June 2010 Notebook


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Jazz Consumer Guide (23): Mocking Traditions, or Joining Them

My 23rd Jazz Consumer Guide is in the Village Voice this week. Seems like ancient history here, given that the draft was done more than a month ago, and some reviews (e.g., Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra) have been languishing in the files for over a year. On the other hand, the distance helps me appreciate the results. As I read back through these short reviews, I find myself thinking, "wow, did I write that?" Editing helps, also concentration. I write so much off-the-cuff crap in Jazz Prospecting that I sometimes wonder if I can write at all -- at least write about music, a rather alien subject for mere words.

The other sensation I get from re-reading this is pleasure, as I recall the records -- many I haven't replayed since I wrote them up. That extends well down into the HMs: the top three are A-list but I cut them short for space, and while they decline slightly from there -- you can find better from Bergonzi, Ware, and Person, but not much better from Bowen. Tribecastan isn't as satisfying as the concept suggests, and Minasi doesn't quite live up to his title, but those are minor cavils. At that point, lots of other comparable records went into the surplus, so those may have survived because they were printworthy. While I'm unhappy with my Jazz Prospecting writing, it fills its functional role.

One good thing is that everything in the draft made it to print -- except, I think, for a couple words on Frisell that got rid of an extra line. So nothing more gets pushed back even further. The two pick hits, Stanko, the two duds, and a few HMs (Allison, Asherie, Bergonzi, Healey, Ibrahim, and Ware) are 2010 releases; the rest are 2009 (except carried over from 2008: Blink, New Jazz Composers Octet, and Stapp). So lead times remain long, but the music doesn't go away or depreciate (much), and the notion that everything that matters happens on release day is contemptible.

Next one is essentially done, although I'm still sorting through the incoming mail and have no idea where the pick hits and duds will fall -- just scads of good records deserving mention sooner or later.

Don't have all of the associated paperwork done yet, but I should post two links for context:

  • Jazz Prospecting (23): All of the Jazz Prospecting notes that went into this round, 207 records from February 8 through May 31, plus a list of 125 records carried over from previous rounds.
  • Jazz Surplus (23): The list of records I considered and decided not to review in Jazz CG, including 35 "consolation reviews" I posted a while back.

PS: Added cover images, lifted from the Voice scans, a bit larger than my normal source. Moved my working notes from the print/flush files into the notebook, which probably does you no good but makes it easier for me to search for them. (Better solutions are still on the drawing board.) Send out my "publicist's letter" -- if you didn't get one and think you should (i.e., if you send me music) email me and I'll add you to the list. (I do a very poor job of maintaining this list. Again, better solutions are on the drawing board. Also, if you're a fan and follow this site regularly, you really aren't missing anything not being on the list.) Updated the chronological index and the artist index files. The latter tells me that I've reviewed 820 records thus far. (The most commonly reviewed artist is Ken Vandermark with 16 records, 12 A-listed, although there are actually more since I'm only sorting by the first name -- you probably knew that already.)

Publicist letter:

The Village Voice has published my 22nd Jazz Consumer Guide column
this week:


Despite some delays, this one came out slightly less than three
months after the previous one, on April 6. 

Index by label:

  482 Music: Greg Burk
  Akron Cracker: Ralph Carney
  Anti-: Mose Allison
  AUM Fidelity: Darius Jones, David S. Ware
  Between the Lines: Timucin Sahin
  CAM Jazz: Enrico Pieranunzi
  Clean Feed: Rudresh Mahanthappa/Steve Lehman, The Godforgottens
  Concord: Jon Irabagon
  Cuneiform: Wadada Leo Smith
  ECM: Jan Garbarek, Tomasz Stanko
  European Echoes: Rodrigo Amado
  Evergreene Music: Tribecastan
  High Note: Joey DeFrancesco, Jerry Bergonzi, Houston Person
  Hot Cup: Mostly Other People Do the Killing
  Innova: Fernando Benadon
  Konnex: Dom Minasi
  Kopasetic: Anders Nilsson
  Morphius: Quartet Offensive
  Motema Music: The New Jazz Composers Octet
  Naim: Ted Sirota
  Nonesuch: Bill Frisell
  Not Two: Gebhard Ullman (2)
  Origin: EEA
  Owl Studios: Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra
  Palmetto: Ben Allison, Matt Wilson
  Porto Franco: Nice Guy Trio
  Posi-Tone: Ehud Asherie, Ralph Bowen
  Resonant Music: Radio I-Ching
  Smalls: Dan Aran
  Stony Plain: Maria Muldaur, Jeff Healey
  SoLyd: Anthony Braxton/Maral Yakshieva
  Steeplechase: Andrew Rathbun
  Summerfold: PianoCircus
  Summit: Randy Brecker
  Sunnyside: Abdullah Ibrahim
  Thirsty Ear: Blink, Ben Neill
  Tzadik: John Zorn
  Uqbar: Ben Stapp
  Verve: Trombone Shorty
  eponymous labels: Linda Oh, Gaucho

The Jazz Prospecting notes for this round are at:


Some more comments on my blog announcement, and every Monday as
I reduce the pile of incoming music to this more/less quarterly
survey of the best of a lot of very good jazz.

Appreciate your support and patience as these reviews work their
way to print.

Notes for the records covered in Jazz CG (23):

  • Ben Allison: Think Free (2009, Palmetto): Subtler, in terms of melodies but also instrumentation, than his recent superb albums, but eventually they emerge with the precise good taste of someone assured in his thinking. Violinist Jenny Scheinman is central and critical -- her best showing since 12 Songs -- while Steve Cardenas' guitar and Shane Endsley's trumpet play off the edges. A-
  • Mose Allison: The Way of the World (2009 [2010], Anti-): Pianist-singer, b. 1927, first albums date back to mid-1950s; first album since 2000. Joe Henry produced, presumably came up with the idea. Songs are uneven, but "My Brain" is a cool little cluster of perpetual inquisitiveness, "Modest Proposal" is the best one I've heard in quite some while; he's also the only jazz singer perfectly at home covering Loudon Wainwright III. B+(***)
  • Rodrigo Amado: Motion Trio (2009, European Echoes): Saxophonist, from Portugal, plays tenor here but started on alto. Has put together an impressive string of records since 2000, at first with Lisbon Improvisation Players. Trio here includes Miguel Mira on cello and Gabriel Ferrandini on drums. Mostly free, your basic sax tour de force. B+(***)
  • Dan Aran: Breathing (2009, Smalls): Israeli drummer, b. 1977, based in New York. First record, another postbop thing with a broad range of nice moves -- a slow take of "I Concentrate on You" with a long piano intro followed by gentle horns is particularly lovely. Uses various combinations of Avishai Cohen (trumpet), Eli Degibri (tenor sax), Jonathan Voltzok (trombone), Art Hirahara or Uri Sharlin (piano), Matt Brewer or Tal Ronen (bass), as well as a couple of others -- Gilli Sharett's bassoon is the aforementioned horn on "I Concentrate on You." B+(**)
  • Ehud Asherie: Modern Life (2009 [2010], Posi-Tone): Pianist, b. 1979 in Israel, based in New York, third album -- after a trio and a quintet with Grant Stewart and Ryan Kisor. Mainstream player, crosses bop and swing, cites Errol Garner as an influence. Two originals; eight covers, the bop side drawing on Hank Jones and Tadd Dameron, the standards songbook more dominant. One reason this quartet is a tad more retro is that it features tenor saxophonist Harry Allen, and he pretty neatly turns it into a Harry Allen album, which is fine by me. B+(***)
  • Fernando Benadon: Intuitivo (2009, Innova): Not exactly a string quartet -- 2 violins, viola, bass, plus clarinet and percussion; not exactly chamber music either -- edgy, abstract postmodern. B+(**)
  • Jerry Bergonzi: Three for All (2008 [2010], Savant): Tenor saxophonist, plays some soprano, also get a piano credit here, which suggests some overdubbing. With Dave Santoro on bass and Andrea Michelutti on drums. Bergonzi has been on a terrific run lately, with two straight A- albums (Tenor Talk and Simply Put), and nothing very far off the mark. This has a couple of blemishes which I blame on the soprano. Terrific tenor player, deep tone, has all the moves; group lets him play. B+(***)
  • Blink.: The Epidemic of Ideas (2007 [2008], Thirsty Ear): Chicago freebop group. I don't get the period in the band name, but they certainly have a lot of ideas. Greg Ward (alto sax) and Dave Miller (guitar) also show up in the latest version of Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls. Bassist Jeff Greene and drummer Quin Kirchner evidently have some background in rockish grooves. Fast, slow, up, down, all sorts of ideas. B+(***)
  • Ralph Bowen: Dedicated (2008 [2009], Posi-Tone): Mainstream tenor saxophonist, originally from Canada, has taught at Rutgers since 1990 and Princeton since 2000. Has four previous albums, starting in 1992, on Criss Cross, a Dutch label with conservative American tastes. Group includes Sean Jones (trumpet), Adam Rogers (guitar), John Patitucci (bass), and Antonio Sanchez (drums). Bowen's got a distinctive sound and take firm command on six originals (each dedicated to someone I don't recognize). Rogers does a nice job of filling in, and even Jones, who doesn't play much harmony, manages a solo with Bowen's authority. B+(**)
  • Anthony Braxton/Maral Yakshieva: Improvisations (Duo) 2008 (2008 [2009], SoLyd, 2CD): Yakshieva is a pianist, b. 1968, from Turkmenistan, based in Moscow since 1995. Background looks to be good Communist fare -- folk melodies and classical -- although she has also tangled with Roscoe Mitchell. Two disc-length improvs, one 57:08, the other 51:47. Braxton goes easy on her, displaying a light ballad touch you may not have noticed much in his last 200+ albums. He's often quite wonderful, and while she doesn't stretch much, she's game to play along. B+(***)
  • Randy Brecker: Nostalgic Journey: Tykocin Jazz Suite/The Music of Wlodek Pawlik (2008 [2009], Summit): Bialystok's Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic play Pawlik's suite with unexpected flair -- you hear a lot of East European orchestras as jazz backdrops because they work cheap, but usually their classical breeding spoils the day. Helps no doubt that Pawlik's piano trio is featured, and especially that Brecker's trumpet is trusted with the highlights. He's always been a team player, but he's rarely had a team help him out so much. B+(***)
  • Greg Burk: Many Worlds (2007 [2009], 482 Music): Pianist, b. 1969, originally from Lansing, MI; studied at New England Conservatory, taught at Berklee, played in Either/Orchestra; after 10 years in Boston relocated to Italy (Rome). Ninth album since 2000, a quartet with Henry Cook on sax (alto, soprano) and flute, Ron Seguin on bass (contrabass and something he calls "electric acoustic bass"), and Michel Lambert on drums/percussion. This struck me as overly ornate at first, with Cook's reeds wispy and Burk's piano wrapped up in long exploratory runs, but the more I listen the more it coheres -- especially the physics-inspired six-part "Many Worlds Suite," which ends in a discordance that surely isn't mere chaos. B+(***)
  • Buselli-Wallarab Jazz Orchestra: Where or When (2008 [2009], Owl Studios): Steven Bernstein's territory band is a big city concept; Ken Vandermark's is transcontinental. This, however, is the real thing: a big band that's been working out of Indianapolis since 1994. Trombonist Brent Wallarab arranges and conducts. Mark Buselli plays trumpet, in front of the usual array of 5 reeds, 4 trumpets, 4 trombones, piano, bass, drums, boy and girl singers -- the only anomaly is "horn," played by Celeste Holler-Seraphinoff. The songs are standards, arranged conventionally with the feel of well oiled antique wood with sparkles of brass. Few soloists emerge, but the vocalists do, especially Everett Greene -- a highlight on that Gust Spenos Swing Theory album I liked so much last year, even more so here. His deep, graceful voice is unique, lending gravity and polish even to "My Funny Valentine." Cynthia Layne offers a sharp, slightly shrill contrast. A-
  • Ralph Carney's Serious Jass Project (2009, Akron Cracker): San Francisco group, although reed player Carney (ex-Tin Huey, Tom Waits) still gives credit to his Rubber City roots. Half the 14 tracks come from Ellington (technically 6, but Rex Stewart's "Rexatious" should count). The other major source here is Big Jay McNeely, a license to honk, which Carney takes seriously enough to take license with his titles -- "Jay's Frantic (and So Is Ralph)" and "Blow Big Ralph (aka Blow Big Jay)." I doubt that Carney will ever be as big as McNeely, but I can't imagine McNeely ever picking up a clarinet to toot out a little Barney Bigard. A-
  • Joey DeFrancesco: Snap Shot (2009, High Note): Perennial Downbeat poll winner on organ, at least until recently when he's slipped a notch. Guitar-drums trio, live set in Scottsdale, AZ, not a lot of investment here, but he's in remarkably good form, especially on the slow, soulful "You Don't Know Me." On the fast ones guitarist Paul Bollenback takes the lead. I sort of recalled him being good at this sort of thing, not realizing that he's been on a dozen previous DeFrancesco albums. (Also on Hammond salesman Vince Seneri's Prince's Groove, and on Jim Snidero's A-listed Crossfire.) Drummer is Byron Landham, who's been on DeFrancesco albums going back to 1991. B+(***)
  • EEA [Peter Epstein/Larry Engstrom/David Ake]: The Dark (2008 [2010], Origin): EEA stands for Peter Epstein (alto and soprano sax), Larry Engstrom (trumpet), and David Ake (piano). Mostly Ake, who wrote all of the pieces except for three group improvs, two by Duke Ellington, and one by Egberto Gismonti. Ake studied at UCLA, teaches at University of Nevada Reno; has a book Jazz Cultures, and a couple of previous albums. I don't have a firm opinion on his piano, but I must say that the idea of going without bass and/or drums is a real drag. Epstein has some remarkable work in the past -- one I highly recommend is Lingua Franca, with Brad Shepik -- but he's bland here, while Engstrom makes even less impression. C+
  • Bill Frisell: Disfarmer (2008 [2009], Nonesuch): Mike Disfarmer (1884-1959) -- "not a farmer"; original name Mike Meyers -- was a photographer in north-central Arkansas, just a few miles south of where my mother grew up. His portraits capture both the dignity and pain of Depression-era farmers, although thumbing through his gallery I'm struck by the lack of backgrounds and the absence of blacks (perhaps not so odd, given how scarce blacks were in my mother's hill country). For Frisell, this just sets up another excursion through string-band Americana, with Greg Leisz on steel guitars and mandolin, Jenny Scheinman on violin, and Viktor Krauss on bass. You can split the 26 short pieces into covers and originals. The covers -- "That's All Right, Mama"; "I Can't Help It"; "Lovesick Blues" -- are so indelible they jump right out, focusing your attention on the striking variations. The originals are subtler, largely of a piece, small notions that just sort of flow into one another, like the title series: "Think," "Drink," "Play." It seems like Frisell has been refining this approach all his career, but he's rarely gotten it down to such fine basics. A-
  • Jan Garbarek Group: Dresden (2007 [2009], ECM, 2CD): Quartet, with Rainer Brüninghaus on piano/keyboards, Yugi Daniel on electric bass, Manu Katché on drums. The leader is credited with soprano and tenor sax, and selje flute. Plays a small curved soprano, which is closer to alto in dynamics than the straight horn is. Probably splits about 50-50, with the flute minor and unobjectionable. I can't really single out anything that makes this album work so well. Maybe it's that after so many highly conceptual studio albums, it's just real nice to hear him open up and blow. A-
  • Gaucho: Deep Night (2008 [2009], Gaucho): San Francisco group, played every Wednesday night for five years at a "dive" called Amnesia. Plays gypsy jazz -- the name reportedly derived from the Spanish gadjo. Lineup: Bob Reich (accordion), David Ricketts (guitar), Michael Groh (guitar), Ralph Carney (horns), Art Munkers (bass), Pete Devine (drums), with guest Craig Ventresco for more guitar on 4 tracks. Carney, who started out with Tin Huey in Akron, travelled all around with Tom Waits, and seems to be everywhere in San Francisco these days, is the best known. Ricketts and Groh have worked in Hot Club of San Francisco, another Django-styled group. This group strikes me as qualitatively cooler than their model, which isn't such a bad thing. The opening "Tea for Two" is delightful, "The Sheik of Araby" has some spark, "Valse a Bambula" is sly and elegant, but "St. Louis Blues" is too crude for this crew. B+(**)
  • The Godforgottens: Never Forgotten, Always Remembered (2006 [2009], Clean Feed): Magnus Broo on trumpet, Sten Sandell on organ (with some piano and a bit of throat singing), Johan Berthling on double bass, and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. I've seen this described as Sandell's trio plus Broo, but Nilssen-Love has surely played as much with Broo as with Sandell. Three long pieces, jointly credited, which usually means made up on the spot. Sandell works in a mode totally divorced from soul jazz, and manages to make quite a bit out of it. Broo, for once, is the only horn, so he has the field clear, and takes to it aggressively. A-
  • Jeff Healey: Last Call (2007 [2010], Stony Plain): Canadian guitarist-singer, blinded at age one by eye cancer, formed a blues band in mid-1980s and sold a ton of records. Always had a passion for old jazz records, which he finally turned into a second act as a trad jazz artist, picking up trumpet as well. Died in 2008 at age 41 after another bout of cancer. This is presumably his last studio album. Trumpet switches off his vocals, but recorded guitar ahead of time, citing Eddie Lang as an influence but he hits it harder with more sting, almost getting a banjo sound. Drew Jureeka plays Joe Venuti on violin, and Ross Wooldridge plays piano and clarinet. Half the songs are pretty familiar. B+(***)
  • Abdullah Ibrahim & WDR Big Band Cologne: Bombella (2008 [2010], Sunnyside): Steve Gray, who died between the recording and its release, arranged and conducted ten Ibrahim pieces. The WDR Big Band is one of the better jazz repertory big bands around, with power and polish and a roster that can be counted on to nail a solo slot. Ibrahim plays piano, starting solo on "Green Kalahari." He is a consistent delight here. The band works wondrously sometimes, but sometimes seems a bit off. You can substitute piccolo flute for pennywhistle, and "Mandela" will be wonderful as always. B+(***)
  • Jon Irabagon: The Observer (2009, Concord): Alto saxophonist, best known for his slash and burn approach to Mostly Other People Do the Killing. Won a Thelonious Monk Saxophone prize which came with a Concord recording contract. Some evidence that Concord tried to turn him into another Christian Scott, but he outfoxed them: held out for his own songs, compromised by getting a mainstream rhythm section, but held out for a really good one, best known for working with Stan Getz: pianist Kenny Barron, bassist Rufus Reid, drummer Lewis Nash. He blows rings around them, but they never lose a step. There's even a little duo with Barron -- not exactly like Getz, but lovely. Nicholas Payton slides in on a couple of cuts. Bertha Hope takes over the piano for one of three covers, one of her late husband's songs. Another cover is from Gigi Gryce, safe common ground. B+(***)
  • Darius Jones Trio: Man'ish Boy (A Raw & Beautiful Thing) (2009, AUM Fidelity): Brooklyn alto saxophonist; I think this qualifies as his debut album. With Cooper-Moore on piano as well as diddley-bow (a potent bass substitute) and Rakalam Bob Moses on drums. I've been resisting this, perhaps for no better reason than I don't want to seem like a sucker for every saxophonist Steven Joerg digs up, but I am -- Joerg even managed to get a good album out of Kidd Jordan. Beauty is up to the beholder, but this certainly is raw, with a down and dirty blues base and plenty of squawk on the uptake. His sax is belabored, and he keeps it down in the tenor range where it sounds scrawny and mean. At least until he slows down and Cooper-Moore switches from his diddley-bow roughhousing back to piano, which is elegant, not sure about beautiful. A-
  • Rudresh Mahanthappa & Steve Lehman: Dual Identity (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Not sure when the release date is on this, but the label was so excited it sent out advances, just in time for March Madness. Mahanthappa and Lehman are rivals for Downbeat's Rising Star at alto sax. Not sure who wins here, but clearly they are way out ahead of their class. Liberty Ellman's guitar weaves between them; Matt Brewer plays bass, and Damion Reid drums. Thrilling from start to finish. A
  • Dom Minasi String Quartet: Dissonance Makes the Heart Grow Fonder (2009, Konnex): Guitarist, b. 1943, cut a couple of (by reputation, not very good) records for Blue Note back in its 1970s dog days, then restarted his career in 1999 on avant-garde CIMP, followed by a bunch of self-released projects. His string quartet here has impeccable jazz credentials: Jason Kao Hwang on violin, Tomas Ulrich on cello, and Ken Filiano on bass. Chamber music of an odd sort, not really dissonant although the dominant violin does keep you always on edge. B+(**)
  • Mostly Other People Do the Killing: Forty Fort (2008-09 [2010], Hot Cup): Fourth album, third I've heard, led by Moppa Elliott, who takes the first notes on bass, just like Charles Mingus. Has the basic Mingus approach to horns, too, which is to put them on a roller coaster and let them run clean off the rails. Peter Evans does just that on trumpet, and Jon Irabagon's tenor as well as his alto sax defies gravity. Kevin Shea rounds out the quartet on drums, and gets a credit for electronics. Historical references are less obvious here than on the last two albums, although I might know more if only I could read "Leonardo Featherweight"'s liner notes (tiny gray all-caps on a black background). I do recognize the cover art as influenced by Impulse! in the 1960s, but even that isn't obviously pegged to any one thing. They're coming out into their own. A- [later: A]
  • Maria Muldaur & Her Garden of Joy (2009, Stony Plain): A-
  • Ben Neill: Night Science (2009, Thirsty Ear): Trumpeter, b. 1957, has ten or more records since 1991. AMG classifies him under Avant-Garde Music, but the genres are pure electronica: trance, ambient, jungle/drum 'n' bass. This is the first I've heard, a set where he evidently multitracks and mixes everything himself, using programmed beats, electronics, and a contraption he calls the mutantrumpet: looks like a trumpet with three bells (one muted), some extra valves, and a PC board to control multiple MIDI channels and interface to a computer. The result sounds a lot like Nils Petter Molvaer, a wee bit cooler because there is no pretense of living in the jazz moment. B+(**)
  • The New Jazz Composers Octet: The Turning Gate (2005 [2008], Motema Music): Trumpeter David Weiss produced, so he seems to be first among equals, but pianist Xavier Davis edged him out in compositions, while bassist Dwayne Burno and alto saxophonist Myron Walden worked in one each. The other members are Jimmy Greene (tenor sax, soprano sax, flute), Steve Davis (trombone), Norbert Stachel (baritone sax, bass clarinet), and Nasheet Waits (drums). The group packs the range of a big band but with only one player per slot, dispensing with the section bombast while keeping the harmonic richness and letting the soloists kick out. Rarely do collectives throw themselves so hard into each others' material. Maybe Greene, in particular, decided to make up for not furnishing his own song by lighting a fire under everyone else's. B+(***)
  • The Nice Guy Trio: Here Comes . . . the Nice Guy Trio (2009, Porto Franco): San Francisco group, first record together: Darren Johnston on trumpet, Rob Reich on accordion, Daniel Fabricant on bass. Johnston has a couple of good records out recently, including one in my latest JCG A-list, The Edge of the Forest. Reich is on Johnston's record too; also on Andrea Fultz's German Projekt. Don't know about Fabricant, but you can always use a bass player. Most recognizable song is "Fables of Faubus," which the accordion center gave an air of Kurt Weill. Half a dozen guests drop in for a cut or two, nothing that takes over but nice touches -- clarinet (Ben Goldberg), tabla, dumek, pedal steel. Nice guys. B+(***)
  • Anders Nilsson's Aorta Ensemble (2008 [2009], Kopasetic): Guitarist, from Sweden, b. 1974, based in Brooklyn. Sticker on front cover says: "Sweden's AORTA, Cennet Jönsson, and NYC's Fulminate Trio team up to explore free form and 7-piece designs." Jönsson is a saxophonist (soprano, tenor, bass clarinet) with a couple of albums under his own name plus credits with Tolvan Big Band and Meloscope. AORTA is Nilsson's Swedish quartet, with brother Peter Nilsson on drums, Mattias Carlson on tenor sax (alto, clarinet, flute), and David Carlsson on electric bass. They have two previous albums, including Blood, a pick hit in these parts. Fulminate Trio is Brooklyn-based with Nilsson, Ken Filiano on bass, and Michael Evans on drums/percussion. Put them together and you get double sax, double bass, double drums, and a whole lotta guitar. A-
  • Linda Oh Trio: Entry (2008 [2009], Linda Oh Music): Bassist, born in Malaysia, raised in Australia, based now in New York. Trio with Ambrose Akinmusire on trumpet and Obed Calvaire on drums, a nicely balanced arrangement. B+(***)
  • Houston Person: Mellow (2009, High Note): Tenor saxophonist, one of the great ballad artists of our time, so you'd expect this to run slow and sweet with a little deep vibrato. But this isn't so simple. He runs upbeat as often as not, closing with a romp through "Lester Leaps In." He leaves a lot of space between his leads, which guitarist James Chirillo makes better use of than pianist John Di Martino. This continues a long string of fine but rarely special albums -- the last really special one was 2004's To Etta With Love, except for his magnificent Art and Soul compilation. "God Bless the Child" is on that level, but "In a Mellow Tone" isn't even mellow. B+(**)
  • PianoCircus Featuring Bill Bruford: Play the Music of Colin Riley: Skin and Wire (2009, Summerfold): Really Riley's record. Don't know what else he's done, but he bills himself as a "composer of no fixed indoctrination," which suits his pieces here. PianoCircus is a group of classical pianists formed in 1989 to play Steve Reich's "Six Pianos" -- down to four here: David Appleton, Adam Caird, Kate Halsall, Semra Kurutaç, playing some keyboards as well. Bruford is the legendary prog rock drummer, moved out to jazz pastures. Also appearing on the record but not worked into the title is bass guitarist Julian Crampton. Riley's compositions are sparse, so there's no sense of massed pianos or anything -- a light touch is required of everyone, with Bruford excelling. A-
  • Enrico Pieranunzi/Marc Johnson/Joey Baron: Dream Dance (2004 [2009], CAM Jazz): Piano trio. The Americans on bass and drums are among the best in the business, and have been working with the Italian pianist quite some time. They have several good albums together -- Ballads was one I put on my HM list. This one, all written by Pieranunzi, does it all: fast, slow, dense, quiet, exhilarating. A-
  • Quartet Offensive: Carnivore (2008 [2009], Quartet Offensive): Baltimore group, not a quartet -- five members, of whom three write; not especially offensive in any obvious sense; not even sure how carnivorous they are, although the bunny on the back cover looks nervous. The writers are Adam Hopkins (bass), Matt Frazão (guitar, electronics), and Eric Trudel (tenor sax); the others are John Dierker (bass clarinet) and Nathan Ellman-Bell (drums). (OK, they were a quartet before Trudel joined). They like to play off rock riffs, although I wouldn't tag them as fusion. Just seems to be the way they're wired, a good example of a broader generational trend. [was: B+(**)] B+(***)
  • Radio I-Ching: No Wave au Go Go (2009, Resonant Music): Trio: Andy Haas on curved soprano sax and such; Don Fiorino on guitar, mandolin, banjo, lap steel; Dee Pop, a name assumed while playing with the Bush Tetras, on drums. The band's extensive MySpace influences list omits Jan Garbarek, about the only (and certainly the most famous) soprano saxophonist to prefer the curved version. Haas reminds me of Garbarek's crystalline tone snaking over world rhythms -- even when this trio goes to Tin Pan Alley they pick against the grain, offering the Arlen gospel "Judgment Day" and the Mercer western "I'm an Old Cowhand." A-
  • Andrew Rathbun: Where We Are Now (2007 [2009], Steeplechase): Saxophonist, plays tenor and soprano, has been rather prolific since 2000, recording for Fresh Sound New Talent and more recently SteepleChase -- third album there. (By the way, this is the first SteepleChase album I've received since starting Jazz Consumer Guide. They're an important Danish label, since the late 1970s a safe harbor for American expatriates starting with Dexter Gordon and Duke Jordan, with a small minority of European artists -- Piere Dørge, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Tete Montoliu are three who come to mind. Mostly mainstream postbop; deep catalog; a lot of things on my scrounging list.) Previous record (haven't heard it) was called Affairs of State, with songs themed on the Bush administration: "We Have Nothing but Tears," "Around the Same Circles, Again and Again," "5th Anniversary" (of 9/11), "Fiasco," "Folly (of the Future Fallen)." This one is a quintet: Nate Radley (guitar), George Colligan (piano), Johannes Weidenmuller (bass), Billy Hart (drums). Rathbun's tenor sax is a bit light and sly, slipping easily around the complex rhythm. Radley has some nice solo spots, and Colligan is superb. B+(***)
  • Timucin Sahin Quartet: Bafa (2008 [2009], Between the Lines): Turkish guitarist, b. 1973, educated in Netherlands, based in New York. Looks like he has one previous album, although AMG doesn't list it. Quartet with John O'Gallagher (alto sax), Thomas Morgan (bass), and Tyshawn Sorey (drums). O'Gallagher is often on the verge of stealing the album, but the guitarist holds him in check, and impresses with his own solos. B+(***)
  • Ted Sirota's Rebel Souls: Seize the Time (2008 [2009], Naim): Chicago drummer, formed his Rebel Souls group in 1996, with a number of Chicago notables passing through. Likes political themes, although most are no more obvious or in the way than his Mingus pick, "Free Cell Block F, 'Tis Nazi U.S.A." Pieces from Miriam Makeba, Caetano Veloso, and the Clash are done with great care. Group now is a quintet, with two saxes (Geof Bradfield and Greg Ward), guitar (Dave Miller), and bass (Jake Vinsel). B+(***)
  • Wadada Leo Smith: Spiritual Dimensions (2008-09 [2009], Cuneiform, 2CD): Trumpeter, b. 1941, AACM member from 1967, founded Creative Construction Company with Anthony Braxton and Leroy Jenkins, survived the 1970s by running his own label (reissued in 2004 by Tzadik on 4-CD as Kabell Years, 1971-1979), struggled in 1980s (although the newly reissued Procession of the Great Ancestry is widely admired), picked up the pace around 1997, recording a wide range of material on Tzadik (solo, duos, groups, compositions) and some straightforward, even popular material on Cuneiform -- two Yo Miles! sets with Henry Kaiser, and last year's Golden Quartet Tabligh. He's back here with two groups on one disc each, his reshuffled Golden Quintet -- doubled drums with Don Moye and Pheroan AkLaff, John Lindberg on bass, Vijay Iyer on piano -- and the guitar-heavy Organic. Not sure why the electric band is called Organic, but they build on fusion ideas in denser and more complex ways than Yo Miles!, and Smith injects more rough edges than Davis did. The Golden Quintet is harder to sum up, in part because both Iyer and Smith construct solos you can never quite pin down. Lindberg takes a long bass solo, and that too is a plus. A-
  • Tomasz Stanko Quintet: Dark Eyes (2009 [2010], ECM): Venerable Polish trumpet player. Started out in avant-garde c. 1970. Has mellowed out, which is practically mandatory at ECM, but remains a strikingly lyrical player. After several albums with Marcin Wasilewski's piano trio, has a new group this time, a quintet with Alexi Tuomarila on piano, Jakob Bro on guitar, Anders Christensen on bass, and Olavi Louhivuori on drums -- haven't heard of any of them, but expect we will, especially Tuomarila. Record came out late last year in Germany, making some year-end lists. Doesn't blow me away, but is remarkably pleasing, and not all pretty. A-
  • Ben Stapp Trio: Ecstasis (2007 [2008], Uqbar): Plays tuba, wrote everything on this first album (credited, as is the tuba, to Benjamin Stapp); 26 years old, presumably born 1982; from California, based in New York. The tuba, like a bass, is a little hard to follow here -- volume is limited, its role more to set up a steady flow the others play off of. And the others steal the show: Tony Malaby (tenor and soprano sax) adds another feather to his cap as a frontline sideman, and Satoshi Takeishi provides the complementary offbeat percussion. B+(***)
  • Tribecastan: Strange Cousin (2008 [2009], Evergreene Music): Cosmopolitan exotica from the New York melting pot, with Jeff Greene and John Kruth playing a long list of instruments, rarely any one for more than a couple of songs -- Kruth leans toward mandolins and flutes, Greene more often percussive. Supplemented by a short list of guests: Dave Dreiwitz's bass is the most frequent instrument here; Matt Darriau on sax and clarinet, gaida and kaval; Brahim Fribgane on darbuka and riq; Jolie Holland does a song each on box fiddle and voice; Steve Turre on trombone and shells. Sometimes this takes on a jazz vibe -- Don Cherry and Sonny Sharrock provide two reference covers -- but mostly it is something else. B+(**)
  • Trombone Shorty: Backatown (2010, Verve Forecast): Aka Troy Andrews, Treme legend, reportedly had a club named for him at age eight, when his moniker was no doubt cuter. Still young at 24 for a major label debut after a handful of local releases going back to 2002. Tries to do something new here, but comes up with a lot of bad ideas, tricking up the usual horn line with synth beats, bringing in guest vocalists Marc Broussard and Lenny Kravitz, and trying to sing himself. C+ [Rhapsody]
  • Gebhard Ullman: Don't Touch My Music I (2007 [2009], Not Two): German reed player, credited with bass clarinet and tenor saxophone here. Julian Arguëlles offsets with soprano and baritone sax, and Steve Swell muddies the waters with trombone. Ullman, b. 1957, has a long discography of marginally listenable avant-oriented discs, but this one is very listenable. Some of the hornwork is even neatly weaved together, and it would be hard to overpraise John Hebert and Gerald Cleaver in the rhythm section. Cut to celebrate Ullman's 50th birthday. B+(***)
  • Gebhard Ullman: Don't Touch My Music II (2007 [2009], Not Two): More of the same -- most labels would have gone for a double, but I guess this one is eager to fill up its catalog. Not as painless as the first volume -- fourth song breaks down into a nasty squawkfest, the sort of thing that must be more fun to play than to listen to. Still, it's not that bad; the horn interplay and the rhythm section are still inspired. Guess it was a happy birthday. B+(**)
  • David S. Ware: Saturnian (Solo Saxophones, Volume 1) (2009 [2010], AUM Fidelity): Practice as slow-motion performance: the inevitable solo album, tenor sax (of course), also stritch and saxello which are a bit funkier, perhaps because they're hard to play without thinking of Rahsaan Roland Kirk. But Ware, always a methodical guy, only plays one at a time. B+(***)
  • Matt Wilson Quartet: That's Gonna Leave a Mark (2008 [2009], Palmetto): Two horns -- Andrew D'Angelo on alto sax and bass clarinet, Jeff Lederer on tenor sax -- plus Chris Lightcap on bass and Wilson on drums. Lederer is a good deal rougher around the edges than Joel Frahm, who had paired with D'Angelo on previous Wilson -- Going Once, Going Twice is one I recommend. D'Angelo tends to walk on the wild side himself, so the pair threaten to run away with the album. Covers tend towards freebop. Wilson's originals are more buttoned down. War's "Why Can't We Be Friends" is an inspired peace offering at the end. A-
  • John Zorn: Alhambra Love Songs (2008 [2009], Tzadik): Hard not to repeat some of the hype here, one of Zorn's most shameless: "touching and lyrical . . . perhaps the single most charming cd in Zorn's entire catalog . . . will appeal to fans of Vince Guaraldi, Ahmad Jamal, Henry Mancini and even George Winston!" Wow: more charming than Naked City? New Traditions in East Asian Bar Bands? Kristallnacht? Nani Nani? (The latter is the worst thing I've heard him do, absolutely hideous, but I've barely sampled 10% of his catalog, so who knows what horrors I've missed.) In case you haven't guessed, Zorn is only the composer here, not a player. The group is a piano trio: Rob Burger, Greg Cohen, Ben Perowsky. Burger isn't in Jamal's class -- he actually has more credits on accordion and organ than piano -- but Zorn's melodies have so much structural integrity he doesn't need to elaborate, especially with Cohen all but singing on bass. A-

Notes for records dismissed during the round:

