J.B. Spins

Jazz, film, and improvised culture.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Coming Attraction: East of Havana


It’s Halloween. Who’s the biggest monster? Jason? Freddy? Leatherface? How about Fidel Castro? You can see his handiwork in East of Havana, a new documentary co-produced by Charlize Theron, believe it or not. It is scheduled to open in January (a full review will be posted then), but I was able to attend a screening last night. As currently edited, it is a film worth seeing, not likely to endear Theron to Castro’s Amen corner in Hollywood.

East of Havana follows three young Cuban Hip-Hop artists who have formed their own musicians union, El Cartel, outside of the state music system. They are looking forward to Cuba’s international Hip-Hop festival, a rare opportunity for their music to come out from underground. It seems Hip-Hop in Cuba is in an analogous position to that of jazz in Eastern Europe during the Cold War. While usually suffering from malignant neglect to outright hostility, the music’s “proletarian” roots allows for occasional sanction for state sponsored international events (which of course, serve a propaganda purpose).

While the press materials carefully try to position the film between “the twin carcasses of Castroite Communism and the Bush-backed exiles,” in the words of in the words of The Independent (UK), it is hard to argue with the most ardent critic of Castro after seeing the living conditions documented in the film. Nobody has anything to say about all that great free healthcare Castro provides, but one of the young rapper’s mother tellingly jokes about cooking entire meals from three garlic cloves. Ah yes, the fruits of revolution.

Watching East clearly illustrates the legacy of Castro. He has turned the island into a slum. In his urban blight, Hip-Hop, the contemporary music of urban angst naturally thrives. Cuban youths are seen wearing Tupac t-shirts in much the same way their western counterparts wear the image of Che. However, the Tupac enthusiasm is more understandable and appropriate to the circumstances faced by El Cartel.

Several times in the film, the artists specifically compare Hip-Hop to freedom. One, Soandry, bemoans the fact that one has to leave the country to think freely, as his older brother did. Give the young artists their due. Although produced under difficult conditions, their music is actually quite good. It certainly has a vitality many find lacking in the current American Hip-Hop scene. There are in fact, several tracks from the soundtrack that would make great club mixes.

East of Havana is not a perfect film. Even at 82 minutes, there are pacing problems. Seeing Janet Reno acknowledged for “special thanks” in the credits is bound to raise some eye-brows for some audiences, as well. However, the images of Cuban reality captured by the filmmakers are indisputable. Castro’s victory was humanity’s loss. Soandry and his Hip-Hop compatriots offer hope for a young generation of free-thinking Cubans questioning Castro’s police state.

(Trailer here, thanks Marc. Hip Hop Republican has the history of Cuban Hip-Hop here.)
(And Happy Halloween to Babalu Blog, Gateway Pundit, and Alarming News readers.)

Monday, October 30, 2006

Off Message

Nobody wants to be seen with Alan Hevesi these days. According to the Daily News, the scandal-tarred Comptroller is no longer welcome at the party’s election night party. Hevesi’s political implosion has national implications. New York was expected to be in the vanguard of a national Democrat wave. Now NY Democrats are completely off message. There at least are four congressional seats in NY targeted by the Pelosi party. In at least one case, Kristin Gillibrand running against GOP Rep. John Sweeney, the Democrat candidate has called on Hevesi to resign. Spitzer and his running mate have publicly praised Gov. Pataki for his handling of the impeachment issue—probably not the sound bites they were planning for the election home stretch.

Spitzer’s handling of the Hevesi scandal is considered a sneak preview of what his general administration will be like. His campaign juggernaut has been long on promises for reform and short on substantive details. After, initially pooh-poohing the scandal, Spitzer arguably flipped-flopped, withdrawing his endorsement. However, by not endorsing the Republican candidate, Spitzer in effect sent the message: vote for Hevesi anyway and when he resigns or is impeached, I’ll appoint an obedient Democrat. In the words of Pete Townsend’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again:” “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Legends of Jazz


Legends of Jazz: Season One, Volume One & Two
Hosted by Ramsey Lewis
LRS Media


Ramsey Lewis will be honored as one of the 2007 NEA Jazz Masters—well deserved recognition to be sure. In addition to being a great musician, famed for his rendition of “The In-Crowd,” Lewis has been a leading jazz evangelist as a broadcaster. He is the host and prime mover behind jazz’s regular return to broadcast television: Legends of Jazz on PBS. Unfortunately, if you are a New Yorker and do not suffer from insomnia, you probably have not seen Legends, since the local affiliate chose to run the program at 12:30 Thursday nights. We now have a chance to see what we’ve been missing with the release of Legends of Jazz: Season One Volume One and Volume Two on DVD and Blu-Ray with companion CD.

Legends follows a strict format: Ramsey Lewis introduces the show’s subject (the trumpet, Latin Jazz) with a minute’s worth of archival footage, each guest plays a tune, the guests play together, and then they jam on the shows theme with Lewis.

Vol. Two is probably the stronger installment, with the Blues segment being a particular surprise. Keb’ Mo’ unleashes his inner Robert Johnson in a knock-out performance of “Love in Vain.” This led to an interesting discussion of blues improvisation in the bonus conversation section. Keb’ Mo’ made the point: “If it’s seven and half, if it’s eight [bars], wherever it is, wherever it happens to be, when you’re phrasing, when you’re improvising in a solo in jazz or blues you have the right to enter a realm of infinite possibilities within a structure.”

For the American Songbook episode, John Pizzarelli and Jane Monheit were another good pairing, who genuinely seemed to enjoy each others work and company. Pizzarelli made a good choice in forgoing a traditional crooner number for an upbeat “I Got Rhythm,” showing off his fleet guitar work with brother Martin on bass.

The opening piano episode truly features legends: Dave Brubeck and Dr. Billy Taylor. Both are still playing at an appropriately lofty level. One does wish the show could have broken format a little, and given more time to the final jam. With Lewis on one piano, and Taylor and Brubeck four-handed on another, it was a piece of jazz history: two Jazz Masters and one to be, jamming together.

The first volume features more artists with a calculated “crossover” appeal, like Chris Botti and David Sanborn. If you can give them a pass, there is Clark Terry’s patented “Mumbles” and Roy Hargrove quite impressive on “Invitation.” In addition to Sanborn, Phil Woods keeps the fire of Charlie Parker burning brightly during the alto episode.

The red flag for jazz purists will be the “contemporary jazz” episode, with judiciously selected musicians who should have some cred outside of “smooth jazz:” George Duke, Lee Ritenour, and Marcus Miller. Duke had some telling comments on the current state of “contemporary” jazz radio, again in the bonus conversation section: “a big problem is that a lot of people that are young are beginning to think that what they hear a lot on the radio is really jazz, and that’s a problem.” Of the performances, Ritenour’s tribute to Wes Montgomery, “Wes Bound” is arguably the most straight ahead, and may surprise purists.

Throughout the show Lewis is good host, exuding an easy likeability most talk show hosts would envy. Also, check out an informative spot on the Jazz Foundation of America, featuring the great Wendy, in the trailer section. Legends gets props for spreading the word about a truly worthy organization.

Legends of Jazz is well produced showcase for America’s greatest original art-form. It looks good and sounds good. One hopes there will be many seasons to come, and WNET 13 will realize what it is missing. Until they do, we can enjoy Legends v. 1 and 2 on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Return


The Return
Music by Andrey Dergatchev
ECM (1923)


ECM founder Manfred Eicher has co-directed the film Holozän, and produced the music for several others, including the Academy Award winning Journey of Hope, so it is logical his label would become a leader in the soundtrack genre, in addition to jazz and classical. Andrey Dergatchev’s soundtrack for Andrey Zvyagintsev’s The Return, certainly fits the aesthetic standard Eicher set for ECM.

Dergatchev’s music defies easy classification, crossing genres to meet the demands of the on-screen action. Moody and austere, Dergatchev’s music reinforces the emotional isolation of The Return’s characters, particularly on a track like “Piano,” where the title instrument stands out in lonely contrast to the synthesized background. The mood of alienation is also captured on tracks like “The Road” and “Port” which blend location sounds with electronic music, in effect, making the everyday sound otherworldly.

The Title music might be the most accessible. “Titles—Run” synthesizing techno beats with plaintive Eastern sounding melodies, both tracks inspire a trance-like effect, that some DJ is bound to flip over. “Final Titles” echoes “Run,” with the synthesizers up more in the mix, reflecting the film’s theme of return, with the closing music referring back to the opening title theme.

At times, The Return brings to mind the more minimalist “Filmworks” music of John Zorn. It is a spare, but compelling aural landscape. At times it is fragmentary, incorporating the sounds of nature or the human voice, as in the chanting on “Old Man.”

