Profile for therealus > Reviews

Personal Profile

Content by therealus
Top Reviewer Ranking: 717
Helpful Votes: 2116

Learn more about Your Profile.

Reviews Written by
therealus "therealus" (Herts, UK)
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20
Miles Davis At Newport: 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4
Miles Davis At Newport: 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series Vol. 4
Price: £19.99

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Something very special, 27 July 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
In reviewing the previous release in this series, I issued Columbia with the challenge of finding similar material from 1971 and 1973. I’d like to thank them for rising to that challenge, even though I admit to entertaining no illusions that the release of this collection is anything whatsoever to do with me.

Unlike the other so-called Bootlegs, this collection ranges over a number of years: three decades, in fact, from one point of view, the fifties, sixties and seventies. They are united by Miles himself and the occasion, the Newport Jazz Festival, although Newport sometimes relocates from Rhode Island to New York, Switzerland and Berlin. When I first looked at the detail of the contents I was tempted to characterise it as a bit of a grab-bag, almost scraping the bottom of the barrel, but after one listening it was quite clear that this is a special release.

It kicks off in 1955 with Duke Ellington himself introducing Thelonious Monk as “the high priest of bop”. Two of the three tunes from that year are Monk’s, one Bird’s, all three excellent. The first disc then advances us to 1958, the sextet which would shortly record Kind Of Blue, and the first, and longest, of four iterations of The Theme, which survives to 1969.

Disc two features the second “great quintet”. The 1966 concert features an All Blues that begins so fast you suspect someone has a train to catch. Its signature 3/4 (or is it 6/8?) shifts into 4/4 with Shorter’s solo, appears to go to 6/8 for few bars, then back to 4/4. In the 1967 concert Seven Steps To Heaven’s basic statement, di duh, di duh, di duh, di duh, di duh, dur dur dur, instead of staying at one level during the final dur dur dur rises through the scale, which I haven’t heard before; Hancock’s vamping is similarly deviant from the original. Round Midnight from this year is a different proposal from that of 1955.

The three tunes from 1969 on Disc three were originally released by Columbia on the Bitches Brew Live album, a fact which contributed to my initial fear that the collection as a whole was a bit of a grab-bag. However, given that overall listening to the four discs end-to-end is difficult to fit into a long afternoon (about five hours), it’s churlish to characterise this as padding. Moreover, listening to it in a different context somehow gave it a new gloss, and ultimately I was left with nothing to complain about.

Even if I had, I may have forgotten once I got into the 1971 concert on Disc four. This was part of what I was requesting, and it delivers big time (about 76 minutes!). It sees the band transitioning from the Cellar Doors set-up from the previous December to the more percussion and beat-oriented bands Miles would run up to 1975. What I Say is recognisable from Cellar Doors, but is followed by a drum and percussion-based interlude, which forms the bridge to Sanctuary. Funky Tonk begins as at the Cellar Door, with Jarrett feeling his way towards the funky core, but more quietly, with sustained notes from Miles and the guitar, the percussion in the background agitating, and then the substantive riff arriving, but again slightly less emphatically than on Cellar Door/Live Evil.

In between the ’69 and ’71 concerts, Disc three features the other part of my request, a 1973 concert, beginning with Turnaroundphrase which, whilst beginning in recognisable form, soon spins off into something new and wonderful. As a bonus, Disc three closes with about seven minutes of Mtume, from a 1975 concert, which seems to be an encore.

Given that its release fell on the week I celebrated my birthday, La Rubia, my long-suffering significant other, has yet to register that one of several generous presents that I sent myself during that time was yet another set of live Miles recordings with familiar-looking titles. This is good as, if the record company find any more material to release as Bootlegs, especially from the seventies, I may just get away with buying that too. The ’71 to ’75 period in particular, live recordings of which still remain less available than the ’69-’70 cornucopia. Over to you, Columbia.
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 28, 2015 7:51 AM BST

The Globalization of Inequality
The Globalization of Inequality
by François Bourguignon
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £16.56

5.0 out of 5 stars A valuable contribution to the debate, suffering at times for want of detail, 27 July 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Inequality is real and harmful; the solution is not easy, but is not as intractable as some would have us believe.