  • Absolute Ensemble: Absolute Zawinul (2007 [2010], Intuition/Sunnyside): Part of an annoying trend where labels put what used to be the booklet into a PDF file on the disc where you can't access it while listening to the CD. (I suppose that's better than not providing anything, which has often been the case, but it cramps my working style.) Hence I'm working mostly off the web here. Absolute Ensemble is a string-heavy orchestra led by Kristjan Järvi -- he is Estonian, but I don't know about the group. AMG considers them classical, but their first album included a take on "Purple Haze," and they've evidently done an Absolute Zappa before this. Zawinul plays here, presumably shortly before his death in September 2007. The record resembles his extravagant world music c. Faces and Places more than Weather Report. On the other hand, Zawinul seems to drop out for "Ballad for Two Musicians," which is as ripe as classical gets. Nothing here sticks with me, although it has moments when it seems it might. B
  • Afghan Star (2009, Silva Screen): Original soundtrack recording to a documentary which won a couple of Sundance awards. The subject is an Afghan TV show, a talent search show, sort of Afghanistan's answer to American Idol, most likely without the smarmy judges. About the only thing I (or hardly anyone) knows about Afghani music is that the Taliban did their damnedest to suppress it. But an educated guess would be that it absorbs Iranian classical music and Pakistani Qawwali, with dashes of Arabic improvisation and Bollywood schmaltz, and that's about right -- except for the closer, which picks up bits of rock and what sounds like Scottish bagpipes. Still a place where tradition runs strong, but if the Obama can keep from serving the country up to the Taliban on a silver platter, in a decade I figure the tide will turn toward hip-hop and baila funk. B+(**)
  • Eric Alexander: Revival of the Fittest (2009, High Note): Apposite title: normally a very "solid" (a title), "dead center" (another title) "man with a horn" (yet another title), he's been rather erratic the last few years, but he sounds pretty revived this time. Maybe it was David Hazeltine's fault? He certainly owes Harold Mabern hearty thanks this time. B+(***)
  • Geri Allen: Flying Toward the Sound (2008 [2010], Motéma Music): B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Rodrigo Amado/Kent Kessler/Paal Nilssen-Love: The Abstract Truth (2008 [2009], European Echoes): Portugese saxophonist, in a trio with two frequent Kent Vandermark associates -- same group recorded Teatro in 2004. Also leads the Lisbon Improvisation Players and shows up on some side projects where he is invariably a plus -- roughly analogous to someone like Tony Malaby. Abstract free jazz, ably supported, not too rough, but doesn't quite ignite -- it's easy enough to imagine Vandermark in the same company pushing the envelope harder. Best stretch is one on baritone. Dedicates the album to Giorgio De Chirico. Also does photo work, worth checking out on his website. B+(**)
  • The American Music Project: On the Bright Side (2004-05 [2009], Inarhyme): Quartet with Dane Bays (alto sax), Keith Javors (piano), Dave Ziegner (bass), and Alex Brooks (drums) providing the jazz backbone, plus two vocalists: singer Curtis Isom and rapper Dejuan "D Priest" Everett. Bays wrote the music, except for a John Coltrane piece ("Lonnie's Lament"); Everett wrote the words, including a "Welcome" that spells everything out literally. I won't argue that this isn't quintessential Americana, but neither the rapper -- who sounds a bit like Chuck D but less so -- nor the singer hold their own, and while there's nothing wrong with the band -- I'll never complain about too much sax -- they're not really the point. B+(*)
  • Bill Anschell/Brent Jensen: We Couldn't Agree More (2008 [2009], Origin): Duets, Anschell playing piano, Jensen soprano sax. Anschell is a Seattle pianist with a half dozen or so albums since 1997. Jensen teaches in Idaho; started out on alto, but has played more soprano recently, exclusively on his last couple of albums. The latest, a quartet with Anschell called One More Mile, made my A-list. This is less flush, of course, but the strong points are still here. Ends with a remarkably schematic take on "Sunny Side of the Street." B+(***)