The Return has been compared to the films of Andrei Tarkovsky. The contemplative and mysterious qualities of Dergatchev’s soundtrack lend credence to such analogies. Hearing it without having seen the film leaves one intrigued rather confused, as it expresses the film’s emotional undercurrents clear as a day. It is a fascinating listen.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Hevesi Scandal Developments

Tick, tick, tick . . . Time appears to be running out for “Comptroller” Hevesi. The NYT has endorsed Chris Callaghan, albeit without much gusto. Spitzer has indeed withdrawn his endorsement. Gov. Pataki has appointed a former U.S. Attorney to evaluate the case for impeachment. Flip Pidot calls on New Yorkers to poll their State Senators to find out if they will vote for impeachment. No response yet from my Senator, Liz Krueger, who coincidently Pidot is challenging. For those eager to express their disgust with Hevesi, you can vote to put him into the lexicon permanently here. Tick, tock.

Tomasz Stanko Plays the Music of Freedom—Live


Hearing Tomasz Stanko and quartet live at Birdland was worth staying out late on a school night. Stanko is one of Poland's best known jazz musicians, having captured a large American audience through his albums on ECM. For Eastern European jazz artists, the music had deep significance, as is clear in Nate Chinen’s New York Times feature:

“The message was freedom,” he said one afternoon last week in a Midtown Manhattan hotel room. “For me, as a Polish who was living in Communist country,” he continued in his slightly broken English, “jazz was synonym of Western culture, of freedom, of this different style of life.”

Stanko has mastered the sound of freedom, displaying a stylistic flexibility, having played fiery free jazz and cerebral suites that are as cool as the wind blowing through a Nordic fjord. As Chinen points out, Stanko’s Birdland sets are much more up-tempo and boppish than the moody lyricism of his recent CDs. The melodies from his most recent, Lontano, are beautiful, adapting into excellent vehicles for Stanko’s trumpet chops. His regular rhythm section is a tight working unit, producing exciting solos of their own, particularly Marcin Wasilewski in the piano chair.

Like so many musicians behind the Iron Curtain, Stanko’s initial exposure to jazz was on the Voice of America. During its Cold War heyday, the VOA was arguably one of the most effective government programs ever. Its programming continues to pay dividends, as evident from Stanko’s two sets I heard Wednesday night. He’s there through Saturday.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

AP Misses the Big Story

Devlin Barrett of the AP filed another pre-post-mortem of New York Republicans last night at 9:04 pm. A mere two hours before Barrett’s filing, a leading statewide Democrat facing potential impeachment pleaded for voters’ forgiveness, but there is no mention of this scandal that has rocked Albany in the AP story. Yes, most expect the Clinton and Spitzer to rack up impressive victories at the top of the ticket. However, as Barrett declines to report, over the last two weeks it has been state Democrats who have found themselves divided and angst-ridden over how to deal with the scandal of one of their own: State Comptroller Alan Hevesi.

On Monday, the State Ethics Commission dropped a bombshell, releasing their report confirming Hevesi broke the law by assigning state workers to chauffeur his wife. The report concluded that Hevesi had no valid security concerns to justify such an assignment, despite trying to inappropriately influence a state risk assessment. Given the absence of time sheets and other documentation, the report concludes Hevesi had no intention of making restitution before he was caught.

Gubernatorial candidate Eliot Spitzer, running on a vague, feel-good platform of reform, has been knocked completely off message. Initially Spitzer defended Hevesi, calling him “an honest, stupendous public servant.” Now the Times reports:

"An aide to Mr. Spitzer said that it looked increasingly likely that he would withdraw the endorsement. 'Barring a compelling rationale from Hevesi, it’s likely he’ll be withdrawing his support,' said a high-ranking official with the Spitzer campaign who was granted anonymity so he could discuss the sensitive issue."

Spitzer is not the only uncomfortable Democrat. Attorney General candidate Andrew Cuomo committed to prosecute Hevesi if the Ethics Commission were to forward his case to his office. Now he expects to assume control of an office with an active investigation pending against Hevesi. Spitzer’s running-mate, David Patterson faces the possibility of casting an up or down vote on Hevesi’s impeachment in the State Senate. All Democratic candidates are fielding unwelcome questions on Hevesi.

In the last two weeks, Republican morale in New York has surged. Barrett might have noticed that if he had done a little reporting, but that might have contradicted his preconceived notion.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Nat Hentoff is Not Happy

Norman Lear, noted underwriter of People for the American Way and other extreme liberal groups, is the owner of Concord Records. According to his column in the Nov. Jazz Times, upon Concord’s purchase of Fantasy Records Nat Hentoff called Lear to make two points: “to urge Lear to keep the Fantasy catalog intact” and “to make sure that Terri Hinte—not only the publicist but also the very soul of Fantasy—be retained.”

I have never dealt with Hinte, but she is clearly well respected through out the industry, recognized by the Jazz Journalists Association with their “A Team Award.” Hentoff reports: “Terri had told executives at Concord of her selection for the A Team and on the eve of the awards ceremony, Terri Hinte was fired by Concord Records.” I have enormous respect for both music and book publicists. (Several have been very helpful to this site.) They truly have a difficult, often thankless job. It is a shame that such a passionate advocate for jazz was let go.

I also respect many of Concord’s releases, like the newly discovered Willie Bobo music they released as Lost and Found, which I reviewed thanks to their current publicity department. However, it does seem like the Fantasy reissue program has dramatically slowed since Concord’s acquisition, which is a shame. There is still much classic music in the Fantasy vaults, yet to have a digital life. So far, Lear’s reign over Fantasy has yielded decidedly mixed results.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Is Hevesi’s Ride Over?

Even when revelations that NY State Comptroller Alan Hevesi had improperly used state resources to chauffeur his wife came to light, most assumed Hevesi would be able to run out the clock because of the overwhelming registration advantage Democrats enjoy in the Empire State. Yesterday, in an unprecedented ruling, the State Ethics Commission threw a monkey wrench into the works, by ruling that, yes indeed, Hevesi had broken state law and forwarded his case to the legislature for action (Post and Sun coverage).

Frankly, most in Albany do not know what happens next. The commission has never issued such a finding against a state-wide elected official before. Strangely, few on the right-side of the blogosphere have picked up the story, despite rightly excoriating Hevesi for joking about shooting President Bush in a commencement address earlier this year. Oddly, the only national blog pick up the story so far is Daily Kos.

Republicans have a viable, but under-funded candidate in Christopher Callaghan. By uncovering Hevesi’s abuses, he has already saved New York tax dollars. If Hevesi holds on to win, New York might have to endure the spectacle of impeaching a high ranking official, with presumed Governor Spitzer hand-picking his successor. The Comptroller’s job is indeed a powerful one, a combination of state auditor, treasurer, and sole trustee of the state’s $140 billion pension fund, in which role, according to the NYSun “Mr. Hevesi has been busy investing the state's pension fund in firms managed by his campaign contributors.” Surely New York deserves someone better in the job. Culture of corruption anyone?

Classic Albums: Who’s Next & The Joshua Tree


Classic Albums: Who’s Next & The Joshua Tree
By The Who & U2 (no kidding)
Eagle Media


Remember albums? They used to be more than a collection of tracks to download. Classic albums have become cultural artifacts in and of themselves. The music is instantly recognizable and the cover art has entered the public consciousness as iconic images from music history. The Classic Album series celebrates the making of some of the most recognizable and iconic, recently including Who’s Next and The Joshua Tree.

Obviously, Who’s Next is a great rock album—it supplied theme music for two CSI series. “Babu O’Riley” (CSI NY) is perhaps most representative of the innovative use of synthesizers on the album. It is also one of the more misunderstood Who songs, as Pete Townsend explains:

“For me you know, that notion of teenage wasteland is about waste. It’s not about getting wasted. It is about waste. It’s about wasted life, wasted opportunity, wasted years. I take full responsibility for the fact that my generation complained about the state of the planet and did nothing to change it.”

Who’s Next was a sort of concept album, consisting of tunes composed for Townsend’s aborted film scenario The Lighthouse, and is also distinguished by the experimental elements. It is interesting to hear Townsend’s solo take on “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (you know, CSI Miami), which shows how well the song works stripped down to its barest elements.

On both Who’s Next and Joshua Tree it is fascinating to see the band sharing the credit and the spotlight with their producers and engineers. Obviously, an atmosphere of respect leads to better results in the studio. In discussing his influence on “I still haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” co-producer Daniel Lanois says:

“I’ve always liked gospel music and I encouraged Bono to take it to that place, which he did. It was a very non-U2 thing to do at the time, you know, to go up the street of gospel.”

It is clear that the band and co-producers Brian Eno and Lanois still have a strong working relationship. Also noteworthy, there are no sermons from Bono on African debt, although Adam Clayton does get political when discussing “Mothers of the Disappeared.”

