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Steve Keen "therealus" (Herts, UK)
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Explorer's Guide Louisiana
Explorer's Guide Louisiana
by Cynthia Campbell
Edition: Paperback
Price: 15.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Good on some detail, but not comprehensive, 11 Jun 2014
As useful as I originally found my Lonely Planet Louisiana And The Deep South, its focus is very broad and it lacks somewhat in the detail of Louisiana itself, given it also takes in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee. That broad brush coverage was useful on my last visit, as I visited three of the four states covered, but next time I’m concentrating on Louisiana, so I need a bit more detail.

Cynthia Campbell’s guide covers some of that detail. For example, whilst LP mentions one club in Frenchmen Street, New Orleans, Campbell manages three. She covers similar ground to LP but more thoroughly, so more hotels, restaurants, nature reserves, fishing boats and so on, and generally more information on each, and also has the advantage of being more recent (2012), and post-Katrina, whilst it appears the LP is still in its 2001 manifestation.

Nevertheless, putting the two together provides some interesting dilemmas, as when Campbell seems to favour Grand Isle as an end-of-the-road destination in the southern swamps, whilst LP more or less dismisses the place as tacky and favours Cocodrie, which Campbell doesn’t mention, instead. I’m hoping to have time to do both, but if time for only one then I may need to flip a quarter.

As with most travel books, Campbell goes a little over the top with how warm, friendly and party-loving are the locals. In amongst the bon viveurs you will inevitably encounter some grumpy ones, and also some dangerous ones, especially in New Orleans, but I don’t remember reading any warnings in that direction from Campbell, whereas LP gives good advice.

So, you pays your money, etc, and next time I’m in the area I’m concentrating on Campbell’s but taking the LP along just in case.


Extremadura / Spain
Extremadura / Spain
by Dirk Hilbers
Edition: Paperback
Price: 19.95

5.0 out of 5 stars Recommended reading, 9 Jun 2014
This review is from: Extremadura / Spain (Paperback)
Whilst I will always turn first to Lonely Planet for general guides to the places I’m visiting, the “general” part tends to be their shortcoming, often lacking focus on some more specialist needs. The Crossbill Guide, whilst sidestepping somewhat the urban attractions of the Extremadura region, provides a very sharp focus on its natural attractions, providing guidance on the wildlife, habitats and trails for which LP sometimes provides at best no more than a sentence or two.

It is excellent in describing the dehesas, steppes and mountains of Extremadura, providing a wide-ranging view of where visitors may get to see the many and varied flora and fauna it has to offer, and detailing a number of walks and drives by which many of these things may be experienced.

It’s not by any means perfect. On one of the drives in particular La Rubia, my long-suffering significant other and ace navigator, became quite uncharacteristically bamboozled by its final stages as described by the authors, leading us to seek recourse in our GPS in order to escape a small but labyrinthine village, which we had somehow encountered without passing through the places billed as its predecessors. Immediately before that we had, or at least thought we had, found the hides the book told us overlooked one of the embalses on the route, but the one we could actually get to was locked. During the same drive we had many reasons to be thankful for taking a packed lunch and copious liquids, as the amenities en route were either closed or just plain non-existent. And we learned early to be sceptical of the book’s weasel words regarding the spotting of some species of birds “in certain years”, as well as holding out little hope of seeing anything in areas where the book advised a telescope would be useful.

Serendipity, of course, plays a major role in nature watching. In the early days of our stay in our rented eyrie atop a hill overlooking the plains the wind blowing from them was strong, attracting incredible numbers of swift, lesser kestrel, black kite and black-winged kite, without doubt one of the area’s star attractions. But once the wind dropped, the numbers dipped considerably. Similarly, I doubt it’s every day that a fox casually lays down next to your car in the car park of an embalse or an ocellated lizard scampers directly in front of your car as advertised in the book.

Then again, if finding birds and other critters was easy we wouldn’t do it, would we? It’s moments like that that make it so exciting. And knowing what it’s possible to see and where certainly increases your chances of seeing more and knowing what it is, as with the lizard.