  • Svend Asmussen: Makin' Whoopee! . . . and Music! (2009, Arbors): Danish violinist, b. 1916, modeled his style on Joe Venuti, emerging before WWII. Evidently cut this shortly before his 93rd birthday, with Richard Drexler on piano and organ, Jacob Fischer on guitar, Tony Martin on drums, and Tom Carabasi with his name on the cover for reasons I've yet to discern. Not a lot of whoopee here: the title track and others like "Singin' in the Rain" and "Nuages" and "Danny Boy" and "Just a Gigolo" are taken at a measured pace with sly elegance. Someone I've long meant to track down, but this looks to be just a pleasant footnote. I have his Shanachie DVD, The Extraordinary Life and Music of a Jazz Legend -- need to play that some day. B [Rhapsody]
  • Michaël Attias: Renku in Coimbra (2008 [2009], Clean Feed): Alto saxophonist, b. 1968 in Israel, moved to US in 1977, bounced back and forth between US and Europe until settling in New York in 1994. Group is a trio with John Hebert on bass and Satoshi Takeishi on drums; same group recorded Renku in 2004. Attias wrote two pieces, Hebert three (including the one reprised at the end); the two outside pieces are by Lee Konitz and Jimmy Lyons, touchstones for Attias. Russ Lossing joins in on piano on one cut, but in three plays I have to admit I didn't notice him. Tight group, the sax not unusual for free jazz, the bass and drums busy but not overbearing. B+(**)
  • Jeff Baker: Of Things Not Seen (2006-07 [2009], OA2): Vocalist, most likely Seattle-based, fourth album since 2003's inevitable Baker Sings Chet. This one is gospel-themed -- Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" threw me off for a minute, but two straight songs with "Thou" in the title steered me back. Stylistically he reminds me of Kurt Elling without the numerous annoying tics. Cut in Seattle with Origin's all-stars -- the Bill Anschell-Jeff Johnson-John Bishop trio is impeccable, and Brent Jensen is superb as always. Not into the songs, although the unlisted 12th song, with uncredited violin and backup singer, has some grace within it. B-
  • Marco Benevento: Me Not Me (2008 [2009], Royal Potato Family): OK, found an advance buried in the unplayed baskets -- don't I keep harping on how stuff like that runs a real risk of slipping through the cracks? Advance doesn't have any credits, and I can't find the hype sheet, but AMG tells me that Reed Mathis plays bass here, and it's either Matt Chamberlain or Andrew Barr on drums. Most of this is fuzzily indistinct, tethered to rockish beats. This works best on "Friends" where it gets unruly. B
  • Marco Benevento: Between the Needles and Nightfall (2010, Royal Potato Family): Pianist, b. 1977 in Livingston NJ, lived in Colorado for a while, studied at Berklee, based in Brooklyn. Trio with Reed Mathis on electric bass, Andrew Barr on drums/percussion, and Benevento supplementing his piano with "optigan, circuit bent toys, and various keyboards." Groove-centric, a little fuzzy on the edges. My paperwork indicates that somewhere I have his 2009 record Me Not Me. Will keep an eye out for that. B+(*)
  • Curt Berg & the Avon Street Quintet: At Stagg Street Studio (2009, Origin): Trombonist, originally from Iowa, studied at Drake and USC. Broke in with Woody Herman c. 1970, and has several more big band credits -- Don Ellis, Jim Self, Vince Mendoza. First album, with saxophonist Tom Luer and pianist Andy Langham, plus bass (Lyman Medeiros) and drums (Bill Berg, don't know if related). Berg wrote all of the songs, including three he dedicated to Gary Foster, Eliot Spitzer, and Moacir Santos. Trombone almost always plays in unison with the sax -- soprano, alto, and tenor are listed in that order -- for a harmonic effect I don't care for, but the rhythm is gingerly sprung. B
  • Sean Bergin's New Mob: Chicken Feet: Live at the Bimhuis (2007 [2010], Pingo): Dutch saxophonist, also on the line here for flute, ukulele, and vocals, although most of the vocals belong to Una Bergin and Felicity Provan. They are sometimes distracting, sometimes surreal, which underscores the comic vein in the Dutch avant-garde. Not all that easy to follow, but sneaky clever when you let it go. B+(*)
  • Peter Bernstein Quartet: Live at Smalls (2010, Smalls Live): Guitarist, eighth album since 1992, first I've heard but I've heard him on a lot of other people's albums, where he routinely stands out. Jim Hall protege, although I usually think of him as a Montgomery camp follower, especially when he works blues lines. Richard Wyands plays piano, John Webber bass, and Jimmy Cobb gets big type on the cover for drums. Wyands is a complementary player, and in a long live set gets some space. Cobb, of course, goes back far enough to recall when this kind of mainstream was new. Reportedly, there's a lot of live tapes in the Smalls archive, and this is one of the first six. Sound isn't great, but it gives you a good sense of how Bernstein works. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • The Bickel/Marks Group With Dave Liebman (2009 [2010], Zoho): Pianist Doug Bickel, bassist Dennis Marks, with Marco Marcinko on drums, Matt Vashlishan on alto sax, and Dave Liebman on soprano and tenor sax (mostly soprano). Bickel and Marks came up through the Woody Herman, Maynard Ferguson, and Arturo Sandoval bands, winding up with one or two albums each under their own names, plus this joint operation. They play a jaunty postbop, and Liebman adds something -- this is a rare outing where I think he might justify his soprano. B+(**)
  • Big Crazy Energy New York Band: Inspirations, Vol. 1 (2008 [2010], Rosa): Leader here is Norwegian trombonist Jens Wendelboe, who cut a couple of non-NY Big Crazy Energy Band albums in the early 1990s. He plays, conducts, produces, wrote or co-wrote 5 of 9 songs, and keeps the energy level high. Still, as Wolfgang Pauli would say, his high energy physics isn't crazy enough. Can't say I like closing with a Beatles tune either. B-
  • John Blake Jr.: Motherless Child (2010, ARC): Violinist, b. 1947, Philadelphia, half-dozen albums since 1983, some possibly credited without the "Jr." Mostly gospel pieces powered by the Howard University Jazz Choir, who are up to the task if you're into that sort of thing. Spine credits Blake's Quartet, which I take to be Sumi Tonooka on piano, Boris Kozlov on bass, and Jonathan Blake on drums. Front cover cites Mulgrew Miller as a special guest, but his two cuts are hardly more special than Tonooka's four. Still, the real treat here is the violin. B+(**)
  • Seamus Blake Quartet: Live in Italy (2007 [2009], Jazz Eyes, 2CD): Tenor saxophonist, born 1969 in England, raised in Canada (Vancouver), studied in Boston (Berklee), lives in New York. Ninth album since 1993, fairly large number of side credits, where he always sounds good. Quartet includes David Kikoski, a first-rate pianist. The live cuts range from 8:10 to 17:07, cherry picked from at least three shows: open, wide-ranging, vigorous. B+(**)
  • Theo Bleckmann/Kneebody: Twelve Songs by Charles Ives (2008 [2009], Winter & Winter): On paper this looks dicier than The Refuge Trio, but it comes off better. Ives' songs suck up enough Americana to contain their artiness, and his fondness for juxtaposing things provides a bit of edge. Kneebody has some names I barely recognize (Ben Wendel on tenor sax, Adam Benjamin on piano, Shane Endsley on trumpet) and others I don't (Kaveh Rastegar on bass, Nate Wood on drums). Bleckmann's voice fits the songs nicely, only rarely slipping into his angelic upper register. B+(**)
  • Salvatore Bonafede Trio: Sicilian Opening (2009 [2010], Jazz Eyes): Pianist, b. 1962 in Palermo, in Sicily. Has a dozen, maybe more albums, since 1990. Piano trio with Marco Panascia on bass, Marcello Pellitteri on drums. Light touch, even temper. Does a Beatles piece, which I always dread, but acquits it nicely. B+(**)
  • Ralph Bowen: Due Reverence (2009 [2010], Posi-Tone): Tenor saxophonist, mainstream player, consistently impressive. Last record rated an HM. This has comparable strengths when he's on, but I've played it a lot and keep losing the thread. Strong quintet, with Sean Jones (trumpet), Adam Rogers (guitar), John Patitucci (bass), Antonio Sanchez (drums). B+(*)
  • Anthony Branker & Ascent: Blessings (2007 [2009], Origin): Branker's credit here: compositions & music director. Got a BA from Princeton in 1980, and has taught there since 1989; currently working on an EdD at Columbia. Had a Fulbright scholarship 2005-06 which took him to Estonia. Second album under this attribution, although he also has a record For the Children as Tony Branker. Plays trumpet, but left that slot empty in this 7-8 piece group -- the delta is Renato Thoms, playing congas on two of nine cuts. Mostly well-known musicians: Steve Wilson (alto sax), Ralph Bowen (tenor & soprano saxes), Clifford Adams Jr. (trombone), Bryan Carrott (vibes), Jonny King (piano), Belden Bullock (bass), Wilby Fletcher (drums). Not sure that it all holds up, but this starts off with an impressive balance of instruments, with Carrott's vibes central and indispensible, drawing a nice range of colors out of the horns, except on the rare cases where they get tied in lockstep. I don't pay much attention to what other critics say, but Branker's website has a rave from Maria Schneider: "beautiful writing, and such great people to realize all of it." Mostly right. B+(***)
  • The Wayne Brasel Quartet: If You Would Dance (2009 [2010], Brajazz): Guitarist, from California, based in Norway now, teaching at the University of Stavanger. Seventh album since 1996. Quartet includes two well known players -- pianist Alan Pasqua and drummer Peter Erskine -- as well as bassist Tom Warrington and percussionist Satnam Ramgotra -- that makes five, so I'm not sure how the quartet concept works. Brasel's guitar has a soft, sliky tone which doesn't do much to get your attention. Pasqua has some stronger runs, but it's not his album. B
  • Tom Braxton: Endless Highway (2009, Pacific Coast Jazz): Saxophonist, tenor first, then soprano, alto, flute, keybs. Fourth album since 1998, dedicated to the late Wayman Tisdale. Pop jazz, soupy keybs, pumping sax riffs. Closes with three radio edits, including obligatory vocal fluff. B-
  • Eleanora Fagan (1915-1959): To Billie With Love From Dee Dee Bridgewater (2009 [2010], Emarcy): B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Burkina Electric: Paspanga (2009 [2010], Cantaloupe): Another African fusion project where a visitor (drummer/electronics wiz Lukas Ligeti) lands somewhere (Burkina Faso) and hooks up with local musicians (guitarist Wende K. Blass and singer Maï Lingani), the result being an African no less syncretic than the natives produce these days, but better distributed. Ligeti brought a German d/b/a Pyrolator along for more electronics. The only other credits are two dancers, brought along to "help us draw audiences into our unusual rhythms" and thereby to validate them. The rhythms are synthesized from local traditions, and scarcely feel wanting even if the main reason for going to Africa is to up the rhythm quotient. The guitar is less slick than the coast and less rustic than the desert. The vocals are down home, as they should be. A-
  • John Burr Band: Just Can't Wait (2007 [2009], JBQ, CD+DVD): Bassist, nothing personal in his bio, just work snippets -- e.g., toured with Tony Bennett 1980-85, scattered work with Stephane Grappelli, original member of Mark O'Connor's Hot Swing Trio. Had a couple albums released in the 1990s, and 40-50 side credits as far back as 1977. Wrote all the songs here, including lyrics for a bunch of singers: Ty Stephens, Yaala Ballin, Laurel Massé, Hilary Kole, Tyler Burr. Stephens has some fine moments, especially the title song, which swings as is Burr's inclination. The ladies fare less well. The other spotlight moments are instrumental. Burr managed to snag Anat Cohen, Houston Person, and Howard Alden for a cut each; Yotam Silberstein for two; Bob Mintzer, Dominick Farinacci, and Ted Rosenthal for three each; Joel Frahm and John Hart for longer stretches. I haven't sorted out who did what, but there are many sparkling moments. DVD has the same songs (minus one), but slightly different lineups, with less guest starpower. Haven't watched it -- a rule I almost always follow. B+(**)
  • Francesco Cafiso Quartet: Angelica (2009, CAM Jazz): Young alto saxophonist, b. 1989 in Sicily, making him 19 when he recorded this -- AMG lists it as his 7th album since 2004, a Concerto for Michel Petrucciani that they raved about. This one was recorded in New York with Aaron Parks (piano), Ben Street (bass), and Adam Cruz (drums). Has a gorgeous tone, a point he shows off by opening with "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing." Title track is from Ellington; he also checks Horace Silver and Sonny Rollins, plus wrote 4 of 9. Nicely turned out mainstream outing. B+(**)
  • Hadley Caliman: Straight Ahead (2008 [2010], Origin): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1932, cut a few albums in the 1970s then nothing until 2008. Second comeback album, with Thomas Marriott on trumpet, Eric Verlinde on piano, also bass and drums. Mainstream player, not an especially strong voice, but his "Lush Life" is particularly nice. B+(*)
  • Eddie C. Campbell: Tear This World Up (2008 [2009], Delmark): Chicago bluesman, plays guitar and sings, b. 1939, in Mississippi like so many others -- was 6 when he made aliyah. Only his eighth album since his 1977 debut, first in a decade. Not much to differentiate him from a dozen others, except that he's still around and kicking it, and blues authority grows on old guys. B+(**)
  • The Ian Carey Quintet: Contextualizin' (2009 [2010], Kabocha): Trumpet player, b. 1974, from Binghampton, NY, now based somewhere in Bay Area. Second album. Basic hard bop lineup, bright and sunny, with some postbop harmonizing. B+(*)
  • Mel Carter: The Heart & Soul of Mel Carter (2008 [2009], CSP): Singer, b. 1943 (although I've also seen 1939 cited). AMG: "Mel Carter was soul music at its most vanilla, if indeed he could be characterized as a soul singer at all." He recorded steadily 1963-70, with a top ten hit in 1965 ("Hold Me, Thrill Me, Kiss Me") and two more singles grazing the top 40. This is his first album since 1970, a standards set with a jazz combo, bookended with two takes of Hoagy Carmichael's "Heart and Soul," with some 1950s doo wop fare, like "The Glory of Love," worked into the mix. Don't know his early work other than the hit(s), but I'd guess the vanilla is mostly in the mix -- not an issue here, nor need he break new ground. He's a good ballad singer, and the songs and arrangements suit him fine. B+(**)
  • Joe Chambers: Horace to Max (2009 [2010], Savant): More Roach than Silver, but Chambers is a drummer, even though he mostly plays vibes and marimba here, with Steve Berrios on the kit. Nicole Guilland sings two Roach songs, one an Abbey Lincoln co-credit; I don't really care for either. I'm ambivalent about Chambers' vibes as well, but the marimba has an interesting sound. Much better is Eric Alexander's tenor sax. Old Blue Note-style cover art. B
  • Teddy Charles: Dances With Bulls (2008 [2009], Smalls): Vibraphonist, b. 1928 (Theodore Charles Cohen); got his first break on piano playing for Coleman Hawkins as an emergency replacement for Thelonious Monk; cut a pile of records 1951-63, five called New Directions, another the legendary Tentet; then retired, moving to the Caribbean, opening up a sailing business; eventually returned to New York, where he still sails. This is his first studio album since: sextet, with Chris Byars on alto sax/flute, John Mosca on trombone, Harold Danko on piano, Ari Roland on bass, Stefan Schatz on drums. One Mingus tune -- Charles' resume includes Jazz Workshop work with Mingus -- the rest originals. The vibes can swing, bop, or just tinkle, and are most mesmerizing at high speed. The young horns are a little slick, happy to be here. Danko is one of those well-regarded pianists I've been meaning to get to but still have no feel for. B+(**)
  • Gerald Clayton: Two-Shade (2009, ArtistShare): Piano trio, debut recording, although he had the advantage of growing up in his father, bassist John Clayton's big band, and has a substantial list of side credits already. As with many mainstream piano trios, I'm at a loss for words, but he has good balance and poise, and this holds up consistently well. B+(***)
  • Steve Colson: The Untarnished Dream (2009 [2010], Silver Sphinx): Pianist, aka Adegoke Steve Colson, b. 1949, Newark, NJ, hooked up with AACM in the early 1970s, but doesn't seem to have recorded much -- AMG lists a side credit with Butch Morris in 1996 and one previous album from 2004 co-credited to wife-vocalist Iqua Colson. This is mostly piano trio, with Iqua singing on four tracks. She is off-tune and rather clunky, which doesn't always fail to work. Colson plays piano somewhat like that, too, but then it's hard to keep everything straight when you're depending on Reggie Workman and Andrew Cyrille for rhythm. They, no surprise, save the day. B+(*)
  • Marc Copland: Alone (2008-09 [2009], Pirouet): Postbop pianist, b. 1948, closing in on his 30th album since 1988, should be a major figure but they're so many pianists. As the title explains, solo. Very measured, quiet even, exactly the sort of thing that never commands my attention in a solo piano record. Starts with "Soul Eyes"; includes three originals and three Joni Mitchell songs among ten total. Intelligent and lovely, of course. B+(**)
  • George Cotsirilos Trio: Past Present (2009 [2010], OA2): Guitarist, originally from Chicago, graduated from UC Berkeley and studied classical guitar through San Francisco Conservatory of Music. Based in (or near) San Francisco. Third album. Don't know much more. Guitar-bass-drums trio. Mix of originals and well worn standards. Precise, articulate, typical jazz guitar. B+(*)
  • François Couturier: Un Jour Si Blanc (2010, ECM): French pianist, b. 1950, only his third album, second for ECM. Solo, slow, thoughtful, with hommages to J.S. Bach, Arthur Rimbaud, and Andrei Tarkovski. B+(*)
  • Bill Cunliffe/Holly Hofmann: Three's Company (2009 [2010], Capri): Piano and flute respectively. Hofmann's in the upper ranks of Downbeat's poll because there's hardly anyone else, and Cunliffe doesn't place because there are jillions of good pianists (though somewhat less that are better than him). Most tracks add a guest, which usually helps -- the contrast with Terrell Stafford's trumpet yields a choice cut (the title track), where the three contributors abstractly lean against each other. The other guests spots: Regina Carter (violin), Ken Peplowski (clarinet), Alvester Garnett (drums). B+(*)
  • Darunam/Milan: The Last Angel on Earth (2008 [2009], 64-56 Media): Darunam is a group/duo of guitarist Radovan Jovicevic and vocalist Manu Narayan. Jovicevic is Serbian; Narayan Indian-American. They met up in New York, and have one previous album. Milan is Milan Milosevic, clarinet player, also from Belgrade (presumably not the Bosnian basketball player). Songs are based on various angels, saints, or deities, including Bacchus, Raphael, Cupid, Karl [Marx], Mahatma [Gandhi], and Theresa [Mother]. Mostly in English -- Vanessa Ivey also sings some -- sort of world fusion with Balkan and Indian elements but nothing that clear. Interesting sound mix; less sure about the themes. B+(*)
  • Dan Dean: 251 (2009 [2010], Origin): Bassist; credits don't specify, but pictures show him playing electric. First album, although AMG lists about 50 credits going back to 1976. The songs here are covers, most well known standards ("'S Wonderful," "One Note Samba," "All the Things You Are," "In Walked Bud," "Body and Soul," etc.) done as duets with various keyboard players: George Duke, Larry Goldings (organ), Gil Goldstein (also plays accordion), Kenny Werner. Werner's cuts are brightly pianistic; Goldings is Goldings, and there's not much a bassist can do about that. B
  • Graham Dechter: Right on Time (2008 [2009], Capri): Guitarist, from and based in Los Angeles; studied at Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY; plays in Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra. Debut album, a quartet, backed by the Clayton-Hamilton trio: John Clayton on bass, Jeff Hamilton on drums, Tamir Hendelman on piano. Needless to say, they swing. Program includes one original, two Ellingtons, Johnny Hodges' "Squatty Roo," pieces by Ray Brown and Thad Jones, a Jobim, other standards. Decter's guitar complements the trio, adding texture and pushing them a bit. B+(**)
  • Tineke de Jong/Albert van Veenendaal/Alan Purves/Hans Hasebos: Midday Moon (2008 [2009], Brokken): Dutch group. De Jong plays violin, van Veenendaal (prepared) piano, Purves percussion, Hasebos marimba. De Jong's notes describe herself as "a classical violinist inspired by jazz standards" and van Veenendaal as "an improvising pianist without style boundaries." In other words, she's more conventionally boxed in, whereas the pianist easily breaks convention. Especially striking when the drums and marimba expand on the prepared piano's percussion; less so when de Jong returns to chamber jazz, which predominates. B+(**)
  • Jorrit Dijkstra: Pillow Circles (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Dutch saxophonist, plays alto and lyricon, has 10 or so albums since 1994, based in Boston. This is an octet with a few American names I recognize -- Tony Malaby, Jeb Bishop, Jason Roebke, Frank Rosaly -- and a few Europeans I don't. With viola and guitar/banjo, plus three users of Crackle Box ("a small low-fi noisemaker invented by Dutch electronic musician Michel Waisvisz"). Only instrument that registers much for me is Bishop's trombone. Otherwise I find it vaguely symphonic, swooning in swirls of slick harmony, but somehow it grows on you. B
  • Lajos Dudas: Chamber Music Live (1990 [2009], Pannon Classic): Not sure why I have this down as a 2009 release: it was mastered in 1997 and most likely released shortly after that. Jewel case is a little worn, too. Dudas plays clarinet, was born 1941, don't know how many records he has but he sent me one in 2008, Jazz on Stage, that made my HM list. This was recorded live in Bonn, with Sebastian Buchholz on alto sax and "buch-horn" -- the two horns provide a sharp-shrill contrast, vigorous when it's just the two of them. The third participant is vocalist Yldiz Ibrahimova, who has one of those operatic voices I can rarely stand. B
  • Paul Dunmall/Chris Corsano: Identical Sunsets (2010, ESP-Disk): Dunmall's bagpipes, played solo on the first cut, are the most hideous sound in all of jazz. He digs a deep hole there, although I suppose you could give him points for novelty. Dunmall's tenor sax is something else: fiercely engaged, sometimes brilliant, always noisy. Corsano is a drummer I had forgotten about -- has one album under his own name, unheard by me, and a few side credits, including a Nels Cline-Wally Shoup dud from 2005 where the noise got the best of the music. He digs in hard here, apparently a fair match for an effort that sinks or swims on Dunmall. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Mark Egan: Truth Be Told (2009 [2010], Wavetone): Electric bassist -- "fretted and fretless" is how he puts it -- b. 1951, has eight or so records since 1985, plus a large number of side credits going back to 1977 -- Pat Metheny, Bill Evans (the saxophonist, who plays here), Gil Evans, Mark Murphy, Jason Miles, Joe Beck. Basically a funk-fusion quintet, like Weather Report at their most homogenized, with less distinctive players at every slot: Egan, Evans, Vinnie Colaiuta (drums), Roger Squitero (percussion), and especially Mitch Forman (keyboards). B-
  • John Ellis & Double-Wide: Puppet Mischief (2009 [2010], ObliqSound): Tenor saxophonist, also plays bass clarinet here, b. 1974, sixth album since 1996. Seems that he has been aiming at some sort of a popular mainstream synthesis -- past album titles emphasize a common touch ("Roots Branches and Leaves," "One Foot in the Swamp"), and his Double-Wide aims low even when the shot drifts high. Blues are part, but also this veers toward circus music -- maybe it's Matt Perrine's sousaphone in lieu of bass, or Brian Coogan's organ (also in lieu of bass). The fourth group member is Jason Marsalis on drums, but things are made more complex with two guests: Alan Ferber on trombone and Gregoire Maret on harmonica, both quality additions. B+(*)
  • Amir ElSaffar/Hafez Modirzadeh: Radif/Suite (2009 [2010], Pi): ElSaffar is a trumpeter, Iraqi father, American mother, b. 1977 in Chicago, studied at DePaul, has one previous album, Two Rivers, in 2007. Modirzadeh plays tenor sax, Iranian father, American mother, b. 1962 in North Carolina, teaches at SF State, has 6-7 previous albums as well as side-credits back to 1987, many with the Asian Improv crowd (Fred Ho, Francis Wong, Anthony Brown). Each wrote a long suite-like piece here: Modirzadeh's "Radif-E Kayhan" and ElSaffar's "Copper Suite." Rhythm section is Alex Cline on drums and gongs, Mark Dresser on bass. Both pieces sound like freebop to me, with nothing special suggesting Iraq or Iran (except for ElSaffar's brief vocal). B+(**)
  • Damian Erskine: So To Speak (2010, DE): Bassist, primarily or perhaps exclusively electric bass guitar; based in Portland, OR. Second album, after Trios in 2007. Group adds guitar, piano, drums, percussion, with occasional addition of a horn or yet more percussion -- tenor saxophonist John Nastos is the only name I recognize. Basically a shifting groove album; I can't quite call it hard-edged or relentless, but it trends that way. B+(**)
  • Oran Etkin: Kelenia (2009, Motema): Plays clarinet, bass clarinet, and tenor sax. Born in Israel, now based in Brooklyn; started studying with George Garzone at age 14, which suggests a Boston connection (not to mention good luck). Back label instructs to "file under jazz or world." Core group includes Joe Sanders on bass, and two Malians: Balla Kouyate on balafon and Makane Kouyate on calabash and vocals. They set up gentle, near-hypnotic grooves, which Etkin plies his reeds on. Some other guests show up, with Abdoulaye Diabate taking over vocals on two tracks, Lionel Loueke playing guitar on three, John Benitez subbing on bass on three, Jessie Martino and Sara Caswell adding strings on one. Attractive fusion concept, although the vocals are less than compelling. [was B+(***)] B+(**)
  • Orrin Evans: Faith in Action (2009 [2010], Posi-Tone): Pianist, b. 1975 or 1976 (seen both cited) in Trenton, NJ; raised in Philadelphia, studied at Rutgers (e.g., Kenny Barron), based in Philadelphia. Tenth album since 1994, most on Criss Cross. First one I've heard, partially plugging one of the larger gaps in my listening. Piano trio with Luques Curtis on bass, various drummers (Nasheet Waits, Rocky Bryant, Gene Jackson). Mostly Bobby Watson songs (5 of 10) -- Evans has appeared on a couple Watson albums, and Watson wrote an appreciative note on the inside, something about finding the portal and unlocking the compositions. That's too technical for me: what I hear is a first-rate postbop pianist picking his way through intricate material, impressive enough but nothing quite grabs me. Need to listen to him more, but that's true of a lot of more/less equivalent pianists. B+(**)
  • Alan Ferber: Music for Nonet and Strings/Chamber Songs (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Trombonist, b. 1975, based in Brooklyn, third album including a previous nonet on Fresh Sound I was impressed with, plus quite a bit of side work -- John Hollenbeck Large Ensemble stands out. I recognize about half of the strings, conducted by J.C. Sanford, from previous jazz work. The nonet has a wide pallette of sounds, notably including Scott Wendholt on trumpet, John Ellis on tenor sax, and Nate Radley on guitar. Takes some concentration to get past the third stream thing, but lots of rewarding details. B+(*)
  • Ambrose Field/John Potter: Being Dufay (2007 [2009], ECM New Series): Field is credited with "live and studio electronics"; Potter as "tenor," meaning a vocalist with classical standing. Record is "based on vocal fragments by Guillaume Dufay (1397-1474)," a Franco-Flemish composer of the early Renaissance. The electronics separate this from any baggage I associate with classical music. The voice wends through the words without excessive drama or disruption. Lovely, actually. B+(**)
  • Carl Fischer & Organic Groove Ensemble: Adverse Times (2009 [2010], Fischmusic): Trumpet player (also flugelhorn and valve trombone here), second album. Played with Maynard Ferguson Big Bop Nouveau Band 1993-98, winding up as music director, and returning for spots up to 2004. Otherwise, resume mostly features performances (but I don't see any recording credits) with pop stars: Dianne Schuur, Mary Wilson, Blood Sweat & Tears, Dells, Four Tops, Will Smith, Shakira, Sam Moore, Sophie B. Hawkins, Mariah Carey, Billy Joel. Organic Groove seems to mean Hammond B3, guitar, tabla, and Latin percussion. Two vocals by Brent Carter are definite downers. The trumpet does remind a bit of Ferguson, to whom the album is dedicated. B
  • Roberto Fonseca: Akokan (2008 [2010], Enja/Justin Time): Cuban pianist, b. 1975, has six or so albums since 2001. Has a light touch, speed, and sophistication when out in the lead. His accoutrements are less impressive. Javier Zalba plays flute, clarinet, and baritone sax, none particularly apt. Several vocals also produce mixed effects. Few Afro-Cuban trademarks, which is neither here nor there. B+(*)
  • Free Unfold Trio: Ballades (2009 [2010], Ayler): Piano trio, led by Jobic Le Masson, with Benjamin Duboc on bass and Didier Lasserre on drums. Two (or four) pieces, composed (or improvised) by the group, totalling a scant 28:39. French group, has one previous album together, and Le Masson has a trio album under his own name. Ballade means slow here, a untethered set of ambient abstractions, interesting but likely to slip past without much notice. B+(*)
  • Hal Galper: E Pluribus Unum: Live in Seattle (2009 [2010], Origin): A very good albeit not all that well known pianist, now in his 70s, in a trio with Seattle stalwarts Jeff Johnson (bass) and John Bishop (drums). Dense, deliberate, interesting, but less compelling than his 2009 Art-Work, which was elevated by Reggie Workman and Rashied Ali. B+(*)
  • Garaj Mahal: More Mr. Nice Guy (2009 [2010], Owl Studios): Guitar-keybs-bass-drums quartet, seventh album since 2003, the first three titled Live. I filed them under guitarist Fareed Haque since he was the one I recognized and he was listed first on the back cover, but keyb man Eric Levy strikes me as more central, and drummer "the Rick" sings two pieces. The groove tracks are agreeable enough, rhythmically complex and often clever, but the vocal tracks are vapid, which undercuts everything else. B-
  • Garaj Mahal & Fareed Haque: Discovery (2010, Moog Music): Haque is a regular member of the quartet -- along with Eric Levy on keyboards, Kai Eckhardt on bass, and Sean Rickman on drums -- so it seems a bit untoward to single him out here, but the point of the record is to show off the Moog guitar he plays, and he is by far the best known member of the group. No vocals this time, so the attractive grooves just work their sinuous ways. B+(*)
  • Maxfield Gast: Eat Your Beats (2009 [2010], Militia Hill): Saxophonist (alto, soprano, EWI; also trumpet, synth, and drum programming) from Philadelphia. First album. Occasionally adds keybs, bass, and/or drums, but sometimes just does it all himself. One of his web pages describes this as "a combination of old-school instrumental hip hop, drum & bass, soul, and funk." I wound up refiling it as pop jazz, which isn't quite fair: it isn't slick or smooth or catchy, and it doesn't make you feel like wretching. On the other hand, it doesn't do much else either. Minor grooves, nothing to get your attention (least of all the saxophone), yet it doesn't slip into ambience either. B-
  • Gato Libre: Shiro (2009 [2010], Libra): Trumpet player Natsuki Tamura's group, with wife Satoko Fujii taking a back seat on accordion, Kazuhiko Tsumura on guitar, and Norikatsu Koreyasu on bass. At its best (cf. Nomad) this group could channel a Euro folk vibe, largely aided by the accordion; here it tends to flounder, with the guitar lyrical, the accordion in the background, the trumpet neither here nor there. Second album in a role I found myself focusing on Koreyasu. B+(*)
  • Stephen Gauci's Basso Continuo: Nididhyasana (2007, Clean Feed): Two basses provide the drive and drone, the phat sonic middle, while two horns -- Gauci's tenor sax, Nat Wooley's trumpet -- work harder at blending in than at standing out. No drums, although now and then you do hear some percussion, probably tapping on the heavy, hollow bass bellies. B+(***)
  • Stephen Gauci's Stockholm Conference: Live at Glenn Miller Café (2007 [2008], Ayler, 2CD): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1966, based in Brooklyn, plays free, has a few records out, has yet to establish himself as a distinctive leader but usually gives a solid team performance. Two quartet sets here, both with Ingebrigt Håker Flaten on bass and Fredrik Rundqvist on drums; the first adds Mats Äleklint's trombone, the second Magnus Broo's trumpet. The trombone actually has a little more hop to it. B+(**)
  • Tobias Gebb & Unit 7: Free at Last (2009 [2010], Yummy House): Drummer, from and in New York, with college detours to Berklee and the Bay Area (tempting to guess Berkeley). His debut Trio West album was an HM in these parts, but I didn't get inspired to play his Xmas album when it was in season -- it's still around here somewhere and someday I'll get to it, well, maybe. Unit 7 is a larger group, but not a septet, and not evidently a regular group: I count five or six musicians. Eldud Svulun plays piano on all eight, with the smaller group adding Mark Gross (alto sax), Joel Frahm (tenor sax) and Ugonna Okegwo (bass); the larger group features Bobby Watson (alto sax), Joe Magnarelli (trumpet), Stacy Dillard (tenor sax), and Neal Miner (bass), for a thick postbop stew. Title track offers "a special thanks to Barack Obama." Closer is "Tomorrow Never Knows," which I'd hazard a guess (but not a bet) is the Beatles tune most often recorded on jazz albums -- a big part of why jazzing up the Beatles never seems to work, although Frahm gives it a good run, and the sitar adds a little frizz. B+(**)
  • Frank Glover: Abacus (2009 [2010], Owl Studios): Plays clarinet and soprano sax. Based in Indianapolis. Has a half-dozen or so albums since 1991. This one is for quartet plus orchestra, the latter conducted by Dean Franke -- credits only list names, nineteen of them. The orchestra tends to overwhelm the clarinet, and early on this reminded me of the classical music I used to zero the volume on during my "required listening." Gets better toward the end, mostly because the rhythm picks up. B-
  • Jon Gold: Brazil Confidential (2010, Zoho): Pianist, got a Ph.D. in chemistry at UC Santa Cruz, moved to Rio de Janeiro to teach chemistry, picked up an interest in Brazilian music. First album. Has a chintzy, slick, 1960s bossa nova feel, pretty close to perfect with Tatiana Parra's sole vocal, slightly less on Leah Siegel's two vocals. A lot of musicians slide in and out -- Anat Cohen is the one you'll recognize, Harvie S of course, maybe Zack Brock (violin, a standout), and percussionist Ze Mauricio is critical. Works more often than it should, especially when Jorge Continentino forsakes the softer woodwinds for a sax solo. B+(*)
  • Jon Gordon: Evolution (2009, ArtistShare): Alto saxophonist, also plays some soprano. Has a dozen or so albums since 1989, mostly on Criss Cross and Double-Time. This one is, well, complicated. Five of nine pieces are cut with a large ensemble, including John Ellis on tenor sax, Doug Yates on bass clarinet, plus trumpet, trombone, guitar, piano, bass, drums, percussion, and strings. First track opens with just the strings: two violins and a cello, with a quasi-classical feel. A couple of other tracks pair Gordon off with Bill Charlap on piano. Kristin Berardi pops up here and there with vocals. Couldn't listen closely in two plays, but doesn't seem promising enough to explore further, which isn't to say there isn't anything of interest here. B
  • Brian Groder/Burton Greene: Groder & Greene (2007 [2009], Latham): Groder plays trumpet/flugelhorn; third album since 2005; biography vague, but shows some respect for avant-garde elders, picking up Sam Rivers for Torque and Greene here. Greene's a pianist who cut a couple of explosive mid-1960s records for ESP-Disk and has popped up every few years ever since. The juxtaposition is interesting here, but the more dominant instrument didn't make the top line: alto sax, played in rip-roaring form by Rob Brown, a bit reckless on the curves but powerful straightahead. The other band members are Adam Lane on bass, who is superb as usual, and Ray Sage on drums. B+(**)
  • Jim Guttmann: Bessarabian Breakdown (2009 [2010], Kleztone): Bassist, a founder of Klezmer Conservatory Band back in 1980, a Boston-based klezmer outfit with a dozen albums up through 2003. Debut album. A large group of musicians, although I'm not sure how many play on which cuts -- looks like they're just listing soloists. Went back and checked out one of KCB's better regarded albums, Old World Beat (1992, Rounder), for reference, and found it more orthodox and less lively, although the lack of vocals here may have made for part of the difference. I'm also tempted to credit Frank London and Alex Kontorovich, although I can't isolate them here. Swings hard, picks up some gypsy flavor, and maybe a little clave. B+(**)
  • Jonathon Haffner: Life on Wednesday (2008 [2009], Cachuma): Alto saxophonist, originally from southern California, now based in New York. First album, produced by David Binney, gets lots of help: Craig Taborn (piano, wurlitzer, electronics), Wayne Krantz (guitar), Eivind Opsvik (upright bass, electric bass), Jochen Rueckert (drums), Kenny Wollesen (drums). Has some grit in his horn and can get dirty. Taborn and Krantz provide a dense backdrop but don't solo much. B+(**)
  • Steve Haines Quintet with Jimmy Cobb: Stickadiboom (2007 [2009], Zoho): Bassist, teaches in North Carolina (Director of the Miles Davis Program in Jazz Studies at UNC Greensboro). Quintet is a solid hard bop unit, with drummer Thomas Taylor making way for Cobb, who must feel right at home. Trumpeter Rob Smith makes more of an impression than tenor saxophonist David Lown or pianist Chip Crawford, but all are sharp enough, and a couple of bass solos by the leader are spot on. B+(**)
  • Dana Hall: Into the Light (2009, Origin): Drummer, first album although he has a couple dozen side credits going back to 1998, including two with trumpeter Terell Stafford, who leads off here. Quintet, sort of post-hard bop, with Tim Warfield on tenor sax, Bruce Barth on piano/Fender Rhodes, and Rodney Whitaker on bass. The horns crackle, but come off a bit sloppy, with Warfield never clearly establishing himself. The drummer asserts his control by playing even louder, and is dazzling at best. B+(*)
  • Darryl Harper: Stories in Real Time (2009, Hipnotic): Clarinet player, b. 1968, has four previous records as the Onus -- the one I've heard an HM. Teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University. Organized this group as a clarinet quartet with piano, bass, and drums, plus occasional vocalist Marianne Solivan. Sometimes goes for a chamber jazz/quasi-classical sound, and sometimes makes it work, although he can also throw out a piece of light funk like "Tore Up." Don't care for the singer, although she's not without interest, at least on the "Saints and Sinners" suite. B+(*)
  • Tom Harrell: Roman Nights (2009 [2010], High Note): Trumpet, flugelhorn, b. 1946, one of the best known players of his generation. I've occasionally been blown away by him, but haven't heard much that I've liked lately. This at least is swaggeringly upbeat, which suits tenor saxophonist Wayne Escofferey and pianist Danny Grissett as well. B+(*)
  • Ken Hatfield and Friends: Play the Music of Bill McCormick: To Be Continued . . . (2008, M/Pub): Neither guitarist Hatfield nor his mentor, composer McCormick, ring a bell for me. Hatfield has half a dozen or so self-released albums, reportedly drawing as much on folk and classical as jazz, and dabbling a bit in nylon strings. He plays impressively here, has a rhythm section that keeps things moving, and has a tasteful saxophonist (soprano and tenor) named Jim Clouse who hits the right highlights. Nice record, very playable, rather interesting. B+(***)
  • Pablo Held: Music (2009 [2010], Pirouet): Pianist, quite young (b. 1986), from Germany, leading a trio with Robert Landfermann on bass and Jonas Burgwinkel on drums on his second album. Covers from Olivier Messaien and Herbie Hancock, plus eight originals. Starts quiet and cautious, but gradually opens up. B+(**)
  • Yaron Herman: Muse (2009, Sunnyside): Pianist, b. 1981 in Israel, studied at Berklee in Boston, wound up in Paris. Fourth album since 2003. Trio includes bassist Matt Brewer, who contributes a couple of songs, and drummer Gerald Cleaver. Three cuts add a string quartet (Quatuor Ebène): the first is a bit mushy but the other two mesh nicely. Nice touch on slow pieces, plus some captivating fast runs. B+(**)
  • John Hicks: I Remember You (2006 [2009], High Note): Hicks died May 10, 2006. Recording date here is only given as 2006, so we don't know whether this was his last, or whether it was days, weeks, or months before his death. Solo piano. Nine standards. Takes them in a fairly gentle stride. A thoughtful reminder of a great pianist. B+(**)
  • Vivian Houle: Treize (2008 [2009], Drip Audio): Canadian vocalist, works through 13 tracks each with a different musician. Some pieces lean toward art song, or even opera, while others match the instrument head on -- especially the duo with drummer Kenton Loewen. I'm duly impressed, but can't say as I enjoyed much of it. B
  • The Inhabitants: A Vacant Lot (2007 [2010], Drip Audio): Vancouver group, credits in order listed: Skye Brooks (drums), J.P. Carter (trumpet), Pete Schmitt (bass), Dave Sikula (guitar). If I read the icons right, Carter wrote 4 songs, Brooks and Schmitt 2 each, and Sikula mixed the thing. Richly textural with a tendency to swell and get dense, sort of prog rock but that does this a disservice. B+(*)
  • Sherman Irby Quartet: Live at the Otto Club (2008 [2010], Black Warrior): Alto saxophonist from Alabama, b. 1968, sixth album since 1997, the first two on Blue Note should have established him as one of the brightest young mainstream players around -- cf. Big Mama's Biscuits -- but he disappeared for six years before coming back on his own label. Otto Club is in Napoli, Italy, which flavors the quartet -- Nico Menci on piano, Marco Marzola on bass, Darrell Green on drums. One original and five jazz covers, with only Roy Hargrove's "Depth" of postbop vintage. The opening and closing bop classics ("Bohemia After Dark" and "In Walked Bud") shine, but the slower pieces don't stand out much, and the pianist doesn't do much with his spotlight. B+(*)
  • Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey: One Day in Brooklyn (2009, Kinnara): Group, originally from Tulsa, led by pianist Brian Haas, with Chris Coombs on lap steel guitar, Matt Hayes (replacing longtime member Reed Mathis) on double bass, and Josh Raymer on drums. On past albums, Mathis had managed to produce some strange fuzziness on the bass, but Hayes melts into the mix, leaving Haas more out front than ever. A Monk, some stuff by Lennon and McCartney, a couple of originals. Not bad, but not worth spending a lot of time figuring out whether it should be rated a notch higher. B
  • Michael Janisch: Purpose Built (2009 [2010], Whirlwind): Bassist, on his debut album favors acoustic over electric 9 cuts to 3. Originally from Wisconsin, wound up in London, but recorded this in Brooklyn. Jonathan Blake plays drums; everyone else rotates with Aaron Goldberg (piano: 2 cuts), Jim Hart (vibes: 4), Jason Palmer (trumpet: 3), Paul Booth (tenor sax: 3), Walter Smith III (tenor sax: 4), Patrick Cornelius (alto sax: 2), Mike Moreno (guitar: 3), and Phil Robson (guitar: 2). This yields a duo with drums, two piano trio cuts, a third with guitar, and various combos with horns and sometimes vibes up to a highly juiced bebop-retro sextet. Focusing on the bass helps pull it back together, but as with many debut albums the tendency is to show off more combinations than makes sense. B+(**)
  • Keith Jarrett: Paris/London: Testament (2008 [2009], ECM, 3CD): Solo piano -- stop me if you've heard this one before. Jarrett had 20+ discs of solo piano out already, which I guess is what the world deserves for buying five million copies of The Köln Concert. The landmark album stands out for its roiling rhythmic energy, which is all the more compelling on a single CD than broken up on its original 3-sided LP. Beyond that I haven't found much to favor any solo Jarrett over any other -- 1999's The Melody at Night, With You and 2005's Radiance are typically fine -- although I was turned off by 2006's widely praised The Carnegie Hall Concert. This has elements of most of the recent ones. The Paris concert runs 69:23, filling the first disc. The next week's London concert ran longer, now split between the 49:32 second and 43:28 third discs. The latter turned out quite nice, maybe becuase he seemed to be winding down. He can't really crank it up like he used to, but he still finds interesting things to play. B+(**)
  • Aaron J Johnson: Songs of Our Fathers (2007 [2009], Bubble-Sun): Plays trombone and shells here, bass trombone and tuba elsewhere. B. 1958, from Washington DC, studied at Carnegie Mellon, degree in electronic engineering and economics; lives in Irvington NJ, works in/around New York City, mostly working in big bands. First record, all originals (despite the title), a mainstream quintet with Salim Washington on tenor sax (also flute and oboe), Onaje Allan Gumbs on piano, Robert Sabin on bass, and Victor Lewis on drums. Old fashioned -- I've seen this referred to as hard bop, but Lewis is too subtle to fall for that. Washington is underrated, Gumbs is overly fancy but spices this up, and the trombonist holds it together. B+(**)
  • Kalle Kalima & K-18: Some Kubricks of Blood (2007 [2010], Tum): Guitarist, from Finland, b. 1973, studied in Germany with Raoul Björkenheim among others; has a couple albums, maybe two dozen side credits, many with Jazzanova. Unusual group sound here, with Ville Kujala's quarter-tone accordion, Mikko Innanen's saxes (alto, soprano, baritone), and Teppo Hauta-aho on double bass -- no drummer, which helps explain why this gets stuck in weird eddies. Compositions are keyed to various Stanley Kubrick films. Packaging, liner notes, and artwork are superb, as usual for this label. Despite the disconnects, interesting in various spots. B+(*)
  • Phil Kelly & the Northwest Prevailing Winds: Ballet of the Bouncing Beagles (2009, Origin): Big big band -- 22 pieces, plus string programming -- from Seattle, with a couple of recognized names but not many -- Jerry Dodgion, Pete Christlieb, Grant Geissman, Jay Thomas are the names I know. Third album for composer-arranger Kelly, who came out of Texas, where he was arranger for the Fort Worth Symphony Pops for 25 years. Reminds me of Kenton, sometimes even at his best, hardly ever at his worst. 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+(***)
  • The Ray Kennedy Trio: Plays the Music of Arthur Schwartz (2006 [2007], Arbors): Quartet, actually, with guitarist Joe Cohn also listed as "special guest" on the front cover, although not on the spine. Kennedy is a pianist. Don't know much about him: his website proclaims "coming soon." This looks to be his second album -- the first is called The Sound of St. Louis -- but he has a bunch of credits going back to 1990, most frequently with John Pizzarelli. Schwartz (1900-84) composed for Broadway and film, mostly in the '30s and '40s, mostly with lyricists Howard Dietz, Dorothy Fields, and Frank Loesser -- at least those are the credits whose words don't actually appear here. The music is none too familiar, but never quite out of mind. Kennedy brings a light touch and easy swing to the pieces, and Cohn builds on that. B+(***)
  • Ruslan Khain: For Medicinal Purposes Only! (2008, Smalls): Bassist, from Leningrad (booklet says St. Petersburg), Russia, b. 1972, in New York since 1999. Hard bop quintet -- could have been cut by Hank Mobley (actually, Chris Byars) or Lee Morgan (Yoshi Okazaki) in the 1960s. Maybe a little looser, a bit less hard (by which I don't mean soft; more like less rigid). Richard Clements is on piano; Phil Stewart on drums. B+(***)
  • Dave King: Indelicate (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Happy Apple/Bad Plus drummer, goes solo for his debut album with his drum track alongside an indelicate piano track. King wrote all the pieces. Probably unfair to say he plays piano like he plays drums, but the repetitive riffs and frills could easily have been conceived on drums; on the other hand, he never adds the sort of frills that are as natural to pianists as limbering up. Interesting, but not very compelling. B+(*)
  • Thomson Kneeland: Mazurka for a Modern Man (2007 [2010], Weltschmerz): Bassist, in New York, first album, although he has three previous with or as Kakalla, a similar group with less emphasis on the horns. Group here has David Smith on trumpet, Loren Stillman on alto sax (4 of 9 cuts), Nate Radley on guitar, and Take Toriyama on drums/percussion, except for one track in the middle which has trumpet (Jerry Sabatini), accordion, violin/viola, and drums. Balkan influence, bebop drive, although the violin cut aims for something more chamberish, and is less convincing. B+(**)
  • Sofia Rei Koutsovitis: Sube Azul (2009 [2010], World Village/Harmonia Mundi): Singer, from Buenos Aires, Argentina, studied at New England Conservatory, now based in New York; second album, all in Spanish, mostly originals, with an expert set of musicians, with mostly Cuban-oriented percussionists, and jazz names at piano (Geoff Keezer and Leo Genovese) and clarinet (Anat Cohen). B+(*)
  • David Kweksilber + Guus Janssen (2003-06 [2006], Geestgronden): Clarinet and piano duets, recorded over -- or more likely picked from -- a series of sessions, mostly live, but one at Janssen's home. Like all such encounters, especially among the avant-leaning, this seems small -- thin sound, moderately paced, tentative, exploratory. Unlike most, the miniaturism maintains its interest. And it does pick up a bit of groove at the end with a barely recognizable "Honeysuckle Rose" -- a treat. B+(***)
  • Ralph Lalama Quartet: The Audience (2009 [2010], Mighty Quinn): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1951, 7th album since 1990 (first 5 on Criss Cross), with John Hart on guitar, Rick Petrone on bass, Joe Corsello on drums. Mainstream, more bop than post, with Rollins an obvious model -- "I'm an Old Cowhand" is a nice touch even if it falls well short of Way Out West. Hart has a good day. B+(**)
  • Joëlle Léandre/François Houle/Raymond Strid: Last Seen Headed: Live at Sons D'Hiver (2009 [2010], Ayler): Bass, clarinets, percussion, respectively. Léandre has a substantial reputation and discography as an avant-garde bassist, but I've managed to hear very little of her work. She dominates here, carrying the melodies as well as providing most of the noise, with Houle -- always an attractive and intriguing player -- complementing. B+(**)
  • Mike LeDonne: The Groover (2009 [2010], Savant): Keyboard player, mostly organ these days, something he's been getting progressively better at. The soul jazz formula is a dime a dozen, but you can't fault him for skimping on ingredients: Eric Alexander on tenor sax, Peter Bernstein on guitar, Joe Farnsworth on drums. Alexander's swoop through "On the Street Where You Live" is a high point, and Bernstein is always good for a few tasty solos. B+(*)
  • Carolyn Leonhart: Tides of Yesterday (2009 [2010], Savant): Singer, b. 1971, father is bassist Jay Leonart; backup singer on a couple of late Steely Dan albums; fifth album since 2000, second to feature husband-tenor saxophonist Wayne Escoffery, who gets his name and picture on the cover, but Leonhart's name is alone on the spine. Escoffery doesn't steal the show, but he is a tower of strength every time he emerges. Mostly standards, with Mingus and Donald Fagen outliers, and an original to start. Band has a Latin tinge, with Jeff Haynes' extra percussion limbering up his four tracks. B+(**)
  • Little Women: Throat (2009 [2010], AUM Fidelity): Brooklyn group, second album after a 2007 debut (Teeth, at 18:45 more of an EP); quartet with two saxophones (Travis Laplante on tenor, Darius Jones on alto), guitar (Andrew Smiley, replacing Ben Greenberg), and drums (Jason Nazary). One piece, uncredited, split into seven chunks, starts out in full cacophony mode, returns to same here and there, with intermediate breaks of patterned noise and a couple of spots where you can hear individuals doing things (including one section of grunts, burps and howls). Dominated by Smiley, who seems to have mastered the art of frenzied free bass and made it louder. I'm sure Steven Joerg thinks it's beautiful, and I've found some reviewers who agree. I'd like it better if I could stand it. Jones has an A-list album pending, so this should probably balance it as a dud. But I can't say I'm that upset -- it does achieve the wanted effect. B
  • Pete Lockett's Network of Sparks: One (1999 [2010], Summerfold): Percussion ensemble, released on Bill Bruford's label, as Bruford joins in and gets a "featuring" credit. Reissue of first album, released on Melt 2000 in 1999 or 2000, with same cover plus the legend across the bottom: "Rhythms and pulses from around the world." Lockett has five or more later albums, most or all with Nana Tsiboe (from Ghana, plays congas and djembe) and Simon Limbrick (mostly plays marimba and vibes), who are spotted here on about half of the cuts, along with Bruford (5 tracks, mostly drum set), Pam Chowhan and Johnny Kaisi (one track each). Lockett is credited with dozens of things, including samplers and sound treatments. Two pieces by other drum ensemble pioneers (Max Roach, Pierre Favre), the rest originals. B+(*)
  • Tony Malaby's Apparitions: Voladores (2009, Clean Feed): Saxophonist, mostly tenor, some soprano, almost invariably steals the show as a sideman, but somewhat less successful as a leader. Group includes Drew Gress on bass, Tom Rainey on drums, and John Hollenbeck on more drums plus marimba, vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel, melodica, and small kitchen appliances. For all his billing, Hollenbeck doesn't leave a lasting impression. The record inches along on the sharp edge of Malaby's sax, which is riveting enough. B+(***)
  • Mitch Marcus Quintet: Countdown 2 Meltdown (2009 [2010], Porto Franco): Tenor saxophonist; put his group together in Indiana then moved to Berkeley. Third album. Despite the reinforcement of a second saxophonist -- Sylvain Carton on alto -- the dominant player, and possibly major talent, here is guitarist Mike Abraham, knocking out a hard fusion-funk groove and dressing it up on his solos. At best this reminds me of Anders Nilsson. B+(*)
  • Boban i Marko Markovic Orkestar: Devla: Blown Away to Dancefloor Heaven (2009, Piranha): Father-son Balkan brass band, both trumpet players, son Marko a little more eclectic in the mix, much as you'd expect from Serbians gone cosmopolitan. Upbeat, nearly frenetic. Several previous albums are possibly more convincing, but not by much. [was (Rhapsody) B+(***)] A-
  • The Zeke Martin Project: U4RIA (2009, Zeke Martin Project): Drummer, b. 1973, Brussels, Belgium; at age 12 played with Steve Lacy; moved to Cambridge, MA for high school, then on to New York, then back to Boston. Group is a quartet with Sean Berry (sax), Yusaku Yoshimura (keyboards, harmonics), and Rozhan Razman (bass). Seven cuts, all standard jazz/pop covers, only one I didn't recognize is Jaco Pastorius's "Teen Town." Little new here, but they bring graceful swing and good cheer to the project. One vocal: Nina Parlour on "Summertime." B
  • Paul Meyers Quartet: Featuring Frank Wess (2007 [2010], Miles High): Nylon string guitarist. I screwed up his biographical data last time, and I'm not totally clear now, but looks like he was b. 1956 in New York, attended SUNY Potsdam and New England Conservatory. Fifth album since 2004, but side credits go back to 1989 or 1981 or even 1974. Has an interest in Brazilian music -- not evident here. Wess, on flute as well as tenor sax, is counted in the Quartet, along with Martin Wind on bass and Tony Jefferson on drums. Andy Bey is "special guest" on "Lazy Afternoon" -- quite enough, I'd say, as he's even more mannered than usual. Guitar has a soft, sweet twang, tasty alongside Wess's tenor sax (caveat emptor on the flute). B+(**)
  • Sei Miguel: Esfingico (2006 [2010], Clean Feed): Trumpet player, b. 1961 in Paris, lived in Brazil, based in Portugal since 1980s, lists 9 records (not counting this) on his website, going back to 1988 (AMG has one, not this). Plays pocket trumpet here, a nice contrast to Fala Mariam's alto trombone. The other credits are Pedro Lourenço (bass guitar), Cesár Burago (timbales, small percussion), and Rafael Toral (some kind of electronics: "modulated resonance feedback circuit"). Rather schematic, and a bit on the short side (39:56), but he's onto something that might be worth exploring. B+(**)
  • Melanie Mitrano: All Things Gold (2009 [2010], Big Round): Singer-songwriter, "Dr. Mitrano" on her website: "first woman to receive a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the New England Conservatory in Boston" -- doesn't say when, but she started teaching in 1996. Resume seems to be mostly classical, which is how AMG files her -- her MySpace page starts with "What's a nice classical singer like me . . ." Second album since 2006. Backed with a piano trio plus guest horns here and there. Voice doesn't set off any opera alarms; she goes with the flow, and the band swings. Has some things to say too. B+(**)
  • Marc Mommaas: Landmarc (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Tenor saxophonist, b. 1969 in Netherlands, grew up in Amsterdam, moved to New York in 1997. Third album. Basically a trio with Nate Radley on guitar and Tony Moreno on drums, plus an extra guitarist on 5 of 9 pieces -- two with Rez Abbasi, three with Vic Juris. The guitars are sweet and slinky; the sax tends to be atmospheric. B+(**)
  • Ben Monder/Bill McHenry: Bloom (2000 [2010], Sunnyside): Sunnyside): Guitar-tenor sax duets, improvised, mostly slow and moody, some interesting, some not. B
  • Stanton Moore: Groove Alchemy (2010, Telarc): I asked for this, and was promised a copy, but it never came. Drummer, b. 1972, fifth album since 1998, basically a guy whose rhythmic sense runs from funk to post-disco. This one's just an organ trio, with Robert Walter on the Hammond and Will Bernard on guitar. I don't really understand why this formula still finds enthusiasts, but Walter is a hot shot on the instrument and leans toward boogie woogie when he switches off to piano, and Bernard is fascinated with Grant Green grooves. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Josh Moshier & Mike LeBrun: Joy Not Jaded (2009, OA2): Moshier is a pianist in Evanston, IL, b. 1986. Lebrun is a year older, based in Chicago, plays tenor sax. Group includes Robert Meier on bass, Max Krucoff on drums, plus guitarist John Moulder joins in for 4 of 11 tracks -- turns in fancier solos than I recall on his own record. All original material, Lebrun one up on Moshier. Solid postbop, both fast and slow, the latter quite lovely. B+(**)
  • Maria Neckam: Deeper (2009 [2010], Sunnyside): Singer-songwriter, born in Austria, lived in Netherlands before winding up in Brooklyn. First record. Mostly backed by a slinky, slippery group consisting of Aaron Goldberg on piano, Thomas Morgan on double bass, and Colin Stranahan on drums, with a horn or two added on 5 of 10 songs. Peter Eldridge also sings on one song. Lyrics are buried in a PDF on the extended CD, but 90% of "Missing You" is rote repetition of "missing you," and I didn't notice anything else much, uh, deeper. C+
  • Dave Nelson & the 32nd Street Quintet: 32nd Street (2007 [2010], Independently Released): Cover touts this as "Easy Listening Jazz." Another common name: AMG's "Dave Nelson [trumpet]," to whom this record is linked, played with his famous uncle but died in 1946; uncle's name? King Oliver. Most likely this one was born in the early 1940s, grew up in Seattle, "played at clubs all over Saskatchewan and Alberta," and wound up cutting this record in Brooklyn. Wrote 4 of 9 songs, mixed in with standards like "My Favorite Things" and "Softly as in a Morning Sunrise," and sang two. Not much of a singer, but his trumpet earns our respect and even has some edge to it, and Joel Frahm's tenor sax is a treat, as expected. B+(*)
  • Sam Newsome: Blue Soliloquy (2009 [2010], Sam Newsome): Solo works for soprano saxophone, 15 of them, 14 with "blue" or "blues" in the title -- the other one is called "24 Tones" -- 14 originals, the exception there is "Blue Monk." Works about as well as these things can work, probably because the repeated use of blues form keeps it simple. B+(*)
  • The New York Allstars: Count Basie Remembered, Vol. 2 (1996 [1998], Nagel Heyer): Sometimes with Rhapsody you get faked out, with what looks at first to be a new record -- title "Swingin' the Blues", release date 2009, label Nagel Heyer -- only to find no collaboration elsewhere. The new artwork is what did it, but the songs and lineup match this oldie: Randy Sandke, Dan Barrett, Brian Ogilvie, Billy Mitchell, Mark Shane, James Chirillo, Bob Haggart, Joe Ascione. I've heard Vol. 1 and wasn't much impressed by it, but this grabbed me right away, at least enough that I didn't feel like ejecting it. File under Sandke. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Marius Nordal: Boomer Jazz (2005 [2009], Origin): Pianist, third album since 1996, don't know much more about him but he's probably a boomer, especially since he defines the period as 15 years after WWII, encompassing 76 million kids. Having been born in 1950, I'm less certain that I should be included. Those born 1946-48 were the leading edge of the population explosion, and as such got a jump on a rapidly expanding economy. Just one example was that they got quickly hired into academia, whereas the tail end of the generation found far fewer opportunities. Another, of course, was that they caught the 1960s when everything seemed to be possible, whereas my sub-generation (and I was a bit slow in this regard, for personal reasons I won't bore you with) rattled around in their wake. So mashing all these short time sequences never made much sense to me -- I recall that at one point generations were held to cycle every three years. As for this record, Nordal plays solo piano on 10 songs from the 1960s, ending with one he wrote (presumably much later). These were, of course, songs that I grew up with, but even in the 1960s most were songs I associated with an older sub-generation, one that was more condescending to rock and roll. Three Beatles songs were from McCartney's arty-nostalgic phase; Simon & Garfunkel were even stuffier (well, "Scarborough Fair" was; "Mrs. Robinson" had a beat); and Roberta Flack, Jack Jones, and Bread were anything but hip. I favored the Rolling Stones over the Beatles at the time, and read Allen Ginsberg instead of Simon's Robert Frost. So the only thing here that much impresses me is Chuck Berry's "School Days," done up cleverly as boogie-woogie -- a choice cut. B
  • Norrbotten Big Band: The Avatar Sessions: The Music of Tim Hagans (2009 [2010], Fuzzy Music): Big band, based in Luleå in northern Sweden. Has a dozen or more records, but they tend to get filed under whoever they play with. This one could easily be filed under trumpeter Tim Hagans, who wrote the music, hogs the solo spots, and moonlights as the band's artistic director. Other big name (front cover) guests: Randy Brecker, Peter Erskine, George Garzone, Dave Liebman, and Rufus Reid. Good big band, especially when they get to power punch as opposed to finnessing spots where Hagans gets cute, with crackling solos -- from the stars, of course, but also from Karl-Martin Almqvist on tenor sax and Peter Dahlgren on trombone. B+(*)
  • Michael Occhipinti: The Sicilian Jazz Project (2008 [2009], True North): Guitarist, has one of those web bios that offer no info before his professional debut in 1994, but presumably from Toronto, Canada -- at least his older brother, bassist Roberto Occhipinti, is. (Plus he has JUNO nominations, including one for an album of Bruce Cockburn songs.) Father may have been Sicilian. (Note postcard dated 1952, Palermo), but his musical interest goes back to 1954 field recordings by Alan Lomax. The weak spot here, as usual, is the vocals: Dominc Mancuso and Maryem Tollar, appropriately authentic as far as I know, sounds rather like flamenco, or a Sardinian I ran into once. Seven of nine cuts are powered with Louis Simao's accordion, Ernie Tollar on sax or flute, and (six cuts) Kevin Turcotte on trumpet. Two cuts substitute a string quartet, and the opener has everything, even an extra oud. B+(**)
  • Arturo O'Farrill: Risa Negra (2009, Zoho): Pianist, son of legendary Cuban arranger Chico O'Farrill, inherited his father's Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra, scored a coup by cornering the Latin Jazz franchise at Jazz at Lincoln Center. Seventh album since 1999. Knows how to work those tricky Afro-Cuban rhythmic shifts, exciting at first but they often wind up throwing me. The horns -- Jim Seeley on trumpet and David Bixler on alto sax -- shine here, and Vince Cherico's drums and Roland Guerrero's percussion keep things moving. B+(*)
  • Organissimo: Alive & Kickin' (2008-09 [2010], Big O): Organ trio, with Jim Alfredson on the Hammond (err, make that "hammond-suzuki xk3/xk system, leslie 3300 & synthesizers"), Joe Gloss as Grant Green, and Randy Marsh on drums. Pretty limited niche, and sometimes it's best just to aim low and enjoy yourself, which is pretty much what they do here. Inspired title: "Jimmy Smith Goes to Washington." Less inspired title: "Groovadelphia." B+(*)
  • Michael Pagán Trio: Three for the Ages (2009 [2010], Capri): Pianist, from Ravenna, OH, near Cleveland; fifth album since 1995. Trio with Bob Bowman on bass, Ray DeMarchi on drums. One original tune, one from Enrico Pieranunzi, a Brazilian piece from Chico Buarque, a bunch of standards ranging from two by Irving Berlin to one by Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice. B+(*)
  • Kat Parra: Dos Amantes (2009 [2010], JazzMa): Singer, b. 1962 in Detroit (AMG, which also describes her as "a Northern California native who lived in Chile as a teenager"), based in San Jose, CA. Third album. Picks her way around Latin musics, including a special interest in Sephardic Jewrs, tracing their music from Spain to North Africa and singing in Ladino -- she calls her group The Sephardic Music Experience. All this would be fascinating if only she were better at it. Her voice has little appeal, the backing singers (where used) add clutter, the Sephardic pieces lack the kick of the Afro-Cubans, and a piece of Afro-Peruvian Landó is even duller. B-
  • Nicki Parrott/Rossano Sportiello: Do It Again (2009, Arbors): Did it the first time on People Will Say We're in Love, an HM in 2007. She's a bassist from Australia; sings a little, rather limited range, but I find her utterly charming. Italian pianist, has a solo on Arbors and shows up here and there. He can swing, but he can't budge Schumann, a dull spot here; he also can't sing, as his duet on "Two Sleepy People" proves. Didn't count the vocals, but half is close. The instrumentals are a bit underpowered, and the song selection rather scattered. Still, this has its charms. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • Peggo: In Love (2009 [2010], Big Round): Not much info here, although the "enhanced CD" sticker promises more if I pop the CD into a computer. Don't have recording dates, so 2009 is a guess; don't have musician credits. Singer's full name Peggo Horstmann Hodes, where Horstmann is the surname of her grandfather Henry -- cited as her introduction to these old standards -- and Hodes is her husband's surname, congressman Paul (D-NH). First album, although she has a couple of early-1990s children's albums as Peggosus, and there are three evidently folkie Peggo & Paul albums. This one is straight standards, all indelible classics, with a "Medley of Love" mopping up nine more. The anonymous band does its job; a plain-sounding male singer joined in for the last two cuts, contrasting with her somewhat theatrical pitch. B+(*)
  • Jeremy Pelt: Men of Honor (2009 [2010], High Note): Trumpeter, tabbed as a rising star a few years back, certainly has the chops, but with seven albums since 2002 hasn't delivered much. This is a hard bop quintet, with J.D. Allen underutilized at tenor sax, Danny Grissett fancy on piano, Dwayne Burno on bass, and Gerald Cleaver anything-but-hard-bop on drums. The free-ish "Danny Mack" sounds like a way out, but it's followed by a conventional ballad that only briefly reminded me of Mingus chanelling Ellington, then settled into postbop slumber. B
  • Ken Peplowski: Noir Blue (2009 [2010], Capri): Plays clarinet and tenor sax. I prefer the latter, but he prefers the former. Basically a "young fogey" -- part of the postbop generation of swing-oriented players like Scott Hamilton and the Vaché brothers -- with an extensive discography of good but rarely outstanding records. Compatible quartet here: Shelley Berg on piano, Jay Leonhart on bass, Joe LaBarbera on drums. Nice tenor work. Wish there was more of it. B+(*)
  • Gail Pettis: Here in the Moment (2008-09 [2010], OA2): Standards singer, b. 1958 in Kentucky, grew up in Gary, IN; now based in Seattle. Second album, split between two piano trios. Most songs have been done a lot -- "Night and Day," "Day in Day Out," "Nature Boy," "I Could Have Danced All Night" -- but she handles them with authority and a touch of soul. B+(*)
  • Jean-Michel Pilc: True Story (2009 [2010], Dreyfus): French pianist, b. 1960, has recorded frequently since 2000, although he evidently has a few scattered earlier albums. Piano trio, with Boris Kozlov and Billy Hart. Can be a powerful, dynamic, lightning fast performer, although that is only occasionally evident here. B+(**)
  • John Pizzarelli: Rockin' in Rhythm: A Tribute to Duke Ellington (2010, Telarc): Mostly vocal pieces -- "Just Squeeze Me" is an exception with the Pizzarelli guitar trimmed down to an intimate level. (Of course, I can't swear that the Pizzarelli isn't Bucky.) He's always been a slight vocalist, with tomes on Cole and Sinatra inevitably coming up pale, but Ellington's own choice of vocalists was so checkered Pizzarelli would have sat in handsomely. The songs are indelible -- even the Kurt Elling-aided vocalese intro to "Perdido" has charm -- and the band is often impressive, ranging from Aaron Weinstein's fiddle to Harry Allen's magesterial tenor sax. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Polar Bear: Peepers (2010, Leaf Label): Quintet, British (I guess), led by drummer Seb Rochford (Scottish, I'm told); AMG has group formed in 1999, with five albums since 2005. Group has two tenor saxes up front, electronics and guitar by Leafcutter John, and bass, of course. I wouldn't call this fusion, although it does tend to stick with the beat. Slow songs make good use of the sax(es); fast ones too, but differently. Had a lot of trouble playing this, and one song called "Scream" didn't come through at all. Not sure whether that's a plus or a minus. B+(**) [Rhapsody]
  • Tineke Postma: The Traveller (2009 [2010], Etcetera Now): Alto saxophonist, some soprano, b. 1978, Netherlands. Fourth album, this one fronting a quality American quartet: Geri Allen on piano, Scott Colley on bass, Terri Lyne Carrington on drums. Pushes hard on the edges of postbop, but doesn't make much of a breakthrough. B+(*)
  • Chris Potter/Steve Wilson/Terrell Stafford/Keith Javors/Delbert Felix/John Davis: Coming Together (2005 [2009], Inarhyme): Originally intended to be the first album by saxophonist Brendan Edward Romaneck, 1981-2005, who wrote 8 of 11 tracks -- three covers are "My Shining Hour," "Nancy With the Laughing Face," and "Killing Me Softly With His Song." After Romaneck's "sudden and tragic end," the sax role was picked up by Chris Potter (first six tracks) and Steve Wilson (last five tracks). Potter's quartet sessions jump off to a fast start with a tour de force attack on "My Shining Hour." Romaneck's compositions are less compelling but provide plenty of scaffolding for Potter. Wilson's quintet sessions, with Terell Stafford on trumpet/flugelhorn, are less sharp, of course, but still of a high order. B+(**)
  • Dafnis Prieto Si O Si Quartet: Live at Jazz Standard NYC (2009, Dafnison Music): Cuban drummer, has pretty much blown everyone away since arriving in New York. There is a style of Afro-Cuban jazz marked by extreme start-stop rhythmic shifts, overlaid by other time shifts in dazzling complexity. Prieto does all that, and he's really quite amazing. His quartet tries to scale those shifts up. They're a bit less convincing, mostly because none of them can maneuver as fast as Prieto. Peter Apfelbaum plays tenor sax, soprano sax, bass melodica; Manuel Valera piano, keyboard, melodica; Charles Flores acoustic and electric bass. B+(**)
  • Q'd Up: Quintessence (2009, Jazz Hang): Utah group, fourth album since 1999, with previous iterations of the group going back to 1983. Steve Lindeman (piano, keyboards) and Jay Lawrence (drums, vibes) write most of the pieces, with a couple of assists from vocalist Kelly Eisenhour (who sings three cuts) and a couple of standards. Ray Smith plays various saxophones and woodwinds, Matt Larson plays acoustic and electric bass, and Ron Brough plays vibes when not switching off for drums. Overall they claim 25 instruments, which varies the sound in ways hard to pigeonhole, except what you get from postbop. B
  • Eric Reed & Cyrus Chestnut: Plenty Swing, Plenty Soul (2009 [2010], Savant): Two mainstream pianists, live at Dizzy's in Lincoln Center, with Dezron Douglas on bass and Willie Jones III on drums. Reed came out of Wynton Marsalis's band, piling up 15 albums since 1990. Chestnut is as church-scooled as they get, with 18 albums since 1992 -- AMG counts this one under Chestnut, although Reed, who's recorded with the label before, is listed first on the cover and the spine. I don't have enough stereo separation to try to figure out who does what, and doubt that it matters much. They are very complementary players, have figured out subtle ways to add something here and there, and take a few thoughtful solos. B+(**)
  • Rufus Reid: Out Front (2008 [2010], Motema): Bassist-led piano trio, with Steve Allee on piano and Duduka Da Fonseca on drums. Reid has nine albums under his own name, plus a vast number of side credits going back to a 1970 gig with Gene Ammons and Dexter Gordon. Allee, a fine mainstream pianist with four albums since 1995, has yet to break out of the pack. Da Fonseca is a Brazilian drummer/percussionist with several albums of his own. All three contribute songs, plus there are covers from Marcos Silva, Tadd Dameron, and Eddie Harris (another former Reid employer). "Out Front" means more bass solos. With Reid that's nothing to complain about. B+(*)
  • Matt Renzi: Lunch Special (2007 [2009], Three P's): Trio, the leader playing sax (presumably tenor) and clarinet, quite a bit of the latter. Very centered, all things moderated, has a feel for the world and a broad sense of its music. B+(***)
  • Terry Riley: Autodreamological Tales (2010, Tzadik): Two multipart series, the title piece spoken word over ambient sounds, "The Hook Lecture" built around piano pieces (with some spoken word) that are somewhat more than minimalist. The spoken word isn't without interest, although it can be slow going. The piano is richly textured. I suppose there's a classical analogue, but don't know enough to pin it down, partly because I've never heard classical piano I liked quite this much. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • The Rocco John Group: Devotion (2008 [2009], Coalition of Creative Artists): Pianoless quartet, based in New York, led by Rocco John Iacovone (alto sax, soprano sax), with Michael Irwin spinning off on trumpet. Freebop with some kick to it. Group's previous album, Don't Wait Too Long, made my HM list, although it languished in my files a long time. This is another one at pretty much the same level -- deserves some recognition, but probably won't get it. [Found my HM line on his website, and it still applies: "Iacovone plays alto sax, cut his teeth in '70s lofts, cooled his heels in Alaska, returns as gray-haired demon."] B+(**)
  • Wallace Roney: If Only for One Night (2009 [2010], High Note): Trumpet player, been around, 15th album since 1987; seems like a basic hard bop guy, but often runs in a fast crowd, including saxophonist-brother Antoine Roney, who unlike the last few outings doesn't steal the show here, and pianist-wife Geri Allen, who doesn't appear at all -- looks like he's pitching to a younger woman on the cover. Live, recorded at Iridium. Francis Davis wrote the liner notes and proclaims it Roney's best, but I find it pretty scattered, the unison postbop harmonics annoying, the fusion nods unconvincing, the trumpet articulate and sometimes blistering. B+(*)
  • Steven Schoenberg: Live: An Improvisational Journey (2006-08 [2010], Quabbin): Pianist, b. 1952. AMG lists him as Classical, but doesn't list any classical recordings by him. Rather, we have an 1982 album Pianoworks reissued on his label in 2007, plus one more -- none reviewed or rated. His website is on of those Flash things designed to make extracting information so painful you give up. Seems to do film and theatre work. Married his his school sweetheart, Jane, who works with him in some capacity, but not on this solo set, improvised live at Smith College, Northampton, MA (except for two cuts recorded later). Doesn't strike me as very jazz-oriented, but likable as piano music goes, rhythmically regular with a lot of harmonic fill. B+(*)
  • Christian Scott: Yesterday You Said Tomorrow (2009 [2010], Concord): New Orleans trumpeter, Donald Harrison's nephew, studied at Berklee, cut a record for Concord at age 22, is back for his fourth here. Got name checked on HBO's Treme, on a list of New Orleans trumpets who succeeded elsewhere by not playing New Orleans music -- Marsalis and Blanchard headed that list. Scott has his fans, but I'm not yet one of them. This one sounds like he's been studying the Miles Davis mute, which is OK as far as it goes, but he really needs a band he can play off of, and none of these guys impress me. B [Rhapsody]
  • Karl Seglem: NORSKjazz.no (2009 [2010], Ozella): Norwegian tenor saxophonist, based in Oslo, don't know how old but he's recorded extensively since 1988 -- website lists 26 albums, AMG has noticed 11. Has the calm, steady sound I associate with other Scandinavians like Arne Domnerus and Bernt Rosengren, or more recently with Trygve Seim. Quartet with piano, bass, drums. B+(***)
  • Ravi Shankar: Rare and Glorious (1962-88 [2010], Times Square, 2CD): Born 1920 in Varanasi to a well-to-do Bengali family, Hindu, Brahmin caste. He picked up the sitar, mastered Indian classical music, dabbled in western music, and in the mid-1950s started touring Europe and America. In the mid-1960s the Beatles and the Byrds took an interest in sitar, which meant Shankar, and brought him to a worldwide audience, cemented with his 1967 Monterey Pop Festival performance. Since then he's played everywhere with everyone, but I only occasionally ran into him. Taken by this odds and sods collection, I felt due dilligence was in order before I singled it out from 50 or 100 or 150 titles or whatever his discography adds up to, so I checked out a bunch of them below. Still holds up pretty well. A-
  • Dave Sharp's Secret Seven: 7 (2009 [2010], Vortex Jazz): Bassist, mostly electric, from Ann Arbor, MI. Group actually a quartet -- Chris Kaercher (various saxes, flute, harmonica), Dale Grisa (Hammond B3, piano), Eric "Chucho" Wilhelm (drums, percussion) -- with extras added here and there. Sharp and Kaercher share writing credits. Mostly funk grooves, with honking sax blasts; harmless. Ends with two "bonus tracks": a "radio edit" of the opener, and a vocal also pegged to radio, an r&b cover called "Can I Be Your Squeeze?" B
  • Lee Shaw Trio: Blossom (2009, ARC): Pianist, from Oklahoma, b. 1926, played a little and taught a lot over the years, but didn't start to establish a discography until a mid-1990s trio with bassist Rich Syracuse and husband-drummer Stan Lee. Stan died in 2001, replaced (on drums, anyway) by Rich Siegel. Mostly Shaw originals, with one from Siegel, two from Syracuse, and two 1940s bop pieces from Fats Navarro and Johnny Guarnieri. B+(*)
  • Liam Sillery: Phenomenology (2008 [2010], OA2): Trumpeter, b. 1972, from New Jersey, fourth album since 2005, a hard bop quintet with name players -- at least in my book: Matt Blostein (alto sax), Jesse Stacken (piano), Thomas Morgan (bass), Vinnie Sperrazza (drums) -- and postbop airs but also rough edges. Best when they pick up the pace. B+(**)
  • Matt Slocum: Portraits (2009 [2010], Chandra): Drummer, from Minnesota, now based in New Jersey, looks like his first album, although AMG has him confused with another Matt Slocum who plays guitar and cello, particularly in the band Sixpence None the Richer. Piano trio plus guest sax on 4 of 9 cuts. The pianist, who lays out on two of the sax cuts, is Gerald Clayton, impressive here. Bassist is Massimo Biolcati. Walter Smith III and Dayna Stephens play tenor sax on two cuts each, with Jaleel Shaw on alto on a cut with Stephens -- Smith's two cuts stand out. B+(*)
  • Bob Sneider & Paul Hofmann: Serve and Volley (2008 [2010], Origin): Guitarist and pianist, respectively, in a duo. Sneider has five previous albums, including a couple of Film Noir Projects with Joe Locke, and two previous duos with Hofmann. I find this a little light and sketchy. Title piece, by the way, is a 22:32 five-part suite. B
  • Emilio Solla & the Tango Jazz Conspiracy: Bien Sur! (2009 [2010], Fresh Sound World Jazz): Argentine pianist, based in New York, second album I'm aware of, probably has more. Tango forms, but mostly jazz musicians, notably Chris Cheek on soprano, tenor, and baritone sax, and Richie Barshay on drums and percussion. In his liner notes, feels a bit uncomfortable taking jazz liberties with his national music, but the record splits the difference nicely. B+(**)
  • Somi: If the Rains Come First (2009, ObliqSound): Singer, born in Illinois, parents immigrated from Rwanda and Uganda; spent some time in Zambia growing up, and spent more time in East Africa after graduating college. Still, she doesn't sound very exotic, or for that matter very distinctive, although she works with a band that can turn on the percussion every now and then. Hugh Masekela guests on one cut. B-
  • Tyshawn Sorey: Koan (2009, 482 Music): Drummer, b. 1980, has made a big impression everywhere he's played (mostly Vijay Iyer and Steve Lehman groups). Second record; his first, That/Not, a double of his compositions including a lot of material he didn't play on, got a lot of critics poll support. This is a trio with Todd Neufeld on guitar and Thomas Morgan on bass (and sometimes guitar). Morgan's shown up on a few albums recently (Scott DuBois' Banshees is the best), but I don't recall running into Neufeld before. Hard to get much of a sense of Neufeld here: the pieces are slow, spare, fragmentary; too enigmatic to reveal much of a point, which given the Zen title may be the point. B+(**)
  • Sorgen-Rust-Stevens Trio: A Scent in Motion (1994 [2009], Konnex): Harvey Sorgen on drums, Steve Rust on bass, Michael Jefrey Stevens on piano. No idea why Sorgen is listed first -- he has only one previous record under his name (Novella, 2001, Leo; actually same group listed Sorgen-Rust-Stevens) -- other than that the evident leader, Stevens, has a long history of slipping his name in the second spot (usually behind bassist Joe Fonda). Stevens and Rust split the writing credits, with Sorgen getting in on one group improv. Sorgen's discography, starting roughly 1987, includes multiple records with Fonda/Stevens and also with Hot Tuna. Rust has a couple of recent records I haven't heard and a dozen-plus side credits since 1996 with people I haven't heard of. Stevens may be shy about credits, but he's a dramatic pianist, plays loud, skittering on the edge, but can duck inside on occasion. B+(**)
  • John Stein: Raising the Roof (2009, Whaling City Sound): Guitarist, from Kansas City, MO; discography (8 records) starts in 1995 but he appears to be older. Quartet with piano, bass, drums, same group as on his previous Encounter Point. Mostly bop standards (Silver, Timmons, Thad Jones, Gillespie), with two originals, a Jobim, and "Falling in Love With Love." Has a light, silky touch that slices neatly through this material. B+(**)
  • Kelley Suttenfield: Where Is Love? (2007 [2009], Rhombus): Standards singer, based in New York, probably young, debut album, backed by piano-guitar-bass-drums, nobody I've heard of. Has an exceptionally nice voice, measured delivery with nothing terribly idiosyncratic about it. I don't care much for the song selection, with "And I Love Her" and "Ode to Billy Joe" the sore points, but she covered Veloso instead of Jobim, tried on a Betty Carter piece, sashayed into vocalese on "West Coast Blues," and did well by "Nature Boy." Most effective was "My One and Only Love" -- probably because it was the simplest. B+(*)
  • Nelda Swiggett: This Time (2009 [2010], OA2): Pianist-vocalist, based in Seattle. Second album, or third if you count the 1993-recorded, 2008-released Room to Move Sextet No Time for Daydreams, where Swiggett wrote most of the songs, played piano, and sung on two cuts. She sings on three cuts here, not that I even noticed the first, and not a strong point on the others. Nice mainstream pianist, bright tone, very pleasant. B
  • Tom Tallitsch: Perspective (2009, OA2): Saxophonist (tenor, soprano), b. 1974, based in New Jersey, closer to Philadelphia than to New York. Third album, a quintet with guitar and piano but no more horns. Strong postbop set, has an attractive sound to his tenor; soprano less so, of course. B+(*)
  • Rob Thorsen: Lasting Impression (2008 [2009], Pacific Coast Jazz): As I scan through Thorsen's web bio, I'm growing impatient, flashing on Jack Webb, wanting to say: "just the facts, ma'am." Bassist, based in San Diego, spent some time in San Francisco. Old enough he's a little short on top. Website lists four albums, including one attributed to Cross Border Trio, but not including this one. No dates on those. Album rotates musicians in and out, splitting piano between Geoffrey Keezer and Josh Nelson, with Gilbert Castellanos on trumpet/flugelhorn and/or Ben Wendel on tenor sax/bassoon on most cuts. Mostly bebop tunes -- two from Parker, one from McLean, "Giant Steps" from Coltrane -- plus "Smile," "The Man I Love," and four originals that fit in nicely. Bass is noticeable and makes a fine impression -- check his solo on "Cigarones." Castellanos also stands out. B+(**)
  • Nicolas Thys: Virgo (2008 [2009], Pirouet): Bassist, b. 1968, from the Netherlands, graduated from Hilversum Conservatory. First album, after ten or so side credits since 1998. Quintet, with Chris Cheek (tenor sax), Jon Cowherd (piano), Ryan Scott (guitar), and Dan Rieser (drums). Wrote all of the pieces. They have a light, propulsive feel, helped along by the guitar, with the sax fitting closely to the melodies and the piano straying a bit. B+(***)
  • Tierra Negra & Muriel Anderson: New World Flamenco (2009 [2010], Tierra Negra): Tierra Negra is a pair of German flamenco guitar players, Raughi Ebert and Leo Henrichs. They have at least 9 albums since 1997. Anderson is an American guitarist, based in Nashville, considered Folk by AMG, credited with "classic & harp guitar" here. She has more than a dozen albums since 1989. Her website includes recipes but no biography. Most cuts include bass, drums, percussion; some palmas, but mostly the percussion is secondary. Nothing cooks, but intricate guitarwork can be its own reward. B+(**)
  • Ton Trio: The Way (2008 [2009], Singlespeed Music): Sax-bass-drums trio, more/less based in Oakland, CA. Led by Aram Shelton on alto sax and bass clarinet, with Kurt Kotheimer on bass and Sam Ospovat on drums. Shelton moved to Oakland in 2005 from Chicago, about the time he released the only album under his own name, Arrive (482 Music). Has a couple dozen credits since 2001, some with Chicagoans I recognize, most with groups under my radar, some of which he seems to run. Plays free; has some ideas, interesting but not compelling yet. Bass clarinet has more appeal, probably because it's more unusual, hence distinctive. B+(**)
  • Samuel Torres: Yaoundé (2010, BLC): Percussionist, specifically congalero, from Bogota, Colombia; b. 1976, second album; side credits include Shakira. Splashy Latin jazz group, with Joel Frahm on saxophones, Michael Rodriguez on trumpet, and Manuel Valera on piano/keyboards; guests include Anat Cohen (clarinet) and Sofia Rei Koutsovitis (vocals), one track each. B+(**)
  • The Trio [Peter Erskine/Chuck Berghofer/Terry Trotter]: Live @ Charlie O's (2009 [2010], Fuzzy Music): No idea how many groups have called themselves The Trio over the years. Certainly enough to have made my pet peeve list. Seems like an exercise in ego, but pianist Terry Trotter has done a remarkable job of avoiding the spotlight since when? The 1960s? AMG credits him with two albums, having overlooked a ouple of Trotter Trio outings. AMG and All About Jazz have no biographies, and Trotter has no web page, let alone MySpace. Wikipedia has two lines: "studio pianist living in Los Angeles." Bassist Berghofer, by comparison, is widely known, and drummer Erskine even more so -- even if you're not a Weather Report fan. No song credits, but looks like standard fare, done with polish and aplomb. B+(**)
  • Chris Tunkel: Grey Matters (2007, Tunk Music): Percussionist (congas, djembe, bongos, shakers, bells, guiro), vocalist from Virginia, based in Brooklyn. First album, a bit old, but came with a note from the author announcing that he's rehearsing a trio with Greg Lewis (organ) and Anders Nilsson (guitar, one of the best guitarists working). Neither appear here, although the group features organ/piano (Brian Marsella), two guitars (Aaron Dugan and Aaron Nevezie), bass, drums with extra percussion (sangba, kenkini, timbales, bells), and singer Amy Carrigan. Mostly a vocal album, with a sly soulfulnes to it, juiced up by the percussion. B+(*)
  • Warren Vaché-Tony Coe-Alan Barnes Septet: Shine (1997 [1998], Zephyr): Looking for a new Vaché record -- Top Shelf, with John Allred, on Arbors -- I stumbled instead on a batch of old ones, and couldn't resist interrupting what I was doing to play this one. Coe and Barnes are trad-leaning British reed players -- Coe tenor and soprano, Barnes baritone and alto, both clarinet -- and Vaché plays cornet. Title cut starts with just the three horns winding sinuously around each other, before the band chimes in. The sax work is often elegant, and Vaché is sharp, but not everything comes together. Title cut gets a second take to end on a high. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • The Vinson Valega Group: Biophilia (2009 [2010], Consilience Productions): Drummer, b. 1965, fourth album since 2001, leading a postbop sextet -- two saxes, trombone, piano, bass, drums -- with no one I recognize, although he gets pieces from four of them, plus writes 6 of 15 himself. Seems like an interesting guy, with intelligent liner notes on global warming and E.O. Wilson's title concept. Music is unpretentious postbop, lots of neat little twists, a few smart nods to the tradition (Ellington, Monk, Berlin, Ornette Coleman). Nothing that especially caught my ear, but nothing wrong with what I did hear. B+(*)
  • Ken Vandermark/Pandelis Karayorgis: Foreground Music (2006 [2007], Okka Disk): A rare Vandermark plus piano album, a duo, writing credit count split evenly -- off the top of my head, the only others I can think of are the Free Fall and Atomic records with Håvard Wiik, occasional encounters with Jim Baker, and No Such Thing, a trio with Karayorgis and missing link Nate McBride. Karayorgis and McBride have a piano trio called Mi3 that scored a pick hit here for Free Advice. Karayorgis is a free player who can hang onto a beat long enough to gig in rock clubs. Still, without McBride (and Curt Newton) providing that pulse, he seems a little lost here, poking and jabbing, trying to provoke Vandermark, who's actually most eloquent when the pianist lays out. Not as in-your-face as the title, or the credit line, or the label, implies. B+(**)
  • John Vanore & Abstract Truth: Curiosity (1991 [2010], Acoustical Concepts): Remix/reissue of a 1991 album, the second of a half dozen under Abstract Truth, a brass-heavy (5 trumpets, 2 trombones, French horn, but only two reeds) big band. Group has ensemble punch and some solo swagger. Don't know squat about Vanore, other than that he plays trumpet/flugelhorn, wrote or arranged most of the pieces here. Presumably the same John Vanore has a slew of engineer/producer credits listed at AMG. B+(**)
  • Robin Verheyen: Starbound (2009, Pirouet): Saxophonist, lists soprano ahead of tenor, b. 1983 in Belgium; studied at Manhattan School of Music; based in New York. First record, a quartet with Bill Carrothers on piano, Nicolas Thys on bass, Dré Pallemaerts on drums. Wrote 9 of 11 pieces, with one by Thys and "I Wish I Knew" (Harry Warren, Mack Gordon). B+(**)
  • VW Brothers [Paul van Wageningen/Marc van Wageningen]: Muziek (2010, Patois): Guitarist Marc van Wageningen and drummer Paul van Wageningen, from Amsterdam, Netherlands, relocated to US in 1976-80, winding up in Oakland, CA. Names seem familiar to me, but I'm working blind, having trouble googling, finding the hype sheet, and reading the microtype on the package. Record starts out with marginally avant sax, then evolves through Latin to plain funk. Ray Obiedo and Wayne Wallace co-produced, so blame the Latin on them. Mostly interesting, especially when whoever plays sax climbs out on a limb, but I don't get whatever they're getting at. B+(*)
  • Cedar Walton: Voices Deep Within (2009, High Note): Half piano trio, half quartet adding Vincent Herring on tenor sax. The alternation makes the split less obvious, and also a bit disorienting. Walton's previous album, Seasoned Wood, was one of his best. Checking back, I see that not only is Jeremy Pelt gone, the previous Peter Washington-Al Foster bass-drums section has given way to Buster Williams and Willie Jones III. Still a good showcase for Walton's piano, but lacking several of those edges that often make him such a superb bandleader. B+(**)
  • Tim Warfield: One for Shirley (2007 [2008], Criss Cross): Tenor saxophonist, part of the "tough young tenors" generation, with an impressive debut album in 1995, but this is only his fifth album, the first since 2002. Shirley, of course, is Shirley Scott, the legendary soul jazz organ player, with Pat Bianchi filling her role here. No bassist necessary, but drummer Byron Landham gets reinforcements from percussionist Daniel G. Sadownick, and Terell Stafford slip in some trumpet -- not a soul jazz standard, but Stafford and Warfield are a frequent team. Aims low, and succeeds simply, although not as simply and elegantly as Scott's usual tenor player, Stanley Turrentine, could do. B+(*) [Rhapsody]
  • The Wee Trio: Capitol Diner Vol. 2 Animal Style (2010, Bionic): James Westfall (vibes), Dan Loomis (bass), Jared Schonig (drums). Second album, following Capitol Diner Vol. 1, recorded in 2007. No recording date offered here, but their MySpace page says this was recorded "shortly after" the first volume. I found the first volume quite engaging, but this one sailed past me without evoking much interest. B
  • Mark Weinstein: Timbasa (2008 [2010], Jazzheads): Flute player, has more than a dozen albums since 1996, some klezmer but mostly Latin jazz, including some serious efforts at uncovering complex Cuban rhythms. Can't find a birthdate, but he describes this record as "my attempt to reinvigorate a 69 year-old body with the youthful energy of Cuba." Nothing much caught my ear here, and I disliked the uncredited vocal, although the batás and guiro and such seem like a good idea. B
  • Sam Weiser: Sam I Am (2009 [2010], Disappear): Violinist, 15 years old (so that's 1994?), New Yorker, Mets fan, studied with Mark O'Connor, won some prize named for martyred journalist Daniel Pearl. Advance copy, no musician or session credits, a puke-yellow hype sheet with nothing I want to know. Main vocalist (6 cuts) is presumably Sonia Rutstein of folkie duo Disappear Fear who also does business as SONiA -- somebody else leads on Eddie Palmieri's "Azucar," a token piece of Latin jazz that gets away from everyone. Otherwise the catholic song selection works reasonably well, with Rutstein's three songs guarding against over-familiarity. The violin leads are rich and plush, the band swings; I wouldn't say anyone's improvising or even trying anything novel, but it's pretty listenable. Some day maybe Weiser will grow up and hire a real publicist. B+(*)
  • Dan Weiss Trio: Timshel (2010, Sunnyside): Drummer-led piano trio, with Jacob Sacks on piano and Thomas Morgan on bass -- Morgan seems to be everywhere these days. Second album for Weiss, plus a list of 30 or so side credits since 1999, including impressive work on tabla for Rudresh Mahanthappa and Rez Abbasi. Wrote all the pieces, including ones called "Prelude," "Interlude" and "Postlude." I like the bits where the piano reduces to a rocking rhythm instrument. Less impressive is the slow stuff influenced by the 'ludes. B+(**)
  • White Rocket (2008 [2009], Diatribe): Irish trio with eponymous debut album. I filed it under trumpeter Jacob Wick, figuring him for the lead instrument; pianist Greg Felton matches Wick's four songs, and drummer Sean Carpio adds one more. Serious free jazz, often played off against repeated piano riffs. B+(**)
  • Mark Winkler: Till I Get It Right (2009, Free Ham): Singer, based in Los Angeles, writes most of his lyrics (10 of 12 songs here) but credits the music elsewhere. Ninth album since 1985. Has written several musical revues: "Play It Cool," "Too Old for the Chorus," "Naked Boys Singing." Stylistically slicker than anyone in the Mose Allison-Bob Dorough school, not as affected as Mark Murphy (who wrote the liner notes), more inclined to wax philosphical than to croon. Cheryl Bentyne chips in on "Cool." Bob Sheppard contributes some sax, and Anthony Wilson has a couple of nice spots on guitar. B+(***)
  • Phil Woods/Lee Konitz 5Tet: Play Woods (2003 [2004], Philology): Another record where Rhapsody's 2010 date threw me, but it's a record I've been wanting to hear -- one of a batch of joint Woods-Konitz records from the 2003 Umbria Jazz Festival, along with Play Konitz and Play Rava and others. Philology is an Italian label which released so much by Woods one wonders if there isn't some sort of connection. The quintet is rounded out by Andrea Pozza on piano, Massimo Moriconi on bass, and Massimo Manzi on drums, but the interest is in the great alto saxists. B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Phil Woods/Lee Konitz 5Tet: Play Konitz (2003 [2004], Philology): B+(***) [Rhapsody]
  • Phil Woods with the DePaul University Jazz Ensemble: Solitude (2008 [2010], Jazzed Media): Watched a documentary tonight where DePaul played a significant role: American Radical: The Trials of Norman Finkelstein. Of course, I shouldn't blame DePaul's Jazz Ensemble for the University denying Finkelstein tenure. They seem like a nice enough bunch as they work through a set of Woods' compositions. Sometimes a bit of solo caught my ear: the piano may have been ringer Jim McNeely, and the alto sax was likely Woods, but the trombone would have been a student, most likely Bryan Tipps. Good luck with that. B
  • Aaron Immanuel Wright: Eleven Daughters (2009 [2010], Origin): Bassist, b. 1979, from Oregon, studied in California, got a BA in philosophy, based now in New York. Wrote (or co-wrote with drummer Brian Menendez) 6 of 7 songs, with a cover of "Laura." Group is a quartet with Tim Willcox on tenor sax and Darrell Grant on piano. I suppose one way you can tell it's the bassist's record is that neither sax nor piano ever break loose. Such balance may be admirable, but it doesn't do much to get your attention. B
  • Zora Young: The French Connection (2007-08 [2009], Delmark): Blues singer, b. 1948, fifth album since 1991 -- third on Delmark -- cut with three different French bands. Uneven sound -- sometimes seems a bit distant, although she has that basic Bessie Smith projection that doesn't need a microphone, and that carries a record that is strongest at its most retro. B+(*)
  • John Zorn: Femina (2008 [2009], Tzadik): A tribute to the ladies. The CD is organized as Parts 1-4, but the website notes that Zorn composed (doesn't play) this using his "file card technique," and the granularity includes references to: Hildegard von Bingen, Meredith Monk, Simone de Beauvoir, Frida Kahlo, Madame Blavatsky, Isadora Duncan, Hélène Cixous, Gertrude Stein, Abe Sada, Sylvia Plath, Louise Bourgeois, Margaret Mead, Loie Fuller, Dorothy Parker, Yoko Ono, moon goddess En Hedu'Anna, and others. Players are: Jennifer Choi (violin), Okkyung Lee (cello), Carl Emanuel (harp), Sylvie Courvoisier (piano), Ikue Mori (electronics), and Shayna Dunkelman (percussion), with Laurie Anderson offering some words at the beginning. While the action can shift dramatically, it mostly meanders unimpressively. B- [Rhapsody]