One wonders if this series will only be able to mine the past for future installments, or if rock and pop can still produce great albums. Certainly jazz still can, and does regularly, producing disks like Pat Metheny’s The Way Up and Andrew Hill’s Time Lines that one can expect to stand the test of time. From my perspective it does seem like rock and pop are in a bit of a slump, but comparing current albums against Who’s Next and Joshua Tree, is not a fair standard by any measure. Opening a window into their production actually may make viewers appreciate them more.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Rachel Boring

If you want to hear someone walking on eggshells, listen to Roma Torre’s review of My Name is Rachel Corrie when NY1 replays On Stage tonight. While Torre tries not to address the political issues of the play in a way that would alienate her presumably left-leaning audience, it is clear in her review she found the production lacking:

“it is a very small work, depicting the limited perspective of a young woman.”

“incomplete.”

“her diary entries emerge rather helter-skelter.”

“there is too much reliance on Corrie’s own words which don’t always tie together cohesively, and not enough context.”

“so many blanks in the script.”

“it feels so incomplete. We know there’s so much that’s missing in her world view. And focusing the work on her unleavened political beliefs yields a disservice to Ms. Corrie.”

“needs far more fleshing out”

“politics were the least interesting part of her story”

And in her post-review chit-chat with the host: “I don’t know if people are going to get their money’s worth in this one.”

Not exactly a rave. In the accompanying footage we hear Megan Dodds, as Corrie, turning the earnest nobility up to eleven, soliloquizing: “I can’t cool boiling waters in Russia. I can’t be Picasso. I can’t be Jesus. I can’t save the planet single-handedly.” Imagine sitting through two hours or so of that.

Torre does however, uncritical buy into some of the Corrie propaganda when she says: “She [Corrie] was especially disturbed by the brutal Israeli practice of bulldozing Palestinian homes to the ground.” No mention of why Israel would do such a thing. Of course, those homes were concealing tunnels used to smuggle arms for terrorist attacks on innocent Israeli citizens. Corrie’s organization ISM had a long history of coordinating with Palestinian terrorist organizations. As Torre said in her review, a little context here would be helpful.

Out of the Long Dark


Out of the Long Dark: the Life of Ian Carr
By Alyn Shipton
Equinox
1-84553-222-8


Ian Carr is a jazz artist probably better known in America as a man of letters, particularly for his biography of Miles Davis. In Out of the Long Dark, biographer Shipton explains how Davis exerted a powerful influence over Carr, as the careers of both jazzmen often moved in parallel directions.

Carr settled on music after a premature attempt at a literary career. Initially attracting attention in the Emcee Five, a group the included Carr’s brother Mike in the piano chair, Ian Carr rose to prominence in the UK jazz scene as the co-leader of the Rendell-Carr Quintet.

Carr’s compositions have often taken inspiration from literature, and frequently feature sly word play. Shipton explains the pun in the title of the third Rendell-Carr LP, largely lost on American listeners:

“‘Phase III’ was also a tariff of the London Electricity Board, and to those who heard the name in those days, it immediately implied late night heat, as well as the accumulation and release of energy.” (p. 76)

As Miles Davis plugged-in and turned to rock forms for inspiration, so too did Carr, with the formation of his cooperative band Nucleus. While Davis found his largest audiences through albums like Bitches Brew, Carr’s work with Nucleus was much more popular on the Continent, particularly Germany, than in his native Britain. Carr did have a seemingly unlikely champion, John Dixon of Capitol Records, a major American label. As Carr relates:

“But unbeknownst to me, in America, John Dixon at Capitol Records had every record I ever made. When he read in the trade press that I’d left Phonogram (who owned Vertigo), he sent a message to EMI in London saying ‘Ian Carr is free—sign him up!'” (p. 116)

The meeting between Carr and EMI was actually a disaster, with both parties deciding to take a pass. Dixon however, was not to be deterred by the British division’s lack of enthusiasm, saying according to Carr: “Never mind, we’ll sign him direct.” (p. 117)

As a result, Carr “had an American contract and with it, American levels of money.” (p. 117) Dixon would be an important friend in Carr’s life—one Shipton credits for his support during Carr’s bout with depression. Out of the Long Dark takes its name from the title of Carr’s first post-depression LP and the second and final under his Capitol contract.

Nucleus continued to be vital force, even after Carr was hospitalized for colon cancer treatment. Shortly after finishing treatment, Carr embarked on a grueling tour of Latin America for the British Council, documented in the trumpeter’s diary. While sniffing about the suspected but unseen poverty caused by “Milton Friedman’s monetarist policies” Carr relates the nuanced crash course in Chilean history he received from Peter Schwartz of the British Council:

“Allende’s two parties, socialists and communists, couldn’t agree and soon there were 18 parties in parliament. Allende made a law keeping prices low, and so big business refused to produce goods. For almost two years there was nothing in shops. Peter was offered a batch of 500 toilet rolls, when he only wanted a few, but he had to take them all or go without. So he used to trade them with his friends . . . He and his associates at the British Council took it in turns to queue all day for rice or work all day in the office. Peter got fed up with Allende. Eventually everyone in Santiago, except Allende, knew about the impending coup.” (p. 140)

Not surprisingly, Allende’s price controls were no more effective over-ruling the forces of supply and demand than they have been anywhere else. While Carr may not be a keen commentator on economics he is certainly an insightful writer on jazz, and a tireless advocate for British artists. His book on Davis is considered one of, if not the, standard biographies on the trumpet legend. Shipton is not so enthusiast in his reading of Carr’s biography of Keith Jarrett arguing:

“Ian’s fervent enthusiasm for Jarrett . . . in some ways makes this a less satisfactory biography than the earlier book on Miles. Whereas Miles was examined warts and all, I get the sense that Ian deliberately glossed over aspects of Jarrett’s life, not least in deference to Jarrett’s wish to retain his personal privacy.” (p.159)

Long Dark is certainly makes a passionate case for Carr’s place in music history and will intrigue American listeners who might be unfamiliar with his recorded output. At times though, Shipton’s criticisms of Carr’s Jarrett book might be applied to his writing as well. It does seem Shipton was also reluctant to plumb too deeply, lest it discomfort his subject. He does convey Carr’s music nicely, and leaves one wanting to hear more from one of Britain’s leading jazz artists.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Couturier’s Nostalghia


Nostalghia—Song for Tarkovsky
By Francois Couturier
ECM (#1979)


Jazz has always had an uneasy relationship with film. Sometimes jazz artists have found employment scoring films, or have taken inspiration from cinema for thematic albums. The results, of course, vary widely. Nostalghia—Song For Tarkovsky, Francois Couturier’s tribute to the highly regarded Soviet filmmaker who eventually defected in the 1980’s, is particularly effective because of the diverse nature of the influences synthesized into an original whole.

Nostalghia is most likely to be found on jazz shelves, but Couturier’s compositions owe as much to classical music as they do to jazz. The unusual instrumentation including accordion, is also sometimes reminiscent of more traditional folk music. In short, it is a perfect blend for ECM.

As Tarkovsky’s film’s largely eschewed music, Couturier’s tribute consists of entirely original compositions, and three free improvisations. However, his music does capture the spirit of the director’s work. The opening track, “Le Sacrifice,” captures the meditative spirit of the film of the same name, a philosophical reflection on the impending end of the world. It shows Couturier’s patience to let the music un-spool gradually, as his contemplative piano eventually gives way to Jean-Louis Matinier’s accordion. Approximately halfway through, Couturier’s turbulent run on the piano signals a darker mood shift, echoed by Matinier. “Le Sacrifice” is perfectly representative of the session as whole—sometimes introspective, sometimes unsettling, but challenging music performed at a high level.

“Nostalghia,” the title track, also inspired by a film of the same name, is a fine feature for Jean-Marc Larché’s mournful soprano floating over Couturier’s repeated piano figure. The film expresses the alienation of a Russian traveling abroad, and Larché and cellist Anja Lechner express that sense of loneliness, interrupted midway by a pointillistic solo from Couturier.

“Solaris I” and “II” are free improvisations taking their name from Tarkovsky’s science fiction classic. Solaris plays games with the nature of reality and memory, making it a difficult film to summarize. The first improvisation expresses initial foreboding, resolving into melancholy. The second succeeds as a science fiction tone poem conveying the sounds of the space station before returning to the disquieting mood of the first improv.

“Andrei” takes its inspiration from Andrei Rublev, a film based on the life of the Russian artist that was shelved by Soviet authorities for five years after its completion. It features beautiful interplay between Couturier, at times ranging fairly high up the key board, and Matinnier.

“Stalker (for Edouard Artemiev)” takes inspiration from Stalker, another science fiction film which problematizes the notion of reality. Appropriately “Stalker” opens with Couturier’s darkly rhapsodic piano echoed by Lechner’s cello. As piano and cello combine to form a turbulent sea, Larché’s soprano seems to float above it undisturbed.

