Monday, June 30, 2014

The Citizen's View

Hail Cesar, and welcome July.  We’ve had a printer issue here at the house for longer than I can remember.  Just one of those things that ought to get fixed but never does.  And part of the reason is I can easily shuffle over to the front desk at this compound and use their printer.  For a while I’d come over with a USB.  Then, they, (albeit wisely) had a policy that said no USBs into the system.  But I could go on line and print from the cloud.  That’s cool, I’ll hop on Gmail and source the attachment and print it.  This usually worked well.

This morning a contract came that had taken a very long time to source.  So once I had a moment this morning I was determined to head over, print it, sign it and scan it.  Upon arriving though it dawned on me that my Gmail account would be inaccessible from their computer.  This, because ever since the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen tragedy, some twenty-five days ago, the powers that be have gone from slowing Google down to blocking it outright.  Dutifully I entered the site into the browser, regardless.  Nope.  Might I be able to get to Google Hong Kong?  Nice try.  GFW riseth, until 将计就计[1]

Walking back home I pondered the final straw between me and a new printer.  And pondered as well this process of navigating to the global internet from China.  It is enervating.  It is annoying.  It is ironically understandable that a country or certainly a Party would not want to allow for the manifestation of a force it did not create nor can not orchestrate, free reign.  So things are bluntly blocked.  And it feels blunt, and clumsy and brutish.  Until you recall that many of your own countries control mechanisms and legitimizations for power projection are simply more refined, and familiar.  They don’t feel as blunt because it “’tis of thee.”

Heading in to town this afternoon for a series of meetings.  Three of them, stacked together, back to back.  They’ll be another one after that, but it will be casual.   I’m trying see if I can get everything done in time to pay the barber a visit.  I’m very glad to still have reasonably robust hair, wood knocking as I type that.  When I cut it short it looks well enough.  As it grows out it goes wide before it goes long.  This, unless very well attended to, tends to create a clown-like effect that is undesirable.  We are now well into the Krusty, with fork in socket stage and, more pressingly than the printer, it needs to be addressed, post haste. 

I used to have this gent who was fabulous.  He was a very good barber, from Marseilles.   His English was pretty good and my French was dormant, but between us we covered European politics, what life was like in New York City in the 70’s when he lived there, his left vs. right policy jousts with his son.  We’d laugh, sip espresso and have good time of it.  Then one day he, the owner, mind you, was gone.  “He went back home.”  I see.  The new gentleman’s English is not as good and as a result we didn’t really explore much of anything, save my desired lock lengths.  The former owner had been in Beijing for over fifteen years.  I shot him a text.  I hope he’s well. 

We’ve been deep into the Hammond Organ jazz sound and we’re going to continue in it.  To be fair I have some gentle, majestic Ali Akbar Kahn on “Evening Raga” as the typing falls, but all morning driving the kids to school and getting my coffee it was a Hammond Organ fest.  We listed to Big Joe Patton, who I’ve talked about and Reuben Wilson.  And we also took the time to get to know the one Baby Face Willete.  Son of a missionary he plays most mournfully on this number “Goin Down” from his 1961 release “Face to Face”, that I've gone and switched on cause I felt like it.  Considering this and other cover photography it isn’t hard to understand how he got a name that sounds like a Bugs Bunny episode.  Nothing funny about this solo though.  No sir.

[1] jiāngjìjiùjì:  to beat somebody at their own game (idiom)

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Pull It Up

Back into the routine here in Beijing.  Up early, before anyone to secure some quiet time.  Off then, to the gym.  It was hot in there.  I tried to operate the air con but it seemed futile.  So I flipped open all the windows.  I haven’t had my iPod for three weeks and it was great to have all my old friends, like The Who and Hendrix and the MC5 get things in full gear there on the lonely morning stair master.  For three weeks or so I’ve told myself I was “too busy” to hit the exercise routine and doing sit-ups this morning, on an incline, with a weight behind my head, I felt every one of those twenty one days. 

Walking home, I picked a Plane tree en route and grabbed two branches and did a pull up or two.  This gym of ours doesn’t have anywhere to do pull-ups or chin-ups.  They’re always a pretty elemental gravitational challenge.  You imagine yourself with only your hands to hold you on a cliff.  Would you have what it takes to save yourself?  Perhaps a snapping dinosaur down below would provide the necessary impetus to pull your fat ass up and over.  I think I’m going to make this Plane tree part of my routine, determined, once again, to 发奋图强[1].  Down below at the edge of the sidewalk, a few hundred ants were slowly removing everything except the cartilage from a small frog that had been stepped on.