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Salvage Operations

Gail Collins: General McChrystal's Twitters. Satire, presumably, but rings true, especially in the casual dismissal of the writer: "In Paris with my Kabul posse -- Bluto, Otter, Boon, Pinto, Flounder. Plus some newbie. Guys call him Scribbles." "Team America is partying! Bluto's doing his impression of Joe Biden. Scribbles taped the whole thing -- get ready for laughs when we get home." "Scribbles wants to come, too. Told him only if he buys the next two cases."

Ray McGovern: Obama Misses the Afghan Exit Ramp. Opening lines: "Has it occurred to President Barack Obama that Gen. Stanley McChrystal might actually have wanted to be fired -- and, thus, rescued from the current march of folly in Afghanistan, a mess much of his own making?" I can't say as it occurred to me -- seems to me that McChrystal's nature is more like the one Gail Collins painted above, one that didn't take a Rolling Stone reporter seriously until the ink dried. If you want clandestine motives, it seems just as likely that Obama or someone close to him wanted McChrystal out of the way and told him it'd be good PR to plant an in-depth profile in a hip magazine. We'll know more when McChrystal, relieved of his command and now on his way to a comfy early retirement, writes his inevitable book. If he stays in character, he'll be whining about how folks back in Washington backstabbed him on the verge of success. On the other hand, he could write something actually interesting: about how clear the answers seemed back when he was scheming in the Pentagon, yet how impossible they turned out in the real Afghanistan.

The article has some other gaffes -- like speculation that Petraeus and/or Clinton might run against Obama if he falters as a hawk -- but the title is spot on, pointing out that Obama could have used this moment to start untangling us from Afghanistan, but instead used it to reiterate his failed policies and dashed hopes:

The likely results of the White House shuffle of generals are, in fact, dangerous. The change makes the prospects dimmer for Obama executing a rapid -- or even a measured -- withdrawal from Afghanistan beginning in July 2011, as some in his administration had hoped. And the president may not yet realize how scandalized his political base has been at his penchant for Bush-like policies, rather than change anyone can still believe in.

We've seen this already in how the huzzahs for Obama's embrace of Petraeus have almost invariably been accompanied by pleas to forget about the July 2011 withdrawal "start." Indeed, if he misses the next exit ramp, it seems likely that Obama will be running for reëlection in 2012, campaigning exclusively at VFW conventions and military bases, hounded by protesters kept at a safe distance -- pretty much a rerun of Bush in 2004, or LBJ in 1968.

Gareth Porter: Why Petraeus won't salvage this war. Well, because it's unsalvageable -- even Petraeus knows that, even if he can't say as much. Porter argues that Petraeus isn't inflexibly wedded to any strategy, and was willing to pull the plug on the Iraq Surge until he figured he could bluff his way politically. Also that he remains committed to one goal: salvaging his own reputation.

Andrew J Bacevich: Endless war, a recipe for four-star arrogance. Recalls America's traditional antipathy to standing armies and their corrosive effects on democracy, something which had seen axiomatic from George Washington to George Marshall. Yet now we have one, increasingly estranged from most of America:

For a time, the creation of this so-called all-volunteer force, only tenuously linked to American society, appeared to be a master stroke. Washington got superbly trained soldiers and Republicans and Democrats took turns putting them to work. The result, once the Cold War ended, was greater willingness to intervene abroad. As Americans followed news reports of U.S. troops going into action everywhere from the Persian Gulf to the Balkans, from the Caribbean to the Horn of Africa, they found little to complain about: The costs appeared negligible. Their role was simply to cheer.

This happy arrangement now shows signs of unraveling, a victim of what the Pentagon has all too appropriately been calling its Long War.

The Long War is not America's war. It belongs exclusively to "the troops," lashed to a treadmill that finds soldiers and Marines either serving in a combat zone or preparing to deploy.

To be an American soldier today is to serve a people who find nothing amiss in the prospect of armed conflict without end. Once begun, wars continue, persisting regardless of whether they receive public support. President Obama's insistence to the contrary notwithstanding, this nation is not even remotely "at" war. In explaining his decision to change commanders without changing course in Afghanistan, the president offered this rhetorical flourish: "Americans don't flinch in the face of difficult truths." In fact, when it comes to war, the American people avert their eyes from difficult truths. Largely unaffected by events in Afghanistan and Iraq and preoccupied with problems much closer to home, they have demonstrated a fine ability to tune out war. Soldiers (and their families) are left holding the bag.

Throughout history, circumstances such as these have bred praetorianism, warriors becoming enamored with their moral superiority and impatient with the failings of those they are charged to defend. The smug disdain for high-ranking civilians casually expressed by McChrystal and his chief lieutenants -- along with the conviction that "Team America," as these officers style themselves, was bravely holding out against a sea of stupidity and corruption -- suggests that the officer corps of the United States is not immune to this affliction.

To imagine that replacing McChrystal with Gen. David H. Petraeus will fix the problem is wishful thinking. [ . . . ] The day the McChrystal story broke, an active-duty soldier who has served multiple combat tours offered me his perspective on the unfolding spectacle. The dismissive attitude expressed by Team America, he wrote, "has really become a pandemic in the Army." Among his peers, a belief that "it is OK to condescend to civilian leaders" has become common, ranking officers permitting or even endorsing "a culture of contempt" for those not in uniform. Once the previously forbidden becomes acceptable, it soon becomes the norm.

Of course, it's not just the military. There's a huge posse of self-serving experts and flacks dedicated to keeping the money flowing, and politicians find them irresistible, even when they march headlong into a foolish fiasco like Afghanistan. For years and years now we've debated how to "save" Afghanistan, when the only thing the military cult really wanted to save in Afghanistan is their own raison d'être -- 9/11 raised the question of why do we spend $500 billion a year on a military that utterly failed to defend us, but rather than answer that question we've let them con us into $1 trillion a year. Start cutting back there and who knows where it might lead? You might find that cutting back to nothing solves everything, not least this praetorian cult that has eaten away our democracy and left us hopeless, confused, and stupid.

If Porter is right, Petraeus (and with his cover Obama) will try to extricate us from Afghanistan, mostly to try to salvage an army that is being proven worse than useless there. Bacevich wants to go further and unwind the military cult that got us there in the first place.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 16810 [16785] rated (+25), 838 [846] unrated (-8). Limping along.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #24, Part 3)

Rob Harvilla confirms that Jazz Consumer Guide will run in The Village Voice this week. Should be on the streets in New York on Wednesday. They wanted to slightly truncate one review, but it sounds like all the records made it in.

Working through my various trays, even pulling one record from the bottom priority set, and a couple of vocals. Was prepared to consign the new old Art Pepper to superfluous high-B+ status but the last two cuts were impossible to deny. Mail deliveries seem to be erratic, but a lot of uncatalogued stuff showed up today.

The Jim Baker/Mars Williams album was an anomaly: something I played/rated long ago, misfiled, forgot about, rediscovered, accidentally gave a second chance. I get letters now and then urging me to listen further to records, and they are almost always fruitless. I don't doubt that there are records I'd move up on if I gave them more time, but I'm surprised by how far I moved this time. Only similar case I can think of was a John Butcher album that went the other direction.