The deeply personal, pensive nature of Tarkovsky’s films were stylistically at odds with the state preferred Soviet Realism, so his troubles with state film authorities are hardly surprising. Couturier has composed a beautiful tribute to Tarkovsky’s work that rewards repeated listening. He assembled a group of sympathetic musicians who play well with each other and give each other space when appropriate. By turn ominous and elegiac, Nostalghia captures the essence of the filmmaker who inspired it.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Off-Key Humor and Music from Gilad Atzmon

Vehemently “anti-Zionist” Gilad Atzmon enjoys skirting the boundary of anti-Semetic remarks. The self-described Israeli-born Palestinian has a history a troubling rhetoric (background here and here), and his new pseudonymous band is an over-the top Jewish caricature, reminiscent of the hateful stereotyped character Avrum Shtil from his novel My One and Only Love.

Recently, SF Indy Media got in on the Jewish jokes too, playing straight man in this theatrical interview with Aztmon’s alter ego. In an exaggerated expression of Jewish pride, Atzmon’s alter ego claims Jewish ownership of jazz in this pleasant sound bite:

“Are you a Jazz denier? Don’t you know that where jazz is coming from? Jazz is Jewish, Zwing is Jewish. Just get use to it. Do you want another Shoa, and then the another Schindler Liszt? Let’s stop right there.”

Evidently, Holocaust jokes go over well at Indy Media. Atzmon has musical talent, when he actually shuts up and plays, but you wouldn’t know it from the Fishel samples posted on-line. Artie Fishel is not a musical statement. It is a political screed—caustic bordering on hateful. Not surprisingly, it is a perfect editorial fit for Indy Media.

Rewriting the Election Script

The media has the script written for the 2006 mid-term election: voters disgusted with corruption in D.C. will rise up, making Harry Reid the new Senate majority leader. They still think they’ve got a good script, even if the casting now looks weak. Things could still change before Election Day. There are a number of campaigns I am watching and supporting, in the hopes of effecting a last minute re-write.

One candidate I would like to see have a strong showing is Claire Yan running for Congress (CA-5). She is a former publishing colleague, having worked at Regnery, a house which has recently become a best-seller factory. She recently she worked for a think tank, the Pacific Research Institute. As a publishing professional and a former intern at a think tank in Colorado, I have a particular interest in a candidate with her background. She is also the author of Free to Learn: Lessons from Model Charter Schools. It looks like a tough district, but we could use people in Congress with her background and intellect. (Support her campaign here.)

Michael Steele has brought a jazz aesthetic to his campaign that is quite refreshing. He has also withstood the scandalous dirty tricks of Democrat operatives and the offensive remarks of party leaders who should know better. He has run a nearly perfect campaign, but Maryland’s registration makes this a close fight. (Support his campaign here.)

The rebuilding of New Orleans will be a priority for all Americans, particularly jazz lovers, for years to come. Regardless of which party controls Congress, Republican Joe Lavigne will be more influential than Rep. William “Freezer” Jefferson. Considering Republicans are expected to make significant statewide gains in future election cycles, Lavigne would be better able to coordinate with local officials as well. (Support his campaign here.)

State Democrats expect incumbent NY Comptroller Alan Hevesi to be indicted for his improper use of state funds. However, his scrappy opponent who exposed the state driver scandal, Christopher Callaghan, is so under-funded, they hope Hevesi can just run out the clock. New York deserves a better Comptroller than Hevesi, the man who made headlines earlier this year for suggesting President Bush be shot between the eyes. Callaghan has already shown how much he can do with limited resources. His election would also spare the state the spectacle of a statewide official resigning in disgrace. (Support his campaign here.)

Update 10/24: The State Ethics Commission has concluded Hevesi has indeed broken state law and referred his case to the state legislature for action, including his possible removal from office.

These are four candidates I would like to see take a leading role in rewriting the media’s script. I have given to all four, because they will need help in tough, but not impossible campaigns.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

On Stage Off-Base

On the last broadcast of NY1’s On Stage (transcription not online), Patrick Pacheco pitched softballs to the star and co-creator of the show My Name is Rachel Corrie, the Off-Broadway show which celebrates Corrie, the American college student who went to Rafah with the International Solidarity Movement, a Palestinian advocacy group that considers Hamas and Islamic Jihad “resistance groups.” Corrie was killed when her group disrupted IDF attempts to clear houses with weapon smuggling tunnels, becoming a propaganda tool for Israel haters. Pacheco’s interview did nothing to provide any needed balance or perspective.

Perhaps the truest words spoken came from Viner when asked about the drawbacks of relying on a single viewpoint, admitting: “we didn’t approach it as a piece of journalism. This is a piece of theater. Theater doesn’t have to be balanced—on the one side this, on the other side that.” So New York theatergoers should take their propaganda and like it.

Actress Megan Dodds admitted to general ignorance of the Middle East before she took the role, saying “I had to do as much research as I possibly could in order to understand her experience. Having done that, and trying to, you know, keep up to date on the Middle East, I fell like I still don’t know enough.” Viewers were probably inclined to agree with that statement too. If she missed the resources of MEMRI and CAMERA during her initial research period, they would definitely help her keep up to date. Perhaps her best line was: “I find myself feeling very frustrated as artist because I don’t feel that you should use your means of expression to shout about your political beliefs.” Yeah, right.

Another laughable exchange occurred when Pacheco asked if theater can “widen the perspective” of the debate on Mid East policy, as if there is wide spectrum of opinions expressed on the NY stage. Viner answered with a straight face: “I hope it will make people engage with different sorts of voices” and “do more reading and find out more about the situation.” Again, MEMRI and CAMERA are good places to start for more reading. As for “engaging with different sorts of voices,” good luck waiting for an Off-Broadway production sympathetic to Israel.

Easily Pacheco made the most offensive statement of the night when he stated “It is tragically ironic that the play most reminds me of the Diary of Anne Frank.” Let’s make this clear. Frank was killed by the National Socialists because she was Jewish. Corrie, misguided as she may have been, volunteered for ISM, an organization that supported the PLO and Hamas, terrorist organizations that specifically targeted Jews in Israel. Not a moral equivalent—not even close.

Tom Gross made a salient point early on during the Corrie canonization effort, when he wrote of “The Other Rachel” (Via LGF):

My Name is Rachel Thaler is not the title of a play likely to be produced anytime soon in London. Thaler, aged 16, was blown up at a pizzeria in an Israeli shopping mall. She died after an 11-day struggle for life following the February 16, 2002 attack when a suicide bomber approached a crowd of teenagers and blew himself up.

She was a British citizen, born in London, where her grandparents still live. Yet I doubt that anyone at London’s Royal Court Theatre, or most people in the British media, have heard of her.

Of course, the ISM Corrie was involved with would call the suicide bomber who killed Thaler a resistance fighter. Indeed, suicide bomber Asif Muhammad Hanif was a documented guest at an ISM crash pad five days before he murdered three and wounded fifty in an attack his ISM hosts disavow prior knowledge of.

Next week, On Stage reviews Rachel Corrie. If Roma Torre gets the assignment, there’s a hope for an even-handed review, however she has already had to sit through such dreary agit-prop fare as School of the Americas and The Treatment. If contributing critic David Codey gets the honors, an ideologically motivated rave is in the bag for Corrie.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Justice Stood on Its Head

Further proof of the lasting impact of the Clinton Administration’s cavalier attitude towards terrorism was on display yesterday. Clinton appointee U.S. District Judge John G. Koeltl sentenced convicted terrorist abettor Lynne Stewart to a scant 28 month term, despite acknowledging her actions had "potentially lethal consequences." While her attorneys had claimed: "If you send her to prison, she's going to die. It's as simple as that," Stewart gloated over the lenient sentence boasting: “I can do that standing on my head.”

Contrition should be a precondition for any lenient sentencing. There was none here. Stewart is unrepentant for breaking the law. Judge Koeltl may have been moved by her so-called service to “poor, disadvantaged, and unpopular clients.” Evidently, he had no similar regard for those murdered in the First World Trade Center bombing, the mastermind of which, Omar Abdel-Rahman, Stewart was convicted of aiding. The Clinton Administration has been criticized for treating terrorism as a problem of law enforcement, but Koeltl refused to sentence Stewart accordingly. Judge Koeltl showed a flagrant disregard for the safety of New Yorkers and stood justice on its head.

Stones Truth and Lies


The Rolling Stones: Truth and Lies
Eagle Media


One of the most successful rock bands in history owes its existence to the juke blues of the American South. Named after a Muddy Waters tune, The Rolling Stones have courted controversy since their founding. This comes through clearly in Truth and Lies, a new DVD collecting archival news footage to tell the story of the Stones, as musical, commercial, and journalistic phenomena.

Truth recounts the band’s genesis in of all places a jazz club in Ealing today called the Red Room. They were there to hear Alexis Korner’s Blues Incorporated. Korner is described as: “a guitar player who had been brought up on boogie woogie and played with trad jazz bands. He wasn’t a great musician himself, but he was a great broadcaster and a tremendous kind of champion of the music.” One of the singers who sometimes worked with him was named Mick Jagger.