I had been hopeful about the three albums I found of the drummer Idris Muhammad.  Two of them were early enough where they should be safely anchored in the tradition.  But the latter two were so soft and post-everything fuzak R&B that just didn’t merit a second listening.  His drumming on the Reuben Willams album I mentioned yesterday is just extraordinary.  It all seemed plowed under and subdued by rows and rows of cocaine on these discs from five years later.   A practicing Muslim I can’t say whether he used or not, but whoever produced the mix certainly sounded blissed-out and content.

A recommended artist positioned besides Mr. Muhammad, from that fascinating, risky period of musical transition in jazz history, the early seventies, was the one Gary Bartz from Baltimore Maryland.  I’ve his live 1973 album “Rivers I Have Known” taken from the Langston Hughes poem, on now.  And where as I looked in vain for this hard driving post-pop sound, that I know is out there from Idris Muhamad, this Gary Bartz album, nails it.  The first song “Sifa Zote” is hard driving but anchored, nonetheless in its time.  Hence it’s funky.  And pleasantly, like a lot of these guys who blew up in the 70s, he is still alive and kicking at 73.  Anyone who has “known dusty rivers” is welcome here.  :

North Korea is launching more missiles, two ballistic missiles, to be precise.  The article points out that Xi Jinping intends to visit Seoul, before any meetings with North Korea and that this will be a first.  North Korea, ever more painfully aware of its growing dependence on China is apparently making renewed outreach to Russia, who are also in need of buttressing international alliances.  Kim Jong En, they speculate, must consolidate his power, before worrying about state visits.  From China’s perspective they must be actively considering how they might peel South Korea away from alliance with the US.  A China that more proactively pressures the North may be able to affect some heretofore-immutable change.  China may also be told to shove-off only to see the young Kim sign a pipeline deal with Russia for fuel instead.  The path that South Korea takes though, may ultimately be much more consequential.   What would it take for South Korea to one day decisively cast its future as under China’s protectorateship?

[1] Fāfèntúqiáng:  to make an effort to become strong (idiom); determined to do better / to pull one's socks up

Singin' Bout Fractals

Back up in Beijing.  It’s hot up here.  I don’t quite get how Beijing can be so much hotter than Shanghai.  It’s dry heat though and at least we’re not sweating.  One thing that is immediately notable back home is I no longer have complete license to play whatever music I want.  My daughter’s have a singing class this morning and we’re on route.  The younger one wants to listen to “Let it Go” from the movie “Frozen” a few times in preparation for the class.  Elsa is in the back. Not exactly, 引吭高歌[1], the ice-maiden explains to my daughter being the older princess is hard.  Embumbered with her gift, Elsa's soul is “spiralling in frozen fractals all around.”  I’d sent Maureen Dowd’s Op Ed comparing Elsa with Hillary Clinton.  “The cold never bothered me anyway.”  And upon asking, my older one had actually read it.  Cool.  

I have friends with daughters.  Everyone’s daughter between the age of five and fifteen seems to be into this movie that is apparently an adaptation of an old Norse story.   Everyone referenced seems to be at their wits end having to listen to the songs over and over again.  There is a central older sister / younger sister dynamic that struck bulls eye perfect for my little one.  Twenty minutes in I’ve finally succumbed and asked her to listen to Elsa on my big headphones instead.  In the front seat I’ve put Nara Leao’s moody samba on to share with the Mrs. For the first time.  This is a wee bit more gentle on the morning ears. 

Two days in a row now I’ve been on the ring roads of Beijing and been gob smacked at the ease with which we’ve navigated.  Traffic’s been ‘not-so-bad.’  We’ve turned now on to Jianguomen Wai en route from the fourth to third ring road and we’re completely unencumbered.  How can this be?   U-turning it now through the sterile glass towers of Lang Jia Yuan Road.   It’s Saturday and everyone has headed elsewhere. 

We are now at the second floor of Ju Zi Shu, which appears to be a private establishment of musical instruction, which my wife found. (A quick Romanized search came up short.)  The lobby is confrontationally modern in orange and white and black.  The lobby area I’m in outside is decidedly less well coiffed with scotch tape holding the mirror to the elevator; grout on the walls a bucket of something, up behind me and absolutely no air-conditioning.