Steve Davis: Images (2009 [2010], Posi-Tone): Trombonist, b. 1967 in Binghampton, NY, studied with Jackie McLean, who steered him to Art Blakey. Looks like he has about 18 records since 1996 (mostly for Criss Cross; his MySpace page says 13, AMG lists 17 and misses this), more than 100 side credits. This is a sextet, three horns (Josh Evans on trumpet/flugelhorn, Mike DiRubbo on alto sax) with piano, bass, and drums. Big, brash postbop outing, a lot of bounce to it. Not sure why I don't find it more appealing: too bright? not enough trombone? Don't think the problem is DiRubbo, who's choice for an album dedicated to Jackie McLean. B+(*)

Vincent Herring & Earth Jazz: Morning Star (2010, Challenge): No recording date. Credited with "saxophone" -- both alto and soprano are pictured in booklet, and that's his basic kit. Has a steady stream of records since 1990, when he broke in and seemed likely to be a major force, but I haven't heard much since then. Group includes Anthony Wonsey on piano, Richie Goods on bass, Joris Dudli on drums, with Danny Sadownick adding percussion on 6 of 10 tracks. After initial misdirection on "Naima," this soon settles into a funk groove album, with Goods the prime mover, Wonsey playing what sounds like electric piano. Wonsey wrote three songs, Dudli two, Goods one, Herring only one -- the one he sounds most eloquent on. B+(**)

John Fedchock NY Sextet: Live at the Red Sea Jazz Festival (2008 [2010], Capri): Trombonist, b. 1957, based in New York, mostly identified with his New York Big Band which first appeared on record in 1992, and appears to still be active. Same basic sextet lineup as Steve Davis uses: trumpet-trombone-sax horn line, piano, bass, drums. Scott Wendholt plays trumpet, Walt Weiskopf tenor sax, Allen Farnham piano, David Finck bass, Dave Ratajczak drums (all but Weiskopf and Finck from the Big Band). More of a swing player than Davis, especially with Farnham, which may be why he can run the horns in unison without cloying. B+(***)

3ology: With Ron Miles (2008 [2010], Tapestry): Longmont, CO-based trio: Doug Carmichael on saxophones, Tim Carmichael on basses, Jon Powers on drums. Looks like they have two previous albums (or CDRs), an eponymous one in 2007 and Out of the Depths in 2008, but they had nothing to do with a 1995 Konnex album called 3-Ology (Santi Debriano, Billy Hart, Arthur Blythe). Miles plays cornet and has a substantial discography that far transcends his Colorado base. He adds an extra dimension here, but the group really hums even when he lays out. Doug Carmichael plays interesting, aggressive freebop sax, while Tim Carmichael keeps a steady rhythmic buzz going on bass. A-

Aldo Romano: Origine (2009 [2010], Dreyfus Jazz): Drummer, b. 1941 in Belluno, Italy, but moved to France in 1950s and has been long based in Paris. Has a couple dozen albums under his own name since 1977, and a lot of credits -- AMG, which misses a lot in Europe, has a long page starting with Gato Barbieri and Don Cherry in 1965, Steve Lacy in 1966, Rolf Kuhn in 1967, Joachim Kuhn and Steve Kuhn in 1969. Romano composed these pieces, probably over the course of his career, with Yves Simon adding lyrics to "Jazz Messengers" which Romano sings in a touchingly offhand way. Lionel Belmondo arranged the pieces for a large orchestra -- no strings but flutes, English and French horns, bassoon, and tuba, along with the usual reeds, limited brass, piano, bass, and drums -- which the notes fairly describe as "sumptuous." B+(**)

Aruán Ortiz Quartet: Alameda (2006 [2009], Fresh Sound New Talent): Pianist, b. 1973, from Santiago de Cuba, passed through Spain and France before moving to US in 2003, to study at Berklee and wind up in New York. Cut an album of Cuban standards in 1996, a trio in 2005, and now this augmented quartet. The extra is tenor saxophonist Antoine Roney, who joins in on three cuts and gets a "featuring" shout out on the cover. The quartet includes Eric McPherson on drums, Peter Slavov on bass, and Abraham Burton on alto sax. Roney's the better known name, and I like him well enough, but Burton carries this record, as he has regularly done throughout his career. Ortiz plays some electric. Doesn't make much of his Cuban roots, but I don't doubt he could. B+(**)

Rosario Giuliani: Lennie's Pennies (2009 [2010], Dreyfus Jazz): Alto saxophonist, b. 1967 in Terracina, Italy. Tenth album since 1997. Mainstream piano-bass-drums quartet, with Pierre de Bethmann also playing electric piano. Bright, bouncy, beautiful tone especially on classics like "How Deep the Ocean," some fast bebop turns. B+(**)

Trichotomy: Variations (2007 [2010], Naim Jazz): Piano trio, from Australia: Sean Foran on piano, Pat Marchisella on bass, John Parker on drums. First album, or third if you count two released in Australia under the name Misinterprotato. One track adds violin-viola-alto sax; another adds trumpet-electronics. Foran composed 5 pieces, Parker 4, and one was a joint improv. They have a brash, beatwise, populist feel, not unlike EST or Neil Cowley, and it suits them well. B+(***) [July 13]

Prime Picks: The Virtuoso Guitar of Larry Coryell (1998-2003 [2010], High Note): Robert Christgau once wrote: "Larry Coryell is the greatest thing to happen to the guitar since stretched gut." But looking through his Consumer Guides, I don't see any Coryell albums that Christgau actually liked much -- unlike John McLaughlin, Sonny Sharrock, and James Ulmer -- and he seems to have given up listening shortly after 1979. This samples five 1998-2003 albums, with two solo cuts and several small groups that hop around randomly -- two with trumpet, two with vibes, four with John Hicks on piano, two "Power Trio" cuts with bass and drums. Best thing is the guitar, as silvery as Coryell's hair. B+(*)

Corey Christiansen Quartet: Outlaw Tractor (2008 [2010], Origin): Guitarist, b. 1971, father taught guitar at Utah State for many years; moved to St. Louis where he was AR director at guitar-oriented Mel Bay for seven years, then eventually moved back to Utah, where he is Director of Curriculum for The Music School. Third album since 2004. Guitar-sax-organ-drums quartet. I run across a dozen-plus such albums every year and usually have little trouble dismissing them, but this is one of the better ones, and surprisingly it's not David Halliday's sax that stands out but Pat Bianchi's organ -- by now, surely the most clichéd of all instruments. Guitar grooves too. B+(**)

Peter Epstein & Idée Fixe: Abstract Realism (2008 [2010], Origin): Alto saxophonist here, plays soprano elsewhere. Had a 2005 album, Lingua Franca, which made JCG A-list, and another album this year, The Dark, by EEA, which made the dud list. This isn't a return to form so much as yet another bold move in some other direction. There are points of electronic drone where this sounds industrial -- Andy Barbera's guitar, and possibly Sam Minaie's bass, are suspects, along with the also unknown drummer Matt Mayhall. But mostly Epstein labors mightily against dark tableaus. This wallows a bit, but when he's working he makes a strong impression. Two "special guests" also play reeds: Brian Walsh on bass clarinet, Gavin Templeton on alto and soprano sax. No idea what they're doing here. B+(***)

Wellstone Conspiracy: Motives (2009 [2010], Origin): Quartet, new group name but familiar components: Brent Jensen on soprano sax, Bill Anschell on piano, Jeff Johnson on bass, John Bishop on drums. Anschell and Jensen each wrote three of seven originals; Johnson wrote one, and Anschell arranged Billy Strayhorn's "A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing" for the closer. Jensen has developed into the finest mainstream soprano sax specialist around, so normal here you'd hardly guess what he's playing. The others are solid pros, a reputation the album consolidates without adding much to. B+(**)

Mark O'Connor: Jam Session (2000-04 [2010], OMAC): Whiz-kid bluegrass fiddler, b. 1961, won some prizes when he was young, one result being that Country Music Foundation's compilation of his 1975-84 work is called The Championship Years. Gradually gravitated toward jazz, where he seems stuck on Stephane Grappelli. These cuts actually come from four sessions, two with mandolinist Chris Thile and guitarist Bryan Sutton, one of those plus the other two with guitarist Frank Vignola, with either Jon Burr or Byron House on bass. Informal fun, but doesn't impress me much one way or the other. B

Art Pepper: Unreleased Art, Vol. V: Stuttgart May 25, 1981 (1981 [2010], Widow's Taste, 2CD): Yet another installment in Laurie Pepper's catalog of late Pepper bootlegs, eleven days after The Croydon Concert which appeared as Vol. III in 2008, eight days before Art Pepper With Duke Jordan in Copenhagen 1981 (released by Galaxy in 1996 and a favorite of mine ever since), then there is the Nov. 22, 1981 Abashiri Concert (Vol. 1 in this series). With Milcho Leviev on piano, Bob Magnuson on bass, and Carl Burnett on drums: a common tour group for Pepper, although only Burnett was a frequent player on Pepper's Galaxy albums of the period -- George Cables was his most common pianist. I'm not sure you need all of these, but after a while one starts looking for idiosyncrasies, and this one has plenty. Leviev is much rougher than Cables and tends to run on, but he is explosive here. Pepper has his ordinary moments, but "Landscape" on the first disc is magnificent; on the second he tears at "Over the Rainbow" trying to come up with something new after thirty years of playing the song, and he succeeds, then celebrates by burning through "Cherokee." A-

Tide Tables [Paul Kikuchi/Alexander Vittum]: Lost Birdsongs (2005 [2009], Prefecture): Both Kikuchi and Vittum are credited with compositions, percussion, and electronics. Kikuchi is from Seattle, drummer for Empty Cage Quartet, has another collaborative record -- with Jese Olsen as Open Graves -- in my unplayed box. Vittum is based in/near San Francisco. Doesn't seem to have any other credits. This was recorded live in Seattle with a group of musicians: Daniel Carter (alto sax, flute, trumpet), Brian Drye (trombone), Matt Goeke (cello), Matt Crane (percussion), Sam Weng (percussion). CDBaby page describes this as "Milford Graves meets Aphex Twin meets Konono #1." Graves is wishful thinking, but the other two bracket the percussion range, and from the "Recommended if you like" list we can throw in Harry Partch for orientation. Package I got is a clear plastic sleeve with a folded print insert. I'm tempted to treat it as an advance, but if you pay cash you'll probably get the same. B+(**)

Open Graves [Paul Kikuchi/Jesse Olsen]: Hollow Lake (2009, Prefecture): Bay Area-based Olsen is "founder and director of Deconstruct My House, an organization dedicated to presenting and fostering experimental music in socially conscious ways"; also "half of the experimental folk duo Ramon & Jessica." Sounds like a noble calling. For Kikuchi, see above [Tide Tables]. Not sure what Olsen does -- uncredited instruments here are "guitar, voice, slit drum, trombone, bells, walkie-talkies, and Kikuchi and Keplinger instruments" -- but he manages to ground whatever percussion Kikuchi attempts. This "seeks resonant spaces and uncommon environments," which means it is ambient and droney, not uninteresting, but demands attention it doesn't entice. B

Jamie Cullum: The Pursuit (2009 [2010], Verve): Released Mar. 2. Never got a real copy, just this "watermarked" advance with my name ominously stamped onto it, and no info on credits -- big band, string orchestra, banks of backup singers, no doubt a cast of thousands. Maybe then got confused about the packaging -- AMG lists eight editions, including packages with bonus tracks, a "deluxe edition," variants with DVDs, and the "Barnes & Noble Exclusive." With so much marketing, you'd might think he was popular, but as far as I can tell he remains a Harry Connick wannabe, handicapped by writing slightly over half of his songs. On the plus side, he's managed to shed most of the tics that made Catching Tales so annoying. That leaves him with . . . uh, nothing. C [advance]

Carmen Souza: Protegid (2010, Galileo Music): Cape Verdean singer, b. 1981, third album since 2006, backed by an international band with Portuguese bassist-percussionist Theo Pas'cal especially prominent, but Cuban pianist Victor Zamora reminds me of the herky-jerky rhythms unusual in post-Portuguese music (although Tom Zé is an exception -- maybe psychedelic tropicalia has something going here). Her vocals are heavily mannered, sometimes so Sprachgesang I expect to grasp some German words, but the lyrics look to be all Portuguese, with a thick booklet of trots I haven't bothered with (and in any case would find arduous to read). Played it enough to detect that there is something highly unusual going on here, but still too far out for me to get. B+(*)

Domenic Landolf: New Brighton (2009 [2010], Pirouet): Swiss tenor saxophonist, b. 1969, also plays bass clarinet and quite a bit of alto flute here. Third album since 2004. Trio backed by Patrice Moret on bass and Dejan Terzic on drums, who keep it simple, straightforward, and thoughtful. Mix of Landolf, Moret, and group pieces, with a lovely cover of "My Old Flame" to close. B+(**)

Beat Kaestli: Invitation (2009 [2010], Chesky): Standards singer, from Switzerland, based in New York. Fourth album since 2002. Subtitled his last one A Tribute to European Song, but this one is All American -- spine inset refers to it as "The New York Sessions" -- standards you know played by pros who keeps discreetly to the background: Kenny Rampton (trumpet), Joel Frahm (tenor sax), Paul Meyers (guitar), Jay Leonhart (bass), Billy Drummond (drums). Soft, pliable voice. Horns don't have much to do, but Meyers sets a nice tone. B+(**)

Sarah Partridge: Perspective (2009 [2010], Peartree): Singer, based in NJ, fourth album since 1998. Did some acting 1983-93. Duet with pianist Daniel May. Two originals, the rest standards. Never breaks out of a rather bland rut. B-

The Waitiki 7: New Sounds of Exotica (2009 [2010], Pass Out): Sounds like the old sounds of exotica, as far as I can bother to recall, except maybe louder. Group is led by bassist Ray Wong, with soprano sax/flutes, violin, piano, vibes/xylophone, drums, and a percussion guy who doubles on bird/animal calls. Some old Martin Denny pieces; some new ones. Packaging includes a Chee Hoo Fizz recipe which I'm not about to mix up. B

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

Steve Davis Quintet: Live at Smalls (2009 [2010], Smalls Live): Similar to Davis's Images studio disc -- bright, energetic, straightforward hard bop -- but cut down a bit with just trombone and Mike DiRubbo's alto sax up front, and an upgrade on piano to Larry Willis. The live album artifacts help out, like the short playlist (four songs) padded out with more improv, or don't much hurt, like the extended bass solo and the patter. DiRubbo takes at least one song at Parker speeds -- he's always impressive -- and I like Davis's slow intro to "Day Dream." B+(**) [Rhapsody]

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

Re-grades trying to sort out the surplus:

Jim Baker/Steve Hunt/Brian Sandstrom/Mars Williams: Extraordinary Popular Delusions (2005 [2007], Okka Disk): Couldn't recall playing this before, so put it on by accident. Played it twice before I went to write it up, then found that I had already (mis)rated it. Baker is a Chicago pianist who works in an avant-garde scene that doesn't find much use for pianists. Hunt plays drums, and Sandstrom plays bass and electric guitar. They each make interesting noise, helping out in all sorts of ways. Still, this is mostly about Williams, who initially emerged as Hal Russell's heir apparent, played second sax in the original Vandermark 5, then took his chances with acid jazz. He's back in full bloom here, fierce, rough, raunchy. Played it a third time thinking I should dial back toward my original grade. Nah. [was B+(*)] A-

Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Amabutho: Sikelela (Alma)
  • Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet + 1: 3 Nights in Oslo (Smalltown Superjazz, 5CD)
  • Freddy Cole: Freddy Cole Sings Mr. B (High Note): Aug. 3
  • Hilario Duran Trio: Motion (Alma)
  • Johnny Griffin: Live at Ronnie Scott's (In+Out)
  • Adrian Iaies Trio: A Child's Smile (Sunnyside): July 20
  • Kristy: My Romance (Alma)
  • Dave Mihaly's Shimmering Leaves Ensemble: Eastern Accents in the Far West (Porto Franco): July 20
  • Roberto Occhipinti: A Bend in the River (Alma)
  • Sun Ra Arkestra [under the direction of Marshall Allen]: Live at the Paradox (In+Out)
  • Steve Turre: Delicious and Delightful (High Note): Aug. 3
  • Ratko Zjaca/John Patitucci/Steve Gadd/Stanislav Mitrovic/Randy Brecker: Continental Talk (In+Out)


  • Brad Paisley: American Saturday Night (Arista)
  • The Roots: How I Got Over (Def Jam)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Cult of Professional Excellence

Bill Phillips posted a link to my Exit McChrystal post, and got the following comment from his nephew, a captain in the US Army:

In all candor, I am not in a position to refute any other part of Mr. Hull's article. The following however is beneath contempt: "most are simply pursuing limited career opportunities, and the rest have a simple craving to blow shit up". Really uncle, would you honestly put me in that category? If so, you do me a terrible disservice. And in my 16 years in uniform, I can probably count those I've met that actually fit that bill on my fingers and have some to spare. Mr. Hull can analyze a strategy, but he is completely ignorant about the character and professional excellence of those in military service.

Any generalization is bound to produce some exceptions, even the commonplace ones that claim that US military personnel are dedicated, principled, public-spirited, competent, or just plain decent. Back when the draft board was so eager to ship me off to Vietnam, and earlier when my father, his brothers, and numerous relatives were swept up in WWII, the military was an unremarkable cross-section of America, but since the Army went pro in the late 1970s it has largely separated from the rest of the country and turned into a self-promoting cult where "professional excellence in military service" is repeated so often you'd think it's their trademark. We're usually more skeptical of PR hype, but various powerful political and business forces find it useful to pander to the military, and they've managed to wrap the military in the flag so securely that others just shy away for fear of appearing unpatriotic.

I have doubts about the entire enterprise. In 1948 the Truman administration decided to rebuild the military and launch an aggressive worldwide defense not of the American people but of capitalists everywhere. Imperialism, depression, fascism, and war had done much to discredit capital and foment revolution around the world. Businesses were eager for more war profits, and with nuclear weapons it was easy to terrify the public, especially to back a "cold war" strategy that didn't require much of a personal commitment -- Korea and especially Vietnam proved to be unpopular exceptions. In doing so they created a permanent war state, an empire of self-importance that survived the collapse of the Soviet Union to find ever more desperate enemies. This permanent war has haunted the sixty years of my life and shows no signs of abating, even as the costs pile up to unsustainable levels and the returns aren't even negligible -- more like sad, pathetic, tragic.

I don't blame the soldiers for this, but I don't feel like flattering them either. When I was growing up, we had a slogan: "suppose they gave a war and nobody came." I took it to heart and did everything I could to avoid the draft and steer clear of a war machine that I regarded as unjust and unwise, so at some level I don't see why anyone else can't do the same -- especially now that the draft is gone and the consequences of not joining are benign. Back in the 1990s joining the military may have seemed like a riskless, harmless career move, but since 9/11 it has enabled a series of wars that have wreaked havoc around the world while in no way making us safer or a better country. I offered two reasons above why they did so. You might nominate some others -- misguided patriotism, family tradition, boredom, not sure what else.

I'm not in a position to run a survey, but the two reasons I gave certainly loom large in the promo pitch. The career angle shows up in almost every profile of enlisted personnel, as it has for twenty-some years. It's common enough you have to wonder if one reason conservatives have tried to squeeze college support is to drive people through the military. As for "blowing shit up" that may be a glib way of putting it, but I run across that repeatedly in soldier profiles -- Evan Wright's Generation Kill is about one company full of it, and Thomas Ricks's Fiasco covers the same story and mores at the level of upper brass selected for their aggressiveness, even when it mostly yields blowback. My post was occasioned by Gen. McChrystal, who is himself a prime example, yet much of the piece is about soldiers in Afghanistan complaining that McChrystal has set the rules of engagement too restrictively to, as one soldier puts it, "get their gun on."

These two traits are not just prevalent in the US military. They practically define it: the careerism leads to extreme risk aversion, which the aggression masks with bursts of "shock and awe" firepower. The two traits merge perfectly in the ever-increasing use of drones -- riskless slaughter.

Examples of these things abound. For instance, today's New York Times has an article by James Dao, "Gone for a Soldier," profiling a number of soldiers on their way to an Afghanistan deployment. The first one's reasoning is plainly economic:

The youngest of three sisters, Sergeant Sullivan, 31, was raised by a grandmother in Casey, S.C., after her father killed her mother and then killed himself. She graduated from a local college and worked for a year as a substitute teacher. But school loans weighed heavily on her, and in 2002 she enlisted. [ . . . ] She wants to serve 20 years and make retirement, with a good pension and health care benefits.

The next is a gunner. It may not be fair to dismiss him as someone who just wants to blow shit up, but he prides himself on knowing he won't freeze up under fire:

Private Stevenson [ . . . ] grew up in Port Arthur, Tex., never knowing his father. His mother, a corrections officer, died of complications related to aIDS when he was 15. He became homeless, quitting school and selling crack cocaine to survive, barely avoiding arrest. [ . . . ] Joining the Army seemed the next best step in setting his life straight.

These two happen to come from painfully broken homes. I doubt that that is the rule, but it does seem to happen much more often with military families than with the peaceniks I know. There are some things about the military that I find admirable, including their ability to occasionally pick up broken people and give them hope and purpose, although it seems like the military breaks many more people than they fix. They run a good health care system, and their camaraderie provides more social support at a time when conservatives (and liberals) are dismantling safety nets for everyone else. Still, there are ways to do all of those things without elevating a warrior caste -- ways that are far less wasteful and damaging. And if (much to my surprise) the military turns out to be a bastion of "professional excellence," wouldn't it be nice to apply those skills to something constructive?

PS: I meant to say something about the phrase "beneath contempt," which implies that mere contempt is too kind, but is otherwise an arbitrary rejection from on high. It says you can't say that, and we're not going to discuss why. I can't peer into someone's mind and tell you why they think they're doing something that I personally find utterly abhorent. I can't anticipate all the ways they can find to rationalize their behaviour. But I can make some observations based on what I hear many of them saying and see many of them doing, and that's what I did.

One thing that bothers me about this is that ever since the post-9/11 wars started hawks have disingenuously hidden behind the cult of the troops. Nominally, the troops fight for us, not the other way around, but the warmongers have made it seem that anytime you question policy you are insulting the troops, and this leads to all sorts of unnecessary gyrations. In particular, antiwar people go to great lengths to assure us that opposing the war is the best way to "support the troops." You can say that but it rings hollow because peace only undermines the job market for soldiers. I think you have to look at retiring war, unemploying the soldiers, their suppliers, the whole machinery.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Book Watch

Slowly accumulating book notes since my last books post on April 23, but once again they've gotten out of hand. Actually have about 110 of them, so at 40 a pop this could go on for a while. First one hits the key points, and then some.

Gilbert Achcar: The Arabs and the Holocaust: The Arab-Israeli War of Narratives (2010, Metropolitan Books): When the 1937-39 Palestinian revolt against the British failed, Haj Amin al-Husseini fled to safe havens open to him, Nazi Germany, thereby setting up a narrative that connected the Holocaust to Palestinian resistance to the creation and dominance of Israel. That at least is one thread the author must deal with -- practically the only one that seems to come up, but there must be more, even with most of the Arab world, including the future Israel, outside of WWII's grasp.

Jonathan Alter: The Promise: President Obama, Year One (2010, Simon & Schuster): Author wrote a previous book on FDR's first 100 days amidst tough times, so it must have seemed like a good idea to see how Obama fared under comparably difficult circumstances. There are too many differences to make the analogy work -- FDR came to Washington determined to try all sorts of things and both parties were in such a state of shock that he met with little opposition, while Obama came seeking only to fix what used to work and ran into a buzzsaw of partisan rancor and Tea Party nihilism.

John Amato/David Neiwert: Over the Cliff: How Obama's Election Drove the American Right Insane (paperback, 2010, Polipoint Press): I'm not sure what else you can call it but insane. They cannot grasp that eight years or conservatives in the White House and sixteen in command of Congress created one disaster after another; they can't imagine ever losing; they especially can't imagine losing to Obama. Amato runs the blog Crooks & Liars, and Neiwert wrote a useful book on the fringe right called The Eliminationists, so both are well positioned to write such an obvious book.

Jim Baggott: The First War of Physics: The Secret History of the Atom Bomb 1939-1949 (2010, Pegasus): The secrets presumably come from recently declassified documents, especially from Russia. Otherwise it would seem that this story has been told many times over, perhaps best by Richard Rhodes' trilogy: The Making of the Atomic Bomb, Dark Sun: The Making of the Hydrogen Bomb, and Arsenals of Folly: The Making of the Nuclear Arms Race.

Paul Berman: The Flight of the Intellectuals (2010, Melville House): A leftist in his own mind, still fighting the good fight against Nazism, which he bravely sees lurking in every Islamic nook and cranny. Focuses especially on Tariq Ramadan, often angling through his grandfather, Hassan al-Banna, finding everyone who thinks otherwise traitorous. Previously wrote Terror and Liberalism in a feverish frenzy following 9/11, one of the ur-texts of the Global War on Terror.

Kai Bird: Crossing Mandelbaum Gate: Coming of Age Between the Arabs and Israelis, 1956-1978 (2010, Scribner): Son of an American foreign service officer stationed in Jerusalem, a divided city to start, with the Jordanian (or Palestinian) half occupied from 1967. He also lived in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Lebanon. Bird has written several interesting biographical books, notably American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J Robert Oppenheimer.

Anthony Bourdain: Medium Raw: A Bloody Valentine to the World of Food and the People Who Cook (2010, Ecco): Wrote a couple of novels, then a breakthrough book on the gritty side of working in restaurants, Kitchen Confidential, which made him famous, got him a TV show, turned him into a globetrotting celebrity -- cf. A Cook's Tour: Global Adventures in Extreme Cuisines. Another book about all that. I've read the two I named, and would probably relish this.

Noam Chomsky: Hopes and Prospects (paperback, 2010, Haymarket Books): Scattered essays and lectures, one part on Latin America, the other (larger) on North America, the latter including excursions to Iraq and Israel-Palestine and much on Obama's first year, where the promise of change devolved into "meet the new boss, same as the old boss." (Not that Chomsky quotes the Who, but that's likely the gist of his argument.)

Tom Engelhardt: The American Way of War: How the Empire Brought Itself to Ruin (paperback, 2010, Haymarket): Subtitle from book cover; other sources say: How Bush's Wars Became Obama's. Probably recycled from TomDispatch posts, where Engelhardt has tenaciously kept his finger on the pulse of America's warpath to oblivion.

Norman G Finkelstein: 'This Time We Went Too Far': Truth & Consequences of the Gaza Invasion (2010, OR Books): On Israel's December 2008 siege of Gaza, a one-sided war occasioned by the desire of Israel's ruling coalition -- especially Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak -- to impress Israel's voters with their toughness, and possibly to dig incoming US president Barack Obama a deeper hole from which any peace initiatives would be even more difficult. The destruction was senseless and extreme, leading to an international backlash including the Goldstone Report finding Israel guilty of war crimes. Expect Finkelstein to set the record straight with his usual merciless thoroughness.

Roger Ford: Eden to Armageddon: World War I in the Middle East (2010, Pegasus): Key events were the destruction of the Ottoman Empire, the birth of nationalist Turkey, the entry of the French and especially the English into the Arab parts of the Ottoman Empire, and the rise of the Saudis in the Arabian peninsula. David Fromkin covered this same ground in his prophetically titled A Peace to End All Peace: The Fall of the Ottoman Empire and the Creation of the Modern Middle East.

Naeim Giladi: Ben-Gurion's Scandals: How the Haganah and the Mossad Eliminated Jews (paperback, 2003, Dandelion): Written by an Iraqi Jew, whose starting point was the desire to expose how the Mossad orchestrated the transfer of Iraqi Jews to Israel, which among other things involved promoting the threat of Arab pogroms to motivate Jews to immigrate to Israel. I've never seen much detail about this history, although there is no doubt that Ben-Gurion was ruthless in pursuing his demographic goals, ranging from negotiating with the Nazis to deliver Jews to organizing Mossad to penetrate the Arab world to ordering the expulsion of Palestinians during the 1948 war.

David Hirst: Beware of Small States: Lebanon, Battleground of the Middle East (2010, Nation Books): Previously wrote The Gun and the Olive Branch: The Roots of Violence in the Middle East, originally published in 1977 and revised for a third ed. in 2003, mostly about the Israel-Palestine conflict, which has repeatedly overflowed into Lebanon -- in 1978, in 1982 followed by a partial occupation that lasted until 1999, and again in 2006. It would be hard to improve on Robert Fisk's Pity the Nation for the 1980s period, but there's much to add since then.

Robert Jervis: Why Intelligence Fails: Lessons From the Iranian Revolution and the Iraq War (2010, Cornell University Press): It always amuses me that they call this intelligence. More like scattered and imperfect information, some deliberately falsified, selected and distorted through all sorts of cultural and intentional filters. In particular, intelligence rarely argues against desired acts, no matter how foolhardy they're retrospectivally recognized as. Plenty of examples here. Jervis evidently wrote the Iran section up while working for the CIA thirty years ago. Don't know if that's a plus or a minus.

Robert Kuttner: A Presidency in Peril: The Inside Story of Obama's Promise, Wall Street's Power, and the Struggle to Control Our Economic Future (2010, Chelsea Green): After rushing out his campaign hype, Obama's Challenge: America's Economic Crisis and the Power of a Transformative Presidency, Kuttner owes us a revisit on the many ways Obama has failed to achieve (or even much attempt) anything like what Kuttner envisioned. Maybe those of us who bought the earlier book should get some sort of price break on the new one?

George Lipsitz: Midnight at the Barrelhouse: The Johnny Otis Story (2010, University of Minnesota Press): An old friend and mentor, long since disconnected -- was it something I said about his plunge into academia, or was I right that it made us non-academics irrelevant? First I ever heard of Johnny Otis was when George played "Signifying Monkey" for me -- took me years to find that on CD (Ace's 2002 twofer, Cold Shot/Snatch and the Poontangs) -- which makes him an expert in my book. Otis was Greek by birth but "black by persuasion" at a time when that was a tough proposition. Lipsitz wrote the introduction to the 2009 reprint of Otis's book, Listen to the Lambs.

Edward N Luttwak: Virtual American Empire: War, Faith, and Power (paperback, 2009, Transaction): Essay collection from a military theorist who once wrote something called Coup D'État: A Practical Handbook, and has lately turned into one of the more obnoxious op-ed warmongers around. [Although he seems to have turned against Afghanistan.]

Martha C Nussbaum: Not for Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities (2010, Princeton University Press): Short (178 pp) broadside. I don't doubt that the basic premise is true, although I've always been turned off by those who presume to judge what humanities to teach, and I've sometimes suspected that their choices were meant to turn me off. Author has a fairly long list of prior books, like Cultivating Humanity: A Classica Defense of Reform in Liberal Education (1997) and Hiding From Humanity: Disgust, Shame, and the Law (2004).

Daniel Okrent: Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition (2010, Scribner): Seems like a topic that has been ripe for a comprehensive history. Probably worth a second book to look at drug prohibition in the same context. One thing I'm fascinated by is how flexible and open to change most people were in the 1930s. The chances that one could go from a consensus big enough to pass a constitutional amendment to one big enough to repeal it in a mere 13 years seems inconceivable now. It's not even clear we'll get out of Afghanistan (or for that matter Iraq) so soon.

David W Orr: Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse (2009, Oxford University Press): Another global warming book, from a founder of the Presidential Climate Action Project (where the President seems to be hypothetical, but they were hopeful about Obama, and have another book: William S Becker: The 100 Day Action Plan to Save the Planet: A Climate Crisis Solution for the 44th President).

Clifford A Pickover: The Math Book: From Pythagoras to the 57th Dimension, 250 Milestones in the History of Mathematics (2009, Sterling): There was a day when I mostly read pop science, making up for the path I didn't take (thanks to Willard Brooks, I might add, the world's most uninspiring science teacher), and this would have been an automatic purchase (probably right after Simon Singh's matching The Science Book, which has the advantage of already being out in paperback). Pickover has a large number of previous math books. Most strike me as trashy -- like: The Alien IQ Test; Calculus and Pizza: A Cookbook for the Hungry Mind; The Mathematics of Oz: Mental Gymnastics From Beyond the Edge; and Sex, Drugs, Einstein, & Elves: Sushi, Psychedelics, Parallel Universes and the Quest for Transcendence -- but this looks like a touchstone.

Andrew Potter: The Authenticity Hoax: How We Get Lost Finding Ourselves (2010, Harper): Living in a world where nearly everything is prepackaged, artificial, fraudulent, fake, we have developed a craving for something else, like authenticity -- a strawman Potter has fun ripping to shreds. Which leaves us with, like, what?

William Poundstone: Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How to Take Advantage of It) (2010, Hill and Wang): Looks like a book about pricing and all the weird psychology wrapped up with prices. Author has written a bunch of books, many focusing on game theory.

Bill Press: Toxic Talk: How the Radical Right Has Poisoned America's Airwaves (2010, Thomas Dunne): So true, but Press, who has a bunch of anti-conservative books like Bush Must Go: The Top Ten Reasons Why George Bush Doesn't Deserve a Second Term, has never struck me as someone who knows things I don't already know.

Raghuram G Rajan: Fault Lines: How Hidden Fractures Still Threaten the World Economy (2010, Princeton University Press): Not sure how I missed this in the banking crisis book roundup -- perhaps that I was growing weary of Chicagoans? Rajan chases the causes back past the industry shenanigans to stagnant wages and rising inequality, for which easy debt was necessarily only a short-term paliative. This at least is a key insight.

Ruth Reichl: For You, Mom, Finally (paperback, 2010, Penguin Press): Short (144 pp) semi-memoir, actually a reprint of last year's Not Becoming My Mother: And Other Things She Taught Me Along the Way. This presumably adds to Tender at the Bone: Growing Up at the Table, the first of three delightful memoirs with recipes that traced her life up to leaving the New York Times and landing at Gourmet.

Matt Ridley: The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves (2010, Harper): Science writer, wrote a biography of Francis Crick and several books on genetic evolution, including a couple that veer toward sociobiology (The Agile Gene: How Nature Turns on Nurture and The Origins of Virtue: Human Instincts and the Evolution of Cooperation). Draws on past successes, which are undeniable, to project a future where we will solve all our problems for the benefit of everyone. Sounds like cornucopianism; indeed, Amazon links this to Julian Simon's The State of Humanity and Indur Goldany's The Improving State of the World (Cato Institute), which are mostly ruses of denial, but there is something to be said for Ridley's tack.

Michael C Ruppert: Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World (paperback, 2009, Chelsea Green): If economic growth correlates with energy use on the way up, what happens when we run out of our primary source of energy, oil? A lot of unpleasant options, which I'm sure Ruppert manages to lay out. More troubling to me is how we decide among those options, given a political system that stifles reasonable public-interest options and has trouble choosing, even debating, anything. Turned this into a video, Collapse.

Randall Sandke: Wher the Dark and the Light Folks Meet: Race and the Mythology, Politics, and Business of Jazz (2010, Scarecrow Press): Randy to his friends and fans, plays some serious trumpet on several dozen good-to-great records, including examinations of Bix Beiderbecke -- he named his son Bix -- and Count Basie. Tackles the nasty issue of race, which runs deep in every aspect of jazz history except for the music, which pretty much transcended race, and pointed the way so we could too.

Juliet B Schor: Plenitude: The New Economics of True Wealth (2010, Penguin Press): This looks to sum up where her series of books have been headed: The Overworked American: The Unexpected Decline of Leisure, The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don't Need, and Born to Buy: The Commercialized Child and the New Consumer Culture. In between she's thought about sustainability, but the key there has less to do with efficiency than in deciding when enough's enough. Fortunately, if we can just cut back on the overspending and overworking we may find plenitude is an easy reach.

Clay Shirky: Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (2010, Penguin Press): Follow up to his book on social networking tools, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations. Cognitive surplus reflects the fact that "we've had a surfeit of intellect, energy, and time" for a while now but had mostly been squandering it on passive media like television, but now all that resource is starting to turn productive with the internet.

Lee Smith: The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Arab Civilizations (2010, Knopf): Middle East correspondent for the neocon Weekly Standard, argues that tensions and strife in the Middle East have more to do with internal politics than anything that the US and/or Israel does. That would be more plausible if the US and/or Israel did less to distort the region, but I don't see how you can say that. Which isn't to say that internal dynamics are irrelevant; just that the terrain is severely distorted by the US and Israel.

Steven Solomon: Water: The Epic Struggle for Wealth, Power, and Civilization (2010, Harper): Global history, going back to the early river civilizations in Egypt and Mesopotamia, forward to the Panama Canal and the big dam on the cover. Sounds like too much ground, but reminds me of Marc Reisner's Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water, a more delimited story that still qualifies for its epic struggles.

Joseph E Stiglitz/Amartya Sen/Jean-Paul Fitoussi: Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn't Ad Up (paperback, 2010, New Press): Report of a commission set up by French president Nicolas Sarkozy. The limits and follies of using GDP to gauge anything meaningful about human welfare should be obvious to anyone giving it the least thought.

TJ Stiles: The First Tycoon: The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt (paperback, 2010, Vintage): Big (736 pp) bio of the original robber baron. Author has previous wrote about lesser crooks, like Jesse James.

Yuki Tanaka/Marilyn B Young, eds: Bombing Civilians: A Twentieth-Century History (2009, New Press): Wonder if there's a postscript on the 21st century, where bombing civilians has been practiced with remarkable frequency if not quite the intensity of 20th century peak periods.

Evan Thomas: The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898 (2010, Little Brown): If this is limited to 1898, that would be the Spanish-American War, where the US "liberated" Cuba and snatched Puerto Rico and the Philippines from Spain. Roosevelt is associated with the war as a Rough Rider fighting in Cuba, but he wasn't a professional soldier before or after the war, more like a politically ambitious blowhard. And the principals here didn't stop loving war after 1898: Roosevelt in particular pursued it avidly as president, and all three pitched in to drag us into the World War. This was a fateful moment, although one should also look at those who opposed the war and ultimately managed to muddle if not to defeat the imperial program.

Geoffrey Wawro: Quicksand: America's Pursuit of Power in the Middle East (2010, Penguin Press): Author of generic books on The Austro-Prussian War and The Franco-Prussian War, some kind of figure on History Channel, Wawro attempts a broad-based, systematic account of America's involvement in the Middle East. Sees the relationships with Saudi Arabia and Israel has key, and everything else as complication, of which there is quite a lot.

Richard Whittle: The Dream Machine: The Untold History of the Notorious V-22 Osprey (2010, Simon & Schuster): This gets likened to Tracy Kidder's The Soul of a New Machine for how it follows engineers in developing a product, but it should be much weirder given that the product is a vertical takeoff jet for the Marines and that the consequences of errors include deaths, and not just of those targeted by the Marines. Your tax money at work.

The Worldwatch Institute: State of the World 2010: Transforming Cultures: From Consumerism to Sustainability (paperback, 2010, WW Norton): DC-based think tank stakes out their position, as they've done every year since 1984.

Previously mentioned books (book pages noted where available), new in paperback:

Greg Grandin: Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City (2009; paperback, 2010, Picador): The peculiar story of Henry Ford's rubber plantation in the Amazon, an example of imposing your fancies on nature and watching it all backfire. Possibly also a prism into a lot of related topics, such as America's imperious relationship to Latin America and Ford's own fervent belief in mechanics.

Philip Longman: Best Care Anywhere: Why VA Health Care Is Better Than Yours (2007; 2nd ed, paperback, 2010, Polipoint Press): Of the several health care systems (and non-systems) we juggle in America, the Veterans Administration is the cheapest, produces the best results, in other words is the most socialist. It was radically overhauled under Clinton putting conscientious professionals in charge, and stressed but survived under Bush. Longman sees it as a model for a real "public option."

Idith Zertal/Akiva Eldar: Lords of the Land: The War for Israel's Settlements in the Occupied Territories, 1967-2007 (2007; paperback, 2009, Nation Books): The history of the Israeli settler movement, focuses on Gush Emunim and the religio-political baggage that makes the settlements seem so intractable.

