All posts by Syd Fablo

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Thelonious Monk Orchestra – At Town Hall

At Town Hall

The Thelonious Monk OrchestraAt Town Hall Riverside RLP 12-300 (1959)


Here’s a great album, if also one that can easily be forgotten among other great jazz material by Monk and others of his era.  It is yet another one of those Monk albums with a familiar selection of his tunes he had recorded before.  But this performance is different.  This is is large band (orchestra), a dectet filled with top-notch players.  This would be long-time collaborator Charlie Rouse‘s first recording with Monk.  The band rehearsed extensively — rehearsals started at 3 AM, after the performers finished regular gigs at clubs, and ran until morning. That effort payed off.  This is a crisp performance for being the group’s public debut.

Monk came up in the be-bop era, which worked somewhat against the trends of “big bands” of the swing era.  So this is a somewhat incongruous staging of his music.  But it works.  A big reason for its success is that the large horn section is used to fill out and enliven the tunes without overdoing it or depriving the songs of the qualities that make them great when performed by a small combo.  The arrangements are somewhat streamlined harmonically, to accentuate the melodic and rhythmic elements.  Yet the harmonics have a subtlety to them that totally subverts the sort of highbrow pretensions that might have been employed instead.  Max Harrison once wrote,

“Thelonious Monk works so exclusively with the most basic materials of jazz that, in the best moments, his playing almost becomes a working definition of that music.  Monk’s pianistic strength lies not in complex executive feats but in a sensitive, vividly incisive deployment of those basics; time, accent, metre, space[.]”

The idiosyncratic phrasings and percussive attacks that immediately identify Monk’s own piano playing are here, with the orchestra hewing closely to a typical Monk performance.  Yet the sonic fabric is different.  It expands into places a piano can’t go.  The players retain some freedom too.  The performances breathe like jazz.

The arrangements are by Hall Overton. They are superb.  Overton and Monk worked closely together to refine everything.  “Little Rootie Tootie” is maybe the most intriguing of the arrangements, with a punchiness and brightness that puts a really unique spin on the tune.

The first time I heard about this album was a mention in the book The Jazz Loft Project, which noted Monk rehearsing at Overton’s loft, located in the same building where photographer and jazz buff W. Eugene Smith lived.  Smith recorded rehearsals — excerpts are heard on this podcast.

All things considered, At Town Hall can count itself among Monk’s best albums.  In a way, it foreshadows some of the ways avant garde jazz would continue to experiment with large bands in the coming decade (The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, etc.).  Big Band and Quartet in Concert would reprise the style of this album a few years later, with Overton again arranging.

Timothy Bryar – Preferring Zizek’s Bartleby Politics

Link to an article by Timothy Bryar:

“Preferring Zizek’s Bartleby Politics,” International Journal of Žižek Studies, Vol 12, No 1 (2018).

 

Bonus links: Crowds and Party“Rimbaud’s Systematic Derangement of the Senses”

Bonus quote: “When the self ceases to exist, the world exists.” Alejandro Jodorowsky, The Finger and the Moon: Zen Teachings and Koans

George Eliason – Untying PropOrNot: Who They Are

Link to an article by George Eliason:

“Untying PropOrNot: Who They Are … and a Look at 2017’s Biggest Fake News Story”

 

This article is rather poorly written, full of self-congratulatory statements, gossipy digressions, and poor organization.  It also succumbs to the philosophically naive belief that “objective” journalism free from ideology is possible — as Rex Butler put it, “it is not simply a matter of seeing which account of reality best matches the ‘facts’, with the one that is closest being the least biased and therefore the best. As soon as the facts are determined, we have already — whether we know it or not — made our choice; we are already within one ideological system or another. The real dispute has already taken place over what is to count as the facts, which facts are relevant, and so on.”  But in spite of all that, the article does point to useful information about the likely source of this neo-McCarthyist campaign within the Clinton political camp.

Bonus links: “Washington Post Reporter Spreads Blacklist of Independent Journalist Sites” and “Fake News on Russia and Other Official Enemies” and “New York Times Cashes in on Facebook’s News Censorship” and “From Facebook to Policebook”

Arundhati Roy – The NGO-ization of Resistance

Link to an excerpt from the book The End of Imagination (2016) by Arundhati Roy:

“The NGO-ization of Resistance”

 

Bonus links:  “Social Service or Social Change?” and “How Corporate Power Converted Wealth Into Philanthropy for Social Control” and “The Joy of Inequality: The Libidinal Economy of Compassionate Consumerism” and “Preferring Zizek’s Bartleby Politics”

Virginia Eubanks – The High-Tech Poorhouse

Link to an interview with Virginia Eubanks, author of Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor (2018), conducted by Sam Adler-Bell:

“The High-Tech Poorhouse”

 