Economist François Bourguignon here provides a complement to his countryman Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century, giving an account of the recent trajectory of inequality around the world, beginning with a definition of inequality and how it may be measured, through per capita GDP, Gini Index or Theil coefficient, and using these to demonstrate how in general inequality between countries has been reducing at the same time as it has been increasing within them. A part of this is equality of opportunity, for example access to housing, education and the trappings of 21st century life. Bourguignon’s heavily qualified conclusion on this point is that inequality is not increasing, but at least on an anecdotal level I would question that: some people trying to get jobs in the UK, for which nowadays access to the internet is a must, have only limited access, as they are unable to afford it themselves and public provision is patchy. Overall I found this the least well-explained section, although it has to be admitted that the concept of inequality is quite slippery and the subject of much contention.

From there on, however, the account is well-handled and clear, with a suitable mix of economic terminology and lay terms. In considering the drivers of inequality he takes into account three key parameters, globalisation, technology and policy. He notes the deepening global interdependence of economies worldwide and the parallel reduction in transport costs, both drivers and consequences of globalisation. Whilst jobs in the “north” are increasingly either high-paid or automated, much production has shifted to the low-wage “south”. Advanced economies are deindustrialising, and productivity is higher there, but employment markets have become increasingly precarious. There is a general polarisation of salaries globally, with exceedingly large and, he contends, unjustified salaries for CEOs, their immediate colleagues and associated professionals such as lawyers, which he attributes to informational rents and contagion. High salaries are particularly disproportionately found in the financial sector, ironically the same sector which caused the Great Recession. He also focuses on welfare cut-backs, privatisation, deregulation, structural adjustment programmes associated with the “Washington Consensus” and the weakening of trades unions, some of which he finds have played an ambiguous role in inequality, some of which may have been outcomes rather than causes.

In advancing potential remedies he challenges the orthodoxy in some circles that there is a trade-off between efficiency and equality through redistribution. In fact, he points out, due to market imperfections and the potential for social instability, inequality can reduce efficiency, by channeling resources into security firms, for example. He recognises the need to optimise redistribution so as not to disincentivise actually working for a living, that is, encouraging freeriding; on the other side of the coin, where the money is coming from, he advocates higher taxation, though not punitive taxation. Studies he cites have shown rates of 60-75% are counterproductive, stimulating tax avoidance. A rate of 55%, however, according to elasticity estimates, would be closer to optimum, and would give plenty of scope in economies such as the US. Deglobalisation and protectionism he dismisses as a lose-lose approach, though he does acknowledge the potential benefits of limited “infant industries” approaches. Similarly, trade preferences have merits but also limitations due to potential barriers to trade such as TRIPS, which can look like protectionism by the back door. Foreign aid has potential but also often fails due to poor governance, perverse incentives and corruption; the solutions he offers to these on the face of it look like those already tried, but maybe something is lost in the interests of brevity.

He recognises, therefore, the difficulties involved in redressing the balance, and dismisses as utopian, for now at least, the notion of global taxes. Ultimately he believes the answer lies not in individualism or mercantilism but in global cooperation to achieve, in aggregate, a win-win. As he implies, this is not a zero-sum game.

Dawn: Live At Century Theatre, Buffalo, Ny(2cd)
Dawn: Live At Century Theatre, Buffalo, Ny(2cd)
Price: £14.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Worthwhile release, 27 July 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This set complements almost perfectly the other live Mahavishnu material in my collection, with only three of the eight titles, Dance Of Maya, Hope and One Word (not One World, as it is called on the jacket here), being overlaps with the Columbia live recordings I have. Its focus is largely the album Birds Of Fire, which would be released two months after this performance, with only Dance of Maya being from another album (1971’s The Inner Mounting Flame).

The sound quality is acceptable for an unofficial release (the recording is from a radio broadcast), with only the intrusion of a very loud announcement, in German, in the middle of One Word giving any real cause for complaint, and possibly being the reason for the stray ‘ell(!) on the sleeve .

Overall running time is an hour and 48 minutes, with four of the tracks approaching or exceeding twenty minutes. The extended timings on the compositions give plenty of scope for everyone to extemporise, so each tune starts off in recognisable form, then veers off into improvisation, hence justifying the bother of buying and playing this as opposed to just playing Birds Of Fire again.

The packaging is reasonably good, although apart from date and location it imparts little information aside from photographs of the individual band members, McLaughlin, Goodman, Hammer, Cobham and Laird.

Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioural Economics
Misbehaving: The Making of Behavioural Economics
by Richard H. Thaler
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £13.60

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bringing economics closer to the real world, 6 July 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Less than two decades ago, when I first studied Financial Economics, the Capital Asset Pricing Model was state of the art, Beta almost the only measure you needed to know, and the Efficient Markets Hypothesis was your basic guide to behaviour. Nowadays, CAPM is an interesting historical footnote, Beta virtually worthless and the EMH a guide to not very much at all. When I returned to economics studies about five years ago the EMH was still being taught, but alongside alternative views such as those of Richard Thaler, who points out, in this book and elsewhere, that only amongst fully rational Econs, mostly economists, does the EMH work. For the rest of us, sometimes known as Humans, anomalies are the rule.

Misbehaving is a sort of biography of Behavioural Economics or rather, as Thaler points out towards the end of the book, Behavioural Sciences, a fusion mostly of economics and psychology, the product of extensive collaboration between practitioners in both disciplines, together with inputs from people with a less discipline-specific role who have been puzzled by the results of some of their endeavours or research. Thaler begins with a few questions of his own, which he develops into The List, a record of behavioural anomalies which contradict rational expectations. He is then lucky enough to encounter the psychologists Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, whose own studies complement his growing sense of discontent with conventional economic models. Together they develop a set of alternatives which seek to understand observed behaviour, and as an increasing number of people are drawn to similar conclusions, both under their influence and independently, the general idea gains traction. Among those named within the Behavioural camp along the way are such luminaries as Lawrence Summers, Robert Shiller and George Akerlof. Others encountered include Eugene Fama, Merton Miller and Michael Jensen.

Rather than being a straight economics text, Thaler presents key concepts within the context of anecdotes, often to amusing effect. Ideas such as Sunk Costs, Hindsight Bias and Confirmation Bias, Loss Aversion, Heuristics and variations on classic Game Theory are well explained, illustrated and justified (I think it would be too presumptuous to say “proven”). In a particularly amusing tale (partly because it involves the Washington Redskins, arch-rivals of my Philadelphia Eagles) he illustrates the “dumb principal problem” of Agency Theory through owner Dan Snyder’s initial enthusiasm for a more rational approach to drafting players, which subsequently founders on his reversion to the traditional approach, trading several picks the following season for an early pick which would secure him the services of quarterback Robert Griffin III. A couple of seasons later the other team involved in the trade, the St Louis Rams, made a big point of fielding the players it thereby gained, during a game in which Griffin was benched, and beating the Redskins 24-0.

On at least one occasion, when he tackles the debates over the Endowment Effect, which describes, in simple terms, the tendency of people to value things they already own more than things they do not, I found myself less than in total agreement with him, and in agreement with those who felt Transaction Costs to be at least partly explanatory. This may not work too well when experimenting with college mugs (Thaler’s starting point), but when it comes to changing gyms (a choice currently confronting me) there’s more to consider than the monetary cost of inertia compared with that of trading out. Nevertheless, the Endowment Effect is slightly less problematic as a practical guide to behaviour than is, say, a Supply and Demand curve, which nevertheless is a useful foundation for understanding; for use, as Thaler suggests for the EMH, as an extreme special case or normative benchmark to be studied before the slightly less straightforward behavioural models.

He also finds himself a hostage to fortune when he talks up survey evidence against economists who sneer at it: he here cites Nate Silver’s past success in predicting election results; unfortunately even Nate was unable to predict the result of the UK General Election in 2015.

There is little doubt, however, of the practical results achievable through application of principles of Behavioural Science. In the chapter prior to the Conclusion, Thaler recounts his meeting with Richard Reeves. Apart from being the person who reviewed Misbehaving for The Guardian (though a little late; I’d almost finished the book by the time they published the review), Reeves was also instrumental in bringing Thaler into what would eventually become the Tories’ “nudge unit”. Like Thaler, I normally distance myself from anything bearing the label conservative, (large or small c), but the nudge unit is one piece of Tory policy I can live with, though I worry that it’s also a bit of a sop to cuddliness, like hug-a-husky or hug-a-hoodie PR, for an outfit whose usual brand of nudge is delivered with a steel toecap by Ian Duncan Smith. The aim of the nudge unit was to make it easy for people to achieve outcomes they would want, rather than outcomes they were conned or forced into. Some of these are associated with pensions, an area where behavioural science has been able to achieve some measure of success. But there have also been problems, and in the case of the UK a sensible-looking approach to getting people to insulate their lofts by offering a parallel loft clearance service (all that clutter being a serious barrier to loft insulation in the first place) appears to have been abandoned.