Their early work was heavily informed by r&b, covering Chuck Berry tunes and touring with the likes of Bo Diddley. The Stones recognized the earthy appeal of those devil blues. As one commentator David Hepworth explains: “Certainly, you were being introduced to this world of extraordinary kind of slick sexual metaphor about “little red roosters” and “down the road a piece” and juke joints and highways, and this kind of dark exotic landscape of the delta and the road up to Chicago. And we [in England] had no geographical reference points for it at all. But Mick Jagger made it sound so attractive.”

As the Stones career progressed, the rock and psychedelic increased, and somewhat at the expense of the blues. The attitude persisted though. Some, Charlie Watts in particular, would return to their blues roots periodically. Of course, as Truth makes clear, the Stones became an industry unto themselves. In fact, one of the more interesting features is the bonus interview with the Stones’ solicitor, Tim Hardacre. According to Goodacre: “altogether they were, I think ideal clients. And even better, they always paid their bills.”

Divorces, management conflicts, and the death of a former band-mate—Truth and Lies has plenty of “Behind the Music” kind of stuff. It is quite something that you can make an interesting documentary about the Stones with only news footage, and no concert film.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Class of 2007

During the previous administration, news of the incoming class of NEA Jazz Masters was treated like a ho-hum event. Under Chairman Dana Gioia the new Jazz Master announcement is actually big news. The Class of 2007 will be:

Toshiko Akiyoshi: a top pianist, bandleader, and arranger who first heard jazz while living in Japan in the late 1940’s.

Curtis Fuller: a trombonist and longtime member of Art Blakey’s Jazz Meesengers, as well as a leader in his own right. (His Cabin in the Sky on Impulse is one of the great often-overlooked jewels yet to be released on CD domestically.)

Ramsey Lewis: Pianist famed for the crossover hit “The In-Crowd” and currently host of Legends of Jazz on PBS (which is sadly consigned to a graveyard timeslot by the NY affiliate).

Jimmy Scott: An amazing vocalist, whose sets now draw celebrity audiences, despite long career hiatuses.

Frank Wess: A reedman who played jazz flute before the flute became the crossover instrument in jazz. Led his own sessions and helped give later Basie bands their distinct sound.

Phil Woods: One of the great Followers of Charlie Parker on alto. Woods was also part of the band that Benny Goodman led on a tour of the Soviet Union on behalf of the U.S. State Department.

Dan Morgenstern: A jazz historian and writer, Morgenstern is currently the director of the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers.

The NEA is a clear example of an agency that has profited from the superior leadership provided by the current administration, and jazz artists have been among the beneficiaries.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

John’s Sanctified Blues


Sanctified Blues
By Mabel John with David Ritz
Harlem Moon tradepaperback
0-7679-2165-8


It is unusual for Christian women’s fiction to be reviewed in this space, but when it’s written by a former Raelette and carries an endorsement from B.B. King, it is certainly noteworthy. Like the protagonist of Sanctified Blues, Mabel John sang with Ray Charles and had a solo career as a soul singer, before becoming an ordained minister. Her co-writer, David Ritz is also well grounded in the blues and soul, having co-written the autobiographies of Charles and King. The result is a novel informed by the Gospel and the blues.

Sanctified Blues takes its name from the soul classic Pastor Albertina Merci penned. It combines the strands of gospel, soul, and blues that run throughout the novel:

“Got the sanctified blues . . .
I miss the church where Mama raised me

Got those sanctified blues . . .
Miss the wisdom that Mama gave me

Sanctified blues . . .
This man ain’t what he said” (p. 62)


Throughout Sanctified Pastor Merci faces many trials, particularly the terminal illness of her niece Cindy. Reluctantly, she finds herself trying to counsel Cindy’s employer, a daytime talk show host bearing a resemblance to Oprah Winfrey. A lot of people get the blues in Sanctified, including Pastor Merci, who tells readers:

“The Blues are deep. I say that because I’m a blues singer. That doesn’t mean I don’t love the Lord. And it doesn’t mean I don’t love praising His holy name. Doesn’t mean I haven’t devoted my life to putting God first. It just means that I know about the blues. (p. 126)

In Sanctified, music and inspiration are intertwined. During an interview Pastor Merci tells a jazz disk jockey:

“Jazz is as much God’s music as gospel. The Bible just says, ‘Make a joyful noise.’ The key word is ‘joyful.’ Jazz is about joy.” (p. 264)

Amen to that. At one point Pastor Merci is edited out of an awards broadcast because she refused to soft-pedal her opening prayer. Give John similar credit here. She obviously wants to express her faith in God and does so in Sanctified with great enthusiasm. Some readers might consider the good Pastor’s frequent prayers and sermons too preachy. However, John stuck by her guns too, and Sanctified expresses her faith without compromise.

Sanctified may not be perfect, after all it is a first novel. Some of the dramatic sub-plots do get a little over-wrought, but she does resist the urge to wrap them all up in a nice little bow. Overall, one has to respect the integrity of Sanctified, and everyone can relate to the blues at its core.

Speaking of Metheny Live

Speaking of Now Live
Pat Metheny Group
Eagle Eye Media

The Metheny Group knows how to put on a live show. After reviewing his latest DVD The Way Up, I’ve been watching his preceding DVD Speaking of Now Live, and it is another really well put together show.

Instead of opening with an up-tempo flag-waver, Metheny starts the show (or at least the DVD sequencing) with a sensitive solo performance of “Last Train Home.” He follows that by ripping through the bop based burner “Go Get It” with drummer Antonio Sanchez. As an opening it lays down the gauntlet to anyone skeptical of musicians associated with fusion, basically saying “deal with that.”

Throughout the concert, the Metheny Group explores challenging arrangements, and exciting group interplay. “Gathering Sky” starts with Metheny’s infectious vamp, echoed by Lyle Mays on piano. However, the group is not afraid to change up the mood from a fleet solo by Metheny to an extended feature for drummer Sanchez.

“On Her Way” is another highlight, generously spotlighting Richard Bona’s thumb piano and vocalizing during a long introduction, somewhat reminiscent of his work with the Zawinul Syndicate. Metheny’s briskly attacks his solo, and the voices of Bona and trumpeter Cuong Vu effectively blend together. It is a performance that really demonstrates the group’s ability to layer harmonies for a wonderful sound.

The Metheny Group brings it down effectively too, as on “A Map of the World & In Her Family,” which opens as a solo statement from Metheny. Mays takes over on piano, starting delicately, than becoming rhapsodic, until Metheny comes back in for a closing seamless duet.

The Pat Metheny Group has produced one strong album after another, so it is nice to see them also documented in live performance. Technically the set-list here does not match the CD track list exactly, but it is close enough for jazz. One can argue if the Metheny group had recorded the album on this particular night, they would have recorded the tunes they chose for this concert. Jazz artists like the Pat Metheny Group certainly prove that the album is still a viable concept and not just a padded vehicle for a couple of singles. Their performance in Speaking of Now Live proves the merit of each tune in over two hours of exciting music.

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Saturday, October 14, 2006

Crescent City Politics

Politics in New Orleans has always enjoyed a certain shady reputation. In the light of post-Katrina rebuilding efforts, cronyism and corruption do not seem as charming.

Yesterday Judge Charles Elloie of the Orleans Parish Criminal Court was suspended by the Louisiana Supreme Court for multiple accusations of judicial abuse. Oh, by the way, he is a Democrat. The Times-Picayune reports:

“In a blistering report it handed the court Sept. 27, the [Louisiana Judicial] commission wrote that Elloie needs to be blocked from exercising his powers as a judge because his ongoing bail-reduction practices amount to a "substantial threat of harm to the administration of justice and the public as a whole."

The commission also targeted Elloie's record between Jan. 1, 2000, and Aug. 14, 2004, of illegally releasing people jailed on municipal charges of domestic violence, which the recommendation says was a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct.

The commission's assessment of Elloie's bail-reduction history corresponds to arguments made by the Metropolitan Crime Commission in New Orleans, a nonprofit watchdog group whose leaders for years have criticized Elloie's judgment as a public safety hazard. The group issued a report in 2005 documenting the judge's pattern of lowering bonds.


“Judge” Elloie was already on probation for making false statements during his 1996 campaign and violating judicial nepotism rules.

It is in this climate that the local NOLA Democrats made the surprising decision today not to endorse Rep. William Jefferson, owner of the celebrated freezer, for re-election. He faces several Democrats, including party endorsed State Rep. Karen Carter and Republican Joe Lavigne. In Louisiana, all candidates regardless of party run in an open primary in November. If no candidate reaches fifty percent plus one, the top two face off in a December run-off.

New Orleans may seem like the least likely opportunity for Republicans to gain a seat, but the national party should be looking at it closely. Despite the local party trying to unify behind Carter, Jefferson should remain formidable. Ray Nagin, who seems to still have a following, is supporting him. Lavigne’s website touts surveys showing him holding onto the second place position for a run-off with Jefferson, at which point it looks to be a statistical dead heat.