Back home now.  En route, I picked back up with “1984” which my older one and I'd been reading together and started in reading aloud the next ten pages.  We were introduced to the comrade Ogilvy whom Winston has been tasked with creating and introducing into history.  This, as another person, previously of note, had been eliminated and Big Brother’s earlier speech had to be altered to remove any reference to this man, who now, never-has-been.  Ogilvy is a revolutionary hero that Wintson makes up in laser sharp anticipation of the creation of Lei Feng and Ou Yang Hai, and other Cultural Revolution heroes, some twenty years later.   We passed a large billboard of Lei Feng on the ride in, along JingMi Road.  I’m sure the Chinese Winston responsible would be happy to know this particular creation is still animate, demanding old and young, rich and poor alike to “devote yourself to the service of others” fifty one years after the initial manufacture.  Craftsmanship.  

Reuben Lincoln Wilson is shaping up this lazy Sunday afternoon here in hot Beijing.  The seventy-nine year old continues on the progression of soulful jazz organists we’ve been considering.  We’ve got a number called “Hot Rod” on from 1969 that invokes an environment that’s about as cool as one dare take things.  These are all assembled on a disc called “BluesBreaks” but it originally appeared on the end of that decade release “Love Bug.”

I just dropped the older one off at school, (yes, it is Sunday evening at 5:20PM.  This is a standard practice.) and rode over to get an espresso at the Starbucks.  (Also, relatively standard.) I turned Mssr. Wilson up as loud as the Honda Odyssey would allow, rolled down the windows and let him cast imprecations left and right in suburban Beijing, “cease in your uncool ways, good people.”  You can take the American out of America but . . . And it dawned on me that what I thought I’d heard before mostly all remained to be listened to. Who is that drummer that seems like some evolutionary leap from Ziggy Modeliste of the Meters?  His solo on this “Hot Rod” tune made me want to pull over.  Who’s shedding that alto like someone who caught the baton from John Coltrane? 

So I went and looked up who’s involved in this set.  OK.  I see.  The man on the horn did pick up the baton from JC in the Miles’ band.  This we can discern as it’s George Colman. Lee Morgan is on trumpet and Grant Green is that undeniable sound on electric guitar.  You don’t need anyone working the bass when you got an eee-lectric organ.  Solid on everyone concerned, but who was Leo Moris the man on drums?   Turns out he would shortly thereafter turn his name to Idris Muhammad and has quite a few dates to his name.  We will be proceeding to engage. 

Fine it is, to be home.

[1] yǐnhánggāogē:  to sing at the top of one's voice (idiom)

Saturday, June 28, 2014

The Word Groovy Itself

Rolling faster and faster now out from the Hong Qiao railway on the high-speed train back home to Beijing.  Its hazy out there but the murk occupies the atmosphere differently in the south, as there is a hint of moisture in the air.  The ground is wet.  Off to the right is the train yard for the high-speed trains.  I’m disappointed, as somehow they all look dirty, even though they’re only five years old or so.  The forty-year-old bullet trains in Japan never look dirty. 

I was stuck in some raw elevated highway traffic on the way out this morning.  Saturday morning at 11:00AM, who knew?  Packed solid.  The clock in the Buick I was traveling in was said I had only twenty minutes to go.  We were progressing at bicycle speed.  I was envisioning leaping and dashing with my big old bag, until the guy clarified that the car 's clock was twelve minutes fast.  The mind moves on to other worries. 

John King Fairbank in his work “The Great Chinese Revolution, 1800 to 1985” took it upon himself to patiently explain China to an average American mindset.  The difference between northern wheat growing China and southern rice growing China was something to be viewed from the air.  Flying in, he described how one could see the rough, arid planes, the yellow earth of the north descending towards Beijing.  Landing in Hong Qiao, which would have been the only airport Shanghai had in JKF’s day, moist verdant aquaculture comes into view.  He would have enjoyed the view from this high-speed train.  I wonder if he’d have been surprised to learn that Beijing South Station would provide high-speed transport but his own Boston South Station, would still be saddled with Amtrak.  Out to my right must be lake TaiHu.  It’s a huge body of water that looks as if nearly every inch of it is being cultivated for fish or snails, or shrimp or anything possible that conceivably be harvested. 

Big John Patton is someone who’s name I wouldn’t have recognized, but I know these tunes, like the one on now “Latona” from some Blue Note Samplers that were released in the 90s.  Born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1935, this album of his, “Let Em Roll” from 1965 sounds like it was in gestation at the same time as the word “groovy”, itself.  I can’t verify but that must be Grant Green on guitar.  ('tis, w. Bobby Hucherson on vibes and Otis Finch on drums.)  John Patton’s organ seems to fill out the space deliberately, gently, calmer than Jimmy Smith before him and Larry Young after.  The Beatles would have released “Help” this year.  I wonder what they made of this groove, at that time?