Definitely, therefore, recommended reading for explorers of the Extremadura.


the imagined savior is far easier to paint
the imagined savior is far easier to paint
Offered by Fulfillment Express
Price: 8.73

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A distinctive musical presence, 27 May 2014
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Although I enjoyed Ambrose Akinmusire’s last CD, I found it a little unadventurous overall. With the imagined savior is far easier to paint he and his collaborators take a step forward into some more edgy sounds and an overall more satisfying package, with none of the little fragments that kind of cluttered the previous one. To spice it up, Akinmusire has added voices and a string quartet, all deployed creatively to provide some of the best new music of the year (so far, anyway).

On Our Basement, Becca Stephens’s voice has a tremulous, almost childlike quality which lends the piece an elegiac tone. It’s backed well by the other musicians, with the OSSA string quartet in particular reinforcing the mood. Cold Specks, on Ceaseless Inexhaustible Child sounds more inebriate Tina Turner than Macey Gray, and the song is supported by some interesting, contemplative piano. Meanwhile, Theo Blackman’s voice on Asiam I found slightly less satisfactory – a little like the singers you get in musicals – but the tune itself is good overall. And on Rollcall For Those Absent, Muna Blake intones the names of victims of shootings, mostly by the police but also that of Travon Martin, shot by a self-appointed, so-far unaccountable vigilante. This is accompanied by mellotron, (spelt mellowtron in the liner notes!), an instrument I thought had gone down with the seventies.

In between are some sparkling, crackling and driving instrumentals, one of which, Inflatedbyspinning, is a piece solely for the string quartet.

The collection ends with the fifteen-minute Richard, a nice closing statement for the band which, as it turns out, was recorded live, although it’s not specified where on the liner notes. For the first third of the piece it appears to be a quartet performing – trumpet, bass, drums, piano - but after about five minutes the sax joins in for a super-extended blow which leads to the assumption that Walter Smith was holding back and filling his lungs while the others waited for him to join in.

With this record, Akinmusire marks himself out as a distinctive musical presence. I look forward to his next outing, but meanwhile I look forward to listening to this one a whole lot more times.


Fortune Tellers: The Story of America's First Economic Forecasters
Fortune Tellers: The Story of America's First Economic Forecasters
by Walter A. Friedman
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 18.10

5.0 out of 5 stars Don't say I didn't warn you..., 27 May 2014
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At the turn of the 20th Century, most Americans rejected any connection between prices, currencies and the employment rate, ascribing booms and busts not to the business cycle but to fate, the weather, politics, divine providence or, for all we know, the tooth fairy. Roger Babson, the first “fortune teller” profiled in Walter Friedman’s excellent study, was a leading influence in turning this view around.

Some of Babson’s prognostications appear now as at best eccentric: he set a rather inordinate amount of store in a supposed connection between the financial markets and Newtonian gravity, but his influence seems irrefutable. Newton himself, after all, believed in alchemy, which does not take away from the brilliance of some of his other work.

However, despite his self-publicity, the brilliance of Babson’s calling of the crash of 1929 fades somewhat given that he had been predicting a crash each year since 1926, during which time the market had seen an unprecedented boom.

Although Babson successfully won many over to the idea of a business cycle, he continued to attribute failures to immorality and profligacy, and peddled a religious message alongside the financial one.

Irving Fisher, Friedman’s second fortune teller, had a more academic grounding, and it is to him we owe the concepts of marginal utility and the use in economics of engineering terms such as equilibrium, stability and friction, betraying his own background.

Whilst Fisher was clearly a pioneering academic economist, Babson was little more than a charlatan: his charts only worked if one accepted the expedient of shifting the median line every time it failed to fit Babson’s hypothesis.

John Moody, on the other hand, propelled by enlightened self-interest, effectively democratised US business data, making it available, at a price, to the masses, or at least those who could afford the five bucks in 1900, when his manual was first published.

