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The Lost Album

By Fred Wesley & the J.B.’s

Review by John Zavesky

 

Way back in the early 1970s, before disco nearly destroyed soul music, James Brown offered his bandleader, trombonist Fred Wesley, the opportunity to record an album of his own. Nearly 40 years later that album has finally seen the light of day. The J.B.’s & Fred Wesley: The Lost Album clearly ranks as a high point in Wesley’s long musical career.

 

The title of the album is somewhat of a misnomer. It was never really “lost,” merely unreleased. The genesis of The Lost Album was political. When Fred Wesley began playing with James Brown, he introduced a robust style to the band that ranged from a fat honking horn to smooth as silk, punctuating a band moving from soul to beat-heavy funk. Now arguably the world’s foremost funk trombonist, Wesley still remains a jazzman at heart. The bone player was embarrassed playing funk back then. “I hoped they’d [fellow jazz players] never hear this stuff,” Wesley said. “It made my career, but I didn’t really understand the meaning of James Brown’s music yet. Back then I thought it was the silliest shit I ever heard.” James Brown became aware of that fact when Wesley quit the band in the 1960s to work as a session player. Still preferring jazz over funk, Wesley returned to the J.B.’s in 1970 for a steady paycheck.

 

Timing is everything. Premiere sax-man and J.B.’s frontman, Maceo Parker, had recently departed the band. As a “reward” for taking on the duties of musical director for the band Brown “rewarded” Wesley with a jazz album of his own. Brown compiled a list of songs and had his longtime arranger, David Mathews, write the charts. Then they cut most of the album not with the J.B.’s, but instead with New York session players. The roster of talent included the top players of that day: Ron Carter, Michael and Randy Becker, Cornel Dupree, Joe Farrell, Hugh McCracken, and Kenny Asher.

 

The Lost Album is a jazz album at its core with a layer of funk. “Watermelon Man” was a minor hit for its composer Herbie Hancock when released in 1962. A year later Cuban Mongo Santamaria had a top 10 hit with the song. Wesley’s version was one of the few cuts released as a single from those New York sessions. His horn solo melds a full funk flavor seamlessly with a decidedly Latin rhythm. The horn-heavy funk-driven beat gives this “Watermelon Man” the power of a locomotive with its engine wide open—and that’s just the opening cut.

 

Covers of popular songs were customary back then. The Lost Album includes fine jazz arrangements of Carol King’s “You’ve Got a Friend,” Bill Wither’s “Use Me,” Main Ingredient’s “Everybody Plays the Fool” and Gilbert O’ Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally).” Until hearing this disc, it is impossible to believe that anything by O’Sullivan could exude soul, but Wesley and crew put a lot of soul in their version. “You’ve Got a Friend” and “Everybody Plays the Fool” have arrangements featuring a full-bodied sound that was synonymous with the big jazz bands like Stan Kenton’s and Doc Serverson’s performing in the 1960s and 1970s. The album also features James Brown standards “Shout” and “Get on the Good Foot,” both cuts surprisingly jazzier than Brown’s versions. The disc’s real scorchers are the vamp blues, “Seulb” and “Trans- mographication” which features an extended solo by Wesley. With a nod to Philly soul, Wesley and crew also turn in the funkiest version of “Back Stabbers” ever put to tape.

 

Shortly after the album’s completion Brown notified his production manager and engineer to put the album on hold. The following year Maceo Parker returned to the J.B.’s and was welcomed back with open arms and an album of his own. Wesley’s admiration for the sax player would not allow him to envy Parker, but he was frustrated with Brown’s decision to shelve his record. “Mr. Brown knew I wanted to play jazz,” Wesley said. “I think he wanted to have that album in the can to hold over me in case I got restless with the gig.”  

 

While The Lost Album may not meet the strict definition of a “lost,” record, it clearly demonstrates that back in 1972, Fred Wesley was already a giant funk trombonist who could play jazz with the best of them. It may have taken nearly 40 years for this disc of the complete sessions to be released, but the music contained within was well worth the wait.

 

Z

 

John Zavesky has worked in the media field for over 30 years. His screenplays have been produced for New Zealand and U.S. television. His articles have appeared in Z Magazine, Dissident Voice, CounterPunch, and Palestine Chronicle. Zavesky is currently working on a crime novel set in southern California.