Tom Zoellner: Uranium: War, Energy and the Rock That Shaped the World (2009, Viking; paperback, 2010, ?): Science, history, politics -- mostly history, probably more on mining and processing than on the supposedly clean energy and terrifying power the rock releases. Previously wrote The Heartless Stone: A Journey Through the World of Diamonds, Deceit, and Desire.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Tax and Spend, Please

Paul Krugman: Now and Later: It's been a long time since I've found myself disagreeing with Krugman, so I should flag this one. He's arguing that deficits are a matter that we should deal with eventually, but not now when interest rates are near-zero and still not low enough to bring down the unemployment rate, and he's right there. Where he's wrong is in arguing that we shouldn't raise any taxes while the economy is such a basket case. He gives as an example of the kind of tax he'd like to see later: a 5% VAT. That is indeed a tax that would reduce demand and slow the economy down, so he's probably right in that specific case, but one thing you could do now is pass a VAT and index it against the unemployment rate, or make it conditionally kick in only when unemployment drops below 7% (to follow up on a suggestion he makes). On the other hand, I don't see any problem raising marginal income tax rates on the undertaxed rich right now, and even less on raising taxes on capital gains (which in a recession are most likely currently depressed but will bounce back quickly later) and on estates (the one case where the tax rate doesn't affect behavior, except maybe to promote charity). Any and all of these proposals would dramatically improve the long-term debt question, but there are extra advantages in focusing tax increases on the rich, especially now. But focused taxes on the rich do two additional things that when you get down to it are pretty important: it takes money away from private savings and speculation and gives it to government which is certain to spend it (even if not necessarily all that wisely), accelerating the flow of money through the economy and thereby putting more people to work; and if steep enough it will start to reverse the trend toward extreme inequality and everything that comes with it -- the whole conservative agenda.

As for a VAT, I think it does make sense for several reasons: it means that more taxes will be paid through corporations in a relatively obscure manner so it will make people less conscious of how much tax they pay; it scales easily to higher tax flows; it puts pressure on companies to reduce prices and/or it helps to drive wages and productivity up; it provides a framework that can be adjusted to price in externalities (e.g., the VAT rate can vary by product to factor in hidden costs). But a VAT is a pretty flat tax. It doesn't do anything to counter the gross inequality due to the accumulation of capital and all of its attendant ills. That's why we need steeply progressive taxes, on incomes, and especially on estates. (I'd also make corporate taxes at least mildly progressive, to undercut economies of scale and restore the possibility of competition between small and large firms. I'd also do a lot more, but that's getting further afield.)

Of course, some people would complain that if we did raise taxes now the government would spend it all, putting us at least as far in debt, if not farther. There's a word for that: stimulus. One thing Krugman was right about is that we needed a lot more of that than Obama's stimulus bill provided for, and we still need more.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Exit McChrystal

One of the dumber things I've read in response to the McChrystal flap came from David Kurtz at TPM:

One would hope that intemperate remarks from one general would not be enough to change U.S. geopolitical strategy.

Why not? Reasoned analysis failed to do the trick.

The flap was set off by Michael Hastings' Rolling Stone profile of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, Obama's Afghanistan comandante, The Runaway General. There are various instances of "imtemperate remarks" scattered throughout the article, but it would be wrong to focus on them. The real problem isn't that McCrystal and his "Team America" entourage think Jim Jones is a "clown" or Richard Holbrooke a "wounded animal," or that he was underwhelmed at his first personal encounter with Obama. Nor is it that he got caught saying so. The real problem is summed up nicely by the alternate title/subtitle on the print edition cover: "Obama's General: Why He's Losing the War." Let's face it, if he was winning he could talk like Tommy Franks and get a presidential medal for it.

The real question is why McCrystal is losing: in particular, how responsible was he for putting Obama into a hopeless losing situation, and what he did to make it worse. The article has some insights into this as well as scattered impressions that could be developed further. It may well be that no American no matter how principled and skilled could have succeeded in his shoes, but that hardly excuses a general who managed to sell his own strategy and leadership as the solution: its failure may be because it was a bad idea in the first place or because it was badly executed or both, but either way McChrystal is responsible. (Obama too, of course, but on another level.)

Here's a good quote to start with:

From the start, McChrystal was determined to place his personal stamp on Afghanistan, to use it as a laboratory for a controversial military strategy known as counterinsurgency. COIN, as the theory is known, is the new gospel of the Pentagon brass, a doctrine that attempts to square the military's preference for high-tech violence with the demands of fighting protracted wars in failed states. COIN calls for sending huge numbers of ground troops to not only destroy the enemy, but to live among the civilian population and slowly rebuild, or build from scratch, another nation's government -- a process that even its staunchest advocates admit requires years, if not decades, to achieve.

The quote continues below, but let's pause a bit here. Why on earth would we -- either the US military or the US government -- ever want to do something like this that potentially drags on to decades? (The Afghanistan war's 10th anniversary is coming up later this year, so "if not decades" is sort of ironic there.) COIN is a theory that has never worked, other than to advance the careers of politically-ambitious officers like McChrystal and Petraeus at the expense of gullible politicians. But while those officers may push it doesn't mean that their troops have any secret desire to kick back and buddy up with the locals -- most are simply pursuing limited career opportunities, and the rest have a simple craving to blow shit up (which COIN cautions against but doesn't effectively discipline). Continuing:

The theory essentially rebrands the military, expanding its authority (and its funding) to encompass the diplomatic and political sides of warfare: Think the Green Berets as an armed Peace Corps. In 2006, after Gen. David Petraeus beta-tested the theory during his "surge" in Iraq, it quickly gained a hardcore following of think-tankers, journalists, military officers and civilian officials. Nicknamed "COINdinistas" for their cultish zeal, this influential cadre believed the doctrine would be the perfect solution for Afghanistan. All they needed was a general with enough charisma and political savvy to implement it.

As McChrystal leaned on Obama to ramp up the war, he did it with the same fearlessness he used to track down terrorists in Iraq: Figure out how your enemy operates, be faster and more ruthless than everybody else, then take the fuckers out. After arriving in Afghanistan last June, the general conducted his own policy review, ordered up by Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The now-infamous report was leaked to the press, and its conclusion was dire: If we didn't send another 40,000 troops -- swelling the number of U.S. forces in Afghanistan by nearly half -- we were in danger of "mission failure." The White House was furious. McChrystal, they felt, was trying to bully Obama, opening him up to charges of being weak on national security unless he did what the general wanted. It was Obama versus the Pentagon, and the Pentagon was determined to kick the president's ass.

Note that McChrystal's "enemy" here isn't the Taliban; it's Obama and anyone in his administration who might argue against sinking the US ever deeper into Afghanistan (e.g., VP Joe Biden, who still takes occasional incoming flak from Team America). I'm reminded here of Gorbachev, who when he came to power in the Soviet Union wanted to quit Afghanistan, but met stiff resistance from the Soviet military; he gave them a year to try it their way, then pulled the plug. Whether Obama had that in mind isn't at all clear, but he's just done that exercise, and it's clear both in this article and in virtually every other news report from Afghanistan that McChrystal's COIN scam is bankrupt. The most explicit quote on this comes a bit later:

"The entire COIN strategy is a fraud perpetuated on the American people," says Douglas Macgregor, a retired colonel and leading critic of counterinsurgency who attended West Point with McChrystal. "The idea that we are going to spend a trillion dollars to reshape the culture of the Islamic world is utter nonsense."

Even Team America pretty much concedes that much:

Even those who support McChrystal and his strategy of counterinsurgency know that whatever the general manages to accomplish in Afghanistan, it's going to look more like Vietnam than Desert Storm. "It's not going to look like a win, smell like a win or taste like a win," says Maj. Gen. Bill Mayville, who serves as chief of operations for McChrystal. "This is going to end in an argument."

The article goes on to detail the incredible hubris of Team America -- things like how they claim ISAF stands for "I Suck at Fighting." Shitfaced in an Irish bar in Paris, McChrystal tells the reporter, "All these men. I'd die for them. And they'd die for me." Touching camaraderie on the battlefront, in this case deriding the French for not doing enough for NATO. You'd expect that a big part of McChrystal's job as commander is to get and keep everyone pulling together, so the long list of functionaries McChrystal has pissed off is not just brash fighting spirit but dereliction of duty, undermining the mission.

The most striking example of McChrystal's usurpation of diplomatic policy is his handling of Karzai. It is McChrystal, not diplomats like Eikenberry or Holbrooke, who enjoys the best relationship with the man America is relying on to lead Afghanistan. The doctrine of counterinsurgency requires a credible government, and since Karzai is not considered credible by his own people, McChrystal has worked hard to make him so. Over the past few months, he has accompanied the president on more than 10 trips around the country, standing beside him at political meetings, or shuras, in Kandahar. [ . . . ]

This is one of the central flaws with McChrystal's counterinsurgency strategy: The need to build a credible government puts us at the mercy of whatever tin-pot leader we've backed -- a danger that Eikenberry explicitly warned about in his cable. Even Team McChrystal privately acknowledges that Karzai is a less-than-ideal partner. "He's been locked up in his palace the past year," laments one of the general's top advisers. At times, Karzai himself has actively undermined McChrystal's desire to put him in charge.

Of course, with McChrystal prodding him on stage and standing next to (and over) him, there's little Karzai can do to look like a credible leader. This is one of the situations where McChrystal is damned if he does and damned if he doesn't. You might feel a bit sorry for him if he hadn't schemed and plotted so hard and so disingenuously to get there. Hastings then switches gears to sketch out McChrystal's biography: arrogant son of a general, ranked 298 (out of 855) at West Point, pushed his way up through the ranks, especially once Rumsfeld took charge. He survived at least two scandals: detainee abuse complaints in Iraq, and a role in the Pat Tillman coverup. But he's also one of the few who seems to have relished the Iraq/Afghanistan wars:

During the Iraq surge, his team killed and captured thousands of insurgents, including Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq. "JSOC was a killing machine," says Maj. Gen. Mayville, his chief of operations. McChrystal was also open to new ways of killing. He systematically mapped out terrorist networks, targeting specific insurgents and hunting them down -- often with the help of cyberfreaks traditionally shunned by the military. "The Boss would find the 24-year-old kid with a nose ring, with some fucking brilliant degree from MIT, sitting in the corner with 16 computer monitors humming," says a Special Forces commando who worked with McChrystal in Iraq and now serves on his staff in Kabul. "He'd say, 'Hey -- you fucking muscleheads couldn't find lunch without help. You got to work together with these guys.'"

Even in his new role as America's leading evangelist for counterinsurgency, McChrystal retains the deep-seated instincts of a terrorist hunter. To put pressure on the Taliban, he has upped the number of Special Forces units in Afghanistan from four to 19. "You better be out there hitting four or five targets tonight," McChrystal will tell a Navy Seal he sees in the hallway at headquarters. Then he'll add, "I'm going to have to scold you in the morning for it, though." In fact, the general frequently finds himself apologizing for the disastrous consequences of counterinsurgency. In the first four months of this year, NATO forces killed some 90 civilians, up 76 percent from the same period in 2009 -- a record that has created tremendous resentment among the very population that COIN theory is intent on winning over. In February, a Special Forces night raid ended in the deaths of two pregnant Afghan women and allegations of a cover-up, and in April, protests erupted in Kandahar after U.S. forces accidentally shot up a bus, killing five Afghans. "We've shot an amazing number of people," McChrystal recently conceded.

Passive-aggressive doesn't begin to describe this strategy; it's flat-out schizo, talking about living with and protecting the people, the same people you fear and keep mowing down by hook or crook. As McChrystal says at one point, "Winning hearts and minds in COIN is a coldblooded thing." There's more stuff on McChrystal talking to trigger-happy US troops, who blow back at the restraints he talks about but rarely actually enforces. So add the US troops, and for that matter the Afghan people, to the long list that McChrystal's pissed off.

With the Marjah offensive faring so poorly that McChrystal called it a "bleeding ulcer," the plans for the big Kandahar offensive this summer have been revised so many times that there's little evidence of any plan left. Hastings concludes:

After nine years of war, the Taliban simply remains too strongly entrenched for the U.S. military to openly attack. The very people that COIN seeks to win over -- the Afghan people -- do not want us there. Our supposed ally, President Karzai, used his influence to delay the offensive, and the massive influx of aid championed by McChrystal is likely only to make things worse. "Throwing money at the problem exacerbates the problem," says Andrew Wilder, an expert at Tufts University who has studied the effect of aid in southern Afghanistan. "A tsunami of cash fuels corruption, delegitimizes the government and creates an environment where we're picking winners and losers" -- a process that fuels resentment and hostility among the civilian population. So far, counterinsurgency has succeeded only in creating a never-ending demand for the primary product supplied by the military: perpetual war. There is a reason that President Obama studiously avoids using the word "victory" when he talks about Afghanistan. Winning, it would seem, is not really possible. Not even with Stanley McChrystal in charge.

That cuts McChrystal some slack and still he comes up wanting. But it's not like there are a lot of fallback plans: even the COIN theory says that in order to win, or even keep playing, you have to do things that the US is constitutionally incapable of doing. I wish they would decide they've given it their best shot and that's all can be done about it. The more Plan XYZs they dredge up the longer everyone suffers.

David Kurtz: The New Team: No McChrystal, otherwise, looks a lot like the old team, doesn't it? Another golden opportunity wasted.

PS: I originally attributed the "bleeding ulcer" quote to Petraeus, but it seems to have been McChrystal. Evidently Petraeus remains more circumspect in his wording, which I don't consider a point in his favor. The quote echoes Gorbachev's famous description of Afghanistan as a "bleeding wound."

There seems to be a surprising consensus on how well Obama handled the fiasco -- e.g., the article in the Wichita Eagle this morning was titled "Obama gets high marks for firing McChrystal," prominently featuring a lugubrious quote from KS Senator Pat Roberts. Fred Kaplan described replacing McChrystal with Petraeus as "a stroke of personnel genius." It no doubt is a clever twist to hang Petraeus, who remains immaculate in the eyes of the hawks, with the petards of his own COIN strategy, such that both are sure to go down together.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 16785 [16759] rated (+26), 846 [851] unrated (-5). Jazz CG got pulled from Village Voice last week. Will run in a week or two. I started Jazz Prospecting for next round. Also worked on house. Got bathroom and back bedroom pretty much done. Need to start filing and organizing.

Jazz Prospecting (CG #24, Part 2)

As previously reported, The Village Voice came up short for space in last week's "Jazz Supplement" and my Jazz Consumer Guide column got held back. I'm told the decision on what to hold was made because the other articles were tied to concert promos and as such were more timely. Haven't heard anything further: it might run this week, more likely next, maybe later. It's a big chunk of space, hard to slot, and the material is never timely. They are always short of space, and they don't pay any better than they did 10-15 years ago when I resumed writing for them. I suppose we're lucky that they run it at all, but the last two music editors have stuck with it consistently. This one, when it runs, will be my 23rd.

Prospecting toward the 24th continues below. I finally broke down and sorted the unplayed discs into six rows of 30-40 discs in three baskets. The first basket is stuff I want to make sure I get to relatively soon. I divided it into an avant-garde row and a not-avant row, and because both are a little short added some non-jazz at the end, like the Coathangers' Scramble, which I bought and temporarily lost without playing. Third box is lowest priority, divided between a vocal row and a presumed junk row -- Xmas records, smooth jazz, unknown fusion, stuff from the USAF band. I'll need to force myself to deplete those rows from time to time. There are some vocals I might have sorted higher but I tend to listen to them in binges, so thought it best to keep them together. Second box is work: things by people I don't recognize, or I recognize but don't expect much from. That box is the fullest, so I'll need to sample it from time to time, maybe sort some things forward or back, depending on traffic. Most of the following came from the first box -- exceptions are the last three. As I get new discs, I'll put them into the rows at the back, so I'll start to get some sense of aging, and be more aware of things I've been putting off. Meanwhile, I've found a few things I had lost track of -- now playing a real good record from long ago, but you'll hear about it next week.

Finally got my upstairs construction projects to a state I can call complete. It turns out that the tile around the bath/shower needs some serious work, something I hadn't planned on, so that's left to do. But everything I meant on biting off is done. Same for the back bedroom. The main change there was that we took out a bookcase and a couple of small CD cases and replaced them with a lot of CD storage:

The CDs already shelved are about 80% of one of the old small CD cases: modern jazz (i.e., no Armstrong) from A to Benny Bailey. I plan on putting boxes on the top rows, DVDs above the circuit breaker box. Should add shelf space for at least 2500 CDs, which will relieve a lot of pressure downstairs and make it possible to find things that are hopeless now. It does mean I need to cull about 500 books -- some from the eliminated bookcase, some from other overflows. I've never figured out a good way to get excess books (let alone CDs) to people who might be interested in them (let alone get some of my money back), so I'd be interested in ideas. Schlepping them around to local used stores is an utter waste of time for nothing, so the default will probably be dumping them on the library.

Carlos Barretto Lokomotiv: Labirintos (2009 [2010], Clean Feed): Bassist, from Portugal; website "complete biography" is nothing more than lists of people he has played with, countries he has played in, and records he has played on. Recording career starts around 1991, with a half-dozen or so albums under his name since 1997. One, cut in 2003, was called Lokomotiv, which is either the trio name or part of the title depending on how you parse it. Group includes Mario Delgado on guitar and Jose Salgueiro on drums and percussion. Takes a lot of concentration to draw much out of this. B+(*)

The Ullmann/Swell 4: News? No News! (2010, Jazzwerkstatt): There seems to be two Jazzwerkstatt labels, one based in Vienna with artists I've never heard of, the other in Berlin with a strong avant-garde roster and nice graphic design. Gebhard Ullman plays tenor sax and bass clarinet; Steve Swell trombone, Hilliard Greene bass, Barry Altschul drums. Swell has played on a couple of recent Ullmann albums, including Don't Touch My Music; also has a two-horn group with Sabir Mateen, who's a bit higher strung but similar. Ullmann has been hugely prolific since the early 1990s, but lately he's gotten much better at fitting in and finding his niche. Some unison lines seem like a waste, but their avant shuck-and-jive is a lot of fun. B+(***) [advance]

Wolfgang Muthspiel & Mick Goodrick: Live at the Jazz Standard (2008 [2010], Material): Guitar duo. Muthspiel is Austrian, b. 1965, has about 20 albums since 1990. He gets compared to Metheny and Scofield a lot, but I like him better, with his early Black and Blue and recent Bright Side especially recommended (the latter was a Jazz CG pick hit). Goodrick is an older American, b. 1945, broke in with Gary Burton alongside Metheny. He has a 1978 ECM album, In Pas(s)ing (recommended to John Surman fans), a few more in the 1990s, not much really. The two guitarists sort of melt together here in a polite encounter that generates little heat. Still, there is something to be said for that ice tone and the ability to spin long clean lines. B+(**)

Dave Douglas: A Single Sky (2009, Greenleaf Music): Guest star shot, backed by Frankfurt Radio Bigband, conducted by Jim McNeely, who arranged 4 of 7 Douglas compositions -- Douglas arranged the others. The big band is just that, competent as ever, although the solos you notice are usually the star on trumpet. B+(**)

Dave Douglas: Spirit Moves (2009, Greenleaf Music): A brass band project, with trumpet-french horn-trombone-tuba backed by Nasheet Waits' drums. Douglas works quotes into his compositions, some old Americana, some evoking Lester Bowie -- wit and funk aren't traditional Douglas long suits. Starts strong, wanders a bit, finds itself third cut from the end when they try a cover, "Mr. Pitiful," which is anything but: Otis Redding's horn charts were pretty close to one-dimensional, but each horn adds lively detail here. Continues on a high level with Douglas' "Great Awakening," then peters out on Hank Williams' "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry." B+(***)

Keith Jarrett/Charlie Haden: Jasmine (2007 [2010], ECM): A night-blooming flower, perhaps unfair to try to listen to music this quiet and uncomplicated during the day when almost any distraction suffices to break the mood. Standards, love songs, a couple of old comrades getting sentimental. B+(*)

Manu Katché: Third Round (2009 [2010], ECM): Drummer, b. 1958 in France, roots from Côte d'Ivoire. Cut an album in 1992 when he was mostly associated with rock acts like Sting and Peter Gabriel, and now three ECM albums since 2006 -- the first, Neighbourhood, got a big boost from Jan Garbarek. The saxophonist here, also favoring soprano over tenor, is Tore Brunborg, a similar player, but can't light up a record like Garbarek. Nor does Jason Rebello add much on keyboards, but Jacob Young's guitar spots (4 cuts) are bright and lyrical. Kami Lyle sings one, in a voice that is barely there, and plays a bit of trumpet. B+(*)

Steve Coleman and Five Elements: Harvesting Semblances and Affinities (2007 [2010], Pi): Sextet, aside for a little extra percussion on one cut. Thomas Morgan and Tyshawn Sorey make a superb rhythm section. Coleman's alto sax is smothered in brass: Jonathan Finlayson on trumpet and Tim Albright on trombone. Then there is vocalist Jen Shyu, who fills the role Cassandra Wilson had in Coleman's M-Base collective and adds a little Betty Carter but with more normal vocal range. Played this three times: first time I was totally lost, and two subsequent spins brought me to the point of not caring. All the interest is in the quirks, which turn out to be fleeting and insubstantial. B

Paul Motian/Chris Potter/Jason Moran: Lost in a Dream (2009 [2010], ECM): This should have been released Mar. 9 but I never got the usual final copy, and have been thrashing around trying to find the advance as it's already been widely reviewed. With no bassist there's no chance of swinging, and with Motian drumming there isn't much of a beat. Moran is another shrinking violet, comping gently and somewhat abstractly, perhaps intent on emulating the Zen master drummer. That leaves Potter in the spotlight. While he too follows the prevailing mood, he doesn't shirk his role, which is to render these marginal melodies as gorgeously as possible, and occasionally hint that there may be more powerful forces lurking beneath the surface. B+(***) [advance]

Marilyn Crispell/David Rothenberg: One Night I Left My Silent House (2008 [2010], ECM): Another record that should be out by now but hasn't arrived: one that I've been anxious to get to, as Crispell is one of the most interesting pianist working today, and Rothenberg -- oops, I must have been thinking about Ned. David Rothenberg also plays clarinet and bass clarinet, has ten albums I haven't heard since 1992, describes himself as a "philosopher-naturalist," with many of his records tuned into the sounds of nature -- Why Birds Sing (also a book title), Whale Music, etc. This is quiet and thoughtful; could perhaps use some more thought on my part. [B+(**)] [advance; PS: copy arrived after review]

Ricardo Silveira: Até Amanhã/'Til Tomorrow (2008 [2010], Adventure Music): Guitarist, from Brazil, where there are many but he consistently distinguishes himself. Not sure who plays what here -- album has a "featuring" list but no instruments and it's certainly incomplete. Actually, there seems to be a lot of murky orchestral background, not awful but not clear and not very helpful. B+(*)

Ralph Towner/Paolo Fresu: Chiaroscuro (2008 [2010], ECM): Another advance, final due out Mar. 16. Another intimate duo, slow, meticulous. Towner plays classical, twelve string, and baritone guitars. He's a long-term ECM fixture, going back to 1972. Fresu plays trumpet and flugelhorn, from Italy, younger (b. 1961 vs. 1940 for Towner), also has a long list of releases, although I've only managed to hear one so far. The two don't necessarily mix, but Fresu provides a clear melodic thread distinct from Towner's diddling, while Towner fascinates with the most minimal of quirks. B+(**) [advance]

Christian Wallumrød Ensemble: Fabula Suite Lugano (2009 [2010], ECM): Norwegian pianist, b. 1971, fifth album since 1998, all on ECM. Group is a sextet, long on strings -- Gjermund Larsen on violin/viola/hardanger fiddle, Tanja Orning on cello, Giovanna Pessi on baroque harp -- with Eivind Lenning's trumpet for a rare dash of color and Per Oddvar Johansen on percussion and glockenspiel. More baroque than anything else, with a bit of Scarlatti tucked into the originals. A lot of this is annoyingly subaudible, yet it doesn't seem like the kind of music you ought to crank up. B- [advance]

Dan Pratt Organ Quartet: Toe the Line (2008 [2010], Posi-Tone): Tenor saxophonist, from Saratoga, CA, moved to New York in 1997. Group identified as DPOQ on their previous album. Jared Gold plays organ, Mark Ferber drums, and Alan Ferber chimes in on trombone. All originals except for Ellington-Strayhorn's "Star Crossed Lovers." Sounds a lot like Eric Alexander, especially when he gets up a good head of steam. The trombone is fun as a solo contrast, but the postbop harmonies are less appealing. B+(**)

Tony Allen: Secret Agent (2009 [2010], World Circuit/Nonesuch): Nigerian drummer, b. 1940, learned his craft listening to Art Blakey and Max Roach records, hooked up with Fela Kuti early on and put the beat in Afrobeat. Since Fela died in 1997, Allen carries the flame, laboriously making a pretty fair approximation of the sort of album Fela knocked off his cuff. A little short in vocals, sax, and political rants, all of which were the master's edge. B+(***)

Gabor Szabo: Jazz Raga (1966 [2010], Light in the Attic): Guitarist, from Hungary, b. 1936, d. 1982, moved to US in 1956 before the uprising to attend Berklee, and stayed on playing in Chico Hamilton's quintet 1961-66. Starting in 1966 he cut a series of fusion albums for Impulse, drawing on gypsy rhythms for his debut (Gypsy '66) and trying to cash in on the sitar vogue on this his third album. Nothing here suggests he has a clue how to construct one of Ravi Shankar's ragas, but he likes the instrument's peculiar twang and puts it to good use, especially on covers where it adds a distinctive touch ("Caravan," "Paint It Black," and especially "Summertime"). Label kept the old artwork and didn't find any extra tracks, but added a 36-page booklet with a lot more care than Universal will ever muster. B+(**)

Randy Klein: Sunday Morning (2009 [2010], Jazzheads): Pianist, b. 1949, has ten or so records since 1986, produces records for his Jazzheads label (named after an early album), does theatre and film work -- discography includes a page as "Composer" listing Lil Kim, Memphis Bleek, Black Sheep, IRT, Sarah Dash, Millie Jackson, Candi Staton. Plays here with saxophonist Oleg Kireyev and trombonist Chris Washburne, mostly duets. Alternating the horns keeps the record out of a rut, and both make strong contributions -- I've been praising Kireyev a lot recently, but Washburne does a superb job with the more difficult instrument. B+(**)

Véronique Dubois/François Carrier: Being With (2009 [2010], Leo): Voice/sax duets. I've always loved Carrier's sax, but he doesn't have a lot of leeway here, pinned down by a high, warbly, operatic voice that I find close to unlistenable. B-

James Blood Ulmer: In and Out (2008 [2010], In+Out): Harmolodic jazz guitarist turned bluesman, returns to the German label that released his first album back in 1977, after a series of relatively straight blues sets on Hyena. Just a trio, with Mark Peterson on bass and Aubrey Dayle on drums. Aging usually conditions blues voices and Ulmer's is no exception: at 68 he's more grizzled than ever. But there's more guitar here, long instrumental stretches that move more than groove. And while I normally loathe flute, he takes a lead there that Sonny Boy would relish. A-

Gerry Gibbs and the Electric Thrasher Orchestra: Play the Music of Miles Davis 1967-1975 (2008 [2010], Whaling City Sound, 2CD): Drummer, 44 (b. 1965 or 1966?), born in New York, grew up in Los Angeles, lives both places now; son of vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, with whom he has credits going back to 1987. Sixth album since 1995 -- a sextet album with Ravi Coltrane called The Thrasher, and Thrasher Big Band albums since 2005. The group is slimmed down a bit here as styled for electric Miles Davis: trumpet, two reeds; electric keyb, guitar and bass; Essiet Essiet on acoustic bass, and extra gongs and bells; possible electronics on the horns. Songbook goes back to quintet albums Nefertiti and In a Silent Way, but covers a lot of ground, leaning most on Bitches Brew and Live Evil. Doesn't have the spaciousness or individual virtuosity of Davis's original records, but is generally fun, emphasis on the groove. B+(**)

Nathan Eklund Group: Coin Flip (2009 [2010], OA2): Trumpet player, b. 1978 near Seattle, based in NJ. Group is a quintet with Craig Yaremko on sax, Steve Myerson on Fender Rhodes. Postbop, the horns tied together harmonically over the soft springiness of the electric piano. I was more impressed last time, when the saxophonist was Donny McCaslin. B

Sarah Manning: Dandelion Clock (2009 [2010], Posi-Tone): Alto saxophonist, originally from Connecticut where she bumped into Jackie McLean and picked up a bit of his overbite. Passed through San Francisco on her way to New York. Third album, two covers (Jimmy Rowles' "The Peacocks," Michel Legrand's "The Windmills of Your Mind") and seven originals, with Art Hirahara on piano, Linda Oh on bass, and Kyle Struve on drums. Has some edge to her playing, not just the rough tone, and gets occasional buzz from the group -- hadn't heard Hirahara before but his solos stand out. B+(**)

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

Unpacking: Found in the mail this week:

  • Dave Anderson Quartet: Clarity (Pony Boy): Aug. 1
  • Laurie Antonioli: American Dreams (Intrinsic Music): June 22
  • Rich Corpolongo Trio: Get Happy (Delmark)
  • Marilyn Crispell/David Rothenberg: One Night I Left My Silent House (ECM)
  • Kali Z. Fasteau: Animal Grace (Flying Note)
  • Norman Johnson: If Time Stood Still (Pacific Coast Jazz)
  • King Khan: Songs From the Films of Shahrukh Khan (Times Square)
  • Mikrokolektyw: Revisit (Delmark)
  • Meg Okura and the Pan Asian Chamber Jazz Orchestra: Naima (Meg Okura)
  • Terje Rypdal: Crime Scene (ECM)
  • Archie Shepp: The New York Contemporary Five (1963, Delmark)
  • Suresh Singaratnam: Lost in New York (Suresong Music)
  • Roland Vazquez Band: The Visitor (RVD)
  • Phil Wilson/Makoto Ozone: Live!! At the Berklee Performance Center (1982, Capri)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Cutting Corners

I haven't had much to say about BP's deepwater oil gusher. I knew all along that deepwater oil would be expensive and risky and in the end of marginal value. I expected they'd have lots of trouble trying to plug it, but I hadn't been aware of the 1979 Ixtoc I spill, which took over nine months to plug in a mere 160 feet of water: the long list of failed gambits on Deepwater Horizon recapitulate the list at Ixtoc I. (Indeed, the explosion, the sinking of the platform, and the failure of systems intended to prevent spills are uncannily similar.)

I knew that Washington was awash in oil company money, and that the regulatory agencies had long ago been captured by the companies. And I knew about BP, which in its former guise as Anglo-Iranian Oil Company is the main reason the US and UK have been hated in the Middle East for the last 57 years -- the CIA's Iran coup was done to save AIOC's bacon. So I've been pretty much tempted to treat this as business as usual, but the feature quotes in Tim Dickinson's Rolling Stone piece, The Spill, the Scandal, and the President, finally hit home:

BP has received all but one of the 761 citations issued against oil refiners for "egregious" safety violations.

BP's response plan -- cut and pasted from its plan for the arctic -- was so sloppy that it promised to protect walruses in the gulf.

Obama left so many pro-industry regulators in charge of drilling that interior staffers call it "the third Bush term."

Originals were all caps. Some quotes from the article:

During the Bush years, the Minerals Management Service, the agency in the Interior Department charged with safeguarding the environment from the ravages of drilling, descended into rank criminality. According to reports by Interior's inspector general, MMS staffers were both literally and figuratively in bed with the oil industry. When agency staffers weren't joining industry employees for coke parties or trips to corporate ski chalets, they were having sex with oil-company officials. But it was American taxpayers and the environment that were getting screwed. MMS managers were awarded cash bonuses for pushing through risky offshore leases, auditors were ordered not to investigate shady deals, and safety staffers routinely accepted gifts from the industry, allegedly even allowing oil companies to fill in their own inspection reports in pencil before tracing over them in pen.

Salazar also failed to remove Chris Oynes, a top MMS official who had been a central figure in a multibillion-dollar scandal that Interior's inspector general called "a jaw-dropping example of bureaucratic bungling." In the 1990s, industry lobbyists secured a sweetheart subsidy from Congress: Drillers would pay no royalties on oil extracted in deep water until prices rose above $28 a barrel. But this tripwire was conveniently omitted in Gulf leases overseen by Oynes -- a mistake that will let the oil giants pocket as much as $53 billion. Instead of being fired for this fuckup, however, Oynes was promoted by Bush to become associate director for offshore drilling -- a position he kept under Salazar until the Gulf disaster hit.

"Employees describe being in Interior -- not just MMS, but the other agencies -- as the third Bush term," says Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which represents federal whistle-blowers. "They're working for the same managers who are implementing the same policies. Why would you expect a different result?"

MMS has fully understood the worst-case scenarios for deep-sea oil blowouts for more than a decade. In May 2000 [before Bush], an environmental assessment for deepwater drilling in the Gulf presciently warned that "spill responses may be complicated by the potential for very large magnitude spills (because of the high production rates associated with deepwater wells)." The report noted that the oil industry "has estimated worst-case spill volumes ranging from 5,000 to 116,000 barrels a day for 120 days," and it even anticipated the underwater plumes of oil that are currently haunting the Gulf: "Oil released subsea (e.g., subsea blowout or pipeline leak) in these deepwater environments could remain submerged for some period of time and travel away from the spill site." The report ominously concluded, "There are few practical spill-response options for dealing with submerged oil." [ . . . ]

Enter the Bush administration. Rather than heeding such warnings, MMS simply assumed that a big spill couldn't happen. "There was a complete failure to even contemplate the possibility of a disaster like the one in the Gulf," says Holly Doremus, an environmental-law expert at the University of California. "In their thinking, a big spill would be something like 5,000 barrels, and the oil wouldn't even reach the shoreline." In fact, Bush's five-year plan for offshore drilling described a "large oil spill" as no more than 1,500 barrels. In April 2007, an environmental assessment covering the area where BP would drill concluded that blowouts were "low probability and low risk," even though a test funded by MMS had found that blowout preventers failed 28 percent of the time.

Nowhere was the absurdity of the policy more evident than in the application that BP submitted for its Deepwater Horizon well only two months after Obama took office. BP claims that a spill is "unlikely" and states that it anticipates "no adverse impacts" to endangered wildlife or fisheries. Should a spill occur, it says, "no significant adverse impacts are expected" for the region's beaches, wetlands and coastal nesting birds. The company, noting that such elements are "not required" as part of the application, contains no scenario for a potential blowout, and no site-specific plan to respond to a spill. Instead, it cites an Oil Spill Response Plan that it had prepared for the entire Gulf region. Among the sensitive species BP anticipates protecting in the semitropical Gulf? "Walruses" and other cold-water mammals, including sea otters and sea lions. The mistake appears to be the result of a sloppy cut-and-paste job from BP's drilling plans for the Arctic. Even worse: Among the "primary equipment providers" for "rapid deployment of spill response resources," BP inexplicably provides the Web address of a Japanese home-shopping network. Such glaring errors expose the 582-page response "plan" as nothing more than a paperwork exercise. "It was clear that nobody read it," says Ruch, who represents government scientists.

"This response plan is not worth the paper it is written on," said Rick Steiner, a retired professor of marine science at the University of Alaska who helped lead the scientific response to the Valdez disaster. "Incredibly, this voluminous document never once discusses how to stop a deepwater blowout."

In March 2006, BP was responsible for an Alaska pipeline rupture that spilled more than 250,000 gallons of crude into Prudhoe Bay -- at the time, a spill second in size only to the Valdez disaster. Investigators found that BP had repeatedly ignored internal warnings about corrosion brought about by "draconian" cost cutting. The company got off cheap in the spill: While the EPA recommended slapping the firm with as much as $672 million in fines, the Bush administration allowed it to settle for just $20 million.

BP has also cut corners at the expense of its own workers. In 2005, 15 workers were killed and 170 injured after a tower filled with gasoline exploded at a BP refinery in Texas. Investigators found that the company had flouted its own safety procedures and illegally shut off a warning system before the blast. An internal cost-benefit analysis conducted by BP -- explicitly based on the children's tale The Three Little Pigs -- revealed that the oil giant had considered making buildings at the refinery blast-resistant to protect its workers (the pigs) from an explosion (the wolf). BP knew lives were on the line: "If the wolf blows down the house, the piggy is gobbled." But the company determined it would be cheaper to simply pay off the families of dead pigs.

After the blast, BP pleaded guilty to a felony, paying $50 million to settle a criminal investigation and another $21 million for violating federal safety laws. But the fines failed to force BP to change its ways. In October, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis hit the company with a proposed $87 million in new fines -- the highest in history -- for continued safety violations at the same facility. Since 2007, according to analysis by the Center for Public Integrity, BP has received 760 citations for "egregious and willful" safety violations -- those "committed with plain indifference to or intentional disregard for employee safety and health." The rest of the oil industry combined has received a total of one.

The company applied the same deadly cost-cutting mentality to its oil rig in the Gulf. BP, it is important to note, is less an oil company than a bank that finances oil exploration; unlike ExxonMobil, which owns most of the equipment it uses to drill, BP contracts out almost everything. That includes the Deepwater Horizon rig that it leased from a firm called Transocean. BP shaved $500,000 off its overhead by deploying a blowout preventer without a remote-control trigger --- a fail-safe measure required in many countries but not mandated by MMS, thanks to intense industry lobbying. It opted to use cheap, single-walled piping for the well, and installed only six of the 21 cement spacers recommended by its contractor, Halliburton -- decisions that significantly increased the risk of a severe explosion. It also skimped on critical testing that could have shown whether explosive gas was getting into the system as it was being cemented, and began removing mud that protected the well before it was sealed with cement plugs.

