into attending a potluck dinner/roundtable tonight. Subject was "Why Impeachment?" Discussion was led by three guys from Democracy for America (Chris Fox, Doug Kulp, Brad Beachy). I figured it would be a good excuse to make red bean stew (less the hot peppers and garlic bread). Food was good. Discussion was stymied by the fact that DFA is a minor faction with little or no clout even within the Democratic Party. Impeachment of Bush and Cheney faces numerous obstacles, the ultimate being the need to convince at least one-third of Senate Republicans to convict their own party leaders. Nothing that Bush or Cheney are known to have done seems likely to shake the resolve of the Senate Republicans to rally around their president.

So until some such issue arrives impeachment is no practical threat to Bush and Cheney. But that's not really the point. Judging from DFA's website, what really bugs them is what they call "Bush Democrats" -- Democrats who give Bush bipartisan cover, enough of a fig leaf that it materially helps the enemy. For now this means that the real targets of impeachment talk are the Democrats who refuse to talk about it -- a group that goes far beyond the ones who really fit the Bush Democrat tag to include the House and Senate leadership. Indeed, the DFA people spit more venom at Democrats tonight than they reserved for Bush and Cheney. Part of the rationale here is the idea that Democrats should avail themselves of the same tactics Republicans have so successfully used against Democrats. One problem with this is that it overlooks one fundamental principle of Republican tactics -- Ronald Reagan used to call it the 11th Commandment: thou shalt not speak ill of fellow Republicans.

I think it's pretty obvious that even if the Democrats win a landslide in 2008 they'll have a lot of learning to do to solve the problems that are waiting for them, let alone the ones that will inevitably arise. On the other hand, the Republicans have become so vile, and the bipartisan break so pronounced, that any Democrat who gets nominated will get automatic votes from anyone with any real desire to stanch the bleeding. So that suggests two independent projects: one short term to reverse Republican power, and one long term to promote real solutions. Being mostly interested in the latter, I don't feel especially competent at telling politicos how to get elected in a world where so many people understanding what's happening so poorly. On the other hand, once power changes hands, so does responsibility for the problems, and that's when real answers become important.

But I will throw one practical idea out. If I were in the House, I'd like to get a committee together to investigate what Cheney is doing on Iran: who's he talking to, what's he saying. The emphasis is current, on preventing him from starting another war, but we also need to look into the relevant history, like his role in the Iraq war decisions, and his role working with energy companies and defense contractors. Put all that under a microscope and you're liable to find a few "high crimes and misdemeanors" -- felonies, even. Then you might have some clearer grounds for impeachment, or you might force a resignation. Bush might even give him an advance pardon, which would itself qualify as a high crime -- i.e., a criminal abuse of presidential power. All of this would be teachable, even if punishment is avoided. That itself would be a teachable point. Just an idea.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Recycled Goods #48: October 2007

Recycled Goods #48, October 2007, has been posted at Static Multimedia. Static has come up with a new layout, which threw me off at first: converting my bold and italics, which normally nest as bold italics, into generic "strong" and "em" tags, while losing the little horizontal rules that help divide the intros from what follows. The cover scans are also distorted. I normally provide two, which at one point they could handle, but lately can't. The two function like the Pick Hits in the old Village Voice Consumer Guides. They are not necessarily the best records covered, but I see them as an opportunity to shine a bit more spotlight on an especially interesting record. Normally, they come from the top section, but this month I skipped over Tom T. Hall and Frankie Valli and plunged into the "In Series" segment for Arsenio Rodriguez y Su Conjunto's Montuneando and Ignacio Piñeiro and His Septeto Nacional, although I should admit that my real first choice was the Benny Moré/Pérez Prado El Barbaro del Ritmo, which I couldn't find a cover scan for. (It seems to be out of print, which fortunately tends to be a temporary condition with this label.)