 

 

Books

Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work

By Belen Fernandez

Verso Books, London/New York, 2011

Review by Jim Miles

 

Thomas Friedman is a writer whom I have avoided reading over the past several years, mainly due to my distinct disdain for his writing and his thinking. It was, therefore, good to be able to read Imperial Messenger and be brought up to date on some of his current punditry. I should have stayed with him because in his own way he does reveal the true nature of the U.S. empire—arrogant, myopic, self-centered, and self-contradictory. My favorite quote from him, from the Lexus and the Olive Tree (1999), is amazing in that it is both so supremely right and supremely wrong at the same time: “Indeed, McDonald’s cannot flourish without McDonnell Douglas, the designer of the U.S. Air Force F-15. And the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley’s technologies to flourish is called the U.S. Army, Air Force, Navy and Marine Corps. And these fighting forces and institutions are paid for by American taxpayer dollars.” So supremely right in that it is true. So supremely right in that it is false.

 

It is true that the U.S. military backstops the U.S. economy around the world, although it is not quite the “hidden fist” that Friedman might want it to be. It has been doing so for centuries, from the slaughter of the indigenous people of North America, through the Spanish defeats in Mexico and later abroad, on into the wider spaces of Asia, until arriving at today’s global full spectrum dominance, or at least the attempt to get there. From railroad barons through banana and sugar cane barons, oil barons, all the way through to the barons of the financial world, the U.S. military has been part and parcel of the corporate consumer deal at home and abroad. It is false in that Friedman intends this as a positive attribute of the U.S. system, one that is of benefit to the world, reflecting all the hubris and patriotic jingoism that the U.S. self-defines as being the “essential” country for its moral and democratic leadership. It is false in that it makes “free enterprise” not so free and it makes democracy and liberty anything but the ability to pay homage to the great superlative ethics of the U.S.—or be destroyed attempting to deny them. Happily, it only took Belen Fernandez nine pages to reach this quote in the first section of her book discussing Friedman’s views on the U.S. From there, she proceeds to display Friedman’s incessant lack of intelligent thought.

 

The Arab/Muslim World

 

Personally, the writing took on more importance when Fernandez began discussing the Arab/Muslim world, not that U.S. domestic postures do not affect the world. Rather than simply stating the obvious fallacies of his texts as she does in the first section, the Muslim/Arab section is more focused on deconstructing the nature of Friedman’s writing. While presenting to the reader her desire for a “better contextual understanding” of Friedman’s work, Fernandez places more emphasis on “review[ing] certain defining characteristics of Friedman’s writing, as well as key historical events—namely 9/11—that have influenced his perspective.” Immediately he is criticized as having a reliance “on overly simplistic and baseless analyses of international phenomenon…” and in a similar vein, “to downplay the importance of the historical milieu in which populations exist and events occur.” Associated with this is “[t]he jingoistic bombast and sense of vicarious delight in military punishment” contained within his writing. The third characteristic comes from Friedman’s restrained recognition that some of the things the U.S. does are not the “best…this should not have a sustained negative impact on its global image or arouse undue suspicion about its present motives.” These characteristics are indicative of his position, a “testament to the advantages of having a news job in which one is not required to maintain a coherent discourse.”

 

Fernandez’s largest criticism is “Friedman’s intermittent reliance on infant terminology to analyze parts of the Arab/Muslim world…one manifestation of a tradition of unabashed Orientalism that discredits Arabs and Muslims as agents capable of managing their own destinies.” She divides his Orientalism into pre- and post-9/11 with the pre-9/11 described as “a subtle tendency toward ethnic stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims.” Although I would disagree—here and from her own examples, it is rather blatant stereotyping.

 

Along with the language factor, Friedman “anchor[s] Oriental subjects in antiquity, where they remain in perpetual need of civilization by the West and its militaries.” Accompanying this “mission civilatrice” is Friedman’s interpretations of women and their role in both Arab/Muslim societies and their rescue by the U.S.

 

Other factors come into play, more general than the specifics of the Arab/Muslim world. She describes Friedman’s “failure to keep abreast of his own views on certain issues,” and his “institutionalized habit of self-contradiction.”

 

Israel/Palestine

 

All that is truly criticized for the Arab/Muslim world remains true and even more seriously highlighted for Israel /Palestine. According to Fernandez, Friedman’s overall position is being “able to advertise himself as a serious critic of Israel while simultaneously reiterating that the nation “had me at hello,” which “shifts the spectrum of permissible discourse such that any substantive criticism can be rejected as extremist.” Friedman himself is a self-confessed “Israelite,” and as a result: “Someone who openly adopts a state founded on a policy of ethnic cleansing as a personal ‘badge of pride’ does not of course, qualify as an unbiased commentator on the Middle East.”

