Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Arthur Blythe, RIP

His album Lenox Avenue Breakdown is, simply put, one of the very best jazz albums ever produced. His music epitomized the immediate post-free-jazz avant-garde, when musicians like Blythe, Henry Threadgill, and David Murray sought to restore some of traditional jazz's compositional sophistication and swing while retaining the challenging sonic edginess of free jazz. It's not surprising that some of the best of this music was created in mid-sized bands that opened up options for richer rhythms and harmonies, not to mention unconventional instrumentation, such as electric guitar with tuba.

The NYT obit includes the following:
In 1982, the critic Francis Davis wrote that Mr. Blythe “may well prove to be the magic figure of reconciliation, the force for consensus, that modern jazz has been looking for in vain since the death of John Coltrane in 1967.”
That was not to be. Within a few years, a young crop of neo-traditional musicians had seized what spotlight remained for jazz. Mr. Blythe left New York at the end of the 1990s, and his playing career tapered off.
Well, yes and no. True, and sad, that great innovators like Blythe lost audience to the traditionalists. No diss to Wynton Marsalis, who is a musician of exceptional gifts, but his success represented a compromise and a retreat. On the other hand, "Black Arthur" will live on in the music of such fellow altoists as Rudresh Mahanthappa and Miguel Zenon. Each in his manner expresses Blythe's eclecticism and compositional complexity; each could take a lesson from Blythe and get up in the face of his audience just a little bit more.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Exposure to robots and imports

Someone needs to correlate this with Trumpism (source)...

Yes, robots will take your job... and yours too...

"These numbers are large but not implausible. For example, they imply that one more robot in a commuting zone reduces employment by 6.2 workers..."

So says Professor Acemoglu. He doesn't cite Marx, which is an unfortunate oversight, since Marx had a lot to say about technological unemployment. Myself, I'm a robot pessimist/ optimist. Pessimist because I am very confident that AI/robotics will displace workers in a way that lowers equilibrium wages for a large majority, by a lot. Optimist because all of this liberates humans from toil, if only we can see our way to a mode of distribution that decouples consumption from labor. That's called socialism.

Single payer in America

I knew Medicare was important... but Medicaid even more so?! I guess the exchanges and mandates were just a sideshow to Obama's stealth strategy for achieving socialized health insurance. It was all about Medicaid expansion. The GOP takes control of the entire apparatus of government and can't reverse it. Props, Barack.

Why can't some songs go on forever?

Only three short minutes of this groove... it's just cruel, Eddie.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Reading roundup

Margaret Drabble's The Millstone (1965) is one of those perfectly understated little novels that it seems only the English can write. Touching, funny, a little sad, it is exquisitely written in its pacing, set pieces, and use of language. Given its time and setting, it is also robustly feminist, the story of a young single woman who discovers that she needs only herself... and, well, her unexpected baby. Her life– and indeed the novel– balance on a knife-edge between chance and will. The final scene, featuring a meeting of old friends on Christmas Eve, is thrilling in its range of possibilities. The ending is absolutely right. Superb.

Henry Green was considered "a writer's writer's writer," and I gave Loving (1945) a try. It is an upstairs-downstairs story taking place in Ireland during WWII. Most of the action is downstairs, among the English servants. The book is written almost entirely in dialogue– an impressive exercise, but I struggled to get through it. I'm not a writer, let alone a writer's writer, so there's no reason to expect I would appreciate a writer's writer's writer. I didn't.

Six Four by Hideo Yokoyama has been pitched as a Japanese crime thriller, but it is really a bureaucratic procedural, which sounds worse than it is. The plot revolves around power struggles between different branches of the police force, as well as the journalists who cover them. It's a long book, and rather little actually happens. Somehow it kept my interest. I can't promise it will keep yours.

Friday, March 17, 2017

New and improved euphemism for lying

"... the standoff between the president and the available record..." -NY Times

Get Out

It seems so obvious to base a horror film on racism in America that one is surprised it hasn't been done before... at least not like this. Jordan Peele's Get Out is not a great film, but it is clever, entertaining, and even thought-provoking. Its cleverness lies in embedding the race angle into just about every horror-film cliche you can think of. As it romps from one satirical movie homage to another, it gets you to wondering whether all those classic horror films weren't racial allegories all along.

The Oxford Comma

It is clearer, more logical, and necessary. So of course. I'm happy that Mother Jones endorses it, even if the New York Times does not.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Miguel Zenon Quartet at Bach Dancing

Miguel and his longstanding quartet played a gig at Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society near Half Moon Bay yesterday. It's a venerable spot for live jazz, an intimate wood-paneled venue overlooking the Pacific, with views out to Mavericks, and a fiery sunset over the breakers.

As I have blogged before, Miguel is one of the best saxophonists and composers in jazz right now, and his working band is exceptional. The compositions, all from their new album, Típico, are tightly wound, with flavors from his native Puerto Rico... though nobody would be tempted to get up and dance to this stuff, except maybe a heptapod. However talented the musicians, this is not music you pull off in a jam session, and the quartet's many years together pay off. Even during extended solos, the players are listening and interacting: endless rehearsals, or just mind-meld?

Speaking of aliens, Henry Cole is one of those otherworldly modern jazz drummers who keeps perfect time in about three or four time signatures simultaneously and manages to add rim shots, rolls, and cymbal coloration in conversation with the soloists, but never obtrusively. He listens intently: you can see his eyes laser-beamed across the stage at the pianist, Luis Perdomo. Cole's solo closing the first half was the highlight of the show. Where's the beat? Nothing his hands are doing corresponds to any identifiable pulse. But it's there all right: your toes are tapping along.

I couldn't really ask for anything more from an afternoon of jazz, but I'll try anyway. Miguel, play more ballads. Nobody does it better.