However, following a bad period financially, his original enterprise was sold, ironically to Babson, and Moody moved on to forecasting and eventually into the credit-ratings system for which he is now known.

Back then of course it was subscribers, not the firms being rated, who paid for the service. Later, when the rated firms began paying, would develop the situation which some blame for the 2008 crash.

In September 1929 Moody returned to New York from Europe, and immediately detected a bubble in the market which he predicted would burst in spring 1930. Moody, like so many others, hence found himself caught out by history in October 1929.

The remaining profiles concentrate on two pairs of advocates of forecasting: CJ Bullock and Warren Parsons, and Wesley Mitchell and Herbert Hoover. Mitchell was an unreconstructed interventionist, believing that if business cycles could be correctly predicted then they could also be eliminated. Whilst he studied economic mechanisms as if they were machines, he also appreciated the difference, with economic mechanisms dependent on people, and thus impossible ethically to experiment on. Unlike Fisher’s work, based on deductive reasoning, Mitchell used massive amounts of empirical data to draw inductive conclusions. Part of Mitchell and Hoover’s legacy is the NBER, from which emanated a new measure of output, GNP, developed by Simon Kuznets. Friedman asserts that GNP later became the international standard for measuring prosperity, although arguably, rightly or wrongly, that title actually belongs to GDP, which is seen far more often.

Unfortunately, Mitchell and Hoover’s work was devalued when they not only failed to predict the 1929 crash, but Hoover, by then US President, was unable successfully to mitigate its effects.

In a mid-book interlude, Friedman gives an overview of some of the charts used in forecasting, all of which, he implies, give a false sense of certainty about the economy. In the author’s Postscript, which updates the view of forecasting to encompass the events of 2008, he critiques the current theory-free Big Data fad, an infatuation debunked by many economists including Tim Harford in an article in the FT Magazine (March 29/30 2014). Friedman’s key word in this section is “scepticism”. Forecasts are essentially one tool in a wide toolkit for understanding the economy, and are dangerous if used to the exclusion of other tools. Friedman makes reference in this respect to the general lessons of Reinhart and Rogoff’s This Time It’s Different, and Felix Martin, in his book Money (2013), is himself concerned about the ignorance of Financial Economists regarding Macroeconomics, and likewise of Macroeconomists’ ignorance of Financial Economics.

Hence whilst extolling the virtues of the pioneers of financial prediction, Friedman also exposes their many weaknesses, not least of which was overconfidence, and warns that a failure to take a holistic view of the economy, encapsulating as many factors as can be humanly managed (with the aid now, of course, of computers), will almost always lead to unpleasant surprises.

But as I was told very early in my management career, the one thing you can always be sure of about forecasts is that they’ll be wrong. The trick is to minimise how wrong they are, but be ready for the unexpected.


Duende: A Journey In Search Of Flamenco
Duende: A Journey In Search Of Flamenco
by Jason Webster
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.29

3.0 out of 5 stars The search continues, 22 May 2014
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The most striking aspect of Jason Webster’s Duende is the unavoidable feeling of sadness it evokes. Webster sets out to discover duende, the essence of flamenco, in an attempt to find some kind of self-fulfilment. He inevitably finds the shadow flamenco world elusive and surrounded by insurmountable barriers for a guiri such as himself. Instead of succeeding in breaking into the authentic culture he stumbles from pale surrogate to paler surrogate, falling in with other wannabes in Alicante, unrepresentative hucksters in Madrid and, in the event of its regular tocaor being indisposed, a dance school in Granada.

En route he indulges in a rather pathetic affair with an older bailaora, gets sucked into a world of cocaine snorting and autotheft, and is befriended by a mysterious Englishwoman whose almost total lack of relevance to the supposed flamenco theme at least lends some authenticity to the story: a good novel would never feature anyone so unconnected with the plot.

Given that Webster himself is in control of the account, it’s difficult to judge exactly how accomplished he becomes as a flamenco guitarist, but some of the narrative regarding the different palos (flamenco styles) is instructive and verifiable. It’s not on its own, however, a good way to go about learning about flamenco.