Nevertheless, economics is marching forwards with its incorporation of behavioural science. Thaler’s account of how this has come about, and the results so far, is both informative and entertaining.

So What: The life of Miles Davis
So What: The life of Miles Davis
by John F. Szwed
Edition: Hardcover

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Insights into a legend, 30 Jun. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
It’s not that long since I reread Ian Carr’s “definitive” biography of Miles Davis, and I’ve also read the “autobiography” as well as a fair few books about specific stages or themes of Davis’s career, so the good news about John Szwed’s contribution to this library is that I often found myself surprised by a piece of information or story.

These often gave me a slightly greater insight into why certain things happened as they did, how recordings were put together, and so on. There are familiar, and harrowing, tales of Davis’s infamous mistreatment of some of those in his life, especially the women but, without sensationalising, Szwed is perhaps a little clearer about what happened and how bad it was. This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a hagiography.

Similarly, where some authors have performed all sorts of gymnastics in order to throw a good light on the music Miles made during his final decade, Szwed is less forgiving. (I will admit here that, whilst being extremely pleased that Davis, who lived comparatively on the edge financially for most of his career, made a lot of money during that period, the only recording I feel happy listening to from the period is Aura.) Of Decoy, for example, he remarks that the record is less interesting than the live performances (without, I have to add, the corollary that that is not saying very much, in my opinion). He rightly dismisses suggestions that Davis at any point “sold out”, though, pointing out that In A Silent Way, one of the “sell out” records, comprised two pieces of eighteen minutes each, a time which in itself guaranteed it would receive no radio airtime.

Perhaps one of its greatest strengths is that it makes an attempt to get to why the best of Miles’s music was so exciting. The risks he and his other musicians were taking. The innovativeness of hard bop, post-bop and modal forms. The organised disorganisation, the melding of musical meters, the “controlled freedom”, the way in which players like Tony Williams and Coltrane were able to make the music so distinctive and dynamic, the cryptic instructions given for some pieces, and the fact that for some pieces there was no instruction at all, and the way many of Miles’s sidemen, both the experienced ones and the green ones, would engage in extended rehearsals which they would later discover were recorded and formed the basis of the next record.

There are, it has to be conceded, a few things not quite right about the book. The first is the title, which should have been the indefinite “a life” rather than the definite “the life”. Maybe Carr’s biography is closer to “the”, but even there the information imparted by Szwed himself, often using untapped sources, shows how wrong even that would have been. There is the slip-up in describing ESP as unique in not featuring pop songs or ballads. What about Kind Of Blue, just to take an example of a record that precedes ESP? Pangaea was not, as Szwed maintains, a “mythological” primordial continent: it existed in reality. But perhaps the most irritating part of the whole deal is that, whilst only towards the end does general punctuation become somewhat erratic, throughout the book the editors have deemed it fitting to incorrectly denote possessives which, in a book where there are a minimum of two Miles’ or Davis’, where Miles’s or Davis’s is correct, is a lot of errors. To compound it all we also have Jelly Roll Morton’ at one point, but also a slip of the editorial pen when, in amongst the erratic stuff at the end, we actually see a Miles’s! (I am attributing the errors to editors as Szwed’s biography of Alan Lomax – “a” biography, not “the” – uses possessives correctly.)

These are, however, cavils. Overall this is a valuable, engaging read, telling the reader new, and potentially important, things about a musician who deserves the sobriquet “legendary”.

April 11, 1970 Fillmore West
April 11, 1970 Fillmore West
Price: £12.82

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still more of the same, but different!, 22 Jun. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
Three of the tracks on this record were released by Columbia last year on Volume 3 of the Bootleg series, but this release offers an additional five titles, six if The Theme is counted, presented as they should be, as a single, rolling piece. They are taken from a radio broadcast of the concert played a day after the one recorded by Columbia, and released as Black Beauty, with Miles playing support to the Grateful Dead (not, as John Szwed says, Laura Nyro) on both dates.