The byzantine manner in which China has always transferred and continues to transfer governance was on display again this morning, reminding us that the medieval soap operas which every Chinese watches on TV are as good a guide as any to how Xi Jinping will buttress rule in his waxing regime.  Wang Qingliang, the local boy Party chief of Guangzhou, has been put under investigation for anti corruption.  This is akin to putting the fat goldfish that keeps to the corner of the tank under investigation for utilizing his gills.  There is simply no way to rule in contemporary China without facilitating favors.  If someone was somehow pure, if someone asked for nothing and provided nothing, and studiously stuck to selflessly “serving the people” they would be treated as an antibody, isolated, and denied opportunity to rise within a system built on patronage networks.  So these big, bloated goldfish eat while the eating is good, and rise, because its better to rise than fall, 损公肥私[1] of necessity. And they swim about the tank, hoping to survive without being identified as useful to crush.

Wang Qingliang gained attention a few years back for suggesting he was too frugal to afford a house.  I hear you man.  Now he is cited as one of the most flagrantly corrupt officials nationally and a lightning rod of public ire.  Who knows?  More likely it is simply time to smash a local power block as it was in the 90s when Beijing mayor Chen Xitong was smashed or in the naughts when Shanghai Party Secretary Chen Liangyu was smashed.  But brought low because he was particularly corrupt?  Do educated Chinese really believe any of this?  According to the New York Times, in the article that resulted in them being blacklisted domestically, Wen Jiabao’s auntie received stock in Ping An insurance worth about $1.5B.  Where is the benchmark set for particularly egregious corruption?  What could the public ever really know that it isn’t packaged up and fed as fish food?   


The culmination of the Dream of The Read Chamber has the protagonist Jia Bao Yu’s complicated; comfortable, scholarly family suddenly fall under a cloud of imperial scrutiny.  Once the family is under investigation by the Emperor, by the center, nothing that they ever had, nothing they had ever done is secure.  The entire family line will fall.  And Richard the II was killed by Henry IV,  Henry the VIII killed his wives, and it is amusing to consider the rough way the Plantagenates or the Tudors, maintained power just like it is the Qing.  And we are rightly proud of both the regal tradition and of the fact that we’ve moved on from it as an acceptable standard for how to transfer power. 

China should be sublimely proud of their medieval tradition.  And today, who can argue that order hasn’t been more productive than chaos?  I’m glad to be riding on a high-speed train and I’m glad that 450 million people have miraculously migrated from poverty.  But China cannot be singularly proud and satisfied by this means of governance.  Suggesting that this is all that China can expect from leadership; capricious, opaque, courtly deal making wherein power itself is really all that matters, is an insult to this nation.  A middle class majority will increasingly call this out.  Privately I hope the Party acknowledges that it must lead the nation away from rule by fiat or accept that it will be done on someone else’s terms.

I am pulling into Nanjing South Station now.  This is our third stop.  I appear to be on the high-speed, local.  I thought I got on the 4 Train but I’ve wound up the 6 Train, the Lexington Avenue local.  It has to be said that even when one travels at 185MPH+, local trains, and the useless time spent stopping and starting makes the face sour.  Well, at least I know where on the journey I am.  Have I ever been to Xuzhou?  I’d never be able to read the signs before at 185+MPH.  Sit back and enjoy the ride that John King Fairbank never had a chance to take.

[1] sǔngōngféisī:  to damage the public interest for personal profit (idiom); personal profit at public expense / venal and selfish behavior

Friday, June 27, 2014

History as Hagiography

Shanghai heading by.  Sitting on a porch outside a Coffee Bean on the corner of Fuzhou Lu and Yunnan Road.  East-west traffic has the light, till it changes and the north-south folks can do their thing.  One of those buildings over they may be from the Thirties.  The rest are all quick and dirty towers.  There was a drizzle twenty minutes ago and though it has stopped, everyone is stepping lively.  It’s 5:30PM on Friday night and everyone has someplace to go. 

Apparently James Baldwin used to sit by a bar window, in my mind he’s sitting on Terrace of the old Village Gate, but it doesn’t matter, and he’d hold one of his baggy cheeks up with his tired old hand, melancholy, and just watch the world go by, for hours and hours.  To render accurate fiction, you need to watch the real world closely.   Watching a city closely tends to make anyone sad.