Something it possibly will do, though, is extend your knowledge of Spanish swearing: there’s an abundance of examples scattered through the book, which gave me something to say when I found the word “treaded” written instead of “trod” (page 300).

Although I found the opening few pages somehow unsatisfying – it’s definitely not unputdownable – I managed to get into it partly, I guess, by lowering my expectations, and partly because there is quite a good story, though little of it gives a typical view of the culture Webster set out to describe.

Given its history, and that of its principal exponents, the Spanish gitanos, flamenco has become notorious for its impenetrability. There is even debate – I was caught in the crossfire of one in a bar in Seville – about what actually counts as flamenco. The couple trading opinions over my head were discussing the merits in that respect of fandango. Any claim to have broken into the world deserves suspicion, and to his credit Webster seems to realise the extent of his own failure.

What is mysterious is his initial choice of venues: Alicante he admits himself is not a centre for flamenco; Madrid offers a range of “flamenco experiences”, but probably only insiders know which are the real thing. Granada looks a better choice, especially the Albaicín, but why not Seville or Cadiz, both of which have excellent reputations?

So, sad and imperfect, but some good bits in between.


Cajun and Creole Music Makers
Cajun and Creole Music Makers
by Elemore Morgan
Edition: Paperback
Price: 22.05

5.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile addition to the library, 20 May 2014
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Although getting on a little now, this book is still rewarding for anyone interested in hearing, in their own words, about the people associated with Cajun and creole music in southern Louisiana. Through his interviews, Ancelet pieces together the stories of some of the most celebrated musicians of the genre, including Dennis McGee, various Ardoins and Fontenots, Nathan Abshire and members of the Balfa clan. Many of his interviewees have now passed, so the book acts as an invaluable testament to an age now fading from living memory.

One of the most remarkable features of almost all the musicians chronicled here is that making music was not their first profession. Some managed to make a living making musical instruments, but others worked the fields or the rigs or, in the case of Dewey Balfa, drove the local school bus.

But they were always available for impromptu fais do dos, or low-paid gigs at clubs or festivals, and fortunately many of them have left us a recorded legacy to enjoy, augmented by the continued playing of their music by bands dedicated to maintaining the tradition.

Fittingly there are parallel texts in English and French, with lyrics from some of the songs and translations for those of us unfamiliar with Cajun French, and excellent photographs throughout. Altogether a worthwhile addition to the music library.


The Boston Record
The Boston Record
Price: 10.05

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars You can never have too much..., 10 April 2014
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This review is from: The Boston Record (Audio CD)
Here are a couple of related rules of thumb when it comes to buying music: you can never have too much Miles; you can never have too much McLaughlin. And spanning McLaughlin's career from The Inner Mounting Flame to Now Here This, The Boston Record is all the proof you need.

Even when you see that the opener is Raju, from Floating Point, but also available as live versions on Official Pirate and Five Peace Band, you know that you're in for something new. Señor CS, which on Official Pirate ran to over 10 minutes and on Five Peace Band to 20(!), is here boiled down to an essential two. Hijacked is also a little shorter than on Official Pirate.

Some of the material is relatively new, but You Know, You Know is from 1971, a year before I first saw Mahavishnu at Crystal Palace, Love And Understanding (here relabelled as on its instrumental remake, Abbaji, on Floating Point) was on 1991's Electric Dreams, and Hijacked on Que Alegría , from 1992, and is very, very different from that version.

But it's not all familiar to me, with a couple or three tunes mixed in I hadn't heard before.

Whilst heavily electric, though, The Boston Record does not mark a return to Mahavishnu, much as some of us would like it. For starters, The 4th Dimension has neither Jerry Goodman, the 5th dimension, if you like, nor his substitute. And no twin-necked guitar.

Instead, the four dimensions that do appear produce some great fusion for the 21st century, and at the end McLaughlin is heard saying, tantalisingly, "We're just getting warmed up here"!