 

Other factors affect Friedman’s writing on Israel/Palestine. He operates with full double standards when it comes to Israel, his “predilection for double standards favoring Israel is visible time and again, as is his predilection for calling attention to double standards not favoring Israel.” His ability to change his arguments to suit his story is an example of “historical revisions” that also serve “to excise from the record his own previous reports.” While discussing Friedman’s unquestioning support of U.S. support for Israel, Fernandez critically says, “History may yet produce a term along the lines of ‘schizofriednia’ to signify self-contradiction, selective memory, and failure to integrate one’s thoughts.”

 

Finally, she offers, “Friedman’s warmongering apologetics on behalf of empire and capital…attest to this representative role in Western mainstream media…largely composed of journalists who ‘perpetuate the dominant ideology’ and act as ‘the functional tools for a bourgeois ruling class’.”

 

But I much prefer Friedman’s own probably unrealized ironic statement on that issue: “When widely followed public figures feel free to say anything, without any fact checking, we have a problem.”

 

I have not delved into the many examples that support Fernandez’s arguments on the above statements. The work is readily accessible for any reader, whether familiar with criticism of empire or not. The many contradictions, bad metaphors, revisions, and other examples are so rapidly presented and intertwined that the worst danger is becoming dizzy with the confusion of ideas drawn from many different sources. For all that, Friedman is worth reading about from an informed viewpoint, as he truly does represent the empire at its best in terms of apologetics, contradictions, arrogance, and misrepresentations of facts. However, Fernandez’s work, Imperial Messenger, should be the companion volume to any and all reading of Friedman. 

Z

 

Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestine Chronicle. Miles’s work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.


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Kill the Messenger: The Media’s Role in the Fate of the World

By Maria Armoudian

New York, Prometheus Books, 2011

Review by Gabriel San Roman

 

Throughout the pages of syndicated Pacifica Radio host Maria Armoudian’s first book, Kill the Messenger: The Media’s Role in the Fate of the World, is good news and bad news. Armoudian gives readers the bad news first. Starting out with a retelling of the murderous rampage in Knoxville, Tennessee, the author asks what motivated Jim David Adkisson to kill. The unemployed man had become firm in his belief that liberals were evil incarnate and must be killed. Adkisson, Armoudian writes, avidly consumed rightist media from the likes of Michael Savage, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity. With this, she introduces her readers to the question of the interrelationship between media and violence.

 

The media, as Armoudian’s scholarship illustrates, played a pivotal role in some of history’s worst catastrophes—the Nazi Holocaust, genocide in Rwanda, and devastating war in Bosnia. In each instance, she argues, effective hegemony over public discourse had been established and politically wielded an unforgiving Manichean frame of “us versus them,” allowing for horrific crimes against humanity. Media was not the sole driver, but it served to incite and direct violence when social, political, and economic tensions intertwined in a perfect storm. Each historical case is a book itself, but Armoudian does well in putting forth her arguments.

 

Now for the good news. In situations where genocide could embark on its frenzied state, radio, newspapers, and television can play an important part in averting disaster. For this, Armoudian cites the historical case of Burundi. There were many deaths resulting from political tensions between Hutus and Tutsis in the country during the early 1990s. Burundi came dangerously close to the edge, but did not plunge into the abyss as Rwanda had. Humanizing stories in the media combated hate frames and those whose brave actions refuted the “us versus them” dynamic, slowly but surely became known as “heroes” rather than “traitors.” Studio Ijambo Radio Publique Africaine and others helped turn the dangerous tide and played a pivotal role.

 

Kill the Messenger takes from the Burundian example and examines the ways in which media has asserted itself in other countries struggling to free themselves from dictatorship, apartheid, and other egregious violations of human rights. One of the more instructive chapters focuses on the military coup that ousted Chilean President Salvador Allende on September 11, 1973. Prior to the Socialist leader’s ascension to power following election in 1970, Doonie Edwards, publisher of El Mercurio, implored the Nixon administration to disallow an Allende regime to take hold. Indeed, the election could hardly be seen as anything resembling free and fair as the U.S. funded propaganda aimed at scaring the populace with falsehoods regarding the prospects of a leftist victory at the ballot box.

 

After the brutal regime of Pinochet rode a wave of continuing headlines that contributed to destabilizing Chilean society, the General went about seeking to legitimize its actions and banned outlets that could counter it. With scores of Chileans exiled abroad, Armoudian highlights how they shaped international media, which then began to put pressure on the dictatorship from abroad. Within Chile, the press of the Catholic Church started to put cracks in the edifice of power. Other journalists found creative ways around censorship to deliver news of continued disappearances and played forbidden political music until the Pinochet dictatorship formally ended after 17 long years. Even so, Chile still struggles with the legacy of the coup. “Its diverse politics have never fully returned,” Armoudian writes, “and its media today has largely been consolidated under large businesses.”