An older man just got angry at a car that tried to turn right on red through piles of pedestrian traffic.  He gestured down with both hands as he passed in front of the big SUV as if pressing on an imaginary mattress.  “Slow down!”  There’s a hapless guy in black who’s now taken off his blazer who is trying to sign passersby up for something.  He’s tired. Anyone would be.  No one is interested.  No one would be.  A gent is selling woman’s handbags on off a three-wheeled bicycle just in front of me.  He’s the got the thing in traffic, right in the middle of a crosswalk.  NYC traffic cops would have him ticketed and out of there in about forty-five seconds.  Perhaps he has a lookout guy working with him.  In this traffic he could probably make descent time peddling that three-wheeler out of here.  Interesting, he just went across the street and then came back.  Across the street two other three wheelers with Lord only knows what for sale, have now arrived.  I’m just 拱手旁观[1]

The soundtrack for all this pedestrian activity is George Coleman, the big old tenor player who preceded Wayne Shorter in Miles’ band back in the early 60s. I searched in vain for an obituary as the man from Memphis Tennessee is still walking the earth at 79 years of age.  This album I’ve got on now, was recorded much later in his career in 1976.  “Amsterdam After Dark” isn’t hard to conjure with this song “Lo Joe” on.   One’s eyes darting around up this street and down and around that canal over there.  But it's a sucker punch when the next song is “Autumn in New York.”  If that’s the case, than I don’t want to think about Holland.  I’ll consider the “canyons of steel” in New Amsterdam and just be homesick.   

If I was sitting here around the time Miles “Four & More” was released featuring Coleman, this Baldwin-like studied melancholy wouldn’t have had time to percolate amidst all the rank terror.  Standing on this corner I might have seen counter revolutionaries tied to the front of a truck, driven through town on their way to the execution ground.  Another sucker punch perhaps, but the mind is back there again.  And it’s the news’ fault.  The Times profiled a story from Harbin which has a goofy mock struggle session depicted by some university students that has now gone viral.

And the Chinese web is aghast at their stupidity.  But I can’t see why.  My kids are in Chinese schools and they learn absolutely nothing about contemporary Chinese history that isn’t hagiographic.  As one micro-blogger offered:

“Maybe these college kids think it’s funny, but these photos expose so
many serious issues. Could German students pose for graduation photos in Nazi uniforms? The Japanese should apologize” to the Chinese people for war crimes, “but what about ourselves?”

Indeed.   What are all these hundreds of millions of newly arrived middle class people going to do once they’ve taken stock of their good fortune and caught their breath and done their shopping?  Eventually time will collect and congeal leave people with little choice but to think.  And if they’re thoughts are all the thoughts of sedate people preparing for retirement then, all their little princely children whom they’ve worked so hard to spoil will dream contrarian dreams, like all children who aren’t laboring somewhere do, and they’ll wonder about all the things that don’t make sense.  And if they don’t learn some skills of discernment, they’ll prove just as easy to manipulate as the generation that began stalking this corner, enraged, hunting for phantoms in August of 1966.

[1] gǒngshǒupángguān:  to watch from the sidelines and do nothing (idiom)

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Be Smart Leaving the Shower

I’m done with some work that took quite a long time to complete.  I wasn’t particularly hard.  There just was an awful lot of it.  I’ve got the thoughtful tenor Houston Person in my ears.  He’s performing “Don’t Misunderstand” with one of my absolute favorite female jazz vocalists Etta Jones.  This may be from 1968.  It’s damn hard to find out definitively, searching here on line.   I hadn’t realized they orchestrated a rare partnering that was compared to the dialogues of Lester Young and Billy Holiday.  Professionals trading distilled connectivity but not, it would seem, 挚友良朋[1] with all the attendant drama and volatility that a relationship performing on the road might otherwise suggest.  The exchange together on this cut is ironic and achy but utterly plausible, regardless. 

The Houston Person album I have on is called “With a Little Houston on the Side” which seemed to be the earliest thing of his available on Rdio.  It is, however a collection.  The two or three appearances of Ms. Jones with him are just divine:  He plays so thoughtfully on the laid back title track.  

It’s always affirming to write about someone from the tradition who still walks the earth.  Mr. Person would appear to be 79 years old.  Born in South Carolina and still rising and shining in some place that remains nameless he has a modest seventy-five albums recorded under his own name alone.  Though suggested that this Person was not married to Ms. Jones, they merely made beautiful music together.  I was directed in a Houston-ly direction through an association with my man Pepper Adams who played on an album of Houston's  around this time, in 1968.