By Anita Elberse - Blockbusters: Why Big Hits - and Big Risks - are the Future of the Entertainment Business
By Anita Elberse - Blockbusters: Why Big Hits - and Big Risks - are the Future of the Entertainment Business
by Anita Elberse
Edition: Paperback

5.0 out of 5 stars That's entertainment, 2 April 2014
At a time before we knew that most of us were mere Muggles, somebody at Warner had a bright idea and bought the rights to the Harry Potter series. Billions of dollars later this looks like the smartest move ever, but whilst the Harry Potters of this world are front page news, its Barry Snotters, the books that never become part of a megafranchise, rarely even make the footnotes. In Blockbusters, Anita Elberse elaborates on the "nobody knows anything" world of entertainment, demonstrating how William Goldman's characterisation of the industry has become, if anything, even more apposite, and proposing strategies for would-be studio moguls.

Harry Potter encapsulates many of the ingredients for success. Serendipity is clearly one of these, but then very often luck is nothing but opportunity taken. The Potter narrative has all the makings of a four-quadrant movie, appealing to young and old, male and female. And in making the movies, Warner committed big, with lavish CGI and a constellation of stars with box office track records to surround the unavoidably unproven actors, because they had to be children, who would play the central characters.

Committing big is Elberse's principal message. Identify your hit, or your star, and pump money in. As with movies, so with pop music, and one of the book's key stories is of how Lady Gaga was made. But it also applies to rescuing potential, as with her tale of how The Voice US was revitalised by paying top dollar for new judges. The same has happened with The Voice in the UK, with the recruitment of Kylie Minogue (although that story read better before it played out, with ratings even lower).

Underlying the stories Elberse has done her sums, so she is able to correlate movie success with the number of theatres the movie is playing in when it releases: the more, the better. That takes financial and material commitment: spend enough to create the buzz, through advertising and events, that will motivate the theatre chains to go big themselves, but also make sure that while you spend most of your money on the blockbusters there is also a stream of other product to keep the theatres supplied in between and to keep you talking to them, building and perpetuating relationships.

Late on in the book Elberse underlines the importance of relationships in relating how Jay-Z's memoir was successfully, and lucratively, launched, with partnerships built between publishers, publicists, creative houses and Microsoft in order to construct a big, innovative campaign at minimum costs to the principal, Mr Carter, despite the overall cost of the campaign running into several millions. In a related tale she discusses the impact of the Internet, and specifically the fallout from Napster, on Jay-Z's and other musicians' revenues as a result of unbundling, that is, selling single songs online rather than obliging fans to buy a whole album. The account predates the release of Mr Carter's missus's latest release which was sold unbundled: want one track, buy the whole album. No mugs, these Carter-Knowleses.

Elberse's account is interesting both for business professionals and for people who have an interest in the entertainment business. There are plenty of engaging case studies and anecdotes, from music, sport, TV and the movies, and many of the lessons apply as well to business at large as to the entertainment business itself. Being a professor of the Harvard Business School, her account reads like an extended Harvard Business Review article, with all its attendant hyperbole. At times, especially during the Jay-Z account, she comes over as a little too gushing and star-struck, but she soon adjusts her expression, straightens her clothing and returns to business. The book lacks some of the academic rigour that makes Richard Caves's Creative Industries so valuable, lacking a codified model, for example, although she occasionally allows herself a "rhetorical flourish", as in the three Cs of media licensing. But if you're willing to shell out "slightly more" than the fifteen quid cover price I or someone like me (though naturally not so good) would be happy to provide you with a five-minute version even a senior manager could understand and apply, though I admit now it wouldn't be quite as entertaining as reading the whole book for yourself.


Miles At The Fillmore: Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3
Miles At The Fillmore: Miles Davis 1970: The Bootleg Series Vol. 3
Price: 16.83

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best "Bootleg" yet, 1 April 2014
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La Rubia, my long-suffering significant other, shoots me an overindulgent “Yes dear” kind of look as she realises that the package that has just plopped through the postbox is yet another (Yet another? Yet another!) live Miles set. I cautiously avoid the information that, in a way, I already have this one, discretion being the better part of valour at times.