Democrats are concerned their base is shrinking in New Orleans. Lavigne might have a real shot (although those poll numbers are over a month old.) If control of Congress hinges on one or two seats, the spectacle of Pelosi campaigning for Jefferson in December, would make an investment in the Lavigne campaign worth it. For New Orleans, Lavigne would be a much more effective advocate than Jefferson, regardless of who controls congress. (You can support his campaign here.)

Friday, October 13, 2006

Talk is Cheap in Jazziz

Herbie Hancock interviews a disbarred attorney in this month’s Jazziz. His name is Bill Clinton. The former lawyer talks a good game on jazz, dropping names like Eric Dolphy and Rahsaan Roland Kirk. However, his administration did no favors for jazz.

Clinton administration NEA Chair Jane Alexander continued a policy of favoring elite projects, with a bias towards the urban and politically correct. Under her stewardship the agency helped underwrite the publication of Fiction Collective 2, featuring violently explicit sexual situations; Women Make Movies, an umbrella group which funded explicit s&m films; a Phoenix Art Museum display of the American flag in a toilet; and the Mission Cultural Center for Latino Arts in San Francisco, an organization affiliated with the FMLN terrorist group of El Salvador, which is now out of business.

However, President Bush appointed Dana Gioia, after Michael Hammond, his first NEA Chair appointee passed away days after taking office. His appointment was a happy development for jazz, as Gioia greatly expanded the jazz programs in the agency. What had been a sleepy agency backwater under Alexander has arguably been the centerpiece of Gioia’s tenure. In the process, he has elevated the NEA Jazz Master Award to something jazz musicians think of as on par with the Academy Awards or even Nobel Prizes. Under Gioia, the NEA has produced touring programs featuring NEA Jazz Masters and Shakespeare productions, bringing the arts to the flyover states, largely ignored by the prior administration.

Aside from contributing to an opera based on the life of Robert Oppenheimer, I have not heard any controversial funding decisions on the part of the NEA, since Gioia's appointment. Unlike under Clinton, the current administration has demonstrated NEA funding decisions can be administered in a responsible and respectful way that stimulates interest in the arts. In doing so, they have rehabilitated the image of the formerly troubled NEA.

In his interview Clinton acknowledges his shortcomings as a musician, saying “there are lots of people like me who weren’t good enough to be professional musicians.” Of course, he can no longer practice law in Arkansas either. Good thing he found something he has a talent for: influence peddling. He should leave the music to Hancock, and the policy making to grown-ups like President Bush and Chairman Gioia.

Thelma Carpenter Seems Like Old Times


Seems Like Old Times
Thelma Carpenter
Sepia Records (1080)


Despite performing with Count Basie and Duke Ellington, there is no entry for Thelma Carpenter in The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (ed. Kernfeld, ’94 edition). It’s not as if she simply disappeared after the big band era, having appeared in films like The Wiz and The Cotton Club. Finally, many of her sides are getting a well deserved digital life on Seems Like Old Times, which one hopes will lead to more recognition for Carpenter.

Unfortunately, Carpenter did not record with Ellington and her time with Basie went largely undocumented due to a WWII era recording ban. However, their recording of “I Didn’t Know About You” survives, showing her fitting nicely into the Basie style, delivering the sentimental lyrics with a touch of playfulness.

Carpenter was the featured vocalist with Teddy Wilson’s short-lived Orchestra, so comparisons to Billie Holiday are to be expected. (She even participated in American Masters' Long Night of Lady Day seen on PBS in 1986.) Like Holiday, Carpenter did not necessarily have the widest range, but was a wonderful interpreter of lyrics with a lovely clear voice, and was comfortable at any tempo. “Love Grows On the White Oak Tree” is upbeat swinger and “This is the Moment” is a more romantic number, but on both she is in perfect sync with the Wilson band.

Carpenter also performed with a band led by Coleman Hawkins, who provides one of the best solos in the collection on “She’s Funny That Way.” Also notable are the tasteful piano solos from the under-appreciated Herman Chittison, whose trio backed Carpenter as she caressed the lyrics to “I Should Care” and “All of My Life.”

On two tracks, Carpenter is backed by the Ames Brothers, then performing as the Amory Brothers. One is an appropriately spirited take on “Joshua Fit De Battle of Jericho,” on which Carpenter swings the band something fierce. The other is the odd “American Lullabye,” something of a nocturne for the hectic modern American life: “Daddy is down at his stockbroker’s office, a-keeping the wolf from the door.” The song is not exactly a standard, but it is a good vehicle for Carpenter's voice.

Carpenter had early success on Broadway, and starred in Hello Dolly and Pippin late in her career. Not surprisingly, she nicely handles the dramatic aspects of show tunes like “I’m Just Wild About Harry” and “Gypsy Blues,” keeping the back-and-forth with Avon Long from sounding too stagey, while supported by another legendary bandleader, Eubie Blake.

Seems Like Old Times provides a wealth of swinging vocals, backed by the likes of Wilson, Basie, Hawkins, Blake, and Luther Henderson. It is a real discovery. Hopefully one of the Grove editors will discover it before their next edition is published.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Robeson’s Drama

For this week at least, the BBC’s favorite Stalinist is Paul Robeson. BBC4 broadcasted Paul and Yolande, a radio play dramatizing the affair between Robeson and uppercrust Brit Yolande Jackson (available here until next Tue.) written by Linda Grant. Actually, Grant’s accompanying article, in the Guardian no less, is actually reasonably nuanced when discussing Robeson’s politics. Grant writes she was more interested in Jackson, conceding Robeson’s flaws, like:

“the terrible errors of political judgment he made, like so many western intellectuals who covered their eyes and bit their tongues when the truth of Stalin’s torture state was there to be seen.”

In her radio play, Robeson comes off as a stentorian figure, making pronouncements on dignity and respect as if he were always speaking at a political rally. Jackson sounds like an actress auditioning for a dinner theater production of Love Letters. Listening to the radio play, it is difficult to understand how they could have had a fifteen minute conversation, let alone come close to marriage.

The play largely skirts the political issues of Robeson’s life, although around the forty-two minute mark, Jackson wonders if she might have “turned him away from the Communist path,” had their relationship worked out differently. Robeson became a willing mouthpiece for the Stalin regime, hewing loyally to the party line. When Soviet forces crushed the Hungarian Revolution, Robeson parroted Moscow, blaming America:

“Of Course, it was not a true uprising of the people. It was inspired by America and other agents.”

Undoubtedly, Robeson’s life has great dramatic potential. How someone with the strength and pride of Robeson could voluntarily cede his political opinions and independence to the Communist Party, calling for the tanks to roll into Hungary, is an intriguing question. As drama though, Paul and Yolande is pretty flat. Read the article instead.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

As Ohio Goes . . . It Could Have Been Worse


If you’re a tad suspicious of a documentary on the 2004 Ohio Presidential campaign produced by the Independent Film Channel, that’s understandable. . . . So Goes the Nation, currently screening at the IFC Film Center in Manhattan was clearly undertaken with the following controversial assumptions: the liberation of Iraq was an immoral mistake, Bush’s tax cuts were bad, and Republicans in general are downright unlovable. However, once directors James D. Stern and Adam Del Deo started rolling the cameras, they captured two very different campaigns: a well planned and well executed Republican effort, and a chaotic Democratic campaign, undercut by the fragmentation of the various extremist 527 groups.

Despite any preconceived notions of the filmmakers, the Republicans definitely come across as the smart ones in So Goes. Where various 527 volunteers are seen wondering around, confused and aimless, the Bush volunteers seem to know exactly what they are doing and why. Everyone credits the Republican strategists for running a smart campaign. Nobody has much good to say about their Democrat counterparts.

It is not like the filmmakers did not try to stack the deck. We follow the Ohio campaign through the eyes of three volunteers. A middle aged public defender volunteering for the Kerry campaign and a grungy organizer for the 527 Vote Mob are depicted as idealists. The one volunteer chosen from the Bush Cheney campaign is painted as an overly type A personality. Yet somehow she seems to connect with real people, while the Kerry volunteers do not.

There are some interesting moments of candor in the film, as when the Vote Mobber expresses unease with level of vitriol expressed in the Bush hatred of some of his allies. He rightly goes so far as to suggest it is insulting to some of the targeted undecided voters to suggest they are considering voting for evil incarnate, and therefore counter-productive.

Certainly the chosen clips and stills of President Bush are often unflattering, but the real loser in So Goes is John Kerry’s future presidential ambitions. When Republican operatives talk about him as a pompous liberal twit, the filmmakers seem to essentially agree. We are treated to images of Kerry the snowboarder, Kerry the windsurfer, Kerry the hockey player (that was one ad I missed). Truly devastating is the “I voted for the 87 billion before I voted against it” sequence, which does not exactly prove Kerry to be a quick thinker on his feet. So Goes hints at one of the fundamental differences of 2004. Left-wing Kerry supporters hated President Bush. Conservative Bush supporters mocked John Kerry. The latter is much healthier than the former.