This is the largest "In Series" I've done, and by far the most important. The inspiration is the discography in the back of Ned Sublette's Cuba and Its Music (2004, Chicago Review Press). The book impressed on me how little I knew about Cuban music, so I started digging, then dug some more. More than half of the records mentioned are in this series. That all but one is on the Tumbao Cuban Classics label is a credit to Jordi Pujol and a blessing of Europe's copyright laws, and perhaps also a shame on Sony/BMG, whose antecedent labels (chiefly RCA Victor) recorded much of this music. (To be fair, the latter does have a 1949-59 collection, The Best of Pérez Prado: The Original Mambo No. 5, which is an essential addition to the titles listed here; also highly recommended is Machito's Mambo Mucho Mambo: The Complete Columbia Masters.)

The Cuban record reviews have taken a long time to gestate. An initial batch was ready to go 4-5 months ago, then I decided it would be better if I added a second batch -- e.g., adding the early Sexteto Nacional to the later Septeto Nacional, adding the second Arsenio Rodriguez to the first, adding Pérez Prado without Benny Moré to Benny Moré with Pérez Prado, plus I couldn't resist the Moré box even though it gets slightly ahead of Sublette's story. One side-effect of this is that it looks like I've done a lot of garbage collection in the rest of the column. There are a bunch of more/less world/jazz albums that fell off the Jazz Prospecting cart, landing as filler here, in some cases languishing 3-5 months until I really needed them. There are records I scrounged at the library (e.g., the Tom T. Hall on Hux) or the used shelves (e.g., Frankie Valli). There are two records I reviewed based on other editions (Tom T. Hall's In Search of a Song from the Hux twofer and my vintage LP; and Joe Satriani to save money and avoid the DVD). Of course, it's not all garbage, and at 44 records it's a pretty good month's work.

Here's the publicists letter:

Recycled Goods #48, October 2007, is up at Static Multimedia:


I've used the "in series" section several times before as it lets me
write a common introduction to a related set of records. This month
I have a long one, focusing on old Cuban music. These aren't new
reissues -- most came out in the 1990s, and some are currently out
of print. But they reflect some research I've long wanted to do. I
hope people will find them useful.

I'm also finding myself reaching back for older reissues, especially
when they relate to new releases; e.g., rather than just review the
Tom T Hall on Hux, I added a superb old release on Mercury, and a
new one on Hip-O Select (which actually I don't have, but has the
same music as the Hux release).

44 records. Index by label:

  ACT: Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen
  Adventure Music: Hamilton de Holanda, Ricardo Silveira
  Collectables: Chico Hamilton
  Fresh Sound (Tumbao): Celiz Cruz, Julio Cueva (2), Habanero, Kubavana,
    Machito, Matamoros, Sonora Matancera, Benny More (2), Nacional (2)
    Chano Pozo, Perez Prado, Arsenio Rodriguez (2)
  Hipster: 17 Hippies
  Hux: Tom T Hall
  Laser's Edge: Secret Oyster (2)
  Quarter Tone: Shahram Nazeri/Hafez Nazeri
  Reboot Stereophonic: Jewface, Fred Katz
  Riony: Susan Pereira
  Sanctuary (Castle): Fall
  Shanachie: Dennis Brown
  Smithsonian Folkways: Havana Cuba ca 1957
  Sony/BMG (Legacy): Gladys Knight & the Pips, Hot Rod, Joe Satriani (2)
  Times Square: Hugh Masekela, Kiran Ahluwalia
  UME: Tom T Hall (2)
  Vagabundo: Boca do Rio, Alexa Weber Morales
  Verge: Inspiring New Sounds of Rio de Janeiro
  WEA (Rhino): Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons

This is the 48th monthly column. Thus far I've covered a total of 2051
albums in Recycled Goods.

Thanks again for your support.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Music: Current count 13648 [13630] rated (+18), 803 [792] unrated (+11). Recycled Goods is done but in editorial limbo. Same for Jazz Consumer Guide. I worked on nothing much in particular for the first half of the week -- actually, momentum toward November Recycled Goods took most of my attention -- but distractions took over midweek and I didn't manage to get much else done after that. Much of the last few days were spent trying to help, or at least be somewhat supportive of, my brother's family moving to the Portland, OR area. My brother has been working out there on temporary contracts for a couple of years now, and it's been rough on all concerned. Anyhow, they're packed now, and plan to be on the road this morning. I'll miss them a lot.

  • Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson & Otis Spann: Bosses of the Blues, Volume II (1969 [1990], Bluebird): Two 1969 albums, otherwise unrelated, but they fit together well enough that you have to be paying close attention to find the seam -- even though Vinson is the better singer and saxophonist, and Spann is by far the better pianist, the other group's substitutes are solid enough not to draw attention. The transition at guitar from Joe Pass to the more conventionally bluesy Louis Shelton is more notable. Both sessions were produced by Bob Thiele. Booklet doesn't provide any info on when/where the sessions were released. The Spann record may be a 1970 Blues Time title, Sweet Giant of the Blues. Vinson may be another 1970 Blues Time, The Original Cleanhead. B+(***)

  • The War: A Ken Burns Film: The Soundtrack (1938-2005 [2007], Legacy): After 15 hours of film, even given that most of it is given to explosions and voiceovers, the soundtrack feels awfully slight, with a half-dozen pieces of period music -- Kay Starr's "If I Could Be With You" is the prize with its marvelous all-star band -- and a batch of those stringy instrumentals that bubble innocuously in the background, a couple of Wynton Marsalis originals, and two takes of "American Anthem" -- one to prove they're serious and the other to cash in on Norah Jones, who also counts as serious. B
  • The War: A Ken Burns Film: Sentimental Journey: Hits From the Second World War (1930-45 [2007], Legacy): The first of two discs of period music, a tie-in that should be better given how much catalogue Sony/BMG owns; with few exceptions, the songs predate the war, their currency maintained like the old scraps people made do with while all the new production went to the war; some classics appear, like Coleman Hawkins' brilliant "Body and Soul," but most could have been better selected -- Louis Armstrong is dated, Duke Ellington is barely recognizable under Herb Jeffries' vocal -- and not just because of sentimental preferences. B+(***)
  • The War: A Ken Burns Film: I'm Beginning to See the Light: Dance Hits From the Second World War (1937-44 [2007], Legacy): At least this one picks up the pace, favoring shouters over crooners, picking barnburners even from Tommy Dorsey and Glenn Miller, reaching out to the neglected Jimmie Lunceford, and slipping in a honky tonk classic by Al Dexter that sounds pretty jazzy even in this company. A-

No Jazz Prospecting

Spent half the week on Recycled Goods, then lost the second half to personal distractions. October Recycled Goods will be out later this week -- actually, I was trying to sustain my momentum and get a jump on November. Jazz Consumer Guide is scheduled for Oct. 24, but could slip another week. Don't have final edits on either, and won't know about the Jazz CG space cuts until they happen. Given all this, I have very little I can report here -- a couple of old ESP-Disk recordings, a couple of Sony/BMG boxes, with The War not quite finished -- so I might as well punt and try it again next week. Quite a bit of new stuff coming in, although for this week at least, unusually, most is not jazz. Of two new rock records, I like John Fogerty's antiwar songs better than Bruce Springsteen's.


  • The Harry Allen-Joe Cohn Quartet: Guys and Dolls (Arbors)
  • Jerry Butler: The Best of the Vee-Jay Years (1958-65, Shout! Factory)
  • Johnny Cash: The Great Lost Performance (1990, Mercury/Chronicles)
  • Evan Christopher: Delta Bound (Arbors)
  • Elvis Costello: My Aim Is True (Deluxe Edition) (1977, Hip-O, 2CD)
  • The Dells: The Best of the Vee-Jay Years (1955-65, Shout! Factory)
  • Bo Diddley: The Definitive Collection (1955-66, Geffen/Chess)
  • Bob Dylan: Dylan (1962-2006, Columbia/Legacy, 3CD)
  • Bob Dylan: The Other Side of the Mirror: Live at the Newport Folk Festival (1963-65, Columbia/Legacy, DVD)
  • Garbage: Absolute Garbage (1995-2007, Almo, 2CD)
  • Herbie Hancock: River -- The Joni Letters (Verve)
  • Howlin' Wolf: The Definitive Collection (1951-64, Geffen/Chess)
  • The Essential Jars of Clay (1995-2006, Essential/Legacy, 2CD)
  • Bill Medley: DamnNear Righteous (Westlake)
  • Mr. Groove: Little Things (DiamonDisc)
  • Puerto Plata: Mujer de Cabaret (Iaso)
  • Putumayo Presents: New Orleans Brass (1989-2006, Putumayo World Music)
  • Jimmy Reed: The Best of the Vee-Jay Years (1953-63, Shout! Factory)
  • The Staple Singers: The Best of the Vee-Jay Years (1956-61, Shout! Factory)
  • Stevie Wonder: Number Ones (1963-2005, Motown)