Originally released in heavily edited form due to the limitations of vinyl, this set is supposedly the complete recordings from four nights at the Fillmore East during June 1970. Yet despite having owned and played the original release for a long time now I struggled to recognise anything on CD1, and CD2, whilst starting off sounding familiar, soon moves into unfamiliar ground. There’s some intriguing fiddling with the potentials of the new electronic keyboards, and DeJohnette’s drums are relentless, though sometimes their syncopation works against the flow (a good thing, in this context) and it is Dave Holland’s metronomic bass which is the lynchpin of the enterprise, holding it together rhythmically. As an encore, CD2 features a previously unreleased version of Spanish Key that is almost worth the price of the record on its own.

On CD3 the breakdown in Bitches Brew sounds familiar, but looking at the timings on the liner that appears to be the only piece that survived the cutting room floor on the original release. On CD4, notwithstanding a different title on the original, the opening is instantly recognisable, but with the first statement of the chorus from Directions it becomes fresh and new again. Occasionally, further familiar passages crop up, such as during another Bitches Brew, but overall the good news is that, just like releasing the complete Cellar Doors recordings did not kill Live Evil, so the original Fillmore East release will stand as a valid recording in its own right, and it’s a tribute to the engineering on that release that none of the joins were discernible.

CD1 and CD3 feature between them three tunes from an earlier gig at Fillmore West. On CD1 this is almost better than the Fillmore East material that precedes it, with a richer sound and more driven pace. Miles Runs The Voodoo Down on CD3 is also different in some respects from the East material, being somewhat funkier, DeJohnette’s drums have a different tone, and the mix is different. Unfortunately, possibly due to the original tapes, this dies a rather sudden, ignominious death. The good news from this respect, though, is that whilst I had doubts about mixing the East and West material as it has been, it actually works rather well.

There’s no doubt in my mind that, first, this is the best “Bootleg” release yet in the series, and that second, like the others, it’s mostly not actually a bootleg, although the West material may well be. So far Sony have been quite lucky in plundering years where Miles was relatively well and was touring constantly. Their challenge, if they intend to continue with the series, will come with 1971 and 1973, years for which there is very little live material available, and none, to my knowledge, on Sony. But if they can get it, I’ll be first in line.


Jazzpar Concerts 2003
Jazzpar Concerts 2003
Price: 10.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Somehow this isn't quite right, 18 Mar 2014
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This review is from: Jazzpar Concerts 2003 (Audio CD)
On this CD, Lars Moller, apparently Denmark's top saxophonist, joins or is joined by Geri Allen, one of, if not the, best jazz pianists of her generation, Buster Williams, a top bassist, and Billy Hart, an accomplished drummer.

Two Moller compositions are sandwiched by two of Allen's, and the set rounds off with Invitation, by neither of them.

Almost immediately I was struck by the overemphasis in the mix on the sax, which drowns out some of the interesting stuff going on in the "background". Frankly, I'm afraid the really interesting bits are mostly when the sax is quiet. Williams gets about 45 seconds at the beginning of Blue Skies In Kamchatka, there are several nice breaks by Allen, notably on Bacharach, when Williams also gets forefronted again, and Hart gets a chance to thrash the skins toward the end of Laila's House, but the best bits are when the three play as a trio.

On other records Allen's collaborations with horns have gone well - Steve Coleman, Kenny Garrett, Marcus Belgrave, Oliver Lake, to name the most obvious ones, though I admit I didn't much take to David McMurray on Grand River Crossings, but that was just one track - so it's not that Allen and horns don't mix. It's just that here, they don't.

Nevertheless, the CD itself is interesting, not least in being a recording from a period where there were no Allen recordings released for a few years, so I'm pleased to have it. But if you're looking for your first purchase of Geri Allen music, don't make it this one.


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