Clearly, the filmmakers wanted to record a tale of Republican skullduggery. Unfortunately, they did not find any Diebold executives skulking around with a briefcase labeled “emergency Bush votes.” The only real fraud they documented was the bogus voter registrations of groups like Acorn (currently in legal trouble again in Philadelphia and Missouri for fraudulent registrations). However, they tried to laugh it away through an editing trick, whereby multiple Republican supporters were seen decrying the registrations of fictitious names like “Marry Poppins” using the same basic talking points. Of course, that does not change the fact that those abuses happened.

The filmmakers had access to very high ranking officials of both campaigns, and they actually have some interesting, even newsworthy, things to say. They really did capture the feeling of the election too. I was in New Hampshire, and watching So Goes brought it all rushing back. However, the best part of So Goes is the happy ending.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

R. Crumb’s Heroes


R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country
Introduction by Terry Zwigoff
Harry N. Abrams
0-8109-3086-2


The man behind Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural, is also a notorious record collector. Having assembled a famous collection of 78’s, R. Crumb is a recognized authority on early blues, jazz, and country artists, the more obscure the better. His relationship with Nick Perls of Yazoo records, led to three series of collector cards, all of which are reproduced in a larger 5 x 7 size in R. Crumb’s Heroes of Blues, Jazz & Country.

Some legendary musicians are included in Heroes, including Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Son House, and Peetie Wheatstraw. However, there are many lesser known artists, like blues artist Rube Lacey, who “recorded two dance tunes for Paramount Records; four years later he became a minister.” (p. 40) As Crumb’s documentary biographer Terry Zwigoff explains in his introduction:

“The existence of available photographs partly determined the musicians he chose to include. It’s a minor miracle that someone had a photo of Mumford Bean and His Itawambians, a band so obscure that their one existing 78 has only been heard by maybe a dozen hard-core country collectors, and has never been reissued.”

The accompanying text by Stephen Calt, David Jasen, and Richard Nevins is actually most extensive in the country section, making some insightful connections between early blues and country. In describing the Shepherd Brothers, the following comparison is made:

“Melodically, many blues bear a notable resemblance to early white-fundamentalist religious music. The limited scales are almost identical and they share a common modality. If the speed of an archaic primitive Baptist hymn is doubled, the striking similarity to blues is apparent.” (p. 200)

Crumb’s art captures each musician’s personality. Notable was his choice to portray a young Sidney Bechet, instead of drawing from the more familiar photos of Bechet in his older Paris years. There are some interesting tidbits to, like the jazz clarinetist Jimmy Noone, appearing “with the Bowery Boys in the Monogram Pictures film Block Busters (1944) just before he died.” (p. 156)

Packaged with a cool sampler CD featuring tracks from featured artists like Noone, Benny Moten, Skip James, and Frank Stokes (for the record, that’s him featured on the cover), Heroes is a neat little volume. It should cross genre boundaries and maybe lead to interest in different, but in some cases frustratingly hard to find, artists.

Monday, October 09, 2006

In the Iridium

The Sunday of a three day weekend is usually a good night to check out music in the clubs. Maybe you won’t find the largest crowds, but there’s always a good vibe. Such was the case last night at the Iridium. I guess I’ve been away from the Times Square area club too long. I hadn’t seen the new floor plan. Instead of the columns of tables up front, it is now laid out in smaller isolated table set-ups. I could not tell if that affected seating capacity, but it does create a more intimate night club atmosphere. The sound of course, is still great.

It was put to good use last night by Javon Jackson’s group. Jackson was actually an impressive last minute booking, after the scheduled headliner, Gato Barbieri, cancelled due to illness. They sounded great in a well mixed set of standards and originals. Jackson had some real chemistry playing with guitarist David Gilmore, particularly on a duet rendition of “Body and Soul.” He showed his bop chops on Bird’s “My Little Suede Shoes” and unleashed his funkier side on his originals, and popular standards like Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” and Joe Zawinul’s “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy,” his set closer. Also noteworthy was drummer, Rudy Royston, formerly of Denver, who definitely impressed, at one point catching a falling microphone stand literally without missing a beat.

That was actually the third time I have heard Jackson play this year, in various groups. He is definitely a charismatic performer, who never disappoints. That’s the way to usher in Columbus Day.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Way Up Live

The Way Up Live
Pat Metheny Group
Eagle Eye Media

With the most recognizable hair and striped shirts in jazz, Pat Metheny is one of most successful contemporary jazz artists. However, the range Metheny has shown over the course of his career, playing adventurous sets with avant-garde legend Ornette Coleman, composing atmospheric soundtracks for films like Falcon and the Snowman and A Map of the World, and leading one of the top fusion-influenced combos with frequent collaborator Lyle Mays, has left some casual observers confounded as to who the real Metheny is. One reason The Way Up was such an important recording when it was released, is that it seemed to synthesize everything the guitarist has previously explored, into a coherent, album-length statement. It was also great music, so The Way Up Live, featuring the Pat Metheny Group performing this extended piece in Seoul, is a welcome DVD arrival.

The Way Up is a complex work co-composed by Metheny and his frequent writing partner Lyle Mays. To perform it live essentially requires a concert-length time commitment. In the DVD bonus interview, Metheny says: “I almost really have to say, we kind of tricked ourselves by saying ‘okay, we’re never gonna play this live, so we don’t have to worry about it.’”

It turned out to be a good trick, as the group played a fantastic concert for the Korean audience. Metheny and Mays obviously are highly attuned to each other, and their solos are consistently creative. DVD watchers may actually be more aware of the textures created by the percussionists, with drummer Antonio Sanchez, a particular revelation. Trumpeter Cuong Vu has been steadily building a reputation as an exiting improviser experimenting with electronic effects. In this concert it seems Vu seems to use even more distorting effects than on the CD. For both CD and DVD, what makes the ensemble sound truly distinct, is the addition of Gregoire Maret’s harmonica. Everyone blends perfectly, creating exceptional music.

In the same bonus interview, Metheny talks about how changing perceptions of time informed the composing of The Way Up explaining:

“I also see some movies now . . . I mean, there’s a whole new kind of way of just spreading out the details with movies like Amores Perros or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I mean, there’s this whole sense of time being thought of in a kind of different way. And I think as we were writing the piece we were thinking of that.”

The Way Up Live is a well produced concert film. It is nicely lit, sometimes to dramatic effect, but never cheesy. The DVD titles make good use of the pole motif from the CD art. Most importantly, it shows the Pat Metheny Group in top form, performing and improvising on a challenging and rewarding extended composition. It is well worth purchasing from a music/DVD retailer that is still open for business.

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Straight Talk on All Music Guide

Noticed today, Sen. John McCain’s political organization, Straight Talk America, has banner ads on All Music Guide. It would be interesting to see the click through rates, e-mail sign-ups, and donations generated by the AMG ads. Is this part of a strategy to court younger voters and to present a more youthful image? He will probably need many newly registered Republicans, those who are not familiar with the effects of McCain-Feingold, for the Senator to have a chance in a presidential primary.

Friday, October 06, 2006

More Jazz GOTV


Paquito D’Rivera and Arturo Sandoval are outstanding jazz musicians and defectors from the Castro police state currently imposed on Cuba. Recently, I have advocated voting for them in national jazz magazine readers’ polls, and voting is now open for the Jazz Times poll here.

While the NEA Jazz Master title is the highest award in jazz, the magazine poll winners are much more coveted than traditional recording industry accolades, like the Grammy’s, and can lead to more marketing support from labels.

D’Rivera defected in 1980 and has become a beloved figure on the world jazz scene, while remaining a staunch critic of the Castro regime. He has often critized to those in the entertainment industry, like Carlos Santana, who have celebrated the revolutionary executioner Che. He is certainly worthy of votes in the clarinet and alto categories. Also, his beautiful album Jazz Chamber Trio was released within the October 16, 2004 to October 15, 2005 eligibility window.

Arturo Sandoval was the subject of HBO For Love or Country starring Andy Garcia. He was one of the last real protégés of Dizzy Gillespie, who helped facilitate his defection. Sandoval is also an entrepreneur, having recently opened a club in the Miami area. No jazz fan would begrudge him votes in the trumpet category.

As always you should vote your conscience, but I would also suggest votes for Steve Wiest in the trombone category, and the fine British Sepia Records in the best label category, both of whose work has been enthusiastically reviewed here.

Unlike other magazines, Jazz Times has internet voting, so there are no cards to fill-out or ballots to print. Take advantage of a chance to easily do something they cannot currently do in the Cuba D’Rivera and Sandoval were forced to leave—cast a free and fair vote.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

New Orleans Playing a Jazz Chorus


New Orleans Playing a Jazz Chorus
By Samuel Charters
Marion Boyars
0-7145-3131-6

Katrina’s destruction and the prolonged recovery process in New Orleans will be a subject of intense interest in the jazz community for years to come. New Orleans holds a special place in jazz’s heart, both for its historic role as the cradle of jazz, and for the contemporary jazz artists hailing from the Crescent City. With personal ties to the city, writer and record producer Samuel Charters, journeyed back to New Orleans in the aftermath of the storm, chronicling what he saw in New Orleans Playing a Jazz Chorus.