  • John Fogerty: Revival (Fantasy)
  • Bruce Springsteen: Magic (Columbia)

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Weekend Roundup

Major distractions this past week, which have made it impossible to follow much of anything.

Seymour Hersh: Shifting Targets. Hersh's reports on the impending Bush/Cheney war with Iran are beginning to sound like Chicken Little, but one has to wonder why there's so much smoke if a fire isn't going to break out sooner or later. The propaganda table-setting for the war has, if anything, become more intense in the last couple of months. The effect is to set up a situation where the US could easily cross over the threshold to war at the slightest provocation, much like Israel's hard line on Hezbollah plunged them into a stupid war they would have been much smarter to avoid. The strongest argument against the US attacking Iran is that doing so would be incredibly stupid, but that's not much reassurance given this gang's track record.

Hersh's news here is that: Cheney has shifted the mission emphasis from halting Iran's nuclear programs to counterterrorism tied to the definition of Iran's Revolutionary Guards (in effect, Iran's military) as a terrorist group; and the military has become more infatuated with the notion of surgical strikes, even though the target list has been expanding almost exponentially. Hersh quotes someone, "Cheney's option is now for a fast in and out -- for surgical strikes." "Fast in" sounds doable, but "fast out" is something else -- foresight has never been a skill they've shown much interest in, let alone had.

Paul Krugman: Conservatives Are Such Jokers. On the tendency of Republicans to make fun of people less fortunate than themselves. Krugman is right that this is a personality type, and frankly it's a pretty ugly one:

Mark Crispin Miller, the author of The Bush Dyslexicon, once made a striking observation: all of the famous Bush malapropisms -- "I know how hard it is for you to put food on your family," and so on -- have involved occasions when Mr. Bush was trying to sound caring and compassionate.

By contrast, Mr. Bush is articulate and even grammatical when he talks about punishing people; that's when he's speaking from the heart. The only animation Mr. Bush showed during the flooding of New Orleans was when he declared "zero tolerance of people breaking the law," even those breaking into abandoned stores in search of the food and water they weren't getting from his administration.

What's happening, presumably, is that modern movement conservatism attracts a certain personality type. If you identify with the downtrodden, even a little, you don't belong. If you think ridicule is an appropriate response to other peoples' woes, you fit right in.

It seems like a cheap shot to treat conservatism as psychopathology, but it's hard to explain otherwise, especially for those who support it without actually benefitting from it.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Friedman Again

One more quote from Thomas Friedman's "9/11 Is Over" column: "I will not vote for any candidate who is not committed to dismantling Guantánamo Bay and replacing it with a free field hospital for poor Cubans." I missed the obvious point the first time around because this is so wrong I took it as little more than a typically convoluted way of Friedman saying that he wouldn't vote for anyone who's not as dumb as he is. But the obvious point is that the last thing "poor Cubans" need is an American-run health care system. As anyone who's seen Sicko by now surely knows, Cuba's health care system is one thing they can not just take pride in, it's something they can and do export past the US embargo.