Now I’ve got a tentative date to head out and see some live jazz here in Shanghai with a colleague.  He has actually written a treatise on the topic of jazz in this city.  I know the two names of where live jazz is supposed to take place.  He’s hedging with some stuff on the home front.   I may just get the address and head over myself if he’s waylaid.  Who knows?  I may come home with someone worth describing our next entry.  And regardless, we should push ourselves for these things.  I should push myself for these things.  No point in pursuing a live tradition, from the safety of a laptop.

What did people do before there were warm showers?  They must have ached for one.  And they must have felt Turkish and Roman and scented baths were pretty remarkable things.  I just let hot, hot water run on my shoulders listening to our man Mr. Person blow his tune “Late Night Lullaby.” And that water felt good.  It pounded at my shoulder blades and cascaded down over my breasts off on to the shower floor and listen: it was all right.  Guilt free, healthy, meditative physicality on demand.  And the shower’s hot enough that you can turn it just below way too hot and test yourself.  Now just watch yourself getting out of this thing.  This is how accidents happen.  I hear my maternal grandmother warning me about Neil Armstrong or some hapless astronaut who made it all the way up to the stratosphere but slipped getting out of the shower. 

The dude I was going to go out with is suddenly saddled at home.  How many times have I been on that end of that routine?  Houston Person will need to suffice.  There won’t likely be any live jazz this evening.  Improvisation and crashing cymbals from the safety of a laptop.  I’ll go out and get a bite to eat instead.  There’s no need for a live performance when you’re this tired.   I’d just sit there and bob my head to sleep.  Eat and get some rest.  Remember the hot water on your shoulders.  Tomorrow’s the last day here in town. 

[1] zhìyǒuliángpéng: intimate friend and companion (idiom)

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Yell Or They'll Leave

Driving forward on the journey from yesterday’s encounter with Joe Zawihul, I was particularly taken with the sax duel between Joe Henderson and Pepper Adams.  And last night I started looking for more from this hard blowing baritone.  Originally named “Park” he had another nickname besides Pepper which was “Knife” because of the slashing fashion of his attack.  I couldn’t find any vintage footage of him out there, cutting though a session as a young man, but I’m sure something exists, probably with him accompanying someone else's band.  This Youtube clip I found of him from 1978 in Stockholm has the man from Highland Park, Michigan poised and determined, if a wee-bit weathered, there beside Clark Terry. 

On Rdio there seem to be a few discs from early in his career in the late fifties, and then a leap of ten years to a disc called “Encounter.”  But with an eye towards cutting and duelling he is pared up with Zoot Sims on tenor and while the latter is known as a fiery soloist he seems almost subdued on this 1968 disc.  Rather it is Elvin Jones on drums who drives things on aggressively.  Ron Carter on bass and Tommy Flannigan keys round out an all-star set. The tune "Elusive" is, ironically, rather catchy and approachable. And, Elvin Jones is one muscular drummer.  

During the interim period between the late fifties and the late sixties, Adams played on countless other dates some of which I know very well.  He’s taken me back to the Mingus album “Blues and Roots” from 1960.  He starts out Mingus version of “Moanin,” playing again right after Jackie McLean solos.  It’s difficult enough to imagine playing with this much confidence, armed with an alto but the baritone is so damn big.  Booker Ervin’s tenor solo that follows seems light and airy in comparison.  Plenty more to discover and rediscover with new ears, now that I can recognize the Pepper Adams, who passed in Brooklyn in 1986 at the age of fifty-five.

I came down to the cafeteria in the serviced apartment I’m staying at to get some breakfast.  I came without my headphones.  Big mistake.  Now I MUST listen to CNN.  I MUST have Wolf Blitzer yell at me while I’m trying to eat.  Really Wolf?  Charles Rangel is in the middle of a tough primary race?  “YES.  WE ARE NOW REPORTING THAT CHARLES RANGEL IS IN THE MIDDLE OF A TOUGH PRIMARY RACE.”  CNN must have research that tells them Americans want to be yelled at.  Unless we 大吵大闹[1] in your face, you‘ll go elsewhere.  And do what I may, I cannot ignore this yelling and my dumb, donkey neck is pulled up at the screen.  Oh, look, there he is, Charles Rangel, smiling, voting, trying to look like he is not in a tough primary race.  I had wanted to write. 

Having viewed the screen once I will now feel the bridle pull again and again upwards, regardless of what my higher order consciousness said was our intent and regardless of what is shown.  Some Italian soccer player has been bit in the shoulder.  Now we have to zoom in and zoom out and zoom in on the teeth marks, and who is this dandy British dimwit we’re always being confronted with?  He’s yelling at me.  What are you smiling for?  He claps his hands, spins, smiles a knowing smile that seems sanitized of thought and he yells and claps than he yells at his guest with a great big smile.  Richard Quest, is that your name?  Shut up. Go away!  Stop smiling.  I hate the television.  The donkey is going back up stairs to Mingus.      