The sound quality on this recording, as might be expected, is slightly inferior to that on Black Beauty, but it is good enough. Despite the nine titles admitted to (for Black Beauty Columbia apparently spent years settling royalties for all the tunes referenced in passing) resembling nine of those from the previous day’s set (Masqualero is absent), in other respects there are significant differences between the two.

Miles had for some time been presenting his music not in discrete, instantly recognised tunes but instead with the composition representing a key feature of ongoing performance. He had rejected the extremes of free jazz, with its abandonment of harmonic structure, talking rather of “controlled freedom”, taking chances, living on the edge of the music and trusting his musicians to pick up on his signals, to do what he wanted them to do which, often with trepidation, they somehow did, a tribute both to them and to the leader.

As ever for this period, the opener is Directions, which runs into Miles Runs The Voodoo Down, Paraphernalia and Footprints, all with very similar times to those given the same titles on the Bootleg. I Fall In Love Too Easily is just about recognisable as it forms a two-minute bridge to Sanctuary, probably the most easily identified of all the tunes, but lasting only just over three minutes before giving way to a vibrant, dynamic track under the title It’s About That Time. The track titled Willie Nelson begins at some arbitrary point during a piano improv by Corea, before segueing into a recognisable rhythmic statement from Willie Nelson itself, which Holland’s bass takes over as Corea improvises around and through it.

Miles joins in for a short while, but largely as a prelude to terminating the performance with a single statement of the principal line of The Theme.

In all the performance clocks in at just over 66 minutes, compared with the 81 on Black Beauty’s two CDs. La Rubia, my long-suffering significant other, as usual treated the purchase of yet another 1970 live album by Miles with resigned indulgence. I have my fingers crossed that she manages the same indulgence when Volume 4 of the Bootleg series is released shortly, four CDs covering Newport performances from 1955 to 1975!
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 20, 2015 11:34 AM BST

Synovial Joints
Synovial Joints
Price: £12.35

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Steve Coleman moves on, 22 Jun. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: Synovial Joints (Audio CD)
Whereas Steve Coleman’s previous release, Functional Arrhythmias, was inspired by the cardiovascular system, Synovial Joints looks to the bones, together with weather systems and African musical forms, using what Coleman, in the liner notes, terms “camouflage orchestration”. It features an ensemble of 21 musicians under the Council of Balance banner.

The last Council of Balance project, Genesis, was an ambitious evocation of the beginning of the world, featuring many passages of deep, portentous sound. Synovial Joints is, by comparison, much lighter in tone. Thus Acupuncture Openings features some percussive vamping, but it is less explosive than that on Genesis. Celtic Cells opens with Coleman’s breathy alto, which after a few bars is joined by Jen Shyu’s voice, which is the only time we hear the vocalist who has previously dominated a number of entire CDs.

The four parts of the title suite are the backbone of the piece, as it were. There’s some nice piano, an instrument which makes a welcome comeback after an overlong absence from recent Coleman recordings. The strings have a similar feel to those used on Genesis, providing extra texture and depth, and there’s a really excellent passage on trombone backed by the strings and piano.

Tempest I expected to be more stormy than it is, though it has its moments. Harmattan, also inspired by the wind is classic Coleman, with its polyrhythmic percussion and ensemble brass, and the vamping more percussive. Mosaic similarly carries Coleman’s signature sound, with the brass underpinned by the piano. The collection rounds off with Eye Of Heru, a pyrotechnics-free piece which on a number of occasions seems to be fading into conclusion, only to revive, until the point where just as you expect it to happen again, it doesn’t, and it ends.

As ever with a Steve Coleman release, listening is more exciting than writing. Like Functional Arrhythmias, this one will be played until the shine is wiped from the surface. Coleman is clearly going through changes, and although the general feel of his music is familiar, in specifics it is significantly moving away from the sounds to be found on even quite recent records such as The Mancy Of Sound (2011). Interesting times.