One could go further and argue that the embargo is the root cause of Cuban poverty. It certainly is one cause: by suppressing free trade we limit Cuba's ability to develop competitive export industries, and we deny Cuba the advantages of world market imports. One can point to other reasons -- the command economy, the lack of entrepreneurial freedom, hostility to direct foreign investment, the cultural patterns (whatever that is) that seem to plague development in most undeveloped countries -- but the embargo is especially insidious because it has been imposed from outside Cuba for reasons that are plain capricious: it's little more than a cold war snit over Cuba's revolution against US political and economic dominance.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Flat and Stupid

I didn't bother reading Thomas Friedman's "9/11 Is Over" column, but an excerpt and comment at WarInContext got me to do a double take. I guess 9/11 was just a fad after all:

9/11 has made us stupid. [ . . . ] Before 9/11, the world thought America's slogan was: "Where anything is possible for anybody." But that is not our global brand anymore. Our government has been exporting fear, not hope: "Give me your tired, your poor and your fingerprints."

Friedman can speak from experience. Granted, he was stupid before 9/11, but 9/11 did make him stupider. Unfortunately, that he seems to have gotten over it now doesn't mean that he's gotten any smarter. It has more to do with the attenuated attention span of a guy who's stock in trade (at least when not promoting wars in the Middle East) is hyping fads. Still, that he's managed to ply his nonsense so long and so lucratively shows that he is the pundit that America deserves, although sure not the one we need. His belated discovery -- in sound bite-sized terms: 9/11 provoked us to stupid things -- isn't news to folks who weren't so stupid in the first place, but looks like a revelation to those who were. I wonder how much this aperçu will turn into a fad.

The basic insight is right, although Friedman doesn't admit that the stupidity was already there, just waiting to be tapped. When 9/11 happened, all sorts of interest groups jumped to try to exploit it. Bush was uniquely positioned in the White House, he had a preformed idea of how he could politically exploit war -- he had watched his father do just that, ineptly enough to let the younger Bush fantasize that he could do it better -- and he was tuned in to the stupidity -- I mean, we're talking about people who elected him president, or at least acquiesced when he took over. They pushed this mantra that 9/11 changed everything, but really it just gave Americans an excuse to pursue their adolescent revenge fantasies. Bush adroitly stirred this up with his Manichaean good-versus-evil, you're-with-us-or-against-us rhetoric. That line was immensely flattering to Americans, and totally indifferent to the rest of the world. But the reason it worked was that Americans were already stupid enough to fall for it. 9/11 didn't make us stupid so much as it helped expose us to the consequences of that stupidity.

Still, the realization that America acted stupidly following 9/11 is a step toward regaining our balance, and it starts to provide some protection against future manipulations -- it may be less important that we get smarter than that we get more cautious when warmongers try to con us. That someone as dumb as Friedman can figure this out is a good sign. Unless I'm reading too much into an article that, admittedly, I didn't bother reading all the way through.

By the way, I've also posted a books page on Friedman's The World Is Flat. Most of the page is devoted to Matt Taibbi's review of the book, which tells you all you need to know about the book.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Movie: Hairspray. Somehow this one slipped my mind last time around. This, of course, is the recent movie version of the Broadway musical which preserves the characters and story line from John Waters' original movie, but unfortunately not the music. The original movie soundtrack was possibly the greatest soundtrack album of all time. Of course, the story line helped a lot -- the movie is about integrating teen dancing shows in Baltimore in the early 1960s, the golden age of one-shot dance-callout pop tunes like "Do the Twist." Still, you have to compliment Waters for his remarkably sharp ear. Replacing genuine teen dance toons with fake Broadway ones is a big step in the doo-doo, even if they're still better than the plot-advancing songs that bind Broadway theater in cliché. The other big change is in the acting. Waters' original was squeaky-PG-clean, at least if you're not allied with the Klan, but still it was a trip to see his usual troop of actors, like Divine and Mink Stole as well as arty celebs like Debbie Harry, working family fare. The new movie stick with bankable Hollywood stars -- the sole exception a cameo with Waters that is disposed with during the opening song-and-dance, a bit of humor they never dared return to. So the new movie falls short, if not completely off the table. The new stars are likable enough -- Christopher Walken and Michelle Pfeiffer are especially fine choices, and Amanda Bynes makes the most of a lollipop and a lot of pogo dancing. And the movie does remind me that the real merit of musicals isn't the music -- it's the dancing. It helps a lot that the plot allows for a lot of dancing. A-