In fact, Charters illustrates a mixed bag of reactions, some good, some tragic, some ugly. One of the sadder consequences of Katrina was the eventual closing of St. Augustine’s Church, which like New York’s St. Peter’s, is known for its jazz congregation. Charters described St. Augustine’s unique décor:

“It was certainly the only church in the world where a flamboyant portrait of Louis Armstrong hung next to a stained glass window depicting the Virgin. Under a 19th century oil painting of Jesus across the church, Louis, in a green tuxedo jacket, raised his trumpet—and his eyes—as if in tribute.” (p. 188)

Sadly, soon after attending a service at St. Augustine’s Charters writes: “I still was surprised and upset when I read in the newspaper a few weeks later that the Catholic Diocese of New Orleans had decided the church would have to be closed.”

Charters witnessed ugly events too, like extremist protesters exploiting the tragedy in New Orleans for their own agenda. At a protest in Armstrong Park, Charters noticed a group of demonstrators who made him uneasy:

“They stood in a group on the sidewalk talking in low voices, each of them holding a neatly lettered sign that looked like it may have been created by a professional advertising agency. The slogans were predictable—they protested the war in Iraq, they protested government policies, they demanded that the American troops be brought home.” (p. 94-95)

Charters offers up the possibility that these protesters were plants designed to discredit the overall protest, but based on the Katrina protests and panels I have attended here in New York, I highly doubt that hypothesis. Far too many have looked to exploit the suffering in New Orleans for political purposes. In doing so, they hurt recovery efforts by creating a divisive political atmosphere.

Fortunately, Charters had some good to report in Jazz Chorus as well, as the musicians there soldier on with their music. Many like the Hot 8 Brass Band continue to build a fan base, as they develop their modern take on the New Orleans brass band tradition. Traditionalists, like Lars Edegran and Barry Martyn keep the flame of classic New Orleans jazz alive and well.

Perhaps the touchstone figure for Charters return to New Orleans was the versatile drummer Johnny Vidacovich. When Charters first heard him play in a small venue, he was blown away, telling Vidacovich: “this was the only new jazz group I’d ever heard that I could boogie to.” (p. 127) Vidacovich impressed Charters with his facility to play in a such a wide variety of contexts, but the drummer declined to chose a favorite style, saying:

“What makes it work for me is just playing with a good group of people. I don’t think it’s any kind of style that makes it ‘close to my heart.’ It’s the people you’re up there playing with that help you get that feeling, and when the music feels good, that’s it. Period.” (p. 175)

Charters is a passionate advocate for New Orleans music scene. He has deep connections to the city, having lived and played in the city for years, and his son’s family now resides there. However, sometimes the author’s voice intrudes a little too much, as readers are treated to a few too many scenes of Charters ruminating while driving through wreckage-strewn streets, looking for particular landmarks. The real soul of New Orleans is not the now storm battered buildings or uprooted trees. It is the music of the city and the musicians who play it. When Charters focuses on their stories, Jazz Chorus is a valuable contribution to understanding the New Orleans music scene, and the continuing challenges facing its artists.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Torture in the Guggenheim

Before he teamed-up with George Soros to fund a group of new secretive left-wing extremist organizations, Peter B. Lewis was the Guggenheim’s biggest sugar daddy. Perhaps last night’s annual Hilla Rebay Lecture was an attempt to patch things up with Lewis, as art took a back seat to ideology in Stephen Eisenman’s lecture The Abu Ghraib Effect: Images of Pathos from Pergamon to Picasso.

Eisenberg gave a highly politicized talk, comparing the images from the Abu Ghraib prison scandal with images from art history. The notorious photo of the hooded inmate certainly has historical precursors. However, more often than not, the side-by-side comparison of Abu Ghraib photos with images from Bacon and Goya did not demonstrate strong visual parallels.

Eisenman argued the Pergamon frieze illustrated the classical notion that the death and torture of mortals by the gods was a necessary condition for the triumph of the natural order. He argued works like the Laocoön idealized torture, blurring the line between agony and ecstasy. Evil capitalism of course, was blamed for completing the process of eroticizing torture, as Eisenman catalogued the various threats to James Bond’s manhood in the 007 books and movies to somehow prove this point.

When actually discussing art, one got the feeling Eisenman’s heart was not really in it. His descriptions of actually works of art were pedestrian and perfunctory. There was no mistaking him for the late art Kirk Vardenoe (who truly conveyed a passion for art during his appearances on Charlie Rose). However, Eisenman certainly perked up when trying to score ideological points.

Eisenman was not subtle in his rhetoric. He used the term “right wing” to describe Lynndie England and the other Abu Ghraib abusers, making much of their white trash background. The words “red state” was mercifully not used, but certainly implied. He wrapped up his presentation with a slide juxtaposing photos of President Bush with England holding the infamous leash, with the clear implication that the one fully approved of the actions of the other.

Nobody defends the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib, despite Eisenman’s crude propaganda technique to suggest otherwise. The obvious issue Eisenman and his Amen corner audience refused to acknowledge, is how fitting his analysis of the Abu Ghraib photos actually would be for the beheading videos and other such films produced by Islamic fascist terrorists. His arguments regarding the need to portray victims as willing participants seem much more apt when applied to the forced conversion video of Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig.

Unfortunately, there was no place for a balanced world view in the Peter B. Lewis Theater last night. Eisenman accused America of “demonizing populations” but had no qualms about branding those he disagreed with politically as “racist” and “imperialist.” While generally listless throughout his lecture, the audience dutifully applauded the ideology at the end. After a sad q&a session, which included a mini-debate on the whether or not snuff films were urban legends (I kid you not), a tortuous night in a great cultural institution finally ended.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Pete Turner—The Color of Jazz

The Color of Jazz: Album Cover Photographs
By Pete Turner
Rizzoli
0-8478-5798-0


Photographer Pete Turner’s work has been seen by millions of people. If you happened to be standing in line to see Close Encounters of the Third Kind in 1977, you probably saw the poster he created for the film. However, it is the images Turner created for jazz record jackets, most often those produced by Creed Taylor, which will probably be his lasting fame. Now his striking album photography has been collected in a beautiful collection titled The Color of Jazz.

In his forward, Quincy Jones expressly compares Turner to other jazz musicians, writing: “when we were in his studio he had an individual presence like composers do. I felt like I was with another musician—he had the chops! He reminded me of Clifford Brown, one of my all-time favorite trumpet players, because they were both gentle, had a certain sensitivity, and you knew they had their shit together.” (p. 6)

Unlike other well-known jazz photographers, like Francis Wolff or William Claxton, Turner’s covers did not rely on portraiture. His covers are more evocative than literal. His images are sometimes abstract or hard to identify, using bold colors and photographic effects. As Turner says of the photo used for Bill Evans’ Montreux II: “Most people don’t know what they’re looking at, just that they like it.” In the case of the Evans album, it is a photo of a boat’s wake in a Norwegian fjord.

One of the pleasures of Color is actually learning where some of the images so familiar to record collectors came from. The dramatic dark figure seen against a red background on Herbie Mann’s Glory of Love is actually “a sculpture by Carl Milles in the Millesgarden north of Stockholm.” (p. 26)

Color has some rare images CTI enthusiasts will enjoy, like the eyeball cover for Under Milkwood, a CTI/A&M LP that was never released. It also includes some alternate shots or outtakes from the series that produced the cover images for albums like Don Sebesky’s Giant Box and Joe Farrell’s Penny Arcade.

Use of color is vivid throughout Turner’s work, so not surprisingly a job in the then Soviet Union proved frustrating. According to Turner: “Time-Life had hired me to do a book on Moscow, part of their series on great cities of the world. That was a tough assignment. The only color I could find was the ‘M’ over the entrances to the subways, and I could only get the Communist government to approve photographing certain subjects, like the Bolshoi.” (p. 131) It did at least lead to the cover for Sir Roland Hanna’s Gershwin Carmichael Cats, a lovely session that is way overdue for CD reissue.

Turner has had a retrospective at the Tate Gallery in London and has had several books published of his work. Photographs, his 1987 collection published by Abrams, now out of print, is also a lovely book, but Colors features superior design and consists entirely of images related to his album cover art. Those who own Photographs will not regret picking up Colors as well. Those who enjoy CTI LPs or visually stimulating photography in general are strongly encouraged to pick up Colors—the jazz gift book of the year.

Looking through Colors summons tactile memories of the great music these images encased. Turner truly provided the signature look for Creed Taylor’s signature CTI sound. Having them preserved in such a well produced volume is indeed a thing of beauty, for anyone who feels romantic for the age of vinyl.

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