The Man Who Recorded the World: A Biography of Alan Lomax
The Man Who Recorded the World: A Biography of Alan Lomax
by John F. Szwed
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A life lived to the full, 16 Jun. 2015
Alan Lomax was, and remains, a man of staggering influence in the popular music of the world, and in The Man Who Recorded The World John Szwed gives an account of Lomax’s life which shows why. In the course of his travels, Lomax encounters a veritable Who’s Who of the artistic world including Jackson Pollock (there is an account of him playing harmonica, pre-action painting), John Steinbeck (Lomax worked with him on radio programmes) and David Attenborough, with whom he made TV programmes during his self-imposed exile to escape the McCarthyite witch hunts then underway in the US. Also during that period he acted as folk music adviser for the TV programme The Adventures Of Robin Hood, the writers of which were blacklisted former Hollywood writers.

Wherever he was Lomax was a tireless worker, constantly seeking out new music and the stories behind it. He cared passionately for the people with whom he came in contact, and often found himself in trouble, particularly in the US where he was constantly harassed and arrested for his activities within the black community and his condemnation of its oppression by US society. Later on in life Lomax would become involved in the civil rights movement. However, this aspect of Lomax’s life is not without amusement, as the FBI constantly misidentified him, the overseas agencies asked to keep track of him quickly concluded that Lomax was no threat, and the US attaché in Spain, where the Guardia Civil were asked to monitor Lomax’s activities, was sent a photograph of Lomax which was not, in fact, of Lomax. Furthermore, and ironically, this pinko subversive was later awarded the National Medal of the Arts, by none other than Ronald Reagan.

Throughout his career, Lomax sought out music in homes, prisons, bars, workplaces, and wherever else it may be played, recording it on equipment which at first was quite novel, often heavy, and at times unreliable. Amongst his many “discoveries” was Huddie Ledbetter, more widely known as Lead Belly, with whom he had a usually cordial but occasionally fractious relationship. Lead Belly was himself staggeringly influential, not only in the US but also in the UK, where his songs were recorded by Lonnie Donegan (though not without controversy, as Donegan claimed authorship of songs such as Rock Island Line), who in turn, through those songs, influenced the next generation of British musicians including Jimmy Page and Van Morrison. In the US another Lomax acquaintance, Woody Guthrie, was also influenced by Ledbetter.

Among the many other musicians who get a name check are Son House, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Muddy Waters, Jelly Roll Morton, Pete Seeger, Ewan McColl, Humphrey Lyttleton, Joan Baez and Bob Dylan. With reference to the latter, Lomax had long considered rock and roll to be a form of outlaw music, an expression of rebellion which whites had adapted from black music for their own use. Thus he did not join in the chorus condemning Dylan’s turn to electric instruments, but rather considered it to be the best of rock and roll; rock and roll with a conscience.

Although nearly 400 pages long, with a fairly small typeface, there are many potentially interesting episodes which readers will possibly have to find for themselves elsewhere. For example, In 1964 Ralph Rinzler was despatched by the Lomax-founded Newport Folk Festival to seek out new musics in the US, and one of those he found was Cajun. This launched a wider appreciation of Cajun music and brought to prominence musicians such as Dewey Balfa, with whom Lomax also struck up a working relationship. Balfa was pleased and proud to be able to present his musical heritage on a wider stage, but objected to the way in which Rinzler in particular was trying to mould the music, accusing him of wanting to hear the music as he wanted it to be, not as it was. Following his return to the US from Europe Lomax himself travelled to Louisiana and expressed the opinion that Cajun music as it was then being played was a watered down version of the original. However, although this particular debate over authenticity is not reported by Szwed, authenticity itself is not a field he overlooks totally.

Rather more of an oversight is lack of detail on Lomax’s travels in Spain. We know he travelled extensively there, but there is little information given, particularly of his time in Galicia, but also of his time in Andalucía (perhaps this is a blind spot for the author: after all, the book spells Granada “Grenada”). One claim Szwed makes, however, is that George Avakian, then at Columbia records, gave Miles Davis and Gil Evans a copy of a recording Lomax had made of a Saeta in Seville, which influenced their piece of that title on Sketches Of Spain. However, elsewhere this is less clear cut. In So What, a Davis biography, the Saeta in question is given as that sung by the celebrated Pastora Pavon, but it also adds that several other sources are possible. The author of So What? One John Szwed.

There’s also an amusing faux pas in an account of Lomax’s stay in Ireland, where it is said Cromwell’s “genocidal invasion of Ireland in the 15th century” is still a running sore. Quite a trick, given that Cromwell was not born until 1599.