Movie: In the Valley of Elah. This film touches a personal phobia of mine. I recall that back when the draft board figured me for cannon fodder in Vietnam, I was more afraid of the army than of the war. The military is a deliberately brutalizing culture -- how else can they accomplish their appointed tasks of destroying the enemy? This movie gives us both sides of the schizophrenia locked into that culture: the sense of duty that leads to killing and the casual madness that comes with it. Tommy Lee Jones, as the Vietnam vet father of an OIF soldier, pushes hard on the duty end. The son merely dies for it -- I'm more tempted to make him out as the victim of the father than of George Bush -- not that I'm inclined to let the latter off easy either. It's obvious to me that the experience of war damages soldiers -- I knew that even when I was a teenager. That's the small lesson here, and we get to see Jones recognize that much -- evidently he does recall something from Vietnam after all. Too bad he hadn't realized it earlier. A-

Movie: 3:10 to Yuma. Don't remember the original, which makes this one luckier than Hairspray. Reviewers say this one is more violent and more cynical. I'd say that anything else would have been a major uphill struggle against the times, and clearly this movie isn't to for that. On the other hand, the 14-year-old kid's suggestion that they just shoot Ben Wade would have been even more au courant, but following it would have left them without a movie -- so score that for cynical after all. The kid offers that same solution several times to several problems -- he's more trigger-happy than Indiana Jones if not George Bush. The main treat here is watching Russell Crowe suddenly kill one of his guards while the others watch dumbfoundedly, then smile wanly and escape any further consequences. Indeed, even after he is delivered to the train, you still realize there will be no consequences. He's as lucky a killer as Americans wish to be, and a lot better at it than Americans actually are. These days we're easily impressed by competency -- it's not like there's a lot of it around. The other treats are the gritty Arizona scenery and the minor characters. B

Monday, October 01, 2007

Music: Current count 13630 [13613] rated (+17), 792 [791] unrated (+1). Working on Recycled Goods this week. Almost done. Not much else to report. Rated count is low because of the amount of time it took to do the Cuban records.

  • Arctic Monkeys: Favourite Worst Nightmare (2007, Domino): Major follow-up to a major breakthrough, not that either record feels at all major: just basic guitar rock, nothing fancy, just hooks on simple riffs. Well, this one's a little fancier, not an improvement, but not much of a fall-off either. B+(***)
  • The Fall: It's the New Thing! The Step Forward Years (1978-80 [2003], Castle): Most of two albums and four singles or EPs from the first days of what turned out to be the most durable of all the English punk rock bands; half sounds prophetic, including the ever-recyclable "Repetition"; half sounds like aural camouflage, as if, unlike the Sex Pistols and the Clash, they worried about getting too famous too soon. B+(**)
  • Love Finds Its Own Way: The Best of Gladys Knight and the Pips (1961-83 [2007], Buddah/Legacy): Leaving Motown for Buddah in 1973 set up Knight's best work, but removing the safety net left her records inconsistent and compilations spotty. This modest-looking set is a miracle of cross-licensing, picking up: her first two pre-Motown hits, including her teenage "Every Beat of My Heart" from Vee-Jay; her four biggest Motown smashes; nine Buddah cuts, including four straight top-ten hits from 1973-74, starting with "Midnight Train to Georgia"; and two strongly sung Columbia cuts. A-
  • Patti Smith: Twelve (2007, Columbia): A scratch list of covers from a 1978 notebook, with three more recent songs ("Everybody Wants to Rule the World," "The Boy in the Bubble," "Smells Like Teen Spirit") slipped in, a concession to passing time, a reaffirmation of classic rock roots with a poetic bent; she's less an interpretive singer than a prism. B+(**)
  • Putumayo Presents: World Hits ([2007], Putumayo World Music): Given the infinite possibilities of a globetrotting album defined by little more than that all the songs be irresistible, it's easy to nitpick here. For starters, Touré Kunda, Johnny Clegg, and the Gipsy Kings are choices that wouldn't have occurred to me, but I don't doubt their popularity. Indeed, none of the songs here give off the whiff of payola that has become commonplace with this label. The only choices that look to be marketing-driven are collaborations with Mick Jagger and Neneh Cherry by artists (Peter Tosh and Youssou N'Dour) who are better off on their own. Half are cuts everyone should hear. The others could easily be improved. B+(*)