 

Hovering above it all is the specter of global warming. As the subtitle suggests, Kill the Messenger addresses how the manipulation of the media has created a false debate over global warming at the precise moment when the people of the earth need to take action in order to address the ecosystem as Armoudian charts how the oil industry’s media strategy planted the seed of doubt within people’s minds as to the urgency of addressing the issue. Public opinion polls chart the decline as the pillars of corporate media—its penchant for scandal, false balance “objectivity,” and questionable sourcing—played all too easily into the trap.

 

It is in that critique of those structures that Armoudian looks to alternatives. As opposed to corporate for-profit systems, she cites numerous models of delivering information to the public  including trust-owned, non-profit, open source, and cooperative institutions. The diversity would lend to counterbalancing the formation of a dangerous hegemonic narrative, to which increasing corporate consolidation poses a perennial threat. Rich in its historical background, concise with its analysis, and diverse in its suggestions for a better media to shape a better world, Kill the Messenger is an important contribution in its field and holds the very “candle to the darkness” that it asks journalism to do. 

Z

 

Gabriel San Roman is a freelance journalist and contributing writer to the Orange County Weekly.

 

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José Carlos Mariátegui: An Anthology

Edited and translated by Harry E. Vanden
& Marc Becker

Monthly Review, 2011, 480 pp.

Review by Seth Sandronsky

 

I first heard the term “Indo-American” in a forum on California’s higher education crisis. Then I read the same term in a new anthology by José Carlos Mariátegui of Peru (1890– 1934) for English-language readers. He uses it to refer to Peruvians especially and Latin Americans generally throughout José Carlos Mariátegui: An Anthology.

 

He was an unabashed Marxist in theory and practice. A socio-historical approach clarified the concrete realities of his place and time: post-World War I and the Russian Revolution amid poverty and inequality. In hindsight, we know this systemic social problem birthed a financial panic and global Great Depression. 

 

Editors and translators Harry E. Vanden and Marc Becker divide Mariátegui’s writing into nine sections, including one at the end that has his writing on women, feminism and politics. He links their emancipation to human liberation in no uncertain terms.

 

Mariátegui analyzes the history of “primitive accumulation” of land and labor in Latin America and other regions of the so-called Third World. In this way, Mariátegui fleshes out the causes and effects of this European ruling class-driven exploitation, especially imperial Spain’s brutality against the original people of Peru. Mariátegui’s Peru was but one of the regions that regimes such as the Spanish Crown milked like a cow. The Caribbean was another. He writes of what that violent process of foreign intervention meant for Haiti and its people.

 

As Mariátegui explains without cant, Peru’s coastal areas and highlands bore unique impacts of the European invasion. Mal-development was the rule of the day. He fleshes out the unique ways that this colonialist enterprise pummeled Peru for the benefit of a tiny minority. As Conrad did in fiction, Mariátegui wrestles in nonfiction with class, gender and race conflict among and between Europeans and native peoples.

 

“Despite the lack of credit afforded the materialist conception of history, it is not possible to ignore the fact that economic relations are the main agent of communication and articulation among peoples,” Mariátegui writes. Then and now, capitalist globalization revolutionizes how people live and work, establishing a common culture. He contextualizes that tendency a century ago.

 

Crucially, Mariátegui highlights the central conflict of the Peruvian people: the land-less versus the land-rich. Accordingly, those closest to the soil, the indigenous populace, are at the center of his revolutionary analysis. Their culture of communalism is a vital ingredient in a transition from capitalism to socialism. Throughout the book, a vision of liberation animates Mariátegui. For him, Marxism is the tool to free human beings from oppression under a social system that privileges the accumulation of capital over every human need.

 

When you look at Latin American nations shaking off their colonial shackles, from Argentina to Bolivia and Venezuela, Mariátegui’s insights intrigue. In using a Marxist social analysis, Mariátegui considers writers from Sigmund Freud to Maxim Gorky, Vladimir Lenin, Henri de Man, Magda Portal and Rosa Luxemburg.

 

Lenin is a major influence on Mariátegui. The Russian revolutionary’s take on finance capitalism, amid its current rampage to conquer the national governments of the world, teems with relevancy in Mariátegui’s day and ours. His aesthetics come into play as well. For instance, Mariátegui points out the strengths and weaknesses of realism and surrealism. In his view, art and revolution dovetail. An essay on the originality of Charlie Chaplin’s comedy sparkles with insight.

 

Section eight illuminates Mexico, its modern history of revolution and reaction. I learned much from this book. It’s a small gem that should get a wide readership. 

Z

 

Seth Sandronsky lives and writes in Sacramento.