Ha ha.  “E’s Flat, Ah’s Flat Too”.  Blow Pepper, blow.

[1] dàchǎodànào:  to shout and scream (idiom); to kick up a fuss / to make a scene

Rationalize Anything

I’d have been left scratching my head were I to have been asked to name an Austro-Hungarian jazz luminary.  But fortunately my time spent with Nat Adderley yesterday led me on to the keyboard player and arranger on Adderley’s 1964 session “Autobiography.”  Joe Zawihul was born in Vienna, Austria in 1932 of Hungarian Gypsy and Moravian ancestry.   He passed in the same city in 2007.  The title track of the album “Money in the Pocket” is playing in my ears now, and it swings but it's the song that follows, “If” that really floored me.  I was just walking down Beijing Road keeping time on a “air” cymbal, happy but ridiculous en route for a morning espresso. 

This set has a myriad of guys I’ve enjoyed featuring here on DB before, like Blue Mitchell on trumpet and Louis Hayes on drums and Sam Jones on bass.  The latter is driving particularly hard in ears right now.  Something about this mix, which is Atlantic and not Blue Note, has the bass recorded more prominently.  He and Louis Hayes dive in from the fat, curvaceous head to cast out a broad freeway for Zawihul to skate over with such muscular confidence before welcoming Blue Mitchell in, utterly reliable. But Joe Henderson on tenor and Pepper Adams on baritone sax later set a ferocious pace. Joe Henderson’s contemplative opening solo is challenged by Adams aggressive first run and then Henderson accepts the dare and rises to Adams’ velocity, the two of them driving hard back and forth making you wish you could have seen the looks on their face as they engaged.  

One can get the look on Joe’s face and the position of his hands on this 1968 clip of his tune that Cannonball Adderley made famous, “Mercy Mercy, Mercy.”

I’ve been down here in Shanghai for a while now and my book in the bathroom, as it were, is something my brother in law leant me “Under the Banner of Heaven” by Jon Krakauer.  I wasn’t sure if I was going to continue with it as the opening sections read like an extremist rap sheet.  He traces a half a dozen cases of fringe movements to the Mormon Church of the Latter Day Saints (LDS) who live apart from the world and practice polygamy, statutory rape, and in the opening case, murder.  I had expected to learn about how the LDS folks themselves think and this all seemed rather peripheral and polemical. 

Once we got into the history of the faith and Joseph Smith himself and his revelations from the angel Moroni, I was at least properly captivated.  It reminded me of the story of Hong Xiu Quan, the Chinese intellectual of only twenty years later who failed the Confucian exam three times, met a preacher and became convinced he was the brother of Christ.  Twenty Million deaths later the Taiping Rebellion was crushed. Once you are convinced and have the charismatic power to convince others that the Lord is speaking to you directly, anything is possible. 

Smith’s progression from no-account utilizer of “seeing stones” in upstate New York chased to Missouri and on to the swamps of Illinois is surreal.  As Krakauer and we all, must acknowledge, the myriad fantastic and irreconcilably inaccurate aspects of the story are no harder to swallow the vast collection of impossibilities catalogued in the holy books of the Abrahamic tradition.  They are simply more recent and for Americans more physically immediate and demand the glaring light of logic, more loudly than stories from the mists of recorded history. 

Joseph, it seems was unfaithful to his wife Emma, again and again and again.  Emma, no pushover herself, was not content to be one of Joseph’s many 宠擅专房[1].  But this was not enough to stop the chosen one.  Eventually, Joseph who was in touch with the almighty, reckoned that if polygamy felt so good and seemed so good, God must have intended for it for it to be so.  Unflagging pursuit of this tenant eventually lead to Joseph Smith’s death at the hands of an angry lynch mob.  Regardless of whether your Hong Xiu Quan or Joseph Smith, once you’ve got a direct line upstairs, it is possible to rationalize anything, perhaps including yesterday’s sins as well as one’s own martyrdom.

Almost anything can be reconsidered, perhaps, but not women ordained as women priests.  This not something the Angel Moroni is going to allow anytime soon.  I noticed this morning that Kate Kelly an activist who organized an ‘Ordain Women’ web site to promote reform for women to be admitted as LDS female priests, was formally excommunicated from the faith by the powers that be in Salt Lake City yesterday.  Maybe you can start a support group with similarly excommunicated Catholic ladies Kate.  Perhaps I’ll have a better idea of Mormon reform when I learn more about how the church made peace with the U.S. authorities after Joseph’s death . . .