At the end, the reader is left with an impression of a life lived to the full, often on the very edge as Lomax was seldom in a position to command a secure source of income. But questions arise as to whether he would have been able to achieve rather more had he managed ever to complete even so much as a degree, let alone his PhD, and thereby secure some more formal kind of occupation at an academic institution. In among the many achievements are still more unrealised projects and ideas, including a book, Folk Music Of Spain, for which he prepared a manuscript but never completed the book itself. Perhaps as a formal member of an institution able to command the necessary resources he would have been able to complete more. Then again, such an institution may have strangled some of Lomax’s maverick work at birth, so maybe he was best as a loose cannon.

Incomplete it may be, but that could be said of any biography, and another reader will find other things to point up in that respect. Nevertheless, Szwed has traced the contours of Lomax’s life well. Often unappreciated by his peers, Lomax is appreciated by music lovers who are aware of his work who, like me, are able to appreciate music more because of the legacy Lomax has bequeathed us.

The Traveling Kind
The Traveling Kind
Price: £9.99

5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A combination that works, 16 Jun. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Traveling Kind (Audio CD)
Another excellent album from Harris and Crowell, a fitting follow-up to 2013’s Old Yellow Moon, and for Crowell in particular a further extension of his recent run of outstanding releases, including last year’s marvellous Tarpaper Sky.

The opening, title track has a lovely intimate sound, with the scrapes of fingers on strings seemingly in the same room. Bring It On Home To Memphis is, unsurprisingly, a Presleyish pastiche, flanked by two nice country songs.

Weight Of The World follows. This is not, it may disappoint some to learn, a cover of the Evanescence song of that title but a blue collar boogie blues about the hardships of working in the oil industry and the damage it wreaks. There’s a pinch of Springsteen’s Nebraska in here, and some almost jazzy electric piano. Higher Mountains, up next, is full of emotion, and the piano is amazing.

On KIN, which assembled a constellation of stars to record songs by Crowell and Mary Kerr, Lucinda Williams delivered a soulful rendition of God I’m Missing You. On Travelling Kind Crowell and Harris return the compliment with a cover of Williams’s I Just Wanted To See You So Bad. This version rejigs the phrasing and melody a little, and the production feels like a collaboration between the E Street Band and Roy Orbison (apologies for yet another Springsteen comparison, but I suppose it could be worse).

In my review for KIN, I speculated that Crowell would have played Just Pleasing You differently from Vince Gill, and I’d like to thank him for proving me right: it’s less “Nashville” (a stylistic, not qualitative difference), and though they pretty much share instrumentation the steel guitar in particular is more understated in Crowell’s version.

Her Hair Was Red is Harris in full Emmylou mode, melancholic, channeling her late guiding spirit, Kate McGarrigle, and the set concludes with Le Danse de la Joie, a faux-Cajun piece featuring accordion, fiddle and a French/English mash-up referencing fais do dos and letting the bon temps roulez.

I expect to be playing this as much as I play Old Yellow Moon, that is, a lot. Though lacking anything as hilarious as Bull Rider, it makes up for it with Weight Of The World, which provides a wider perspective to the overall narrative.

Overall you have to conclude that Harris and Crowell is a combination that works, and I’m hoping it will do so again in the not-too-distant future.

World Order: Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History
World Order: Reflections on the Character of Nations and the Course of History
by Henry Kissinger
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £17.00

4.0 out of 5 stars A gorilla in the corner of the room, 1 Jun. 2015
At least two different Henry Kissingers are on display in this book. One is the one he would like us to see: the knowledgeable, occasionally wise elder statesman providing insightful analysis of the way the international system is, how it came to be that way, and the perils it faces today. The other is the at times amnesiac apologist for US policy glossing over inconveniences that could intrude on his narrative. Nevertheless, it is the first Kissinger that makes World Order a difficult-to-ignore contribution to current debates over its titular subject.

Kissinger takes as his reference point the 17th Century so-called Peace of Westphalia, purported to be the pivotal element in the creation of the state-based international system as we see it today, recognising the sovereignty of nations over the meddling of the religious authorities. Whilst some historians have disputed the specific significance of Westphalia in this respect, it is at least of talismanic value. Since then, according to Kissinger’s realist view, in which states are the key units, the root of struggles around the world has been the balance of power in an essentially anarchistic system with no single, overarching power to impose a uniform set of values. He examines these struggles as they have manifest in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, then takes a long look at the role the United States has played in the process since around the days of Theodore Roosevelt.