Jazz Prospecting (CG #15, Part 2)

Once again, I was tempted to pass on jazz prospecting this week, but figured what little I have to offer won't be any fresher next week. I spent the whole week working on Recycled Goods, which is getting close to done. The big task there was working through a large pile of Tumbao Cuban Classics. The records were recommended in the discography in the back of Ned Sublette's superb Cuba and Its Music: From the First Drums to the Mambo (2004, Chicago Review Press; a paperback reprint appeared recently). The book only goes to 1953 -- a second volume is promised but has yet to appear. Tumbao is a part of Jordi Pujol's Fresh Sound Records empire, and they've pretty much cornered the market for Cuban music up to the 1950s. I have three boxes and a dozen or so singles. More on this when Recycled Goods appears.

The recently finished Jazz Consumer Guide has been slotted for the October 24 Village Voice issue, although I'm told it could slip to the following week. That seems like a long time away, and I'm unlikely to know much more until it happens. I have about half of the next one, and will start adding to it once Recycled Goods is out of the way -- although this break might also be a good time to dig into Allen Lowe's That Devilin' Music -- four compact boxes of nine CDs each. It might also be a good time to take a look at the Jazz Icons DVDs released on Naxos. They've been sitting in the shipping box ever since I got them a couple of months ago, victims of my almost complete disinterest in watching any form of video. But I'm told they're amazing, and finally have speakers hooked up to a computer with the appropriate codecs, so at least there's a chance now. For that matter, I have a couple dozen more music DVDs on the shelves. I don't encourage people to send them, and don't see any point to them as products, but I haven't managed to get rid of them either. Like everything else, they accumulate. While I'm thinking of it, I also have box sets waiting. Legacy sent me their Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, and The War boxes (but not Miles Davis' On the Corner sessions; go figure). I also have a pile of Properboxes I bought from Daedalus, figuring they would make good Recycled filler. Probably should have listened to Machito to go along with the Cubans. So I have my work cut out for me. I figure I'll get one more Jazz CG done by the end of the year, which will give me 15, and two more Recycled Goods, which will give me 50. Will reevaluate then.

Secret Oyster (1973 [2007], The Laser's Edge): The first of five 1973-76 albums by a Danish instrumental group. AMG files them as "prog-rock/art rock," but they sound like a perfectly typical fusion group to me -- if anything, better than average, a credit to keyb player Kenneth Knudsen, who manages to avoid the cheesy funk clichés that plagued the instrument back then. B+(*)

Secret Oyster: Straight to the Krankenhaus (1976 [2007], The Laser's Edge): So this is where they finally go prog, with arty arena intros to build up the dramatic tension. But when they do break loose, the jacked-up tempos have some urgency, and saxophonist Karl Vogel turns out to have something to say. B

Joe Satriani: Surfing With the Alien (Legacy Edition) (1986-88 [2007], Epic/Legacy, CD+DVD): A signature album for a rare rock guitarist working without vocals, the title presumably referring back to surf guitar, Hendrix, and possibly points even further out. Although rhythmically straighter than McLaughlin, a first I figured this might have some fusion potential, and was taken enough to rate it B+(*). "Legacy Edition" is usually a 2-CD set, remastering a notable album with a second disc of extras: sometimes useful, more often redundant or superfluous -- live concerts are handy sources of both. This is the first time I've seen them do the extra live concert as a DVD. (Dirty Dancing came with a DVD of videos.) I have next to no interest in DVDs, but seeing that this one was recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival, I figured it might be enlightening. One thing clear is that he has no jazz potential. B-

Miles Davis: Evolution of the Groove (1959-72 [2007], Columbia/Legacy): Feels like an aborted project, adding up to no more than 14:40 including an unreleased, unnecessary "Freddie Freeloader" outtake, and four short remixes -- one featuring Nas, one featuring Carlos Santana, two more with no one much at all. B-