[1] chǒngshànzhuānfángan especially favored concubine (idiom)

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Gone Too Soon

How did I miss the solstice?  In the winter it can’t come to soon.  Every dark day onward you know there’s a turning point looming.  The day will come as it always does where the receding daylight will gather itself and finally, gradually begin to mount it’s counter attack.  In the summer time the suns sets late and you’re content with that, and you don’t pay it any mind when that day passes by and before you know it the light is in retreat. 

I think it came to mind for me the other day when I was wrapping up something around 7:00PM.  It was getting dark out.  Wait a minute.  Isn’t that a little early for the sun to go down?  I checked the date in my mind and realized that this was as good as it would get. The day before was the solstice.  And here in Shanghai, which is on the same longitude as a place like Savannah Georgia, much closer to the Tropic of Cancer than I normally am, the late summer evenings aren’t all that late.  And the dread winter darkness isn’t all that dreadful. 

I’ll be back in Beijing this weekend.  It's longitude is similar to New York.  There, in my memory, we had long summer evenings where the light lingered till well after 8:00PM.  And this takes some of the mystery out of it but my “feelings” about all this are, quite easily verifiable with about eleven seconds of effort.  The sun will indeed set at 8:30PM in New York City tonight.  The sun will set here in Shanghai at 7:01PM this evening, while up in Beijing the sun will disappear at 7:47PM.  (Interestingly Google search automatically populates the first two times, if you enter “sunset time Shanghai” or for New York, but it does not, if you put in “sunset time Beijing.”)

Wrought this way, one can appreciate “daylight savings time.”  I normally regard it as a nuisance, a U.S. entitlement.  And it was always spoken about as if it were something for farmers.  But if the sun really went down at 4:30PM in the winter in New York it would certainly affect the whole workday.  I bet it had more to do with bankers than farmers making that change., always looking to  收之桑榆[1] the way they do.  And just as there is something mean and paltry about a sun disappearing at 4:30PM, it is utterly magical to have the fading sunlight linger till nearly 9:00PM. 

I’ve been to Oulu in the north of Finland in December.  The sun rises after 10:00AM and disappears again by 2:00PM.  I thought all the women in the office were applying makeup during their coffee breaks, as they were all sitting around brightly lit individual mirrors.  These were, rather devices to approximate sunlight.   And I have been to Reykjavik in Iceland during late May.   You appreciate draperies in a place like this.  The sun drops down at nearly 2:00AM and returns again, demanding before 4:00AM.  Fluctuations of these extremes must have scarred the Viking sense of normalcy. 

The Hong Kong ballot exercise I referenced yesterday has had a much broader participation rate than was initially suggested.  Rather than four percent, it would appear that closer to nine percent of the population have participated in the “illegal” polling which asks people to choose among different mechanism for selecting candidates and thus far over 600K citizens have participated.   This represents a full 1/6 the voting population itself.  Schemes involve such outlandish ideas as allowing for write-in candidates. 

Now it appears that the web site of the provocatively named “Occupy Hong Kong with Peace and Love” movement has been subjected to one of the “most severe cyber attacks of its kind.”   Using compromised servers in Indonesia, Brazil and elsewhere  the movement’s platform was pummelled with distributed-denial of service attacks by a “herder” server that remains untraceable.  Like the first known state cyber attack by Russia against Estonia in 2007, this achieves little, tarnishes the reputation of the attacker and sharpens the resolve of everyone else involved.  How much easier it would be to simply make the polling official and reckon with what the population had to say.  Beijing needn’t acquiesce to anything in the end, necessarily.  But these blunt attacks will only sharpen people’s resolve and push them further away from what Beijing would like to see.

Louis Hayes is still keeping time today as he was yesterday behind the confident punchy sound of Nat Adderley on coronet.  Nat, the younger brother of the famous alto player Julian ‘Cannonball’ Adderley, is sounding like he’s in the other room this morning on this lovely tune “This Man’s Dream” from the 1961 session “Naturally.”  The two of them apparently went armed and ready to play to an Oscar Pettiford gig at Café Bohemia in Greenwich Village in 1955.  The regular sax player was out and first Cannonball and then Nat were invited up on stage and they successively set about to blow everyone away.  Sometime before sunrise that evening they knew they’d made it. 

[1] shōuzhīsāngyú:  to lose at sunrise but gain at sunset (idiom); to compensate later for one's earlier loss / what you lose on the swings you gain on the roundabouts