In terms of the challenges facing the world today, he looks at the ways in which Iran and China are manoeuvring themselves within the world order to gain influence and alter the balance of power both within their own regions and globally. The key omissions from Kissinger’s coverage in this respect, both overall and in relation to China, is the southern hemisphere, which might as well not exist, it receives such scant attention. So he skips the significance of China’s increasing presence in both sub-Saharan Africa and South America, where it is heavily involved in manufacturing, infrastructure and commodities extraction activities, so also inevitably in the business of propping up sometimes unsavoury regimes.

When he turns his attention to the negotiations over Iran’s nuclear capabilities he rightly points out (though several times unnecessarily) that a historic deal is in the offing, but he noodles on too long and repetitively about the potential risks of a deal with the subtext that the US (that is, the Obama administration) is being too trusting and lenient.

On the subject of trusting and lenient, he is extraordinarily generous with praise for his old master Richard Nixon. Whilst it may be true Nixon was a president of uncommon capability and knowledge, he was nevertheless cursed with extraordinarily bad judgement, and was the person responsible for my (and no doubt others’) first awareness of the concepts of realpolitik and Machiavellianism. Risibly he has Nixon’s adversaries “ruthlessly” exploiting Watergate, almost as if they could have overlooked it. (This contrasts with his non-mention of the stink kicked up by his Republican fellow-travellers over Clinton’s relatively trivial dalliances.)

Elsewhere, his treatment of the Vietnam war is equally selective. According to Kissinger’s account, nothing happened there before 1951, and on planet Kissinger the “war” lasted from 1961 to 1975, that is, the Viet Minh never fought the French (Dien Bien Phu never happened); the fact that the US, despite Truman’s self-determination doctrine, backed the colonial French over supporters of Vietnamese independence, is not mentioned; nor is the fact that Ho Chi Minh was trained by the American OSS, fought with them against the Japanese, and drafted a constitution which looked remarkably similar to that of his then US allies. (I’m not saying that if Ho and his chums had been left to their own devices everything would have been fine and dandy, but it goes without saying that the interventions made by the US ensured that everything definitely wasn’t.)

Leaving to one side other omissions, there’s the issue of Islamic State, which seems to have Kissinger baffled, I’d say partly because it doesn’t fit in with his realist point of view (Islamic State isn’t really a state, so it can’t therefore be analysed as a unit within the closed confines of realism). Similarly he struggles with the impact of new technologies because they have the potential of transcending the confines of the state. In tackling these issues he may have done well to refer to the work of scholars such as Castells or Rosenau and the concept of the Global Networked Society, and Lowenstein’s idea of Persistent Agents of Transnational Harm.

This perhaps points up a deeper problem with Kissinger’s narrative: that he seems reluctant to step outside this one, realist, frame of reference, other than the occasional half-hearted foray into liberalism (even then he’s short on thinking on soft power, for example). And this in turn maybe hints at a little bit of laziness in the entire enterprise, with the feeling occasionally that, despite the Acknowledgements referencing a researcher, much of this is Kissinger dictating copy off the top of his head. Hence for example when on consecutive, facing pages, we are told about the assassination of the Austrian Crown Prince in almost identical words except that the Serbian nationalist assassin becomes a Serb nationalist assassin. Similarly within two sentences he speaks of al-Qaeda’s attack on the World Trade Centre in 1993 and that on “New York” in 2001 as if the target locations were different.

Still, as an indubitable gorilla of geopolitics in the corner of the room, Kissinger cannot be ignored. Perhaps, though, the omissions and glosses are as significant as the inclusions and deep thinking to our understanding of a certain strand of US policymaking. The US has the potential of continuing, despite many missteps in the past, to be the best hope for instigating a liberal world order with a set of norms recognising not the primacy of states but of the people that constitute them. Even I can look at that last sentence and recognise its tempered idealism, but it’s a sight better than the Hobbesian world of states jockeying for power that Kissinger’s World Order envisages.

Page: 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | 7 | 8 | 9 | 10 | 11-20