Nigel Kennedy: Blue Note Sessions (2005 [2007], Blue Note): Booklet says "Kennedy may be the world's best selling classical violinist." Never heard of him, myself, but AMG lists about 110 credits going back to the early 1980s. Also says, "Kennedy" has always been a jazz player" -- mentions that he studied Stephane Grappelli as well as someone named Menuhin (no first name given; sounds vaguely familiar). He certainly got the treatment here, with classic-looking Blue Note cover art; Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette for rhythm; Joe Lovano, Kenny Werner, and Lucky Peterson dropping in here and there; Raul Midón playing guitar and singing on one piece. Two songs credited to Kennedy -- "Stranger in a Stranger Land" is a good title. The others are mostly jazz staples like "Song for My Father," but Ivory Joe Hunter's "I Almost Lost My Mind" is especially appealing. The groups are nearly faultless, and I like the sound of his violin quite a bit. He could have a future if he decides to stick with it. B+(***)

Bud Powell: Live at the Blue Note Café, Paris 1961 (1961 [2007], ESP-Disk): Powell's standard Paris trio with Pierre Michelot on bass and Kenny Clarke on drums, plus a visiting Zoot Sims on tenor sax on some of the cuts. Mostly Powell's standard bebop fare, with a couple of cuts each from Gillespie and Monk, but "There Will Never Be Another You" and "Lover Man" are done especially well. I've never really understood the tendency to dismiss Powell's later work. He may have been inconsistent in person, but the few dates that do crop up on record are often superb, even when they break little new ground. B+(**)

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


  • Eric Alexander: Temple of Olympic Zeus (High Note)
  • Dave Brubeck: Live in '64 & '66 (Naxos/Jazz Icons, DVD)
  • Katie Bull: The Story, So Far (Corn Hill Indie)
  • Celine Dion: These Are Special Times (1998, Columbia/CMV/Legacy, CD+DVD)
  • Freddy Cole: Music Maestro Please (High Note)
  • John Coltrane: Live in '60, '61 & '65 (Naxos/Jazz Icons, DVD)
  • Duke Ellington: Live in '58 (Naxons/Jazz Icons, DVD)
  • Gary Foster/Putter Smith: Perfect Circularity (AJI)
  • Funky Pieces of Silver: The Horace Silver Songbook (The Composer Collection Volume 1) (High Note)
  • Dexter Gordon: Live in '63 & '64 (Naxos/Jazz Icons, DVD)
  • Bernie Kenerson: Just You & Me (Bernup)
  • The Essential Donnie McClurkin (2000-05, Verity/Legacy, 2CD)
  • Charles Mingus: Live in '64 (Naxos/Jazz Icons, DVD)
  • Wes Montgomery: Live in '65 (Naxos/Jazz Icons, DVD)
  • Steve Nelson: Sound Effect (High Note)
  • The Essential Teddy Pendergrass (1972-84, Philadelphia International/Legacy, 2CD): advance, Oct. 30
  • Houston Person: Thinking of You (High Note)
  • Leslie Pintchik: Quartets (Ambient)
  • Juan Carlos Quintero: Joy to the World (Tenure)
  • The Essential Lou Rawls (1963-81, Philadelphia International/Legacy, 2CD): advance, Oct. 30
  • Sarah Vaughan: Live in '58 & '64 (Naxos/Jazz Icons, DVD)
  • Luis Villegas: Guitarras de Navidad (Tenure)
  • The War: A Ken Burns Film (Deluxe Edition) (1939-2005, Legacy, 4CD)
  • Robert Wyatt: Comicopera (Domino)


  • African Pearls 1: Congo: Rumba on the River (1954-67, Syllart, 2CD)
  • Authenticité: The Syliphone Years (1965-80, Sterns, 2CD)
  • Bokoor Beats (1971-79, Otrabanda)
  • Hot Chip: The Warning (Astralwerks)
  • Urban Africa Club: Hip Hop Dancehall and Kwaito (Out Here)

Sep 2007