As BP was cutting corners aboard the rig, the Obama administration was plotting the greatest expansion of offshore drilling in half a century. [ . . . ] Undeterred, Obama and Salazar appeared together at Andrews Air Force Base on March 31st to introduce the plan. The stagecraft was pure Rove in its technicolor militaristic patriotism. The president's podium was set up in front of the cockpit of an F-18, flanked by a massive American flag. "We are not here to do what is easy," Salazar declared. "We are here to do what is right." He insisted that his reforms at MMS were working: "We are making decisions based on sound information and sound science." The president, for his part, praised Salazar as "one of the finest secretaries of Interior we've ever had" and stressed that his administration had studied the drilling plan for more than a year. "This is not a decision that I've made lightly," he said. Two days later, he issued an even more sweeping assurance. "It turns out, by the way, that oil rigs today generally don't cause spills," the president said. "They are technologically very advanced."

Eighteen days later, on the eve of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, the Deepwater Horizon rig went off like a bomb.

From the start, the administration has seemed intent on allowing BP to operate in near-total secrecy. Much of what the public knows about the crisis it owes to Rep. Ed Markey, who chairs the House Subcommittee on Energy and the Environment. Under pressure from Markey, BP was forced to release footage of the gusher, admit that its early estimates put the leak as high as 14,000 barrels a day and post a live feed of its undersea operations on the Internet -- video that administration officials had possessed from the earliest days of the disaster. "We cannot trust BP," Markey said. "It's clear they have been hiding the actual consequences of this spill."

Andrew Leonard has some more quotes from the article here. He calls it "the most damning account of the Obama administration's reaction to and responsibility for the BP disaster I've seen so far." I haven't felt like piling onto Obama over this, but it shows several faults that we've seen repeatedly since he took office. For starters, his refusal to expose the Bush administration and make a thorough housecleaning -- Robert Gates and Ben Bernanke are merely the most famous Bush apparatchiki to hang on to their jobs and perpetuate Bush policies. Another is his willingness to kowtow to a "collective wisdom" that exists for no real reason that the media keeps repeating it over and over -- the nonsense about running deficits in a depression, the idea that a public option for health insurance is politically toxic, the incessant chant of "drill baby drill" -- often directly contradicting what he himself said when running for the nomination. Someone with more conviction and backbone would use his office's "bully pulpit" to discredit myths and push programs that would actually work rather than constantly compromise.

I'm beginning to think the characterization of the BP oil disaster as "Obama's Katrina" isn't so far off. Like Obama's recession, Obama's Iraq, Obama's Israel, even Obama's Afghanistan, everything he touches pales in comparison to Bush's originals, and has the mitigating excuse of being something he inherited rather than started from scratch, but nowhere has he managed to clear himself from the entangling traps Bush stuck him with. BP has done a breathtaking job of cutting corners, but so has Obama.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Fractal Apartheid

Paul Woodward: 100,000 ultra-Orthodox Jews rally in Jerusalem in support of segregation: Israel takes umbrage when accused of practicing Apartheid, but this story doesn't have anything to do with separation from Arabs -- that's a "fact on the ground" especially in the settlements -- or maintaining separate schools for boys and girls, which seems to be settled practice at least for the ultra-Orthodox. The desire here is to spare Ashkenazi Jews from having to study alongside Sephardi Jews. This is a social prejudice that has existed since the early days of Independence as Ben-Gurion organized Sephardic immigration as a way of bolstering the Jewish majority. (Sandy Tolan's The Lemon Tree has a bit on this.) Still, I would have expected the effect to lessen over time as Israel turned into a "melting pot" (for Jews, anyway), so this story comes as a shock. What I think this shows is that once you build a nation based on one group's superiority and prerogatives over others, you set up a pattern that reproduces that prejudice fractally. Here we see the conflict eating up the masters as well as the slaves. One more data point that shows how far Israeli have regressed from the egalitarian beliefs of the diaspora.

To Bryant or Not to Bryant

Matthew Yglesias: The Kobe Canard and Lakers Win: Don't really feel like writing about much of anything else right now, not that I'm real stuck on this either. NBA basketball is the only sport I follow much at all any more, and I watched more this year than usual -- most of all of the finals, some of most of the semis, nothing in the regular season although I occasionally glance at the standings and some of the boxes. My team allegiance is variable: the closest to automatic (when applicable) is the Knicks, but I liked the Pistons more lately, and somehow never seem to look fondly on the Bulls, Spurs, Heat, or Lakers. As for the Celtics, well, recall the Pistons. When I moved to Boston I meant to give the Celtics a chance. That first year I watched them on TV about 20 times -- all road games because they'd shake you down extra for home games -- and they seemed hugely overrated. (This would have been 1985-86, when the Celtics were 40-1 at home, so they would have been 27-14 on the road. They won the finals that year, beating the Rockets who in turn had eliminated the Lakers.) In particular, I never saw Larry Bird play a really good game, which didn't prove that he was vastly overrated, but made me a skeptic. I never again cared for the Celtics until I watched the 2006 finals, where a very different team -- Paul Pierce was a KU star, and Kevin Garnett was a guy who had been cursed to play his career with a losing team -- won me over (of course, they were favored to be playing against the Lakers).

Aside from Rajon Rondo, who's exciting but sloppy, the Celtics are older and creakier this year, and are probably finished as contenders (Allen and Garnett are 34, Pierce 32; Bryant is 31, Artest and Odom 30, Gasol 29, Fisher 35), but they came close this time. Freaky turnovers and a big foul shot differential cover the difference, with both teams shooting poorly -- as one who doesn't follow the game closely, I have to wonder if recent changes in defense rules are responsible for so much contact and so much emphasis on wild, acrobatic passing and shooting. In any case, this seems to be a much more rough and ragged game than I recall from watching Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas. This style of play makes it look like neither team has the discipline or rigor to compete with many of the past championship teams -- for instance, Jordan's Bulls and Thomas's Pistons -- but it's also possible that the new teams would simply terrorize the old ones.

My impression, nauseatingly reinforced by exposure to the idiot announcers, has always been that Kobe Bryant is way overrated. He takes an awful lot of really difficult shots, ones that virtually anyone else would pass off. But he also makes more of them than you'd imagine possible, and he is very fortunate to draw a lot of fouls in the process, which is how he turned 6-24 shooting into 23 points. I wound up more impressed with him this year than any time I've seen him in the past. Maybe that's maturity, or maybe the game has just sunk to his style. In any case, he was the Lakers' MVP because their system wouldn't give anyone else the touches. (By comparison, the Celtics had no MVP because they rotated to the hot hand -- most consistently Pierce, but not necessarily so.) Where this puts Bryant in the history of the game's great players is nowhere. Still, his career numbers, including field goal percentage, look a bit better than Pierce's over virtually the same span, which suggests he's better than I thought -- just not great like the announcers keep proclaiming.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Dismal Science Flacks

I saw a bit on the PBS news last night interviewing Nouriel Roubini and Nassim Taleb, both given high marks for predicting the financial meltdown that kicked off the current deep recession. I expected both to have something worthwhile to say, but all they could talk about was looming national debts and the dire need for the US to adopt spending cuts to keep the US from becoming another Greece, where a debt crisis is forcing the nation to, uh, cut spending. In particular, the US should cut back on stimulus spending because it risks driving up future interest rates triggering a "double dip recession" -- not bothering to mention that government spending, including lavish subsidies to the banking industry, is the only thing that kept the meltdown from sinking into a repeat of the Great Depression, and that what little stabilization of the recession as we have seen is clearly due to the meager stimulus spending we have in place.

Roubini pointed out that the alternatives for the budget deficits are cutting spending, raising taxes, or inflating away the debt, and he sloughed off the latter as "inflation tax" as if that was reason enough. The fact is that cutting spending depresses the economy directly, whereas increasing taxes has at most a secondary effect, and not necessarily a bad one: it would mostly affect the rich, who aren't investing their money productively anyway, and it might encourage the government to spend even more, which would stimulate the economy. Inflating debt away has a mixed bag of winners and losers, but the latter are concentrated in the banking sector where the asset-price bubbles, and hence the bad loans, started. Moreover, it's not just the government that's deep in debt these days. A good dose of inflation would help anyone with an underwater mortgage and/or a lot of credit card debt.

Paul Volcker, another supposedly sane economist but deep down a fanatic deficit hawk, has an alarmist piece in New York Review of Books called The Time We Have Is Growing Short, which turns out to be another weeper over the debt. Raghuram Rajan is pushing for higher interest rates -- one problem he cited is low unemployment in Brazil (seems like a problem we'd like to have here). The list goes on and on -- Paul Krugman has been writing about virtually nothing else the last couple of weeks (cf. The Seductiveness of Demands for Pain, Strange Arguments for Higher Rates, The Bad Logic of Fiscal Austerity, et passim.) On a gross political level, you can see how the Republicans might want to keep the recession going thinking that Obama will get blamed for it in 2012 (like FDR was in 1936?), or that the bankers are just pushing debt/inflation bugaboos as a way of reassuring themselves that they're still heavyweight powers. But surely the dismal scientists aren't so crass? Rather, by denying Keynes on countervaling stimulus spending, they're proving him right on how the real root of the problems is the persistence of bad ideas.

Sorry, Israel Again

Rich Cohen: Israel: My lost hero: Author of a revealing if somewhat sloppy history not just of Israel but of all of Judaism, Israel Is Real, weighs in on the Gaza Flotilla -- actually, on the occasion of, since nothing more than the timing of the piece has anything to do with Palestinian human rights. What makes the piece noteworthy is the disconnect it shows between American Jews who support Israel and the real Israel they have no grasp of. Consider Cohen's solution:

When it comes to specifics, I suggest a two-step, a double move. Keep the blockade, but make it more traditional, with every Gaza-bound ship stopped, boarded and inspected, and a foreign observer present as a witness. That's Step 1. Step 2, the big one: Israel should unilaterally draw its eastern border, the lack of which has been the cause of much confusion, much trouble. It should follow the green line with adjustment -- because that border was itself the product of the 1948 war, thus provisional; because that border, which left Israel less than seven miles wide at its narrow point, not only endangered the country in the event of war, but actually provoked conflict. (The target was too tempting; Israelis called it the Auschwitz border.) In return for any land taken, Israel should swap its own land east of Gaza, thickening that pinched house of pain. This much has been discussed, even agreed on. Here's where I diverge: Since the withdrawal from Gaza resulted in rockets on Sderot and since any withdrawal from the West Bank would surely result in rockets on Tel Aviv, Israel should pull out its settlements and settlers but leave its bases and soldiers. In other words, return the region to the status quo that existed an hour after the cease-fire that ended the Six Day War, when it seemed, for a moment, the conflict would finally be resolved.

In the meantime, the IDF would hold the territory in trust for the Palestinian government that will rise to govern it in a sane and sensible way. In this way, Israel can circle back to the place where the high road was lost. Israel is worth fighting for, the territories are not.

Where to begin? Israel's 7-mile-wide waist never provoked a conflict, unless you're saying it was a reason Israel expanded the 1967 war to seize the West Bank. In 1948 Jordan respected the UN partition boundaries except for the "international" area around Jerusalem, which Israel was grabbing. Israelis will tell you that while Israel preëmptively attacked Egypt and Syria in 1967, they didn't go after the West Bank until Jordan shot first, but it was a pretty token effort on Jordan's part, like Hussein was waving them in. Only some Israelis ever referred to the 1948 armistice line (the Green Line) as "Auschwitz borders" -- mostly Menachem Begin, who used "Auschwitz" as an all purpose expletive for everything he disapproved of.

But that's just a quibble. There are two much bigger problems in Cohen's proposal. One is that withdrawing your settlers while leaving the IDF in the West Bank wouldn't secure anything. All it does is leave the onus of occupation intact, and therefore begs for armed resistance. We know this because this is exactly what Israel did in southern Lebanon from 1982 to 2000, when Ehud Barak finally realized that sitting around offering themselves as targets in a country that hated them but that they had no special interest in was an utter waste. When Israel leaves the occupied territories, they simply have to let them be. Israel can use diplomacy to press its security concerns, and Israel can threaten to blow the Palestinians to smithereens if they misbehave, but they can't leave a bunch of soldiers behind to go through people's bags and keep them from importing cilantro.

An even bigger problem is that half or more of all Jews in Israel, unlike Cohen and most American Jews, are unwilling to give up their settlements in Samaria and Judea or pretty much any square inch of Jerusalem or the security umbrella they have erected over the several million Palestinians they regard as squatting on their land. (As long as Israel occupies that land, Jews can seize it whenever Palestinians can be nudged aside, or preferably abroad.) Cohen may be as willing to fight for his idea of Israel as Israeli Jews are for theirs, but the difference between Little Israel and Big Israel is huge: it is literally the difference between peace now and conflict forever, because Big Israel is stuck with all those pesky Palestinians, who can't be absorbed by the Jewish State because they aren't Jewish, where all Little Israel has to do is to accept a deal that's already on the table and bring their people back home.

Moreover, the disconnect is not just about land. It's about the value of peace. American Jews live in peace, in a land of great wealth and opportunity and few hardships, so they put a high value on peace. Israeli Jews live in perpetual war, but they've convinced themselves that it's not only the natural state of being a Jew, they think the conflict has made them stronger and more virtuous: in other words, they thrive on war; conflict is what brings them together and makes them great, and now you want them to give that up, to give up their dominance, their superiority, and the land that God gave them, the land that they won with their blood, for what? For peace?

Of course, not every Jew in Israel is so in love with the conflict or with the land. Some would be happy to back out of the occupied territories. Some would like to do business with neighboring countries, and some just want as much distance between themselves and the Arabs as possible. Some may be tired of living in a garrison state, and some may be annoyed by the privileges given the Orthodox to maintain unity. A large number of Israelis have already voted with their feet, entering (or returning to) the diaspora where they can live in peace and relative normalcy. The problem is that Israeli Jews who might be inclined to go along with a peace deal have been consistently undercut from two critical sources: the political right, who have found foolproof ways to make demagoguery work, and from America, where this disconnect lets us give Israel unconditional support while pretending Israel's ideals are the same as our own, even though they clearly are not. (Of course, I'm talking about US liberals here, many but by no means all Jewish. US conservatives have their own reasons to love Israel: neocons envy Israeli military prowess, while evangelical Christians are looking forward to Armageddon.)

The problem with Cohen's proposal, and with dozens more or less like it from pro-Israel US liberals, isn't that you can't refine it into something that will work. Lots of things could work -- the big advantage of the 1967 borders proposal is that accepting it bypasses a whole lot of potentially complicating haggling. The problem is that Cohen's proposal, or for that matter anything realistic that gets Palestinians with some patch of land out from under Israel's thumb, cannot bring Israel to the table, because Israel -- especially ruled by Benjamin Netanyahu, but really we've seen the same problem with Olmert, Sharon, Barak, Peres, Rabin, Shamir, Begin, and possibly earlier -- doesn't want peace, certainly not on any terms that acknowledge and respect Palestinian rights.

So Cohen's proposal, like all the others, gets us nothing. Israel can always nitpick, find some distraction, and depend on their supporters not to break ranks. Inside Israel this is business as usual: as Moshe Dayan put it long ago, "the Americans give us arms, money, and advice; we take the arms and money, and ignore the advice." As long as this seems to be working, no force within Israel is going to change what they view as a winning strategy. The one thing that might make a difference would be for Israel's American allies to break ranks, to recognize that the Netanyahu government has betrayed their hopes and ideals, and to insist that the US stop subsidizing Israel's programs of perpetual conflict.

Of course, Israelis might sink into an even deeper, more paranoid funk if the US were to shun Israel's most belligerent and unjust policies, but why should Israel cling to fantasies when the conflict can so easily be resolved. The fact is that Israel has won virtually everything they set out to win. They significantly expanded the UN Partition borders, adding West Galilee, Haifa, and West Jerusalem to what was already a disproportionately large slice of Mandatory Palestine, and they drove into exile most of the native population, ensuring a large Jewish majority. Those 1949-67 borders, along with the permanent existence of the Jewish State, are universally recognized now, and no one seriously expects the refugees and their progeny to repatriate to Israel. The neighboring Arab states that fought Israel in wars from 1948 to 1973 have been tamed and quiescent, and no longer even fantasize of attacking Israel. Some have signed peace treaties with Israel, and the rest have offered to do so once the conflict with the Palestinians has been resolved. The main Palestinian parties -- Fatah and Hamas -- have shifted focus from armed resistance to ordinary politicking, signifying their will to work within a normal political system. There is, in short, no existential threat to Israel, hardly any security threat at all. The settlements are, as intended, a problem, but a little good will can sort them out: some are best dismantled, but the larger ones could be transitioned to Palestine like Hong Kong was to China, far enough into a more benign future that both sides can plan around. And while the refugees can't return to Israel, something needs to be done to move them out of their "temporary" camps and into permanent homes. If Israel was willing, the world would pitch in to help. The conflict began in the wake of WWII and was thrust upon the UN in its early days -- a first and most fateful failure, one the organization, and the world, has never gotten over.

I suppose you could credit Cohen for addressing his proposals to the only people who can do something about it: the Israelis. But I don't see how reiterating their myths and misconceptions, let alone piling on the flattery, helps. The only thing that seems to strike a chord is shame.

Only adding to my analysis above, Paul Woodward reports these testimonies from Israelis:

In a different voice: a letter from Israel: From Ronen Shamir, a professor of sociology and law at Tel Aviv University:

The truth must be said: The present-day Israeli regime is not interested in peace. The Israeli establishment has become prisoner to an ever growing public of Jewish fanatics -- informed by messianic visions of Greater Israel -- who over the years not only irreversibly settled in the occupied West Bank, with state funding, but have also penetrated the ranks of army officers, the civil service and the government. The outcome is that the current Israeli regime is firmly grounded in a religiously guided, ultranationalist and xenophobic worldview, one which is bound to bring calamity to the whole region, including Israel.

Israel's greatest loss: its moral imagination: Henry Siegman.

That intelligent and moral people, whether German or Israeli, can convince themselves of such absurdities (a disease that also afflicts much of the Arab world) is the enigma that goes to the heart of the mystery of how even the most civilized societies can so quickly shed their most cherished values and regress to the most primitive impulses toward the Other, without even being aware they have done so. It must surely have something to do with a deliberate repression of the moral imagination that enables people to identify with the Other's plight.

Are Israel's battles costing the country its soul? Ehud Eiran, a major in the IDF reserves:

It is not only the spread of moral insensitivity I fear. As Dean Acheson observed, there's something worse than immoral policy: erroneous policy. The apparent inability of Israeli leaders to connect our goals and our means puts the country in long-term jeopardy. Our most profound problem is that 130 years after young Zionists began immigrating to Palestine with the hope of creating a safe place for Jews, we're still relying on force to secure our existence. Ironically, more Jews have been killed since 1945 in this "safe haven" than in any other place. A future Iranian nuclear device, which may be hard to stop if Israel can't muster international support more effectively, will take this Zionist failure to new lows.

The Iran reference is another instance of appealing to Israelis by conceding their myths. I thought about mentioning Iran among the list of Israel's minor threats, but in the end couldn't take it even that seriously. A nuclear-armed Iran might cramp Israel's style, or more importantly America's style, in that it would caution against such frequent sabre-ratting as Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech and the neocon quips about "real men" looking past Baghdad to Tehran, but both Israel and the US have highly credible nuclear deterrents, and Iran (unlike Saddam Hussein's Iraq) has never shown any military aggressiveness (although they do have a knack for annoying the US and Israel). It is rather more likely that Iran is just looking for its own deterrent against US and/or Israeli attack, and that desire would wane if the threat were to subside.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

No Jazz Consumer Guide

Just heard that the Jazz Consumer Guide scheduled for this week's Village Voice was pulled due to a space snafu. I've been assured it will run in a week or two.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Music Week

Music: Current count 16759 [16733] rated (+26), 851 [852] unrated (-1). Looking forward to two milestones this week: finishing the upstairs construction project, and seeing Jazz Consumer Guide published. Been hard to keep engaged in the meantime.

  • Chick Corea: Piano Improvisations Vol. 1 (1971 [2010], ECM): Solo piano, made up on the spot, the first pieces quite pleasing; the longer finale, "Where Are You Now? - A Suite of Eight Pictures" a little less clear. B+(**)
  • Chick Corea: Piano Improvisations Vol. 2 (1971 [2010], ECM): More solo piano, surplus that didn't make it into Vol. 1 including pieces by Monk and Shorter. Quieter, less engaging. B

Also added grades for remembered LPs from way back when:

  • Great Rhythm and Blues Oldies, Vol. 3: Johnny Otis ([1976], Blues Spectrum): Date is a guess; Vol. 7 et seq. were released in 1977. One song dates from 1969; the others most likely go back into the 1950s. A-

Jazz Prospecting (CG #24, Part 1)

Jazz Consumer Guide (23) will be published in The Village Voice come Wednesday, so more on that when it happens. This issue will be the Voice's annual Jazz Supplement. No idea what else will be in the issue. Haven't heard anything about cuts to my draft, so I most likely won't know until you know, but it may well run intact. I posted my big surplus cull yesterday, so that's out of the way. Got my transitional paperwork done, too.

Next column is already overwritten, so in theory should be able to run as soon as the Voice green lights it -- but I've never had much success at pushing these things more often than every three months. This one at least has some 2010 releases (11, vs. 37 2009s and 3 2008s), but next one will still have some 2009 releases -- the median time to get a review out is probably nine months. One thing I am going to do is to start presorting what's hitherto been one big pile of unplayed records. Another project is a major effort to put things away in places where I can find them again. The upstairs construction project will, I swear, be finished this week, which will open up shelf space for some 2,500 CDs. (If that isn't enough I may have to start getting rid of some shit, because I'm certainly running out of wall space.)

Lot of stuff to get to, so here's the first installment of Jazz Prospecting for the new round.

Arild Andersen: Green in Blue: Early Quartets (1975-78 [2010], ECM, 3CD): Norwegian bassist, one of several now-prominent musicians spawned by George Russell and Don Cherry during their late 1960s move to Scandinavia. Has a dozen-plus albums under his own name, the first three returned to print here. These are all sax-piano-bass-drums quartets, with flush flowing rhythms that highlight the leader's bass. Pål Thowsen is on drums on all three. The debut album, Clouds in My Head, features Kurt Riisnaes on tenor sax, soprano sax, and flute, with Jon Balke on piano. Balke would have been close to 20 at the time, but he already has a tough approach, and makes a much stronger impression than Lars Jansson, who replaced him on the other two albums. Riisnaes is superb throughout, but was also replaced on the later albums, Shimri and Green Shading Into Blue, by Juhani Aaltonen, who is riveting on tenor sax but plays a lot more flute, an instrument that he gives a dry, cerebral tone -- fascinating as such things go, but it's still flute, and it shifts the records toward the airy side -- Shimri has a slight edge of joyous discovery, but the two are very closely matched. B+(***)

Chick Corea: Solo Piano: Improvisations/Children's Songs (1971-83 [2010], ECM, 3CD): Three solo piano albums find Corea in an exploratory mood. The first two came from a 1971 session, when Corea was working with Miles Davis on the one hand and Anthony Braxton on the other, before he took off on Return to Forever. Aside from pieces by Monk and Shorter on Vol. 2, everything was improvised, with the melodies on Vol. 1 especially charming. Children's Songs came twelve years later, all improvised, nothing childish about it other than that he tries working from elements. Final cut adds violin and cello, a nice little piece of chamber jazz. B+(*)

Steve Swell's Slammin' the Infinite: 5000 Poems (2007 [2010], Not Two): Trombonist, b. 1954, didn't record his own stuff until 1996 but has been prolific ever since. Group named for a 2003 album, originally a quartet with Sabir Mateen (alto sax, tenor sax, clarinet, alto clarinet, flute), Matthew Heyner (bass), and Klaus Kugel (drums), now with pianist John Blum added. I've heard very little that he's done before -- especially missed out on a long series of CIMP albums -- and haven't been real impressed by what little I did hear, but this hits on every cyllinder. I'm impressed that he keeps up on a much slower instrument with Mateen. I also love how Blum breaks up the rhythm on piano. A-

Chris Lightcap's Bigmouth: Deluxe (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): I used to be able to ID these cars: cover looks like a mid-1950s Oldsmobile (1956?), the sketch inside more like a 1959 Caddy, the ne plus ultra of tailfins. Lightcap's a bassist, b. 1971, gets around, third album under his own name after two Fresh Sound New Talents. Runs a big horn line here, with tenor saxophonists Chris Cheek and Tony Malaby on all cuts, and alto saxophonist Andrew D'Angelo joining in on three of eight. Craig Taborn plays Wurlitzer, and Gerald Cleaver is the drums. Sounds like a freewheeling lineup, but they mostly hum along in sync. I used to have a monster Olds: a 1965, with a 425 cu. in. V-8, 4 bbl. carb, put out about 360 hp, ran real smooth keeping all that power bottled up under its big hood, kind of like this record. B+(*)

John Hébert Trio: Spiritual Lover (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): Bassist, from Louisiana, based in Jersey City, shows up on a lot of good records, now has two under his own name. Trio includes Gerald Cleaver on drums and Benoit Delbecq on piano, clarinet, and synth -- mostly piano, but the switches muddy that somewhat. If you care to, you can focus on the bass and be rewarded for your efforts. Otherwise, Delbecq is a fine pianist -- I recommend his 2005 album, Phonetics, but you get a taste of that here. B+(**)

Lawnmower: West (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): The label really seems to like group names, something I try to minimize in my filing: most seem like fronts for some principal, and even when group distribution is genuine so many group names become difficult to follow. I originally tried filing this under drummer Luther Gray: he produced and wrote the (very brief) liner notes. Don't see any song credits. Of course, the person you hear is alto saxophonist Jim Hobbs, who is always out front. Quartet is filled out with two guitarists, Geoff Farina and Dan Littleton, who don't make much of a mark. Some bits of Americana worked into the mix, giving it a bit of folk-gospel roots, but recast as free jazz, of course. B+(**)

Paal Nilssen-Love/Ken Vandermark: Milwaukee Volume (2007 [2010], Smalltown Superjazz): Chicago reed player Vandermark plays tenor and baritone sax, Bb and bass clarinet; drums and percussion for Norwegian Nilssen-Love. Nilssen-Love has played in several Vandermark groups like School Days and in Territory Band. They hooked up for an improv duet in 2002 called Dual Pleasure, followed that with the 2-CD Dual Pleasure 2 in 2003, Seven in 2005, and now two new discs, the one from Milwaukee cut a day before the one from Chicago. They go round and round, same basic moves, hard to sort out any real advantages here or there, but this one, I'd say, has more pure pleasure than any since the surprise of the debut wore off. For one thing, Vandermark has developed into a monster baritone player, so the really rough stuff comes out loud and low. A-

Paal Nilssen-Love/Ken Vandermark: Chicago Volume (2007 [2010], Smalltown Supersound): A day later after Milwaukee Volume, same setup, similar results. Been playing both a lot since they arrived, but this one remains a bit less focused to me, with fewer pleasure spots. B+(***)

First Meeting: Cut the Rope (2009 [2010], Libra): Quartet: Natsuki Tamura on trumpet, the composer and presumed leader here; Satoko Fujii on piano, Kelly Churko on guitar, and Tatsuhisa Yamamoto on drums. Liner notes explain that Tamura threw the band together when promised 15-20 students would show up -- evidently all capitalism takes in the small world of avant-jazz. Conceived as a "noise band" -- a lot of warbling, scratchy, freakout stuff from the guitar, which the others play around, through, or in spite of -- Fujii is especially sharp at that. Irresistible when they tap into a groove, amusing even when they're just scattering shit. A-

Keefe Jackson Quartet: Seeing You See (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): Tenor saxophonist, also plays bass clarinet, from Fayetteville, Arkansas, moved to Chicago in 2001, third album since 2006. Quartet includes ex-Vandermark 5 trombonist Jeb Bishop, who also plays alongside Jackson in Lucky 7s, plus Jason Roebke on bass and Noritaka Tanaka on drums. Snakey free jazz, probably more interesting for Bishop's runs and smears, although Jackson can pull off some interesting lines. B+(**)

Carlos Bica + Matéria-Prima (2008 [2010], Clean Feed): Bassist, from Portugal, based in Germany, has a half-dozen or more records since 1996, four with his trio Azul (Frank Möbius on guitar, Jim Black on drums). Not sure if Prima-Matéria is a distinct group -- doesn't show up on Bica's website project list nor on trumpeter Matthias Schriefl's MySpace page (Schreefpunk, European TV Brass Trio, Brazilian Motions, deujazz, 2 Generations of Trumpets, United Groove-O-Rama, Schmittmenge Meier, Mutantenstadt). Group also includes Mário Delgado on electric guitar, João Lobo on drums and percussion, and João Paulo on piano, keyboards, and accordion. Assembled from three concerts -- the one patch of applause comes at a bit of surprise, even if well earned. Rather patchy, the main shift turning on Paulo's accordion, which puts the band in a mood for tango or something folkloric; otherwise they have a tendency toward soundtrack, with three placenames in the titles. Still, Schriefl is a smoldering trumpet player, and this never settles into the ordinary. B+(***)

Jim Lewis/Andrew Downing/Jean Martin: On a Short Path From Memory to Forgotten (2008 [2010], Barnyard): Trumpet, bass, drums, respectively. Canadians: Lewis teaches at University of Toronto, which Downing attended. This looks to be Lewis's first album. Scratchy free jazz, often engaging, a little short of fire power. B+(**)

Chris Icasiano/Neil Welch: Bad Luck. (2009, Belle): Icasiano is a drummer, b. 1986, from Seattle; also plays in a group called Speak, which has an album on Origin I haven't played yet -- presumably more mainstream, where this is pretty free. Welch is a Seattle saxophonist, b. 1985, plays tenor, soprano, and contrabass here with some loops and pedals. Not as much muscle as Vandermark and Nilssen-Love, the reigning champs of sax-drums duos, but what they lack is interesting in its own right. B+(***)

Speak (2009 [2010], Origin): Seattle quintet, if you count trumpeter Cuong Vu who dropped in after picking up a teaching gig at the University of Washington. The others are Luke Bergman on bass, Chris Icasiano on drums, Aaron Otheim on keyboard, and Andrew Swanson on sax (probably tenor). All but Vu contribute songs -- Bergman and Otheim two. Bergman produced. Not as mainstream as I expected, although the sax-trumpet layering is postbop, while the electric keyboard is mostly tacky, at least until they mutate into some sort of horror soundtrack phase, ultimately breaking up into noise, which is possibly their metier -- at least Swanson sounds much healthier and happier squawking. B

The Element Choir: At Rosedale United (2009 [2010], Barnyard): Rosedale United is a church in Toronto. The Element Choir is a vocal group, 51 voices strong, conducted by Christine Duncan. The vocal group functions more as a crowd than as a choir. They're matched with a set of musicians who tend toward avant-ambiance: Jim Lewis (trumpet), Eric Robertson (cassavant pipe organ), Jesse Zubot (violin), and Jean Martin (drums, trumophone). The organ can get churchy, the violin elegiac, the trumpet -- well, I forget what the trumpet does, but at least it was more clear than the choir. B

NoMoreShapes: Creesus Crisis (2010, Drip Audio): Canadian trio, from (and/or based in) Calgary: Jay Crocker on guitar and electronics, J.C. Jones trombone, Eric Hamelin drums and percussion. One suspects rock backgrounds, but this comes off more like freebop than any kind of experimental fusion. The trombone certainly helps. B+(**)

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

Steve Swell's Slammin' the Infinite: Remember Now (2005 [2006], Not Two): Something from the back catalog, by my reckoning the second of four Slammin' the Infinite recordings. No pianist yet, so this is basically two freewheeling horns -- Swell's trombone and Sabir Mateen's saxes/clarinets -- against freewheeling rhythm. Offhand, about as explosive as the new one; while the piano is a plus in the new one, it is hardly necessary. This group projects tremendous energy, makes great noise, and has a fractal intrigue especially in its churning rhythm. Never heard of bassist Matt Heyner or drummer Klaus Kugel before, but they're very solid in this group. Would like to hear more. A- [Rhapsody]

Ideal Bread: The Ideal Bread (2008, KMB): Quartet, brainchild of baritone saxophonist Josh Stinton, only plays Steve Lacy songs. Other members: Kirk Knuffke (trumpet), Reuben Radding (bass), Tomas Fujiwara (drums). This album came out a couple of years ago and showed up on some year-end ballots, especially as best debut album. I meant to chase them down at the time, but didn't; remembered them again thanks to their new album, Transmit: Vol. 2 of the Music of Steve Lacy -- also didn't get that one, and it's not on Rhapsody, but this one is. I've heard a lot by Lacy but can't pick out any of his songs, even album titles like "Trickles" and "Esteem." The shift from soprano to baritone precludes emulation, but the edge is there, the second horn adds further snap, and Radding has a lot to do. B+(***) [Rhapsody]

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

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

Andrea Fultz: The German Projekt: German Songs From the Twenties & Thirties (2009, The German Projekt): I figure my own fondless for these famous Brecht/Weill and Hollaender tunes is so indelibly personal that I faded my grade. But what the hell: I'd rather hear these stretched, smeared, scorched renditions than dig out my old Lotte Lenya records. [formerly B+(***)] A-

Brian Groder/Burton Greene: Groder & Greene (2007 [2009], Latham): I little more schizzy than I recalled, with the piano-trumpet dithering spare on one side, overpowered by Rob Brown on the other. [formerly B+(***)] B+(**)

Unpacking: Found in the mail the last two weeks:

  • Laurie Anderson: Homeland (Nonesuch): advance
  • Angles: Epileptical West: Live in Coimbra (Clean Feed)
  • Artswest: The Vocal Jazz Collective: Redefintiion (OA2)
  • Eric Boeren 4tet: Song for Tracy the Turtle: Live at Jazz Brugge 2004 (Clean Feed)
  • Ketil Bjørnstad: Remembrance (ECM)
  • George Brooks Summit: Spirit and Spice (Earth Brother Music): July 3
  • The Convergence Quartet: Song/Dance (Clean Feed)
  • Kris Davis/Ingrid Laubrock/Tyshawn Sorey: Paradoxical Frog (Clean Feed)
  • Miles Davis: Bitches Brew: 40th Anniversary Collector's Edition (1969-70, Columbia/Legacy, 3CD+DVD): advance, Aug. 31
  • Dawn of Midi: First (Accretions)
  • Ismael Dueñas Trio: Jazz Ateu (Quadrant)
  • Nathan Eklund Group: Coin Flip (OA2)
  • Peter Evans Quartet: Live in Lisbon (Clean Feed): advance
  • Food: Quiet Inlet (ECM): advane, July 27
  • Curtis Fuller: I Will Tell Her (Capri): June 22
  • Gamelan Madu Sari: Hive (Songlines)
  • Hat: Local (Hatmusic)
  • Manu Katché: Third Round (ECM)
  • Domenic Landolf: New Brighton (Pirouet)
  • Orlando Le Fleming: From Brooklyn With Love (19/8): June 22
  • Jacám Manricks: Trigonometry (Posi-Tone): June 22
  • Chris Massey's "Nue Jazz Project": Vibrainium (Chris Massey Music): Sept. 2
  • Jason Moran: Ten (Blue Note)
  • Ivo Perelman/Daniel Levin/Torbjörn Zetterberg: Soulstorm (Clean Feed, 2CD)
  • Tom Rainey Trio: Pool School (Clean Feed)
  • Dino Saluzzi: El Encuentro (ECM): advance, July 27
  • Hiroe Sekine: A-Mé (Sekai Music)
  • Elliott Sharp: Octal Book Two (Clean Feed)
  • Gwilym Simcock: Blues Vignette (Basho, 2CD)
  • Richard Sussman Quintet: Live at Sweet Rhythm (Origin)
  • TGB: Evil Things (Clean Feed)
  • Steve Tibbetts: Natural Causes (ECM)
  • Ziggurat Quartet: Calculated Gestures (Origin)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Jazz Consumer Guide Surplus

The records listed below will not be appearing in this week's Jazz Consumer Guide, or for that matter in any future one, at least in this universe. This is, after all, a universe where I'm hard pressed to squeeze 45-50 worthy records (plus a couple not so worthy) into a quarterly column. The boundary line between honorable mentions and near misses is rather fuzzy, with some records making it because I quickly think of a one-liner, and others fading into obscurity for lots of reasons, including that I wasn't able to think of much to say. Most records, of course, don't even get that chance: I play them a time or two (sometimes even more), write up a Jazz Prospecting note, and move them into a file I call bk-flush, where they sit until I publish a Jazz CG column and move them into the notebook. Some, however, spend time in a file called bk-done, which keeps track of records that I've prospected/rated, haven't reviewed, but think might be good enough (or very rarely bad enough) to write up sometime in the future. However, for some such records future never comes, and periodically I admit as much and move them here, often giving them a consolation review. Actually, it may be that the consolation review is worth more than a one-line Honorable Mention, especially one that's three or six months down the line (or so I tell myself).