Bonus links: “The Left Hand and the Right Hand of the State” and I, Daniel Blake and Regulating the Poor: The Functions of Public Welfare and The State and Revolution

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken

The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966)

Universal Studios

Director: Alan Rafkin

Main Cast: Don Knotts, Joan Staley, Dick Sargent


Here is a rather mediocre film that nonetheless features a rather great performance by its star Don Knotts.  The basic premise loosely resembles the story “A Fairy Tale About a Boy Who Left Home to Learn About Fear” from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, about staying in a haunted house to win the affections of a girl.  Knotts plays Luther Heggs, an inept man working for a newspaper with aspirations to be a photojournalist.  Another reviewer aptly described the protagonist as having “delusions of adequacy.”  A recurring gag is that as Knotts fumbles about awkwardly and timidly some unidentifiable person in the back of a crowd yells, “Atta-boy Luther!”  Knotts’ finest moment comes when the small town he lives in presents a luncheon in his honor and he gives a speech.  This speech manages to include a practically exhaustive collection of every inept mistake a nervous presenter can make.  Knotts opens speaking in a whisper no one can hear.  He talks mostly about writing the speech, without actually saying much beyond that, other than to briefly pander to the audience by expressing support for the military — a complete non-sequitur.  His hands tremble uncontrollably while holding his notes.  The speech just kind of ends abruptly, without ever having made a point.  Knotts is positively brilliant in the scene.  As a whole, the film is one of those stiff Hollywood set-bound films that is only slightly more advanced in production values than a television sitcom of the day, and there just aren’t quite enough jokes/gags.  But, it is watchable and Knotts shines through the merely passable filmmaking and writing.  This also perhaps influenced Scooby-Doo, Where Are You?

Michael Hudson & Charles Goodhart – Could/Should Jubilee Debt Cancellations Be Reintroduced Today?

Link to an article by Michael Hudson & Charles Goodhart:

“Could/Should Jubilee Debt Cancellations Be Reintroduced Today?”

 

The historical discussions at the beginning of this article are very significant.  The policy proscriptions at the end do address some, but not all, of the important facets of this question (what about militarism/imperialism, race/gender/etc. discrimination, and the like?).  But the proffered solutions are politically naive.  For instance, how will the political power to implement any of these changes arise in the first instance?  People like Thomas Ferguson have shown that electoral politics will not permit candidates with mass-based support to prevail without vetting by elite interests first (“Nobody wins on small-donor cash.”).  Hudson and Goodhart put forward technocratic fixes as a way to sidestep political problems — as if the gating issue is a lack of good technical measures to propose, rather than ideological opposition to the idea that anything needs to be fixed in the first place.  Moreover, when they suggest enforcement is possible just like with tax avoidance, are the authors aware of how lax prosecution of tax evasion crimes is a public disgrace?  And why is advocacy of private home ownership so important to promote, as opposed to, say, public housing provision?  No explanation is given for that normative choice.  And as much as I hate to defend the odious reactionary Walter Scheidel, the criticism that “[h]e does not acknowledge progressive tax policy, limitations on inherited wealth, debt writeoffs or a replacement of debt with equity as means of preventing or reversing the concentration of wealth in the absence of an external crisis[,]” is unfair, because Scheidel is actually correct (and in agreement with Marxists here) that these have historically been temporary anomalies only in the absence of revolution (external crisis?) that shifted which class controlled the state and therefore the ability to impose their preferred policies — these are still good ideas, albeit old ones.  Hudson has for a long time made offhand (and unsupported) comments about how “mixed” economies perform better than communist/socialist or laissez-faire capitalist ones at opposite ends of the spectrum.  This is one of the few times he has gone on record explaining what the vague term “mixed” looks like in terms of real economic programs — a milquetoast, insufficient compromise!  Actually, there are a few decent suggestions here, for instance, the advocacy of government equity stakes in small/medium business enterprises (an extension of Hudson’s long-standing argument that the old German banking model is superior to the currently hegemonic Anglo-Dutch one) would work well for some economic sectors, though that would be the case only with some sort of effective democratic control and probably only alongside full nationalization of at least heavy industry (and probably also banks, and probably large agribusinesses too, etc.).  In short, this article spends too much effort trying to avoid red-baiting that it drifts into irrelevancy in view of superior policies to the left of what the authors propose.  The means they end up trying to smuggle mildly center-left policies in without opening a meaningful political discussion, which would highlight the authors’ political naivety.  Oh well.  Ready the historical section and then just skim or skip the rest.

 

Bonus links: Imperialism: The Highest Stage of Capitalism, Manifesto of the Communist Party, Trouble in Paradise (“the goal of politico-economic analysis is to deploy strategies of how to step out of this infernal circle of debt and guilt”), “Debt Is a Determining Factor in History”