I do some sort of surplus cull every cycle, but the last three or four times they've been short and not very deep. Most cycles I cut bk-done down from around 120 records down to 80. This time I knocked it all the way down to 30, but one reason is that I have 67 record reviews written up for the next Jazz CG (and most likely for the one after that), and another is that I've let the unplayed queue grow to record proportions (242 records) -- hope there are some good ones in there somewhere.

Insert main section from file below.

For the full surplus file, follow the link.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Recycled Goods (74): May 2010

Pick up text here.

For this column and the previous 73, see the archive.

Homestyle Fried Chicken

Matthew Yglesias: When Did Fried Chicken Get So Hard? Well, pace Yglesias, I did come from a family that served pan-fried chicken two or three times a week, and where relatives on both sides served fried chicken more often than not. It was invariably served with gravy, often on bread or biscuits rather than mashed potatoes (which I loathed), usually with green beans and/or corn. I learned to make it from my mother, although I never quite got her method of cutting the chicken up. (Instead I came up with my own, which splits the back into four pieces after separating the limbs, then goes Chinese on the breast, dicing it up into eight pieces for smaller shares and more surface area, but the wishbone gets lost or butchered in the process.) As for frying it, all we ever did was dredge it in flour, salt, and black pepper, then fry it in some fat, browning it good at first then covering the pan and letting it steam until done. Pull the chicken out, add some flour to the drippings, mash together until smooth, add a lot of milk, bring to a boil to thicken, season with salt and pepper, and you're done. I never had precise measurements on the flour and milk. Mom never cooked with pepper, which took something away, but she may have made up for it with salt. Later on she reduced the fat to chicken trimmings in a non-stick skillet. I usually use a little vegetable oil, certainly less than a quarter inch.

I've never actually seen this recipe in a cookbook, although it seemed universal as I was growing up. Chicken skin is moist enough to hold the flour without the aid of milk (which we used for fried round steak) or egg (which we used for baked pork chops, but more often we fried them naked). You can add more herbs and spices, but just because Colonel Sanders needs them doesn't mean we did. You can vary the fat: I think vegetable shortening was my mother's original choice -- she probably grew up using lard, but I can't recall anyone in my family using it. I've used bacon grease and duck fat, and they sure don't hurt, and when I make dishes like cacciatore -- which is basically fried chicken in a shallot-mushroom-tomato sauce -- I use olive oil, which would probably be good, if not authentic, on its own. These days I only make fried chicken when I'm feeling really nostalgic. It isn't hard, but it does take a little more than an hour. Ruth Reichl has a buttermilk recipe I should try some time just for reference, but I doubt if it will improve upon my memories.

Monday, June 07, 2010

No Jazz Prospecting

Didn't get much Jazz Prospecting done last week. When I did manage to listen to jazz, I focused on old records, some of which I wrote up as honorable mentions, some as surplus. I've been so aggressive on the latter that the "done" file (unreviewed but rated high enough that they should be honorable mentions or better) is at its lowest level in many years. On the other hand, I have enough words -- and way too many honorable mentions -- to fill up the next column, which is still quite a while off. Sometime this week I'll post a set of consolation reviews of the purged surplus -- a tradition each cycle, but larger than ever this time.

Other distractions this week included wrapping up Recyled Goods for May (should post that tomorrow) and a Rhapsody Streamnotes (later this week). Both are relatively meager compared to past months, but sometimes that happens with time-delimited releases. But by far the biggest distraction was the website downtime. The short-term fix was to get it up and running again, but the whole event suggests that I need a better solution. In particular, I need to do a better job of keeping system software up to date: the same problem that crippled me on tomhull.com (virtual-hosted at addr.com) has hamstrung me on the dedicated server that I lease and run various other websites on. Having had to rebuild my flagship website from scratch, I also likely have to rebuild the rest to get them on up-to-date software. Been thinking a bit about that this week, but it remains a daunting problem.

On the other hand, not being up-to-date is the main reason I haven't built a proper website for my music writings. I also feel the need to split the music and politics aspects of this blog -- I know a few people who appreciate both, many more who read one and skip over the other. I suspect that each would fare better without having to carry the other's weight -- assuming I find time (and/or collaborators) to do a decent job with both.

Expect to see a Jazz Consumer Guide column in The Village Voice next week (June 16), part of their Jazz Supplement. Barring another disaster, Jazz Prospecting will return next week.


Sometime Friday afternoon tomhull.com was shut down by the hosting company, ADDR.COM. I noticed this just as I was going to post a bunch of links and notes on Israel and the Free Gaza Flotilla, so I was feeling a bit paranoid. They gave me no warning before shutting the site down, and no notice or explanation when they did. I sent the support department email, used their web interface to request a call back, and called in several times. They told me they had a report of spam being sent from my website, but offered no details, and wouldn't allow me to investigate the website. Promises to call me back and/or notify me via email were fruitless. At one point I was promised that they would open up the website "within two hours." I was temporarily able to log in, at which point I made a backup of my files and a partial backup of my database -- mysqldump ran out of memory -- and I started digging through all of the files to see what problems I could find. Ultimately, I found evidence of a problem with some very old wiki software, unused since 2003, and a problem with the blog software (serendipity, or s9y) -- still running an old version dating back to 2005. I removed the wiki software completely, fixed the known problem with serendipity, and I cleaned out all the cruft. (I had observed the same problem on another system and monitored the fix for six months, so I am pretty sure that nails it.) I sent detailed notes to ADDR and got no response. I called them again today and what they offered to do was to wipe clean my filespace and let me start all over again from my backup. I agreed to that and the website came up early this evening. So, the upshot is that the system was guilty as charged, and should be free and clear now. But it was a major hassle, and ADDR's support crew were no help whatsoever.

The trickiest part of restoring the system was reinstalling the blog software -- the one thing I couldn't backup was the config file, absence of which kicks off the install script. It ran well enough that it didn't destroy my database, but it did muck up the configuration, so I've had to hack around with that a bit -- the result is similar but not exactly the same. It also strikes me as running a bit slow. One thing that's lost (at least for now) is many years of usage statistics. I have a backup of them, so may be able to reinstall them, but I've rarely used them, so may not bother.

Lot of catching up to do now.

Music Week

Music: Current count 16733 [16717] rated (+16), 852 [840] unrated (+12). With the website down, just marking the passage of time. Did a lot of Jazz Consumer Guide surplus culling. Had a generally bad time with Rhapsody, which seems to have achieved a new standard of unreliability. House stuff coming along, but miserable about the website fiasco. Need to upgrade my server and take charge of that. Recycled Goods is done but didn't get posted. Would do a Rhapsody post as well. Backlog is growing, even though most days I get no mail.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Web Server Woes

Wrote this note to clients and friends of my web server:

Sorry for the blanket email, but this is my first stab at dealing with this issue. I'll address specific issues individually as they come up.

As you may have noticed, http://tomhull.com/ is off the web. I set this account up with ADDR.COM before I leased my server from Rackshack (now Planet), and while I originally thought I should move it, I never got around to doing so. (Similarly, http://robertchristgau.com/ is still on its original virtual server.) ADDR.COM killed my account with no warning due to complaints about spam software. (It happened as I was about to post my fourth straight Israel rant, so you can imagine how that made me feel.)

To be fair, there were bugs in the blog package (serendipity, or s9y) which permitted scripts to be uploaded. This was actually a bug that I had encountered on my own server and managed to fix. I was temporarily able to gain access to my files yesterday and went throught he whole website very carefully, cataloguing and removing all of the accumulated cruft and fixing the serendipity bug that was probably the sole cause. However, ADDR.COM has still not unblocked my website. They have been uncommunicative and unhelpful (uncharcteristically; they're usually just inept). I have been able to obtain almost all of my data, and should be able to reconstitute the website elsewhere if they continue to be uncooperative. One serious problem is that mysqldump chokes on the blog database, specifically on 1403 entries and 215000 "exits" (urls, not sure what they mean or why they're collected), so I've had to hack my way around those limits.

The obvious place to reconstitute tomhull.com would be the Planet server, but it has its own problems. Most importantly, the system software (Red Hat Linux) is about four releases back of current and Planet provides up way to get up to date except to wipe the system clean and reload. That means backing up everything on the system, then rebuilding it after the upgrade. The obsolete software severely impacts what I can do with the server. In particular, I cannot at present upgrade the several drupal-based websites, and I cannot install wikimedia, which I would like to do for several long-planned projects.

On the other hand, if I have to rebuild the system from scratch, there is no special reason why I have to continue using Planet. I need a vendor that will provide a safe upgrade path to keep my software current. I may also find a more competitive or better featured deal, so this is a good time to shop around. (Or maybe I should consider why I have a server at all, although the ADDR.COM experience suggests that if I want to run my own websites I need more control than I get with a virtual server account.)

My future server will run current versions of wikimedia, drupal, and serendipity. Wikimedia is the collaborative wiki software developed for Wikipedia. Drupal is a content management system, somewhat oriented toward news stories (wichitapeace.org is an example of this, but not a very happy one; I understand they want to go elsewhere and do something else). Serendipity is the blog software which has several users. Drupal and serendipity users will likely run into some upgrade issues.

Hard-coded websites (like carolcooper.org) should migrate easily, although it is possible that moving from php 4.3 to 5.3 will knock something loose, and there will certainly be down time.

In making this transition I'll focus first on client websites and will appreciate your input on priorities. I will probably create stubs first (the notorious "under construction" pages), then work through the sites one by one.

This would be a good time to rethink what you are doing and what you want to do. My own plans are to move my music reviews and data into terminalzone.net, which will initially/mostly be based on wikimedia, and to move the political aspects of the blog to notesoneverydaylife.com (currently drupal, but may be replaced with serendipity). With this, tomhull.com will become smaller and more personal.

More later. Would appreciate hearing your thoughts. Thanks.

Addressed the mail to webmaster at tomhull.com, with the real addresses bcc'ed. Got a bounce back from addr.com: "Mail Rejected, user account on hold."

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Despamming tomhull.com

Some notes:

  • Home directory: /usr42/home/thull.
  • When I was able to log on, I checked mail. I had 121 messages waiting for me. All appeared to be basic spam. None of the messages were from MAILER_DAEMON; had their been a spam exploit I would have expected to see many MAILER_DAEMON messages.
  • Checked the majordomo directory. One list, projects, dates from 2002, and has three subscribers (Tatum and me). The Log file is 46k in size (total lines: 485), last modified Apr 10 [2010], with two entries on that date, both spam. Log lines have timestamp but don't have year, so you have to count backwards to guess years. At most, we have 6 entries for 2010, 49 for 2009, 52 for 2008. Almost all "help" commands, one "get at,", one "which favored" (both look bogus). Legit activity appears to have ended September 2002. Rest is minor noise.
  • Note that mail/sent-mail is empty, with a creation date of June 21, 2004.
  • Did a chmod 700 to public_html to look at the web pages. Noted that wiki4 directory also required a chmod. Made a backup. A small number of files still presented permissions problems. Need to investigate them.
  • The public_html/wiki4 directory houses some wiki software that I originally set up in 2002 for discussion about the ACLUG website. It has not been used at least since 2005. In it, I found four highly suspect files, created March 3-12, 2010: compactwo.exe, compresses.exe, desktopuser.exe, and evil.php. The page directory had some additional suspect files dated Oct. 12, 2009, especially: god.php and ftp21.txt. The latter is a perl script commented "Hollow Chocolate Bunnies From Hell." I moved or copied the suspect files to trash, then tried to delete the rest. I was unable to delete files owned by nobody, so moved the whole tree to trash-del.
  • The blog directory contains serendipity, a PHP-based blog package. This is 2004-vintage software (2004/08/26, release 0.6), with possible changes up to 2006. I compared this with a local directory based on the same software, where the most recent date was 2006. First thing that caught my attention is a lot of new files, owned by nobody: from Jun 4, c99.txt, maeil.php, partx.txt; from Jan 9, xml.php; from Dec 17 (2009), receita.php; from Dec 16, pitbull.txt, zen4.php, zen2.php, zen.php, zen3.php, comprovante.php; from Dec 5, eng.html, team2.txt, team.txt; from Dec 4, xmlpriv8.txt; from Dec 3, bitchx.txt, send.php; from Dec 2, lista2.txt; from Dec 1, enviar.pl; from Nov 21, d2.php; from Aug 10, 404.html; from Apr 26, c100.php; from Apr 12, cp.php; from Feb 8, postmail.php; from Oct 30 (2008), r3v3ng4ns.txt; from Oct 18, dc.txt; from Jun 9, 28; from Nov 19 (2007), b.1; from Nov 18, b; from Oct 21, DCDIM_053.zip; from Sep 30, templates.inc.php; from Jan 29, faq_1.php; from Jan 25, faq_.php. Moved all of these files to trash.
  • The blog directory had two subdirectories not in the reference set: the plausible-looking deploy_libs (empty, Jan 31, 2007), and the highly suspect fernan_gata_17@hotmail.com (Oct 25, 2007). The latter included the files DCDIM_053.zip, index.php, and visitas.txt. I tried moving these files to trash, but the latter directory has permission problems, so added them to DELETE.ME.
  • The blog directory also has hidden files .cvsignore and .htaccess. I believe these files are normal and harmless. It does, however, have two hidden directories, ... and . -- the latter is dot-space. The former was empty and I simply removed it. The latter had two files (DCDIM_053.zip and index.php) and a directory (fernan_gata_17@hotmail.com). I was unable to move or remove this directory, so added it to DELETE.ME.
  • The blog/archives directory has a backdoor shell (dc.txt) and a hidden subdirectory (...) with two more bad files (.re.php and ftp21.txt). I was able to copy these files to trash and remove them.
  • The blog/plugins directory has one file changed since 2004: serendipity_plugin_phpblock_th.php. This is the skin I use and was last updated May 31, 2006. It looks good.
  • The blog/spamblock.log file is routinely updated. It was last changed May 30, 2010, and appears reasonable (1349456 bytes; I've seen much bigger ones).
  • The blog/templates/th file style.css has a minor edit on Sep 11, 2009 with a backup file dated May 31, 2006. This is the CSS file for the blog, something I edit occasionally, and looks good.
  • The blogs/uploads directory has a few files in it that look like variants of the other bogus files noted above: 2.php, c100.php, cream.txt, itau-bankiline.php, postmail.php, rm.txt, scan.txt, scanxml.txt, xml.txt. The dates range from Mar 17, 2008 to Jul 11, 2009. The uploads directory is supposed to have public write permission so blog editors can upload files (mostly graphics). However, I've never used this feature, since I routinely store graphics in my ocston tree and reference them from there. I copied all of these files to trash and deleted them.
  • I compared all other blog files to the distribution and found them OK, except for serendipity_config_local.inc.php, which belongs to nobody, having been created by the httpd server on initial configuration, and has 700 permissions. It is unchanged since May 27, 2006, and probably OK.
  • The root of most (or possibly all) of the serendipity problems is the file serendipity_xmlrpc.php, which opened up a hole that allowed foreign files to be installed and executed. The simplest solution here is to replace the file with a later version of the same file, where the code is stubbed out. I moved the old copy to trash and replaced the file.
  • The blog/INSTALL file recommends chown nobody of the file tree with restricted permissions. This is basically impossible in the virtual server environment, and for the most part would not have prevented these problems (i.e., all of the offending files are owned by nobody, aka the httpd server).
  • The directory beatbook houses wiki software, set up in 2002 and essentially unused since 2003. I found a couple of foreign files there: d.php, itau-bankline.php. I moved these to trash. I deleted the beatbook directory.
  • No problems here, but I got rid of a lot of ancient cruft in the top level directory: CHANGED, Makefile, _rootdir, doc/ (ACS), hi/ (Home Innovator), exclude-files, old/ (some Contex pictures), phpinfo.php, search.php, tmp/; also some rudiments of the old "new, post-ocston" website: adm/, php/, t/, u/, wdoc. I left dontstop (the Christgau Festschrift), sacredspace (Kathy's artwork), and some odds and ends. I removed all of the files in cgi-bin but left the directory: the files related to the wiki software already removed.
  • I did a quick scan (ls -latR) of ocston. I didn't see anything suspicious, but removed some emacs temporary file cruft (e.g., notebook/#scratch.php#, notebook/.#scratch.php). Also removed the img/.xvpics/ directory, which had a mangled image file.
  • I deleted a few files at the top level that had no reason to be there: CHANGED, dead.letter, sacredspace.tar.gz, test1.data, tmp/ocston.tar.gz, usemod092.tar.gz, wiki.tar.gz.

Friday, June 04, 2010

Rorschach Test

Paul Woodward: Israel's national psychosis: Long quote from Anshel Pfeffer, writing in Haaretz. Key point:

None of Israel's arguments -- that the members of the Turkish relief organization IHH were actually murderous jihadis, that there is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza, that Israel was prepared to allow the cargo to go through its own port and that the blockade is justified as the only way to keep more missiles from reaching Hamas -- would have been any more persuasive. Not because they were badly presented or inaccurate, but simply because moral people around the world see almost everything that happens in the region as a result of a deeply immoral situation that the Israeli leadership and the great majority of the Israeli public is doing nothing whatsoever to change.

But then, the Israeli public doesn't see any problem with what Israel does because they've been so trained to obsess on their own hyped up threats. Moreover, this training goes way, way back. The most striking thing about Tom Segev's 1967 is the extreme disjuncture between the cockiness of Israel's military commanders and the dread of Israel's public -- a split that persists even though for decades now the IDF and Mossad have cocked up nearly everything they've attempted, and the threats to the Israeli public are barely more than desperate acts of symbolic defiance. (When you think about it, suicide bombers are a pathetic form of warfare. The rockets that Hezbollah foolishly thought might deter an Israeli attack on Lebanon did even less damage, and the toy rockets fired from Gaza are little more than ploys to remind Israel that there are people locked behind the walls. The number of Israelis killed or injured is infinitesimal, but more importantis that if you look at the chronology you'll find that virtually all attacks on Israel are responses to Israeli attacks on Palestinians and Lebanon, and that during the few periods when there were honest ceasefires there were virtually no such attacks.)

Gal Beckerman: Gaza flotilla fiasco: A Rorschach test for American Jews: One of our local Israeli spokesmen has been circulating this piece, which implies that reaction to the Flotilla event was simply a matter of predeliction:

As the sun rose on the day following the so-called Freedom Flotilla's attempt to breach the Israeli blockade of Gaza, the American Jewish Committee had already sent out an e-mail blast touting its narrative of the bloody denouement that took place. An hour later came talking points from the Jewish Federations of North America.

A succinct storyline had been established even before all the details of the raid that left nine of the activists dead had become clear. [ . . . ]

Here was one more Rorschach test for an American Jewry that has become increasingly factionalized when it comes to Israel, viewing every situation through its various preconceptions on the left and right. Either Israel was beyond reproach and acting in self-defense, or the incident highlighted a growing unease with the blockade itself, which one group of progressive rabbis called "the overall context of oppression."

At one end of the spectrum, the American Jewish establishment heeded the call of the Israeli government to defend its actions in the face of an extremely negative public relations storm.

The author only surveyed the other end of the spectrum as far as J Street, Rabbi Arthur Waskow, and Peter Beinart, but that was far enough to make the point. It is true that people interpret the Flotilla event according to the framework they've already formed, which may hinge on Israel's precarious perch in a region that is deeply hostile to it, or may recognize the massive injustice that Israel's expulsion and occupation have imposed on the Palestinian people. It is also true that your opinion is unlikely to change at this point just because Israel kills some protesters, if only for the pedestrian reason that Israel has been killing off its so-called enemies for decades now -- and increasingly targeting nonviolent protesters.

For more on the spin, see Glenn Greenwald: How Israeli propaganda shaped U.S. media coverage of the flotilla attack.

Matthew Yglesias: Collective Punishment in Gaza: This is the essential background for understanding not what happened with the Flotilla but why the Flotilla was necessary. Quotes Janine Zacharia: "Originally, Israel hoped the closure would put enough pressure on the local economy that Gazans would grow frustrated and oust Hamas." You know, the same strategy the US has used to such fine effect with North Korea, Cuba, and (until we came up with a worse strategy) Iraq, although it should never be forgotten that Israel learned the basics of collective punishment from Britain in the colonial period:

This policy of collective punishment is so indefensible that, as Peter Beinart notes, people inclined to support Israeli policy generally deny that this is what the policy is. Instead, they describe the blockade as some kind of narrow effort to prevent arms smuggling. But this simply isn't what's going on. The objective is to make life in Gaza miserable, while avoiding something newsworthy like a famine.

Beinart's piece is called Israel's Indefensible Behavior. Yglesias quotes this little gem from Beinart:

When Israeli farmers have surplus supply, they seek loopholes for the goods they wish to sell. Israeli officials allow Gazans to import Israeli products, but not the materials necessary to make those products themselves, since that would threaten Israel's hold on the Gazan market. As the Israeli human-rights group Gisha has noted, Gazans can buy Israeli-made tomato paste, but cannot buy the empty cans necessary to preserve and market their own, which would compete with Israeli suppliers.

I suppose that's kind of like Kansas farmers wanting to sell surplus wheat to Cuba, but even before the embargo Israeli business interests used Israel's control of Gaza (and the West Bank) for all sorts of corrupt and debilitating schemes. Yglesias merely summarized Beinart's conclusion, but it bears repeating:

The Gaza embargo -- as currently constituted -- is indefensible, which is why Israel's American supporters have not so much defended it as pretended it was something other than what it really is. In the name of solidarity, we have practiced denial. In the name of anti-terrorism, we have justified the brutalization of innocents. Now all of us who enabled Israel's callous, reckless policy are reaping what we sowed. Don't blame the Israeli commandos for what happened yesterday on the high seas; blame us.

I should add that Beinart deserves to use we/us there. He seems to have shifted his views, a rare instance of someone being moved past their predelictions by the growing realization of what Israel has done. Even if most people respond as predicted to the Rorschach test, at least some people see something they hadn't expected, and adjust accordingly.

Lawrence of Cyberia: Putting Names to Faces: Pictures and short bits of information on the nine Flotilla members shot to death by Israeli soldiers. All are Turkish, although Furkan Dogan was born in the US so is an American citizen. You may or may not relate, but it is certain that this is being taken very hard in Turkey, which until very recently had been a treasured ally of Israel.

MJ Rosenberg: Associate Editor of The Jewish Week: Torpedo the Next Flotilla, "Just Sink It": Quotes Jonathan Mark:

Next flotilla -- just sink it. Torpedo it. See how many more flotillas follow. The condemnation won't be any different. But you'll stop seeing cowardly western leftists signing up to sail with the terrorists, and you may even dent the number of terrorists who'll want to sail, and you'll see less ship owners willing to lose their boats. Better that than even one more Jew being injured while boarding these floating Jenins.

Mark goes on: "We might as well take out Iran as take out the flotilla." It must be lovely to live in an imaginary world where you can project all of your frustrations into acts of violence with no care or consequences, even for your immortal soul.

Max Blumenthal: The Flotilla Raid Was Not "Bungled." The IDF Detailed Its Violent Strategy in Advance: Some details about Israel's planning, including:

Why didn't Israel's leaders choose to deal with the flotilla in a more judicious fashion? Were they that stupid, or just crazy? From the details of the plan it appears that Netanyahu and his cohorts had envisioned Entebbe Part Deux, a daring anti-terror raid that would lift the sinking morale of the Israeli public while intimidating Iran and the Arab world. Though Israel may be more isolated than ever as a result of the massacre, the Netanyahu administration is reaping considerable political benefits at home.

The day after the massacre, spontaneous celebrations broke out in Ashdod, Tel Aviv, and throughout the country, bringing together right-wing elements with everyday Israelis. Over a thousand Israelis gathered tonight outside the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv to rally against the Turkish government and express their support for the raid. Multiple demonstrators including one man who has lived in Israel for 60 years told me, "What Turkey [the sponsor of the Mavi Marmara boat] has done is great. I have never seen this country more united in my entire life. We are all standing together now."

Nice touch that the leader of Israel's command squad was nicknamed "Cheney." As it turns out, that could just as well have been in honor of Liz Cheney, who had this to say:

Yesterday, President Obama said the Israeli action to stop the flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip was "tragic." What is truly tragic is that President Obama is perpetuating Israel's enemies' version of events. [ . . . ]

President Obama is contributing to the isolation of Israel, and sending a clear signal to the Turkish-Syrian-Iranian axis that their methods for ostracizing Israel will succeed, and will be met by no resistance from America.

There is no middle ground here. Either the United States stands with the people of Israel in the war against radical Islamic terrorism or we are providing encouragement to Israel's enemies -- and our own.

Funny thing is I thought he was just parroting Israel's party line. Must be another Rorschach test.

UPDATE: I was all set to post the above on Friday, June 4, when my account was disabled. Of course, given that this was my fourth straight Israel post, my first thought was that I was being muzzled. I finally got the account opened up and rebuilt on Monday, June 7, at which point I was able to post this. Some more things have happened in the interim (not that I've been able to pay much attention). The straggling Irish boat, the MV Rachel Corrie, was also hijacked by Israel's navy, this time without any casualties. I don't feel like doing a fifth Israel post, but recommend the following recent links:

  • Sandy Tolan: Israel and the psychology of "never again": Basic psychological background, even if it isn't exhaustive (e.g., no mention of "Auschwitz borders," a term Israeli polticians have used to describe the Green Line). One line that could be explore further: "This psychology is not lost on Palestinians, who experience its impact."
  • Tony Karon: What the Gaza Flotilla Tells Us About the Future of the Mideast: Mostly that the US is out of touch and increasingly irrelevant.
  • Paul Woodward: "All I saw in Israel was cowards with guns": A statement from Ken O'Keefe, who was on the Mavi Marmara when it was hijacked by Israeli commandos, on his treatment in Israel: "While in Israeli custody I, along with everyone else was subjected to endless abuse and flagrant acts of disrespect. Women and elderly were physically and mentally assaulted. Access to food and water and toilets was denied. Dogs were used against us, we ourselves were treated like dogs. We were exposed to direct sun in stress positions while hand cuffed to the point of losing circulation of blood in our hands. We were lied to incessantly, in fact I am awed at the routineness and comfort in their ability to lie, it is remarkable really. We were abused in just about every way imaginable and I myself was beaten and choked to the point of blacking out . . . and I was beaten again while in my cell." O'Keefe seems like someone particularly good at pissing Israeli guards off, so I doubt if his treatment was anything like as universal as he suggests, but it still sounds like a gruesome abuse of power.
  • Alex Pareene: Right wing wins Helen Thomas' scalp: As usual, it took some effort of wading through posts and dispatches raving about what Thomas said before I found anything like an actual quote, and even here all we get is a link to a youtube video that has been edited to obscure the context and make her look like some kind of Holocaust denier. At first all she says is that Jews should leave Palestine, presumably the Occupied Territories, and "go home" -- which could mean Israel but she is only taped as mentioning Germany, Poland, and the US. There are several gotcha there, which may mean she doesn't understand some points, may mean she got edited, or may mean that given recent Israeli outrages she gave up on standing on ceremony. Everyone slips up now and then, but only some people on some issues lose their jobs over it. Also see Gabriel Winant: The right's Helen Thomas hypocrisy.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Spin Cycle

MJ Rosenberg: Lying About the Gaza Flotilla Disaster: One of the better pieces out, especially about the spin cycle, but also with some background about life, such as it is, in Gaza these days.

Glenn Greenwald: The Israeli flotilla attack: victimhood, aggression and tribalism: More on the spin, especially how effective it has become in the mainstream press and in Washington political circles. Some of it is even breathing down Greenwald's neck:

I can't express how many emails I've received over the last week, from self-identified Jewish readers (almost exclusively), along the lines of: I'm a true progressive, agree with you on virtually every issue, but hate your views on Israel. When it comes to Israel, we see the same mindset from otherwise admirable Jewish progressives such as Anthony Weiner, Jerry Nadler, Eliot Spitzer, Alan Grayson, and (after a brief stint of deviation) Barney Frank. On this one issue, they magically abandon their opposition to military attacks on civilians, their defense of weaker groups being bullied and occupied by far stronger factions, their belief that unilateral military attacks are unjustified, and suddenly find common cause with Charles Krauthammer, The Weekly Standard, and the Bush administration in justifying even the most heinous Israeli crimes of aggression.

In one sense I'm not surprised by the ease with which Washington fell into line: the obsession with destroying Hamas has, ever since the elections they won, been primarily an American -- i.e., a Bush and Elliott Abrams -- affair, based on the neocon faith that Hamas is a key target of the Global War on Terror, and on the visceral belief most conservatives have in force. That doesn't explain everyone who snapped to salute the Israeli flag, but it's a big piece of the background: lots of Americans like that Israel used excessive force. That an American is one of the dead won't faze them. They can think of lots of Americans they'd like to see dead.

Joe Conason: Why Israel should have known better: Mostly quotes Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman, blaming Israel's "siege mentality" for the losing grip on reality. There is something to this, but it's mostly the result of the way Netanyahu and Lieberman have locked themselves into a position that makes it impossible to do anything constructive or ameliorating.

Naomi Klein: Blinding the witness: Not related to the Flotilla incident, an American woman attending a protest in the West Bank was shot in the face with a tear gas projectile, putting out her eye. This is one of a long list of cases where Israel has responded violently to peaceful protests, and actually more typical than the Flotilla incident.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Free Gaza

Jerry Haber: George W Obama and the Israeli Spin Machine in America: Ouch! Lots of people have observed that Obama has maintained an unseemly lot of continuity with the previous administration -- you know, the one he campaigned so hard to "change" -- but this name merger has to hurt. In words and tone, I think it is clear that Obama wanted at least to change course from Bush, but in practice he has utterly failed to do so, and now we even see the words and tone reverting to previous form. He runs the risk of exonerating Bush, not of being the worst president in American history but of having done so of his own free will. If Obama can't change course, maybe Bush too was just a helpless passenger on a deranged ship of state.

Haber writes:

My fear is that Obama sees the Flotilla business as one of his "distractions," something to get by in order to advance the peace process. Well, Mr. Obama, THERE IS NO PEACE PROCESS NOR WILL THERE EVER BE ONE IN THE CURRENT CONSTELLATION OF PARTIES. It is past time to say that human rights of the Gazans trump peace; that holding those rights hostage to a never-ending process, in which absolutely no progress has been made, is a scandal.

In a subsequent post, Haber quotes arch-hawk Moshe Arens as proposing that Israel simply annex "Judea and Samaria" and make the Palestinians living there Israeli citizens. (Presumably this also means occupied Jerusalem and Golan Heights, which have already been annexed, although without any extension of Israeli citizenship, but not Gaza.) Doing so would increase the Muslim minority in Israel to 30 percent, which would still allow a proportional democracy to maintain all the trappings of a Jewish State. It also isn't clear that this would immediately mean equal rights: in 1951 Israel officially granted citizenship to the Palestinians who stayed within its borders, but kept them under military rule until 1967. Nor would it necessarily mean independence for Gaza, but Arens wants no part of it, and keeping it under siege isn't a viable solution to anything.

Arens' solution won't make many Palestinian leaders happy, and as such will most likely extend the conflict but at a much lower level -- whereas an Israeli withdrawal to 1967 borders has been signed off by pretty much everyone significant who's had a beef with Israel: the Arab League, Iran, Hezbollah, Fateh, Hamas. The only source of terrorism left would be Israel's own settlers, which is a big one. I'd try to smooth them over by providing long-term (30-50 year) leasebacks of settlements to Israel, for which Israel would pay increasing rents. But for someone like Arens, holding that ground satisfies the settlers and feels like victory. Moreover, it gives Israel's security forces something to keep doing, and it's not like they really care whether the Arabs or Iran recognize them; what does matter is keeping the US and Europe more/less on their side, and they can likely sell such a solution there.

I'm personally sympathetic to such a deal. I've said all along the necessary solution is that everyone enjoys equal rights in whatever country they live in. A Gaza-only Palestine wouldn't be much of a country, but it would be a big improvement over the last 43 years (or for that matter, much longer). Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem might be better off in their own country, but as a minority within Israel they'd be plugged into a much more affluent economy. Sure, they'd start at the bottom, and the political system would be stacked against them, but both factors would mitigate over time -- probably faster than has been the case within Israel if the conflict is truly defused. It could be done Gaza-first, and might be simpler that way.

One thing that I think should be emphasized is that the present Gaza crisis is the direct result of the US decision not to recognize that Hamas won the last round of Palestinian Authority elections. The US (meaning Bush, or more specifically Elliott Abrams) then lined up Israel and Europe to overturn the elections, including a coup in Gaza which backfired leaving Hamas in sole control on the ground in Gaza (but, alas, not of the airspace or borders). Hamas had won for the simple reason that Fateh had failed ever since Oslo in 1994 to negotiate a final status treaty with Israel, something that was almost entirely Israel's fault. If Israel truly wanted to reduce the influence and popularity of Hamas, they could do so easily by cutting a real deal with Fateh. Instead, they've enacted the cruel fantasy of trying to break Hamas by starving Gaza, and thus far the US and Europe have played along. Obama's weakness may keep US support subverient, but Europe is showing signs of getting fed up with this whole runaround. (I generally lament any loss of the political left, but the Tory win in the UK sure looks like an improvement -- for the world, if not necessarily inside Britain.)

In any case, I think now is the time to put as much pressure on Israel as possible to break Gaza free. It's an interim step, but a necessary one.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Blunder and Bail

Stephen M Walt: Israel's latest brutal blunder: Reaction is coming in to Israel's hijacking of the Free Gaza Flotilla, which reports now say resulted in nine deaths of protesters on a Turkish ship (down from reports of 16-19 deaths yesterday). Walt's first question was "What could Israel's leaders have been thinking?" Then:

My second question is: "Will the Obama administration show some backbone on this issue, and go beyond the usual mealy-mouthed statements that U.S. presidents usually make when Israel acts foolishly and dangerously?" President Obama likes to talk a lot about our wonderful American values, and his shiny new National Security Strategy says "we must always seek to uphold these values not just when it is easy, but when it is hard." The same document also talks about a "rule-based international order," and says "America's commitment to the rule of law is fundamental to our efforts to build an international order that is capable of confronting the emerging challenges of the 21st century."

Well if that is true, here is an excellent opportunity for Obama to prove that he means what he says. Attacking a humanitarian aid mission certainly isn't consistent with American values -- even when that aid mission is engaged in the provocative act of challenging a blockade -- and doing so in international waters is a direct violation of international law. Of course, it would be politically difficult for the administration to take a principled stand with midterm elections looming, but our values and commitment to the rule of law aren't worth much if a president will sacrifice them just to win votes. [ . . . ]

In short, unless the Obama administration demonstrates just how angry and appalled it is by this foolish act, and unless the U.S. reaction has some real teeth in it, other states will rightly see Washington as irretrievably weak and hypocritical. And Obama's Cairo speech -- which was entitled "A New Beginning" -- will be guaranteed a prominent place in the Hall of Fame of Empty Rhetoric.

I'm not aware of Obama or anyone in his administration rising to this challenge in a principled way. Meanwhile, the spin cycle is running at gale force, and seems to be rallying the pro-Israel hawks in the US without having much effect anywhere else. Again this shows how out of step the US remains with world opinion, even with Obama replacing Bush.

Paul Woodward: It's up to Obama whether the siege of Gaza continues: Echoes Walt's concerns, including a long quote.

Paul Woodward: The Mavi Marmara and the Exodus -- May 31, 2010 and July 18, 1947: Strange thing how Palestinian history keeps recapitulating Jewish history -- the Holocaust and the Nakba, the elevation of terrorists like Menachem Begin and Yasser Arafat to statesmen (admittedly, not very good ones), and now the return of the Exodus. Admittedly, the Palestinians keep coming up with weaker and more flawed symbols, but the main lines are remarkably similar. Given the way Israel turned out, this is a cycle someone needs to break.

Rev. Michael Poage wrote a letter about this incident that seems about right -- some friends passed it on to me:

In the middle of the night, May 31, the Israeli Defense Forces launched an attack by sea and air on an international flotilla of six ships carrying humanitarian aid for the 1.5 million people imprisoned within the Gaza Strip. This attack occurred in international waters. The death toll as this letter is written is 19 civilian peace-makers. The six ships carried hundreds of peace-makers representing over 50 nations, 10,000 tons of aid, and a determination to end the illegal blockade. What took place on May 31 was a continuation of the punitive violence against the mostly Palestinian population in Gaza. The United States needs to do more than just "regret" the deaths or ask Mr. Netanyahu to "get the facts." The U.S. needs to joint the international OUTCRY against Israel's actions, recall the U.S. ambassador to Israel, send the Israeli ambassador back to Tel Aviv, end the $3 billion in aid that helped pay for the weapons used to kill the peace-makers, and join in sanctions against the state of Israel. It is past time that Israel be removed from "favored-nation" status and that the U.S. join the international community in holding Israel accountable for its violence and disregard for human rights.

Poage went to Egypt and Jordan last winter to participate in an international protest in Gaza, but was denied entry by Israel and its Egyptian allies, so he must have a sense of déjà vu. My reaction at the time was that maybe the BDS (boycott, divest, and sanctions) movement should expand its target list to include Egypt. The most interesting and promising reaction to Israel's hijacking has been demonstrations in Cairo against Egypt's collaboration in starving Gaza, and the reports that Egypt has at least partially opened its border to Gaza. Egypt can at least take the blockade off the table if it decides to stand up to the US and Israel on the issue.

May 2010